Through Amazonians United, Starbucks Workers United, and many other nontraditional sites of struggle, the hope and promise of the labor movement hasn't felt this strong in decades. A Gallop poll published just a few days ago confirms this — 71% of Americans polled approve of labor unions — the highest Gallup has recorded since 1965.
Below, we've corralled some of the best stories over the past year from the Metro DC DSA's Weekly Update. What’s stunning about this collection of our labor-oriented highlights is how the labor movement is self-building in the news. (There's so much happening every day in the broader labor movement, and we don’t give enough props to our local Union City newsletter from the Metro DC AFL-CIO and the irreplaceable Labor Notes in helping document all this. (You can subscribe to them yourself and not depend on our fickle attention span where the great questions of worker progress are decided.)
From DCist: “The workers of Politics and Prose have successfully unionized, becoming the first bookstore in DC to do so. … ‘We are proud to join the growing movement of booksellers and baristas across the country who have unionized their workplaces,’ wrote the Politics and Prose organizing committee in a statement. ‘Forming our union has not only served as an affirmation of our shared values within the Politics and Prose community, it will also strengthen our workplace and ensure the long-term success of our beloved community hub.’” An update from late August: the Politics and Prose union has won its first contract!
From Organizing Upgrade, a rundown on national DSA’s Restaurant Organizing Project, strongly relevant to MDC DSA’s campaign to get parity for tipped workers despite the DC Council’s betrayal.
From Steven Greenhouse in The Guardian: Workers Across the US Are Rising Up. Can They Turn Their Anger into a Movement?
"Will this surge of worker action and anger [in the US] be a mere flash in the pan or will it be part of a longer-lasting phenomenon? At least for now, America’s labor leaders seem to be doing very little to tap all this energy and hope and to build it into something bigger and longer lasting.”
From The Call, a project of DSA’s Bread & Roses Caucus: “A Hierarchy of Socialist Political Objectives: How we as socialists should evaluate a demand, campaign, or objective. The key question: does it build working-class power?”
Teachers and teachers’ unions are being used as scapegoats and blamed by both Republicans and Democrats alike for refusing to teach in person and requesting better protection measures against COVID in their classrooms. But every pundit’s narrative, as Jacobin explains, has been flawed and places blame on the wrong groups.
Opinion from WaPo: “West Virginia’s coal miners just made Manchin’s life a lot harder … The United Mine Workers of America backs BBB because it will help mine workers transition to a future they now see as inevitable.”
More than 8,000 workers at around 80 King Soopers grocery stores (owned by Kroger) are on strike, protesting low pay and rising healthcare costs — despite Kroger’s 2020 profits reaching nearly $3 billion, with CEO Rodney McMullen receiving a $6.4 million raise — among other things. In The Nation, Kim Kelly writes: “Two-thirds of the 10,000 Kroger workers … surveyed said that they do not earn enough money to cover their basic expenses every month, with 44 percent of them reporting that they cannot pay rent and 39 percent saying they can’t afford groceries.”
From Hollywood Progressive: A review of a new book on US labor makes the rounds of longtime labor commentators and raises questions about where unions can get their support. “… labor leaders have too often mistaken the survival of their own unions ‘with the survival of the union movement itself.’” But unions’ fundamental problem, author William Scheuerman argues, is that, given the corporate-government assault upon them, their “organizational structure no longer serves the mission of the labor movement.”
The union movement is still constrained by outmoded labor law and high, easily exploitable barriers to organizing, we hear from our comrades at the Economic Policy Institute: “One of the most important things that could be done to generate a more equitable economy is to dismantle the barriers to union organizing and collective bargaining … New data on unionization from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022), coupled with evidence on the value of unions and on workers’ desire to be unionized, reinforce the importance of this goal and the urgent need for policy reforms.”
In Jacobin: “On election day in Chile, private bus companies refused to transport working-class voters to polls to help the right-wing candidate. The Left and unions rapidly organized to counteract the boycott.”
Workers at an REI store in Manhattan are seeking to form the first REI union; in a familiar pattern, the ostensibly progressive CEO wrote, “… we do not believe placing a union between the co-op and its employees is needed or beneficial.” More in NYT.
In a New York Times long read, labor reporter Noam Schreiber writes: “The pandemic has supposedly given service workers leverage. But many still have unstable hours and incomes because employers like the flexibility.” Read "Despite Labor Shortages, Workers See Few Gains in Economic Security."
Two from Labor Notes: In "Rail Unions Are Bargaining Over a Good Job Made Miserable," an investigation into the many nefarious ways freight rail companies extract enormous profits at the expense of their (largely unionized) workers — and the antiquated legal structures that make it difficult for workers to fight back.
In better news, workers at a huge General Motors plant in Mexico voted overwhelmingly to join an independent labor union, leaving their former, employer-friendly union in the dust.
The under-reported, massive insurgent win in a key union, the Teamsters: “Teamsters United’s victory was a decisive rebuke of Hoffa’s leadership. After twenty-three years in power, Hoffa’s team had run out of gas. … But the results were not just a vote against Hoffa. They were a vote for a different, more militant model of unionism,” says a Jacobin account from Portside.
Congressional Hill staffers began their fight to unionize: “Currently, staffers in personal offices of members and committees can organize but there is not a process in place for them to codify a union or exercise collective bargaining rights.”
"Starbucks fired seven workers at a store in Memphis, Tennessee, that recently filed for unionization. The terminated workers make up almost the entirety of the store’s organizing committee, according to the union.” Read more in Truthout.
Top-down trade union organizing and the bottom-up syndicalist creation of worker co-ops are complementary forms of organizing, this author argues. As the traditional “shop floor” dissipates with the gig and remote-work economy, can workers create their own new “shop floors” to enable co-op organizing? “Unions and Worker Co-ops: Why Economic Justice Requires Collaboration” — From Nonprofit Quarterly via Portside.
The truck industry story you won’t find plastered across national media: LA Port Truckers Seek to Unionize in New Gig Work Showdown. “Drivers say they want to win workplace benefits, such as healthcare, that they’ve been excluded from as so-called contractors, and address long-running issues like low pay, which the union argues contributes to the worker shortages currently roiling company supply chains.”
Richmond Educators are first in Virginia to win bargaining rights. Teachers and other public school employees in Richmond, Virginia, won a major victory in December when the city’s school board, in an 8 to 1 vote, approved a resolution granting them collective bargaining rights. The victory sets a precedent for other districts and public sector employees throughout the state. Richmond is the first school district in Virginia to reinstate collective bargaining rights, after the legislature in 2020 lifted the state’s 43-year prohibition on collective bargaining for local government workers.
Majority of US Voters Blame Corporate Profiteering for Inflation — 80% of voters want the federal government to “crack down on large corporations that raise prices unfairly.” From Common Dreams, tipped by our comrade Dave R.
Want to think through the class composition of the Canadian (and by proxy, the US) convoy movement? Here’s a sharp Marxist analysis of who was part of the far-right movement in Ottawa; its inheritors come to the DC region on Saturday.
The Italian Communist Party — with a large base of support within the working class, a rich cultural life and a critical Marxist legacy — seemed to offer a way forward for the socialist movement worldwide. Unfortunately, the end of the Cold War — alongside the neoliberal success in demobilizing and disorienting the working class — also led to Italian Communism’s organizational demise. A recent article in Stansbury Forum by Matt Hancock discusses why that legacy is still relevant, concluding with a set of questions directed toward DSA as we seek to better root ourselves as a broad-based, mass movement that remains principled as a socialist organization.
Max Sawicki breaks down the new USPS law’s pluses and minuses in Arcamax.
In the NYT, “How Life as a Trucker Devolved Into a Dystopian Nightmare” — a chilling look into labor conditions and the ever-discussed supply chain. Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein spoke to workers like John Knope, writing, “While many associate trucking with freedom, [Knope] was, like every trucker, hemmed in by low wages, long hours and an unbelievable level of automation and surveillance.”
The Economic Policy Institute has a new report on the critical nature of (majority-female) care work and the social costs of leaving it largely to the private sector.
Local-chapter comrade Sam N has written about organizing Amazon in The Forge.
In Naked Capitalism, how corporations keep wages low, how their spin doctors distract the public and how the government and working class could be mobilized to stop it.
Institutions are crucial: "The Labor Board Is Withering Away, and That’s Bad News for the Labor Movement." Years of flat funding — even under a Democratic Congress — has left the National Labor Relations Board bleeding staff, imperiling its mission to protect workers. From HuffPost via Portside.
On our DMV turf, the trend of organizing union formations in the nonprofit/think tank sector is emerging as MSM news in POLITICO.
But, says Binyamin Appelbaum in the NYT, “The number of American workers who are represented by unions drops with almost every passing year. It reached a new low last year. And it will not recover unless and until the federal government changes the rules of the game.” In the midst of the euphoria about a win at Amazon, "The People, United, Are Not Going to Get Very Far."
Steven Greenhouse, writing about US labor forces in The Guardian, forecasts, “Union leaders see two parallel strategies to preserve American democracy — one is to battle against efforts that roll back voting rights, reduce the political voice of minorities and enable hyper-partisans to skew, even overturn vote counts. The other strategy is to ensure that Democrats win key battleground states, especially longtime union strongholds Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.” Can the numbers needed on the street come from old-school AFL-CIO strategies? Less hope, more help will improve the odds … ‘January 6 Was a Real Wake-Up Call’: US Unions Fight To Save Democracy
An April webinar, sponsored by US Labor Against War, provided an in-depth discussion of the Ukraine war and its implication for working-class struggles. The video, edited to incorporate the slide show at the start, is now posted for public viewing on YouTube. Featuring Elise Bryant, Phyllis Bennis, Bill Fletcher Jr. and Sara Nelson.
In Vice, labor journalist Lauren Kaori Gurley chronicles the highlight of last week, the worker-led Amazon Labor Union’s victory in Staten Island — from ALU President Chris Smalls’ unfair termination two years ago to the grassroots organizing that led to today.
NLRA general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo yesterday issued a memo announcing that she will ask the Board to rule that mandatory meetings, including captive audience meetings, are a violation of the National Labor Relations Act. In The American Prospect, journalist Harold Meyerson explains why she is “in such a blessed hurry” to reverse decades of erosion of the protections enshrined in the National Labor Relations Act.
Federal Workers: April guidance on labor relations from the Office of Personnel Management, which stems from a Biden executive order, is much to do about nothing. With the exception of very weak local unions combined with unusually backwards management, these are rights that we already have. The Biden executive order appears to me to be mostly the same. From Government Executive.
Big money flowed copiously during the worst pandemic years, but somehow it never got to higher ed’s actual workers, where an explosion in administrative salaries sucked up budgets, leading to fewer and fewer full-time faculty and more contingent labor. Here we see the DMV picture from the WaPo; see also Maryland Matters on UMCP and the independent report paid for by workers and their unions.
From the NYT, college grads in frontline jobs: For better or for worse, this is where the organized working class is coming from. As one Amazon organizer said, “Amazon doesn’t allow people of differing education levels to become separated. … It was the way we were able to unite people — the idea that we’re all getting screwed.”
In DC, Union Kitchen CEO Cullen Gilchrist continues to wage a scorched-earth union-busting campaign against his workers, firing several who are pro-union — including a longtime employee who didn’t show up for a shift because she was assaulted. Read more in DCist
For In These Times, Kim Kelly writes of the importance of labor’s commitment to abortion rights. “There is no time to mince words: Abortion rights are a labor issue, and this is a moment in which the labor movement needs to make clear that bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom are core issues that unions will fight tooth and nail to preserve.”
From Jacobin: The Texas National Guard, after shitty treatment by Greg Abbott despotism, is unionizing.
Workers are always trying to catch up with inflation (tip: having a union helps). Fast-consolidating corporate oligarchies are always ahead of inflation, causing more. Business Insider has this study about it. It’s from, um, the Boston Fed.
June was big for US labor, with the first unionization of an Apple store in the country, the Labor Notes conference and the AFL-CIO convention. And in the UK, the biggest rail strikes in three decades began with “union leadership warning that industrial action will ‘run as long as it needs to run.’” Read more from The Guardian.
A critical piece of labor history from the time of the Truman administration, when a revanchist Congress shackled FDR’s surging labor movement that had been fueled by the New Deal and Wagner Act — a burden that continues to haunt workers to this day. In “Seventy Five Years Later, Toll of Taft-Hartley Weighs Heavily on Labor” we learn (or relearn) how the decline of labor power was deliberately installed in US law. From UE News via Portside.
As election time nears, it’s good to remember who our enemies are. The Washington Post under Katherine Graham’s direction – and/or under Bezos – has been an anti-labor, reactionary voice in the DC area, notwithstanding some good reporters and the liberal tone taken in national politics. The recent article in FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) examines the Post’s long record of hostility toward Marc Elrich and the Post’s lost history of distorting Marc’s record. Note that the WaPo just endorsed David Blair, Elrich’s self-financed developer opponent, with little to say about his platform — just that he is Not Elrich. And who else likes Blair? “Progressives?!” Well, not really, as Maryland Matters reveals in this account of a faux-progressive PAC: “This is no band of wild-eyed radicals. Progressives for Progress is a new political action committee created and funded completely by real estate developers and other real estate interests that are agitating for significant change in the direction of the county,” in Josh Kurtz’s unsparing assessment.
The NYT’s Tom Edsall takes on the recent flurry of articles about disarray within the nonprofit Left, including those from The Intercept and Politico we have highlighted in this section in previous Updates. In part, it’s about where we, MDC DSA, do our work. Strikingly, “the Washington region is home to about 50,000 nonprofits employing 600,000 people, or, to put it another way, about one in four workers in Washington is a nonprofit employee, according to a 2018 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” MDC DSA is not among them, as an all volunteer-led organization, but may include many comrades in such workplaces. Edsall seeks answers to why the sector is in such inner turmoil.
Why isn’t the growth in new jobs reducing inflation and staving off recession? One answer from columnist Peter Coy in the NYT: “Labor productivity as officially measured did take an enormous leap at the start of the Covid pandemic. … It’s clear now, though, that most of the increase was from a change in the mix of workers. Huge layoffs in leisure, hospitality and other low-wage sectors early in the pandemic skewed the labor force toward workers who earn higher wages and tend to have higher labor productivity (at least as conventionally measured). The temporary skew in the average skill level of jobs accounted for 71 percent of labor productivity growth in the second quarter of 2020, according to BLS research. Now that all those low-wage workers are coming back, it makes sense that productivity growth would slow down or turn negative.”
Young Workers Are Bridging the Climate and Labor Movements. From Truthout via Portside: Young people in the labor movement want to bargain on climate issues in contract negotiations. Many young racial justice and climate justice activists have now found themselves in the fastest-growing demographic in the labor movement, Joshua Dedmond, youth organizer with the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), told Truthout. [Note: LNS is based in Takoma Park, and is an underutilized resource for GND activists].
The Intercept is reporting a “Bank of America Memo, Revealed: ‘We Hope’ Conditions for American Workers Will Get Worse” — apparently the financial behemoth privately fears that the working class has too much leverage.
One of the great labor reporters has died. David Moberg of In These Times is remembered here.
In Jacobin, Paul Prescod reports on the ongoing labor dispute between more than 100,000 union railroaders and the Class I rail carriers, who are determined to implement “precision scheduled railroading” — i.e., lean production for railroads — no matter the cost to workers. The result: “Once a coveted job that few could be convinced to give up before retirement, conditions for railroad workers have badly deteriorated. … with workdays that can last up to nineteen hours.” Despite the convoluted bargaining process required by the Railway Labor Act, the dispute is inching ever closer to a potential strike.
Felix Salmon reports in Axios that a recent study finds, “The six justices with the most pro-business voting records of all time are all sitting on the court right now. These six (Barrett, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Alito, Roberts, and Thomas) were each nominated by Republican presidents.” He adds more generally that “The past 70 years have seen the government broadly — not only the judiciary but also both the Democratic and Republican parties — embrace an increasingly business-friendly agenda.”
Official, bureaucratic word from the NLRB — requiring the rehiring of unlawfully fired Starbucks workers. Oddly satisfying … via Portside.
Good listen: A DSA mention (maybe even a shoutout?) in The Daily of all places, during the Monday, August 22 episode on the UMWA strike at Warrior Met Coal, which profiles miner/union member Braxton Wright and details his commitment to solidarity.