Essential reading for labor, community activists


"A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape The American Labor Movement"

By Amy B. Dean and David B. Reynolds

Cornell University Press, 2009, 275 pp

The room was full. Union members and labor supporters were noshing vegetables and dip and other finger food delights at the Pittsburgh convention center, waiting to hear Amy Dean, former president of the South Bay Labor Council and co-author of "A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape The American Labor Movement." There would be two other speakers there, the new AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka, and secretary-treasurer, Liz Shuler.


This took place during the AFL-CIO's convention last September. It was a book-signing and reception for perhaps one of the most unique books to be published in 2009 and its co-author. As soon as the boxes of books opened the crowd surged forward, hands extended, waiting to grab this "manna from heaven," as one labor journalist said. "We're hungry and there is a desert out there."

At a time when the loosely formed labor-community coalition has won important battles locally and nationally, from kids' health care on a state and regional level to the election of President Barack Obama, there haven't been too many books written on how to win progressive and sustained victories from a labor-community coalition point of view. That's what makes "A New New Deal" unique.

Amy Dean and her co-author David Reynolds explore in detail the rise of regional labor-community coalitions since the mid-1990s, what they are accomplishing, the strategy behind them and the shortcomings. Reynolds is labor extension coordinator at the Labor Studies Center of Wayne State University in Detroit.

Starting with the experience of Dean and the South Bay Labor Council, based in San Jose, Calif., and the Los Angeles County Labor Federation under the leadership of the late Miguel Contreras, the authors explain three necessary factors to build power for working people.

To begin with, a strong and active central labor council is essential, the core of any regional labor/community coalition. Starting from there, the authors introduce "three legs of regional power building": a regional policy agenda with "think-and-act tanks" associated with the labor movement, "deep coalitions," and "aggressive political action." These three legs are interrelated and necessary to moving toward a pro-people agenda and away from a solely business-oriented, for-profit-only agenda, the authors say.

Dean and Reynolds use examples from across the country to make the point that each area has different variables, declining or ascending economies, different grassroots organizing histories, demographics and union densities, but the three components of regional power-building are a constant.

They place this power-building strategy in the context of regional economies. And this, in my opinion, is the most mind-expanding part of the book: thinking about the economics of a region instead of being limited to the political boundaries of cities, suburbs and towns.

Dean and Reynolds argue that corporations have many regional associations that help get them in at the ground floor on regional planning, from land use to housing and transportation planning, that deeply affects working people, union members, communities of color, low-income and upwardly mobile professionals. However these interests are rarely represented from the get-go of the planning and decision making process. So if a large housing complex is to be developed, how do you leverage grassroots organizing to win affordable housing? Dean and Reynolds say: by developing research/policy advocates, coalition building and political action. The main thing, the authors say, is to think broadly about economic development. Jobs, yes, but quality of life issues too, health care, land use, environmental protection, schools and transportation. Union organizing and solidarity campaigns are also part of the coalition work.

For building deep coalitions, the authors point to many kinds of alliances with labor at their core. Broadly, they outline labor-community, labor-minority-immigrant and labor-interfaith alliances as key in coalition building based on shared economic and social justice interests. The authors also discuss civic institutions and businesses that may be part of a regional power-building coalition. After all, they say, the regional business community is not monolithic.

Regional power building, the authors argue, is one way of organizing. And it is not in competition, but complementary to national labor and community organizing strategies. As a matter of fact, they say, building regionally helps deepen the bench, so to speak, for labor and community coalitions on a national scale. It helps to make the "change" that people sought to make on a national level with the election of Barack Obama to the White House, on a regional and statewide level. That's a necessity in order to sustain any type of progressive reform agenda.

And that makes this book a must-read for any serious advocate for union and worker rights and social justice.


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  • Nah, sorry to disappoint but I'm not Alan Maki.

    How is it that there are never substantial responses in these comments? Hollow accusations are not a good substitute for debate.

    Posted by W.R., 12/14/2009 12:48pm (5 years ago)

  • Alan, is that you?

    Posted by Terrie Albano, 12/12/2009 12:09pm (5 years ago)

  • I think it's interesting that the editor of the People's World can only offer conspiracy theories - suggesting coyly that all critics of the current line are the same person - rather than substance in response to the comments that have been posted on many of the articles here.

    A communist newspaper doesn't have to sit around and preach world revolution all day, and nobody's saying that. It's a strawman. What has been lacking is a clear class struggle point of view, and a communist point of view. Does this book have anything to do with advancing what Gus Hall called class struggle unionism? It seems to go more toward "partnerships" including with the business community, which is exactly the opposite. I'm not some "rank and file" purist, but to be blunt the rank & file seem to be missing from this view of unionism.

    Posted by W.R., 12/11/2009 7:49pm (5 years ago)

  • I also find it interesting that Dave and Janet, Howard and E.E.W. have such similarities in content and style. Very much like a couple of other commentors on this site.

    Admittedly that is conspiratorial!

    Posted by Terrie Albano, 12/11/2009 5:07pm (5 years ago)

  • I have read this book by Amy Dean from cover to cover three times and agree with my friend Janet Golembeski from Detroit.

    I must admit this book, A New New Deal, fits in nicely with much I read on the pages here and it doesn't do anything to advance the needs of working people for jobs at real living wages.

    The General Motors plant here in Lansing was demolished. Auto plants all over this country are closing. What is the solution? A coalition going along with the dismantling of our industrial base to build shopping malls or light industry where wages are half or one-third of what they are now?

    This is not about working in coalitions with businesses looking for a source of new profits. From a labor view we need to be looking at protecting the standard of living of working people.

    Is Amy Dean advocating building coalitions advocating nationalization and public ownership? I don't see her talking about this. She has gone out of her way in interviews to say that she does not advocate this.

    I would like to see a thorough discussion of "A New New Deal" along with "Always Bring A Crowd, the Frank Lumpkin Story" because these books offer two different and diametrically opposed views of coalition building for completely different purposes.

    I don't see anyone talking about not accepting anything except for a book about revolution, Ms. Albano. Where has this been stated?

    I was turned on to another very good book about coalition building a year ago at a small gathering in a friend's home. The book, "The People's Front" by Earl Browder.

    What is amazing is that you would choose to promote a book by Amy Dean, A New New Deal, and not promote books taking the side of the working class in the class struggle.

    Everyone should be open minded to read all views. In doing so, we should read these views very critically because our livelihoods depend on it.

    Dave Little Lansing, Michigan

    Posted by Dave Little, 12/11/2009 3:57pm (5 years ago)

  • It's amazing that some people would comment on this book review and admit they haven't read the book yet have such strong opinions.

    To my long time pal, Greg, you are entitled to your opinion, no matter how wrong it is. "Crypto fascist" sounds pretty conspiratorial to me.

    I suppose a book that talks about nothing short of workers revolution would satisfy commentors.

    My opinion: it's important to look at and learn from labor/community coalitions that actually improve people's lives while the main system of capitalism exists. Labor activists and people in general learn from experience not phrase mongering.

    Posted by Terrie Albano, 12/11/2009 12:36pm (5 years ago)

  • I look forward to reading a report on the Chicago PW Banquet where Amy Dean was the featured speaker. Will definitely purchase her book. Will you be selling it on site here so we are making a contribution to the PW when purchasing the book? I just got done reading Always Bring A Crowd about Frank Lumpkin. This book is about coalition building too. Maybe you could promote both books.

    Sorry I missed the banquet. My contribution is in the mail. Hope you publish lots of pictures and maybe a video of Amy's main speech.

    Howard Fritz.Chicago

    Posted by Howard Fritz, 12/07/2009 10:01pm (5 years ago)

  • I notice there is no mention that the entire idea behind this book is the evasion of the class struggle behind calls for labor, philanthropic foundations which fund think-tanks and business to work together.

    Harold Meyerson who wrote the introduction to this book is a notorious anti-communist red-baiter who helped John Sweeney turn the AFL-CIO into a powerful electoral machine instead of a powerful working class movement based on class struggle trade unionism of which politics is an important part.

    This book is intended to make working people think they can become equal partners with capital.

    This book is poison to the working class movement.

    I agree everyone should read this book to find out for themselves how social democrats are planning to undermine class struggle trade unionism, again.

    This book is all about a "foundation flower" educating workers.

    Amy Dean is a product of foundation thinking not class struggle thinking.

    Labor elects Democrats chosen for us by big-business and foundation financed "think-tanks" will help guide us in putting together superficial coalitions that give their stamp of approval to what business had already decided to do except now working people think the ideas originated with them. And the contractors and corporations walk off with all the profits while workers agree to lower wages and less benefits.

    Quite the scheme Amy Dean, David Reynolds and Harold Meyerson, the CPUSA and People's World are pushing here.

    Is this anything like "people's capitalism"?

    Is David Reynold's hometown of Detroit an example of what this kind of new thinking produces?

    This is not what the UE had in mind by any stretch of the imagination as the previous commenter alludes to while acknowledging not having read the book but still pushing it. Very interesting.

    Janet Golembeski
    Detroit MI

    Posted by Janet Golembeski, 12/06/2009 2:54pm (5 years ago)

  • We have very recently adjourned a meet of a mostly strongly union,inter-faith and community activists grouping with amazing potential,in my opinion.
    Interestingly,the historic base for this potential has a very strong Communist Party source,in particular,the"civic unionism"coined by labor historian,Rose Feurer,which high-lighted the activism of UE immortals like Hershel Walker and William Sentner.
    This source,combined with "the three legs of regional power building"make for Nobel Peace Prize explosiveness for our Mid-west region.
    A strong African presence in the union hall was graced and tempered by the anti-racist conviction from the South,the enduring legacy of William"Red"Davis.
    Organization for labor power and change seemed to be the emerging theme-"And that makes this book a must-read for any serious advocate for union and worker rights and social justice."
    Can't wait to share,read and use"A New New Deal".

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 12/06/2009 3:13am (5 years ago)

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