The signal strength of Jane McAlevey’s bracing, provocative, fantastic-read of a book is that in the act of reading it, you begin to feel the power that strong organizing can help create.
For union members (and those aspiring to union membership), Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell) does just that: raises expectations of what good organizing can do, and what good unions can be.
Many sections read as pithy how-to guides: what you need to do a sticker-up; how to identify leaders in the workplace, what to do to keep momentum going in a campaign. In reading this comprehensive and gripping narrative of the blow-by-blow, you can imagine how tight the corners you are forced into can become, and she gives you many escape routes.
Jane McAlevey’s ‘Raising Expections’ gives a union organizer’s view from the front lines
Jane McAlevey introduces her bare-knuckled bluntness early in “Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell),” a sometimes rambling, often sharply drawn memoir of her life as a very successful union organizer.
Jane McAlevey’s Raising Expectations, an account of the problems and possibilities of trade union activism in the US, is full of wit and wisdom
Jane McAlevey’s engaging memoir kicks off mid-battle during the contested US presidential election of 2000. Amid accusations of voter fraud and election rigging, McAlevey was pulled into the fray to help dig out the truth from the piles of badly-aligned ballots and now-infamous hanging chads in the hopes of showing that Al Gore and not George W Bush had actually won in Florida. She remembers confusion, and then outrage, at the American left’s over-polite approach to organising angry voters who felt that their votes had been stolen. Constrained by old-guard labour’s resistance to forming alliances and raising their voices, her suggestions were muted as America’s nasty party pulled off a successful coup. Her opening effectively fires-up readers and leaves us firmly on her side, spoiling for the fights to come.
Raising labor’s expectations
IT’S THE summer of 2006. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Nevada, under the leadership of its new executive director, “Hurricane Jane” McAlevey, is taking the state by storm.
Having just settled an industry-standard setting contract at Catholic Healthcare West (CHW) hospitals, the local has embarked on a fierce contract campaign at for-profit Sunrise Hospital in Los Vegas.
Raising Hell and Dust in the Desert
The uphill climb for American organized labor to regain its economic clout and political power is akin to scaling Mount Kilimanjaro during a blizzard. Major countervailing winds — epitomized by the legal system that makes it easy for corporations to fire employees interested in forming unions and turn to multi-million dollar law firms to crush worker militancy — make the survival of labor unions seem near impossible. However, as former labor organizer Jane McAlevey writes in Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell), some of organized labors’ struggles spring from the labor movement itself, namely in the form of internecine union wars and poor strategic vision.
Raising Expectations is, quite simply, the best thing on organizing I’ve read in a decade.
Given today’s dismal realities for unions, both in Canada and around the world, it
is best not to mince words about Jane McAlevy’s recent book. Raising Expectations is,
quite simply, the best thing on organizing I’ve read in a decade. Maybe that is because I
have worked for organized labour, and seen first-hand its potential in winning the
victories workers deserve. I do not think unions are tired relics of postwar history. But
even if that is your view, this book might convince you otherwise.
Download the Socialist_Studies_Review_Spring_2013 (PDF)
In the face of the kind of anti-union terrorism practiced by corporate America, there is no substitute for face-to-face peer reinforcement organizing
Raising Expectations has been a controversial book on the labor left. Much of that criticism flows from the fact that this book covers some of the controversial history of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
SEIU positioned itself as one of America’s most dynamic unions in the late 1980’s by being willing to throw massive resources into large scale organizing campaigns, most notably the Justice for Janitors initiative, which successfully reorganized and organized a largely Latino immigrant janitorial workforce in many of the country’s largest commercial office building markets.
Reading the title of this book would, at first glance, suggest that its appeal wouldn’t extend much beyond a rather narrow constituency of trade unionists and labor organizers. While the problems unions face might find some sympathy in the wider, general audience, really, who needs the details? That probably would have been my reaction had I come across Raising Expectations browsing in a bookstore.
But I happened to hear Jane McAlevey interviewed on the radio and as I listened to her describe her battles not just with management but with the hierarchy of Big Labor, I heard a much larger story of a struggle for empowerment against the institutional powers that dominate our society. McAlevey is a tough woman and this is a powerful and engaging book for anyone concerned with any of the social struggles across the spectrum on the national scene.
Labor legend Jerry Brown responds to critics of Jane McAlevey
I am writing as someone who was directly involved in the unusually effective changes led by Jane McAlevey in Local 1107, SEIU Las Vegas, and as someone who watched with real sadness the subsequent undermining and failure of that Local. I am the retired president of 1199 New England, a union of some 23,000 members with a proud history of militant rank and file activity and high standards in the public and private sector. McAlevy identifies me as one of her mentors in the labor movement and I am happy to wear that description.
Sam Gindin wrote a really thoughtful review of Raising Expectations (& Raising Hell). It 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.