This narrative from union organizer Daisy Pitkin takes readers inside a bold five-year campaign to bring a union to the dangerous industrial laundry factories of Phoenix, Arizona. It is addressed directly to Alma Gomez García, a second-shift immigrant worker who risks her livelihood to join the struggle and convinces her fellow workers to take a stand.
Daisy Pitkin's captivating portrait of a five-year campaign to organize workers at industrial laundries in Arizona is classified as a memoir, though it could more easily be described as a love story. Love bursts through every page of this remarkable book ... Pitkin goes to extraordinary lengths to amplify the voices of workers who are bullied, interrogated, fired and spied on during the course of a viciously contested union organizing campaign. But like many love stories, Pitkin's beautifully written account, On the Line, is infused with heartbreak ... Pitkin is a talented writer who frequently shifts the narrative to a more intimate second person 'you,' which has the effect of bringing readers closer to the workers and the daily brutality of industrial laundries, which clean linens for hospitals, restaurants and hotels ... The most poignant moments of On the Line stem from the relationships that Pitkin forged with the laundry workers, many of them immigrant women ... At the same time, Pitkin does not romanticize the often tedious work of organizing and the very real 'fissure' between staff organizers, who come from outside the workplace, and the rank-and-file workers who are risking their jobs to join the fight.
While Pitkin does sometimes succumb to an inside-baseball approach to labor history (the acronyms alone are dizzying), the narrative is strong enough to pull the reader through the legal rigamarole and union infighting and into a more nuanced exploration of what solidarity truly means, why some people are driven to fight for what’s right, and what it means for a white woman of relative means to 'organize' working-class women of color. In the end, Pitkin entwines these various threads into a heartfelt and persuasive argument for organized labor now more than ever.
Few writers have captured the triumph and tragedy of organizing a union in America in prose as intimate or compelling ... not a tale of simple optimism in service of class struggle ... But Pitkin’s book features innumerable scenes of both the wrenching traumas and the unparalleled triumphs and wide-ranging personal transformations that union organizing entails ... Nearly every page of On the Line features staggeringly dramatic scenes like this. It’s these scenes, featuring some of society’s most exploited and oppressed members, that make the reader realize why a person as talented and driven as Pitkin would continue banging her head against the wall to try to organize unions. Even in a country as hostile to workers’ rights to organize as the United States, while fighting under labor’s banner, she has witnessed innumerable miracles ... Pitkin’s book captures the drama and transformative power of labor organizing better than any book published in the United States in years. With so many powerful narratives generated by similar union campaigns in American history—so many Richards chased down airport terminals, so many Almas metamorphosing into fearless fighters—we should have many more books like hers.