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Stephanie Luce: Essential Work

This article was original featured at Organizing Upgrade.

By Stephanie Luce

IS SEEKING OUT in Prospect Park Brooklyn. So in a few days it’s my birthday and I’m mega depressed enough as it is already spending isolation alone. Now I’ll have to spend my bday alone too. Can anyone help me get stuff to make Mac and cheese and a small cake for myself. I’m just trying to do anything from going into full blown depression mode. – Anna

In the midst of the COVID-19 quarantine, Anna* wrote to a neighborhood facebook page, asking for help. Within hours, dozens of people had responded offering to buy groceries, donate cash to pay for a birthday dinner, bake a cake, host an online birthday party, take a socially-distant walk in the park, or just to talk.

This wasn’t unusual. During this pandemic lots of people need help and have turned to neighbors (usually strangers). Even more people have stepped up to offer assistance.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Many writers have told stories of how people step in quickly to assist in times of disaster. Rebecca Solnit observed this in the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco and in post-Katrina New Orleans in 2005; she learned of similar responses in earlier disasters like the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. After Hurricane Sandy hit New York City in 2012, activists from Occupy Wall Street quickly mobilized into “Occupy Sandy” to get food and medical care to residents in hard-hit neighborhoods. Continue reading Stephanie Luce: Essential Work

Video Seminars on Organizing Responses to COVID-19

SLU’s Departments of Urban Studies and Labor Studies invite you to join us for the following video seminars to discuss some of the organizing responses to the pandemic:
Tuesday, April 14, 7-9 pm: “Urban Warfare: Housing Justice Under a Global Pandemic” with Raquel Rolnik (University of São Paulo, former UN Rapporteur on Adequate Housing), Daniel Aldana Cohen (University of Pennsylvania), and Cea Weaver (Upstate/Downstate Housing Alliance). Co-sponsored by NYU Urban Democracy Lab, NYC-DSA, Verso Books, and Departments of Labor and Urban Studies, School of Labor and Urban Studies/CUNY. RSVP HERE​
Thursday, April 16, 6:30-8pm: “Labor Justice” with Mohamed Attia (Street Vendor Project) and Ilana Berger (Hand in Hand Domestic Employers Network); Member of Amazonians United; Frontline healthcare worker. Co-sponsored by NYU Urban Democracy Lab and the Departments of Labor and Urban Studies, School of Labor and Urban Studies/CUNY. RSVP HERE
Stay tuned for a confirmed date for “Justice for Immigrants” with Aamnah Khan (DRUM: Desis Rising Up and Moving and Arts & Democracy), Victor Monterossa, Jr. (Covenant House, New Jersey and Immigrant Workers for a Just Response) and Paula Chakravartty (NYU Gallatin and New Sanctuary Coalition). Co-sponsored by the NYU Urban Democracy Lab and Departments of Labor and Urban Studies, School of Labor and Urban Studies/CUNY.
If you have questions, please contact Dr. Stephanie Luce at stephanie[dot]luce[at]slu[dot]cuny[dot]edu

Photo via flickr by A.Davey (cc-by-nc-nd)

Ed Ott: Bail Out the Pension System

By Ed Ott

It is not a secret that the United States has an inadequate and underfunded pension retirement system. And it’s about to get much worse! The private and public sectors’ pension plans are suffering terrible losses as a result of layoffs and investment losses. We are weeks away from a new assault on what’s left of millions of pensions across the country.

There are two kinds of pension plans: (1) a defined benefit plan is when workers retire and get a set amount of money each month (such as 80 percent of their highest wage). This was the gold standard many unions won for their members in the post-WWII years. It required employers to set aside enough money to ensure workers would have adequate income when they retired. (2) Starting in the 1980s, employers began to reject defined benefit plans as too expensive and moved to defined contribution plans — so-called “modern pensions.” In these, the employer and employee make a set contribution to a pension savings each month (often a 401k). Employers preferred these because employees are responsible for their own funds, and they bear all the risk. If the investments don’t yield adequate returns, the employee will have a lower pension income.

Right now, things are looking bad for workers with both kinds of pensions. Continue reading Ed Ott: Bail Out the Pension System

Joshua Freeman: Pandemics Can Mean Strike Waves

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we’ve heard comparison after comparison to the Spanish flu of 1918. But, observes SLU professor Joshua Freeman in Jacobin, we rarely hear about the strikes waves that began at the same time. He writes:

It is rarely noted that the greatest burst of labor militancy in the history of the United States, the 1919 strike wave, overlapped with the worst health crisis in the country’s history, the 1918–19 influenza pandemic. Four million workers struck in 1919, one-fifth of the workforce, a proportion never since equaled.

Strikes that year were startling not only for the sheer number of workers involved but also for the way they fundamentally challenged the status quo. Continue reading Joshua Freeman: Pandemics Can Mean Strike Waves

Diana Robinson Named to City & State’s Top 40 Under 40

This year, City & State inaugurated its list of Labor’s 40 Under 40 in New York City. And SLU’s very own Diana Robinson, coordinator of the Union Semester Program, was one of the labor leaders featured on the list! Congratulations, Diana!

From City & State:

Diana Robinson connects her activism and desire to play a role in the labor movement to the history of her family.

“I come from an immigrant family and social justice was always something really important to me,” she says. “I’m happy to be able to repay (my parents) for all they’ve done.” Her father is from Providencia Island, Colombia, while her mother immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic.

Around 2006, she became involved with organizing protests in support of the federal DREAM Act, or the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, “when there was a lot of talk around comprehensive immigration reform,” Robinson recalls.

At first, she thought she wanted to be an immigration attorney, but had second thoughts about playing a role in a system that is often dehumanizing for those trying to obtain legal immigration status in the U.S.

Instead, Robinson wound up interning at an association of street vendors in East Harlem, Manhattan, which she describes as “mostly Mexican women selling food and CDs.”

“I saw this very strong connection between immigrant rights and labor organizing,” she says.

That led to organizing work at United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500 and then with the Food Chain Workers Alliance.

In her current position, she mentors students at CUNY. “I saw this program as really important to help people interested in social justice,” she says. In Robinson’s view, the work being done in the labor social justice movement “has to be centered around racial justice.”

A conversation about workers, communities and social justice

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