How essential workers’ fight for better jobs during the pandemic revolutionized US labor politics 

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, essential workers lashed out against low wages, long hours, and safety risks, attracting a level of support unseen in decades. This explosion of labor unrest seemed sudden to many. But Essential reveals that American workers had simmered in discontent long before their anger boiled over.  

Decades of austerity, sociologist Jamie K. McCallum shows, have left frontline workers vulnerable to employer abuse, lacking government protections, and increasingly furious. Through firsthand research conducted as the pandemic unfolded, McCallum traces the evolution of workers’ militancy, showing how their struggles for safer workplaces, better pay and health care, and the right to unionize have benefitted all Americans and spurred a radical new phase of the labor movement. This is essential reading for understanding the past, present, and future of the working class. 

Praise

"By combining rich storytelling from the front lines of the pandemic and a deep historical lens, Essential brings to life a critical reality: capitalism is quite literally killing us, and only through worker solidarity across our economy can we protect ourselves and advance our future."—Sara Nelson, International President, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO
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