WHAT: BEATEN DOWN, WORKED UP:
The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor
WHEN: Published by Knopf August 6, 2019
WHERE: The author lives in Pelham NY.
WHY: “A powerful book from an author who is deeply concerned about what is happening to many American workers.
“The subtitle says it all. Former longtime New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse offers a combination of labor union history in America, investigative reporting about how rapacious employers and Republican governance have diminished labor unions, and an agenda for the revitalization of unions across the country.
“Throughout the narrative, the author circles back to the puzzle at the foundation of the book: Given how clearly labor unions improved employment conditions for hundreds of millions of laborers, why did those benefitting surrender to the corporate-government plan to eliminate those unions? With copious evidence, Greenhouse demonstrates that unionized workers received — and still receive from existing unions — not only improved wages, but also safer work conditions, predictable schedules, more comprehensive insurance, improved retirement benefits, increased paid vacation periods, and much more.
“As he notes, while it’s true that some union leaders were guilty of corruption and/or indifference, for the most part, they have protected workers more avidly than corporate executives, who are more beholden to stockholders than employees. In many cases, corporate lobbyists prevail; as a result, the negotiating arena is no longer equitable for unions.
“Before a closing chapter recommending numerous alterations in laws and regulations, the author demonstrates how other nations, especially in Europe, have instituted much more equitable systems. ‘Europeans,’ he writes, ‘often deride America’s $7.25-an-hour minimum wage as McJobs, while McDonald’s workers in highly unionized Denmark average more than $20 an hour.’ Greenhouse’s message is unambiguous: ‘In no other industrial nation do employers fight so hard to defeat, indeed quash, labor unions.’
“Throughout the book, the author interweaves positive examples of labor-management collaborations that lead to a more productive workforce. These bits of hope come from anecdotes about culinary workers unionizing in Las Vegas, fast-food workers advocating for an increased minimum wage, and public school teachers going on strike. A clearly written, impressively researched, and accomplished follow-up to The Big Squeeze.” —KIRKUS, a starred review
“The human dimension to the tale of income inequality, wage stagnation, and employer disrespect for workers. As Greenhouse readily admits, this is not a full history of labor, but it covers a lot. He proposes what hopefully are workable ideas for future workers’ movements.” –Mark Levine, BOOKLIST