Cal Winslow on Labor’s Civil War in California

Cal Winslow explores the bitter healthcare workers' fight in California.

One of the many positive aspects of working at The Chicago Reporter is collaborating and learning from the interns.

We’ve had interns who have gone on to run marathons, blog for ProPublica, and attend law school.

But we’ve never, to my knowledge, had an intern who had a book dedicated to her.

Until now. 

Samantha Winslow is a former health care organizer and the person to whom her father, historian Cal Winslow, dedicated the engaging and entertaining work, Labor’s Civil War in California: The NUHW Healthcare Workers’ Rebellion.

A former student of the late, great E.P. Thompson, Winslow announces his political sympathies with the book’s epigraph from Thompson.  Just in case the reader missed his orientation, Winslow states directly in the book’s opening chapter that he is a supporter of NUHW, and not just because the union was his daughter’s former employer.

Winslow argues at the book’s end that the union’s grassroots orientation is a continuation of a long-time tradition in American labor history, but one that has seen a stiff test during the past decades, and, most recently, during the “employers recovery” presided over by President Obama.

If Winslow is clear about his backing for NUHW and its leader, Sal Rosselli, he’s even more unambiguous in his opinion of SEIU and Andy Stern, its former head and onetime movement rising star, if not darling.

Although barely more than 100 pages, this slender volume drips with page after page of Stern’s unsuccessful, anti-democratic, worker-betraying actions.  While Winslow focuses most closely on the NUHW struggle in California-a battle for which SEIU people employed military language and that saw a narrow, if potentially temporary victory in Fresno-he makes sure to explain that Stern’s misdeeds began before, and extend far beyond, the conflict with the upstart union.

Labor’s Civil War is jam packed with fascinating characters, with cameos from letter-signing Howard Zinn, several quotes from legendary UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta and insight from Steve Early, one of the author’s best friends.  These characters and Winslow’s conversational tone give the book a breezy and informative feel.

This is not to say that the work lacks heft.  Winslow brings in plenty of scholars to buttress his points-Nelson Lichtenstein is just one example-and, more basically, places the NUHW struggle in a larger context and analysis of American social and labor history.

The book ends with the inspirational, if a tad predictable, words of NUHW Angela Glasper, a Mississippi native who declares her intention to keep fighting, and also contains two appendixes.   It won’t take you long to get through, and you will likely end up better informed about one of the more hopeful developments (from a pro-labor perspective) in recent years.

Unless, of course, you are the person to whom the book is dedicated, in which case you probably knew the whole story already.


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