BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky

Labor and Community Justice

Social movements do not drop from the sky. When non-union fast food workers across the US took to the streets demanding higher pay on Dec. 5, a labor history bubbled beneath them, as readers learn in Jobs with Justice: 25 Years, 25 Voices (PM Press, 2013).

The ins and outs of activist labor politics at and away from working for pay sums up the lively essays of and interviews with people involved in Jobs with Justice. JwJ is a national organization with local chapters nationwide.

The 25 pieces, short and sweet, inform readers on a number of levels. They range from the cultural to legal, personal and political, a bevy of ideas and actions, the stuff of liberation from oppression.

How could it be any other way, given the sharp over-all decline of economic justice over the past quarter-century in the US? Despite and because of this tendency, JwJ serves as a kind of model for resisting the two-party monopoly that drives social inequality, from mass black and Latino imprisonment to precarious non-union employment.

Ai-Jen Poo, national JwJ board member, and director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, helps us to grasp the contours of labor-community coalitions in a growing labor sector as people live longer lives. In an interview, she shares the alliance’s encounters with conventional politics that ends the book’s first part: “Jobs with Justice Means … Victory.”

Contributors from Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, New York, City and Philadelphia round out part two of the book: “Jobs with Justice Means … Transforming Relationships, Bridging Differences.” In Chicago, for instance, JwJ confronted Democratic Party machinery, no mean feat, but a necessary step for working families to gain independence from the status quo, Carl Rosen writes.

Immigrant labor, now as in earlier days of the US, plays a pivotal role in the fight for equity at work. On that note, contributors detail their efforts with the faith community to support immigrant workers seeking better treatment on the job.

Women workers, who now comprise over half of the US wage-labor force, are central to JwJ’s rising star. On that note, Mary Beth Maxwell highlights how the growth of women organizers dovetailed with mobilization and action campaigns to improve working conditions.

On college and university campuses, students’ presence in JwJ chapters brought new energy and vitality to workers’ struggles, including service workers on campuses. Trenton Davis-Faulkner relates his coalition-building experience, begun while attending Temple Univ. in Philadelphia, Pa.

Editor Eric Larson knits together a diverse collection of JwJ members. He aims to use the past quarter-century of their time as a guidepost to building over the next 25 years a “permanent coalition” for labor justice.

We need it. “The real minimum wage (adjusted for inflation) is lower today than it was in 1956 during Eisenhower’s first administration,” writes John Bellamy Foster in the January edition of Monthly Review.

The final part of this collection, “Jobs with Justice Means … Fighting for the Future” touches on themes of resisting federal immigration detention, an employer-friendly policy, Marielena Hincapié explains.

Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America (disclosure: I am a member of CWA), and JwJ founder and current national board member, introduces the volume, offering a critical view of a quarter-century of activist labor efforts. Sarita Gupta, JwJ executive director, wraps up.

“We have gone from primarily defending the right to organize and collectively bargain which fundamentally remains the core of our mission, to being immersed in campaigns in which new forms of resistance have taken shape,” Gupta writes.

An index would have improved this book. That aside, the contributors flesh out challenges met and overcome in forging vibrant labor-community coalitions as a minority of corporate and wealthy interests oppresses US society, economically and politically.

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento, Calif. Email sethsandronsky@

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2014

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