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on February 10, 1999
Over the past decade, economist Michael Yates has written a number of books for working people -- "Power on the Job," "The Labor Law Handbook," "Longer Hours, Fewer Jobs: Employment and Unemployment in the United States" and now "Why Unions Matter." Yates manages to write in a clear readable style and, at the same time, talk about complex matters. He is also one of the very few nonlawyers who has an understanding and grasp of the role of law. "Why Unions Matter" manages to provide a lot of information about union history, labor economics, and even how to organize a union and bargain a contract in a very concise book. While I might differ with Yates on some details, I think this book makes a valuable contribution. It and his other books should be on every unionist's bookshelf, and unionists should lobby their public libraries to carry Yates' books.
As a final note, it is a very rare thing for academics, such as Yates, to write for a popular audience. All the pressures in academia are to write for other academics. It takes imagination, caring and courage to do what Yates does, and he deserves our gratitude for it.
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VINE VOICEon July 22, 2003
The author makes it abundantly clear that without the backing of a labor union, most workers stand little chance of countering unilateral and capricious employer actions. A collective bargaining agreement is a quasi-constitution that provides for due process for workers in many workplace situations. Otherwise, employees simply work "at the will" of employers with no recourse to challenge decisions.
The author explores the steps that generally need to be taken to form a union under the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. Beyond those procedures, he repeatedly stresses the class and workplace solidarity needed to form an effective union. But the main American labor movement in its evolution has never developed a coherent stance on the class nature of capitalism. Bureaucratic, bread-and-butter, business unionism describes the American labor movement after WWII. It is an orientation that does not seek to transform the essential dominance of American capital over the American working class.
It is clear that the American labor movement has since the Civil War faced incredible opposition from both employers and the state, including the police, the armed forces, and the judiciary. In addition, the various media empires portray unions as un-American or criminal in nature. Nonetheless, the author is unhappy with the conservatism of the labor movement regardless of any practical reasons for that stance. He views the purge of left-wing elements from unions and the lack of union internal democracy as developments that greatly weaken the ability of unions to fully represent the working class.
The key structure of unions is the local union that is centered on one or more workplaces in a geographical area. Naturally their concerns are with local issues and generally not on broader working class concerns. The author wishes to see a far more aggressive labor presence in the political realm. Issues such as employment as a right, national health care, shorter work hours, greater equality in pay, and democratization of workplaces need to appear on the political agenda of organized labor. The author does not really address the issue of what would be the role for labor unions if the American working class actually became powerful enough to implement pro-worker legislation. For example, what would the role for unions be in worker-dominated firms?
Yes, unions do matter. No other organizations even remotely afford workers the voice and protection that unions do within workplaces. But there is wide variability in their effectiveness. Furthermore, it is rather obvious that the labor movement as presently conceived has been quite limited in its ability to counter the global forces of capitalism that have been playing havoc with the world's working classes. Basically, the author is not quite as pro-union as it might seem at first glance.
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on March 10, 2007
This is an excellent introduction to unions. The author covers the basic legal, economic and political aspects with a critical eye. This should be mandatory reading for union members and everyone else that wants to stand up to Corporate America.

Michael Yates' anecdotal stories of rank-and-file resistance to corporate greed and business unionism deserve to widely read in and of themselves.
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on January 21, 2016
PEOPLE NEED TO REALIZE WITHOUT UNIONS YOU WILL LOSE THE MIDDLE CLASS. I AM A UNION MEMBER AND DO NOT ALWAYS AGREE WITH WHAT IS DONE NATIONALLY BUT IT IS DONE FOR THE WHOLE MEMBERSHIP NOT JUST ONE PERSON. ALSO MY DUES DO NOT GO TO ANYTHING POLITICAL. ANY POLITICAL MONEY IS SEPARATE.
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on May 17, 2012
Of course unions matter.
While the employer has an army(managers, attorneys, spies, etc.) working for it to keep the upper hand over the employee, the employee is alone unless nepotism is involved.
The author gives countless reasons for the need of a union but also reveals how the unions eradicated the radicals and became a tool for the establishment to control anti-establishments throughout the world.
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on September 10, 2014
This book hits all the highlights and explains why labor needs to be organized. Sometimes the book takes on a decidedly political tone, which is understandable because of the relationship Beltway folks have with the little guy. There is a bunch of information and a good historical prospective on Unions. He doesn't pull any punches, and covers mistakes that have been made by some large Unions. No organization is perfect, and it's great to see a more complete picture then just talking points.
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on August 26, 2015
Short answer: They matter because corporations have too much buying power with the government and unions are what happens when the workforce takes some of that power back. Read this and expand your knowledge base
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on September 25, 2015
I am trying to become better informed on the history of the labor movement. I found this book very informative and helpful. As a worker who never had the chance to belong to a union, I am always looking for more knowledge in this area. It was not a difficult read either. I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more about unions and why they are still needed.
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on December 30, 2007
This book has a great history of unions and the American Labor Movement as
well. I didn't know how much unions have affected our current labor laws. I
think it would be a great supplement for any American History class.
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on May 3, 2009
I'm glad Yates decided to put out this book during the national debate surrounding the Employee Free Choice Act. If every politician had to read this book, I think we'd be in a much better place. It's so important for students in particular to read this book because labor struggles have been kept out of history classes in school. Perhaps it would even be good guide for teachers at the high school level. People that have read this book and enjoyed it may also want to check out a short video I've discovered on the Indianapolis hotel workers' struggle for the union:

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