Introducing our biweekly ‘highlights’ newsletter, with a selection of timeline articles, links and videos drawn from our regular Journal, other publications, and events held at the Murphy Institute. If you didn’t get it yet – subscribe here.
New Labor Forum Highlights: Dec. 8, 2015
Welcome to the first issue of what will be a bi-weekly newsletter for subscribers and anyone interested in the issues covered in New Labor Forum. Our goal is something somewhere between the daily skim of news concerned with labor and poor and working-class communities and the deep dive of a new issue. We hope you’ll find it informative, provocative, and attention-worthy. Let us know what you think.
– Paula Finn & Steve Fraser
- Thinking of Eugene Debs and Richard Nixon: Team Statement From Editorial Committee, Winter 2016 Issue
- Careful What You Wish For: A Critical Appraisal of Proposals to Rebuild the Labor Movement, (Lance Compa)
- $15 Per Hour or Bust: An Appraisal of the Higher Wages Movement (Stephanie Luce)
- Belabored: Fasting for $15 and Fulltime (Sarah Jaffe & Michelle Chen)
- Event, Dec. 10, (NYC): Michael Fortner and Marie Gottschalk on Criminal Justice Reform
- Video Kendall Fells, SEIU/Fight for $15
- Report from COP 21 in Paris on Organized Labor and Climate Change (Sean Sweeney)
Team Statement From Editorial Committee, Winter 2016 Issue of New Labor Forum
The ghosts of Eugene Debs and Richard Nixon haunt the American political landscape. Whether the extraordinary presidential campaign of Brooklyn-born Vermont senator Bernie Sanders represents the rebirth of the socialist movement led by Debs a century ago will be the subject of a feature article in the May 2016 issue of New Labor Forum. In the forthcoming January 2016 issue, we ponder the pandemonium going on in the GOP and sense the spectral presence of the only American president forced to resign his office.
As we watch the decomposition of the Republican Party–partly vaudevillian theatrics, partly a conservative auto-da-fe−we remember Nixon’s golden years. Before he helicoptered away in disgrace, he had earned a smashing electoral victory thanks to invoking something then and forever after called “the silent majority” and the “southern strategy.” That was a successful attempt to makeover the Republican Party by wooing the “forgotten man” through a combination of cultural and racial populism. Party elites thought they could manipulate those emotions at will. For a time, they did. Now they can’t. Drifting ever rightward and at the mercy of centrifugal and often antagonistic forces–evangelicals, libertarians, Tea Party ideologues, Reagan democrats, and traditional business lobbies–the Party keeps verging on self-destruction, its leadership impotent, searching haplessly for solid ground, for some hypothetical center, but there is no there, there. In the January 2016, issue Darren Dochuk tries to make sense of what’s happened to the Republicans over the last generation.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, big doings are also afoot. When it began, Black Lives Matter seemed a righteous response to the lethal policing of African-American communities. As it spreads, it is also showing signs that its militancy may be augmented by a merging of its concerns about social and economic justice. Also in the January 2016 issue of New Labor Forum, Russell Rickford illuminates the origins of the movement and assesses its incipient radicalism.
– See the rest of the Team Statement here: http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2015/12/07/from-the-editorial-team-5 and the table of contents here: http://newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2015/12/07/winter-2016
Careful What You Wish For: A Critical Appraisal of Proposals to Rebuild the Labor Movement (Lance Compa)
Alarmed at declining union density and frustrated with the National Labor Relations Act, many worker advocates want to ditch the NLRA, forsake traditional unions, and start the labor movement afresh. Ideas include making “Alt-labor” a new launching pad; replacing face-to-face union building with high-volume digital organizing; applying the Civil Rights Act to union activity; adopting “members-only” bargaining alongside majority rule and exclusive representation; letting unions make non-members pay for handling their grievances; and even conceding a national “right-to-work” law so unions will try harder to win workers’ support. Social movements should always examine new strategies. But they should not let novelty overwhelm judgment. Many of these new ideas are clever in theory, but in practice would undermine unions and shift more power to employers and anti-union political forces.
Let us look at each of the innovations suggested for labor’s revival. Workers’ centers and emerging alliances of taxi drivers, domestic workers, day laborers, food chain workers, restaurant employees, freelancers, and other Alt-labor groups are exciting initiatives. Same for Our Walmart, Fast Food Forward, and the Workers Lab, New Organizing Institute, and other social media ventures.
Despite many accomplishments, Alt-labor has not solved the test of creating stable, mass, dues-paying organizations. Romantics say that is great, they will not be slow-moving bureaucracies like unions. But employers would be happy to deal only with small, dispersed, resource-stressed groups that might give them a hard time in the public relations arena but can never wield serious countervailing power. And much of Alt-labor would not get the traction it has without Old-labor. Unions in the traditional labor movement are often their main backers.
Other voices tout social media and online organizing instead of face-to-face efforts inside the workplace. Declaring traditional unions doomed, the Workers Lab has set up a Silicon Valley- inspired “innovation accelerator” for workers to bypass them. Its first project is Coworker.org, where employees can share complaints and pressure their bosses with online petitions. . . .
$15 per Hour or Bust: An Appraisal of the Higher Wages Movement (Stephanie Luce)
In the U.S., the federal minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour, but states are allowed to set their own wage. Currently, 29 states have minimums above the federal, and 15 states have provisions that increase each year based on inflation. Since 2014, more than 20 states have increased their statewide rate and more will have this issue on the ballot next year. States are also allowed to increase or improve coverage. For example, while domestic workers are not covered under federal wage laws, they are under Hawaii law.
The Fair Labor Standards Act also sets an hourly wage for tipped workers, currently at $2.13 an hour. Employers are required to make up the difference if the minimum wage plus tips does not equal the federal minimum wage. In 7 states, tipped workers are entitled to the same minimum wage as other workers, with no tip credit (so tipped workers make more than other minimum wage workers, since they get the full minimum wage plus tips). An additional 26 states set hourly rates for tipped workers higher than the federal level but still lower than the state minimum for other workers.
Increasingly, cities are establishing their own citywide minimum wage. However, not all municipalities can do this. Some states are known as “home rule” states, where the State Constitution grants cities and counties the right to govern themselves. But the laws vary and are evolving. In the early 2000s, as the national living wage movement took off, voters in a few cities passed citywide minimum wage laws. These were overturned at the state level in Wisconsin and Louisiana, but the ones in San Francisco and Santa Fe remained. Action at the city level stagnated for about a decade and then re-emerged in the past two years.Since 2012, 37 cities and counties have passed or raised their citywide minimum wages – the majority of these are indexed to go up with the cost of living.
U.S. minimum wage rates are not based on a formula that relates to need, but over the past two decades activists have engaged in modern “living wage campaigns” that raise the minimum wage in order to make it more likely that it could cover basic expenses. There is no perfect answer to what constitutes a living wage, but at least three methodologies calculate the wages needed for different family sizes and types, varying by region. . . .
Belabored Podcast: Fasting for $15 and Fulltime
Belabored is a Dissent Magazine podcast hosted by Sarah Jaffe & Michelle Chen. Their latest covers the current reality of OUR Walmart, the independent worker organization behind hundreds of recent Black Friday protests. Download and listen to it here.
It’s that time of year again after Thanksgiving, when retailers count on door-buster markdowns and brutally expanded hours to make a pot of money all in one sitting. For the past four years, Black Friday has also been the day that Walmart workers have chosen to maximize the impact of their protests on the retail giant.
This year, as OUR Walmart has become a more independent organization from the union that helped found it, the UFCW, Walmart workers and their allies across a bigger-than-ever group of organizations have undertaken a “Fast for $15,” calling attention to the way workers at Walmart often don’t make enough money to feed themselves properly, and in very old-school hunger-strike fashion, taken their fast to the doorsteps of the rich and powerful within Walmart. We spoke to Dan Schlademan, co-director of OUR Walmart, and Tyfani Faulkner, who was in the middle of her fifteen days without food, about the week’s actions and the startling news that OUR Walmart was under surveillance by the FBI and Lockheed Martin at the behest of Walmart.
Debate: How Should We Reform Criminal Justice? With Michael Fortner and Marie Gottschalk – December 10, 6.30 PM, Murphy Institute, NYC.
The idea that we need to reform this country’s criminal justice system is finally gaining bipartisan support in Washington, thanks in part to social movements like Black Lives Matter. But even if we agree that something must be done, we sharply disagree—even on the left—about what reform should look like. At what point must we examine the structural causes of crime? Can we reduce the number of prisoners without first addressing poverty?
In the most recent issue of Dissent, Michael Javen Fortner, Academic Director of Urban Studies at Murphy Institute and author of Black Silent Majority: The Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment and Marie Gottschalk, member of the New Labor Forum editorial board, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics, outline opposing visions of how we created mass incarceration, and how we should think about ending it.
Video: Kendall Fells of Fight for $15, From Our Forum
Kendall Fells is Organizing Director of Fight for $15. Watch this video of his remarks to a recent Murphy Institute Breakfast Forum on the relationship between Black Lives Matter and low wage worker organizing.
Report from COP 21 in Paris on Organized Labor and Climate Change (Sean Sweeney)
I am here at COP 21 in Paris, where the first week of the two-week UN climate change conference has just concluded. Unions are fighting for a reference in the final agreement to “a just transition of the workforce” and are getting support from Argentina, Canada and one or two other countries.
The US negotiators are not blocking this, but neither are they willing to support it openly. Meanwhile, the Murphy Institute is represented through Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, which has organized a number of workshops on the issue of asserting democratic control over the energy system in order to meet climate targets. Here’s an article in YES! that reports on one of these sessions: http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/cop21-how-to-ramp-down-fossil-fuels-fast-without-leaving-people-behind-20151204
– Sean Sweeney, New Labor Forum columnist