Working In These Times

Wednesday, Mar 8, 2017, 12:46 pm  ·  By Liza Featherstone

Women Strike Against Capital—and To Take Back Feminism

In October 2016, women’s groups from different countries agreed to participate in the annual Global Women’s Strike on March 8, taking as their inspiration recent actions in Argentina and Poland. (Garry Knight/ Flickr)  

Babeland, a female-owned sex toy emporium founded in 1990s Seattle, would appear to be the ideal feminist enterprise. Charismatic female employees exude a blunt sex-positivity that has been responsible for the business’ success, making the store a go-to place for dildos of all colors, angles and sizes. Now boasting three New York City locations, Babeland is all about female empowerment. Yet many employees’ experience with this model of feminist capitalism underscores precisely why a women’s strike on March 8, International Women’s Day, is needed.

After management dragged out union contract negotiations for months, workers voted to authorize a strike the weekend before Valentine’s Day, Babeland’s busiest season. The threat worked. Workers won their demands, which included more full-time staff, pay increases, a more relaxed dress code, more holidays (including May Day) and easier communication between workers and the union, according to Octavia Leona Kohner, a Babeland worker active in the union.

Because of that experience at Babeland, Kohner explains, she and many of her colleagues wanted to participate in Wednesday’s action “to raise awareness of the power of workers coming together. And the history of unions is women coming together.” Kohner points to the importance of seamstresses and other women’s struggles in shaping U.S. labor history. Like the Babeland workers’ strike threat, she says, this women’s strike will send the message that “without us you have no business.”

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Wednesday, Mar 8, 2017, 11:46 am  ·  By Kate Aronoff

4 Women’s Strikes That Were Anything But a Privilege

Poor and working women are no strangers to either strikes or mass actions, having been key forces behind everything from the movement for black lives to the “Day Without Immigrants.” (Bettmann / Contributor)  

As this week’s Women’s Strike makes headlines, there’s a strange idea floating around the Internet: that striking is for the privileged, the province of well-off women with the luxury of being able to claim a vacation day or hire other people to take care of their children and loved ones.

In a country with a union density just south of 11 percent, there are a number of legitimate questions to be raised about the feasibility of a strike in 2017. Workers’ bargaining power stands at historic lows, and the institutions that once supported striking workers (namely, unions) have been eroded by a mix of neoliberal assault and market forces. Women, in particular—inordinately represented in low-wage service work—enjoy perilously few protections on the job, and are all too likely to face retaliation from their bosses for not showing up. Thanks to these and other structural factors, what happens will not be a truly mass strike. That’s why organizers have outlined a number of ways to plug into the day’s events, inside and outside the workplace.

Still, what’s troubling about an analysis that claims striking-as-privilege is its near-total disconnection from American labor history. Women’s strikes have never been about “abdicat[ing] parenting responsibilities in solidarity,” as Quartz’s Maureen Shaw put it—performing the role of a dutiful, privileged ally—but about recognizing a shared struggle across a workplace, industry, class or (in this case) country. Meghan Daum, at the Los Angeles Times, made an argument similar to Shaw’s but still more ill-informed: that women striking would somehow show that they are an accessory to the economy, instead of critical to its functioning. 

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Tuesday, Mar 7, 2017, 11:52 am  ·  By Sarah Jaffe

Interviews for Resistance: Workers Are on the Frontlines of Making Sure Banks Don’t Rip Us Off

"What we have argued is that bank workers, in the same way in a hospital a nurse is a frontline on quality care, that bank workers can be the frontline on making sure that banks aren’t cheating and robbing people," says Stephen Lerner, a longtime organizer. (Photo provided by Stephen Lerner)  

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. Since election night 2016, the streets of the United States have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this series, we'll be talking with experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fighting for a long time. They'll be sharing their insights on what works, what doesn't, what has changed and what is still the same.

Stephen Lerner: My name is Stephen Lerner. I am a fellow at Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. I work on the HedgeClippers and bank workers and a number of different campaigns that are all focused on looking up the money tree at who is really running the politics and the economy of the country. 

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Friday, Mar 3, 2017, 4:01 pm  ·  By Dan DiMaggio

Workers at AT&T Mobility Wage Largest-Ever Contract Mobilization

While other wireless companies are largely non-union, CWA represents 45,000 AT&T wireless employees, thanks to bargain-to-organize agreements that allowed for card-check neutrality or quick union elections. (Unity at AT&T Mobility/ Facebook)  

This article was first posted by Labor Notes.

AT&T Mobility workers are waging their largest-ever contract mobilization. In retail stores and call centers across the country they’re sporting “We Demand Good Jobs” buttons, picketing on their days off, plastering union flyers on their lockers, and blowing up Facebook with pictures of their activities. These actions are helping knit together a sense of solidarity among 21,000 union members dispersed throughout 36 states.

“They’ve taken the career out of this job," says Heather Trainor of Communications Workers (CWA) Local 1101 in New York City. "Now they just want to put a body in the store to make them money. They’ve forgotten that we’re human beings.”

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Friday, Mar 3, 2017, 1:57 pm  ·  By Tim Shorrock

Labor-Clergy Coalition To March on Nissan Plant in Mississippi

The action is organized by the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, a coalition of faith and civil rights leaders seeking to bring attention to Nissan’s labor practices. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)  

Workers, trade unionists, clergy and social justice activists will join Sen. Bernie Sanders, actor Danny Glover and leaders of the NAACP for a march Saturday to support workers at Nissan’s giant auto plant in Canton, Mississippi.

The action is organized by the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, a coalition of faith and civil rights leaders seeking to bring attention to Nissan’s labor practices at the plant, where the vast majority of the 6,400 or so workers are African-American. The United Autoworkers Union (UAW) launched an organizing drive in Canton in 2012.

Specifically, coalition leaders want Nissan, a Japanese corporation in partnership with France’s Renault, to end what they claim are intimidation tactics against rank-and-file activists seeking UAW representation and curtail its use of temporary employees, who make up about a quarter of the total workforce.

They also want to help Nissan workers address concerns about safety and working conditions and the company’s arbitrary decisions on work shifts and hours.

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Thursday, Mar 2, 2017, 5:22 pm  ·  By Jeremy Brecher and Joe Uehlein

Labor Must Embrace the Anti-Trump Resistance to Fight for the Working Class

While Trump’s actions will be devastating for organized labor, they may also have a silver lining. The Trump era is seeing the emergence of what has been called “social self-defense,” a massive self-organization of millions of Americans to resist Trump’s agenda. (Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)  

The Trump presidency presents organized labor with a dilemma.

On the one hand, Trump’s advocacy for fossil fuel, infrastructure and military expansion promises to provide jobs for some union workers. His proposals to end trade deals and put tariffs on manufacturing imports align with long-standing labor opposition to pro-corporate globalization.

On the other hand, Trump and his Republican allies in Congress propose tax, budget and social welfare policies that would impoverish most workers. His Cabinet nominees are proven enemies of organized labor and the rights of workers. And his executive policies, legislative priorities and likely Supreme Court appointments point towards catastrophic restrictions on organized labor.

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Wednesday, Mar 1, 2017, 1:59 pm  ·  By Elizabeth Grossman

House Republicans Vow To Do “Everything We Can” To Roll Back Labor Law Gains

“At a time when workers’ wages are stagnant and protections are being eroded, it’s important to remind people that many protections they probably take for granted, like the 40-hour work week, only became reality thanks to unions’ hard-fought battles,” said Rep. Carol Shea-Porter. “Now more than ever, we need a strong NLRB to defend these victories.” (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)  

House Republicans have long sought to undermine the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), claiming it destroys jobs, chills employer free speech and makes life harder for businesses, generally. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce continued that attack last month, holding a subcommittee hearing, entitled “Restoring Balance and Fairness to the National Relations Board.”

Chaired by Rep. Tim Walberg, a Republican from Michigan, the hearing focused on the NLRB’s recent joint employer standard, its recognition of so-called micro-unions and the board’s new election rules, which Walberg called an “ambush election” rule.

“We have repeatedly seen the Obama NLRB overturn long-standing labor policies and put in place new policies designed to empower special interests,” Walberg said in his opening statement. “In the weeks and months ahead, we will do everything we can to turn back this failed, activist agenda and restore balance and fairness to the board.”

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Tuesday, Feb 28, 2017, 4:25 pm  ·  By Justin Miller

Chicago Activists and Aldermen Call for New Office to Enforce Labor Laws

One estimate pegs the cost of wage theft for workers at as much as $13.8 billion a year. (Arise Chicago/ Facebook)  

In the past few years, cities, counties, and states around the country have raised their minimum wages and enacted other policies aimed at improving the quality of low-wage work. They did so, in part, in response to an unprecedented mobilization of low-wage workers, organized through the Fight for $15. Since Fight for $15 was launched in 2012, low-wage workers have secured an astounding $61.5 billion in annual raises, according to the National Employment Law Project.

But there’s a problem: Many workers are still seeing their wages stolen by unscrupulous employers who violate minimum wage and other labor laws. One estimate pegs the cost of wage theft for workers at as much as $13.8 billion a year.

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Tuesday, Feb 28, 2017, 11:07 am  ·  By Sarah Jaffe

Interviews for Resistance: The March 8 Strike Is About Building Feminism for the 99%

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is an assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University. (TEDxBaltimore/ Flickr)  

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. Since election night 2016, the streets of the United States have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this series, we'll be talking with experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fighting for a long time. They'll be sharing their insights on what works, what doesn't, what has changed and what is still the same.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: I am Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. I am the author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation and an assistant professor of African American studies at Princeton University.

Sarah Jaffe: You were one of the original people who called for a women’s strike on March 8th. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Keeanga-Yamahtta: The idea for the women’s strike actually didn’t originate in the United States, but it is a call in solidarity with women organizations from 30 different countries who put out a call for a strike on International Women’s Day, March 8th. This is our effort at trying to explain why it was important that American feminists sign on to this call and really try to be a part of this movement that is trying to, in this country, part of our intention is to bring politics back to International Women’s Day by turning it into a political event, by highlighting the ways that women continue to suffer from misogyny and sexism in the United States and to give concrete descriptions of that.

But also, the strike is about highlighting the ways that “women’s work” or “women’s labor” is at times unseen. It can be undervalued, underpaid. The strike is about drawing attention to that by, in effect, extracting those many different manifestations of women’s labor on March 8th to highlight the extent to which women’s labor continues to play a central role in the political and, I would say, social economy of the United States. 

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Friday, Feb 24, 2017, 12:38 pm  ·  By Sameerah Ahmad

Strawberries and Solidarity: Farmworkers Build Unity Around Driscoll’s Berries Boycott

Workers on both sides of the border launched a boycott of Driscoll’s berries. (Image by Vicko Alvarez of ScholaR Comics)  

Gloria Gracida Martinez was sent to the fields to pick fruits and vegetables when she was just 10 years old. She knows firsthand how demanding and dangerous the work can be. Now a teacher in Mexico, Gracida Martinez shared her memories in Spanish, sitting outside the Chicago-area La Catrina Cafe, which hosted an event about a boycott against Driscoll’s last year. Gracida Martinez is also a spokeswoman for the National Independent Democratic Farmworkers Union (SINDJA) in Mexico.

“I remember a heavy bucket of tomatoes, sometimes of cucumbers, and I remember being on my hands and knees in the dirt picking strawberries. I remember seeing other children, too. But something that really changed my life is when I saw an elderly person and it struck me. I wonder if he had spent his entire life in the fields?” she asked.

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