Category Archives: Faculty Writing

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On Labor Day, New Reason Not to Fall for Trump’s Immigrant Threat Narrative

By Distinguished Professor Ruth Milkman, for Gotham Gazette

Among the many conversations I’ve had about the upcoming election, one stands out in my mind.  It was with an old friend who is riding out the pandemic in upstate New York. She told me about an acquaintance of hers there, a white male construction worker, who is a steadfast Trump supporter. She could not understand why, given that he is struggling economically, he finds the ‘MAGA’ narrative so appealing. “What he is really angry about is all those Mexicans and Guatemalans around here who are taking jobs away from people like him,” she reported.

There’s no danger that New York State will land in the Trump column in November, and lately immigration has faded from the headlines, displaced by the Black Lives Matter protests and Trump’s demonizing of “rioters” and “looters” in the streets. This time around “law and order” is the focus of Trump’s presidential campaign. But we should not lose sight of the immigrant scapegoating that was his North Star in 2016. It remains a potent force for a sizable chunk of Trump’s base, especially white working-class Americans like that construction worker.

Read the full piece HERE.

Photo Credit: Construction workers, New York (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office)

Prof. Sofya Aptekar’s Recent Publications

Prof. Sofya Aptekar recently joined SLU after spending six years teaching  in sociology and critical ethnic and community studies at UMass Boston. And she’s had a busy summer publishing articles and presenting papers. Here’s some of what she’s been up to:

Welcome, Prof. Aptekar!

Prof. Freeman on Teaching During the Pandemic

Beloved Prof. Josh Freeman ended his teaching career with a labor history course for masters-level students at SLU during a semester unlike any he’d experienced before. Prof. Freeman reflected on his experience teaching — and saying goodbye to teaching — during a global pandemic in a recent post on Tropics of Meta.

My last term teaching was very unusual, to say the least.  Scheduled to retire from the City University of New York (CUNY) at the end of the Spring 2020 term, my normal rotation had me teaching a masters-level course in labor history at the School of Labor and Urban Studies (SLU), a course I had taught many times before.  It was just a matter of chance that this course came up as my last, but I liked the idea, because when I went to graduate school, nearly a half-century earlier, my aim had been to teach working-class students labor history.  It would be completing the circle to end my career doing exactly that.  Also, if my last class was at Queens College or the CUNY Graduate Center, where I had done most of my teaching, stopping would seem like a bigger deal, I thought, with more of a need to mark it as an occasion, which I did not want to do.      

Just over half the twenty-one students in my labor history course were working-class, a typical SLU mix of public employees and private-sector union activists, mostly female, mostly non-white, mostly middle age.  They included members of the Teamsters, AFSCME, UNITE HERE, and a couple of CWA locals.  The other students were younger, mostly white, and about evenly male and female.  They included one student from the CUNY Law School, one from the Hunter College Urban Policy Program, and a handful from the Union Semester program, which brings young social justice types to New York to intern at a union while taking courses at SLU.

For the first seven weeks, the course seemed routine.  The sessions went pretty well and the work was not particularly onerous.  Still, nothing happened that made me feel retiring was a mistake.

Everything changed when the Coronavirus epidemic began hitting New York.  By the second week in March, things were beginning to shut down.  My reading group, set to meet Monday, March 9, cancelled.  My family was supposed to do a group cooking class – a present to me from my daughters – two days later, but we cancelled because my older daughter was feeling sick with what, in retrospect, we suspected might have been COVID-19.  I had taken my bicycle from the house we rent upstate to the city to be serviced and fretted that the store would close before I could retrieve it.

By the time my class met on Tuesday, March 10, it was clear to me that in-person classes would have to be ended soon.  I told my class that evening that we might not be able to meet in person the next week and made sure I had everyone’s correct e-mail address.  Within a couple of days, CUNY announced it was moving to distance learning (what pretty-much everyone called online teaching).  My wife was still going in to her office by subway, with my daughters and I increasingly anxious about it.  That Friday she drove.  After some agonizing about where to settle in for the epidemic – mostly about the fear that entrance and exit from the city would be shut down, along the Wuhan model, separating us from our children – we decided to go upstate.  Friday night we had dinner at a favorite neighborhood restaurant, figuring that it probably would be the last time we ate out for a while.  Rules had been announced that restaurants were supposed to distance diners and fill only to half capacity, but the place was pretty crowded.  Saturday morning we packed up a lot of stuff and drove upstate.  My wife had a meeting scheduled for the following Tuesday, which she felt she had to go to, so we thought we might come back soon for a couple of days.  As it happened, we did not return to the city for two months, and then only briefly. 

…continue reading at Tropic of Meta.

Photo by Eden, Janine and Jim via flickr (cc-by)

Profs. Fox Piven and Bhargava on the Presidential Elections in the Intercept

The upcoming presidential elections could present a great test of American institutions. If the sitting US president loses the election and refuses to concede power — well, what happens? And how might he go about trying to pull it off?

SLU professors Frances Fox Piven and Deepak Barghava tackled these questions in a recent article on The Intercept. First, they describe the tactics Trump is already using to undermine the elections:

Trump is questioning the legitimacy of an election that will rely on mail-in ballots, even though he himself has often voted absentee. He has threatened to withhold funding from states that are trying to make it easier for people to vote, and he is undermining the U.S. Postal Service, both of which are essential, especially in a pandemic. His Republican allies around the country have been passing voter ID laws, purging voter rolls, and cutting the number of polling places in urban areas, forcing people to stand in line for hours to exercise their right to vote. 

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of evidence — from foreign interference to white nationalist “poll watchers” — that Trump and the Republican party are “already trying to steal the election.”

But if it doesn’t work, what tools could he trying to deploy? The authors have their suspicions:

To steal the election, we suspect he will adapt the standard playbook of authoritarians everywhere: cast doubt on the election results by filing numerous lawsuits and launching coordinated federal and state investigations, including into foreign interference; call on militia groups to intimidate election officials and instigate violence; rely on fringe social media to generate untraceable rumors, and on Fox News to amplify these messages as fact; and create a climate of confusion and chaos. He might ask the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security — which he has now weaponized against democracy — to deploy to big cities in swing states to stop the vote count or seize ballots. If he does all this right, he’ll be able to put soldiers on the streets, inflame his base, and convince millions of people that the election is being stolen from him. 

From there, could he create a “false justification” for right-wing state legislatures to appoint Trump-loyal electors? If so, the authors have a clear prescription: “take to the streets.” They go on to describe the fecklessness of institutions to beat back Trump on their own, making a strong case for why people power — and movements — will be the necessary ingredient for ensuring the transfer of power.  And, they argue, the work to build that power needs to start immediately.

Read the full chilling — and highly compelling — piece at The Intercept.

Marketplace Features Prof. Milkman On Organizing During a Recession

The conventional wisdom states that recessions are terrible times to organize. During the Great Recession, union membership continued to decline, while public approval of unions reached a low. But, in a recent piece on APM’s Marketplace, Prof. Ruth Milkman explained that there’s an exception to this rule:

But in this recession, we’ve lost three times as many jobs in just the last few months.

“This is on so much grander a scale,” said Milkman. “And that’s more like the ’30s. That’s the only time in the 20th century when the crisis was this deep.”

It was the severity of the Great Depression that helped give rise to the biggest surge in organizing this country has ever seen.

“There are some very important lessons to be learned from what was definitely an uphill battle in the 1930s,” said Lizabeth Cohen, a historian at Harvard University and author of “Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939.”

The union movement was all but dead at the beginning of the Great Depression, said Cohen. Membership was, like today, at historic lows. But the economic pain of the Depression was so deep that it unified Americans in anger, especially the masses of unemployed.

And it was in that moment of anger, hunger and need that the organized labor movement coalesced to become a force of change that transformed the economy. Listen to the full segment here.

Public Domain photo via Wikimedia.

New Publications from SLU Faculty and Staff

Stephanie Luce has two new articles out: one in LaborNotes on workers and housing, and another in Portside on how unions are organizing for racial justice.
Gladys Palma de Shrynemakers is co-hosting Next Gen Assessment: A Series for Educators Transitioning Online for the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU). This is an ongoing series of blog posts complemented by brief video discussions designed to help educators exchange information about assessment challenges and emerging best practices in digital delivery.
Incoming Assistant Professor of Labor Studies Joel Suarez discusses two recent books about anti-immigrant sentiment in an article entitled “The Nativist Tradition” in Dissent magazine.
David Unger has authored a piece on police unions and the Black Lives Matter movement for the fall issue of New Labor Forum, which has been released early due to its timeliness. Read it here.