I've just finished Thomas Geoghegan's classic memoir of his life as a labor lawyer, "Which Side Are You On?: Trying to Be for Labor When It's Flat on Its Back," in its revised, 2004 edition (which includes a lengthy afterword on labor in the 2000s). This is one of the best books I've read about labor politics in America, striking a balance between the romance and heroism of the best labor struggles in US history -- the workers who risked everything to bring us vacation pay, a minimum wage, the weekend, overtime, an end to child labor, and fundamental free speech and free association rights -- and the venality, pettiness and criminality of the worst of labor, from the big unions' historic exclusion of the poor and non-whites to the corruption, violence and fraud that has dogged labor through its American history.
Throughout, Geoghegan keep the focus where it belongs: on the injustices faced by working people -- from labor, from management, from government -- and on the failures of these systems to improve their lot on life, and looks deeply into history, politics and sociology to explain why and how labor has failed laborers.
Geoghegan is a lifelong, old-time labor lawyer whose practice has encompassed defending unions from management to defending workers from unions -- representing clients whose corrupt Work Agents have had them beaten up, smeared and excluded; representing workers who've been robbed of their pensions, unfairly dismissed, even arrested, under the most shameful, sleazy circumstances. He writes like a poet, like a Hunter Thompson crossed with Studs Terkel, full of humility, wry humor, and a burning anger at all that's wrong in the world. He tells the stories of the fights he's fought -- with, for and against the Teamsters, the mine workers, nurses, pilots -- from union elections to wildcat strikes.
Geoghegan is unabashedly pro-union, even though he's seen the worst of what unions can become. In a world in which employers hold all the cards -- times like now, when every worker worries about job security -- workers who fight on their own to demand justice (fair pay, safe working conditions, fair treatment, pensions) always lose. Workers who fight together can win -- have won, anyway.
Of particular interest to me was Geoghegan's account of the changes in American labor law over the years, the systematic gutting of the legislation that unions won in the first half of the 1900s, changes that moved the fight from the right to strike to the right to unionize to the right to receive your pension to the right to be treated as an employee at all. In Geoghegan's view, it's this legislative failure that's put labor into its death-spiral -- and it was labor's failure to stand against legislative reform that paid the way for it.
It's hard to love imperfect things -- countries, movements, people -- but it's also fundamentally adult to acknowledge the imperfections in the things that matter to you, and to fight to improve them rather than writing them off.
For everyone who's ever retreated to the pat, easy position that "labor's gone too far," Geoghegan's book is an important, nuanced, gripping and immensely enjoyable rebuttal: proof that in many places, labor didn't go far enough.
Which Side Are You On?: Trying to Be for Labor When It's Flat on Its Back, Revised Edition
Gary Johnson and Bill Weld hit small-l progressive talking points harder than big-L Libertarian ones in their campaign ad, which is nice. As a Briton and freshly-minted U.S. citizen voting for the first time, this is strangely exciting! But something about it—perhaps Bill grunting “Come onnnn!”—makes me feel like a virgin being cajoled into a […]
A Maryland judge today granted a retrial to Adnan Syed, whose conviction for the 1999 murder of his former girlfriend was the subject of the first season of the popular podcast “Serial.” Syed’s lawyer C. Justin Brown announced the news Thursday afternoon via Twitter, and confirmed to reporters later that the motion for a new […]
It’s been a day of “intrigue and betrayal” in UK politics, as the New York Times puts it. The man widely predicted to be a solid candidate as the next prime minister of Britain, Boris Johnson, says he won’t run. This appears to be a response to today’s unexpected news of a candidacy launch by […]
If you’ve got a coding career on your mind, few programming disciplines will take you farther than a commanding knowledge of the Python language. Its versatility and ease of use make it a go-to for any coding project…so master Python now with this all-inclusive All-Level Python Programming course bundle, now only $19 in the Boing Boing Store.Whether […]
The realm of web development is constantly evolving. New platforms, languages, and processes materialize all the time, so staying on top of all that innovation is a tall order.Whether you’re brushing up on new tricks, starting from scratch, or just looking to make your own website a little jazzier, Rob Percival’s new Complete Web Developer Course 2.0 (now […]
Folks used to rely on alarms to protect their home – and before that, the family dog. Now, anyone looking to guard their homes can choose from some high-tech options, including the Amaryllo iCamPRO FHD Home Security Camera (now just $219 in the Boing Boing Store).In fact, this 2015 CES “Best of Innovation” award-winner boasts so many features, it’s […]