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Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement Hardcover – December 19, 2014

4.5 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

Praise for Thomas Geoghegan's previous books:

"From his first, magnificent book straight through to this one, Tom Geoghegan has written about the labor movement in America with truly unmatched eloquence, self-reflection, and even wit (not easy, that last one). All that and—he is right. I hope the right people listen."
—Michael Tomasky

"Tom Geoghegan has now spent four decades in one of America’s most unusual dual careers. On the one hand, he is a labor lawyer (on the side of the good guys), fighting to protect workers’ rights in a severely antiunion era. On the other hand, he is a skilled essayist and memoirist, who has chronicled the lives of baby-boomers with elegance and wistful humor. In Only One Thing Can Save Us, he argues for a ‘new kind of labor movement.’ But ‘argues’ is really the wrong word, as he makes his case in his usual manner and distinctive voice."
—Michael Kinsley

"Which Side Are You On? is one of the finest nonfiction books by a contemporary author I’ve ever read. It’s incredibly informative, frequently moving, loaded with fresh insights, and often laugh-out-loud funny. A delightful book about the labor movement: it sounds like an oxymoron, but in Geoghegan’s case it’s an accomplishment."
—Hendrik Hertzberg, NewYorker.com

"Most diverting…[Geoghegan] has the great virtue of being witty and ironic—and to the point…A necessary primer."
—Jurek Martin, Financial Times

"Clever and immensely appealing."
—Katha Pollitt, The Nation

"Quirky, brilliant…Inspiring…unparalleled in the literature of American labor."
The New York Times

"A brilliant book."
The Washington Post

"Delightful reading."
—Barbara Ehrenreich

"So skillfully written, so witty—and so scathing—that it seems bound to grip even those who find the labor movement boring."
Businessweek

About the Author

Thomas Geoghegan is a practicing labor lawyer and the author of several books, including "See You in Court; In America's Court;" the National Book Critics Circle Award finalist "Which Side Are You On?"; and, most recently, "Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?" (all available from The New Press). He has written for "The Nation," the "New York Times," and "Harper's Magazine." He lives in Chicago.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press (December 19, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595588361
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595588364
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #196,765 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John Wasik on December 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an essential read for anyone interested in the future of the middle class in this country. At first, the scenario that Geoghegan presents is a disturbing yet familiar one: Wages for most Americans aren't even coming close to keeping up with the cost of living, much less financing a dignified lifestyle. Then he weaves an interesting patchwork of how this crazy quilt of inequality came to be: Employers are heading full speed ahead in this globalized race to the bottom. Propelled by CEOs with outlandish salaries and stock options, multi-national corporations know that they have cover in the political system to abuse workers. In Geoghegan's gentle, socratic and conversational style, he gets the dialogue flowing. How can we raise wages and bring back lost benefits like real pensions (not faux retirement vehicles like 401ks)? The partial answer is the right to organize, which is being seen throughout the country in front of McDonald's and WalMarts. A more comprehensive answer is to change the political climate so that employee organizations are not seen as socialist subterfuge. That's the most daunting challenge of this book. But please read this book and discuss it with your friends, neighbors, associates, co-workers and elected officials. The time is right for the timeless message of taking action through grassroots organization. This book is full of hopeful ideas that can work -- if only we get away from cable TV, advertising and the corporate propaganda that is ruining the country's heart and soul.
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Format: Hardcover
Mr G is not only an impressive thinker but writer. First, the writer. I have been reading Social Problem books for 55 years. Almost all follow, slavishly, this design: the first 285 pages are devoted to: a) description (stats, anecdotes, etc. tracing the problem from its origins to present), b) analysis (usually searching for causality), c) dire prediction ("If we do not deal with this problem - e.g. climate change, gun violence - now, in ten years we will be confronting...), and d) only in the final 15 pages does the author take up his most important duty - his prescriptions or plan for dealing with the social ill so vividly described and decried. Generally these final pages strike the reader as weak, inserted more from formulaic duty than any conviction that any actions, legal or political, can remedy.

Mr G gets the preliminary duty out of the way in Ch. One, in effect saying: "Things are bad and getting worse, but if you are reading this book, you already know that, so lets examine what we can do to halt the decline and fall." For the remaining 11 chapters he offers solutions, many derived, contrary to the "no foreign country can teach America anything" myth, from Germany's solutions.

Mr G the thinker is truly impressive. He offers specific solutions, some drawn from short NLRB phrases, cultural trends and fears explaining how each might improve the lot of labor - or not - his view is laden with cautious pessimism rooted in decades of experience. To explain his approach I want to turn to the 70's TV series "CONNECTIONS" in which James Burke followed one pattern: "So, you think this tiny device is insignificant? Watch as I trace the lines from it to thousands of things, good and evil, that sprang from it...
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Format: Hardcover
To my thinking, many reviewers are over-analyzing this concise and very readable little book. Mostly, it’s just common sense. The author’s basic idea goes like this as I understand it.

We need to “start a parallel labor movement, one that exists inside the companies. I am referring to European-style works councils and co-determined boards. I don’t mean to say that is labor movement inside the company can replace the labor movement outside the company: it can’t. But, the labor movement inside the company can prop up the labor movement outside the company.

How? Well, except for wages, it can handle just about every workplace issue – firing, start times, etc. – since that is what works council do. If nothing else, corporate democracy saves labor’s cash; which can go toward lobbying rather than paying lawyers like me to defend workers in contract arbitrations. Let the works councils decide.

And here’s another big plus about corporate democracy: it’s free. No union has to pay for it…”

But first, “we have to lay out an argument that the case for labor is not just a sentimental bread-and-roses thing or even simple justice. It is also instrument of public policy. It is a way of managing the economy. It is a way of preserving a standard of living.”

It’s high time we stopped demoralizing those without a college education. “Put another way, there has to be something for them – a meaningful life, happiness and a pay raise …

If a revived labor movement pushes up the wages for high school graduates, then it should increase the return for a college degree as well. I understand the argument that there is no such thing as unified labor market. But there is still spillover …”

At the present, “we have it backward: getting more college is not the way to increase income equality, rather income equality is the way to get more college.”
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