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‘Fight Like Hell’ and the Search for Its Higher Ed Analog | Inside Higher Ed

Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor by Kim Kelly

Published in April of 2022.

Fight Like Hell is a working-class history of the American labor movement. Told from the perspective of the marginalized workers who are often left out of the labor narrative, the book chronicles the union organizing efforts across industries as diverse as online shopping (Amazon), agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and sex work.

Rather than providing a linear history of labor organizing and the fight for worker rights, Fight Like Hell skips around in time and place through chapters dedicated to specific movements and industries. A fascinating chapter describes the integration and cross-fertilization between the disability rights and labor movements. These two stories are often told in isolation, and it is eye-opening to learn about their intersections.

The tone of Fight Like Hell moves fluently between first-person observation and in-depth reporting. Kelly’s approach is not academic in that the value of unions is assumed rather than interrogated. Those looking for a balanced set of arguments around the efficacy of unionization should look elsewhere.

Early in the book, Kelly mentions the importance of unions in higher education and laments that she will not be able to tell the academic labor story. Like every good book, Fight Like Hell made me curious to learn more. And to especially learn more about unions and higher ed.

My knowledge of unions and universities is pretty much limited to what I read in IHE. The postsecondary labor fights I know about mainly involve attempts by graduate students to organize.

Googling around, I found a 2018 book, Inside the Faculty Union: Labor Relations in the University Setting, and another one from 2021 called Collective Bargaining in Higher Education.

There are lots of books about the adjunctification of the faculty, including The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission (2019), The Gig Academy: Mapping Labor in the Neoliberal University (2019), Contextualizing and Organizing Contingent Faculty: Reclaiming Academic Labor in Universities (2018), Gig Economy: Unionizing Adjunct Faculty in America (2018), and Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the Contingent Faculty Movement in Higher Education (2021). 

From what I can tell, there is no higher ed analog to Fight Like Hell – a book that attempts to cover the full history and breadth of academic labor history. Unless you can point me to that book, I think one of you should write it.

What are you reading?

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