July, 2001, Vol. 124, No. 7
Book reviewsOccupational social work
Book reviews from past issues
Occupational social work
Social Services in the Workplace:
Repositioning Occupational Social Work in the New Millennium. Edited by Michael E. Mor Barak and David Bargal. New York, The Haworth Press, Inc., 2000, 223 pp.
This book provides an overview of the occupational social work field and its emergence and role within the current working world. This volume encompasses the scope of the field, its theoretical underpinnings and conceptual justification, research findings applicable to occupational social workers, and position papers on future directions within the profession. This edited collection of 12 research papers, essays, and theoretical papers is divided into seven major topics: 1) Introduction; 2) Innovative Organizational Intervention; 3) Diversity in the Workforce; 4) International Perspectives of the Workforce; 5) Occupational Social Work Roles; 6) Broadening the Occupational Social Work Domain; and 7) Epilogue.
The introductory article by the volume editors serves to set the context for occupational social work, as well as delineate its history, mission, and course for its future. Citing numerous trends within the workplace, including downsizing, rightsizing, mergers, globalization, and acquisitions, the editors point out that workers are suffering increasing duress relative to their worklife. They believe these trends necessitate the provision of social work services to individuals and their families who are employed, in need of employment, or displaced. In addition, organizations, including those in transition, can benefit as clients of occupational social workers. Occupational social workers are also uniquely positioned to assist former welfare recipients obtain jobs.
The editors articulate the challenge for occupational social work as: 1) improving the fit between individuals, families, work organizations, and communities; 2) helping people transition to gainful employment; 3) introducing social work values and principles to the workplace; and 4) generating knowledge about the relationship between social work and work that will inform research and policy. They also point out that the occupational social work field is sometimes viewed as an important new arena for social work, and other times as aversive to the profession’s social consciousness.
Two articles on workforce diversity address issues of theoretical perspectives on diversity, inclusion-exclusion, and personal and organizational outcomes. The diversity problem in the workforce is reframed as "How can diversity work for organizations?" The paper on incorporating employees with an alternative sexual orientation in the workplace provides a useful example. Both papers provide useful guidelines and examples for occupational social workers.
Two research papers are included to provide direction to occupational social workers on how to create successful and satisfying work environments and design appropriate interventions for employees. Two other papers address populations traditionally served by social workers, persons with severe mental illness, and welfare recipients, and attempt to place these client groups within the work context, describing means by which occupational social workers can facilitate the success of this process.
A paper seeking to delineate a future direction for occupational social work acknowledges that professionalization is essential to its acceptance and success as a field of endeavor. Impediments to professionalization stem from lack of certification requirements, possible claims of other professions to meet client needs, and lack of ongoing professional communication. A need for a strong professional identity, a research-based theoretical foundation, recognition by professional organizations, and a clearly defined niche of professional specialization could be added to this list.
The second opinion piece points out that social work practitioners are increasingly less motivated by social justice and more attracted by status, professional autonomy and advancement, and financial security. The author captures the essence of this issue by asking, "Whose agent are we?" "Is social work inherently incompatible with occupational social work and the goals of corporate culture and values?" The author believes occupational social work can continue the social work service tradition in workplace settings.
The final paper attempts to reposition occupational social work within the new millennium by situating the field between workplace realities and workforce needs. The author dictates that occupational social work needs to permit cross-fertilization between practice in workplace settings and more traditional social work settings to create a more effective practice. This paper provides a fitting end to a volume attempting to codify existing knowledge and set a future course for a relatively new field seeking a professional identity. Anyone interested in social work and its potential applications in the workplace will find that this volume provides numerous examples of effective interventions and a blueprint of its future direction.
— Ronnie H. Fisher
Social Work and Psychology
Miami-Dade Community College
Labor union organizing
Organizing the Shipyards: Union Strategy in Three Northeast Ports, 1933-1945. By David Palmer. Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1999. 264 pp. $39.95.
Studies of workers and workers’ institutions have often neglected the actual process of organizing individuals into unions, and particularly the experiences of the organizers themselves. David Palmer’s Organizing the Shipyards helps fill that gap. Palmer chronicles the history of union organizing by members of the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America (Marine and Shipbuilding Union). Focusing on shipyards operated by large corporations in three major Northeast ports—New York Shipbuilding in Camden, New Jersey, Federal Shipbuilding in Kearney, New Jersey, and Bethlehem Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts—Palmer traces the evolution of organizers’ experiences from the depths of the Great Depression to the booming expansion of World War II. Representing a quarter of a million members at its peak, the Marine and Shipbuilding Union for a time was one of the largest of the Congress of Industrial Organization’s (CIO) unions that sought to organize workers ignored by the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
Palmer approaches his subject not as a disinterested bystander, but as one who fervently believes in the importance of rank-and-file labor organization. As a former United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America organizer, Palmer is forthright about the connection between historical events and the present "crisis in organizing" that plagues unions at the end of the 20th century. Palmer integrates employers and the government into his analysis of workers and their institutions, and through these three overlapping and interrelated perspectives provides a more complete picture of the obstacles encountered by organizers. By shifting his focus from the workers’ communities surrounding the shipyards to corporate boardrooms and halls of government, Palmer describes the complex genesis of shipyard labor organizing. This in-depth appraisal explains the evolution of organizers and their tactics, from underdogs in the early 1930s to bureaucratic stick-in-the-muds by the end of World War II.
The Marine and Shipbuilding Union rose to power in 1934 when a carefully planned strike by predominantly socialist and Scottish workers at New York Shipbuilding in Camden (across the Delaware River from Philadelphia) halted construction on U.S. Navy vessels. New York Shipbuilding’s weak company union, lack of political savvy, and lackluster managers provided an opening for the Camden-Philadelphia region’s leftist and socialist workers to organize the Marine and Shipbuilding Union. Grass-roots organizing together with government pressure to resume defense production legitimized union activity and hastened recognition. The radical organizers who founded the Marine and Shipbuilding Union immediately sought to expand it to other shipyards. Federal Shipbuilding in Kearney was similar in many ways to New York Shipbuilding, as it was part of an enormous complex of maritime industries making up the larger Port of New York. The port region contains 750 miles of docks and coastline within a 25-mile radius of the Statue of Liberty. Drawing on the region’s radical tradition and history of unionization in maritime industries, organizers at Federal ship were very successful in establishing the Marine and Shipbuilding Union.
By contrast, workers at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy faced a vastly different set of circumstances. As Palmer points out, Quincy was a relatively small community located on the fringes of Boston’s metropolitan area, and was not a part of a larger maritime industrial complex. Quincy also echoed the Boston area’s Protestant-Yankee and Irish-Catholic conservatism, and lacked a large pool of politically left activists that contributed to the Marine and Shipbuilding Union’s success in Camden and Kearney. Also, Fore River Shipyard workers did not benefit from government intervention, and Bethlehem’s stronger management and more successful company union aggressively fought outside organizers. Palmer uses these differences to demonstrate union successes and failures.
Readers should be forewarned that they will find little information in Organizing the Shipyards on shipbuilding and the work process—as the title suggests, Palmer focuses on labor organizing, not shipbuilding. In examining the experiences of rank-and-file labor organizers, Palmer relies heavily on oral history interviews with workers, former union officials, and the organizers themselves. Corroborating and supplementing these interviews is a rich and varied collection of sources, including manuscripts, newspapers, and published documents from labor unions, employers, and the Federal Government. There is an index, but the bibliography unfortunately includes only primary sources, so those looking for secondary sources or additional reading will have to scan the ample footnotes. There are many tables and some maps and photographs, although they are few in number. Readers unfamiliar with the plethora of organizations may be overwhelmed by the "alphabet soup" of acronyms, and would likely have benefited from an appendix listing the abbreviations. These are minor criticisms, and Palmer should be applauded for opening this new vein for other others to mine. Labor historians as well as those interested in the history of the Great Depression and World War II will find this a valuable work.
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