Analyzing 20 Years of New Labor’s Leadership in the US Labor Movement

My first academic article is hitting the press, published by the journal Politics & Society. If you have access to a university account, please download it from their website. Politics & Society is an expensive academic journal and my article, along with several commentaries written by other academics, are all locked behind a firewall. But you can read my article by clicking here. In addition, though the journal apparently solicited only critical commentaries, the editors are refusing to let me respond. As such, you can read my response to the commentaries by clicking here.

This article was just awarded the “Best Graduate Student Paper of the Year,” by the Labor Section of the American Sociological Association.

What follows is the ‘abstract’ for the article. Abstract is an academic term that basically equates to a summary of the key arguments I make.


Scholars attribute contemporary union failure to structural factors, such as the legal decision allowing striking workers to be permanently replaced, and to globalization. This paper examines the strategic choices made by New Labor’s leadership after their victory at the AFL-CIO in 1996, and the choices made by the breakaway unions that formed Change-to-Win (CTW). I identify the influence of Saul Alinsky in the background of many of the current New Labor leaders and attribute the strengths and weaknesses of New Labor’s organizing approach to Alinsky’s strengths and weaknesses. I argue that despite two decades of rhetoric about organizing and the difficulties presented by a hostile climate, a critical factor in labor’s decline rests with decisions within their control; their decisions to embrace corporate campaigns and narrowly defined interest-based politics, strategies that led unions away from workers and the workplace and put them at odds with unorganized workers and the community.

To listen to a podcast of a discussion of the article between myself and Doug Henwood on his radio show, see below.


Keynote Speech, The Parkland Institute

I gave one of several keynote speeches at Alberta, Canada’s premier progressive policy and research operation, called the Parkland Institute. I zero in on the different between mobilizing and organizing in this talk and discuss how we will only be able to build sufficient power to challenge the elites when we return to deep organizing. I argue we have to put the agency for change back on ordinary people, not professional staff.

Click here to watch the full video.


Behind the News with Doug Henwood

Doug Henwood and I sat down and spent an hour discussing my new Politics & Society article (September 2015 issue). The interview is an overview of the past twenty years of what’s called ‘New Labor’s’ ascent to the leadership of the US labor movement. As Henwood points out, the article is locked behind an expensive firewall. If you have access to a university library account, please download the article. Otherwise, click here for the article as I submitted it to the journal.


We Need Syriza in Illinois

The new governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, is a hedge fund manager whose salary last year was $60 million. He spent $65.9 million—including $27.6 million of his own money—buying his last election, and he’s about to introduce an austerity program that will make most folks in Illinois think they are living in austerity-wracked Greece, with less idyllic weather. While he’s generating national headlines by trash talking unions, he is quietly taking a scalpel to every important social program in the state, starting with an Illinois’ program which subsidizes high-quality childcare for 160,000 low income kids. Instead of extending a small tax increase that passed the Illinois legislature in 2011, staving off a crisis, he’s letting the increases expire. Rauner is methodically manufacturing an economic crisis for his state, one that will let him do what he has long been set on doing: shrink the government and squeeze the 99 percent.

To read the full story, click here.


Harris v. Quinn: Separate, and not equal

It’d be more than alarming and resoundingly condemned if any institution in the United States tried to take our country back to the days before Dred Scott, or to when people of color in this country fell under the racist and dehumanizing “three-fifths rule.” But the Supreme Court’s decision in Harris v. Quinn smacks of a new three-fifths rule by declaring the fastest growing occupation in the nation — an occupation dominated by people of color and women as made up of “partial” or “quasi” public employees. The Harris decision, which concludes that workers who provide essential government services to the frail and elderly aren’t “full” public employees, is best understood in the context of two other seminal moments when U.S. lawmakers stacked the deck for employers and against people of color and women trying to improve their lot in life by forming strong unions.

This article was published by Waging NonViolence and also by Alternet. To read the full piece, click here.


The Nation: Beating Harris v Quinn and Right-to-Work Attacks from the Inside Out

Unions are in trouble. Short of a giant meteor crashing on top of the nation’s union headquarters emblazoned with the words, “warning, you will soon be crushed by right-to-work laws,” few things could be clearer from the Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn ruling.

Harris v. Quinn unites some of the most toxic trends in American labor tradition. It resurrects the worst of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, the racially motivated, sexist concept of “excluded workers,” and then joins it with one of the worst provisions of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, the so-called “right-to-work” legal framework which attempts to gut unions from the inside-out. (Although “right to work” has historically been a state’s rights concept, Harris v. Quinn effectively nationalizes it.)

In the hours since the ruling came down, labor has reacted much as it has to other  assaults of the last few years: with a mix of head-scratching and denial. But as challenging as any solution might be, figuring out what to do is not astrophysics. To beat Harris v. Quinn and similar measures being thrown at workers and their unions, the labor movement must address what is happening to it internally.

To read the full article in The Nation magazine, click here.


A Discerning Review of the New Edition of Raising Expectations (& Raising Hell)

Thanks to Canadian Dimensions for re-blogging this review and for this nice graphic.

Sam Gindin wrote a really thoughtful review of Raising Expectations (& Raising Hell). It is hard to pick out any one paragraph, but I keep coming back to a key one near the end of his piece, where he says,

“In this context, McAlevey’s book is timely and desperately needed because it convincingly demonstrates that the problem is not in the stars, but in ourselves. If we as the Left can get our shit together, it is possible to build groups of workers into a social force in spite of the times.”

To read the full review in Jacobin, click here.