“When it comes to the issues confronting working people and their unions today, Phil Cohen knows what he's talking about as few people do . . . through knowledge born of bare-knuckle experience.” —Si Kahn
The Jackson Project is a dramatic, hard-hitting account of a brutal labor dispute at a West Tennessee textile mill. A historically accurate page turner, this is one of the few books about unions written by a frontline participant.
In the spring of 1989, union organizer Phil Cohen journeyed to Jackson, Tennessee, to rebuild a troubled local and the problems were daunting: an anti-union company in financial disarray, sharply declining union membership, and myriad workplace grievances. In the tumultuous months ahead, as ownership of the plant twice changed hands, shutting down and then reopening to exclude union leaders and senior employees, he would risk his life and consider desperate measures to salvage the union’s cause.
In this riveting memoir, Cohen takes the reader from the union hall and factory gates to the bargaining table and courtroom, and ultimately to the picket line. We get to know the millworkers with whom he formed close bonds, including a stormy romance with a young woman at the plant. His up-close account brims with vivid descriptions of the negotiating process, the grinding work at the textile mill, the lives of its employees, and the grim realities of union busting in America.
The last generation of the old south and its textile subculture are portrayed as they come to terms with a changing economy, racial dynamics, and the introduction of hard drugs to their community. When the organizer’s four year old daughter accompanies him to the field, a unique and unexpected dimension is added to the tale.
The Jackson Project offers readers a rare insider’s view of the American labor movement in action.
About the Author
PHIL COHEN left home at sixteen, managed a skid-row hotel and drove taxis in New York City before moving to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he became a union activist while working as a municipal bus driver. In 1988 he joined the staff of ACTWU (now known as Workers United), from which he has since retired. An accomplished singer-songwriter, he has recorded four albums with vocalist Patricia Ford. "
"Phil Cohen is a hero of labor organizing in the South." - Damon Silvers: General Counsel, AFL-CIO
"The Jackson Project takes readers inside the struggle, with vivid portraits of real people fighting for their lives and livelihoods in a rapidly changing environment. Reading much like novel, Cohen combines the personal and the professional into a powerful message, from the frontlines of the battle between labor and management during an era of union busting." - Durham News & Observer
"Great read. I knew a lot of residents who worked there for years and years." - Tom Britt, Anchor/Producer: WBBJ-TV, Jackson, TN
"The official UCOMM Blog Book Club strongly suggests you read this book." - Union Communications Blog
"Phil Cohen's compelling memoir.... offers an unusually vivid and accessible window into the practical operation of American labor law. The story is worth telling. Cohen humanizes the struggle without romanticizing it."
- Routledge Press - History: Reviews of New Books
"Phil Cohen became one of the leading union organizers in the South. Now, he is telling one of his most gripping stories in a memoir. The Jackson Project recounts his efforts to organize workers - as well as the workers' own stories, as they lived amidst dangerous working conditions and economic struggles."
- Aaron Keck - Radio Host & Reporter: WCHL/News Around Town
“Phil Cohen earned his nickname (Ninja Phil) by being one of the most effective labor organizers ever in a region that has never been kind to unions. The Jackson Project is a powerful memoir that offers an uncommonly up close and personal look at the struggles of organized labor in the South. Cohen’s concern for factual accuracy makes it remarkable that he composed a memoir that flows so freely, much more story than history.”
- The Bitter Southerner
“Phil Cohen’s memoir gets it right. Taking readers inside the local union and factory floor, Cohen doesn’t flinch from honest portrayals including heartbreaking lessons he reaped.”
- CommPassions Newsletter – McKinney & Associates
"Extremely well done – Phil Cohen did a great job making a complex situation readable, understandable, and compelling. There were some real moments of drama."
- Eddie Huffman, Greensboro News & Record