In “How Does the Past Look From Here? Notes from a historian” SLU faculty member Joshua Freeman compares today’s pandemic and politics to the events preceding and following the flu epidemic of 1918, and argues that this time, the yearning for a return to “normality” may be misplaced.
Read it here in Moyers on Democracy.
Photo Credit: Influenza Hospital Ward (Library of Congress)
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
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?
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
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
- If this is war, here’s what to do / Josh Freeman and Marc Kagan, New York Daily News
- It Didn’t Have to be Like This / Stephanie Luce, Labor Notes
- Three Truths and a Lie: A Version for Organizers / Deepak Bhargarva and Dorian Warren, The Nation
- Video: Naomi Klein Presents: Coronavirus Capitalism – and How to Beat it / Naomi Klein
Photo by Can Pac Swire via flick (cc-by-nc)
Due to public safety measures related to the Coronavirus, all in-person events at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies (SLU) have been suspended through at least April 19, 2020.
Planning is underway to hold some upcoming programs – including Organizing 2.0
– as live-streamed web conferences, with all speakers and attendees participating remotely.
Please stay tuned for further information about the ongoing suspension of in-person events, as well as plans for live streams and web conferences. We will send you email updates, as well as add the latest information to the SLU website
and to social media.
We hope that you and your family stay safe and be well during this public health crisis.
Public Domain photo via flickr