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Necessary Trouble: Five questions with Sarah Jaffe

Laura Clawson at Daily Kos interviewed me about Necessary Trouble. An excerpt:

You trace a history where unions were vulnerable to red-baiting, were—with the exception of some public sector unions—”disaffected with the [1960s] social movements,” didn’t organize the South because they couldn’t or wouldn’t tackle racial divisions effectively. But in the recent movements you study, unions are largely supportive and in some cases are key backers. How did unions (and the institutional left more generally) come around? Where do you see gaps in that support for new movements, and on the flip side, what do they bring to the table?

I am a labor journalist and a once and (maybe) future union member; the way that workers wield power in and around the workplace and the economy is the subject nearest to my heart. I am fascinated by the history of the labor movement and the tension within it between making fundamental changes to society or eking out the best deal for its members. For a long time, the largest swath of the labor movement thought it had reached a sort of detente with capital, that the boss was content to share some of the proceeds in exchange for a committed workforce that didn’t oppose bosses’ gains. It took a while for labor to realize that the boss never stopped trying to wipe it out, but I think it’s impossible now to pretend that there’s a future for unions that isn’t fought for tooth and nail. Entire books have been written by people with much more experience than I have on how labor came around, but for me the thing that’s interesting is watching the labor movement embrace social movements again sometimes cynically, sometimes with real honesty that they have a lot to learn. This book covers the Wisconsin uprising, the Chicago teachers strike, OUR Walmart and the Fight for $15, all of which are in some ways outside of the box for the labor movement, as well as movements like Occupy Wall Street or the movement for black lives where labor realized that it had to get involved.

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