Labor Power and Strategy
Author: John Womack Jr. • Edited by Peter Olney and Glenn Perušek
Series: PM Press
Subjects: Political Science, Labor, Political Economy, Activism, and Globalization
What would it take to topple Amazon? To change how health care works in America? To break up the media monopolies that have taken hold of our information and imaginations? How is it possible to organize those without hope working on the margins? In Labor Power and Strategy, legendary strategist, historian, and labor organizer John Womack speaks directly to a new generation, providing rational, radical, experience-based perspectives that help target and run smart, strategic, effective campaigns in the working class.
In this sleek, practical, pocket inspiration, Womack lays out a timely plan for identifying chokepoints and taking advantage of supply chain issues in order to seize and build labor power and solidarity. In interviews by Peter Olney of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Womack’s lively, illuminating thoughts are built upon by ten labor organizers and educators, whose responses create a rich dialogue and open a space for joyful, achievable change. With inspiring stories of triumph, this back-pocket primer is an instant classic.
Contributors include: Gene Bruskin, Carey Dall, Dan DiMaggio, Katy Fox-Hodess, Bill Fletcher Jr., Jane McAlevey, Jack Metzgar, Joel Ochoa, Melissa Shetler, and Rand Wilson.
“In Our Revolution we shout, 'When we Organize, We Win,' but organize who and win what? Labor Power and Strategy is a great collection of Womack and ten organizers debating strategic workplace organizing versus associational or more general organizing at workplaces or in communities. Womack, in a long initial interview and in the conclusion, argues that without organizing workplace choke points, we are left with the spontaneous movements that come and go. Several of the organizers essentially argue that the spontaneous can become conscious and long-lasting. Grab the book and take up the debate.”
—Larry Cohen, board chair of Our Revolution, past president of Communications Workers of America
"In this fascinating and insightful dialogue, the distinguished historian John Womack and a set of veteran labor activists probe the most fundamental of questions: How do we organize the twenty-first-century working class and give it the power to transform world capitalism? Are workers with vital skills and strategic leverage the key to a labor resurgence, or should organizers wager upon a mobilization of working people whose relationship to the economy’s commanding heights is more diffuse? Or can we arrive at some dialectical symbiosis? Whatever the answer, this is the kind of constructively radical conversation essential to the rebirth of working-class power in our time."
—Nelson Lichtenstein, historian and author of Capitalism Contested: The New Deal and Its Legacies
"Put this unique collection of strategic insights into the hands of the new generation of militants excited about revitalizing the US labor movement and 'working-class power' might once again become something other than an abstract slogan in this country. Couldn't be more timely."
—Max Elbaum, editor at Convergence Magazine and author of Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che
“Labor Power and Strategy is essential reading for activists and organizers seeking to understand how in a constantly changing world of work workers can marshal power.
—Elaine Bernard, former executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School
“The comprehensive campaigns model is essential to labor’s efforts to rebuild power. This book, focusing on workers' positional power in production and distribution, explores a key element of such an overall approach.”
—Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of Labor Education Research and a senior lecturer at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations
“Womack’s focus upon the essential ingredients of effective and strategic organizing resonates today, as elements in labor now attempt to bestir themselves in the midst of unrelenting decline. His view that workers must seek forward movement through their own initiatives, independent of law, political process and formal machinery represents an important clarion call, rooted in the practical historical experience of more than a century. Womack’s instructive views and observation warrant careful attention.”
—William B. Gould IV, author of For Labor to Build Upon: Wars, Depression and Pandemic
About the Contributors
John Womack Jr. is the Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics, emeritus, at Harvard University. He served as chairman of the Department of History, 1982–85, and acting chairman, 1991–92. Born and raised in Norman, Oklahoma, he first joined a union, the International Laborers and Hod Carriers, while in high school, earning a union wage in summer construction work. He held his card until he graduated from college and went to work at The Louisville Times—then into graduate studies and later into academic work. His publications include Zapata and the Mexican Revolution (1968) and Rebellion in Chiapas (1999).
Peter Olney is a retired director of organizing for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). He was Associate Director of the University of California’s Institute for Labor and Employment (ILE). Olney holds a master’s in business administration from UCLA and resides in San Francisco. Olney teaches building trades union organizers as a member of the faculty of the Building Trades Academy at Michigan State University. Olney is an editor of The Stansbury Forum (stansburyforum.com).
Glenn Perušek conducts strategic research for organizing and contract campaigns and is a member of the faculty of the Building Trades Academy at Michigan State University. He directed the Center for Strategic Research at the national AFL-CIO; worked in strategic research and campaigns at the IBEW and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. His work includes Tragedy and Necessity, From Sarajevo to the Berlin Wall, Shifting Terrain, Depth of Field, and Trade Union Politics: American Unions and Economic Change. Glenn earned a BA summa cum laude from Kent State University, where he was Mona Fletcher Award winner. He holds a PhD from the University of Chicago, where he was Merriam Fellow and winner of the Baker Prize, a research competition in the social sciences. Glenn was a journeyman member of the Chicago Typographical Union.
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