Insurgent Labor: The Vermont AFL-CIO 2017–2023
Author: David Van Deusen • Foreword by Kim Kelly • Introduction by Steve Early
Series: PM Press
Subjects: Labor & Industrial Relations, Political Advocacy, Anarchism, Activism & Social Justice
Available for preorder.
Insurgent Labor tracks the trials and tribulations of bringing a formerly stagnant labor union into national relevance with an unapologetically left-wing agenda.
David Van Deusen charts the rise of the UNITED! ticket to create a progressive and militant labor union. He chronicles the many victories throughout his tenure including expanding union democracy into the rank and file, moving power away from single individuals and into democratic structures, supporting farm workers, supporting Black self-determination, and supporting Black Lives Matter. Van Deusen also managed to include support for the revolutionary efforts in Rojava.
The boldest step undertaken by the Vermont AFL-CIO—and marker of years of steady progress in labor organizing and raising of political consciousness in Vermont—was authorizing a call for a general strike throughout Vermont as a possible response to the November coup threat.
This book should be of interest to anyone, whether they have merely thought of joining a union or are an old union hand. Most importantly, Insurgent Labor offers a blueprint for militant labor’s advances in an era of capitalist polycrisis and offers hope for a brighter future based around equality, justice, and true democracy.
“Employing historically effective left strategies Van Duesen shows how a Central Labor Body organized to fight for both the economic and political interests of workers can unite with other social movements to blunt right-wing attacks on workers at the workplace and globally. Essential reading for those who believe in democracy.”
—Fernando E. Gapasin, principal researcher for AFL-CIO 1996 “Union Cities” project and coauthor with Bill Fletcher, Jr. of Solidarity Divided
“Labor Councils focused on member involvement and action are needed now more than ever. Vermont is a model for cross union solidarity and David Van Deusen’s account should inspire others.”
—Larry Cohen, former national president of Communications Workers of America and AFL-CIO Executive Council member; current chair of Our Revolution
“Van Deusen’s Insurgent Labor tells the compelling story of the Vermont AFL-CIO and how they took a left turn in their politics. A must read for rank-and-file union members and those looking to make progressive change in society.”
—David Zuckerman, Vermont lieutenant governor (VT Progressive Party)
“This is a fascinating account of a multiyear campaign to transform a sleepy business-as usual state labor federation into a vibrant, militant, and inclusive example of what the union movement should be. Steering our labor organizations in a better direction requires internal struggle against the powers that be and a willingness to believe in rank-and-file workers. Anyone looking for a primer in class struggle unionism, on a cross-union basis, should get a copy of this very instructive and readable book.”
—Joe Burns, AFA-CWA director of collective bargaining and author of Class Struggle Unionism
“On his way to becoming president of the Vermont AFL-CIO, Dave Van Deusen hit a hard truth: ‘A majority of members had no idea what the AFL-CIO was, let alone understand why growing its power mattered. . . . The State Labor Council was so far removed from their day-to-day reality that they did not even recognize the name.’ This gap between labor officialdom and working union members is so pervasive—and so tragic—that the story Insurgent Labor tells will be inspirational to reformers widely. It is a refreshingly frank account of how Van Deusen painstakingly put power back in the hollow shell of the State Labor Council, and helped rekindle the potential of militant, democratic, rank-and-file unionism. As disgruntled union members justifiably demand more of their union “tops,” this book will be both a goad and a guide.”
—Ellen David Friedman, Labor Notes board member
“This is a book for our times. From the periphery of the class struggle in Vermont, to its heart, Insurgent Labor tells the story of how a group of militant Vermont organizers, holding fast to principle and refusing to compromise, are winning the battle for all working people and those who believe in true democracy.”
—Jeff Jones, former Weather Underground militant, currently active in the fight for environmental justice
“Insurgent Labor chronicles how the Vermont AFL-CIO has significantly extended the progressive energy of exemplary Central Labor Councils going back to the 1980s. Van Deusen’s book is a welcome addition to ongoing debates about union revitalization strategies at the state and local level. This story should inspire union activists to organize for change throughout the labor movement.”
—David Newby, president emeritus, Wisconsin state AFL-CIO
“Insurgent Labor shows us that labor organizing is far from dead, and still has meaningful fangs in today’s workplaces when organized on anarchist ideas and practice of cooperation, direct action, and solidarity in tandem with some local electoral strategies. Van Deusen illustrates well how the tensions between these disparate approaches can provide meaningful solutions for rank-and-file union workers without kowtowing to union bosses, special interests, or political parties.”
—scott crow, author of Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy, and the Common Ground Collective
About the Contributors
David Van Deusen is a longtime libertarian-socalist thinker, organizer, and militant union leader. He has been President of the Vermont AFL-CIO since 2019 and is part of the progressive United! Slate. He is also a member of Democratic Socialists of America and a past member of Anti-Racist Action and the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective (NEFAC-VT). Van Deusen resides in Northern Vermont.
Kim Kelly is an independent journalist, author, and organizer. She has been a regular labor columnist for Teen Vogue since 2018, and her writing on labor, class, politics, and culture has appeared in the New Republic, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Baffler, the Nation, the Columbia Journalism Review, and Esquire, among many others. She is the author of Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor and resides in Philadelphia, PA.
Steve Early has been active as a labor journalist, lawyer, organizer, or union representative since 1972. He is the author of Embedded with Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home, The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor: Birth of a New Workers’ Movement or Death Throes of the Old?, and Save Our Unions: Dispatches from a Movement in Distress. He lives in Port Richmond, CA.
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