As mainstream liberal commentators like Kevin Drum and others run for cover during the Neocon onslaught against America’s unions, real rank-and-file trade-unionists are running to their places at the front. The stories of many of these bold “card-carrying” union members are told in Steve Early’s timely new book Save Our Unions.
Early offers a shopfloor view of the local and national struggles for the soul of labor. He chronicles past efforts of heroic reformers like Jack Yablonski who was murdered alongside his family for his effort to democratize the United Mine Workers to contemporary rank-and-filers like machine operator Greg Shotwell who launched his own shopfloor publication to create “a democratic union and collective struggle against concessions…”.
Save Our Unions offers more than just history lessons and anecdotes to inspire today’s rank-and-file union members; it also provides important perspectives on how these events are informing effective union initiatives today. Specifically, he recounts the historic defeat suffered by the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in 1981 and how the infamous PATCO strike proved the critical importance of public support and international solidarity for even the most militant worker’s organizations.
One of the most distinguishing and refreshing features of Early’s work is that his analysis goes beyond the common platitudes that typify much of today’s labor literature. He draws attention to concrete tactical approaches to effective industrial action today like the use of “quickie” or intermittent strikes and projects like CHAOS (Creating Havoc Around Our System) using selective strike plans to win momentum in difficult contract fights. Early stresses, “if unions don’t find ways to achieve better results – by working together in contract negotiations and, where necessary, striking – their recruitment of new workers will continue to lag.” This is an important fact slowly being accepted by many local unions across the country. More importantly, early discussed not only the need for new tactics but new strategic objectives that break from twentieth-century “contract unionism”, arguing that unions can and must grow their strength and maintain a legally defensible presence in the workplace with or without the protection of a contract.
Save Our Unions is not only an inspirational tribute to the power of determined rank-and-file union members, it is a useful reference full of lessons for today’s reformers. A must-read for every working-class partisan from the shop floor to Congress and all points in between.
For more information or to obtain a copy click here.