The best (labor) reads from 2022

During 2022, each weekly Update has included around a half-dozen links to other publications we have been calling “Good Reads & Essential Traffic.” Have some held up as history keeps rewriting itself? When picking out some of the best "keepers,” I noticed a through-line in class struggle and labor activism, not only only because they compose a core aspect of our work but because, well, change keeps being so hard to achieve on that crucial front. 

The movement to achieve justice for tipped workers – the tattered vestige of slavery – is gaining ground nationwide and right here in the victory of I82. Here’s what it looked like in January 2022....

January 7: Stirrings of a movement -- From Organizing Upgrade: Dying to Serve? A Restaurant Worker’s Plea for Organizing. 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. The broader union struggle has gained momentum in the interim – but not from the traditional unions… By Steven Greenhouse in The Guardian: "Workers Across the US Are Rising Up. Can They Turn Their Anger into a Movement?"

January 21: EPI on labor law’s shackles -- "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.’” 

February 11: Starbucks begins Nantucket Sleighride -- “On Tuesday, 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. [The SEIU/Workers United campaign had first successes in late 2021]

February 18: A theoretical interlude -- Top-down classic 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.

March 18: Underpinnings of road resentment – After the trucker convoys had come and gone, a look at why the folks behind the supply-chain’s wheel are so dissatisfied. 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.”

March 25: The whole of the task  -- Our MDC DSA comrade Sam N has written about organizing Amazon in The Forge. “Our Organizing Must Match the Structure of Our Target” To truly take on a megacorporation like Amazon, we must go against it wherever it is — from rural areas to cities, from tech offices to warehouses — and we must build coalitions with whichever groups it harms. Community-labor coalitions are not new, but the number of groups directly or indirectly harmed by Amazon through its support of the carceral state and deportation machine, its contributions to climate change, and its role in gentrification is unprecedented.

April 1: No jokes, the institutional headwinds we face -- 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, and our comrade Dave R passes along this alert: “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.

April 8: Cornucopia—all labor, all the time (not all good news) -- Happening right here 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 UK’s 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” … ‘January 6 Was a Real Wake-Up Call’: US Unions Fight To Save Democracy

In Vice, labor journalist Lauren Kaori Gurley chronicles the highlight of last week, the worker-led Amazon Labor Union’s unionization 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 has 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.

April 22: Very national to very local -- “Jennifer Abruzzo, general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, [see April 8, above] has outlined an agenda that would transform the American workplace,” Harold Meyerson writes in The American Prospect. Abruzzo has spotlighted and critiqued the abusive practice of “captive audience” mandatory workplace meetings dedicated to anti-union propaganda.

Richmond joins the Starbucks unionization wave, with five stores voting to unionize! “The votes cast among employees at the five stores showed a vote that was 82 employees in favor of union representation and 14 votes against union representation, according to a tally by the Northern Virginia Labor Federation.” 

May 6: Working class consciousness and where to find it -- 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.” 

June 10: Convergence of co-op and union-based class struggle (redux) -- Co-ops are restoring their historic roots in Wisconsin, with a social justice emphasis: “A business model that allows workers to have a stake in how their employer pays and supports them while also tackling social justice issues is expanding in Madison and statewide,” as we read in the Popular Resistance newsletter. Touted by our comrade Bob B, an ESOP advocate.

June 17: gauntlet is thrown in podcast -- “Socialism Is Supposed to Be a Working-Class Movement. Why Isn’t It?” Ezra Klein’s NYT podcast with the Jacobin founder, Bhaskar Sunkara, who engages with the progressive left’s setbacks in winning power — and elections — in America.

July 1: More institutional headwind history -- A critical piece of labor history from the time of the Truman administration, when a revanchist GOP-majority Congress dismantled FDR’s surging New Deal labor movement fueled by the 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, systematically installed in US law, overriding Truman’s veto.. From UE News via Portside.

July 29: Intersectional perspectives in the workplace -- 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].

August 5: Next train whistle echo from February 4 Labor Notes early warning -- 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. 

Also: 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.

August 29: Follow-up on our February 11 entry about the Starbucks Memphis store -- Official, bureaucratic word from the NLRB — requiring the rehiring of unlawfully fired Starbucks workers. Oddly satisfying … via Portside. 

AND… 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. 

September 2: Again, very national and very local -- A Gallup poll shows public approval of labor and unions is at its highest point since 1965. Meanwhile, in neighboring Baltimore, workers at Mom’s Organic Market in the Hampden neighborhood vote to unionize.

September 9: Imagine Labor Day Weekend sandwiched between these two issues… -- A couple of econobloggers at the Economic Policy Institute provide context for the Gallup article we posted here last week stating approval of unions is highest among US respondents since 1965. No surprise, they say, when (for example) union workers are paid 10.2% higher than unorganized peers and are more likely to have contractual health insurance, paid holidays and sick days. There’s more in the EPI blog.

September 23: Rail rumble isn’t fading -- A double-breasted national rail system has proved it’s unworkable, soooo “Strike Settled. Now Let’s Nationalize the Railroads” — Did you know that railroads are the most profitable industry sector in America? No, that’s not a good thing. From the New Republic via Portside.

October 7: I82 continues to get traction -- In Washington Monthly, Will Norris details the Initiative 82 campaign and the long, hard fight to win a living wage for tipped workers. “Finally, workers are, in this very historic way, saying, ‘I’m done … That’s it, I am not going to put up with this anymore.’”

October 14: Tipped wage injustice; benefits of union membership and Hollywood’s workplace -- The NYT reports on the national struggle to eliminate the tipped subminimum wage. “The provision, known as the tip credit, is a unique industry subsidy that lets employers meet pay requirements more cheaply. And even in a tight labor market, it is often abused at the employees’ expense, according to workers, labor lawyers, many regulators and economists.”

Business Insider rounds up a tasty prospect: “Being in a Union Means You Could Make $1.3 Million More Over Your Lifetime” — via Portside. And in Naked Capitalism: ‘Great Resignation’? ‘Quiet Quitting’? If You’re Surprised by America’s Anti-Work Movement, Maybe You Need to Watch More Movies

October 21: The good, the bad, the etc -- The good: The AFL-CIO is investing approximately $11 million in new organizing. The mixed-or-even-bad: The federation is still spending only a fraction of its assets on organizing.

November 11: Changing the toxic workplace culture. OK Boomers. -- Kim Kelly in Insider recounts how Gen Z workers are changing the workplace because they refuse to adapt to the toxic work environment created by boomers and their successors. “There’s a growing wave of labor organizers and reformers in their 20s who have been working overtime across the country to change the workplace.”

November 18: Check and mate to right-to-work in Illinois -- The Nation reports Illinois Voters Just Made Collective Bargaining a Constitutional Right – “The state’s new Workers’ Rights Amendment is a historic victory for union organizers, shutting out the anti-labor “right-to-work” laws that have dominated in the Midwest.”

November 25: Tipped work must end; big rail must be public good -- Steering member Aparna R. was interviewed in Washington City Paper about MDC DSA’s role in Initiative 82’s huge victory: “We’re the people who are also trying to figure out how to make rent, who also want to be able to live in the city for the long-term instead of having to move out of it. Who also just want to be able to make enough to take home each week to support our own families, and to make sure our parents can age in place. And people really respond to that.”

From Governing magazine, no less: Rail workers want tracks publicly owned. A coalition of railroad workers unions says the biggest rail companies in the US have become far too focused on profits and is calling for public ownership of rail infrastructure across North America.

December 2: Dems can’t quit biz; industrial policy minus industrial unions -- Industrial Policy without industrial unions – Democrats’ new industrial manufacturing plan leaves unions behind, fumbling a moment of relative leverage for organized labor. From American Prospect via Portside.

December 9: Commercial rail’s “flexible” schedules deform rail workers’ lives -- Dispatch from the railroad: This Jacobin interview with a longtime BNSF conductor gets to the heart of railroaders’ anger, and reminds us that our fight for workers’ rights is (as always) about bread and roses, too. Read “Railroad Workers’ Lives Revolve Entirely Around Their Jobs.”

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