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A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  240 ratings  ·  49 reviews
From longtime labor organizer Jane McAlevey, a vital call-to-arms in favor of unions, a key force capable of defending our democracy

For decades, racism, corporate greed, and a skewed political system have been eating away at the social and political fabric of the United States. Yet as McAlevey reminds us, there is one weapon whose effectiveness has been proven repeatedly t
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published January 7th 2020 by Ecco
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Jul 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Early in A Collective Bargain, Jane McAlevey describes the effect anti-union propaganda has had on even liberal-leaning voters:
"Liberal acquaintances of mine say that union members are spoiled, that unions protect incompetent workers, charge too much in dues, and preclude business innovation… Friends who wouldn’t dream of eating nonorganic food, who drive electric vehicles, send money to save Tiber, and marched wearing pink pussy hats complain that the teacher’s union is the reason public school
Jan 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent unionist handbook to follow if you’re looking to:
1) Form a union (chapter on Philly nurses) and looking at the mechanics of a union drive, how to navigate highly-funded anti-union consulting firms trying to break worker solidarity
2) Transform a union you’re currently in (chapter on LA teachers)
3) Understand US labor history within an economic development framework and the laws that have purposefully been implemented to stop union growth
4) Understand the organizing model a
rosa guac
Sep 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: labor
never understood the history nor the power that unions had in amerika— when we think about some practical tools to challenge capitalism and it’s hegemony in all aspects of our work, unionizing (if done right) is a serious mechanism we should consider.

thankful for the workers and organizers who keep fighting and pushing for better conditions, even when the powers that be stand in the way. this book gave me immense hope in the power that unions have and how it can seriously be used to better the
Jan 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
as someone who mostly reads theory and political books that advocate a full revolution as a solution to our political woes (or that don't offer any solutions at all), it was interesting to read the perspective of someone who has a belief in the use of institutions and who offered solutions beyond the typical reliance on electoral politics. the sections on the history of labor in the united states were most interesting to me, but the case studies were also pretty hopeful. i'm not sure if this boo ...more
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Nothing I’ve read or experienced firsthand has convinced me of the necessity of unions across all industries more than this book. So much of what we’re all fighting for now in the COVID-19 crisis — paycheck security, worker safety protections, affordable health care, a more human-centered response to the pandemic in general — we’d undoubtedly already have if widespread unionization was in place. I grew up in an anti-union family in an anti-union state (SC) in a particularly bad time for unions ( ...more
Rebekah Mercer
Sep 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a great history of US labour wins via union activity and union related US laws (how/why they got put into place, and what they mean for unions and corporations).

My favourite was the chapter about the LA teachers unions and how and why public schools in California were gutted (local governments weren’t allowed to raise taxes to fund public services (due to 1977’s prop 13)) and then how now there’s more money (2012 millionaires tax/prop 30).

The author is against automation and dismisses U
Feb 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
Her first two books were like an absolute bolt of lightning for me. This would be great for someone who considers themselves progressive but maybe doesn't see why unions are relevant anymore or thinks they might be good in the abstract but doesn't see their central importance to political struggles. That said, once we step out of more narrow labour movement strategy and stories into the broader political arena, this was pretty well-covered ground for me and while McAlevey does a good job at synt ...more
Thomas Kelley
Dec 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
The author who has been a union organizer and a chief negotiator put together a pretty good book that contains a solid collection of union history both past and relatively current. The past history with what political actions that took place meaning the development of the NLRA and individuals exercising their collective power. It also talks about the many things that have harm unions in general with actions like the Taft Hartley act and other actions by both politicians and the business communit ...more
Laura Schmidt
Feb 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
The book is a stark reminder of the importance of strong unions in our society. It made me despair for where we stand now, yet hopeful about what we can achieve.

As a little girl, I wanted to grow up to be a union organizer and lead my people on strike. That never came about, but I truly believe that this will be the century ow women - women in politics and women bringing unions and collective bargaining back to the forefront. I expect to see McAlevey’s book added to Labor History curricula next
Michelle Lu
Sep 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’m writing this from my phone and I’ll go back in and update with some of the specific takeaways (there were many and they were all tactical organizing tips, which I appreciated much.)

This book gave me hope. The author, a lifelong union organizer and negotiator, revisits the role and story of unions in the post-Trump election age, and spoiler alert: they’re still relevant, they still inspire hope, and they’re still raising expectations and living standards of so many workers in the states. If
Nick Martin
Aug 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
McAlevey makes her overall point well: militant unions and strikes have been (and continue to be) essential to winning victories for all working people.

I thought the in-depth explanation of organizing tactics & structure tests was kind of jarring and less relevant for the average reader in relation to the more broadly historical and political theme of the book - although I found it super interesting as an organizer.

I wish she would make a more direct argument about the strategic path forward fo
Mar 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: political-stuff
This is a fun and quick and very accessible book to read to get your toes wet with the labor movement. The first bunch does a good job explaining why and how unions are important to democracy itself, including nowadays. Chapters 5 and 6 make it very concrete with how-tos of how good organizers approach campaigns, with lessons that can be applied in lots of contexts.

If you're a new organizer or rank-and-file activist or someone who supports unions generally but doesn't know a ton, this is a grea
Apr 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
So relevant right now. Impressive that McAlevey wrote it on such a tight deadline, although it was tough to read the last chapter on the 2020 US election considering the circumstances. I’m very curious about McAlevey’s take on what unfolded and how we can continue to fight for worker’s rights after this huge failure.
Apr 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: labor
Maybe the most important book I've ever read? An excellent, accessible text for folks with little information on the American labor movement and it's contemporary resurgence. ...more
Jan 11, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
An emotional piece for the power of the whip:
* do you want to work to support a family? If you are not a member of the union we can beat you within an inch of death
* do you want to improve your life? The Union has put restrictions on most jobs so you would need years of useless training at an exorbitant price most people can't pay only to get your foot in the door
* do you think you can do a better job? The Union is there to protect the jobs of killer cops and violent teachers and guess what... e
May 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A book that every everyman needs to read. The middle class has been committing slow suicide for 30+ years. They need to be a lot more thoughtful than they have been. This book would be part of that process.

Some people would say I’m a pessimist. I so strongly disagree. I’m a realist. No one who needs to read this book will read this book. Every everyman just doesn’t give a shit. Too much work. Too much thought. What’s on TV?

They’ll continue to give clowns all the power. No effort. Just entertainm
Kayla Santosuosso
Feb 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Should be essential reading for every American. Explains a brief history of the labor movement since WWI, and ties the rise and fall of unions directly to our present state of unprecedented income inequality. Also gives direct pointers to those trying to unionize their workplace. McAlevey writes with a straightforward and accessible style uncommon among both academic and left literature. No prerequisites needed on this one.
Jenn Cervella
Sep 07, 2020 rated it it was ok
If you want to read a book trashing the Democratic Party and erasing by omitting pivotal details of union history, this is the book. I should have known by its size it would be a biased leftist think piece and not a critical assessment of the Labor movement in America. Most disappointing is the incomplete history of the AFL-CIO merger and the reason for the (still obviously present) tensions today. She mentions AFSCME and the Memphis sanitization workers strike, even that MLK went to Memphis to ...more
Feb 21, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn’t really know much about unions until I got a union job in 2018 - I just had hopes it would be better than the job I was in. It didn’t take long for me to understand the impact of belonging to a strong union. My salary is good; my time off is granted; my schedule is consistent; and all of us workers have a say in the direction of our workplace.

Coming into this book, I similarly knew little about the history of the labor movement in the U.S. While this book isn’t fully focused on that, it
Aug 31, 2020 rated it liked it
McAlevey has some great stories to share from her experience as a Union organizer, and those case studies are worth listening to. Her overall argument needs work, though. She does not engage seriously with scholarship on the big questions that she makes sweeping declarations about (most of her most scientific sources are newspaper articles), and there are a number of areas where it is clear that she has not thought through her opinions in any depth (for example, her views on globalization). I do ...more
Marc Schneider
Feb 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
A fine synthesis of history, analysis, and anecdotes on why unions are good, actually. A weakness of this book is that, because she believes our societal ills stem from wealth inequality rather than capitalist political economy, she fails to give a comprehensive critique and therefore offers an inadequate prognosis. Organizing unions is well worth it, but is it enough? Perhaps at the current juncture it’s the best we can do to build power for the working class.

Still, I recommend everyone read i
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
McAlevey definitely has a particular point of view about unions and their role in society, which was very inspiring interesting to read about at length. I really appreciated the chapter on the UTLA teachers' strikes in LA in 2018 and the nurses unionizing drive in Philadelphia — good level of detail on organizing tactics and strategy. I think McAlevey's arguments about how critical unions are to democracy were underdeveloped, though. I also think her take on union avoidance in the tech industry ...more
Britt Stern
Oct 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
i couldn't put it down, this book is so important and fascinating. mcalevey explains the current legal landscape for unions in the US, and gives the applicable legal and social history of labor unions. throughout she tells the compelling stories of the people and workplaces she has unionized. each is unique in terms of strategy, but more than that comes alive in the way that mcalevey describes the unique personalities and courage of the people that come together, overcoming differences and so ma ...more
Aaron Goodwin
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
I’m not sure how you could write a more timely, inclusive, and actionable book this length. It’s astounding to think it was done in under two months. It combines a historical and economical primer on unions in the U.S. followed by recent examples with details and lessons from those in the trenches of organizing.

If you’re interested in combating reactionary politics and improving the daily life of Americans put this at the tip of your reading list. It provides the tools and understanding necessa
May 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
A nice 101 introduction to unions, and why they matter to workers and the political life of the nation. A series of well-organized and accessible chapters explain how unions work, why they've declined, how to revive them, and why the frontlines of union organizing are largely female these days. Includes several case studies on unionizing drives among teachers, nurses, and even programmers, which are very readable, and even exciting! ...more
Bobby Murphy
Jan 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
A great look at some recent wins for organized labor despite several decades of anti union policies by both Democrats and Republicans. There are some good descriptions of the political activities of the 21st century robber barons in Silicon Valley, many of whom are some of the Democrats' biggest supporters. Overall, the book makes excellent points about the continued importance of unions and their capacity to shift power imbalances and improve society. ...more
Jan 29, 2021 rated it liked it
Not the tightest piece of writing (McAlevey says the book was written in a just few months). But she excels at telling the (mostly) unheard stories of recent union victories, and how the workers got there. This book convinced me that unions really can't achieve much without the power to strike. Worth a read. ...more
Steven L
May 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Solidarity brings victory

Part labor history, part labor law survey, part organizing primer, but most effective as a call to arms and a call for solidarity. Yes, the forces of capital have stacked the deck against us, but, led by organized labor, we the people can win.
Natty S
Oct 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of the few books giving me any hope regarding politics at the moment. Very accessible at explaining what a union is, how it works, and why unions are abso-fucking-lutely essential to real democracy.

Read it. Please.
Jan 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
Solid book to read from 2020 with lots of great examples.

Author definitely has a strong bias and often alludes to US history without explaining what she's implying.

Would highly recommend for anyone learning unions of recent times and how they've worked.
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Jane F. McAlevey is a union and community organizer, educator, author, and scholar. She’s fourth generation union, raised in an activist-union household. She spent the first half of her organizing life working in the community organizing and environmental justice movements and the second half in the union movement.

She has led power structure analyses and strategic planning trainings for a wide ra

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“To win big, we have to follow the methods of spending very little time engaging with people who already agree, and devote most of our time to the harder work of helping people who do not agree come to understand who is really to blame for the pain in their lives.” 1 likes
“If the governance systems encourage participation by the best and most diverse workers, the union will reflect the best and most diverse workers’ values.” 1 likes
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