Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thomas Geoghegan: Which Side Are You On?

Tom Geoghegan is running for Rahm Emanuel's old seat in congress, so that finally spurred me to buy his book, Which Side Are You On? Trying to Be for Labor When It's Flat on Its Back, which originally came out in 1991. I wonder how I managed to not read this book until now, but I have to remind myself that when it came out, I didn't even have ready access to a Borders, let alone Amazon. Presumably there was a copy of this floating around the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh... but anyway...

It is a much easier and breezier read than you'd think considering its subject, and it very much resonates with my experiences with the labor movement in the '90's. Not surprisingly, Hendrick Hertzberg is much more articulate on the subject than me:

The National Book Critics Circle listed it as one of the five best nonfiction books of the year. That was putting it mildly. “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.
If you're interested in American labor and have somehow also not read this, you won't regret picking it up (give his campaign some money, too!). Here are a few choice quotes:

But everything the new Democrats or neoliberals have to say or teach, it seems to me, you can pick up in a magazine. But what the old Democrats have to say, or teach... well, the only way you can learn it is to walk block by city block and carry a smoking torch. (p. 283)

I can see why our leaders in top office would want to get rid of unions. In the United States, most of our managers don't know how to manage, except to say, "You're fired." To manage as European business does, to get consensus, to get a staff to accept, then to embrace a goal or mission--to manage like this in America is rare. So when we bring our CEOs from private business into government and they come up against a union for the first time, they don't know what to do. They panic. All they know how to say is: "You don't do it my way? You're fired!" (p. 345)

Both those quotes are relevant to the current debates about school reform, of course.

1 comment:

Robert Vogel said...

I'm reading "Which Side Are You On ?" right now.

I hope that TG will be successful in his run for office. We need a lot more candidates like him.