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Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement
     

Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement

by Jane Mcalevey
 

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In 1995, in the first contested election in the history ofthe AFL-CIO, John Sweeney won the presidency of the nation’s largest laborfederation, promising renewal and resurgence. Today, less than 7 percent ofAmerican private-sector workers belong to a union, the lowest percentage sincethe beginning of the twentieth century, and public employee

Overview

In 1995, in the first contested election in the history ofthe AFL-CIO, John Sweeney won the presidency of the nation’s largest laborfederation, promising renewal and resurgence. Today, less than 7 percent ofAmerican private-sector workers belong to a union, the lowest percentage sincethe beginning of the twentieth century, and public employee collectivebargaining has been dealt devastating blows in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Whathappened?

Jane McAlevey is famous—and notorious—in the American labormovement as the hard-charging organizer who racked up a string of victories ata time when union leaders said winning wasn’t possible. Then she was bouncedfrom the movement, a victim of the high-level internecine warfare that has tornapart organized labor. In this engrossing and funny narrative—that reflects thepersonality of its charismatic, wisecracking author—McAlevey tells the story ofa number of dramatic organizing and contract victories, and the unconventionalstrategies that helped achieve them. Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell)argues that labor can be revived, but only if the movement acknowledges itsmistakes and fully commits to deep organizing, participatory education, militancy,and an approach to workers and their communities that more resembles the campaignsof the 1930s—in short, social movement unionism that involves raising workers’expectations (while raising hell).

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This rousing memoir of McAlevey's decade-long experience as a union organizer spares neither the companies nor the union bosses. After success as a union organizer of home health care workers in Stamford, Connecticut, McAlevey was sent to do the same in Pittsburgh. There she ran up against a union executive vice-president who effectively sabotaged her work. After another successful assignment, McAlevey headed for Las Vegas to organize employees of for-profit "scumbag" hospitals where the hard work of getting decent contracts for nurses provides a roller coaster experience. She makes certain the reader learns how to organize; the fine points of agreements are dissected thoroughly, including how to keep union members in "right to work" states. McAlevey is not afraid to name names, offering millionaire CEOs with government contacts their fair dose of scorn. But her strongest fury is with the union leadership who seem to thwart her at every turn. Politics and turf wars are a recurrent theme in this book, which result in the destruction of the health care workers union in Nevada and McAlevey's departure from union work. This is a passionate defense of her efforts and a plea for others to pick up the gauntlet for workers.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Barbara Ehrenreich
Raising Expectations is a breath-taking trip through the union-organizing scene of America in the 21st century. In the battles McAlevey recounts, hardly anyone comes out standing tall. But her story, along with those of so many brave health care workers, fills me with hope.”
Van Jones

This book renews my faith that organizing works. It calls for a new kind of unionism and makes a compelling case for a new vision for the American labor movement. In the ‘whole worker theory’ that McAlevey tested and retested in real life campaigns, all the issues negatively impacting the poor, working and middle class become the cause of unions, not simply wages and narrowly defined workplace conditions. At a time when climate change is wreaking havoc at home and abroad and communities of color are becoming the vital center of progressive social change, this book offers one path to building a movement that can and must tackle many issues. Raising Expectations is so refreshing because it aspires to tell us how we can rebuild a movement that can win.

Bill Fletcher Jr.
“This book is gripping, funny, sad, and very thought-provoking. Jane McAlevey uses her own experiences in a movement that has been undergoing dramatic changes—within a workforce that has undergone even greater changes—to suggest to the reader the necessity and potential for a transformation of the union movement into a real labor movement. Once I started reading it, there was no stopping.”
Francis Fox Piven
“This book casts a bright light on the problems of American unions. Jane McAlevey gives us an on-the-ground account of the obstacles the union hierarchy throws in the path of a bold and energetic organizing effort that scored a string of brilliant successes before the hierarchy cracked down. We need to read this book and learn its lessons partly for what it tells us is wrong about unions, but also because it demonstrates that good organizers can in fact succeed. That message is heartening because the simple truth is that we can’t rebuild a democratic left in the United States without a revived labor movement.”
From the Publisher
“This book is gripping, funny, sad, and very thought-provoking. Jane McAlevey uses her own experiences in a movement that has been undergoing dramatic changes—within a workforce that has undergone even greater changes—to suggest to the reader the necessity and potential for a transformation of the union movement into a real labor movement. Once I started reading it, there was no stopping.”—Bill Fletcher Jr., author of “They’re Bankrupting Us!” And Twenty Other Myths about Unions

“This book casts a bright light on the problems of American unions. Jane McAlevey gives us an on-the-ground account of the obstacles the union hierarchy throws in the path of a bold and energetic organizing effort that scored a string of brilliant successes before the hierarchy cracked down. We need to read this book and learn its lessons partly for what it tells us is wrong about unions, but also because it demonstrates that good organizers can in fact succeed. That message is heartening because the simple truth is that we can’t rebuild a democratic left in the United States without a revived labor movement.”—Frances Fox Piven, author of Who’s Afraid of Frances Fox Piven?

Raising Expectations is a breath-taking trip through the union-organizing scene of America in the 21st century. In the battles McAlevey recounts, hardly anyone comes out standing tall. But her story, along with those of so many brave health care workers, fills me with hope.”—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed

“This book renews my faith that organizing works. It calls for a new kind of unionism and makes a compelling case for a new vision for the American labor movement. In the ‘whole worker theory’ that McAlevey tested and retested in real life campaigns, all the issues negatively impacting the poor, working and middle class become the cause of unions, not simply wages and narrowly defined workplace conditions. At a time when climate change is wreaking havoc at home and abroad and communities of color are becoming the vital center of progressive social change, this book offers one path to building a movement that can and must tackle many issues. Raising Expectations is so refreshing because it aspires to tell us how we can rebuild a movement that can win.”—Van Jones

“McAlevey’s message—that unions alone give working people voice at the bargaining table and the ballot box—burns with conviction. She makes for bracing company in interesting times.”—The Plain Dealer

“McAlevey burns with a passion for the cause”—Keith Richmond, Tribune

“McAlevey promotes the concept of ‘whole worker’ organizing, which seeks to go beyond the ‘labor-community’ paradigm in a manner that recognizes that workers are rooted in, and not separate from, communities and also recognizes the value of bringing community organizing techniques into the realm of labor and vice versa.”—Book News

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781844679225
Publisher:
Verso Books
Publication date:
11/20/2012
Sold by:
Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
312
Sales rank:
815,187
File size:
747 KB

Meet the Author

Jane McAlevey has been an organizer in the labor and environmental justice movements for the last twenty years. She is a PhD candidate at CUNY Graduate Center and lives in the San Francsico Bay Area.

Bob Ostertag is the co-author of Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell) and author of People’s Movements, People’s Press: The Journalism of Social Justice Movements and Creative Life: Music, Politics, People, and Machines. He has also published two movies and over twenty CDs of music, and covered the Central American civil wars as a journalist. He currently teaches at UC Davis and lives in San Francisco.

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