Which Side Are You On?: Trying to Be for Labor When It's Flat on Its Back



Which Side Are You On?: Trying to Be for Labor When It's Flat on Its BackWhen It First Appeared In Hardcover, Which Side Are You On Received Widespread Critical Accolades, And Was Nominated For A National Book Critics Circle Award For Nonfiction In This New Paperback Edition, Thomas Geoghegan Has Updated His Eloquent Plea For The Relevance Of Organized Labor In America With An Afterword Covering The Labor Movement Through The 1990s A Funny, Sharp, Unsentimental Career Memoir, Which Side Are You On Pairs A Compelling History Of The Rise And Near Fall Of Labor In The United States With An Idealist S Disgruntled Exercise In Self Evaluation Writing With The Honesty Of An Embattled Veteran Still Hoping For The Best, Geoghegan Offers An Entertaining, Accessible, And Literary Introduction To The Labor Movement, As Well As An Indispensable Touchstone For Anyone Whose Hopes Have Run Up Against The Unaccommodating Facts On The Ground Wry And Inspiring, Which Side Are You On Is The Ideal Book For Anyone Who Has Ever Woken Up And Realized, You Must Change Your Life.

Thomas Geoghegan received national attention when he ran as a progressive candidate for Rahm Emanuels congressional seat in 2009 and was endorsed by Barbara Ehrenreich, James Fallows, Thomas Frank, James K Galbraith, Hendrik Hertzberg, Alex Kotlowitz, Sara Paretsky, Rick Perlstein, Katha Pollitt, David Sirota, Garry Wills, and Naomi Wolf, among others He is a practicing attorney and the author of several books, including Which Side Are You On , which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and received a special citation from the PEN Martha Albrand Award judges, In Americas Court, and See You in Court Geoghegan has written for The Nation, the New York Times, and Harpers He lives in Chicago.

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  • Paperback
  • 355 pages
  • Which Side Are You On?: Trying to Be for Labor When It's Flat on Its Back
  • Thomas Geoghegan
  • English
  • 08 August 2019
  • 1565848861

10 thoughts on “Which Side Are You On?: Trying to Be for Labor When It's Flat on Its Back

  1. Libby says:

    i wish it wasrecent, would have liked to hear his thoughts on EFCA the latest dance between big labor and the Democrats p 42 A fine labor historian, Irving Bernstein, wrote about this period in his book The Lean Years, and there is an uncanny similarity between labor in the 1920s and labor in the 1980s Whole passages of the book, which he wrote in the 1950s, by the way, could be lifted verbatim to describe American labor today.For example Union members vote for Hoover then, and Reag i wish it wasrecent, would have liked to hear his thoughts on EFCA the latest dance between big labor and the Democrats p 42 A fine labor historian, Irving Bernstein, wrote about this period in his book The Lean Years, and there is an uncanny similarity between labor in the 1920s and labor in the 1980s Whole passages of the book, which he wrote in the 1950s, by the way, could be lifted verbatim to describe American labor today.For example Union members vote for Hoover then, and Reagan now.Employers start work teams then, or quality work circles now, which are supposed to replace unions.Union membership drops and drops.There is the same cult worship of the businessmen, of Andrew Mellon then, of Donald Trump today.And Bernstein quotes one journalist after another saying that unionism is jot only dead but obsolete in the new, post industrial, service sector economy of yes, the 1920s Every thoughtful observer, in The New Republic, etc., seems to agree, by 1928 that organized labor is through and that history has passed it by.I can read The Lean Years and laugh on every page and say this is great Yes but this doesn t prove the Depression will save our necks again I love that on page 49 he writes, That s my only point Taft Hartley had three effects First it ended organizing on the grand 1930s scale It outlawed mass picketing, secondary strikes of neutral employers, sit downs in short, everything that Lewis did in the 1930s.When people ask me, Why can t labor organize the way it did in the 1930s the answer is simple everything we did then is now illegal.The second effect of Taft Hartley was subtler and slow working It was to hold up any new organizing at all, even on a quiet, low key scale P 214 Formerly, the rich depended in some way on the well being of the whole nation Henry Ford paid his autoworkers good wages, Reich says, so they could go out and buy his Model T, and he knew his prosperity was tied to theirs But now we can let the workers shine our shoes, and it will not hurt our prosperity one bit Other countries will pay the bills we run up at Convito Italiano, because other countries will always need the fancy postgrad services we provide, with our fancy postgrad educations There is no such thing as a national economy Baaahh comparative advantage and out of date paradigms of endless growth vs sustainable cycling We have to buy local Maybe there are paths open to an upper one fifth, namely 1 love your country and build up its economy, or 2 throw in with the world economy and send your own people into Third World hell This is the choice facing us And in a way, so little was asked of us, historically, as an elite simply that we not make America any worse than is was, anyof a class society And we blew it, we could not even do that some great messaging on being all American

  2. Aaron Arnold says:

    Not that I ve read a lot of books about labor law, but this is the most well written book about the experience of practicing labor law I ve ever read, a sort of ground level counterpart to the labor market sections of Krugman s book I once read anreview for another one of Geoghegan s books that claimed that all of his books were really about citizenship in one form or another, and I agree with that This one focuses on the damage that conservative policies did to the traditional America Not that I ve read a lot of books about labor law, but this is the most well written book about the experience of practicing labor law I ve ever read, a sort of ground level counterpart to the labor market sections of Krugman s book I once read anreview for another one of Geoghegan s books that claimed that all of his books were really about citizenship in one form or another, and I agree with that This one focuses on the damage that conservative policies did to the traditional American understanding of citizenship during the 1980s, specifically that of the Chicagoland union members that were being fired in droves as structural shifts in the economy both natural and planned eliminated their jobs and their places in society under the guise of the invisible hand while the corporations who cheerfully outsourced their jobs made huge profits Geoghegan is witty and self deprecating as he recognizes the futility of reversing or even slowing the massive hemorrhaging of jobs, and he pulls no punches in recounting the resulting ugly fratricide as these desperate unions relentlessly and inscrutably destroyed themselves as they lost everything they had Somehow I ended up reading a lot of anti Reagan books this year, and this was the second most vitriolic out of the lot

  3. Leonard Nakamura says:

    If you are interested in politics, this is a must read I had heard about this book for years and resisted reading it A book about the labor unions How sad Too depressing And, frankly, it is depressing Very But I learned a ton about what has happened and about the US laws many of them supported by good liberals that have made union organizing nearly impossible And the self inflicted wounds of undemocratic unions Also, the writing is wonderful Geoghegan is one of us in the same If you are interested in politics, this is a must read I had heard about this book for years and resisted reading it A book about the labor unions How sad Too depressing And, frankly, it is depressing Very But I learned a ton about what has happened and about the US laws many of them supported by good liberals that have made union organizing nearly impossible And the self inflicted wounds of undemocratic unions Also, the writing is wonderful Geoghegan is one of us in the same way that Ali Smith and Jennifer Egan are one of us, but also great sympathetic writers He admits his errors and doesn t get everything right, and has great empathy for everyone he tells us about And, in the afterword, he suggests a political path forward State by state, we could restore fundamental worker rights Such as the right not to be fired except for just cause or the rights to paid maternity leave or two weeks vacation He doesn t mention raising the rate of pay required before you are an exempt worker right now you can be called a manager at a McDonald s for 25 thousand a year and have to work 60 hour works without getting overtime pay Are these ideas quixotic In today s political climate, maybe not People are clearly willing to try anything

  4. Dave says:

    A great memoir from a career labor lawyer I can t imagine about CEO s and union busters being anywhere near as compelling, heartbreaking and, at times, uplifting but if someone wants to recommend one I m all ears.

  5. Roxanne says:

    Geoghegan is bougie and liberal but he s very transparent about it The book is a pretty good introduction to American labor politics.

  6. Mephistia says:

    I m kind of ambivalent about this book We re reading it for a class, and I really vacillate from one chapter to the next on whether I find this book helpful or not Geoghegan is definitely aware of his class privilege, so when starting out, I assumed he was equally aware of his race and gender privilege He pokes fun at himself regarding the class privilege, and obviously struggles with his apparently conflicting desires to live comfortably while representing those who cannot afford the same co I m kind of ambivalent about this book We re reading it for a class, and I really vacillate from one chapter to the next on whether I find this book helpful or not Geoghegan is definitely aware of his class privilege, so when starting out, I assumed he was equally aware of his race and gender privilege He pokes fun at himself regarding the class privilege, and obviously struggles with his apparently conflicting desires to live comfortably while representing those who cannot afford the same comforts His voice is often wry and sarcastic, which works since he s attempting to appeal to a reader on the same class level as him he s not trying to convince the union labor worker that unions are necessary, he s trying to convince the banker lawyer white collar worker.As such, he doesn t really ever outright commit to a view as a white collar labor lawyer representing the blue collar laborer, you d think he would But he doesn t He gets close, then backs away His ambivalence forces the reader to examine their own preconceptions and determine their own answer to the question Which side are youon Geoghegan refuses to spoon feed his reader the answer This strength of his writing is also, unfortunately, it s major failing His wry, sarcastic, and often self mocking tone his refusal to commit to a solid answer while both of these do well in forcing a white collar, middle class male to assess his the situation, it s a less successful tactic for women and minorities I don t think Geoghegan meant to write almost completely to white men, and I don t think he s racist or sexist I think this is just a textbook hah example of white male privilege, and in this particular book, his lack of awareness about said privileges negatively impacted his very real irony in assessing his class privilege It s hard to know when he s joking and when he s serious when he unself consciously makes a statement about how racism impacted him he s discussing a black labor leader he supported, and talks about how people would refer to said leader by the n word he types it out in his hearing just to see what his reaction was By his own accounting, his reaction appeared to be silence , and then he follows that up with a joke about his reaction to a class difference It makes it hard to differentiate between when he s joking and when he s seriously just clueless, and as noted this negatively impacts the entire tone and voice of the book.As I said, I do not believe Geoghegan is doing this intentionally It s just a side affect of privilege, and the concept of race gender privilege wasn t as examined when he was writing this book, so he likely wouldn t have really even had the thought to take it into account It is a good read, though I d recommend it, though when recommending it to non white or female readers, I add a caveat that it s sometimes hard to differentiate his wry voice from his clueless voice

  7. Jamie says:

    This book elicited intensely ambivalent emotions in me and I think overall, I came awayirritated than pleased Of course, I am biased as a labor organizer with my own many critiques of the movement and it seems clear that while we tend to lump together all unions into one storyline, everyone has a different union experience that tints their viewing lens In terms of his writing style, Geoghegan mostly succeeds in removing shop talk and jargon from his story and fits his personal narrative This book elicited intensely ambivalent emotions in me and I think overall, I came awayirritated than pleased Of course, I am biased as a labor organizer with my own many critiques of the movement and it seems clear that while we tend to lump together all unions into one storyline, everyone has a different union experience that tints their viewing lens In terms of his writing style, Geoghegan mostly succeeds in removing shop talk and jargon from his story and fits his personal narrative into the downward slope of the movement through the 60s into the time of Reaganomics I think what may be most fascinating is his tension of being well paid though, as he says time and time again, not as well paid as his other lawyer friends working for the bosses and living a bourgeois life while working on behalf of blue collar workers who he wavers between admiring and despising This mirrors a tension within probably anyone working in labor and his clear decision at a certain point to submerge in a life distanced from the working class while still dealing with economic justice issues at work was honest and intriguing I wonder if it actually worked psychologically as well as he portrays it

  8. Amc says:

    I liked this book because it flowed like a novel and has some nice deadpan comedy which helps if you like that style of humor You wouldn t need to be involved in the labor movement to enjoy or understand this book The text is also ridden with references to Christianity, particularly biblical If you re the least bit familiar with the Bible and paying attention, you ll pick up on the subtle references and inuendos, which are hilarious because Geoghegan uses them to compare workers and events I liked this book because it flowed like a novel and has some nice deadpan comedy which helps if you like that style of humor You wouldn t need to be involved in the labor movement to enjoy or understand this book The text is also ridden with references to Christianity, particularly biblical If you re the least bit familiar with the Bible and paying attention, you ll pick up on the subtle references and inuendos, which are hilarious because Geoghegan uses them to compare workers and events in the labor movement to characters and situations in the Bible Just knowing the author a little, made reading the book that muchenjoyable It left me wondering why he chose to stay with a career that he seems to feel lukewarm about and why he s still involved in a movement that he really has no connection to other than perhaps ideologically Makes me wonder if he s happy with his choice or if he just felt like he was in too deep to change mid life

  9. Irving Koppel says:

    If one is already depressed about the status of labor in America,he probably shouldn t read this book Total union membership,except for government employees and the Service Employees InternationalUnion S.E.I.U has reached its nadir in America There are many reasons for this outsourcing,rise of information technology,threats to close businesses in the face of union organization,weak and corrupt union leadership,non democratic unionelections,restrictive,anti union laws,allowing strikebreaker If one is already depressed about the status of labor in America,he probably shouldn t read this book Total union membership,except for government employees and the Service Employees InternationalUnion S.E.I.U has reached its nadir in America There are many reasons for this outsourcing,rise of information technology,threats to close businesses in the face of union organization,weak and corrupt union leadership,non democratic unionelections,restrictive,anti union laws,allowing strikebreakers scabs ,and,finally,neglecting to edu cate the members of unions so that they won t vote against their own best interests The middle class has had no increase in real wages in the last thirty years in spite of the factthat efficiencies in production have created large profits for business.This is not supposed to happenunder labor theory.Nevertheless, without the power inherent in unified action, this situation will only get worse

  10. Carson says:

    I first read this book in college, and in many ways it was a foreign then as it is now He writes about a labor movement that I don t know the steelworkers, the mine workers, the bad teamsters There are pieces of it though that are spot on the endless and meaningless arbitration grind that unions get caught in, for example And, is depressing as hell that we are still fighting for the one policy change that he advocates as a fix for working people, the right to join a union by signing a ca I first read this book in college, and in many ways it was a foreign then as it is now He writes about a labor movement that I don t know the steelworkers, the mine workers, the bad teamsters There are pieces of it though that are spot on the endless and meaningless arbitration grind that unions get caught in, for example And, is depressing as hell that we are still fighting for the one policy change that he advocates as a fix for working people, the right to join a union by signing a card At least now there is a name for that fix, the Employee Free Choice Act EFCA , and a real campaign to win in Plus, a real promise by a real presidential candidate to pass it if he wins

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