I'm currently reading Thomas Geoghegan's 1992 epic book "Which Side Are you On?" It's subtitle is "trying to be for labor when it's flat on its back." I first met Tom when he graciously agreed to be on a panel in Chicago with me at In These Times' event for my book Hostile Takeover -- and I've only now just gotten around to reading his book. I'm sorry I haven't read it earlier, because it is really one of the best I've ever read, and I don't say that lightly.
Tom takes us through his own life as a labor lawyer in Chicago, and shows us both the corporate forces working against the labor movement and the forces within unions that have created some real problems. The book is simultaneously hilarious, sad, inspiring and depressing. Here's one of my favorite little excerpts -- I particularly like it because, as a writer it speaks to something I struggle with all the time:
Is there "class" in America? To me, it's such a stupid question. A hopeless question. Unfortunately, I'm obsessed with it...Most American writers, like Twain and Melville, go nuts thinking about this question. Is there "class" in America? Impossible even to discuss, without seeming weird. Impossible to write a book about. It's the book they'd all like to write, but none of them can. Ands they try, and try, and after a while, they go a little nuts, like Twain, or just stop writing, like Melville. Sometimes it's put not as a question of "class" but as one of "fraternity." But isn't it the same question? Except no one really knows what the question is; or knowing what it is, everyone is helpless in the face of it. Maybe it's better to as, "Why do people wear union windbreakers?"
As you can see, the thing that really makes it great is that it's not just for people who may be interested in politics or organized labor -- it's written for anybody. The color, narrative and anecdotes are just incredibly compelling and entertaining to the point where it may be the only book on labor issues that I could comfortably call "a page turner" -- one perhaps more relevant today than it was even when it first came out.
At a time when much of the media world is overflowing with sensationalist nonsense and personality-driven B.S. written by truly bad writers, it's refreshing to read such crisp writing, focused on such important issues. If you haven't already done so in the 15 years since this book was first published, Go pick it up - and get ready for a great ride.