Thoughts on Union Structures, Labor History And Union Member Consciousness

By Nick Unger


“Insurgent movements are not the product of hard times; they are the product of insurgent cultures.” Lawrence Goodwyn, The Populist Moment

The generation that builds it really gets it; they were there. But what of those who come later? How do they get the word? This is not a problem unique to unions. Tribes, religions, nationalities and countries, gangs, armies and political groups, all need transmission structures, creation stories and rituals to solidify identity and make membership a cultural force.

Two rival acculturation paths: education/indoctrination and periodic upheaval. The Jesuits, the medieval guild and 19th century British education systems represent the institutional approach: “Give me a child until he is seven and I’ll give you the man.”   Building trades union apprenticeship programs are perhaps the best labor example of this approach to development of a distinct identity and culture. Continue reading Thoughts on Union Structures, Labor History And Union Member Consciousness

US Labor Combating Environmental Injustices: Organizing Locally and Globally

By Eduardo Rosario

What is the history of the coalition between the labor movement and the environmental justice movement?  To answer that question, I looked at labor’s activities on environmental issues in three time periods: 1948 to 1972, 1973 to the 1990s, and the 1990s to the present.

The labor movement took the lead on many environmental concerns between 1948 and 1972, because of the space labor occupied and the resources it mustered.  Labor led the charge on such environmental concerns because the environmental justice movement was far smaller and did not command the level of resources labor possessed.  With the relative economic prosperity of this time period U.S. labor was able to be inclusive of broader social justice issues such as the environment.

In the second period after 1973, facing massive job losses, labor shifted its priorities away from broader social concerns like the environment and began to take a more concessionary posture in collective bargaining.  Economic pressures made union and non-union members alike feel vulnerable, and corporate America seized the opportunity.

Continue reading US Labor Combating Environmental Injustices: Organizing Locally and Globally

Leaning In and Fighting Back

By Ella Mahony

Residents of Cambridge, MA often playfully call the city “The People’s Republic of Cambridge”, a tongue-in-cheek reference to its lefty politics and multicultural vibe. But the city is also well known for hosting a worldwide bastion of privilege and power, Harvard University. It is that paradox that is playing out right now at “Harvard’s Hotel”, the Hilton Doubletree Suites hotel owned by the university that lies only a mile away.

It is at the Doubletree that hotel workers have been organizing for a fair process to decide on a union with Unite-Here! Local 26, Boston’s hospitality and food service workers union. Leading the charge have been the female housekeepers that do most of the hotel’s drudge work, many of whom are immigrant women of color. They are fighting, among other things, for better insurance and a safer workplace, one where they are not expected to put their health at risk to turn over more rooms. Most importantly, they are fighting for respect and a chance for their work to be recognized. Continue reading Leaning In and Fighting Back

Murphy Institute Scholarship Program Promotes Diversity in Labor

Dr. Greg Mantsios is Founder and Director of the Murphy Institute

One year ago, the Murphy Institute announced creation of a scholarship program designed to promote diversity in labor leadership and labor education. The mission of the Joseph S. Murphy Scholarship Program — named in honor of former CUNY Chancellor Joseph S. Murphy, a tireless advocate for working people — is to foster a new generation of labor leaders and labor studies educators who reflect the composition of the U.S. workforce, now nearly half women and more than 30% people of color.  We are pleased to report that our first scholarship recipients will begin their studies in September, 2014.

The 2014-15 scholarship winners will be recognized at our second annual scholarship fundraiser at the Murphy Institute on Tuesday, June 24th, 6:00  p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The event has multiple purposes, including recognition of rising leaders in the labor movement. However, our principal objective is to raise funds for continuance of the scholarship. We hope to raise $100,000 this year (and in each of the following four years) to match a challenge grant initiated by former CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein. If we are successful, it will mean $1 million dollars in scholarship money for students from diverse constituencies. Continue reading Murphy Institute Scholarship Program Promotes Diversity in Labor

The World Cup: Panem et Circenses et Transit (Killjoy Alert!)

Kafui Attoh is an Assistant Professor of Urban Studies at the Murphy Institute.

The World Cup is upon us! All praise be to FIFA! In less than a week, millions of people worldwide will tune into what promises to be the largest global bread and circus event of the year. Indeed, an estimated half a million fans will descend on Brazil itself — no doubt, to partake in the spectacle first hand. As is now common with these mega events, the World Cup boasts its own theme song — a predictably forgettable anthem by J-Lo and Pitbull called “We Are One (Ole Ola).” It will also have its own cuddly mascot — Fuleco, an anime-inspired “three-banded Armadillo.” Reportedly, Fuleco is modeled on an endangered species native to Brazil.

With all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster, the World Cup is a big deal. For the host nation, the finances alone are absurd. Since “winning” the right to host the tournament seven years ago, Brazil has spent $11.3 billion on Cup related infrastructure projects. Many of these projects — despite the desperate need for hospitals and better transit — have been limited to new arenas and new stadiums. An additional $800 million has been spent on security alone as roughly 170,000 security personnel have been dispatched across the country to regulate crowds and secure arenas. “Ordem without Progresso,” as Brazilians might say.

Continue reading The World Cup: Panem et Circenses et Transit (Killjoy Alert!)

Congratulations to our Labor Studies MA Graduates!

Last night we celebrated the MA graduation of twenty-four students in the Labor Studies Program. There was a strong feeling of accomplishment and happiness among students, faculty, and staff, who are all very proud of our student body.  They are not only very accomplished and committed to advance social justice, but also incredibly diverse: they come from varied national, cultural and ethnic backgrounds; they represent almost every generational group, and they work for a wide-array of organizations making an impact on the labor movement in the area.

Our 2014 Labor Studies graduates are: Ruth Basantes, Jonathan Beatrice, Samuel Bick, Pauline Boothe, Stephen Cheng, Daniel Corum, Irene Dess, Yolanda Dunn, Lydia Edmunds, William Fitzpatrick, Helen Foreman-Hines, Pamela Galpern, Thisanjali Gangoda, Dorla Grant, Eric Kaufman, Elaine Kitt, David Kranz, Ryan Lum, Jameelah Muhammad, Eduardo Rosario, Patrick Shepherd, Florence Wong, Christine Wong, and Han Chun Xin.

A conversation about workers, communities and social justice

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