In 1979, a young man named Phil Cohen arrived in town and began working for Chapel Hill Transit.
Within a few short years, he’d shifted his focus – and become one of the leading union organizers in the South.
Now, Cohen is telling one of his most gripping stories in a memoir, “The Jackson Project: War in the American Workplace,” about his efforts to help organize workers in a textile mill in western Tennessee in 1989.
Cohen was a “troubleshooter” for ACTWU, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, when he was sent to Jackson to help reorganize workers who were struggling against a series of increasingly anti-union bosses. “The Jackson Project” recounts his efforts to organize the workers – as well as the workers’ own stories, as they lived amidst dangerous working conditions and economic struggles. (“The Jackson Project” took place in 1989 – but Cohen says the story is still relevant today, as unions face the same uphill battles they did a generation ago. The U.S., he says, is considerably more anti-worker than most other nations, and that hasn’t changed.)
“The Jackson Project” was published this year by the University of Tennessee Press. Cohen discussed the book on WCHL this week with Aaron Keck.
Now semi-retired from ACTWU (which is now Workers United) and still living in the area, Cohen is focusing on his second career as a singer-songwriter. (He just released a new album, “Threads of Gold,” together with vocalist Patricia Ford.)