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New Labor Forum Highlights: May 13th, 2019

The New Labor Forum has a bi-weekly 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.

This installment of New Labor Forum Highlights brings a sneak peek at the May 2019 issue just before it rolls off press. In the cover article, linked here, Nick Serpe assess whether millennials, indeed, constitute a political category. Not since the 1960s has a cohort of young people felt so drawn to a radical critique of American society. Back then it was a college age population growing up in a period of post-war prosperity. Today, it’s a somewhat older cohort in their mid-twenties to thirties, coming of age in far more austere circumstances. In both cases, however, a sizeable fraction of American youth did and are now again concluding that something is profoundly wrong in the “homeland.” Demographics don’t lie. But what we make of them is not so straight-forward. Generational analysis is a tricky business that Serpe explores to unravel the enigma.

Also linked here, you’ll find a poem from the May issue by Javier Zamora, who left El Salvador as an “unaccompanied minor,” wholly dependent on the aid of an MS13 member to cross the U.S./Mexico border. Zamora survived the dangerous passage and the tenuous existence of an undocumented child in the U.S., and has gone on to become an award-winning poet.

We hope you’ll decide to support New Labor Forum by subscribing to the print and/or online journal, and thereby gain full access to articles, columns, reviews, and poetry essential grappling with the contemporary “labor question” writ large.

Table of Contents
  1. Beyond Generational Politics: Do Millennials Constitute a Political Category?/ Nick Serpe, New Labor Forum
  2. “Second Attempt Crossing”/ Javier Zamora, New Labor Forum

Photo by Fibonacci Blue via flickr (cc-by)

Millennials and the Labor Movement that Refuses to Die

This post was originally featured at Mobilizing Ideas.

By Ruth Milkman

Two years ago I focused my ASA Presidential address on social movements led by Millennials, building on Karl Mannheim’s classic treatise on “The Problem of Generations.”  As the first generation of “digital natives,” and the one most directly impacted by the economic precarity that emerged from the neoliberal transformation of the labor market, the Millennial generation has a distinctive life experience and worldview.  Disappointed by the false promises of racial and gender equality, and faced with skyrocketing growth in class inequality, Millennial activists embrace an explicitly intersectional political agenda.  This generation is  the most highly educated one in U.S. history, and indeed it is college-educated Millennials who have been most extensively galvanized into political activism.  My address documented their role as the dominant demographic in four high-profile 21st-century social movements:  Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, the “Dreamers” and the campus-based activism around sexual assault (which later helped spark the multi-generational “Me Too” movement).

When I researched and wrote that piece, there was little evidence of a significant Millennial presence in the organized labor movement.  In fact, young workers have  been underrepresented among labor union members for decades, in part because of the scarcity of new union organizing efforts.  But now that may be changing.  In 2017, over three-quarters of the increase in union membership was accounted for by workers under 35 years old, as a recent Economic Policy Institute post noted. (The total number of U.S. union members in 2017 rose by about 262,ooo over the previous year, although the unionization rate was unchanged.)  In addition, survey data show that Millennials express far more pro-union attitudes than their baby boomer counterparts do. Continue reading Millennials and the Labor Movement that Refuses to Die

Millennials and Boomers Explore Shared Challenges

Last Friday, the Murphy Institute hosted Building Bridges Across the Generation Gap, an event designed to bring millennials and baby boomers together to talk about the challenges faced by the two groups. Jillian Berman covered the event for MarketWatch:

“This notion of generational warfare is a red herring,” Eric Kingson, a professor of social work at Syracuse University’s Aging Studies Institute, told the crowd of about 100 gathered at the Murphy Institute’s offices on the 18th floor of a midtown New York City building. Kingson, the co-author of “Social Security Works!,” a book extolling the value of Social Security, argued that political leaders, particularly conservative ones, often use generational differences to drive people apart and keep them from demanding what they’re entitled to from their government.

Kingson had a foolproof test. He asked participants to raise their hands if they had grandparents or grandchildren and then asked if they hated their grandparents or grandkids to prove that the two groups really do have each other’s concerns at heart. “I don’t accept this notion of young versus old as a real issue. I view it as something that was created and is used as a wedge to try and drive people apart,” Kingson told MarketWatch. “The reality is it hasn’t worked very well, even though there’s a lot of talk about it.” Continue reading Millennials and Boomers Explore Shared Challenges

Ruth Milkman in the New York Times: Gawker, Millennials, and the Future of Labor

In “Millennials May Turn the Tide Toward Unionization,” featured in yesterday’s New York Times, Murphy Professor Ruth Milkman offers tempered optimism about Gawker Media staffers’ recent unionization and the potential for new labor organizing campaigns:

“…in the “new economy,” young workers are less likely to be unionized than their older counterparts. But that doesn’t seem to reflect workers’ own preferences. In fact recent surveys show that millennials — the dominant demographic at Gawker and other digital media companies — are far more often pro-union than their baby boomer counterparts.”

She continues,

“To make a real difference in today’s economy, unions need to meet the needs of young, college-educated workers like those at Gawker as well as workers struggling at the bottom of the labor market, in industries like fast-food and retail. As inequality between the haves and have-nots continues to widen, organized labor is the one surviving institution that systematically pushes in the other direction.”

For the full column, visit the New York Times.