Tag Archives: labor notes

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Stephanie Luce: The Coronavirus Crisis Exposes How Fragile Capitalism Already Was

With various states moving to “re-open” the economy and bring things “back to normal,” it benefits us to look at what we might return to — and how the conditions we’ve come to accept as “normal” played such a significant role in getting us to the current crisis.

In Labor Notes last month, SLU professor Stephanie Luce outlined how we define the economy — and how the illusion of a strong economy has helped produce our current dysfunction:

Capitalism is ideologically based on the principles of individualism and competition, but it becomes completely clear in a pandemic that what’s needed is solidarity: collective solutions that help everyone.

For example, if we assume profit should guide health care decisions, millions of people won’t be able to afford treatment, or even testing, and the virus will just continue to spread. The market solution would let rich people buy ventilators for themselves, just in case, while hospitals need them. So far, the U.S. has made no promises that a vaccine will be free or affordable. Continue reading Stephanie Luce: The Coronavirus Crisis Exposes How Fragile Capitalism Already Was

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?

Prof. Stephanie Luce in Labor Notes: “It Didn’t Have to Be Like This”

Here we are: the economy has been shut down, resulting in massive job loss to some and unsafe working conditions for others. This, writes SLU professor Stephanie Luce in Labor Notes, was the result of a horrible decision — lock ourselves down, or put tens of millions of people at risk.

But, she writes, “It didn’t have to be like this.”

We could not have prevented the virus itself, nor the resulting loss of life altogether. But imagine if:

    • Instead of cutting public health budgets and access to health care for decades, we had expanded it by enacting a single-payer health care system—an improved Medicare for All.
    • We had community health centers that did low-cost preventive care, giving people the education and resources to stay healthy to begin with and making a much smaller share of the population at risk for dangerous disease.
    • We had paid sick days for all workers so they didn’t have to come to work when they had symptoms.
    • We had strong unions, high minimum wages, and good benefits, so very few people were poor. Workers would not feel so desperate to work even when sick or in danger, and they could afford basic necessities to keep them healthier year-round.
    • We had a public health philosophy of “an injury to one is an injury to all.” Governments would be ready to step in with testing programs, resources for people in quarantine, and fair access for all to treatment and vaccines.
    • We taxed the rich and corporations and used that money for the public good and building a strong economy. Our economy would be better equipped to sustain shocks.
    • We valued science and scientists, and invested in their research on issues for the public good.
    • We valued international connections and relationships, encouraging cooperation and collaboration on research, education, and treatment across borders, rather than demonizing or punishing entire nations.

Prof. Luce goes on to describe the ways in which, by moving away from the logic of privatization and crony capitalism, we can imagine a different pathway forward. And she starts with history:

Countries have often been forced to implement bold policies during a crisis, whether the Great Depression of the 1930s, wartime, or coming out of war. It was after World War II that many other countries established their national health care systems and their generous safety net programs, on the understanding that any society is only as strong as its weakest member and that collective programs are good for the economy.

The federal government has the ability to take on public debt to pay for big programs. This happened in 2008 when the government came up with $891 billion to bail out the financial system, with almost no strings attached. This is basically an investment in the future: borrowing money from the future to pay for necessary steps now. The economist JW Mason makes a strong case for funding the Green New Deal this way.

According to Luce, there’s yet more we could do via taxes and reduced military spending, all in service of “an economy centered on human need rather than corporate profit.”

Read the full piece at Labor Notes.

Labor Notes Shares Vision for Organizing in Post-Janus America

Since the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME declared required agency fees for public sector unions unconstitutional, many in the labor world and media are scrambling to ask the question: Can labor unions bounce back after Janus?

According to Labor Notes, the answer is yes — but it will require thought and a plan. The publication just released “Rebuilding Power in Open-Shop America,” offering historical context, a diagnostic tool and a prescription for how workers and their unions can remain strong and regain and rebuild power.

Check it out.

Dispatch from the Labor Notes Conference

By Rebecca Lurie

This month was the bi-annual Labor Notes Conference of the “International Troublemakers and Boat-Rockers Union.” Those who have never been before can imagine it as the place where grassroots union and worker organizers meet union leadership on their terms, led by those previously left out of leadership in our unions. Youth, women and people of color speak, lead and shine.

At this year’s event in Chicago, Verizon workers and teachers led the day. With 3,000 attendees, the conference had workshops and panels celebrating and teaching the hard-learned ways to organize for deepening democracy and justice at work.    Continue reading Dispatch from the Labor Notes Conference