Tag Archives: coronavirus

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)

Update on Fall 2020 Semester

SLU will begin the Fall 2020 semester in distance learning and remote work modality. The University will continue to employ distance learning for most classes throughout the semester, until it’s safe for students and staff to return to the physical campuses.
In preparation for distance learning this fall, SLU’s faculty are currently engaged in intensive remote education professional development. A student survey has gone out to identify their needs, and a new student portal is being created to ensure that new and continuing students have the training, resources, and academic support that they need.
With regard to reopening CUNY’s campuses, the Board of Trustees has given the colleges flexibility to make plans to suit their specific needs, subject to approval by the Central administration.
Read the most recent messages from the Chancellor and the Dean.

New Labor Forum Highlights for May 2020

As the impact of the coronavirus continues to sweep across the country, the long-term failures of capitalism are in stark view. Yet socialism—as both a critique of capitalism and an alternative political and economic system—has until recently remained outside the narrow limits of U.S. electoral politics. Well before the anti-communist fervor of the Cold War, socialist Eugene Victor Debs ran five times for president of the United States, never receiving more than six percent of the vote. Still, this constituted an all-time high for a socialist party candidate. For a hundred years afterward, socialism remained virtually dormant in American politics.

Then the tide began to turn in September 2011. In the wake of the global financial meltdown, Occupy Wall Street protesters massed in Zuccotti Park, and subsequently in other public spaces around the nation and the world, raising a banner for the 99 percent. And then the 2016 Sanders campaign, spurred by the broadening base of anti-corporate sentiment, especially among the young, brought this critique into the realm of American electoral politics. In comparison to the outcome of the Debs candidacy in 1912, the tens of millions who voted for Bernie in the current round of Democratic primaries, show that socialism, or Democratic Socialism, has achieved a measure of influence and reached a number of adherents previously unthinkable. According to a recent Gallup poll, 43 percent of Americans now view “socialism as a good thing for the country”; and fully 61 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 hold a positive view of socialism, with capitalism trailing at 58 percent.

Continue reading New Labor Forum Highlights for May 2020

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

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

Will COVID-19 Be Our Triangle Fire?

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire has gone down in history as a significant turning point for the labor movement. Back in 1911, 146 workers were killed by a fire at their workplace in lower Manhattan — many blocked from the exits by bosses attempting to avoid workplace theft, left to burns to their death. From this tragedy, crucial movements and organizing were catalyzed, leading to major workplace safety reforms.

In Labor Notes, SLU’s David Unger asks if the current pandemic might be a similarly catalyzing moment for the labor movement:

Already, weeks into the pandemic, there is a newfound recognition of who is “essential” in our society and economy. Unfortunately, these newly recognized essential workers are bearing the brunt of working in this crisis.

In New York City, Stephen Jozef, an electrician working on a Google office building, became the first construction worker to die, before workers demanded a stop to construction of high-rises and luxury apartments. The following day, Kious Kelly, a nurse at Mt. Sinai hospital where workers had worn garbage bags as personal protective equipment (PPE), became the first New York nurse to die from the disease. Continue reading Will COVID-19 Be Our Triangle Fire?