Labor Studies offers graduate degree and certificate programs that examine the opportunities and challenges facing workers and their organizations. The program builds critical thinking, analytical, and leadership skills so that students become more effective advocates for workers’ rights and social justice. Learn more here.
Distinguished Professor Ruth Milkman has just released her 13th book, Immigration Labor and the New Precariat, published by Polity. In it, she suggests that immigration is not the cause of growing inequality, as promoters of the “immigrant threat narrative” claim. Rather, the influx of low-wage immigrants is a consequence of a concerted effort on the part of employers to weaken labor unions, along with neoliberal policies fostering outsourcing and deregulation. Check it out!
Immigrant Labor and the New Precariat
Polity Book, 2020
Immigration has been a contentious issue for decades, but in the twenty-first century it has moved to center stage, propelled by an immigrant threat narrative that blames foreign-born workers, and especially the undocumented, for the collapsing living standards of American workers. According to that narrative, if immigration were summarily curtailed, border security established, and “”illegal aliens”” removed, the American Dream would be restored.
In this book, Ruth Milkman demonstrates that immigration is not the cause of economic precarity and growing inequality, as Trump and other promoters of the immigrant threat narrative claim. Rather, the influx of low-wage immigrants since the 1970s was a consequence of concerted employer efforts to weaken labor unions, along with neoliberal policies fostering outsourcing, deregulation, and skyrocketing inequality.
These dynamics have remained largely invisible to the public. The justifiable anger of US-born workers whose jobs have been eliminated or degraded has been tragically misdirected, with even some liberal voices recently advocating immigration restriction. This provocative book argues that progressives should instead challenge right-wing populism, redirecting workers’ anger toward employers and political elites, demanding upgraded jobs for foreign-born and US-born workers alike, along with public policies to reduce inequality.
In 2015, the Writer’s Guild of America, East, had their first victory organizing in digital media when writers at Gawker Media voted overwhelmingly to form a union.
Five years later, it is clear that the Guild’s first organizing victory at Gawker Media was the spark that lit a fire of media workers joining unions across the industry. The Guild has won representation at 21 shops, including Vice, Vox, Salon, Gimlet Media, Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo, covering more than 2,000 digital writers, editors and producers. At a time when union density is falling in most industries, the Guild has defied the odds and organized a new industry.
For the fifth anniversary of the Gawker victory, SLU professor Stephanie Luce and SLU labor studies graduate student Haley Shaffer spoke with union members and Guild staff about the gains the union has won in these five years, and how they continue to fight instability in an ever-changing industry.
They’ve published their findings on a user-friendly website and in an information-rich white paper. For a good look at where this movement has been — and where it could go from here — check it out.
The post was originally featured at Organizing Upgrade. Reposted with permission.
By Marc Kagan
On April 23th, 2020, some 26.5 million Americans were unemployed, and the St. Louis Fed has estimated that 47 million people may be unemployed by the end of June, with unemployment reaching 32%. The Congressional Budget Office expects at least a 9% unemployment rate through 2021 and perhaps beyond. Tens of millions more will have exhausted their savings, facing mounting debt, evictions, foreclosures. All this on top of the existing problems of neoliberalism’s economy of precarity. As is usual, the crisis will hit the working poor, people of color, and youth the hardest.
What strategies and tactics can organizers and working people more broadly draw on today, in order to build social and political power in this crisis? Historically, the unemployed have organized themselves into networks of mutual aid in moments of crisis, but also to make transformative political demands, often with direct action as a central tool. Marc Kagan talked to Frances Fox Piven, author of Poor People’s Movements, about past efforts, and current possibilities. Fox Piven is a prolific writer, a long-time practitioner of the unruly, disruptive behavior she so often advocates, and even an effective lobbyist—she is credited with playing a central role in the 1993 “Motor Voter” Act. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Marc Kagan: Tell me about previous efforts of the unemployed and their advocates during economic crises? Are there commonalities that we should be looking to now?
Frances Fox Piven: Of course there are. When large numbers of people are unemployed they become desperate. Just the fact of unemployment and need and starvation is not exactly what drives people to protest, but if they also think that they have some rights that are being violated in this time of disaster, they are very likely to protest. Continue reading The Unemployed Fight Back: An Interview with Frances Fox Piven
With various states moving to “re-open” the economy and bring things “back to normal,” it benefits us to look at what we might return to — and how the conditions we’ve come to accept as “normal” played such a significant role in getting us to the current crisis.
In Labor Notes last month, SLU professor Stephanie Luce outlined how we define the economy — and how the illusion of a strong economy has helped produce our current dysfunction:
Capitalism is ideologically based on the principles of individualism and competition, but it becomes completely clear in a pandemic that what’s needed is solidarity: collective solutions that help everyone.
For example, if we assume profit should guide health care decisions, millions of people won’t be able to afford treatment, or even testing, and the virus will just continue to spread. The market solution would let rich people buy ventilators for themselves, just in case, while hospitals need them. So far, the U.S. has made no promises that a vaccine will be free or affordable. Continue reading Stephanie Luce: The Coronavirus Crisis Exposes How Fragile Capitalism Already Was
To get more people organizing labor, more people need to know what organizers actually do. Which is why we were thrilled to see Teen Vogue feature a day in the life of Nastaran Mohit: labor champion, current organizing director of the NewsGuild of New York — and SLU alum. From the article:
It’s a tough time to be in journalism. Revenue sources are dwindling and new layoffs seem to be announced every day — and the COVID-19 pandemic sent another shockwave through the industry. That’s where Nastaran Mohit comes in. As organizing director of the NewsGuild of New York, Mohit works to unionize the staff at newspapers, magazines and online publications, so that reporters, editors and social media staff have access to the benefits and protections they so sorely need. The NewsGuild, a sector of the Communications Workers of America, represents more than 24,000 journalists and other media workers across the U.S. and Canada. Mohit has led successful campaigns to unionize publications including The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine and BuzzFeed. Here’s a window into the life of a busy union organizer.
Read about a day in the life of Nastaran here.