Jane McAlevey: A Life Dedicated to Workers’ Empowerment Ends at 59

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Jane McAlevey, an influential organizer and labor scholar, died Sunday at her cabin in Muir Beach, California, at the age of 59. Her half-brother, Mitchell Rotbert, confirmed that multiple myeloma was the cause of death. McAlevey had previously undergone surgery for breast cancer.

Throughout her career, McAlevey was a staunch advocate for the working class, emphasizing the importance of worker-led unions. She believed that member-led unions were the most powerful tools for combating economic inequality. In her numerous writings and media appearances, she criticized many U.S. labor leaders for what she saw as their complacency and collusion with corporate interests.

McAlevey’s journey as an organizer began with successful campaigns for the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) between 1997 and 2008. She later transitioned into consulting, where she continued to inspire grassroots movements and train labor groups across the country.

Her influence has extended beyond the United States. McAlevey has worked with various international labor groups and organizations, including those in Germany, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. She has also taught an intensive online course, “Organizing for Power,” through the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, which has reached thousands of participants worldwide.

McAlevey’s charisma and unique teaching methods have inspired many, especially young people, to harness their grassroots power. His workshops at the UC Berkeley Labor Center have attracted thousands of attendees, and his tactics have been adopted by numerous unions, leading to successful negotiations and campaigns.

Born in New York City on October 12, 1964, Jane Frances McAlevey was the youngest of seven children. She grew up in Sloatsburg, New York, where her father was mayor. McAlevey’s early involvement in civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War protests shaped her lifelong commitment to activism.

Her activism continued during her college years at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where she led protests and was elected student body president. She later played a significant role in a divestment campaign against companies operating in South Africa, which resulted in a brief prison sentence.

After college, McAlevey spent time in Central America, teaching and rebuilding homes in war-torn Nicaragua. Upon returning to the United States, she worked with various nonprofits, focusing on environmental justice and pollution.

McAlevey’s work with the AFL-CIO in Stamford, Connecticut, marked a significant milestone in his career. He led a multi-union campaign that not only organized thousands of workers but also addressed broader community issues such as public housing. His approach, known as “whole-worker organizing,” aimed to improve the overall living conditions of workers.

His tenure at SEIU in Nevada was marked by both successes and challenges. Despite internal conflict and resistance, he revitalized a struggling local chapter and led strikes that led to better contracts for hospital workers.

After leaving SEIU, McAlevey faced personal health struggles, but continued to champion the cause. He wrote several books, including an autobiography, and completed a Ph.D. at the City University of New York. His work provided practical guidance for organizers and emphasized the importance of thorough, individual organizing.

Even as she battled multiple myeloma, McAlevey remained committed to her cause. She celebrated the publication of her fourth book and continued to lecture online to workers around the world. In her final months, she published an open letter expressing her gratitude and unwavering commitment to the labor movement.

Jane McAlevey is survived by her four brothers, Benedict, John, Thomas and Birgitta McAlevey, and two half-brothers, Mitchell and Clifford Rotbert. Her sister Catherine and brother Peter predeceased her.

In her final days, McAlevey continued to champion workers’ rights, urging them to stand up to the growing economic inequalities of the modern era. Her legacy as a tireless advocate for workers’ rights will continue to inspire future generations.

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