Free Labor: Workfare and the Contested Language of Neoliberalism

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During the 1990s, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani expanded the city's workfare program, using welfare recipients in the Work Experience Program to do routine work once done by unionized city workers. Workfare workers are denied the legal status of employees and make far less money and enjoy fewer rights than do city workers. For antipoverty activists, legal advocates, unions, and other critics of the program, this double standard leads to a troubling question: are workfare participants workers or welfare recipients?

At times the fight over workfare unfolded as an argument over who had the authority to define these terms, and in Free Labor, John Krinsky focuses on changes in the language and organization of the political coalitions on either side of the debate. By examining the claims made by these coalitions at workfare worksites, in the media, in court, and across these settings, Krinsky shows how contemporary approaches to welfare-state governance both shape and are challenged by grassroots political opposition. Krinsky's broadly interdisciplinary analysis draws from interviews, official documents, and media reports to pursue new directions in the study of the cultural and cognitive aspects of political activism. Free Labor will instigate a lively dialogue among students of culture, labor and social movements, welfare policy, and urban political economy.

About the Author:
John Krinsky is associate professor of political science at the City College of New York

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Editorial Reviews


"Drawing on an ample array of official documents, media reports, interviews, and surveys, Krinsky has assembled an insightful history of a pivotal time. . . . A well-written, interdisciplinary analysis of urban political culture before 9/11/2001."
Marc W. Steinberg
“Brimming with novel analyses and methodological strategies, this is one of the most significant efforts to rethink the study of collective action and political contention that we’ve had in many years. Krinsky presents both a compelling analysis of the rise of workfare as a neoliberal policy project and a fine-grained examination of the travails and partial successes of anti-WEP coalitions.”
Jamie Peck
“Not only is workfare a critical frontier of neoliberal policy development, it has also been a zone of serial program failure, and a site of determined resistance. Free Labor presents an insightful analysis of a decade of concerted roll-backs and bitter struggles around the workfare offensive in New York City. But John Krinsky’s highly perceptive and creative book also does much more than this—helping visualize a politics of potential beyond workfare.”
"Drawing on an ample array of official documents, media reports, interviews, and surveys, Krinsky has assembled an insightful history of a pivotal time. . . . A well-written, interdisciplinary analysis of urban political culture before 9/11/2001."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226453668
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 2/8/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

John Krinsky is assistant professor of political science at the City College of New York.

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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations     ix
Preface     xv
Free Labor?     1
The Workfare Contract in the Workfare State     35
The Formation of a Protest Field     69
In the Trenches     91
Mapping Passages through the Trenches     137
Claims, Cognitions, and Contradictions     177
The Contested Language of Neoliberalism     209
Appendix     245
Notes     261
Selected Bibliography     293
Index     311

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