Working for Respect

Community and Conflict at Walmart

Adam Reich and Peter Bearman

Columbia University Press

Working for Respect

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Pub Date: July 2018

ISBN: 9780231188425

352 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $30.00£24.00

Pub Date: July 2018

ISBN: 9780231547826

352 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $29.99£24.00

Working for Respect

Community and Conflict at Walmart

Adam Reich and Peter Bearman

Columbia University Press

Walmart is the largest employer in the world. It encompasses nearly 1 percent of the entire American workforce—young adults, parents, formerly incarcerated people, retirees. Walmart also presents one possible future of work—Walmartism—in which the arbitrary authority of managers mixes with a hyperrationalized, centrally controlled bureaucracy in ways that curtail workers’ ability to control their working conditions and their lives.

In Working for Respect, Adam Reich and Peter Bearman examine how workers make sense of their jobs at places like Walmart in order to consider the nature of contemporary low-wage work, as well as the obstacles and opportunities such workplaces present as sites of struggle for social and economic justice. They describe the life experiences that lead workers to Walmart and analyze the dynamics of the shop floor. As a part of the project, Reich and Bearman matched student activists with a nascent association of current and former Walmart associates: the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). They follow the efforts of this new partnership, considering the formation of collective identity and the relationship between social ties and social change. They show why traditional unions have been unable to organize service-sector workers in places like Walmart and offer provocative suggestions for new strategies and directions. Drawing on a wide array of methods, including participant-observation, oral history, big data, and the analysis of social networks, Working for Respect is a sophisticated reconsideration of the modern workplace that makes important contributions to debates on labor and inequality and the centrality of the experience of work in a fair economy.
I am obsessed with this book! The prose is riveting. The blend of disparate methods is spectacular. The sheer adventure of student organizers fanning out across the country in a manner reminiscent of Freedom Summer will keep you turning the pages. Taken together, the portrait wrought is simply devastating. Walmart not only demands your labor and your loyalty, it claims your pride and strips you of dignity. Kathryn Edin, coauthor of $2 a Day: The Art of Living on Virtually Nothing in America
Walmart—the largest U.S. employer—is a symbol for high inequality in America. Its many shop-floor employees are paid as little as possible and have never shared in the huge success and profits of the company. Why can’t Walmart workers get a bigger share of the pie they helped create? This book, based on extensive interviews with Walmart workers, helps us understand why a job at Walmart might be the least bad option for many, how workers make sense of their job, and the challenges of organizing work at Walmart. Working for Respect is essential reading for a rich sociological understanding of the struggles of low-paid workers pitted against all-powerful corporations in America today. Emmanuel Saez, University of California, Berkeley
How do people find and flex their own power to improve their workplaces? What lessons can all of us learn from dogged and creative efforts to organize workers at Walmart, the biggest private employer in the world? What kinds of relationships between organizers and their communities are most likely to lead to organizing breakthroughs? Working for Respect is a gripping read—a thoughtful, perceptive, and accessible work that takes a multi-layered approach, from in-depth interviews with Walmart workers to brain scans to a crash course in front-line organizing and beyond. This is a book for students of organizing, for academics interested in helping to counter rampant economic inequality, and for anyone who cares about winning material gains and respect for all workers in the age of Trump. Anna Galland, Executive Director, MoveOn.org
Working for Respect is an extraordinary book, both in its deft and original intertwining of multiple research methods and in the insights it generates. Erik Olin Wright, author of Envisioning Real Utopias
Working for Respect is at once a brilliant analysis of the lives of Walmart workers and an original effort to bridge the tension between scholarly work and activism. Along the way, Reich and Bearman raise the bar for mixed-method research in the social sciences. Mitchell Duneier, Maurice P. During Professor of Sociology, Princeton University
Working for Respect is an engaging read that bristles with fresh insights into both the experience of low-wage service sector work and the dilemmas facing the labor movement. It offers an ethnography of what the authors dub 'Walmartism' as well as an argument about the ways in which social ties centered on trust have the potential to jumpstart social change. A must-read for any sociologist of labor. Ruth Milkman, CUNY Graduate Center
With Working for Respect, Adam Reich and Peter Bearman issue a rare invitation. To go with them to Walmart, to listen with them to the workers and to the managers who roam the stores, to take in the culture of low-wage work in America, and also to listen to the students who participated in what became the Summer for Respect. This is a gripping book about the relationship between social ties and social change, remarkable for its intelligence and the subtlety of its distinctions. We learn that in the end it is trust rather than good feeling that inspires collective action for social change. Carol Gilligan, author of In a Different Voice
While Walmart plays enormous economic, symbolic, and employment roles nationwide, the interplay of these dynamics has not been fully explored. Working for Respect makes great progress in understanding Walmart as a social institution and therefore in understanding work at Walmart as a unique bellwether of contemporary work. Andrew Perrin, University of North Carolina
The use of interview excerpts amplifies the voices of low-wage workers not often heard in public discourse. This is an insightful examination of the inner workings of the 'country's largest corporate employer.' Publishers Weekly (starred review)
List of Figures
Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Real, Real Walmart
1. Pathways
2. The Shop Floor
3. The Structure of Domination and Control
4. Making Contact
5. Social Ties and Social Change
6. OUR Walmart on the Line
7. Our Walmart
Appendix: The Neural Signatures of Group Life
Notes
Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Adam Reich is an associate professor of sociology at Columbia University. He is the author of Hidden Truth: The Young Men Navigating Lives in and out of Juvenile Prison (2010); With God on Our Side: The Struggle for Workers’ Rights in a Catholic Hospital (2012); and Selling Our Souls: The Commodification of Hospital Care in the United States (2014).

Peter Bearman is the Cole Professor of the Social Sciences and director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theories and Empirics at Columbia University. He is the author of Relations Into Rhetorics (1993) and Doormen (2005) and coeditor of the Oxford Handbook of Analytical Sociology (2009), as well as coeditor of the Middle Range series at Columbia University Press.