Working In These Times

Tuesday, Aug 15, 2017, 7:16 pm  ·  By Russell Rickford

Heather Heyer Picked Her Side, And Joined a Long Tradition of White Anti-Capitalists Fighting Racism

An International Workers of the World (IWW) demonstration in New York City against fascism in Germany (date unknown).   George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

The tragic death of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old paralegal who was killed when a motorist plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters who had gathered to oppose a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., may, in its own way, help prefigure the rebuilding of a more genuinely transformative Left in the United States.

Don’t get me wrong; there is little to celebrate in the bloody clashes of Charlottesville. Still, the passing of Heyer, who was reportedly a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), reminds us that a segment of egalitarian-minded, white anticapitalists remain among the ardent foes of racism in American life. Amid the “race versus class” debates currently dividing progressives, it is refreshing to note that some young leftists still believe that the transition to a more humane economy requires a frontal assault on white supremacy.


Tuesday, Aug 15, 2017, 1:46 pm  ·  By Max Zahn

The Future of the Low-Wage Worker Movement May Depend on a Little-Known New York Law

Fight for $15 (Michael Fleshman/Flickr)  

This article first appeared in Waging Nonviolence.

Flavia Cabral doesn’t equivocate. She joined the fast food worker movement, she said, for a single reason: to put her daughter through college.

Cabral, 53, of the Bronx, earned $7.25 per hour at McDonald’s when she stood alongside coworkers in her first single-day strike four years ago. Over 10 strikes later, she makes $12 per hour, thanks to a statewide minimum wage hike that will gradually elevate her pay to $15 by the end of 2018.

Still, her goal remains out of reach.

“I don’t have enough savings for my daughter to finish college,” she said. “I want her to graduate.”

Cabral’s predicament is emblematic of one facing the Fight for $15: how to move beyond its titular demand to address other barriers that are keeping fast food workers from a middle class life. These obstacles include insufficient hours, non-union workplaces and crippling expenses like housing, health insurance and college education.

Fight for $15 won an important victory on one of these fronts in late-May when the New York City Council passed a bundle of laws that guarantee predictable schedules and require restaurants to offer additional hours to current workers before hiring new employees. Similar laws have been passed in cities like Seattle and San Francisco.

A less heralded law within the package of New York City reforms, however, may hold the future of the fast food movement — and, if successful, will offer an inroad to unionizing the 42 percent of American workers who make less than $15 per hour.

The ordinance allows fast food workers to join a new type of labor organization, which will advocate for workers throughout the industry and sustain itself through dues deducted voluntarily from workers’ paychecks.

It is, some say, the kernel of what could become a sector-wide fast food union—the movement’s holy grail.

In order to begin deducting dues from workers’ paychecks, the new organization, Fast Food Justice, needs to sign up at least 500 workers and it aims to do so by the time the law goes into effect at the end of November. Labor leaders in other cities and low-wage sectors are watching closely to find out if the model is worth replicating.

“There is a lot riding on this experiment,” said Janice Fine, a professor of labor studies at Rutgers University. “It’s incredibly important but we don’t know if it will work.”


Tuesday, Aug 15, 2017, 8:25 am  ·  By Julianne Tveten

Silicon Valley’s Techno-Capitalists Have a Low-Wage Worker Revolt on Their Hands

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook Inc., listens as Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, not pictured, speaks during a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California, U.S., on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)  

In one of the nation’s most economically disparate enclaves, the tide of organized labor is rising. Last month, more than 500 Facebook cafeteria workers in Silicon Valley voted to unionize in a move for higher wages, fair hours and secure benefits. Days later, Tesla factory workers demonstrated similar intentions, sending a list of demands to the electric automaker’s board—a product of recent talks with one of labor’s most storied forces, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW).

Unionization is a momentous feat for any labor sector, and in Silicon Valley it’s downright Herculean. California’s hotbed of technological production is notorious for its antipathy to labor rights—a stance that dates back decades. Couched in an ethos of “utopian” futurism, many of the tech industry’s postwar progenitors positioned their enterprises as avant-garde rejections of the union-oriented labor models of the East Coast and Midwest. They claimed their vision of a post-union future, free of the costs and constraints of formal labor-rights structures, would afford them the ability to innovate at breakneck speed. In the early 1960s, Intel co-founder Robert Noyce famously declared, “remaining non-union is essential for survival for most of our companies. If we had the work rules that unionized companies have, we'd all go out of business.”


Thursday, Aug 10, 2017, 9:28 am  ·  By Michael Arria

Elon Musk May Be a “Visionary,” But His Vision Doesn’t Seem To Include Unions

Billionaire Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla Motors Inc., listens during the StartmeupHK Venture Forum in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. (Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)  

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been making more headlines than usual lately. Shortly after the business magnate claimed he had received governmental approval to build a hyperloop from New York to Washington, D.C., he got into a public argument with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the future of artificial intelligence. Musk also recently made comments regarding the production of Tesla’s new Model 3, a battery-electric sedan. “We're going to go through at least six months of manufacturing hell,” he told journalists.

It’s hard to know exactly what constitutes “manufacturing hell,” but it might also be difficult to ever find out. That’s because, since last November, Tesla has required employees to sign confidentiality agreements which prevent them from discussing workplace conditions. This policy has faced increased criticism since February, as workers at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif. plant have expressed concern over wages, safety and their right to unionize. They have reached out to the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) union, which is now intervening.


Thursday, Aug 10, 2017, 8:42 am  ·  By Gabriel Kristal

A Working-Class Strategy for Defeating White Supremacy

Wal-Mart workers and union activists protest outside a Wal-Mart store on June 4, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)  

Ever since the earth-shaking election of Donald Trump, there have been innumerable articles arguing that Democrats brought this upon themselves by losing white, working-class voters in the Midwest. These articles have been met with a torrent of essays urging Democrats to focus on becoming the party of diversity. And, coming back from the dead like a bloated zombie corpse is Mark Penn and Andrew Stein’s New York Times piece calling for a return to Clintonian centrism.

All of these discussions imply that progressives can either fight for voters from the working class or communities of color—but not both at once. This line of thinking demonstrates a profound lack of faith in democracy and the electorate’s ability to smell bullshit. 


Wednesday, Aug 9, 2017, 9:30 am  ·  By Melissa Sanchez and Matt Kiefer

Investigation: Illinois’ Wage Theft Bill Actually Made Things Worse

After suffering a devastating injury at a suburban-based manufacturing company, Juan Lopez was denied his worker's compensation claim and pay for his earned vacation time.   Yingxu Jane Hao / The Chicago Reporter

This piece first appeared in the Chicago Reporter. 

Most victims of wage theft in Illinois never see a dime because the system meant to help them isn’t working.

That’s not what labor advocates envisioned in 2010, when the state passed a bill meant to give employees a better chance of recouping stolen wages and to toughen penalties against the employers who stiff them.

The situation, however, has gone from bad to worse for the thousands of mostly low-wage workers who have filed roughly $50 million in wage claims with the state since the measure took full effect in 2014.

Workers who report wage theft now face longer wait times, higher dismissal rates and more red tape, according to a Chicago Reporter review of complaint records and enforcement procedures at the Illinois Department of Labor.


Tuesday, Aug 8, 2017, 12:27 pm  ·  By Richard D. Wolff

Raising the Minimum Wage Is Not the End Goal—We Need to Challenge Capital Itself

Protestors march in a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington to push for a raise to the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, on July 22, 2015. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)  

This article first appeared on Truthout

Once more with feeling, the old debate rises into the headlines and the talk show circuit: Should governments — state, federal or local — raise the minimum wage or not? Employers of minimum-wage workers weigh in to say "no." But that raises a PR problem: It looks bad to advocate keeping workers' wages so low. So, they make a better-looking claim: that raising minimum wages causes some employers to fire low-paid workers rather than pay them more. Their opposition to raising minimum wages then morphs into an advocacy for low-paid workers to keep their jobs.

Workers and their allies mostly take the bait. They weigh in with counterarguments. These mostly respond directly, claiming that raising minimum wages does not lead to significant job losses.

Over the decades, professional economists and statisticians (increasingly overlapping sets) have entered the debate. Their entry resolved nothing. Every few years, the debate has flared up again. The economists write articles and books that enrich their resumes. Some score research grants from foundations, business lobbies and labor groups to prepare shiny new versions of the old arguments.


Monday, Aug 7, 2017, 12:43 pm  ·  By Joe Allen

Making Sense of UAW’s Devastating Loss in Mississippi

Workers and civil rights organizers marched on the Canton, Miss. Nissan plant on March 4, 2017. (UAW)  

The United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) union has staggered from one defeat to the next for many years. Three years ago, the union got a punch in the gut when it was defeated in a recognition vote at Volkswagen (VW) in Tennessee. Friday’s defeat at Nissan was nothing less than a knockout punch ending for the foreseeable future any efforts by the UAW to organize the large, predominately foreign-owned auto assembly plants in the South.

News of the defeat trickled in on Friday night through friends who were present at the vote in Canton, Miss., where Nissan’s sprawling, nearly-mile-long assembly plant is located. More than 60 percent of Nissan’s approximately 3,500 eligible workers voted over a two-day period against the union. Most of us hoped to wake up on Saturday morning to better news, but Nissan—one of the world’s top automakers—beat the UAW hands down. It wasn’t even close.


Friday, Aug 4, 2017, 5:04 pm  ·  By Joe Allen

20 Years On, What the UPS Strike Can Teach Us About Reviving a Dying Labor Movement

Teamsters at a UPS station in New York wave and cheer as supportive passing motorists honk their horns 19 August, 1997. The Teamsters union announced 18 August that it had reached a tentative deal with United Parcel Service. (DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)  

This article first appeared in Jacobin.

Twenty years ago, the Teamsters’ national strike against United Parcel Service (UPS) produced panic, if not outright hysteria, in the corporate boardrooms of the United States


Thursday, Aug 3, 2017, 3:44 pm  ·  By David Moberg

The UAW Vote in Mississippi is a Battle for the Soul of the U.S. Labor Movement

Hundreds of workers and civil rights leaders marched on the Canton, Miss. Nissan plant on March 4, 2017. (UAW)  

After years of painstaking work by United Auto Workers (UAW) organizers to build support for a union at the big Nissan auto and truck assembly plant near Canton, Miss., the workers themselves will vote today and tomorrow on whether to accept UAW their collective bargaining voice at the plant.

“I think it [union approval] will pass,” UAW president Dennis Williams told a press conference just days before the vote, “but we’re doing an ongoing evaluation. We’ve been thinking about it for six to seven months,” roughly since the UAW held a large march and rally at the factory attended by Bernie Sanders. The union says it is particularly concerned about a surge in the kind of unlawful management tactics to scare workers that brought charges against Nissan this week from the National Labor Relations Board.

The Canton factory is one of only three Nissan factories worldwide where workers do not have a union. Built in 2003, it is one of a spate of auto “transplants,” or foreign-owned factories built with state subsidies for the past three decades, largely in the South and border states.