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Immanuel Ness

 

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Immanuel Ness is professor of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. His research focuses on labor organization and mobilization, migration, resistance and social movements against oppression from a historical and comparative perspective. Ness is the author of Guest Workers and Resistance to U.S. Corporate Despotism (University of Illinois, 2011) and  Immigrants, Unions, and the U.S. Labor Market (Temple University Press, 2005). He is general editor with Peter Bellwood of Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration, 5 volumes (2013). He is finishing a book on imperialism, foreign direct investment and class struggles in the global South (Monthly Review, 2014). Ness is coeditor of Ours to Master and to Own: Worker Control from the Commune to the Present (Haymarket, 2011) and a forthcoming second volume of the work (Haymarket, 2013). He has written or edited many other books on labor, workers organization, migration, and urban politics with leading publishers. He is editor of the peer-reviewed quarterly journal Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society

In 2005, his four-volume work Encyclopedia of American Social Movements received Outstanding Reference Source, Reference and User Services Association, American Library Association. The work was selected as best reference for 2005 from Library Journal. He received awards and acclaim for his other reference works, including Encyclopedia of Third Parties in America. In 2009, he edited International Encyclopedia of Protest and Revolution: 1500 to the Present, a 4,000-page, eight-volume collection, which was critically acclaimed in reviews and received Booklist, Editor’ Choice Best Reference, 2009AAP PROSE, Award, Honorable Mention for Multivolume Reference, and a finalist for the 2009 Dartmouth Medal. In addition, he has authored numerous peer-reviewed chapters, book chapters, and essays.  Email: iness@brooklyn.cuny.edu or manny.ness@gmail.com

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New Forms of Worker Organization:
The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism

Edited by Immanuel Ness
Forward by Staughton Lynd
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-60486-956-9
Published: 07/01/2014
Format: Paperback
Size: 9x6
Page count: 320 pages
Subjects: Labor Studies/Politics-Activism/Economics-Global
$24.95

Bureaucratic labor unions are under assault throughout the world. Most unions have surrendered the achievements of the mid-twentieth century, when the working class was a militant force for change throughout the world. The decline of labor unions has exposed workers throughout the world to capitalist absolutism, where trade unions are unable to defend workers’ interests.

As unions implode and weaken, workers are independently forming their own unions, rooted in the tradition of syndicalism and autonomism—and unions rooted in the tradition of self-directed action are auguring a new period of class struggle throughout the world. In Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe, workers are rejecting leaders and forming authentic class-struggle unions rooted in sabotage, direct action, and striking to achieve concrete gains.

This is the first book to compile workers struggles on a global basis, examining the formation and expansion of radical unions in the Global South and Global North. The tangible evidence marshaled in this book serves as a handbook for understanding the formidable obstacles and concrete opportunities for workers challenging neoliberal capitalism, even as the unions of the old decline and disappear.

Contributors include: Au Loong-Yu, Bai Ruixue, Shawn Hattingh, Piotr Bizyukov, Irina Olimpieva, Genese M. Sodikoff, Aviva Chomsky, Dario Bursztyn, Gabriel Kuhn, Erik Forman, Steven Manicastri, Arup Kumar Sen, Verity Burgmann, Ray Jureidini, Meredith Burgmann, and Jack Kirkpatrick.

Praise

“As the U.S. labor movement conducts its latest, frantic search for ‘new ideas,’ there is no better source of radical thinking on improved modes of union functioning than the diverse contributors to this timely collection. New Forms of Worker Organization vividly describes what workers in Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe have done to make their unions more effective. Let’s hope that these compelling case studies of rank-and-file struggle and bottom up change lead to more of the same where it’s needed the most, among those of us ‘born in the USA!’”
—Steve Early, former organizer for the Communications Workers of America and author of Save Our Union: Dispatches from a Movement in Distress

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newNew Forms of Worker Organization: A Review
By Jim Donaghey
Anarchist Studies 23-2

"This volume will certainly be of interest to those researching labour struggles in diverse global contexts, but the overarching argument of the book should appeal to workplace activists and a wider audience as well. Against the backdrop of rapacious neo-liberalism, the spread of precarious employment, and a nadir for class-conscious- ness, the new forms of worker organisation described here really do give hope for a democratic and militant reinvigoration of struggle which extends out from the work- place and into society as a whole."

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newNew Forms of Worker Organization: A Review
By Steve Early
Labor Studies Journal
Vol 40(1)

"...Two of the book’s most timely case studies describe fast food and service worker organizing, where left-led independent unions took the lead. Erik Forman, a young veteran of IWW campaigns at Starbucks and Jimmy John’s, a nationwide fast food chain, provides a vivid account of inside committee building and collective action at nine Jimmy John’s locations in Minneapolis...

...The Forman and Kirkpatrick chapters are, by themselves, worth the price of the book, particularly for organizers involved in Our Walmart, the “Fight for Fifteen,” and workers’ center activity in other low-wage sectors. Readers less enthused about the “syndicalist and autonomist” tradition than Ness and his contributors will still find New Forms of Worker Organization to be an invaluable resource, widening our hori- zons about union models, old and new."

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newNew Forms of Worker Organization: A Review
By Seth Sandronsky
The Progressive Populist
July 1st-15th, 2015

Erik Forman’s study of IWW organizing at Jimmy John’s in Minneapolis sheds light on useful strategies and tactics these sandwich workers use to combat tyrannical bosses. Professional union organizers are not part of his case study of this slice of the fast food industry. Forman stands alone among the contributors as a worker directly involved in shop floor actions. In the shadows of Starbucks youthful workers’ actions for higher pay as a major if unstated precursor to the Fight for $15 hour minimum wage movement funded by trade unions sweeping the USA, Ness critiques US trade union leadership. It has, according to him, disempowered the US working class over the past four decades, pursuing a defensive trend of concessions to capital, and coming to resemble the corporate foes hammering labor.

New Forms of Worker Organization delivers intriguing cases of capital and labor clashing in the 21st century. The parallels to a century ago are stark, economically and politically. Accordingly, the case studies prefigure a local and global politics. It aspires to a democracy that has at its core economic democracy centered on the workplace.

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newNew Forms of Worker Organization: A Review
By J.H. Cobbe
Choice
January 2015

This volume collects 13 essays by political scientists, sociologists, labor relations specialists, labor activists, a social anthropologist, and a union organizer on various aspects of nontraditional organization and activism in a variety of settings and countries around the world.  Editor Ness (political science, CUNY) contributes a substantive introduction and one of the essays.  The book includes useful chapters on worker protests in Russia and China by well placed and experienced observers, and more specific case studies of Indian car workers, South African mine workers, unskilled workers in conservation in Madagascar, Colombian open-pit coal workers, and transport workers in Argentina.  There follow more historical studies of syndicalism in Sweden and workers’ control in Australia, case studies of the Wobblies in US fast food and British contract cleaners, and finally a historical contrast of IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) ideas to conventional US unionism and the legal framework of collective bargaining and binding contracts.  In general, the committed authors espouse a radical viewpoint, and are open about their advocacy against existing capitalism and in favor of workers and a renewed rise of labor power.  The essays are uneven and many are jargon-laden, but the content is valuable and should be widely available.invites ethnographic inquiry from those whose research lies within the anthropology of work.

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newNew Forms of Worker Organization: A Review
By Stephen Campbell
Anthropology of Work Review
November 3rd, 2014

The book is a collection of globally dispersed case studies of workers' self-organization and collective action. Only one contributing author (Genese Marie Sodikoff) is an anthropologist; the remainder are mostly sociologists, political scientists, labor activists and organizers, and nongovernmental organization researchers. Nonetheless, the book advances an important thesis, which invites ethnographic inquiry from those whose research lies within the anthropology of work.

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newNew Forms of Worker Organization: A Review
By Duncan Stewart
Library Journal
November 2014

Ness (political science, Brooklyn Coll.; Guest Workers and Resistance to U.S. Corporate Despotism) has collected essays about worker militancy from across the globe that address the failure of traditional labor unions to protect workers in the neoliberal world economic order. From American fast-food workers confronting their supervisors to South African miners fighting just to stay alive in the pits, this title is a wake-up call to those who believe the need for unions is a thing of the past and those who are seeking new ways to rally workers. The essays range in quality and tone, but every piece stresses that workers organizing themselves and taking direct action, such as sit-down strikes, mass picketing, and community organizing are key to protecting labor rights in the 21st century. The book mixes a healthy dose of anarcho-syndicalist theory with on-the-scene reporting about both successful and unsuccessful labor battles. VERDICT This work will excite and enrage activists and may make supporters of the status quo nervous. However, its theoretical underpinnings, quasi-Marxist terminology, and fragmented narrative will limit its audience appeal.

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newAlt-Labor or Not, It Will Take Rank-and-File Power to Revive Us
by Steve Early
TeleSur
October 6th, 2014

"...As its sub-title suggests, New Forms has a strong left syndicalist slant and tends to be critical of big national labor federations in just about every country covered. Edited by Manny Ness, contributors to the book include shop-floor organizers for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and many others engaged in alternative union formation or agitation in South Africa, India, China, Australia, Argentina, Russia, Sweden, Madagascar, and Colombia. The strength of this eclectic collection, published by PM Press in Oakland, lies in its showcasing of labor organizing, often little known but sometimes fairly large scale. 

Ness himself is a widely travelled and well-informed labor activist, who teaches at Brooklyn College/City University of New York and edits the labor journal, WorkingUSA..."

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newAlt-Labor or Not, It Will Take Rank-and-File Power to Revive Us
by Eric Dirnbach
Labor Notes
October 6th, 2014

"Can recent experiments with alternative forms of organizing, such as worker centers and minority strikes, offer a solution to the labor movement’s long half-century of decline?

Racked by globalization, union-busting, and weak legal protections, unions in the U.S. have fallen from representing 35 percent of the working population in the 1950s to 12 percent today. Other countries have seen similar trends.

An excellent new book, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, presents examples of present-day organizing around the world—inside and outside of unions..."

 

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newNew Forms of Worker Organization: A Review
by Kevin Carson
Center for a Stateless Society
August 18th, 2014

"...This book is about a different kind of unionism, breaking out all over the world today. “It is horizontal rather than vertical. It relies not on paid union staff but on the workers themselves.”

These kinds of alternative unions, editor Immanuel Ness argues, “are more relevant to today’s workers than institutional and bureaucratic compromises with the capitalist class and state.” The new unions are a revived form of a form of labor organization that was dominant before Wagner and similar labor charters with capitalist states around the world. “…[T]he new workers’ organizations are descendants of the socialist and anarchist labor formations of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”"

 

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newNew Forms of Worker Organization: A Review
by Steve Thornton
Industrial Worker
September 2014

Ness argues that it won’t work to “reinvigorate” conventional unions or to reach “density” in particular industries. I was fortunate to hear him speech recently at “How Class Works,” a biennial conference held at Stony Brook University and sponsored by the school’s Center for Study of Working Class Life. At his workshop, Ness posed the question that is at the core of this book: Can we create solidarity unions within (or in spite of) current labor organizations?

“New Forms of Worker Organization” is a book of essays divided geographically between Europe and Asia, the Global South and the Global North. With contributions from 16 writers, Ness describes the struggle of autonomous workers’ organizations and their efforts to take hold. From worker-peasant coalitions in Madagascar to the IWW Jimmy John’s campaign in Minnesota, these writers provide detailed accounts of struggle by workers to build powerful, democratic and independent movements. 

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newRestoration of Class Struggle Unionism: A Review
By Ron Jacobs
Counterpunch
Weekend Edition August 8th-10th 2014

In order to survive in the world defined by neoliberal capitalism, workers have slowly come to realize that they must organize in new ways that respond to the new situation. It is this realization that might just prevent the total destruction of worker organizing. A new book edited by Immanuel Ness was published with this in mind. The book, titled New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism, presents several case studies of organizing drives among workers around the world. These case studies explore the shortcomings of bureaucratic unionism not just in its current practice, but in its fundamental understanding of unionism itself. From Russia, to China; from Sweden to Colombia; Minneapolis to London; the stories in these pages are ones almost anyone who has worked in the food industry or on a factory floor can relate to. Petty dictators for bosses, management willing to work for salary just to get a title and a hope for advancement, and workers wanting to organize but afraid of losing their jobs and ending up on the street—this is the situation workers find themselves in.

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