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Reviewed by:
  • What's Class Got to Do with It? American Society in the Twenty-First Century
  • Jennifer M. Harrison
What's Class Got to Do with It? American Society in the Twenty-First Century. Edited by Michael Zweig. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004. 211 pp. $17.95 paper.

When I ask my labor studies students to define class, they propose numerous pertinent factors: income, education, job, home ownership. Argument is more frequent than agreement, but to apply this concept to our studies we need to find common ground. While class is not easily defined, the evolution of working class studies demands that we explore this disregarded element of society. [End Page 98]

In What's Class Got to Do With It?, Michael Zweig develops a definition with essays that examine the intersection of class with race, gender, economics, labor issues, and young people. Cutting through typical perceptions of class, Zweig pinpoints one defining factor: power. The working class, Zweig says, is composed of people who have "little power or authority" at work or in society. Their powerlessness, however, is mitigated by their plurality: over 500 jobs, 88 million individuals, and 62 percent of the labor force. The essays consider the dormant power of this plurality and seek ways to unify and engage it.

In sections on race, gender and economics, the writers retain Zweig's power definition of class and urge the working class to move beyond the divisions of race or nationality to form a unified, multiracial, international force that can change global capitalist exploitation. R. Jeffrey Lustig argues that racial issues undercut working class power: primary identification with race over class keeps the working class divided and powerless. He calls for dismantling the "cross-class bloc of power" of whites by creating a working class "cross-racial alliance." Despite racial challenges, Lustig's hopeful tone places the power to change in working class hands.

Similarly, Katie Quan calls for an end to the divisiveness instigated by nationalism. By amending nationalist attitudes that help capitalists move industry to the cheapest labor forces, she seeks international working class unification for a struggle against capitalist exploitation. Additionally, William K. Tabb pushes for "class awareness, organization, and solidarity" to expose globalization's "structures of oppression and relations of coercion." While none of these writers delineate a specific plan for uniting working class power, they move the discussion in a positive, working-class empowering direction.

The sections on working people and young workers consider solutions to counteract class warfare compounded by 9/11 policies and tightened social spending. Michael Yates suggests, for example, that a democratic union structure and a "class-based ideology" is required as a foundation for "class confrontation" with employers and the government. Barbara Jensen examines clashes between working and middle class cultures within higher education that perpetuate the cultural "domination of one class of people over another."

Overall, the writers of these essays look to class analysis as a solution to many twenty-first century challenges. This book contributes to the understanding of the American class structure, refusing to ignore the impact of class on multiple facets of our society. Many of the articles urge readers to action, demanding an examination of the potential of working class power that can be achieved only through unity.

Jennifer M. Harrison
National Labor College


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 98-99
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2007
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