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Hello my friends,
It’s cold outside, but things are looking moderately hopeful in Washington, and a big union vote is underway, and it’s a great time to engage in class war, as always. Subscribe to this thrilling newsletter, send me tips, and prepare — for labor news. Yeah!
This Week in Working
Hard-fought negotiations and a strike threat led to Chicago teachers reaching the “most comprehensive agreement for reopening schools” in the country, potentially setting a model for other districts nationwide.
The Working People Podcast
Undocumented in the Sex Industry: We’re excited to share Part I of a special mini-series guest-hosted by friend of the show, Jessie Sage! Jessie is a writer, podcaster, phone sex operator, clip artist, and co-owner of Peepshow Media (which everyone should check out). In this rich and expansive two-part series, Jessie interviews sex worker, activist, writer, undocumented migrant, and DACA recipient from Honduras, Maya Morena, about the politics of the sex industry, the history of vice, and much more. Listen here.
The Big Issue: Amazon’s Union Vote
The voting for the Amazon warehouse union in Bessemer, Alabama, is underway. It is a campaign that is extremely important to the entire labor movement, and long overdue. It has attracted more public attention than any union drive I can remember in many years. Since the mail-in voting will be going on until late March, now is the time that we all begin speculating on the next question at hand: Will they win?
I don’t know! Not only do I not know, but — having engaged in idle gossip about this question with various other labor reporters and random labor-associated people — I feel confident in reporting to you that none of them really know, either. The tiny handful of people who do have good insight on this question are those leading the organizing campaign at RWDSU, and they are understandably not handing out their internal spreadsheets just yet. The fact that it is impossible to predict the outcome of this campaign, however, is itself fairly remarkable.
In a fair world, common sense would dictate that a union would not take the affirmative step of calling for a union election if it did not expect to win the election. That would be crazy! We do not live in a fair world, of course — and it will always be structurally difficult to pull off big union organizing campaigns featuring poor workers and rich companies in southern “right to work” states in the face of strong opposition. It is hard, and it will be hard. Still, the nervousness with which we’re all watching the Amazon campaign reflects a certain amount of PTSD from watching unions like the UAW lose badly in big, high-profile southern union drives that the union itself built up into national media events, only to be crushed in the end. While we cannot blame a union for coming up short when so many enormous social and economic and legal factors are stacked against it, there is no excuse for hyping up a union election as a referendum on the future of unions, only to lose in a vote that isn’t even close. That’s a fuck up. It’s bad not just for the workers, but for the labor movement as a whole.
Happily, there is no evidence that the RWDSU is pursuing this Amazon drive for the sake of PR rather than actual victory. (They would certainly not pick Alabama, of all places, if there was not genuine grassroots desire for the union from the workers there.) Instead of biting our nails for the next six weeks, we should use that energy to go rally in support of the campaign. Hope springs eternal.
Labor News This Week
Last year saw the lowest number of strikes in America in 30 years. We’ll say last year didn’t count. Twice as many strikes this year, please.
Republicans in New Hampshire are trying to make the state “right to work.”
A deal to save multi-employer pensions may get attached to the Covid relief bill, which would be a big deal for a lot of people who would prefer to receive the pensions they thought they earned.
Workers at Medium — a company with an interesting overlap of media and tech—are unionizing.
Nurses strike in the Bay area.
Workers at Queens Defenders, a law firm that defends the poor, say management has fired two of their colleagues for union activity.
The Fairwork Foundation is building “a global public database of unions and worker-led membership associations that represent the interests of gig workers,” and you can help them.
Rest in power, Karen Lewis.
“Labor bureaucracy had closed the door to the young in spirit, the questioning, the rebellious. It co-opted dull schemers, who did as they were told and watched their step — so domesticated that some of the now toothless old tigers who raised them from cubs could blush for them.” –Len De Caux, writing fifty years ago
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Hamilton Nolan is a labor writer for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.