Sex Worker Unionization: Global Developments, Challenges and Possibilities, edited by Gregor Gall. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2016, 226 pp., ISBN: 978‐1‐137‐32013‐1, $120.00, hardback.

Publication Date01 Mar 2018
AuthorTracy Walsh
British Journal of Industrial Relations doi: 10.1111/bjir.12300
56:1 March 2018 0007–1080 pp. 223–241
No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age, by Jane F. McAlevey.
Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2016, 272 pp., ISBN: 9780190624712, £22.99,
In the second book by Jane McAlevey, No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the
New Gilded Age, she argues that the main reasons forthe four-decade decline in trade
unions and progressive change in the United Stateshave been ‘a significant and long-
term shift away from deep organizing and toward shallow mobilizing’ and ‘the split
between “labour” and “social movement”[which] has hampered what little organizing
has been done’ (2016: 2). McAlevey argues that meaningful change can only happen
with a form of organizing that puts ordinarypeople at the centre of their own struggle,
which builds ‘actual power’rather than ‘pretend power’. For trade unions,community
organizations and social movements alike, there are ‘no shortcuts’ to lasting social
McAlevey’s first book, Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell) (Verso, 2012), was
a much personalized account of her experiences of organizing low-waged service
workers, notably private-sector nurses in the US states with anti-union legislation,
which also demonstrated important theoretical and practical points for the labour
movement as a whole. McAlevey’s main argument in Raising Expectations is that the
turn to an ‘organizing model’ by much of the trade union movement in the previous
decade was deeply flawedbecause of misunderstandings about the ideas and practices
surrounding organizing. With her second book, No Shortcuts, she continues this
argument, but uses a more conventional academic approach, and draws on empirical
research, which reflects her own career trajectory moving from activist-scholar to
No Shortcuts begins with a discussion of theories of powerand dierent approaches
to change, namely: advocacy, mobilizing and organizing. Advocacy, which can be
loosely translated to servicing unionism in the UK context, is the lowest form of
worker participation. Mobilizing involves a greater number of workers, but these
workerstend to be those already active in the union or union supporters/sympathizers.
Advocacy and mobilizing depend on an elite theory of power, where campaigns are
run mainly by (and for) professional sta and/or activists. McAlevey argues that
advocacy and mobilizing can win change but they fail to change power structures as
workers lack meaningful power and agency. Organizing, on the other hand, is where
workers (not just professional sta and activists) ‘transform the power structure to
favour constituents and diminish the power of their opposition’ (2016: 11) through
systematic powerstructure analyses — identifying wider networks and the often hidden
relationshipbetween economic, social and political power — and the identification and
participation of ‘organic leaders’ — keyinfluencers in the workplace and beyond, who
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224 British Journal of Industrial Relations
are not necessarily pro-union, but areable to bring in a wider constituency to support
collective action.
Chapters 3–5 all provide evidence that when a union strategically engages the
broader community, new and strong leaders develop within and outside factory
walls. The chapters also show how oligarchic tendencies within trade unions can
be counteracted and McAlevey argues that the motivation and/or ideology of key
leadership is a crucial factor in whether or not a union turns oligarchic. Chapter
3 looks at dierent strategies to forming and governing unions by two local SEIU
unions in private-sector nursinghomes. In the chapter, McAlevey showsthe dierence
between advocacy, mobilizing and organizing approaches in the workplace and aims
to demonstrate how organizing — conceptualized in this book as ‘whole worker
organizing’ — was the most eective strategy.
Chapter 4 explores the history of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) from 1988 up
to the most recent and high-profile teachers’ strike in 2012. This chapter is essentially
about union renewal and how the CTU was able to renew membership and build
collective mobilization through eective forms of leadership which enabled the rank
and file to fight, rather than a top-down leadership strategythat constrained members’
actions. Chapter 5 looks at a case study of organizing in the world’s largest pork
production factory, Smithfield Food plant in rural North Carolina. The chapter is
about a successful organizing campaign, where workers who were twice defeated won
the third time round using a whole worker organizing approach — where workers
united their workplace and community relationships into a struggle for decency and
respect. Chapter 6 is a case study of a social movement organization, Make the Road
to New York, also a worker centre, which combines direct services, advocacy and
mobilizing, which again emphasizes the need for social movements and trade unions
alike to keep their constituents at the centre of organizingcampaigns.
As with her first book, McAlevey’swriting style is compelling and exudes optimism
in the potential for real/deep organizing to make progressive change, if the ‘right’
ideas and forms of organizing are in place. There are useful concepts and practices
to take away from this book, for both academics and practitioners.First, the concept
of ‘whole worker organizing’ which brings to the fore the idea that trade unions in
their attempts to build collective organization should consider workers not just as
workers, but as people having lives outside the workplace. If workers are struggling
with housing, immigration status or a myriad of other issues not related to work
directly, they may well be less open to collective action and more significantly more
vulnerable and dependent on their employer. In terms of union practice, workers and
their representatives could implement ‘power structure analyses’ and ‘structure tests’
in order to build an understanding of power in anyworkplace.
What would make McAlevey’s case studies and arguments even more compelling
would be to show whathappens in the aftermath of organizing campaigns and actions
and the sustainability of active participation and mobilization in the local unions
she studies. Sustainability is a key issue in organizing, with a tendency for active
engagement to dissipate once a campaign is over. McAlevey wouldno doubt argue that
this is not a case of ‘real’ or ‘deep’ organizing, butit would enhance her work to explore
the issue of sustainability further. There is much that is routine and mundane about
trade union and social movement workand readers without trade union experience or
a wider knowledge of trade unionism could easily come away with an idealized and
romanticized view of union work.
Another issue is around the notion of ‘organic leaders’, who are not necessarily
pro-union but have the potential to lead workers to support and participate in
2018 John Wiley& Sons Ltd.

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