How to Use This Book

The introductory essay for the 4th edition of Real World Labor.

By Kevin Van Meter

With 14.3 million union members in the United States and even more workers looking to organize, the working class would be a formative force if we had educational opportunities and resources to fully engage our workplaces, communities, and our democracy. Creating such educational opportunities and resources is the mission of Dollars & Sense magazine and the charge of Real World Labor’s fourth edition.

Allied academics and classroom instructors, labor educators, organizers and labor leaders, and rank-and-file members and activists engaged in political education and study groups are already engaged in educating workers. Real World Labor puts an additional resource in our hands, one specifically focused on building economic literacy and worker power.

Workers of the world face many challenges: climate change, racial injustice and other forms of discrimination, lack of workplace democracy (and union democracy), lack of decent wages, lack of access to health care, childcare, and eldercare—we could go on. We, the editors, champion workers fighting for a better, more just, and inclusive economy. To address these challenges, we are going to have to organize.

As teachers, actors, autoworkers, nurses, and railway workers have organized, and at times gone on strike, over the past few years, they have reminded us that democracy, strategy, and tactics matter. When United Auto Workers (UAW) president Shawn Fain wears an “Eat the Rich” T-shirt on national television while inviting nonunion autoworkers to organize, when teachers’ unions stand up against the degradation of public education, and when unions across industries bargain not just for better contracts for their members but for the “common good”—we are reminded of the potential power of organized workers not just at their jobs, but across society. And we are reminded that ideas matter.

Ideas matter: not just what to think but how to think critically. Ideas matter so we can understand what we are fighting against and what we are fighting for. Throughout this volume, you will find materials to help workers and students develop economic literacy and critical thinking, discover ways to organize, and envision the future. Our approach is an ecumenical one, based in real-world economics, and grounded in the mission to provide economic news and analysis to union members and workers in the United States and across the planet.

This introduction seeks to answer a few questions: How do we engage workers’ full talents and abilities? How do we incorporate education into every aspect of our organizing? How can you use this book to achieve those ends? What follows are a few suggestions on how to use this volume for classroom instructors, labor center educators, union organizers and labor leaders, and those engaged in political education and study groups.

For Classroom Instructors

Real World Labor is useful for classroom instructors at all levels of higher education. Prior editions have been widely incorporated into economics and social sciences courses. Instructors can adopt the text in its entirety, as chapters, or use individual articles that fit their syllabi. Additionally, instructors can complement materials from Real World Labor with articles from the bimonthly Dollars & Sense magazine and our website, The editors of this volume, who are employed as higher education faculty and labor educators, have followed this model to great success and find that students appreciate the contemporary and grounded approach of Dollars & Sense.

Permissions and Bulk Copies

Our principle is “from each according to their abilities.” We encourage individuals and study groups without significant resources to copy and distribute materials from Real World Labor, the magazine, and the website to aid in worker education.

Academic institutions, labor centers, larger labor locals, and international unions can aid us by purchasing bulk copies of Real World Labor and Dollars & Sense magazine. Dollars & Sense offers discounts for bookstores, unions, organizations, and others who order bulk copies.

Instructors are also invited to visit the Dollars & Sense instructor resources page, where they can find sample syllabi, a list of colleges and universities which have used Dollars & Sense books, helpful links, and other materials.

For Labor Center Educators

Real World Labor is perfect for both credit and noncredit courses offered by labor centers. Demand for labor studies courses will increase with the growing interest of undergraduates and young workers in economic justice and unions. Real World Labor offers clear, concise, and readable articles suitable for labor studies courses. The materials provide students with real-world examples and aid in building economic literacy around contemporary issues. Dollars & Sense and Real World Labor editors are available to aid in course adoption and offer additional educational resources.

Labor centers offer union members and working people robust trainings, workshops, and educational courses to empower them to engage in their workplaces and communities. Real World Labor can serve as a textbook for noncredit courses. For example, a 10-session course using each chapter for two sessions will provide participants with an overview of contemporary issues facing the labor movement and serve as the basis for robust conversations. W

e invite labor educators to incorporate chapters and individual articles into trainings and workshops. For instance, “The Chicago Teachers’ Strike 10 Years On: Organizing for the Common Good, Then and Now” in Chapter 1 can serve to engage participants in a “Getting Members Involved” workshop or strategic planning discussion. Or our “What is…” articles— “What Is Labor?” “What Is Capital?” “What Is a Union?”—can open nearly any workshop or training with workers.

One of our editors, who works as a labor educator, uses the “What Is a Union?” article in a workshop of the same name. Participants begin by reading the article (or read the article prior to arriving at the workshop) and spend the first half-hour of the session discussing the sections of the article to relate it to their own experiences.

For Labor Leaders and Union Organizers

There was a time when the labor movement—along with the civil rights, feminist, and gay and queer liberation movements—educated millions of working people and provided the basis for a working-class intellectual culture. At one point there were hundreds of worker and movement schools around the country. In the long term, labor’s resurgence will need to be grounded in returning to these practices and providing all workers with a robust education in labor history, economics, and related issues. Real World Labor offers an opportunity for labor leaders and union organizers to educate members. Labor education can, and arguably must, be incorporated into every aspect of our organizing.

Contact and Questions

If you have questions or want to discuss using Dollars & Sense materials in college courses, labor center credit or non-credit courses, political education, study group, or union educational programs, email to chat with fellow labor educators. Individuals and study groups who have questions or want to discuss using Dollars & Sense materials for political education initiatives or help to create a study group should get in touch as well!

Labor leaders might use an article or two to open up discussion during union staff or executive board meetings. Stewards could incorporate a “labor history moment” (where a participant shares a short summary of an important event in labor history) into every steward council meeting, and union organizers can pass along articles to aid workplace conversations to educate groups of rank-and-file members about contemporary labor and economic issues.

Among the other ways that labor leaders and union organizers can bring labor education to their members are:

  • Create an article and news archive on your union’s website or in your union’s newsletter for members to learn about the labor movement and economic issues.
  • Post Dollars & Sense and other labor movement articles to your union’s social media profiles. Social media can be used for general education and not just announcements.
  • Print and post articles and chapters on your union’s bulletin boards and in hiring halls. Include announcements about Real World Labor, excerpts, or full articles in your workplace and union newsletters as a labor education section.
  • Incorporate labor education or labor history moments into all union membership meetings and steward councils.
  • Include a labor education track at conventions, conferences, and events using articles or chapters from Real World Labor.
  • Use political education funds not just to support legislation and candidates for office, but to educate union members about contemporary issues.
  • Read and learn together across industries and unions at AFL-CIO Central Labor Councils meetings.
  • Use Real World Labor as your first book to bring in a variety of members and address a diversity of interests and topics at study and reading groups.
  • Coordinate with supportive classroom instructors, labor centers, and other venues for labor education in your community to offer regular trainings, writing workshops, and political education sessions; host public educational events, speak-outs, and story-telling and working-class culture nights; and mentor new and young members.

For Political Education and Study Groups

Labor education and organizing, as reflected in this book, is increasingly taking place outside of established channels. Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) general membership branches, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) chapters, local Labor Notes working groups and regional Troublemakers Schools, mutual aid societies, student groups, nonprofit and grassroots member-based organizations, independent unions, informal collectives, and workers centers are just some of the organizations workers are creating to build power. And as workers build power, they will need to engage in self-education and cooperative educational efforts to better understand what they are fighting. Those of us involved in such efforts can include Real World Labor in our political education efforts.

Additionally, affinity or study groups have been part of working-class movements throughout history and are common today. Reading together with comrades not only motivates participants but builds political solidarity and understanding. You can build a study group around Real World Labor or incorporate articles into your existing study group.

end of article

Please consider supporting our work by donating or subscribing.