Reading, Writing, and Union-Building

“It’s a well-established fact,” reports the New York Times Book Review, “that Americans are reading fewer books than they used to.”1  According to the National Endowment for the Arts, more than 50% of those surveyed haven’t cracked a book in the previous year.  In labor circles, the percentage of recent readers may be even smaller.  Eric Lee, the UK-based founder of LabourStart, recalls an encounter he had, a few years ago, at a union conference in Chicago.  There, a “labor intellectual” was “bemoaning the fact that even the most intelligent and best-informed union leaders he knew simply did not read the books that they should be reading, if they read any books at all.”

“Even though there are millions of union members,” Lee notes, “the books aimed at unionists are never listed” on best-seller lists.  “If you’re a gardener or a cook or a movie-goer, the books targeted at you may sell in the tens of thousands.  History books are sometimes big best sellers — but not books about labor history.”

Lee’s own on-line promotion of labor books notwithstanding (see, he now offers the following advice to authors seeking large audiences: “[D]on’t write books about and for trade unionists.  Our movement does many things well, but one thing we do not do well is buy and read books that are written for us.”2

As evidenced by a forthcoming Monthly Review collection of labor-related “literary journalism” (available in May, 2009), I’ve long been an “optimist of the will,” rather than a “pessimist of the intellect,” on the subject of reading, writing, and union-building.3  I agree with Lee that unions need to do a much better job connecting labor writers to readers.  Yet, in my experience, the work of labor educators in this area has actually become easier in recent years.  That’s because management’s unrelenting assault on the pay, benefits, and job conditions of millions of workers has had the salutary effect of raising political consciousness.  Within organized labor — an institution not known in the past for the richness of its intellectual life — the marketplace for new ideas has grown even as union density has shrunk.  Labor activists today are often desperate for any information, insight, or inspiration that can aid the difficult task of re-building unions.  While many labor education programs continue to focus on developing basic union skills, more shop stewards, local officers, and union staffers realize they need to think critically and analytically about “the big picture” in their occupation, industry, and society.   The challenges facing 16 million union members — and eight times as many unorganized workers — are a product of past workplace struggles, won and lost, and powerful economic and political forces that need to be analyzed and better understood.  As Lee argues, trade unionists can even find out “what works and what doesn’t” by studying “the experience of others in our globalized world.”

John Sweeney’s election as AFL-CIO president in 1995 — and the forced retirement of the federation’s old Cold War leadership — improved the intellectual climate in labor and led to a minor-book publishing boom.  Since 1995, trade publishers like Houghton-Mifflin, New Press, and Verso, plus university presses like Cornell, Temple, and Wayne State, have all issued collections of labor-related essays inspired by the AFL-CIO shake-up or published book-length assessments of the state of labor and the forces for change within it.   One such title was Sweeney’s own call to arms, America Needs a Raise: Fighting For Economic Security and Social Justice.   Another contemporaneous volume, with multiple contributors, was inspired by the labor “teach-ins” organized by Scholars, Artists, and Writers for Social Justice (SAWSJ), a group of left-wing academics and public intellectuals previously estranged from the union officialdom.  At its founding, SAWSJ hailed “the new wave of hope and energy surging through the AFL-CIO.”  It also pledged to support Sweeney’s “New Voice” leadership with more campus solidarity activity, plus supportive research and writing on the “remobilization” of unions and the transformation of work in America.

As more trade unionists joined labor historians, sociologists, industrial relations experts and worker educators in a wide-ranging debate about new strategies for labor, additional books have appeared which highlight model campaigns.  On my bookshelf alone I can count nearly a dozen such titles, all containing case studies in how to “remake,” “reshape,” “revitalize,” “reorganize,” or “restructure” unions.  Frustrated with the actual pace of these efforts, the Services Employees International Union (SEIU) and six union allies broke with the AFL-CIO in 2005 and formed a new federation.  This contentious development initially aroused deep concern among some labor-oriented academics.  Yet the public criticism (and self-criticism) aired in connection with the AFL-CIO rift has now inspired a new round of publishing activity — just like Sweeney’s own election did a decade before.  First out of the box was Change-to-Win (CTW) founding father Andy Stern, who put his own spin on the split in his 2006 book, A Country That Works: Getting America Back on Track.   Other books appearing more recently — like Bill Fletcher and Fernando Gapasin’s Solidarity Divided — have explored what went wrong with Sweeney’s reform project and whether CTW represents a real alternative to it.4

Unless they are national union presidents — with the ability to use dues money to promote their book or purchase it in bulk for internal distribution — labor-oriented authors must work hard to reach union members as readers.5  Few writers on the subject of work or working class organizations have the creativity, journalistic ability, and mainstream media cachet of Barbara Ehrenreich.  Her 2001 work, Nickel and Dimed, represents the gold-standard of commercial publishing success involving a labor-related book — 1.5 million sold.  Only Tom Geoghegan’s Which Side Are You On? comes anywhere close to Ehrenreich’s best-seller in terms of cross-over appeal.  And, as some reviewers (including this one) noted at the time, Geoghegan’s 1991 account of his career as a Chicago labor lawyer was not really intended for the rank-and-file — which he sometimes reduced to humorous stereotypes.  Rather, it was aimed at an audience of Yuppies — liberal-minded, upper-middle class readers (including friends and classmates of the author long puzzled by his post-Harvard affinity for blue-collar causes and clients).

The first constraint faced by many labor writers is publishing with a university press, rather than a “trade”book-seller like Holt or Farrar, Straus & Giroux, the publishers of Ehrenreich and Geoghegan respectively.6  Academic publishers are quite proficient at turning doctoral theses into books that can help junior faculty members get tenure (no matter how small their press run or sales figures).  But university press marketing departments are not well equipped to attract the attention of working class readers or the general public.  The U.S. boasts more than 100 campus-based publishing houses but, altogether, they account for only 1% of all books produced.7  The number of university presses which specialize in labor history, culture, politics, industrial relations, and/or contemporary union issues can be counted on one hand.  Within that small group, even a very committed  backer of labor books like the Cornell ILR Press finds it a challenge to reach a large audience.  According to longtime editor Fran Benson, the average ILR Press book sells about 2,000 to 2,500 copies (in hard and soft cover).  Thus, as Labor Studies Journal editor Bruce Nissen observes, “Any labor book selling over 5,000 copies is a ‘best seller.'”

The relative “success” or “failure” of such books depends on several factors.  One is their accessibility and appeal to a non-academic readers.  Benson reports that books in her labor series often do better than Cornell titles generally because labor activists, not just fellow academics, buy them — if the material is topical and well-written.  Among these non-academic book buyers are the large number of college-educated young people who’ve gravitated toward the labor movement after being involved with campus workers, anti-sweatshop campaigns, or graduate student unionization.

Some of Benson’s “best-sellers” have gotten a boost from the bulk order patronage of unions whose organizing, bargaining, or strike activity has been chronicled by Cornell authors.  For example, then-USWA President George Becker was sufficiently pleased with the favorable portrait of himself — and his union’s campaign on behalf of locked-out West Virginia aluminum workers — that he ordered 5,000 copies of Ravenswood: The Steelworkers’ Victory and the Revival of American Labor by Kate Bronfenbrenner and Tom Juravich.  To demonstrate SEIU’s interest in nursing issues and provide non-union nurses and its own RN members with free copies, Andy Stern bought 5,000 copies of Suzanne Gordon’s Nursing Against the Odds, published by Cornell in 2004.  (As noted above, Stern’s bulk buy of his own book was presumably much larger, since A Country That Works was promoted everywhere in SEIU, not just in health care locals.)  A popular speaker at nursing conferences and training sessions, Gordon has tried to maintain friendly ties with many different RN organizations — not all of which are on speaking terms with each other.  Her most recent book, Safety in Numbers, highlights the successful campaign for state-mandated RN-patient staffing ratios waged by the California Nurses Association (CNA), a bitter rival of SEIU.  Yet some CNAers were displeased that the book was, in their view, insufficiently critical of SEIU’s stance on ratios.  While Gordon’s latest work was reviewed in Registered Nurse, CNA’s national magazine, the union has, according to the author, otherwise distanced itself from a book that actually burnishes its own reputation.8

Intra-union politics can limit book publicity even more than inter-union rivalries, as Texas law professor Julius Getman has discovered.  When Cornell published his valuable account of a pivotal strike at International Paper in the late 1980s, the response of the United Paperworkers International Union (UPIU) was chilly indeed.  Getman’s title alone — The Betrayal of Local 14: Paperworkers, Politics, and Permanent Replacements — created marketing problems within the UPIU, since no union likes to be criticized for failing to support a militant local during a difficult contract struggle.  Now part of the USWA, UPIU officials detested Getman’s book and completely ignored it in their national union newspaper.  As a result, The Betrayal of Local 14 received far less notice than it deserved in the labor press — except in those unofficial publications, like Labor Notes, which had previously covered the IP strike in Jay, Maine and other mills.

Assuming their material is not as controversial as Getman’s, authors who maintain a well-designed website — and line up book-related speaking engagements — can boost their sales via on-line marketing and personal networking.  Adjunct professor Joe Berry collaborated with the North American Alliance for Fair Employment to create an excellent site ( publicizing Berry’s 2005 Monthly Review book aimed at non-tenure track teachers in higher education.  The site highlights upcoming appearances by the author, relevant biographical information, recent reviews of Reclaiming The Ivory Tower, and updates on adjunct faculty organizing around the country.  (According to Berry, NAAFE also partnered with Monthly Review to co-publish the book, “kicking in enough dollars to assure MRP that they would not take a bath on the title.”)9  Jack Metzger, a fellow labor educator in Chicago, was similarly able to utilize personal and professional contacts, developed over many years, to promote Striking Steel.   The son of a steelworker, Metzger grew up in a Pennsylvania mill town and later became the co-founder and editor of Labor Research Review. His book was praised in the pages of Steel Labor, the USWA’s national magazine, by former USWA president Lynn Williams; the author also made a special effort to reach union retirees (whose work lives in the 1950s and 60s are movingly described in the book).  Nevertheless, according to Metzger, “even getting a book in the hands of people you know takes a long time and a lot of work.”

With this challenge in mind, some labor-oriented writers have taken matters into their own hands and turned to self-publishing to expedite the process of book production and marketing, from start to finish.10  More than twenty years ago, Boston labor lawyer Bob Schwartz approached the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) — a leading publisher of legal newsletters and case reporters — with a proposal for a steward’s guide to labor law.  BNA wasn’t interested.  So Schwartz started Work Rights Press, now based in Somerville, Mass., to distribute his Legal Rights of Union Stewards and other books for union activists (all priced between $13 and $24).  Since the late 1980s, Schwartz’s steward’s handbook has sold 600,000 copies (and continues to sell, in both Spanish and English editions, at the rate of about 25,000 per year).  His next best-seller is a guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act; since publication of its first edition a decade ago, that book has sold 100,000 copies.  An explanation of workers comp in Massachusetts, which Schwartz has repeatedly updated over the years, has 50,000 to 60,000 copies in circulation, while a broader guide to state employment law has sold 25,000 copies in multiple editions.  Only Schwartz’s most recent work, on Strikes, Picketing, and Inside Campaigns, has yet to sell out its original press run of 5,000 — notwithstanding a glowing review of it by this author (based on the book’s introduction).  Lagging sales are no doubt related to the abandonment of the strike weapon by too many unions.

What’s the key to Schwartz’s overall success?  Well, unlike other authors of heavily foot-noted volumes, his discussion of legal decisions, legislative history, and the workings of labor-related administrative agencies is highly accessible.  Schwartz writes short, punchy, understandable sentences and paragraphs, uses side-bar boxes, and Q&A sections at the end of each chapter.  He also employs an excellent cartoonist to illustrate his work in humorous fashion.  His Work Rights Press series draws on the broader publishing tradition of “do-it-yourself” and “self-help” books, a genre that’s far more familiar to union activists than dense volumes of labor history or industrial sociology.  Local union work — when combined with family life, community activities, and the demands of bargaining unit employment — doesn’t leave much time for educational reading on the side.  The only book that many stewards have time to bury their nose in is the contract itself.  Nevertheless, both full-time union officials — and what the British call “lay representatives” (working members who represent their co-workers on the job) — are expected to be familiar with a large body of additional information related to job rights and benefits, collective bargaining procedures, and, in some cases, union administration and financial record-keeping.

So when Schwartz’s Work Rights Press or the Detroit-based Labor Education and Research Project (LERP) produce easy-to-read guides for being a good steward, running a better local union, or conducting effective contract campaigns, there is a ready-made market for them.  LERP has sold over 32,000 copies of its Troublemaker’s Handbooks, volumes I and II, edited by Dan La Botz and Jane Slaughter.  The Project’s 1999 book, Democracy is Power attracted 5,000 readers and every issue of Labor Notes, the monthly newsletter LERP has published for nearly 30 years, promotes other books by authors like Kim Moody, Sheila Cohen, Dan Clawson, and Vanessa Tait.   To sustain its labor education and publishing, Labor Notes relies on an international network of trade union militants, sympathetic local unions, local or national union reform caucuses.  This far-flung community of supporters comes together every other year — most recently in April, 2008 — at a conference in Michigan attended by 1,000 activists (plus a few authors and publishers) who share Labor Notes‘ goal of putting “the movement back in the labor movement.”

On their own (or in connection with similar book promotion ventures), several other worker education projects have encouraged reading as well.  The American Labor Education Center — run by Matt Witt, a former communications director for the Mine Workers, Teamsters, and Service Employees — publicizes “out of the mainstream” books (and films) — which is to say those dealing with labor.  Witt’s online reviews appear eight times a year at and are also published in New Labor Forum.   In addition to producing a newsletter for stewards and a labor news and graphics service for union editors, David Prosten’s Union Communication Services (UCS) publishes a labor book catalogue once a year.  Distributed to 70,000 potential readers, this 60-page brochure features volumes on labor history, economics, and bargaining, plus union-oriented books for children and young adults.  Prosten’s catalogue (which can be found at includes both practical “tools for union leaders and activists”  — of the sort published by WRP and LERP — and popular biographies of  Mother Jones, Eugene Debs, A. Philip Randolph, and Cesar Chavez.  Prosten’s own nuts-and-bolts handbook, The Union Steward’s Complete Guide, has sold more than 50,000 copies — thanks to UCS marketing efforts like its annual catalogue.

On LabourStart, Eric Lee’s cross-border labor campaign site (see link above), book reviews are regularly posted to generate orders from both Prosten’s catalogue and Powell’s, the unionized book-seller in Portland, Oregon. (LabourStart now lists almost 300 recommended titles in its “on-line bookstore” and, at one can find books favored by the ILWU Local 3 members who work at Powells.)  Even the AFL-CIO has made book buying easier via its own “on-line retail store” for labor activists.  The federation’s “Union Shop” has a much smaller selection of books competing for “shelf space” with union posters, sweat-shirts, golf balls, mugs, movies, games, and other merchandise.  For reasons noted above, none of the fifteen books on labor history or contemporary union affairs that it features are likely to ruffle any feathers among AFL affiliates.11

The web page of the independent United Electrical Workers markets two classic labor books — Them and Us: The Struggles of a Rank-and-File Union by journalist James Higgins and the UE’s first organizing director, James Matles, and Labor’s Untold Story by Richard Boyer and Herbert Morais.  (Originally published commercially in 1974, Them and Us was updated and reissued by the UE in 1995; first published half a century ago, the Boyer-Morais account of U.S. labor history is now in its third edition and 26th printing, thanks to the UE’s commitment to keeping it available for labor educator use, inside and outside the union.)  Meanwhile, on the west coast, every issue of Dispatcher, publication of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, carries a plug for ILWU-approved labor history books and videos, including several bios of union founder Harry Bridges, accounts of the 1934 San Francisco general strike, and David Wellman’s 1995 Cambridge University Press study, The Union Makes Us Strong: Radical Unionism on the San Francisco Waterfront.12

Unfortunately, other national union sites offer little in the way of good reading.  As Lee reports, “The Teamsters sell a whole range of products including watches, clocks, jewelry, clothing, leather goods, glassware and hats — but not a single book.”  (In the July/August, 2008 issue of The Teamster magazine, however, the IBT did find space for an author interview — with St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Philip Dine, who wrote State of The Unions.)  Meanwhile, the American Federation of Teachers’ website provides a link so members can order the latest Harry Potter from a union shop; yet, according to Lee, the AFT “doesn’t recommend any book that teachers might find useful and interesting as trade unionists.”  (In 2008, the union proved Eric partially wrong by finally touting one book on its site — a flattering biography of the late AFT chieftain Albert Shanker, written by Richard Kahlenberg and entitled, Tough Liberal.)

Such an underplaying of books seems particularly inexcusable in a white-collar union whose members have acquired 4-year (and advanced) degrees to teach reading and writing, among other subjects.  As longtime AFT member Joe Berry explains: “Teachers themselves don’t necessarily read much more than an average reader — which is to say, not as much as you might hope or wish.”  In his own role as a recruiter of students for labor ed programs run by the University of Illinois, Berry visits labor councils and attends local union membership meetings around the state.  There, he keeps alive the old labor education tradition of a “bookstore in a box” by setting up a literature table at every stop.  (His car is, in fact, a rolling bookstore, full of such boxes!)  In addition to displaying his own recent book (mentioned above), Berry offers titles ranging from Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States to the Lenny Moss mystery series authored by Tim Sheard (in which a hospital union steward in Philadelphia moonlights as a detective).  Months after setting up his book display at a labor event — and, often, making many sales — Berry sometimes receives emails from satisfied customers, telling him how much they enjoyed a non-fiction book or novel he sold them.

In my own experience, doing labor education work within the Communications Workers of America (CWA), book promotion efforts were always well received by the rank-and-file.  For many years, Cornell’s Lee Adler and I jointly organized a week-long leadership school for CWA activists in the northeast.  Since this program was held in Ithaca, home of the ILR Press, and at a conference center operated by the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, I began organizing an annual Cornell “book-and-author” event for the 100 or more CWA students in attendance.  The authors were usually recruited locally — among them, ILR School faculty members like Lance Compa, Jeff Cowie, Kate Bronfenbrenner, and Bill Sonnenstuhl.  Their topics included workers rights as human rights, runaway shops in manufacturing, successful organizing tactics, and local union involvement in Employee Assistance Programs.

Either at breakfast or during a lunch break, speakers would talk to our CWA group about a recent book they had written, take questions about it, and sign copies for any buyers.  CWAers were encouraged to make purchases from the large selection of other books — laid out on a table manned by ILR Press staffers — so they could start building a library for themselves or their local union back home.  For most members involved, this was the first “book-signing” they had ever attended.  Some responded so enthusiastically that they returned to their locals with stacks of ILR Press titles, catalogues, and order forms.  To underline the importance of reading as part of what would hopefully be a career-long quest for personal self-improvement, I told the first-year students at one such CWA school that buying, reading, and writing a review of an ILR Press book was a requirement for returning to Cornell the next year.  (This “homework” assignment was later waived, but the point was made.)  When I asked ILR extension program staffers and the ILR Press whether any other labor organization using Cornell’s conference center had ever sponsored any similar “book-and-author” events, they confirmed that none ever had.

If more unions took similar initiatives, there could be far greater book-selling synergy with university presses (or any cooperating labor book publisher) whenever union members are being trained at university facilities like Cornell’s or union-operated education centers, like the George Meany Center or the Maritime Institute, both located in Maryland. In an earlier era, some unions like the Auto Workers even operated book clubs for their members.  Les Leopold’s The Man Who Hated Work recalls how OCAW leader Tony Mazzocchi, a ninth grade drop-out, launched a book discussion group among local union activists on Long Island, in the mid-1950s.

Tony’s group saw itself as part of a working-class culture that encouraged self-education.  Soon there were more than twenty people enrolled in the University of Mazzocchi.  The introductory curriculum packed a political wallop.  It started with Howard Fast . . . books such as Freedom Road, Spartacus and Citizen Tom Paine.   Then, the group turned to the history of American class struggle through such works as Labor’s Untold Story and The History of the Fur and Leather Workers.   For some, the reading group opened the door to more traditional literature as well.  [One member] recalled how they passed around the Iliad and the Odyssey.13

In the larger left-liberal community today, the idea of a liberal — if not left-wing — book club is making a come-back.  In June 2008, a group of politically-active journalists, novelists, and non-fiction writers launched a new venture “which combines the offerings of a traditional book club with the interactive features of an online social network and the ideals of a grass-roots political party.”14  The Progressive Book Club (PBC) is backed by magazines and/or blogs like The Nation, Mother Jones, The Huffington Post, DailyKos, Salon, and others.  It hopes to attract a membership of several hundred thousand in the next few years, with the participation of major publishers and smaller houses like Chelsea Green Publishing and Soft Skull Press.   (Founded more than forty years ago, the PBC’s well-established counterpart on the right — the Conservative Book Club — boasts more than 80,000 members today.)

Among the PBC’s two hundred initial offerings, there are fewer than ten labor-related titles.  One of them is PBC editorial board member Andy Stern’s own book, A Country That Works.  (To its credit, SEIU is also an organizational sponsor of the club — and the only union involved so far.)  Stern’s fellow board member, Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, cites the conservative movement’s success in spreading its ideas, via books, as one reason why more of the liberal-left, including labor, should get on board.  Says vanden Heuvel: “It seems like a good time to rededicate ourselves to the notion that ideas have power and consequence, and that the grassroots can use those ideas to create change.”

The Progressive Book Club was established to help restore balance to American discourse by bringing progressive voices and issues to the forefront.  It offers a strong social networking platform — members can learn, debate, interact, and exchange ideas through PBC’s vibrant online community.  Offline there will be opportunities to interact with authors, progressive opinion leaders, and fellow members at local events, readings, and book discussions.15

Preoccupied as they may be with their own survival struggles, more unions would be well advised to join SEIU in promoting the PBC — or, better yet, starting their own, smaller-scale version of it.  This could be done in conjunction with the handful of labor-oriented journals which regularly review or run excerpts from labor-related books, or by a group of cooperating labor studies centers.  Either way, it’s long past time for progressives in labor to find new methods of encouraging rank-and-file reading — or to revive some of the old-fashioned ones.



1  Rachel Donadio, “You’re an Author?  Me Too!” New York Times Book Review, April 27, 2008: 27.

2  Eric Lee, “Educate, Agitate, Organize: Selling Labor Books On-Line,” The Industrial Worker, May, 2005: 4.  (Available on line at

3  See Embedded with Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home, forthcoming in May 2009, from Monthly Review Press.

4  For more in that genre, see also Kim Moody, U.S. Labor in Trouble and Transition: the Failure of Reform from Above, the Promise of Revival from Below (Verso, 2007).

5  Stern’s 2006 book is not the first to benefit from a “captive market” of union members.   See, for example, From Telegraph to the Internet, another ghost-assisted volume, published in 1998 by then-Communications Workers of America president Morty Bahr.  With a forward by his good friend Senator Edward Kennedy, a longtime recipient of CWA political contributions, Bahr’s book was “marketed” within the union much like Stern’s has been inside and outside SEIU — as “part autobiography, part labor history, and part vision of how unions can proceed into the next century.”

6  Since Which Side Are You On? and Nickel and Dimed appeared, two of the few remaining daily newspaper reporters assigned to the labor beat have turned their reportage into widely-publicized trade press books on the state of working life and/or organized labor in America.  In 2007, St. Louis Post Dispatch reporter Phil Dine published State of the Unions (McGraw-Hill), followed by New York Times staffer Steve Greenhouse’s book, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for The American Worker (Borzoi Books, 2008).

7  Andre Shifrin, “How To Pay For A Free Press,” Le Monde Diplomatique, October 2007.

8  In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that Gordon is my wife and that I have also contracted with Cornell to write a book about the influence of Sixties’ radicals within American labor.  Gordon is co-editor of an ILR Press series on the “Culture and Politics of Health Care Work” which publishes her own books on care-giving work and others.  Gordon’s series of books on nursing have sold nearly 100,000 copies, with most of her readers being working RNs and nursing students.

9  Berry’s publisher (and mine), Monthly Review, is part of a third option available to labor authors interested in by-passing both trade and academic publishers.  Left-wing  independent publishing houses include MR Press, 106-year old Charles H. Kerr Publishing in Chicago and Boston’s Sixties-inspired South End Press.   MRP has a number of good labor-related titles, including Michael Yates’ 20,000 selling Why Unions Matter (about to appear in a new edition) and his more recent, very entertaining Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate: An Economist’s Travelogue (2007).  Kerr’s catalogue runs heavily toward “Wobbly classics” — books for and about members of the Industrial Workers of the World.  But its list also includes the work of non-IWW writers like Martin Glaberman.   South End has published more than 250 left-leaning titles since 1977 — among them labor-oriented books like Vanessa Tait’s Poor Workers’ Unions: Rebuilding Labor From Below.

10  See, for example, New York City carpenter Greg Butler’s Disunited Brotherhoods: Race, Racketeering, and The Fall of New York Construction Unions, published by iUniverse in 2006.

11  At the local level, at least one AFL-CIO central labor council leader used his regular radio show on WDEV in Vermont to interview authors of a wider range of labor books.  Guests of talk show host Traven Leyshon, a Labor Notes supporter and president of the Washington-Orange-Lamoille Labor Council, have included Bill Fletcher, Fernando Gapasin, Suzanne Gordon, and other writers.

12  Two Canadian unions have creatively supported and promoted more contemporary portraits of themselves.  Despite his own recent criticism of the union leadership, Sam Gindin’s book, The Canadian Auto Workers: Birth and Transformation of a Union, is still advertised on the CAW‘s website; meanwhile, Jamie Swift’s Walking The Union Walk: Stories From The CEP’s First Ten Years is still widely used in the education programs of the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers to promote solidarity among the disparate elements of that recently amalgamated national union.

13  Les Leopold, The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor: The Life and Times of Tony Mazzocchi (Chelsea Green Press, 2008).  For more on “working class intellectuals” — in the pre-television era — see Jonathan Rose’s The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (Yale University Press, 2001).  Rose’s study of what one reviewer calls an “enormously energetic working-class reading culture” describes the varied literature that workers read and discussed in 20th century Britain.

14  See Associated Press report, June 16, 2008.  Also Motoko Rich, “A Book Club Courts Liberals,” The New York Times, June 16, 2008.  For more information on how the PBC works, see

15  Katrina vanden Heuvel, “Progressive Book Lovers of the World, Unite!” June 16, 2008.

Steve Early has written about labor for The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, Tikkun, Social Policy, The American Prospect, New Politics, New Labor Forum, WorkingUSA, Against The Current, and many other publications.  As a national staff member of the Communications Workers of America, he was involved in union organizing, bargaining, and strike activity for 27 years.  This article is adapted from the introduction and afterward to Embedded with Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home (Monthly Review Press, 2009); it also appears in Against the Current (January-February 2009).  Copies of Embedded with Organized Labor can be ordered now at: <>.