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Labor Reading Group

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Members of the Maine AFL-CIO and friends of labor meet monthly to discuss labor related books and articles. Maine AFL-CIO President Cynthia Phinney hosts the reading group meetings. Meetings are currently held on Zoom from 5:30 to 6:30 on the fourth Thursday of each month, or occasionally other times or dates. Readings are chosen by the group and discussions are facilitated by group members or occasional special guests.

 To join the group and be notified of meeting details please contact Cynthia at cynthia at "maineaflcio dot org" and put "Reading Group" in the subject line. Visit our events page to find out when the next meeting is. It is not necessary to complete the entire book to participate in the discussions, and it is not necessary to read every book with us.


In September we will begin reading Unionizing the Ivory Tower: Cornell workers' fifteen-year fight for justice and a living wageby Al Davidoff.

Unionizing The Ivory Tower is a story of 1000 heroic workers figuring out how to build power and struggle together for respect and justice.  Al Davidoff, the Cornell student leader who became a custodian and the union's first president, tells the extraordinary story of these ordinary workers with passion, sensitivity, and wit. He walks you through all the stages of building a local union from the first baby steps of organizing, the anti-union campaign, bargaining, strikes, creative pressure tactics, alliances with community, and sustaining a healthy organization when you aren't in a full blown contract fight.

This is not a textbook that TELLS you how to do things, but a true set of inspiring stories from a rank and file level, that through trial and error demonstrate that workers can build effective, progressive, healthy organizations.  

These workers, mostly white, rural and socially conservative learned to confront internal and external racism, and build deep community alliances that transformed the politics of the workplace and the County.  It's a hopeful antidote to the current popular narrative about the dispossessed working class.


All meetings are at 5:30pm on Thursdays (note that the Nov & Dec meetings are combined and will meet on Thursday, December 7 instead of the fourth Thursdays)

  • September 28    Intro and chapters 1-3          pp.1-82
  • October 19         Chapters 4-8                         pp. 83-157   (Note that this date was changed due to conflict with the Maine AFL-CIO biennial convention)
  • December 7       Chapter 9 through end          pp. 158-238 - The author will join us for this discussion and so this special meeting will be 90 minutes - 5:30-7:00pm

The book is written in a very accessible style and moves right along, so these should be manageable assignments. 


Is there a labor-related book you’ve been wanting to read? Would you love to discuss it with other people with a labor focus? The Maine AFL-CIO Labor Reading Group is always open to suggestions of things to read. Fill out this form to submit the book (or article or pamphlet) you’ve been waiting to read with friends.


  • February and March 2020 – “No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age” by Jane McAlevey
  • April through December 2020 – “How to Be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram X. Kendi
  • January and February 2021 – “Race to Labor” by Bill Fletcher Jr.
  • March through June 2021 – “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy” by Jane McAlevey
  • July through December 2021 - "Shredding Paper: The Rise and Fall of Maine's Mighty Paper Industry" by Michael Hillard
  • January through May 2022 - “The Next Shift: The Fall of Industry and the Rise of Health Care in Rust Belt America." by Gabriel Winant
  • July 2022 We read several articles about the current wave of worker organizing
  • August and September 2022 - "Dirt Road Revival: How to Rebuild Rural Politics and Why Our Future Depends On It" by Chloe Maxmin and Canyon Woodard
  • October 2022 - We watched a short video and read several articles about the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire.
  • December 2022 through April 2023 - "On the Line: Two Women's Epic Fight to Build a Union" by Daisy Pitkin
  • May through August 2023 - "Knocking on Labor's Door: Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide" by Lane Windham


Of course, you can always check your local library, or the Maine State Library! But... if you wish to purchase books yourself (any books!) we encourage you to either purchase the books at a local bookstore, or if you want to purchase online, to purchase from Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. Powell’s workers have a union (ILWU Local 5) and if you go to the Powell’s website via the store link at the union’s website (go to their “support” section and click the link to buy books), the union gets a commission on the sale, which they use for their strike fund. Another online source is which, while not necessarily union, supports local independent bookstores. 

For the current reading, Unionizing the Ivory Tower, you can also purchase directly from the publisher.

And finally...

Questions From a Worker Who Reads

By Bertolt Brecht 

Who built Thebes of the 7 gates ? 
In the books you will read the names of kings. 
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock ? 

And Babylon, many times demolished, 
Who raised it up so many times ? 

In what houses of gold glittering Lima did its builders live ? 
Where, the evening that the Great Wall of China was finished, did the masons go?

Great Rome is full of triumphal arches. 
Who erected them ? 

Over whom did the Caesars triumph ?  
Had Byzantium, much praised in song, only palaces for its inhabitants ? 

Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it, 
The drowning still cried out for their slaves. 

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone ? 

Caesar defeated the Gauls. 
Did he not even have a cook with him ? 

Philip of Spain wept when his armada went down. 
Was he the only one to weep ?  

Frederick the 2nd won the 7 Years War. 
Who else won it ? 

Every page a victory. 
Who cooked the feast for the victors ?  

Every 10 years a great man. 
Who paid the bill ? 

So many reports.  

So many questions.