Introduction

Introduction

It should be common sense—but often is not—that nearly every act of production, construction, service, transmission, transportation, and health care in America is performed by working men and women, most of whom earn less money and respect than they deserve. In this special section of Dissent, seven talented writers describe and analyze the lives and politics—on the job and off—of this bruised, yet creative and never silent majority.

Whether they toil in a declining Indiana factory town or in booming Nashville, the wage-earners Max Fraser speaks with share similar grievances about the present and worries about what will come next. Dorothy Sue Cobble pushes back at her fellow academics who blame workers for conservative gains. Atossa Abrahamian examines both the benefits and limits of unionism for freelancers, whose numbers are surging. In revealing detail, Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein describe the resistance of home-care workers to state cutbacks in wages and hours and foreclosures of their home-based workplaces. Nelson Lichtenstein reviews an authoritative new book on the farmworkers’ union; while Jefferson Cowie critiques an important history of the air traffic controllers, whose defeat in 1981 touched off three decades of attacks on public employees. The needs and interests of the “99 percent” have been much invoked of late. These essays go beyond the rhetoric to understand what work is and how it shapes the people who do it and the struggling nation they inhabit.

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Lima