Skip to main content

Free Labor

Workfare and the Contested Language of Neoliberalism

Free Labor

Workfare and the Contested Language of Neoliberalism

One of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s proudest accomplishments is his expansion of the Work Experience Program, which uses welfare recipients to do routine work once done by unionized city workers. The fact that WEP workers are denied the legal status of employees and make far less money and enjoy fewer rights than do city workers has sparked fierce opposition. For antipoverty activists, legal advocates, unions, and other critics of the program this double standard begs a troubling question: are workfare participants workers or welfare recipients?

At times the fight over workfare unfolded as an argument over who had the authority to define these terms, and in Free Labor, John Krinsky focuses on changes in the language and organization of the political coalitions on either side of the debate. Krinsky’s broadly interdisciplinary analysis draws from interviews, official documents, and media reports to pursue new directions in the study of the cultural and cognitive aspects of political activism. Free Labor will instigate a lively dialogue among students of culture, labor and social movements, welfare policy, and urban political economy.

320 pages | 3 halftones, 23 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2007

Cognitive Science: Language

Political Science: Urban Politics

Rhetoric and Communication

Sociology: Social Change, Social Movements, Political Sociology


“Brimming with novel analyses and methodological strategies, this is one of the most significant efforts to rethink the study of collective action and political contention that we’ve had in many years. Krinsky presents both a compelling analysis of the rise of workfare as a neoliberal policy project and a fine-grained examination of the travails and partial successes of anti-WEP coalitions.”

Marc W. Steinberg, Smith College, author of Fighting Words

“Not only is workfare a critical frontier of neoliberal policy development, it has also been a zone of serial program failure, and a site of determined resistance. Free Labor presents an insightful analysis of a decade of concerted roll-backs and bitter struggles around the workfare offensive in New York City. But John Krinsky’s highly perceptive and creative book also does much more than this—helping visualize a politics of potential beyond workfare.”

Jamie Peck, University of Wisconsin–Madison, author of Workfare States

"Drawing on an ample array of official documents, media reports, interviews, and surveys, Krinsky has assembled an insightful history of a pivotal time. . . . A well-written, interdisciplinary analysis of urban political culture before 9/11/2001."


Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
One / Free Labor?
Two / The Workfare Contract in the Workfare State
Three / The Formation of a Protest Field
Four / In the Trenches
Five / Mapping Passages through the Trenches
Six / Claims, Cognitions, and Contradictions
Seven / The Contested Language of Neoliberalism
Selected Bibliography


Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press