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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)

New Labor Forum Highlights: March 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 global video game industry – catering to 2.5 billion gamers across the world who annually purchase upwards of $152 billion in games – has become a new site of labor organizing. The mostly young people who carry out the game design, programming, aesthetics, and quality assurance for games like Halo, Assassin’s Creed, and World of Warcraft, are finding reasons aplenty to unite as workers. Having largely grown up without an experience of unions, their passion for video games has run headlong into the 50 to 70-hour work weeks (known as “crunch”) that are common in the industry prior to a game’s release. Often these hours go unpaid or underpaid. And once the games are released, mass layoffs are common, and those who have contributed to the game’s development often find their names missing from the credit rolls.

In the current issue of New Labor Forum, Jamie Woodcock describes nascent worker organizing in the U.K. that arose outside of traditional union channels, largely on-line, foregrounding demands for worker control more so than for wage increases. Woodcock assesses the use of social media as an organizing tool and conjectures on the lessons the UK campaign offers to game workers in the U.S. and elsewhere. Recent self-organizing among game workers in the U.S. has, in fact, spurred the formation in early January of the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees launched by the Communication Workers of America. We offer an article from the L.A. Times that describes that budding effort. And we conclude with a talk by Jamie Woodcock on his book, Marx at the Arcade: Consoles, Controllers, and Class Struggle.
Table of Contents
  1. Organizing in the Game Industry: The Story of Game Workers Unite U.K. / Jamie Woodcock, New Labor Forum
  2. Major union launches campaign to organize video game and tech workers / Sam Dean, Los Angeles Times
  3. Video: Jamie Woodcock presents Marx at the Arcade: Consoles, Controllers, and Class Struggle / Jamie Woodcock

Photo by Brian Brodeur via flickr (cc-by-nc)

New Labor Forum Highlights: January 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.

With this newsletter we offer advance reading of a feature article from the January 2020 issue of New Labor Forum. In it, Harold Meyerson examines the forces that have made California, once a bastion of conservatism, now the bluest state in the union. Cautioning against the facile formulation that demography is destiny, Meyerson suggests demographic trends don’t adequately explain California’s leftward shift. He tells the story of the emergence of a savvy and determined Latinx-labor coalition that transformed the political landscape, enabling the passage of a slew of recent groundbreaking legislation protecting workers, immigrants, and the environment. We provide a summary of that legislation here . We also include an article from City & State New York , discussing the New York State legislature’s yet unsuccessful efforts to keep pace with west coast counterparts by enabling the reclassification of whole groups of gig workers as employees.

Finally, if one person can be credited as the architect of California’s political transformation, Meyerson suggests it was the former Miguel Contreras, son of immigrant farmworkers from Mexico, who in 1996 became the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Back in 2002, at the apex of his leadership, New Labor Forum ran an interview by Kent Wong and Ruth Milkman with Miguel Contreras, in which he describes the disarray within organized labor he confronted early on at the fed, and the strategic organizing undertaken that would later lead to a series of remarkable victories for labor, immigrant, and working-class communities. We include that interview here.

Table of Contents
  1. The “Blue-ing” of California / Harold Meyerson, New Labor Forum
  2. Here Are The 2019 Bills California Has Passed So Far — Now It’s Up To Newsom / CalMatters, LAList
  3. Is there any hope for gig workers this session? / Annie McDonough, City & State New York
  4. Interview with Miguel Contreras / Ruth Milkman and Kent Wong, New Labor Forum

Featured photo by Doug Kerr via flickr (cc-by-sa)

New Labor Forum Highlights: December 2019

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.

Surveillance capitalism has opened up a whole new era in capital accumulation, the developments of which New Labor Forum continues to examine. Relying on a process of primitive accumulation which has always been characteristic of capitalism, surveillance capitalism extends capital’s reach beyond nature and human labor into the interior, intimate life of human beings, by tracking, manipulating, and trading in human behavior.  In the current issue of the journal, Evan Malmgren surveys this twenty-first century data merchandising and behavioral manipulation and assesses the burgeoning efforts by individuals and organizations to tame, if not exactly overturn, this new brand of capitalism.

And, as advance reading for newsletter subscribers, we also offer Max Fraser’s January 2020 column “Organized Money: What is Corporate America Thinking?”, which tracks recent dramatic increases in political spending, including a marked surge in contributions to Republicans, by the pioneers of surveillance capitalism. Big Tech lobbying and campaign contributions , especially by the “Big Four” — Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple — have catapulted to fend off a spate of government inquiries, record-setting fines, and mounting worker protest , including petitions, walk-outs, and union organizing drives . Fraser suggests that a primary concern of Big Tech has been to prevent the proliferation of California-esque legislation — epitomized by the state’s Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 and its new law requiring gig-economy workers to be regarded as employees rather than independent contractors. And as the battle between surveillance capitalism and its growing legion of detractors rages on, we’ll continue to cover it.

Table of Contents
  1. Resisting “Big Other”: What Will It Take to Defeat Surveillance Capitalism? by Evan Malmgren / New Labor Forum
  2. Big Trouble for Big Tech by Max Fraser / New Labor Forum
  3. How Workers Are Fighting Back Against Big Tech by Rick Paulas / Vice
  4. Google Fires 4 Workers Active in Labor Organizing by Kate Conger and Daisuke Wakabayashi / The New York Times

Featured photo by Book Catalog via flickr (cc-by)

New Labor Forum Highlights: November 2019

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.

Two historically important strikes came to a close last week, as 49,000 GM workers returned to work after the longest national work stoppage against the automaker in half a century; and 25,000 teachers and 7,500 school employees headed back to Chicago schools after landmark gains in negotiations with the city. Part of a rising tide of victorious strikes during the past two years, these workplace actions represent advancements worth noting in both public and private sector bargaining.

With $8.1 billion in earnings at GM in 2018 and $1.5 million in annual salary going to chief executive Mary Barra, UAW members were hell-bent on sharing in the company’s reversal of fortune since the Great Recession. A primary bargaining concern for workers was to raise the abysmal wages at the low end of their multi-tier contract, which included both temporary workers and “in progression workers” hired after 2007. A hallmark divide and conquer tool of management, multi-tier wage scales sell out the unborn by establishing lower wages and benefits for new hires, thus undermining worker solidarity and, in effect, giving employers reason to target older, more expensive workers. Undoing a multi-tier contract, which is precisely what UAW members managed to do, requires a heightened level of worker solidarity, given the need to direct contract gains toward workers on the lower end, in this case roughly 37% of the GM workforce. This sort of egalitarianism, heightened solidarity, and militancy in the private sector, the core of our economy, bodes well for a labor movement struggling to revive itself.

The Chicago Teachers Union − a leader in experimentation with a promising new strategy called Bargaining for the Common Good − won major concessions last week from the city in the form of contract language that went well beyond traditional negotiations over wages and benefits. Putting the demands of their community-based allies on the bargaining table, the union won lower class sizes and guarantees that every school will employ a nurse and social worker, as well as 120 new counselors, restorative justice coordinators and librarians in the highest-need schools, and improved staffing in bilingual and special education. These demands, including an unmet bargaining demand for affordable housing, make the union an increasingly powerful voice in policy-level concerns that impact educational outcomes. The strategic advance of Bargaining for the Common Good in the public sector presents a dramatic advance in joining the interests of worker and tax-payers in securing well-funded, equitable, high quality public services. The CTU strike, joined by SEIU Local 73, points the way in that direction.

With this installment of the newsletter, we offer a New Labor Forum article by Jobs with Justice Executive Director Erica Smiley that assesses organized labor’s growing militancy and innovation during the last year. We also bring to your attention to new publication from Labor Notes , “How to Strike and Win ,” which seeks to encourage and inform the rising tide of strikes by providing analysis and resources for unions and workers contemplating how, why and when to use the strike weapon.

Table of Contents

  1. Crisis, Creativity, and a Labor Movement Revival /  Erica Smiley, New Labor Forum
  2. How to Strike and Win/ Labor Notes, November 2019 Issue

Photo by Charles Edward Miller via flickr (cc-by-sa)

New Labor Forum Highlights: July 1st, 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.

The 50th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion — commemorated yesterday as New York City hosted World Pride 2019 – offers an opportunity to reexamine the demographics and political goals of the contemporary LGBTQ movement in the U.S. While the media has for decades conveyed the image of the gay world as a white, middle-class, even affluent, one, the data simply doesn’t bear that out. According to a study by UCLA’s Williams Institute, the poverty rate of LGBTQ adults is, in fact, higher than for heterosexual adults. And nearly one in five members of same-sex couples in the United States are people of color. For just that reason, activists in the gay liberation movement a half century ago explicitly linked their struggle to broader movements, sometimes even anti-capitalist ones, fighting for social and economic equality. Since the 1990s, however, a sizable portion of the movement came to train its sights more narrowly on legal rights, especially the right to marry and join the military, in part conforming to the normative expectations of middle-class America.

The fact that yesterday’s enormous World Pride/ Stonewall 50 commemoration in New York City included the Queer Liberation march — an anti-capitalist, racial justice-infused alternative to the main Pride march — indicates a growing critique of the mainstream, assimilationist politics of the LGBTQ movement. We offer here two New Labor Forum articles on precisely these issues, one by Richard Blum, entitled Stonewall at 50: Whose Movement Is It Anyway? assessing the two marches and their diverging politics and constituencies; and another by Amber Hollibaugh and Margot Weiss, making the argument that the majority of LGBTQ people are poor and working-class and that the labor movement should take this fact into account as it seeks to organize in low-wage sectors where LGBTQ people make up a disproportionately high percentage of workers. And we close with an arresting poem Frank Bidart.

Table of Contents
  1. Stonewall at 50: Whose Movement Is It Anyway?/ Richard Blum, New Labor Forum
  2. Queer Precarity the Myth of Gay Affluence/ Amber Hollibaugh and Margot Weiss, New Labor Forum
  3. Queer/ Frank Bidart, Metaphysical Dog

Featured photo by samchills via flickr (cc-by)

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