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Reading Group Archive - "On the Line" by Daisy Pitkin

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Our reading from December of 2022 through April of 2023 was "On the Line: A Story of Class Solidarity, and Two Women’s Epic Fight to build a Union, by Daisy Pitkin

On the Line takes readers inside a bold five-year campaign to bring a union to the dangerous industrial laundry factories of Phoenix, Arizona. Workers here wash hospital, hotel, and restaurant linens and face harsh conditions: routine exposure to biohazardous waste, injuries from surgical tools left in hospital sheets, and burns from overheated machinery. Broken U.S. labor law makes it nearly impossible for them to fight back.

Daisy Pitkin, who is currently a lead organizer in the Starbucks campaign, looks back to uncover the forgotten roles immigrant women have played in the U.S. labor movement and points the way forward. As we experience one of the largest labor upheavals in decades, On the Line shows how difficult it is to bring about social change, and why we can’t afford to stop trying.


We are reading Daisy Pitkin's On the Line over 3 sessions with two follow-up discussions, as follows:

Dec 1 – Chapters 1-4 (55 pages)
Jan  26 – Chapters 5-8 (105 pages)
Feb 23 – Chapters 9-12  to end (74 pages) 
Mar 23 - Related short article(s) (find the list here)
Apr 27 - Discussion of On the Line with author Daisy Pitkin (90 min)

Here is the publisher’s website for the book.


Some snippets from the emails that reading group member and supporter Lisa Feldman sent with the meeting notices:

An interview with author Daisy Pitkin on Haymarket Books' YouTube channel:

If you like podcasts, Pitkin did one for The Dig, Jacobin Magazine's podcast series. 
Find it at:
or your preferred podcast source.

Pitkin's conversations, like her book, focus on an aspect of labor organizing most labor historians don't focus on: the day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts, human-interaction aspect of organizing work. With 20 years of experience under her belt, Pitkin looks back on her first organizing experience, as a "college-educated lefty politico" recruited for a major organizing drive by a mainstream union. She had done a little organizing work but  no union experience and little knowledge of labor history. What she knew, she had learned at her union's organizer training. Only extensive on-the-ground experience led her to realize how limited--and potentially limiting-- this now-dominant model of organizing can be. She asks: How can we organize in ways that both result in union victories (and good contracts) and build solidarity and agency among rank-and-file workers. 

If you missed our December and January discussions, it's not too late to catch up. Get yourself a copy of On the Line and start reading. If you're like most of us, you'll want to keep reading. It isn't until the chapters we'll be discussing on Feb. 23 that Pitkin raises the hairy issues that dominate so many discussions of organizing strategy today: The growth of the anti-union legal/consultancy complex and consequent breakdown of labor law have driven many internationals to adopt a top-down organizing strategy staffed and guided by professionals. Winning a union election is just too hard otherwise. How can this top-down approach necessary to win elections result in the kind of bottom-up, engaged-member shop floor democracy that is the union ideal for so many of us?

Here are a couple of reviews of On the Line that frame this issue: