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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?

SLU Alum Liam Lynch Fights for Worker Safety During Pandemic

Liam Lynch (M.A. Labor Studies 2015) is on the front lines of the COVID-19 response. Not in a hospital, but in a classroom. Not wielding a stethoscope and a thermometer, but a Powerpoint presentation and the law.

Liam works as a Safety & Health Specialist with the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH), a non-profit comprised of workers, unions, community-based organizations, workers’ rights activists, and health and safety professionals committed to defending every individual’s right to a safe and healthy workplace. Continue reading SLU Alum Liam Lynch Fights for Worker Safety During Pandemic

New Labor Forum Highlights: April 2020

The New Labor Forum has a monthly newsletter on current topics in labor, curated by the some of the most insightful scholars and activists in the labor world today. Check out some highlights from the latest edition below.

The whiplashing, inept national response to the coronavirus pandemic puts on full view our threadbare national social safety net and slim worker protections. In 2018, 45 percent of working-age adults, or 87 million people, confronted illness with insufficient health coverage or none at all for at least part of the year. The piecemeal U.S. unemployment system, erected in the 1930s to keep the jobless masses from communist alignment, is insufficient even during periods of low unemployment, but wholly inadequate to the current task of responding to the massive shuttering of businesses. At the outset of the pandemic, about a quarter of U.S. workers got no paid sick leave, and could be fired at will for nearly any reason, including calling in sick. A majority of these workers are made doubly vulnerable by their low wages that force them to live paycheck to paycheck. And it also turns out that many of them happen to be “essential workers,” in the idiom of today’s pandemic, who harvest crops, stock supermarket shelves, and ship prized staples like toilet paper from Amazon warehouses.
Progressive activists, policy makers, and intellectuals have begun to propose organizing and policy solutions to the underlying injustices made especially apparent by the coronavirus pandemic. Among the scholar-activists engaged in this effort are New Labor Forum consulting editors and faculty at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies , publisher of the journal. With this newsletter, we offer a selection of their recent writings on the crisis. And we end with a virtual talk by Naomi Klein, discussing how to resist “disaster capitalism” in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Table of Contents
  1. If this is war, here’s what to do / Josh Freeman and Marc Kagan, New York Daily News
  2. It Didn’t Have to be Like This / Stephanie Luce, Labor Notes
  3. Three Truths and a Lie: A Version for Organizers / Deepak Bhargarva and Dorian Warren, The Nation
  4. Video: Naomi Klein Presents: Coronavirus Capitalism – and How to Beat it / Naomi Klein

Photo by Can Pac Swire via flick (cc-by-nc)

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