Tag Archives: Organizing

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Profs. Fox Piven and Bhargava on the Presidential Elections in the Intercept

The upcoming presidential elections could present a great test of American institutions. If the sitting US president loses the election and refuses to concede power — well, what happens? And how might he go about trying to pull it off?

SLU professors Frances Fox Piven and Deepak Barghava tackled these questions in a recent article on The Intercept. First, they describe the tactics Trump is already using to undermine the elections:

Trump is questioning the legitimacy of an election that will rely on mail-in ballots, even though he himself has often voted absentee. He has threatened to withhold funding from states that are trying to make it easier for people to vote, and he is undermining the U.S. Postal Service, both of which are essential, especially in a pandemic. His Republican allies around the country have been passing voter ID laws, purging voter rolls, and cutting the number of polling places in urban areas, forcing people to stand in line for hours to exercise their right to vote. 

Meanwhile, there’s plenty of evidence — from foreign interference to white nationalist “poll watchers” — that Trump and the Republican party are “already trying to steal the election.”

But if it doesn’t work, what tools could he trying to deploy? The authors have their suspicions:

To steal the election, we suspect he will adapt the standard playbook of authoritarians everywhere: cast doubt on the election results by filing numerous lawsuits and launching coordinated federal and state investigations, including into foreign interference; call on militia groups to intimidate election officials and instigate violence; rely on fringe social media to generate untraceable rumors, and on Fox News to amplify these messages as fact; and create a climate of confusion and chaos. He might ask the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security — which he has now weaponized against democracy — to deploy to big cities in swing states to stop the vote count or seize ballots. If he does all this right, he’ll be able to put soldiers on the streets, inflame his base, and convince millions of people that the election is being stolen from him. 

From there, could he create a “false justification” for right-wing state legislatures to appoint Trump-loyal electors? If so, the authors have a clear prescription: “take to the streets.” They go on to describe the fecklessness of institutions to beat back Trump on their own, making a strong case for why people power — and movements — will be the necessary ingredient for ensuring the transfer of power.  And, they argue, the work to build that power needs to start immediately.

Read the full chilling — and highly compelling — piece at The Intercept.

Marketplace Features Prof. Milkman On Organizing During a Recession

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.

New Labor Forum Highlights: July 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.

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
  1. Which Side Are We On: Can Labor Support #BlackLivesMatter and Police Unions? / David Unger, New Labor Forum
  2. Black Workers and the Triple Pandemic / with Maurice BP-Weeks, June 24, 2020, CUNY SLU forum
  3. “We need you to fight for us to breathe” / April Sims, The Stand
  4. In Two Seconds: Tamir Rice 2002-2014 / Mark Doty, American Poetry Review, vol. 44 no. 03

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Announcing: Digital Media Rising

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.

The Unemployed Fight Back: An Interview with Frances Fox Piven

The post was originally featured at Organizing Upgrade. Reposted with permission.

By Marc Kagan

On April 23th, 2020, some 26.5 million Americans were unemployed, and the St. Louis Fed has estimated that 47 million people may be unemployed by the end of June, with unemployment reaching 32%. The Congressional Budget Office expects at least a 9% unemployment rate through 2021 and perhaps beyond. Tens of millions more will have exhausted their savings, facing mounting debt, evictions, foreclosures. All this on top of the existing problems of neoliberalism’s economy of precarity. As is usual, the crisis will hit the working poor, people of color, and youth the hardest.

What strategies and tactics can organizers and working people more broadly draw on today, in order to build social and political power in this crisis? Historically, the unemployed have organized themselves into networks of mutual aid in moments of crisis, but also to make transformative political demands, often with direct action as a central tool. Marc Kagan talked to Frances Fox Piven, author of Poor People’s Movements, about past efforts, and current possibilities. Fox Piven is a prolific writer, a long-time practitioner of the unruly, disruptive behavior she so often advocates, and even an effective lobbyist—she is credited with playing a central role in the 1993 “Motor Voter” Act. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.  

Marc Kagan: Tell me about previous efforts of the unemployed and their advocates during economic crises? Are there commonalities that we should be looking to now?

Frances Fox Piven: Of course there are. When large numbers of people are unemployed they become desperate. Just the fact of unemployment and need and starvation is not exactly what drives people to protest, but if they also think that they have some rights that are being violated in this time of disaster, they are very likely to protest. Continue reading The Unemployed Fight Back: An Interview with Frances Fox Piven

SLU Alum Nastaran Mohit in Teen Vogue

To get more people organizing labor, more people need to know what organizers actually do. Which is why we were thrilled to see Teen Vogue feature a day in the life of Nastaran Mohit: labor champion, current organizing director of the NewsGuild of New York — and SLU alum. From the article:

It’s a tough time to be in journalism. Revenue sources are dwindling and new layoffs seem to be announced every day — and the COVID-19 pandemic sent another shockwave through the industry. That’s where Nastaran Mohit comes in. As organizing director of the NewsGuild of New York, Mohit works to unionize the staff at newspapers, magazines and online publications, so that reporters, editors and social media staff have access to the benefits and protections they so sorely need. The NewsGuild, a sector of the Communications Workers of America, represents more than 24,000 journalists and other media workers across the U.S. and Canada. Mohit has led successful campaigns to unionize publications including The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine and BuzzFeed. Here’s a window into the life of a busy union organizer.

Read about a day in the life of Nastaran here.

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