The conventional wisdom states that recessions are terrible times to organize. During the Great Recession, union membership continued to decline, while public approval of unions reached a low. But, in a recent piece on APM’s Marketplace, Prof. Ruth Milkman explained that there’s an exception to this rule:
But in this recession, we’ve lost three times as many jobs in just the last few months.
“This is on so much grander a scale,” said Milkman. “And that’s more like the ’30s. That’s the only time in the 20th century when the crisis was this deep.”
It was the severity of the Great Depression that helped give rise to the biggest surge in organizing this country has ever seen.
“There are some very important lessons to be learned from what was definitely an uphill battle in the 1930s,” said Lizabeth Cohen, a historian at Harvard University and author of “Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939.”
The union movement was all but dead at the beginning of the Great Depression, said Cohen. Membership was, like today, at historic lows. But the economic pain of the Depression was so deep that it unified Americans in anger, especially the masses of unemployed.
And it was in that moment of anger, hunger and need that the organized labor movement coalesced to become a force of change that transformed the economy. Listen to the full segment here.
Public Domain photo via Wikimedia.
Join us for a special *live* recording of City Works on the pressing issues of police unionism, policing reform, and the Movement for Black Lives. Following the program, panelists will take audience questions.
Laura Flanders – Host & Executive Producer, The Laura Flanders Show
Evelyn DeJesus – Executive Vice President, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO
Terry Melvin – President, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists
David Unger – Author, “Which Side Are We On: Can Labor Support #BlackLivesMatter & Police Unions?” (New Labor Forum – July 2020); Coordinator, Labor Studies & Labor Relations Programs at CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies
* The Zoom link to the live event will be shared in the registration confirmation email and subsequent reminder emails. *
Distinguished Professor Ruth Milkman has just released her 13th book, Immigration Labor and the New Precariat, published by Polity. In it, she suggests that immigration is not the cause of growing inequality, as promoters of the “immigrant threat narrative” claim. Rather, the influx of low-wage immigrants is a consequence of a concerted effort on the part of employers to weaken labor unions, along with neoliberal policies fostering outsourcing and deregulation. Check it out!
Immigrant Labor and the New Precariat
Polity Book, 2020
Immigration has been a contentious issue for decades, but in the twenty-first century it has moved to center stage, propelled by an immigrant threat narrative that blames foreign-born workers, and especially the undocumented, for the collapsing living standards of American workers. According to that narrative, if immigration were summarily curtailed, border security established, and “”illegal aliens”” removed, the American Dream would be restored.
In this book, Ruth Milkman demonstrates that immigration is not the cause of economic precarity and growing inequality, as Trump and other promoters of the immigrant threat narrative claim. Rather, the influx of low-wage immigrants since the 1970s was a consequence of concerted employer efforts to weaken labor unions, along with neoliberal policies fostering outsourcing, deregulation, and skyrocketing inequality.
These dynamics have remained largely invisible to the public. The justifiable anger of US-born workers whose jobs have been eliminated or degraded has been tragically misdirected, with even some liberal voices recently advocating immigration restriction. This provocative book argues that progressives should instead challenge right-wing populism, redirecting workers’ anger toward employers and political elites, demanding upgraded jobs for foreign-born and US-born workers alike, along with public policies to reduce inequality.
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.
Well in advance of the fall 2020 issue of New Labor Forum , we are releasing an important article by David Unger on the relationship of organized labor to police and carceral work. In “ Which Side Are We On: Can Labor Support #BlackLivesMatter and Police Unions ,” Unger asks whether the highly unionized workforce of nearly 2 million people employed by the carceral state have a right to union representation. And if so, should there be limits placed on their ability to collectively bargain and lobby? And furthermore, do police unions deserve a place within the AFL-CIO, given the role they have sometimes played in strike-breaking as well as controlling and even attacking protests by labor and its allies? Subscribe now to New Labor Forum to join conversations like this and support the work of the journal.
We also include here a cutting-edge talk by Maurice Weeks, of the Action Center on Race and the Economy, presented at a recent forum hosted by NLF publisher, the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies. Weeks discusses #DefundPolice and its challenge to the structural power of police departments. He also reveals the extent to which police departments dominate municipal budgets, citing L.A., Detroit, and Tulsa, where policing accounts for 52%, 36%, and 30% respectively of those cities’ total expenditures. And, extending the discussion of labor’s role in the fight for racial justice, April Simms, Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, examines the impact on black families and communities of ceaseless police killings of unarmed black citizens. She also makes a plea for unions “to do the uncomfortable but necessary work of fighting the white supremacy that is choking us.” We end with a heart-rending poem by Mark Doty, commemorating 12-year-old Tamir Rice, murdered at the hands of the police.
Table of Contents
- Which Side Are We On: Can Labor Support #BlackLivesMatter and Police Unions? / David Unger, New Labor Forum
- Black Workers and the Triple Pandemic / with Maurice BP-Weeks, June 24, 2020, CUNY SLU forum
- “We need you to fight for us to breathe” / April Sims, The Stand
- In Two Seconds: Tamir Rice 2002-2014 / Mark Doty, American Poetry Review, vol. 44 no. 03
In 2015, the Writer’s Guild of America, East, had their first victory organizing in digital media when writers at Gawker Media voted overwhelmingly to form a union.
Five years later, it is clear that the Guild’s first organizing victory at Gawker Media was the spark that lit a fire of media workers joining unions across the industry. The Guild has won representation at 21 shops, including Vice, Vox, Salon, Gimlet Media, Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo, covering more than 2,000 digital writers, editors and producers. At a time when union density is falling in most industries, the Guild has defied the odds and organized a new industry.
For the fifth anniversary of the Gawker victory, SLU professor Stephanie Luce and SLU labor studies graduate student Haley Shaffer spoke with union members and Guild staff about the gains the union has won in these five years, and how they continue to fight instability in an ever-changing industry.
They’ve published their findings on a user-friendly website and in an information-rich white paper. For a good look at where this movement has been — and where it could go from here — check it out.