From the Editorial Team | January 2016
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 our next issue. Here, 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 cannot. 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 this issue, Darren Dochuk tries to make sense of what has happened to the Republicans over the last generation.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, big doings—in addition to the Sanders campaign— 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. Russell Rickford illuminates the origins of the movement and assesses its incipient radicalism.
Over the last year or two, the labor movement has also shown encouraging signs of new life. In this issue, our “On the Contrary” column continues the conversation inaugurated in the fall 2015 issue by Lance Compa who offered his critique of various strategies for reinvigorating labor organizing. Five writers and activists respond to Compa’s assessment, and Compa replies. One sign of rebirth is the very vigorous drive to unionize adjunct lecturers on college campuses. Malini Cadambi Daniel analyzes what is happening that has sparked that campaign and its relationship to other efforts, especially the Fight for $15.
As an alternative to capitalism, the workers’ cooperative movement has long history in the United States, going back at least to the nineteenth-century Populists and Knights of Labor. Interest has waxed and waned since. It has been on the upswing recently. The most talked about are the Mondragon cooperatives based in Spain, and Sharryn Kasmir offers an incisive examination of the promises and contradictions of that enterprise.
Mondragon has become an international phenomenon. Local organizing, however, about a variety of issues continues to furnish the lifeblood of resistance to all forms of discrimination and exploitation. In her column, “Roots of Rebellion,” Mariya Strauss describes a remarkable movement for gender and economic justice rooted in the Deep South. And Raahi Reddy recounts the equally successful attempt of the “Fair Shot for All” coalition in Oregon to bridge the gap between racial, gender, and economic justice. In “Under the Radar,” Sarah Jaffe reports on little-known insurgencies in Colorado, New Orleans, New Jersey, and Alaska.
Another piece of good news for New Labor Forum and its readers is the inauguration in this issue of a new column covering the environmental movement, its friends, and enemies. We are proud to welcome our newest columnist Sean Sweeney, director of the Murphy Institute’s International Program on Labor, Climate Change, and the Environment. His first column looks at the recent victory of left-wing laborite Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the British Labour Party. Corbyn is committed to public ownership of energy production, as well as a democratic and equitable transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, and Sweeney looks at what that might mean concretely.
The news, of course, is hardly all good. With the country barely recovered from the subprime housing/financial debacle, Jennifer Taub warns of the enormous growth in the subprime consumer credit markets. And Max Fraser’s column “Organized Money” pursues that line of thinking in exposing the reckless and geometric explosion of the secondary market in student loans, which led last November to the Million Student March at more than a hundred colleges and universities in support of free tuition, the cancelation of student loan debt, and a $15 minimum wage for campus workers. Taken together, subprime consumer credit and student debt may amount to multiple financial bubbles in a regulatory environment ill equipped to prevent disaster. So, too, labor’s enemies are hard at work trying to further weaken on-the-job protections. Jamie Smith Hopkins details that worrying picture, in which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been crippled by big industry and a Congress that does its bidding.
Finally, the high hopes that some attached to the surprising victory of Canada’s New Democratic Party in last year’s provincial elections in Alberta were dashed in the fall when the party, once thought to be a serious contender to form the national government, was beaten badly in the national elections, not only in Alberta but also everywhere, losing a good deal of its parliamentary representation. Bryan Palmer dissects both the earlier victory and subsequent defeat.
Our “Books and the Arts” section examines some of the questions noted above: books about possible futures for the labor movement, a look at how the concept of the “employee” has evolved politically, a study of how gender and class intersect in apportioning hours of work, and finally a book about the criminalization of neighborhood life. Finally, we offer a meditation by the poet Dean Rader on the extra jobs, empty pockets, crushed limbs, and finally the invisibility of workers, told from the perspective of a fifteen-year-old carhop.