A review of Save Our Unions: Dispatches from a Movement in Distress, by Steve Early
Rebuilding Labor from Below
September 25, 2014: It’s no secret that the U.S. labor movement is in distress. To those who care about how to turn that situation around, Steve Early has a message worth reading in his Save Our Unions: Dispatches from a Movement in Distress.
The book describes the problems facing workers—and some possible solutions such as organizing more union members, waging successful strikes, or developing new union leadership at the local or national level The chapters are essays (many have appeared previously in various magazine and labor publications), most of which tell stories of real people and struggles.
Early doesn’t pull punches. The good guys and gals don’t always win. But sometimes they do, and those lessons are valuable for all of us.
Early worked for decades as an International Rep in the Communication Workers of America, but also has a long history with the Teamsters Union. In 1978 he was instrumental in facilitating a merger of two new Teamster reform movements: Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) and PROD, which had been launched with help from Ralph Nader. A decade later, he helped the Ron Carey campaign win the 1991 election, and took a temporary position in the Ron Carey administration as a consultant in 1992. He’s been a supporter of TDU ever since.
In one section of the book, “Rebels with a Cause,” Early reports and compares struggles for democracy in the Teamsters, mine workers, steelworkers, transport workers, auto workers, and more. Early isn’t afraid to examine weaknesses in high places in labor, as in the book section “Is there a Leader in the House?” But he doesn’t dwell on top officials—the book focuses on the tactics, strategies and real people working to alleviate labor’s distress.
Teamster Local 391 steward Nichele Fulmore summed it up in a blurb on the book cover: “It’s hard to fight the war on workers when unions behave like business and act like it’s all about the money. This book shows why we need a labor movement that represents all working people, not just a few.”
There are lots of books on labor. Few are rooted so clearly in the struggles, victories and defeats of workers and their unions as Save Our Unions. This is Early’s third book in the past several years, since he left full-time union work. Let’s hope it is not the last.
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