“Deeply inspiring and profoundly important”: Sweeping new history of US labor debuts to stellar reviews…

Cover photo for “Beaten Down, Worked Up” by Scott Heins, Getty Images

“Beaten Down, Worked Up,” by former New York Times labor correspondent Steven Greenhouse, called a “riveting account of the rise and fall of organized labor,” by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich;

Greenhouse devotes entire chapter to the history of the CIW, from the early strikes in the 1990s to the Campaign for Fair Food today, including a detailed look at the ground-breaking success of the Fair Food Program!

Steven Greenhouse, the award-wining reporter who spent nearly two decades covering labor for the New York Times, has published his second book, titled “Beaten Down, Worked Up,” a thoroughgoing history and analysis of the US labor movement that examines “the roots of [labor’s] problems and what we as individuals and as a nation can do to address and hopefully fix them.”  The book, which debuted just last week, is a must-read, and has already received several excellent reviews from newspapers like the Washington Post and the LA Times, as well as from many key labor and progressive voices, including former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and publisher of The Nation, Katrina Vanden Heuvel.  

Greenhouse’s first book, “The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker,” was a comprehensive look at the many challenges facing workers across the US economy in the 21st century.  His new book widens the lens, taking a look back in time at the history of the US labor movement and highlighting several current, successful efforts by workers – union and non-union alike – to improve their working conditions and defend their dignity on the job.  It is toward this latter objective that Greenhouse dedicates an entire chapter to the CIW, from the early days of immigrant workers from Haiti, Guatemala and Mexico coming together in Immokalee to confront the extreme exploitation they faced in the fields – including widespread sexual violence and modern-day slavery – to the unprecedented success of the CIW’s Fair Food Program and the Worker-driven Social Responsibility model to which it gave birth. 

The opening paragraphs of the Washington Post review provide an excellent sense of the book’s trajectory, and of the place of the CIW’s story in Greenhouse’s analysis:

August 9

A dozen years ago, migrant workers in the “winter tomato capital” of Immokalee, Fla., arrived for work around 7 a.m. but had to wait up to four hours, unpaid, for the sun to dry the plants before they could start picking and start getting paid. For many, the goal was to earn $60 a day, which meant picking 4,800 pounds of tomatoes in the blistering sun without any breaks or shade. As Steven Greenhouse writes in his new book, “Beaten Down, Worked Up,” crew leaders regularly cheated pickers out of $10 or $15 of their wages or withheld pay altogether. “When workers complained, the crew leaders sometimes beat them or fired them,” Greenhouse writes. “Female workers had it worst of all. Crew leaders frequently groped them or demanded sex if women wanted to keep their jobs.”

The troubles in the tomato fields of Florida reflect worker conditions in America at the extreme, Greenhouse suggests. But millions of workers generally face dire circumstances. Despite holding regular paying jobs, many are consigned to poverty. In “Beaten Down, Worked Up,” Greenhouse tells the history of the labor movement through the 20th century to today. He recounts some of labor’s greatest successes, such as a 1950 agreement between the United Auto Workers and General Motors that expanded provisions for pensions and health care nationally, and he resurrects some of labor’s greatest failures, such as air-traffic controllers’ unsuccessful strike in 1981, which emboldened a much harder line against unions.

Each success story highlights the leaders and strategies behind the breakthrough. Greenhouse takes us through Walter Reu­ther’s maverick negotiation of the 1950 automakers’ agreement, the “Treaty of Detroit”; Labor Secretary Frances Perkins’s skilled backing of the most labor-friendly portions of the New Deal, including unemployment benefits and the first minimum-wage and overtime laws; and an ingenious 21st-century campaign by Haitian and American organizers to improve conditions for the tomato pickers in Immokalee by pressuring some of the largest tomato purchasers (Taco Bell and McDonald’s) to in turn pressure recalcitrant tomato growers to provide better working conditions… READ MORE >>

Greenhouse’s book is a truly significant contribution to the conversation on the state of labor in the 21st century, and will surely be an important part of the curriculum for students of economics, political science, and social change for years to come.  To encourage you to take the plunge and check out Greenhouse’s important new book yourself, we will close with the words of Alissa Quart, author of “Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America”:

Steven Greenhouse has been a paragon of labor reporting for decades. This crucial book—comprehensive, deeply informed and empathic—is something of a culmination of his efforts, capturing both the outrage of exploitation and the excitement of new movements. It’s an inspiring, richly-sourced account of what American work and workers really mean today.

You can find “Beaten Down, Worked Up” online or at a bookstore near you.