The Civil Wars in U.S. Labor

Birth of a New Workers' Movement or Death Throes of the Old?

Between 2008 and 2010, the progressive wing of the U.S. labor movement tore itself apart in a series of internecine struggles. More than $140 million was expended, by all sides, on organizing conflicts that tarnished union reputations and undermined the campaign for real health care and labor law reform. Campus and community allies, along with many rank-and-file union members, were left angered and dismayed.

In this incisive new book, labor journalist Steve Early draws on scores of interviews and on his own union organizing experience to explain why and how these labor civil wars occurred. He examines the bitter disputes about union structure, membership rights, organizing strategy, and contract standards that enveloped SEIU, UNITE HERE, the California Nurses Association, and independent organizations like the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico and the new National Union of Healthcare Workers in California. Along the way, we meet rank-and-file activists, local union officers, national leaders, and concerned friends of labor who were drawn into the fray.

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About the author

Steve Early is a contributor on labor issues for diverse publications from The Nation to The New York Times, and is the author of Embedded with Organized Labor. He lives in Arlington, Massachusetts.


"Steve Early has long been a voice of distinctive clarity, honesty and intellectual seriousness in and about the labor movement."—Adolph Reed, Jr., professor of political science, University of Pennsylvania

“Early’s account of how and why labor law reform has been stalled for the third time in the last 32 years should be required reading for all workers’ rights advocates.”—U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

“ Civil Wars in U.S. Labor critiques a union culture that privileges control over the practice of democracy. With an honest eye, the author adds an essential chapter to the long history of rank-and-file efforts to keep unionism vibrant and engaged... compelling reading.”—Vanessa Tait, author, Poor Workers’ Unions

“Civil Wars is as lively as it is detailed... [providing] insights into just what the labor movement can become when democracy takes hold and members get active. It will infuriate some, but inspire many more to build and transform their unions.”—Kim Moody, author, U.S. Labor in Trouble and Transition

"…essential reading for those interested in understanding how difficult it is for young organizers to change the U.S. labor movement for the better. The book, released this month, focuses on a generation of campus radicals who entered the labor movement in the late '60s and early '70s (in part) to make it more democratic." —Mike Elk, In These Times

“Steve Early is not just another scholar situated outside the labor movement. For more than thirty-five years, he helped do the hard work of organizing and collective bargaining. His latest book confirms that there is no one with a better understanding of contemporary union problems. When he warns about the dangers of undemocratic practices, sweetheart deals with employers, and over reliance on the Democratic Party, we had better listen.”—Michael Yates, author, Why Unions Matter