Worker Organizing in the Time of Pandemics

NLF Highlights for October

Each fall, New Labor Forum offers an assessment of labor’s accomplishments and defeats during the prior year. This year, Sheri Davis-Faulkner and Marilyn Sneiderman make an argument that unions with a track record working with coalition partners in assertive organizing for racial and economic justice were the most effective in meeting the new, grave challenges of Covid-19. They note that those unions were also the first to support the burgeoning #BlackLivesMatter movement. It is this kind of work, they contend, which offers the greatest hope for revitalizing organized labor in the coming years.

Testing this theory, Eric Blanc takes a close look at perhaps the best-known recent example of such organizing, the 2018-19 Red for Ed movement, in order to evaluate its impact two years on. He asks whether those victories — won by teachers and school communities in states where public sector workers lack the legal right to strike – have put public education on a stronger footing and/or built lasting coalitions and stronger teachers’ unions. As all public sector unions in states and cities around the country confront the economic freefall brought on by the pandemic, Marc Kagan advises in his article for the journal, they would do well to avoid the choices made by organized labor in New York City during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. New York public sector union leaders, Kagan argues, waged a largely defensive battle, accepting austerity budgets as a given, abandoning potential allies to fight over the crumbs, and offering up workers’ pensions to help bail out the city.

Table of Contents
  1. Moneybags for Billionaires, Body Bags for Workers: Organizing in the Time of Pandemics / by Sheri Davis-Faulkner and Marilyn Sneiderman, New Labor Forum
  2. The Red for Ed Movement, Two Years In / by Eric Blanc, New Labor Forum
  3. More Austerity Coming? Lessons from New York City’s 1970s Fiscal Crisis / by Marc Kagan, New Labor Forum
  4. COVID Capitalism Series: COVID-19 & Legislating a New York Recovery / SLU Virtual Event Series
  5. Reinventing Solidarity – Release date for New Labor Forum’s new podcast

    Moneybags for Billionaires, Body Bags for Workers: Organizing in the Time of Pandemics
    by Sheri Davis-Faulkner and Marilyn Sneiderman, New Labor Forum
    In 2020, the coronavirus and the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police revealed the extent to which people of color and the entire working class is confronting the economic injustice and racism of a political system stacked in favor of elites. The Covid-19 pandemic has
    exposed the degree to which late capitalism is broken, from the failure of supply chains to manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment (PPE), to a health care system unable to address a pandemic, to state unemployment systems that are incapable of processing millions of new unemployment claims . . .
    Read the full article here

    The Red for Ed Movement, Two Years In

    by Eric Blanc, New Labor Forum

    In late February 2018, teachers and support staff shuttered schools in all fifty-five counties of West Virginia. Their strike inspired educators across the country and raised hopes that a long-awaited revival of organized labor may have finally arrived. That spring, school employees in Oklahoma,
    Arizona, and beyond walked out to demand increased education funding and better pay. Confounding all expectations, these actions erupted in Republican-dominated (Red) states with weak labor unions, bans on public sector strikes, and electorates who voted for Donald Trump . . .

    Read the full article here

    More Austerity Coming? Lessons from New York City’s 1970s Fiscal Crisis
  6. by Marc Kagan, New Labor Forum
    Crises can be moments of opportunity—but for whom? As I write, the stock market flourishes and the Federal Reserve takes unprecedented action to protect corporate America from the fiscal meltdown caused by COVID-19.1 Yet a social-economic disaster has engulfed the American working class: lost jobs and health insurance, and “essential workers” callously exposed to the pandemic. Next in line are state and local public sector workers. Absent substantial relief from Washington, government employers will cry poverty, try to rip up union contracts, and cut the provision of services. Will government workers, their unions, and the affected public find ways to push back?
    Read the full article here

    COVID Capitalism: COVID-19 & Legislating a New York Recovery

  7. Featuring Sochie Nnaemeka (Executive Director of NYS Working Families Party) and John Mollenkopf (Distinguished Professor of Political Science at CUNY School of Labor & Urban Studies).

    Thursday, October 8th, 12pm – 1pm ET, via Zoom

    RVSP here


    New Labor Forum’s new Podcast, ‘Reinventing Solidarity‘ releasing October 19th!

  8. On October 19th, New Labor Forum, will inaugurate a new podcast called Reinventing Solidarity. Episodes will appear twice a month featuring discussions with New Labor Forum authors, editors, and poets. We’ll ask the essential and often provocative questions about race, class, gender, and the role of organized labor and social justice organizations in the work of creating a radically different world, a world with solidarity, equality, and sustainability at its heart. Look out for a link to the podcast in our next newsletter and catch the first three episodes on October 19th. We hope you’ll subscribe!


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