The Jackson Project: War in the American Workplace

A Memoir by Phil Cohen

University of Tennessee Press

Foreword by Si Kahn


“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.


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About the Author

Phil CohenPhil Cohen left home at sixteen, managed a skid-row hotel and drove taxis in New York City before moving to 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. His work resulted in landmark decisions by the National Labor Relations Board and OSHA.  He continues to represent the union in arbitrations. 

An accomplished singer-songwriter, he has recorded four albums with vocalist Patricia Ford.

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