Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement

Overview


Is labor’s day over or is labor the only real answer for our time? In this new book, National Book Critics Circle Award finalist and labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan argues that even as organized labor seems to be crumbling, a revived—but different—labor movement is now more relevant than ever in our increasingly unequal society.

The inequality reshaping the country goes beyond money and income: the workplace is more authoritarian than ever, and we have even less of a say over our...

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Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement

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Overview


Is labor’s day over or is labor the only real answer for our time? In this new book, National Book Critics Circle Award finalist and labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan argues that even as organized labor seems to be crumbling, a revived—but different—labor movement is now more relevant than ever in our increasingly unequal society.

The inequality reshaping the country goes beyond money and income: the workplace is more authoritarian than ever, and we have even less of a say over our conditions at work. He tells us stories, sometimes humorous but more often chilling, about problems working people like his own clients—cabdrivers, cashiers, even Chicago public school teachers—now face in our largely union-free economy. He then explains why a new kind of labor movement (and not just more higher education) will be crucial for saving what is left of the middle class; pushing Keynes’s original, sometimes forgotten ideas for getting the rich to invest and reduce our balance of trade; and promoting John Dewey’s "democratic way of life"—one that would start in the schools and continue in our places of work.

A "public policy" book that is compulsively readable, Only One Thing Can Save Us is vintage Geoghegan, blending acerbic and witty commentary with unparalleled insight into the real dynamics (and human experience) of working in America today.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Praise for Thomas Geoghegan's previous books:

"From his first, magnificent book straight through to this one, Tom Geoghegan has written about the labor movement in America with truly unmatched eloquence, self-reflection, and even wit (not easy, that last one). All that and—he is right. I hope the right people listen."
—Michael Tomasky

"Tom Geoghegan has now spent four decades in one of America’s most unusual dual careers. On the one hand, he is a labor lawyer (on the side of the good guys), fighting to protect workers’ rights in a severely antiunion era. On the other hand, he is a skilled essayist and memoirist, who has chronicled the lives of baby-boomers with elegance and wistful humor. In Only One Thing Can Save Us, he argues for a ‘new kind of labor movement.’ But ‘argues’ is really the wrong word, as he makes his case in his usual manner and distinctive voice."
—Michael Kinsley

"Which Side Are You On? is one of the finest nonfiction books by a contemporary author I’ve ever read. It’s incredibly informative, frequently moving, loaded with fresh insights, and often laugh-out-loud funny. A delightful book about the labor movement: it sounds like an oxymoron, but in Geoghegan’s case it’s an accomplishment."
—Hendrik Hertzberg, NewYorker.com

"Most diverting…[Geoghegan] has the great virtue of being witty and ironic—and to the point…A necessary primer."
—Jurek Martin, Financial Times

"Clever and immensely appealing."
—Katha Pollitt, The Nation

"Quirky, brilliant…Inspiring…unparalleled in the literature of American labor."
The New York Times

"A brilliant book."
The Washington Post

"Delightful reading."
—Barbara Ehrenreich

"So skillfully written, so witty—and so scathing—that it seems bound to grip even those who find the labor movement boring."
Businessweek

From the Publisher

Praise for Thomas Geoghegan's previous books:

"Which Side Are You On? is one of the finest nonfiction books by a contemporary author I’ve ever read. It’s incredibly informative, frequently moving, loaded with fresh insights, and often laugh-out-loud funny. A delightful book about the labor movement: it sounds like an oxymoron, but in Geoghegan’s case it’s an accomplishment."
—Hendrik Hertzberg, NewYorker.com

"Most diverting…[Geoghegan] has the great virtue of being witty and ironic—and to the point…A necessary primer."
—Jurek Martin, Financial Times

"Clever and immensely appealing."
—Katha Pollitt, The Nation

"Quirky, brilliant…Inspiring…unparalleled in the literature of American labor."
The New York Times

"A brilliant book."
The Washington Post

"Delightful reading."
—Barbara Ehrenreich

"So skillfully written, so witty—and so scathing—that it seems bound to grip even those who find the labor movement boring."
Businessweek

Kirkus Reviews
2014-10-08
A union lawyer offers radical prescriptions to resuscitate a moribund labor movement.In a book that suggests that a revival of labor is necessary to the survival of democracy, Geoghegan (Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?: How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life, 2010, etc.) admits from the outset that prospects look grim in a country that seems to regard Big Labor as an anachronism. But with the "drop-by-drop disappearance of the middle class," with wages slashed and job security replaced by contract work, desperate times require desperate measures: "Some say that our current income inequality is no longer like the Roaring Twenties or even the Gilded Age: we're reaching inequality that we haven't known since feudalism. Charlemagne, not J.P. Morgan, is the relevant comparison." The author suggests moving the battle lines from union-corporation (where the latter has won) to the political arena, where the Democratic Party has failed to represent the interests of its longtime constituents, and to the government, where the Civil Rights Act should be extended to encompass union busting. He finds hope in service professions such as nursing and teaching, where battles are fought over conditions that can benefit the community at large (greater resources, smaller class size) beyond narrower concerns such as salary and security, and where public opinion is the ultimate arbiter. Some of Geoghegan's suggestions might seem counterintuitive: that globalization can save American labor rather than simply deport jobs, that unions would be better off representing those who join enthusiastically rather than representing all, and that the Democratic Party's emphasis on education is misplaced (resulting in greater student debt rather than necessarily higher salaries). However, he insists that since the stakes are so high, a new labor resurgence cannot succeed with the old game plan. A manifesto that provokes even when it doesn't convince and tempers its broadsides with humor and a conversational style.
Publishers Weekly
10/27/2014
This unsettling cri de coeur from a veteran labor lawyer laments the extent to which unions have vanished from the American workforce and political consciousness. Geohegan, who explored modern Germany’s social democracy in Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?, spotlights that country’s principle of “co-determination,” in which blue-collar workers share power with executives, as an alternative to the U.S. economy’s low-skill, low-wage blueprint. But his prescriptions for finding our way back to a union-backed middle class are tough to see as feasible: bolstering unions to raise wages, and backing away from four-year college education as a panacea in lieu of more high-skills vocational education and mentorship opportunities. Similarly, creating a constitutional right to union membership sounds good, but Geohegan’s own experience makes it clear how much of an uphill fight such an amendment would require. Even for those who agree on the need to create a new labor movement in principle, his closing exhortation that “unless we do so, you and I are done” will seem less inspiring than intended. (Dec.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781595588364
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 12/2/2014
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 154,629
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Thomas Geoghegan is a practicing labor lawyer and the author of several books, including See You in Court; In America’s Court; the National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Which Side Are You On?; and, most recently, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? (all available from The New Press). He has written for The Nation, the New York Times, and Harper’s Magazine. He lives in Chicago.
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