Talkin' trash to the garbage around me.

08 March, 2006

Two for one book review

One of the nice thing about coast-to-coast flights, and not giving a flying fuck about grad school, is having the opportunity to read a quality book, or in my case, two quality books. So without further ado...

West-to-East: I sunk my teeth into Biju Mathew's Taxi!: Cabs and Capitalism in New York City (2005, The New Press). I can't recommend this book enough - it's compelling for both the casual reader and the seasoned academic. Mathew's uses his organizing with the Taxi Workers' Alliance as the point of departure for a fascinating analysis of the structures which have shaped New York's yellow cab industry.

Taxi! has much to offer, from the nuts-and-bolts of running a successful labor organizing campaign among a massive and diverse workforce (40,000 cab drivers from primarily Third World nations) in adverse times, to the changing ownership and regulatory structure within which yellow cab drivers operate, to the urban politics of New York's emergence as a global city, to the forces of globalization and neo-liberalism which have shaped the taxi workforce. All of these themes are woven together in a highly readable and inspiring narrative. One puts down this book sympathizing with the abusive condition under which cab drivers work, but also with a sense of awe as these men (and a few righteous women!) achieve some success against what seem to be overwhelming forces. Again, I can't recommend this book enough.

East-to-West: I breezed through Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga's Crashing the Gate: Netroots, Grassroots, and the Rise of People-Powered Politics (2006, Chelsea Green Publishing). I've only recently returned to the world of Democratic Party politics, having wandered in the disaffected leftist wasteland for close to a decade. Had this book been available ten years ago, I might have changed my tune. Jerome and Markos emphasize building a broad-based progressive movement as a means to bolster the party's electoral prospects in the coming years.

I think their analysis of a parasitic Beltway consulting class hits pretty close to the mark - why do we keep hiring Bob Shrum and his merry band of election losers time and again? I might quibble a bit with their characterization of "interest group" politics within the party - being a laborite myself - but I think their point is well taken: that these movements should exist outside the party, instead of being the party, and that insisting on a slavish adherence to a narrow agenda in order to receive an endorsement is a counter-productive strategy. A progressive majority, even with a few progressives who may not be 100% on some advocacy group's pet issue, will ensure a far better environment for the progressive agenda than current circumstances allow.

I found the section on the rise of the netroots to be a bit triumphalist and self-serving, and I'm not sold yet on the prospects of on-line organizing, but that's a minor beef with the overall message of "Organize, organize, organize!" Jerome and Markos lay out a compelling vision that lays the infrastructure for the development and transmission of progressive ideas and puts real people back at the center of a fighting, vibrant Democratic Party.

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