Publication Date

January 2007


[Excerpt] Labor in the New Urban Battlegrounds is an energizing, optimistic book. By using the contemporary metropolis as a comparative laboratory to see what contexts and strategies contribute best to labor revitalization, Lowell Turner, Daniel Cornfield, and their collaborators generate a fresh sense of positive possibilities for labor and new insights as to how creative actors can best take advantage of those possibilities.

Energizing optimism should not be confused with seeing things through rose-colored glasses. The book fully acknowledges the odds against labor revitalization and the structural obstacles to a more equitable society. Optimism is generated by pairing obstacles with possibilities, often brought to light by another city in which similar obstacles have been overcome with innovative strategies. This book builds on a new tradition of recent analyses of U.S. labor that compellingly contests previous premature obituaries of the labor movement while making a distinctive contribution. Its power is rooted in the "comparative metropolis" analytical theme and the editors' skill in bringing a diverse baker's dozen of substantive studies to bear on it.

The individual chapters are empirically diverse, complementing a gamut of metropolitan areas in the United States with comparative cases from Europe. They employ varied methodological approaches to look at the "social infrastructure" and strategic choices that underlie urban successes and failures. Many chapters are in-depth case studies of individual cities, while others (e.g., Greer, Byrd, and Fleron; Hauptmeier and Turner) are paired comparisons. Still others (Applegate; Luce; Reynolds) draw their evidence from larger numbers of cities. One (Sellers) employs an ingenious analysis of cross-national data to draw inferences about differences in urban strategic possibilities. The result is much more powerful analytically than it would have been had the editors collected thirteen metropolitan case studies and then tried to figure out their comparative implications.

Empirical range and methodological diversity augment the power of the volume, but the overarching focus on comparative metropolitan analysis is what gives the book its distinctive analytical punch. Even though a variety of organizations and social actors populate the stage—campaigns, nongovernmental organizations, individual unions, and ethnic communities—defining the urban area as the stage on which the dramas occur was a critical decision. From this decision flows the book's special contribution to refocusing contemporary labor debates.


The abstract, table of contents, and first twenty-five pages are published with permission from the Cornell University Press. For ordering information, please visit the Cornell University Press.