The Jackson Project

War in the American Workplace: A Memoir

  • Author(s): Cohen, Phil
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  • Publication Date: 2016-06-07
  • Status: Active
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“When it comes to the issues confronting working people and their unions today, Phil Cohen knows what he’s talking about as few people do. . .through knowledge born og bare-knuckle-experience.”—Si Kahn, from the Foreword

In the spring of 1989, union organizer Phil Cohen journeyed to Jackson, Tennessee, to sort out the troubled situation at a historic cotton mill. His task as a representative of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union was to rebuild a failing local and the problems were daunting; an anti-union company in financial disarray, sharply declining union membership, and myriad workplace grievances. In the tumultuous months ahead, ownership of the plant twice switched hands, and he would come to fear for his life and consider desperate measures to salvage the union’s cause.

In this riveting memoir, Cohen takes the reader from the union hall and factory gates to the bargaining table and courtroom, and ultimately to the picket line. We see him winning the trust of disillusioned union members, negotiating with a hostile employer and its high-powered legal counsel, and hitting the pavement with leaflets and union cards in hand. We get to know the millworkers with whom he formed close bonds, including a stormy romance with a young woman at the plant. His up-close account of the struggle brims with telling descriptions of the negotiating process, the grinding work at the textile mill, the lives of its employees outside the workplace, and the grim realities of union busting in America. When the organizer’s four-year-old daughter accompanies him to the field, a unique an unexpected dimension is added to the chronicle.

A compelling, dramatic story that alternated between major triumphs and frustrating setbacks, The Jackson Project provides a rare look at the labor movement in the American South from an insider’s perspective.

PHIL COHEN left home at sixteen, managed a skid-row hotel and drove taxis in New York City before moving to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he became a union activist while working as a municipal bus driver. In 1988 he joined the staff of ACTWU (now known as Workers United), from which he has since retired. An accomplished singer-songwriter, he has recorded four albums with vocalist Patricia Ford.