Jane McAlevey (Ph.D. ’15, Sociology), Longtime Labor Organizer, Profiled in ‘The New Yorker’

From strikes by Amazon workers to protests against police brutality and racism, Americans are organizing to bring about massive change. A timely article in The New Yorker examines the work of longtime labor organizer and environmental activist Jane McAlevey (Ph.D. ’15, Sociology), whose third book, A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy, was released in January. McAlevey is now the strike correspondent at The Nation and a senior policy fellow at the U.C. Berkeley Labor Center. The New Yorker calls her “both a coach of today’s labor movement and a chronicler of its key plays.”

According to the article, McAlevey’s ideas were at the heart of the successful strike by Los Angeles’ 34,000 public school teachers in 2019. She chronicles the union’s revival in her new book, and, The New Yorker writes, “McAlevey argues that, despite decades of diminishment, unions are not a thing of the past, some sepia-tinted club for men who wear twill coveralls to work. Rather, they are for all who must work.”

McAlevey was recruited to The Graduate Center by Professor Emerita Frances Fox Piven (Political Science and Sociology). Piven read McAlevey’s memoir in which she reflected on her experiences as a labor organizer for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the Service Employees International Union. Piven “told McAlevey, in so many words, to drop everything and come to graduate school, where she could translate her experiences into a theory of movement strategy.”

McAlevey’s doctoral dissertation, No Shortcuts, “has become a handbook in workers’ reading groups across the country,” according to The New Yorker. In it, she reviews common strategies used by labor unions and social-movement groups and makes the case that massive, grassroots organizing is the best way to enact change.

In her new book, McAlevey presents case studies of unions and social movements seeking to make change. She reaches the same conclusion: that bottom-up organizing, rather than top-down strategies such as advocacy, bring victory.

“McAlevey’s work taps into something that many of us have felt and known to be true: the unshakeable force of solidarity, and the fears we must face in order to claim this power,” The New Yorker writes.

Submitted on: JUN 12, 2020

Category: Alumni News | GCstories | General GC News | Sociology