Category Archives: Organizing

The labour of learning: overcoming the obstacles facing union-worker centre collaborations

Source: Gabriel Hetland, Work Employment & Society, Published online before print September 3, 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
In the USA, the UK and elsewhere, community unionism appears a potentially fruitful strategy for organizing the growing numbers of workers holding precarious employment. In the USA there is increasing interest in a form of community unionism that may gain traction in the UK: union-worker centre collaborations. Unions and worker centres have struggled to collaborate, however, because of their structural, cultural and ideological differences. This article examines a rare case of successful union-worker centre collaboration, asking why this collaboration emerged, what challenges it has faced, and why it has succeeded. Data show this collaboration emerged due to organizational crises, linked to broader economic changes, and individual learning following semi-successful organizing campaigns. The collaboration overcame challenges stemming from the differences between unions and worker centres through intra- and inter-organizational learning. Two conditions facilitated this outcome: bridge builders and state support for unionization. This case is used to explore broader questions about union revitalization.

A Future for Workers: A Contribution From Black Labor

Source: Black Labor Collaborative, July 2015

A new 35-page white paper, “A Future for Workers: A Contribution From Black Labor,” was released this week by the Black Labor Collaborative, a group of influential African American leaders from major labor organizations who offer a progressive critique and agenda to frame discussions about the direction of the American labor movement. This is a seismic development, because it is the first time representatives of 2.1 million black trade unionists have published a comprehensive outlook on organized labor.

The BLC report lands the same week that the AFL-CIO’s Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice held its first meeting. It also comes amid an explosion of protests and activism in black communities and among low-wage black workers across the nation, demanding racial justice as well as economic justice. For example:
• For the past 50 years, the unemployment rate for African American workers has been at least double that of their white counterparts.
• At its lowest point, when white male median earnings dropped to $37,000 in 1981, it was still higher than the peak median earnings of $34,118 that black men reached in 2006 — 25 years later.

In an executive summary that accompanies the report, the BLC calls for a “transformed labor movement,” noting that “the foe we face, in the political Right and global capitalism, demands a transformed and energized labor movement that can fight back with more than slogans of solidarity. No tinkering around the edges! A transformed movement must be authentically inclusive because diversity carries the strongest seeds of change, of untapped creativity.”….

Related:
Executive Summary

Organizing Is the Key to Surviving Friedrichs

Source: Samantha Winslow, Labor Notes, July 30, 2015

When news broke that the Supreme Court would hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, headlines instantly projected the worst, calling it “The Supreme Court Case That Could Decimate American Public Sector Unionism,” “An Existential Threat,” and even “The End of Public-Employee Unions?”

Hyperbole aside, a decision that makes the whole public sector “right to work” could be devastating. But it won’t make unions powerless.

After all, public sector workers didn’t always have legal protection to unionize, bargain, or strike, much less enforce agency shop. Not too far back in history, they won those rights—by organizing without them…..

“A Sense of Possibility and a Belief in Collective Power”: A Labor Strategy Talk with Karen Nussbaum

Source: Lane Windham, Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, Vol. 12 no. 3, September 2015
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From the abstract:
Historian and former union organizer Lane Windham sits down with longtime labor activist and leader Karen Nussbaum to discuss the promises and challenges in today’s worker’s movement through the lens of Nussbaum’s own life. In 1973, Nussbaum cofounded 9to5, a groundbreaking women office workers’ group, and now directs Working America, a community-based AFL-CIO group for working people who do not have a union, founded in 2003. Windham paints Nussbaum as a foremother of contemporary “alt-labor,” labor groups like Working America that are not based in traditional collective bargaining. Nussbaum and her 9to5 cofounders rode the momentum of the women’s movement in the 1970s just as workers’ organizations today build from the immigration, sustainable food, and global justice movements. Highlights of the article include Nussbaum’s motivations for founding Working America, her thoughts on labor’s future, and a discussion of strategies necessary for a potent new workers’ movement.

The Legitimacy of Protest: Explaining White Southerners’ Attitudes Toward the Civil Rights Movement

Source: Kenneth T. Andrews, Kraig Beyerlein, Tuneka Tucker Farnum, Social Forces, First published online: August 17, 2015
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From the abstract:
Activists seek attention for their causes and want to win sympathy from the broader public. Why do some citizens but not others approve when activists use protest tactics? This is a crucial but poorly understood aspect of social movements. While most prior research has focused on the personal determinants of attitudes toward movements, we argue that proximity to protest may cultivate positive views about a movement. Individuals living near centers of movement activity may become more favorable to protest because they become more sympathetic to the demands of activists. We investigate public support about protest tactics among white Southerners during the early stages of the civil rights movement. To do so, we employ a representative survey conducted in 1961 with nearly 700 white adults living in the South. These survey data are combined with contextual data measuring local protest, political behavior, and civic organizations. Most scholars have focused on the ways that civil rights activity propelled white counter-mobilization, but protest also won sympathy from a small subset of white Southerners, thereby fracturing the dominant consensus in support of Jim Crow segregation. We also find that local racial political context matters: individuals living in counties with weaker support for segregationist politics, where white moderates were active, and outside the Deep South were generally more favorable. At the individual level, our strongest findings indicate that sit-in support was more likely from those with greater educational attainment, less frequent church attendance, and exposure to discussions about race relations from the pulpit.

The Future of Work and Workers

Source: Pacific Standard, 2015

A special project in which business and labor leaders, social scientists, technology visionaries, activists, and journalists weigh in on the most consequential changes in the workplace.

Articles include:
Stagnation, Automation … Frustration
Source: Steven Greenhouse, August 27, 2015
….Let’s explore two major workplace issues, starting with wage stagnation. This is a huge problem, and unfortunately many Americans don’t realize how serious it is. Wages for the typical worker are up just 1.6 percent over the past six years, and, believe it or not, after-inflation wages remain below where they were in 1973. Try to raise a family on that. Median household income—$52,250—remains 8.6 percent or nearly $5,000 below its peak back in 2000. Forty-two percent of American workers earn less than $15 an hour—that translates to just $31,200 a year for a full-time worker…. One doesn’t have to be an Einstein to realize that wage stagnation has contributed to America’s income inequality—the worst it’s been since the Gilded Age of the 1920s. … A second major issue: the effects of automation. For more than a century, economists have maintained that new technologies create as many jobs as they destroy. …

The World Needs a New Business Model
Source: Sharan Burrow, Pacific Standard, August 26, 2015
….The world needs a new business model. The world’s GDP has trebled since 1980, yet inequality is at historic levels. The hidden workforce of the richest companies in the world work long hours for poverty wages, too often in unsafe environments or with unsafe products…..

Creative Destruction and the New World of Work
Source: John Irons & Alyson Wise, Pacific Standard, August 25, 2015
….With technology proliferating at an increasingly rapid pace, we face a pressing need for modernized labor laws, systems, and organizations that will promote greater resilience and inclusion. Creating these will require us to re-frame, re-imagine, and build upon Joseph Schumpeter’s notion of creative destruction. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for the 21st century…..

Preparing Students for a Changing World of Work
Source: Freeman A. Hrabowski III, Pacific Standard, August 24, 2015
Our nation’s workforce continues to evolve in a workplace transformed by new ideas, products, processes and services—the offspring of our highly productive innovation ecosystem. At the same time, the workforce is affected by increasing globalization and major demographic shifts—including an aging Baby Boomer generation and growing minority and immigrant populations. These changes have created a more competitive economy that affects the substance and conditions of the work we will do across occupations, the participation of underserved groups in the economy, and the ways colleges and universities prepare students for careers….

Caring for the Crowdworker Going It Alone
Source: Mary L. Gray, Pacific Standard, August 21, 2015
…..While we must develop robust mechanisms that prevent individuals from scamming platforms in the on-demand economy, we must with equal vigilance penalize employers for misclassifying, delaying, or failing to pay workers, one of the greatest challenges facing those making a living at freelancing today. Supporting the many people who may never enjoy the security of a 40-hour workweek will be one of the most important conversations we have about the on-demand sharing economy…..

Shorter Hours, Higher Pay
Source: Dorothy Sue Cobble, Pacific Standard, August 20, 2015
Most Americans work too much and are paid too little. Reversing these trends is the most important thing we can do to improve the lives of workers and their families today. Time and money are connected but not in the way we often think. For all too long we’ve been trying to raise our pay by lengthening our hours. In truth, we need to shorten our hours. Then and only then will we be able to raise our pay…..

Organize the Immigrant Workers
Source: Kent Wong, Pacific Standard, August 19, 2015
….The United States is home to 11 million undocumented immigrants. A national campaign for legalization and a path to citizenship has repeatedly been blocked in Congress. But immigrant workers are actively forming and joining unions. Their emergence as a powerful force bodes well for the future of the U.S. labor movement and is an inspiration to other workers struggling for justice and dignity in the U.S. and throughout the world. ….The American labor movement will be well served if it continues to advance an aggressive campaign to organize immigrant workers and to build a new labor movement for the new working class…..

The Transformation of Work at the Heart of Middle East Unrest
Source: Ragui Assaad, Pacific Standard, August 18, 2015
He is a 28-year-old Egyptian with a degree in sociology. He graduated six years ago and has since had three jobs as a waiter in various Cairo coffee shops and restaurants. He wants to marry but can’t convince his sweetheart’s parents he is ready, given his employment situation. He lives with his parents, both government employees who will soon retire with government pensions. He, on the other hand, can only dream of a job that would guarantee him a pension. Millions of educated youth like this find themselves shut out of the middle class because of an inability to convert their education into the kind of decent job their parents found a generation ago. Even as access to education has expanded dramatically in the region, the quality of employment for educated workers has deteriorated markedly. I’d argue that the gap between what these young people expected for their education and what they have achieved is the main source of the anger and frustration driving the Arab uprisings….

Who Owns the Robot in Your Future Work Life?
Source: Richard Freeman, Pacific Standard, August 17, 2015
….The key to whether we all benefit from robots at work or whether robots exacerbate the inequality of income between the super-wealthy few and the rest of society depends on who owns the robot. The first law of a robotized labor market is that as artificial intelligence and computing power improve, robots will better substitute for human work. The second law is that technological progress will reduce the cost of the robot substitutes over time. The third law, a corollary of laws one and two, is that the wages of workers in occupations undergoing robotization will fall…..

Labor Law Must Catch Up
Source: Richard L. Trumka & Craig Becker, Pacific Standard, August 14, 2015
American workers will continue to become more productive as the digital revolution advances. But United States labor law must be reconstructed to recognize changes in work and the employment relationship and to once again effectively permit workers to organize and designate representatives to bargain with their employers. Otherwise, workers will not share the increased income generated by their productivity, ultimately threatening economic growth….

The Water Cooler and the Fridge
Source: Mario L. Small, Pacific Standard, August 13, 2015
….The simple opportunity to run into others may be one of the most overlooked privileges of modern work life, and the one aspect of the office that work from home can rarely replicate. The water cooler chat became ubiquitous in the workplace because talk, as water, sustains life. One cannot run into colleagues on the way to one’s refrigerator….

We Have Been Here Before
Source: Paul Saffo, Pacific Standard, August 12, 2015
This is not the first time society has fretted over the impact of ever-smarter machines on jobs and work—and not the first time we have overreacted. In the Depression-beset 1930s, labor Jeremiahs warned that robots would decimate American factory jobs. Three decades later, mid-1960s prognosticators offered a hopeful silver lining to an otherwise apocalyptic assessment of automation’s dark cloud: the displacement of work and workers would usher in a new “leisure society.”….

Why Wages Aren’t Keeping Up
Source: Robert Solow, Pacific Standard, August 11, 2015
One of the more puzzling and damaging features of the American labor market in the last few decades has been the failure of real (i.e. inflation-adjusted) wages and benefits to keep up with the increase in productivity. …. The custom is to think of value added in a corporation (or in the economy as a whole) as just the sum of the return to labor and the return to capital. But that is not quite right. There is a third component which I will call “monopoly rent” or, better still, just “rent.” It is not a return earned by capital or labor, but rather a return to the special position of the firm. ….The suggestion I want to make is that one important reason for the failure of real wages to keep up with productivity is that the division of rent in industry has been shifting against the labor side for several decades. This is a hard hypothesis to test in the absence of direct measurement. But the decay of unions and collective bargaining, the explicit hardening of business attitudes, the popularity of right-to-work laws, and the fact that the wage lag seems to have begun at about the same time as the Reagan presidency all point in the same direction: the share of wages in national value added may have fallen because the social bargaining power of labor has diminished. This is not to say that international competition and the biased nature of new technology have no role to play, only that they are not the whole story. Internal social change and the division of rent matter too…..

A Nightmare Scenario—and Three Things That Might Prevent It
Source: Andrew Schrank, Pacific Standard, August 10, 2015
What worries me most about the future of work and workers is the possibility that the technological determinists are right, or that scientific innovation will outpace social adaptation and wreak political and economic havoc. Skilled as well as unskilled workers would be replaced by robots and computers. Jobs that couldn’t be automated would be outsourced to the lowest bidder, whether in Boston, Barranquilla, or Bangalore. The profits would be captured by “supermanagers,” who would increasingly dictate their own salaries as well as the salaries of their subordinates. And the average worker—or former worker, as luck would have it—would be left to pick up the pieces: overqualified, underemployed, or just plain out in the cold. …

Making Service Work Pay
Source: Lydia DePillis, Pacific Standard, August 7, 2015
…And what if this trend continues? What if the new opportunities available to the Skillet Johnsons of the world continue to be low-paying positions with little opportunity for advancement? With the exception of registered nurses, the 10 highest-growth occupations for the next decade make less than $33,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s not the kind of employment base you need to rebuild a middle class. Part of the answer is better, cheaper education to match people with higher-paying jobs where there’s more demand, like nursing or computer programming. But Johnson thinks there’s another piece of the puzzle: Transforming those low-paying jobs into careers that can support a family. …

How Much More Money Would You Make If You Were Unionized?

Source: Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, New Republic, June 11, 2015

On Wednesday, the Century Foundation released a thorough report on virtual labor organizing. If you’re interested in organizing your workplace, there might soon be an app for that. And if you’re not interested in being unionized, you’re leaving money on the table. Lots of money. By the hour, according to the report, unionized personal care workers can expect to make almost 10 percent more than their non-union counterparts, while construction workers in unions can earn nearly 42 percent more. For unionized workers in life, physical, and social sciences, hourly pay is almost double that of non-union workers in the same field….

The Digital CultureSHIFT: From Scale to Power – How the Internet is Shaping Social Change, and Social Change is Shaping the Internet

Source: Center for Media Justice, ColorofChange.org and Data & Society, August 2015

From the summary:

As activism for police accountability, fair wages, just immigration, and more takes center stage — social justice movements of the 21st century are using technology to achieve greater scale and reach wider audiences. But are these digital strategies building power for long-term social change, or helping maintain the status quo?

A new report from the Center for Media Justice says the answer depends on the strategy — and offers new approaches and recommendations, from a diverse cross-section of leaders, for building effective social movements in an age of big data and digital technology.

Key Takeaways:
The strategies and approaches in the Digital CultureSHIFT report provide a path forward for addressing the way social movements integrate new approaches , or remain stuck in a cycle that limits our effectiveness.

What We Learned:
• 100% of those interviewed said that digital strategies and platforms provide a voice when mainstream media ignores issues.
• The vast majority of leaders interviewed widely use digital platforms to catalyze action, but say over-reliance on these tools can limit relationship-building.
• The Internet is helping to shift national organizations from centralized to decentralized, from geographically specific to geographically diverse, and from hierarchical leadership to multi-level leadership.
• Targeted surveillance is a top concern — but the vast majority of leaders of color interviewed felt that advocacy for digital privacy did not include their voices or their visions for change.

The May 1 Marchers in Los Angeles: Overcoming Conflicting Frames, Bilingual Women Connectors, English-Language Radio, and Newly Politicized Spanish Speakers

Source: Kim Yi Dionne, Darin DeWitt, Michael Stone, Michael Suk-Young Chwe, Urban Affairs Review, Vol. 51 no. 4, July 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
In this article, we study protest participants in the May 2006 immigration rights marches in Los Angeles. Analysis of original survey data of 876 march participants yields five main results. First, despite substantial dispute among organizers on how to frame the marches, we find protest participants were similar across march locations organized by different coalitions. Second, we find Spanish-English bilingual participants seemed to benefit from being in two media environments, as they reported more information sources about the protest events than monolingual participants. Third, women reported hearing about the protest events from more information sources, and Spanish-English bilingual women reported hearing from more information sources than any other group, suggesting they acted as social connectors behind the massive participation. Fourth, we confirm the importance of Spanish-language radio as an information source, but our data also point to the significance of television and English-language radio. Finally, analyzing data of first-time protesters, we estimate the immigrant rights marches newly politicized 125,000 people in Los Angeles who spoke Spanish and not English.

A Theory of Civil Disobedience

Source: Edward L. Glaeser, Cass R. Sunstein, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), NBER Working Paper No. w21338, July 2015
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From the abstract:
From the streets of Hong Kong to Ferguson, Missouri, civil disobedience has again become newsworthy. What explains the prevalence and extremity of acts of civil disobedience?This paper presents a model in which protest planners choose the nature of the disturbance hoping to influence voters (or other decision-makers in less democratic regimes) both through the size of the unrest and by generating a response. The model suggests that protesters will either choose a mild “epsilon” protest, such as a peaceful march, which serves mainly to signal the size of the disgruntled population, or a “sweet spot” protest, which is painful enough to generate a response but not painful enough so that an aggressive response is universally applauded. Since non-epsilon protests serve primarily to signal the leaders’ type, they will occur either when protesters have private information about the leader’s type or when the distribution of voters’ preferences are convex in a way that leads the revelation of uncertainty to increase the probability of regime change. The requirements needed for rational civil disobedience seem not to hold in many world settings, and so we explore ways in which bounded rationality by protesters, voters, and incumbent leaders can also explain civil disobedience.