Category Archives: Labor History

Connecticut Labor History in the Classroom

Source: Cecelia Bucki, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History, Vol. 15 no. 3, September 2018
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In May 2015, the Connecticut General Assembly passed Public Act No. 15 – 17, encouraging local school districts to teach the history of the American labor movement. This was the culmination of years of advocacy by teachers, union activists, and supportive legislators.

Unions for Workers in the Gig Economy: Time for a New Labor Movement

Source: William J. Tronsor, Labor Law Journal, Vol. 69 no. 4, Winter 2018
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From the abstract:
The gig economy has fundamentally changed the employer-employee relationship throughout America. In the past, employers relied on an industrial model for production, depending on long-term employees to ensure quality and productivity. The traditional employer-employee relationship was the norm and America’s labor laws were built around that relationship. Today, in order to hinder collective action and skirt America’s labor laws, employers are classifying their workforce as independent contractors. Whether these companies are accurately classifying their workforce as independent contractors requires an extremely fact-based legal assessment, but the ambiguity in the law has made it advantageous for employers to deliberately misclassify their workers. This has resulted in the rise of the gig economy, led by companies like Uber, TaskRabbit, and Grubhub. The gig economy has created a new class of workers, i.e., gig workers. A class of workers whose numbers are growing every year and workers who find themselves unable to avail themselves of the protections of America’s labor laws. The American workforce has evolved, and America’s labor laws need to evolve to respond to these changed circumstances. This article examines the history of organized labor, the importance of organized labor, and the circumstances that brought about the gig economy in America. The article also proposes new organizing strategies, changes that should be made to the law to ensure that all workers are able to collectively organize and avail themselves of the protections of America’s labor laws, so that the organized labor movement can be brought into the 21st century.

The Spread of Anti-Union Business Coordination: Evidence from the Open-Shop Movement in the U.S. Interwar Period

Source: Alexander Kuo, Studies in American Political Development, Volume 32 Issue 1, April 2018
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From the abstract:
What explains the development of repressive employer coordination? Classic historical American business and labor literature focuses on institutions of labor repression and employer associations, but little systematic examination of such associations exists, particularly during the interwar period. Similarly, recent political science literature on the origins of industrial institutions underemphasizes the importance of repressive employer associations. I use new quantitative subnational evidence from the U.S. interwar period, with data from the open-shop movement in the United States at the local level after World War I. I test a variety of families of hypotheses regarding variation in repressive employer coordination, with specific data measuring the threat posed by organized labor. I find that such threats posed by unions are correlated to repressive employer associations. The results have implications for understanding local-level variation in the business repression of labor movements in the early twentieth century and contribute to our understanding of labor repressive institutions and the incentives of firms to collectively act.

Union lobbies Congress to mandate an eight-hour workday, Aug. 20, 1866

Source: Andrew Glass, Politico, August 20, 2018

On this day in 1866, the newly organized National Labor Union called on Congress to mandate an eight-hour workday. The coalition of skilled and unskilled workers, farmers and reformers pressured Congress to enact labor reforms. It dissolved in 1873 following an ill-advised venture into third-party politics in the 1872 presidential election.

Although the NLU failed to persuade Congress to shorten the workday, its efforts heightened public awareness of labor issues and increased public support for labor reform in the 1870s and 1880s.

The Knights of Labor, a powerful advocate for the eight-hour day in the 1870s and early 1880s, proved more effective. By 1886, the Knights counted 700,000 laborers, shopkeepers and farmers among its members. Under the leadership of Terrence V. Powderly, the union discouraged strikes and advocated restructuring society along cooperative lines…..

Five Lessons from the History of Public Sector Unions

Source: Priscilla Murolo, Labor Notes, June 11, 2018

As public sector unions contemplate losing key rights under the law, it’s worth remembering that for much of their history, such unions organized with no rights at all.

It wasn’t till 1958 that New York became the first city to authorize collective bargaining for city employees. Wisconsin did the same for state employees in 1959, and federal workers got bargaining rights in 1962.

Yet as early as 1940, a book titled One Thousand Strikes of Government Employees described strikes dating back to the 1830s, when workers at U.S. Navy shipyards stopped work multiple times to press demands for better wages and conditions. ….

Why Do Workers Strike?

Source: Martin Glaberman, Jacobin, May 30, 2018

Think conservative workers won’t strike? Think again. History shows it’s not workers’ ideas that count, it’s the conditions they face on the job.

…. Here, we reproduce the concluding chapter of Wartime Strikes. The historical backdrop of wartime strikes and those that have taken place today are obviously different, and Glaberman’s analysis of why auto workers took the actions they did can’t be directly transposed onto today’s events.

But his insistence that working people can be transformed when they’re forced to deal with the reality in front of them is an essential reminder for anyone trying to understand where and how the next working-class upsurge might continue to spread today. ….

The Promised Land Is Still Not Here

Source: Robert Greene II, Jacobin, April 4, 2018

Fifty years after Martin Luther King’s assassination, the Left struggles to speak with the kind of moral clarity King exemplified — but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.

Related:
Dr. King Knew That Labor Rights Are Human Rights
Source: John Nichols, The Nation, April 3, 2018

The civil-rights leader was proud to rally with public workers and to connect their struggle with the struggle for a fair and equitable economy.

Martin Luther King and the battles that outlived him
Source: David A Love, Al Jazeera, April 4, 2018
50 years on, the three evils MLK talked about -racism, militarism and economic exploitation – still plagues the US.

50 Years On, King’s Fight Against Racism and Poverty Remains Our Fight
Source: Brittany Alston, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, April 3, 2018

On April 4th, 1968, 50 years ago tomorrow, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated amidst the struggle for workers’ rights in Memphis, Tennessee. After longstanding tensions mounted between Black sanitation workers and the City of Memphis, workers refused to report to work. The men used nonviolent tactics in protest of low wages and dangerous working conditions. They etched their cause in the minds of millions with signs that read “I Am A Man”. Organizers called on clergy, including Martin Luther King Jr., to amplify the voices of the workers. King told workers that they were “reminding, not only Memphis, but [they were] reminding the nation that it is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages.”…

50 years since his death, Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophical work is all but forgotten
Source: Olivia Goldhill, Quartz, April 4, 2018

In the 50 years since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., the memory of the transformative civil rights leader has undergone a “Disneyfication.” Textbooks, movies, and TV shows often suggest that King’s quest for racial and economic equality was ultimately successful. Yet half a century since his assassination, King would be dismayed by the ongoing inequality and racism in the US. And the complexities of his ideas are often overlooked.

King was not simply a compelling speaker, but a deeply philosophical intellectual. The syllabus from his social and political philosophy course while he was a visiting professor at Morehouse College includes works by Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Bentham, and Mill. King’s own writing engages with Nietzsche and Marx extensively; Hegel was one of his favorite thinkers…..

Commemorations in Memphis Show That How We Remember Martin Luther King Jr. Is Changing
Source: Simon Balto, Time, April 4, 2018

….On the day he was killed, King was writing a Sunday sermon entitled “Why America May Go to Hell.” “America is going to hell,” he wrote, “if we don’t use her vast resources to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life.” As historian Vincent Harding (King’s friend and sometime speechwriter) put it, King died in Memphis “in the consciously chosen company of the poor.” That is also how he spent much of his final years.

This is the King — capacious in his critiques, radical in his politics, and who suggested that America was quite possibly hell-bound over its militarism, materialism and failures to care for “the least of these” — that animates many of the most significant commemorations unfolding in Memphis this week surrounding the anniversary of his death…..

Martin Luther King Jr.’s final, lesser-known campaign is more relevant than ever

Source: A.T. McWilliams, Quartz, April 4, 2018

In the weeks leading up to his assassination 50 years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was preparing for his greatest demonstration yet. The Poor People’s Campaign—King’s coalition across racial groups, united in their fight to end poverty— aimed to recruit over 1 million people to occupy the National Mall. From Latino farmers’ rights activists to white Appalachian coal miners, King’s lesser-known dream sought to bring disparate communities together in the name of economic justice.

In planning the Poor People’s Campaign, King didn’t just set the stage for a new chapter of the civil rights movement. He provided a playbook for modern progressive politics, centered on the power of multicultural movements. Now, as the American working class includes more and more people of color—and Donald Trump tempts white voters with false promises—progressives can best honor King’s legacy by taking a page from the book he left behind….