“Employees receive no tax deduction for the donations, as they do by giving to a charity directly. When soliciting employee contributions to PACs in exchange for charitable donations, companies typically say they want to increase voluntary participation in the political process and support pro-business candidates. Many companies offer a one-for-one match and donate the money to a charity of the employee’s choosing. Coca-Cola and HP both do this. Wal-Mart goes further. It offers a two-for-one match, and the contribution must go to the Associates in Critical Need Trust, or ACNT, a charity the company started in 2001 to help its own store workers facing financial distress. Wal-Mart gave the ACNT about $3.6 million in double-matching funds in the year that ended January 31, according to an audit of the charity’s financial filings.”—
Well, this is an even more fascinating twist on the whole story.
In To Serve God and Wal-Mart, Moreton lays out the company’s twin narratives—the exploitation of (mostly female) caring labor for low wages, and the growth of Walmart as a political-ideological powerhouse. This latest report twines them both together perfectly.
Walmart asks its employees to donate to its political work (which is not tax-deductible, though few Walmart associates probably make enough for tax deductions to matter, managers might) and will match that donation two-to-one to a charity. So: appealing to the workers’ better natures by offering a big charitable donation in exchange for a small political one.
But the charity has to be the one that Walmart chooses—and it’s the one that Walmart controls, set up to donate to its own employees “facing financial distress.”
Yes, that’s right. Instead of giving the associates a raise, Walmart prefers to donate to a “charity” of its own making, creating a fund to help out a few associates rather than spreading some wealth across the board.
And that charity serves as a way to exploit workers’ feelings of care and support for one another to raise funds for its political lobbying—which focuses on “pro-business” policies that mostly harm those same workers.
"Wal-Mart has been vocal on issues including the minimum wage," the article notes.
And then there’s this:
In 2009, IntercontinentalExchange Group Inc. (ICE), which operates global commodity and financial products marketplaces, asked the FEC for an advisory opinion on starting a double-matching program. The commission split evenly on the matter and issued no opinion. According to an audio recording of the meeting that April, three of six commissioners concluded double-matching would “skew the incentives” and “undercut the voluntariness” of contributions to the PAC. One said a double-match would “smack of buying off the contributor,” noting it could open the door to five-to-one matching or more.
So, while the practice as a whole is legal, the FEC is a little iffy as to whether double-matching “undercuts the voluntariness” of the money employees give to the political network. And “Tying the PAC and the charity could confuse donors,” according to a “former official at the Wal-Mart Foundation and associates charity,” who spoke anonymously.
The article notes that most of the people who contribute are managers rather than hourly associates, possibly because hourly associates don’t make enough money to make donations, charitable or otherwise, and also possibly because as Moreton notes, managers at Walmart are likely to have been picked for ideological reasons, from ideologically-aligned programs that Walmart funds at colleges and universities, and so on.
So they may well agree with the political direction that Walmart is steering them in. But even if they don’t, the company’s come up with yet another way to turn any potential care and solidarity they might have with their fellow workers to its advantage.
I’m in the midst of his excellent reading of Darkness on the Edge of Town, which is a record that I love by an artist that I adore, and in my head I find myself picking a fight with his description of “Thunder Road” (and all of Born to Run) as uncritical depictions of the desire of the working-class man to escape his hometown.
For me, I always read “Thunder Road” as a bit of desperation, as the last hope of a guy who knows this hope too probably won’t work. I’ve been a runner all my life, I think, and this song resonates with me in a way that many more “political” Springsteen songs don’t. I never read that record straight, in other words, but rather as a performance of the bravado of a certain kind of youth that’s staring down the barrel of a hard life of work.
Because lines like “So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore” load “Thunder Road” with equivocation; it’s full of fragile bravado. Even if you read the “not a hero” of the song as a representation of Bruce himself (a thing you’d be unwise to do considering he’s one of the best narrative songwriters ever), the thing that has given Springsteen staying power is that he knows just how fragile his own success is, just how rare, and just how little separates him from the people he left behind.
But I’m realizing too that I’m an 80s baby; that I didn’t hear Born to Run when it came out and didn’t even experience the whole album until sometime in the early 2000s I started to dig into Springsteen along with the Americana/alt-country of Lucero and Cory Branan. My memories of “Thunder Road” begin with a Best of Springsteen album that my mother and I bought on a road trip as something we could agree to listen to, and thus I always heard that song bleeding into “Badlands” and especially “The River” (from the double album of the same name from the year of my birth, 1980).
Because “The River” is the flipside of “Thunder Road,” it’s what happens after the guy and the girl “ride out of that valley down to where the fields were green” and realize that there’s nothing out there waiting for them except more hard work, “a union card and a wedding coat.”
I always read the “heaven waiting down on the tracks” through the lens of the question asked by 1980 Bruce: “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true?”
(A digression that doesn’t fit with anything else I’m working on, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve felt inspired to write something purely for the pleasure of it.)
“Mayor Bloomberg, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, and New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy have taken a pretty heavy one-two punch in the last couple of weeks. The first blow came from Judge Shira Scheindlin’s ruling that the NYPD’s policy violates the 4th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution. Then, today, the City Council overrode Bloomberg’s veto of two bills that would further reform the NYPD’s practices. A ban on racial profiling—with a right to take legal action—and an independent inspector general for the police department will take effect despite the mayor’s best efforts. The vote broke down much as it had on first passage, with 39 in favor, 10 against for the NYPD Oversight Act and 34 in favor, 15 against for the End Discriminatory Profiling Act. “I am voting to uphold these bills and override the mayor’s veto because he is out of touch with the realities in communities like my own,” Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez said in a statement. “His children will never be stopped and frisked, or accused of ‘fitting a description’ but this is something I will have to worry about with my own two daughters, just as so many parents in our communities must worry about with their children. We need real reform of the stop-and-frisk practice and these bills are a strong start.” The votes were personal for many councilmembers. The voice of councilmember Jumaane Williams, the co-sponsor of the two bills, shook as he “proudly” cast his vote. Williams also pointed out in council that, particularly for the racial profiling ban, the vote broke down largely along racial lines. Meanwhile, Mark Weprin, who faced heavy pressure to change his support for the vote, noted “People opposed to this legislation tend to be people who have never been stopped.” Several councilmembers, including the eight-and-a-half-months pregnant Julissa Ferreras, spoke passionately about being parents and wanting their children to grow up in a better city.”—Overriding Bloomberg’s Vetoes, New York City Council Bans NYPD Racial Profiling - In These Times
In case it would be helpful to anyone, I’ve compiled links to my pieces that relate to the upcoming NYC elections and some of the issues/candidates that will be involved. These are in reverse chronological order, not any order of significance.
“In a decision issued on Monday, the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, ruled that police officers have for years been systematically stopping innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. Officers often frisked these people, usually young minority men, for weapons or searched their pockets for contraband, like drugs, before letting them go, according to the 195-page decision. These stop-and-frisk episodes, which soared in number over the last decade as crime continued to decline, demonstrated a widespread disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, according to the ruling. It also found violations with the 14th Amendment.”—
As Melissa Gira Grant writes, the tendency to cast greedy people as whores or sluts “is both anti-worker and misogynist, and props up claims that capitalism and patriarchy are somehow driven by prostitution (which predates one, if not both).”
Women are doing what we’re told over and over again we have to do to succeed, be leaders, take power. And yet when we do so, we have to walk a tiny narrow tightrope, as Kate Losse noted in her review of Sheryl Sandberg’s omnipresent “Lean In.”
“Don’t ask,” here, strikes a revealing tension in a book that tells women to be more assertive, albeit “with great care.” Put into practice, the advice not to question what position one will hold in a company can easily amount to acceptance of a devalued position with long-term career consequences… . According to Sandberg’s advice, these situations iron themselves out when you are on a rocket ship: women are promoted and their positions naturally improve. “What difference does going ‘back’ four years [in title and compensation] really make?” Sandberg writes of one woman asked to start on the ground level. But what if women, even in a company like Facebook, are still paying a gender penalty that nothing but conscious, structural transformation can cure?
Olivia Nuzzi, David Roberts writes in his apology for calling her a “hobag,” struck him as a gender-neutral “certain young Beltway type” that he finds “both familiar and distasteful.” Yet above he can’t resist once again noting that she is “pretty,” because women are always and forever defined by our looks, and one can’t help but feel that if Nuzzi’s photo had not been plastered around by a tabloid that specializes in dick-joke covers, the reaction to her would not have involved gendered insults.
The bodies of women are somehow deeply tangled up with our ideas of greed, of being out of one’s place, of what Roberts calls “social climbing.” As if simply to be female and public makes one unacceptable. Where have we heard that before?
Weiner may or may not drop out. Roberts has made a public apology, if one a little too laden with “I’m not THAT bad” excuses.
But women will go on walking that tightrope, wanting to be public but not too public, pretty but not too pretty, leaning in but not too hard. And men who screw up in public over and over again will continue, as Melissa Petro wrote, to be forgiven.
“Against a background of chants, from the now-famous “We can’t survive on $7.25” to “If we don’t get it, shut it down!”, minister and City Council candidate Kirsten John Foy told Working In These Times, “It’s a moral disgrace and an outrage that in 2013 the conversation about economic and social justice isn’t just about collective bargaining, it’s about stopping wage theft.” Like the “Moral Monday” protesters in North Carolina and the Dream Defenders’ capitol occupation in Florida, Foy notes, the fast food campaign is taking back the language of moral values. “After 20 or 30 years of the conservative right putting their stamp on so-called moral values, we are reframing the debate around economic morality and social morality. Morality is about more than just life and death, it’s about quality of life.” Kareem Starks, who works at the 24-hour McDonald’s on Meeker St. in Brooklyn, worked all night on Sunday before setting off on the march. “I still haven’t slept,” he says at 1:30 on Monday. This is the first time Starks has joined in the strikes, and to him, it feels big, like a real movement with coordinated actions with other workers across the country. He says that most of his coworkers are too scared to strike, but he decided he had to after a recent incident drove home for him how little he meant to his bosses.”—For Fast-Food Strikers in New York, It’s About ‘Moral Values’ - Working In These Times
“As discontent has grown, parents around the country have been opting out of standardized tests for their children, but New York, it appears, is doubling down instead. “For the students, this is going to be way more time spent taking assessments, in every single class they take, there will be no break from assessments,” Jones says. “If we thought the testing regime was too much already, it’s going to be more out of control now that you’re going to have to have a test for the gym teacher, a test for the music teacher.” That’s right—even gym class, art and music will need to have a test. So will kindergarten. “It’s not like tests themselves are inherently evil. Almost every teacher gives some kind of test or assessment,” Jones says. “But when you place so much, so many outcomes on that edifice it’s too much weight for that instrument to bear. It distorts and warps the whole teaching and learning process.””—
“"It’s a revolution," says a man in a mask, face lit by the flames of a burning car. And some people are clearly high on it. I have covered Syntagma, the Occupy protests and reported from Tahrir Square. This is different to all of them. First, it is massive. The sheer numbers dwarf any single episode of civil unrest in Greece. Second, the breadth of social support - within the urban enclave of Istanbul - is bigger than Greece and closer to Egypt. "Everyone is here - except the AK party," insists one young woman. People nod. In Greece, the urban middle class was split. Here the secular middle class are out in force, united across political divisions, to say nothing of football hatreds. All eyes on the workers
Is this the Turkish Tahrir? Not unless the workers join in. Turkey has a large labour movement, and a big urban poor working population, and Monday is a work day, so we will see. It is certainly already something more than the Turkish version of Occupy.”—
“As I write, Istanbul, Ankara - Turkey’s capital - Izmir and Adana are burning. Massive police violence is taking place. And in my middle class Istanbul neighbourhood, like many others, people are banging on their frying pans to protest. People are exchanging information about safe places to take shelter from police, the telephone numbers of doctors and lawyers. In Taksim Square, on the building of Atatürk Cultural Center, some people are hanging a huge banner. There are only two words on it: “Don’t surrender!””—
“Samuel Swenson says he was excited when he was hired at Capital Bikeshare in the summer of 2011. He and his new colleagues were enthusiastic about bicycles and alternative transportation, he told In These Times. “We helped sell the program as much as we helped make it work.” Things quickly started to go wrong. According to Swenson, he was hired with the expectation that he would become a full-time bicycle mechanic and that he would receive health benefits, but the benefits didn’t materialize. The warehouse where he and the handful of other mechanics worked was housed next to a concrete mill in a Superfund site. The hard work and the silica dust from the concrete made him concerned about when his healthcare would kick in. When he never got a satisfactory answer from the company, he began researching Alta’s contract with the city. “I found out that I was entitled to health benefits, based on federal law, that my employer had agreed to, that I had been paid less than they had agreed [in their contract] to pay me, again according to this federal law,” he says.”—
“The workers have to pay for and maintain their own trucks, effectively forcing them to pay to work. Because of that, and because the workers are mostly black, a 2010 report [PDF] from the National Employment Law Project and the labor federation Change to Win calls the situation of the truckers “sharecropping on wheels.” Some of them are forced to lease trucks from the companies they work for, meaning that they’re literally paying their bosses to be able to do their jobs. The report estimates that these costs can run up to 60 percent of the drivers’ income. “By the time we’ve taken out for fuel, insurances, our cell phones that we have to have at the companies that we’re with, by the time we get all those deductions, then it’s time to pay bills, we’re down to nothing,” says port truck driver Carol Cauley, another member of the organizing committee. “We kind of have to choose bills or family.” Lewis Grant, also a driver and committee member, adds, “With funds being low there’s some tough decisions that I have to make on a weekly basis. Do I buy new tires for my truck or do I put food in the refrigerator? Do I send my kids to day care this week?””—
I wrote about Savannah’s port truck drivers, who are classified as “independent contractors” by their bosses but don’t get to make their own schedules or control the work that they do. What they DO get is the “right” to pay for their own trucks and equipment, charged for the cell phones the companies require them to use and other miscellaneous “repairs” to their trucks that they’re never sure were actually performed.
But they control a very important part of the supply chain, and they’re getting organized. So much for those who say we can’t organize the South.
“Right now, as we pass over this particular tipping point—or bent moral arc, or whatever it might be—LGBT issues have become a wedge to use against Republicans, instead of—as has historically been the case—against Dems.”—
E.J. Graff has a great piece on ENDA and why it matters, and this point, near the end, is one of the most important ones in it. Remember when Thomas Frank wrote “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” explaining that gay rights and abortion were the wedge issues that kept rural working-class folks voting Republican against their economic self-interest? Looks like that tide has turned.
Unfortunately, it’s turned without Democrats turning in large numbers to economic populism—we’ve got Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren, a few members of the House, but largely Dems are still too timid to do more than mouth class war platitudes on the campaign trail and then pitch Social Security cuts and let the sequester stand.
To understand how we can see this huge shift in attitudes on so-called social issues (like marriage) while bills that would impact economic inequality (like ENDA) remain stalled even though they’re vastly more popular, we need to really look at how the Right and the Left (and the squishy Democrats in the middle) talk about economic justice, and see why Republicans have been able to appeal, not just on social issues, but to people who are feeling the squeeze in their wallets.
That’s why—you heard it here first, unless you didn’t—I’m working on a book* to discuss just that. And a whole lot more, too.
*Proposal in the works. More info when I have it. I promise.
But there’s another option: Go after the big banks to get back the money the state lost through financial chicanery.
This is the proposal representatives for the 48,000 members of Local 503 currently in collective-bargaining talks are making. Last Friday, they unveiled their plan to demand the banks in their negotiations with the state at a press conference, with the support of the state AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the other major public-sector union, the Oregon Students Association, the Working Families Party, and other community allies.
“Traditionally, unions’ argument has been ‘We need to raise taxes.’ But if you think about the bank deals as an unfair tax on the public, then the union is simultaneously saying, ‘We need to stop banks from taxing the public,’” says Stephen Lerner, a longtime union organizer and adviser to Local 503’s campaign.
The local’s demands include that the governor and state treasurer sue the banks over illegal activities on behalf of Oregon’s public employees—they’ve calculated $110 million in losses to LIBOR rigging alone. They also want to see a task force established that would include workers struggling with debt and foreclosure to investigate the ways the state has been ripped off by Wall Street. “We do intend to go to the mat on these issues, we think that they’re vital in terms of putting the state on the right track for the future,” Heather Conroy, executive director of Local 503, says.
The re-election of Mulgrew itself wasn’t surprising. But given that the Chicago teachers strike made major headlines this fall, and was led by a reform caucus that upset the union leadership in 2010 elections (the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, or CORE), many eyes were on the UFT election to see if its dissident caucus, modeled on CORE, would seize control in New York.
That caucus, the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), came in second, passing the other opposition group, New Action, in every category except retirees, and coming within 160 votes of Unity in the high schools. That’s an impressive showing for a reform caucus that some six months ago was unsure it was even going to put up a slate of candidates to run. “Our fear was that we had so much work to do to build up our group that running in the elections would take so much energy away from our main goal of building up a strong activist network inside the schools,” says Brian Jones, MORE’s candidate for UFT secretary. “I think what we found was that there was a way to run in the elections that actually allows you to build up that network.”
Cha explains to Working in These Times that women who have care-giving responsibilities at home are less likely to be able to work all day long, and care work is still seen as a woman’s job—in her paper, Cha cites a 2012 study that found that even women who make more money than their spouses spend 30 percent more time with their children. Yet male-dominated occupations—which still, Cha notes, pay more than female-dominated ones—demand long hours of workers. Fields like law or medicine expect total commitment, and even skilled blue-collar jobs tend to require longer work hours and lots of overtime. The expectation that workers will be able to stay on the job longer, combined with the expectation that women will do most of the care-giving, leads to more women leaving those male-dominated fields, either exiting the labor force entirely or finding a job that doesn’t have the same kinds of demands.
In fields dominated by men, Cha notes, women are less likely to have social support in the workplace. “Basically, women’s experiences are not reflected in workplace policy, workplace practices and norms. This makes it more difficult to combine family responsibilities and at the same time meet workplace expectations,” she says.
“Not only wages — I am thinking here of the ‘female wage’ and the ‘family wage’ — but hours, too, were constructed historically with reference to the family,” Weeks notes. The eight-hour day and five-day week presumed that the worker was a man supported by a woman in the home, and it shaped expectations that his work was important and should be decently paid, while women’s work was not really work at all (even though, as Weeks notes, the gender division of labor was supported by some paid domestic work, done largely by women of color). The postwar labor movement focused on overtime pay and wages, leaving the women’s issue of shorter hours mostly forgotten.
But the power of the eight-hour-day movement was that it didn’t require the worker to love her job, to identify with it for life, and to take pride in it in order to organize for better conditions. The industrial union movement rose up to organize those left out of the craft unions, the so-called “unskilled” workers who recognized that they were not defined by their work and that they wanted to be liberated from it as much as possible. That, in their minds, was what made them worthy of respect, not their skill level or some intrinsic identity.
The fight for shorter hours unified workers across gender and race, class and nationality, skill and ability. It did not require the valorization of “man’s work” or the idealization of women’s natural goodness.
“The government does not spend money on a cash benefit program, it just channels it to someone who spends it. The only coherent objection that can be raised against such a program is that the people the money is channeled to should not be entitled to spend it, that the money should actually be spent by other people. But this is a purely distributive argument. It is not a government spending argument, not even slightly. We should treat objections to cash benefit programs for what they actually are: complaints about the economic distribution that those programs usher in, not complaints about government spending. Doing so will allow us to get at the real argument that is going on beneath the surface, which is the argument about who deserves what and why. If the right-wing believes that the poor, disabled, and elderly deserve to have less, then they should be forced to actually make that point overtly. I would love to see it too as I am especially interested in knowing just how much poorer the poor need to be in order for us to have a just economic distribution. But as it is, the actual disagreement about distributive justice never gets fought out. Instead, everyone involved fights a totally contrived proxy battle about government budgets that entirely obscures what’s the debate is really about.”—
Edwin Guzman already lost his job once for union-organizing. But today, he and several hundred fast food workers across New York City are on strike anyway.
A few weeks ago, an organizer with the Fast Food Forward campaign, begun by New York Communities for Change (NYCC) and supported by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and other labor and community groups walked into the Burger King in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where Guzman works. He had a petition with him, calling for a raise to $15-an-hour and union recognition for the workers. Guzman and some of his colleagues signed.
Not long afterward, he had to take a couple of days off for a court date—he was being evicted from his apartment, in part because of his steadily decreasing hours and low pay at his job. Like most of the city’s fast food workers, he makes just $7.25 an hour and struggles with irregular scheduling. When he returned to work, his supervisor called him in to talk.
“He told me he had to let me go,” Guzman explained. “He felt like I disrespected him. He felt violated that I signed the petition.”
When Guzman told the organizers what had happened, they explained to him that firing workers for union activity is illegal, and that they’d support him if he wanted to fight back. With the help of City Councilman Brad Lander, after a meeting with the boss, Guzman and one of his other coworkers were reinstated. That cemented his commitment to the union campaign.
Today is the second citywide day of strikes in New York’s fast food industry. On November 29, 2012, some 200 workers at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC, Taco Bell, and Domino’s Pizza locations across multiple boroughs struck in what Jonathan Westin, executive director of NYCC, called “their coming out party.” Before that, Westin explained, the workers had been organizing behind the scenes, keeping their plans quiet. Now, he said, even in the face of intimidation from their bosses, the workers have been able to grow their movement.
“We’ll have double the number of strikers, four or five hundred workers on strike, and double the locations too,” Westin said. “We will have several stores where it will not just be minority strikes like it was last time, we will have the majority of workers at several stores out on strikes, making it hard for them to do business on this day.”
“Wal-Mart Stores Inc is considering a radical plan to have store customers deliver packages to online buyers, a new twist on speedier delivery services that the company hopes will enable it to better compete with Amazon.com Inc. Tapping customers to deliver goods would put the world’s largest retailer squarely in middle of a new phenomenon sometimes known as “crowd-sourcing,” or the “sharing economy.” A plethora of start-ups now help people make money by renting out a spare room, a car, or even a cocktail dress, and Wal-Mart would in effect be inviting people to rent out space in their vehicle and their willingness to deliver packages to others.”—
No, Walmart, it is not the “sharing economy” when the world’s richest company tries to save money by getting customers to deliver packages for it. It’s just getting around paying minimum wage for labor.
“March 22 saw the first forward movement in some time on New York City’s paid sick days bill, which RH Reality Check covered extensively last month. The city council’s Committee on Civil Service and Labor held a hearing on the bill, with plenty of debate and at times heated questioning.”—
“A look at the corporations on the Lean In Foundation’s advisory board also raises some troubling questions. Wal-Mart, for example, is the target of an on-going sex discrimination case, with close to two thousand female employees claiming the company shortchanged them when it came to paychecks and promotions.”—
“And then there’s the way we talk about the problem, which makes it hard to see that the culture of overwork hurts everyone, not just those who can’t hack it. “One of the things that feminism had at core was that it saw these as societal issues that needed to be addressed at a large scale, not at the individual level,” Ken Matos, a researcher at the Work and Families Institute said. “The narrative changed. It became the story of the unique individual who overcomes barriers in spite of all odds. That wasn’t the story that was supposed to be told.””—
“We are pleased to announce that in just a few weeks, Dissent will launch our first podcast, Belabored, with hosts Josh Eidelson and Sarah Jaffe. Josh and Sarah are among the finest labor journalists working today. And we hear they have spectacular banter. Every week, they’ll take listeners behind the scenes of the latest stories in labor journalism. They’ll interview high-profile guests and working people. There will be debates and denouncements. Sarah and Josh have broken major stories in the past year, and on Belabored you’ll hear what didn’t make it into the official accounts.”—
“So why can’t companies find workers? A 2012 survey by Manpower asked firms why they have difficulty hiring and 54 percent said candidates were “looking for more pay than is offered.” As Atlantic writer Barbara Kiviat put it, in response to such surveys, “When firms post job openings at a certain wage and no one comes forward, we call this a skills mismatch. In a different universe, we might call it a pay mismatch.””—
“I’m very grateful to both those guys,” said Mr. Coates, who was inked to a blog deal by The Atlantic soon after the article came out, “but it shows the power of that networking. I couldn’t help notice that it was one well-placed white dude talking to another well-placed white dude to get it published.”—
Another of the (male) writers I deeply respect, Ta-Nehisi Coates, on his first big hit and how it came about. And many other things, including why he turned down a New York Times column.
I find the obsession with “black pundit” rather annoying—Ta-Nehisi Coates is as good a writer on politics as we have, and the fact that many still see him as simply a “black” writer reflects my own annoyance with being seen as a “woman” writer (an editor, in a conversation about what I could write for him, compared me to his publication’s female columnists, when my work is actually much closer to that of some of the men who work there). We need more writers who acknowledge the subjects of race and gender, who consider it and reflect on it. (Indeed one of my favorite pieces of Coates’s is his post about the labor of pregnancy. Do yourself a favor and read it. Twice.) We do not need the entire pundit class anointing one man, good as he is, the conscience of the entire media on race issues.
We need to think about why it takes white dudes talking to well-placed white dudes to get a black man talking about race a place to publish, and we need to talk about why when he writes about every subject under the sun, white people still only see him as writing about race.
Anyway. Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of a handful of writers who impress me as a thinker, a prose stylist, and as being genuinely kind on the page. Honesty and humility combined with a faith in his own work—it shines through in everything he writes.
Been doing a lot of thinking about the value of my own work lately. This helped.
Economist Larry Mishel has found that since 1979 low- and middle-income workers have increased their hours of work much more than the top 5%, yet the biggest wage gains have consistently accrued to the
Top-earning women are the exception to this rule, stepping up work hours by a whopping 81% since 1979, and yet they still work fewer hours than women on average. Given these trends, it is no wonder that even before the recession a growing share of all income growth was being captured by an increasingly exclusive group of wealthy earners.
How do you think it feels to be an autoworker right now? And I’ve spent time with plenty of laidoff paper mill workers, construction workers and miners. They’ve got skills; they’ve got experience. They just don’t have jobs.
So let me be the first to say this to you: Welcome to the American working class.
You won’t get rich, unless of course you develop a sideline in blackmail or bank robbery. You’ll be living some of the problems you report on - the struggle for health insurance, for child care, for affordable housing. You might never have a cleaning lady. In fact, you might be one. I can’t tell you how many writers I know who have moonlighted as cleaning ladies or waitresses. And you know what? They were good writers. And good cleaning ladies too, which is no small thing.
Jeremy Scahill’s comments reminded me of this wonderful Barbara Ehrenreich speech. People who inspire me to do what I do, to care about what I care about, to do the work for its own sake and for that of the people I get to talk to every day.
I’m accountable to them. Not to someone’s idea of whose rich and powerful ass I should be kissing.
“Donald Windham’s incredible life story should serve as an inspiration to aspiring writers and journalists for generations to come. He was living proof that heart, passion and determination can be far more valuable than any formal academic credentials. I have always believed that journalism is a trade, like plumbing or carpentry, and that some of the best journalists never stepped foot in a journalism class. I am deeply honored to be among the first recipients of the Windham Campbell Prize and am very grateful to the fiercely independent man who made it possible.”—
Jeremy Scahill, one of the people who helped me get my start, someone I’m proud to call a friend, won a $150,000 literary prize from Yale, and managed to make his thank-you a deeply honest statement about journalism as a working-class job.
Here’s to Jeremy and to all the working journalists in his tradition.
“Consequently, it is now necessary for advocates of feminism to collectively acknowledge that our struggle cannot be defined as a movement to gain social equality with men, that terms like “liberal feminist” and “bourgeois feminist” represent contradictions that must be resolved so that feminism will not be continually co-opted to serve the opportunistic ends of special-interest groups.”—
bell hooks, “Feminism: A Movement to End Sexist Oppression” in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center.
“If improving conditions in the workplace for women had been a central agenda for feminist movement in conjunction with efforts to obtain better-paying jobs for women and finding jobs for unemployed women of all classes, feminism would have been seen as a movement addressing the concerns of all women. Feminist focus on careerism, getting women employed in high-paying professions, not only alienated masses of women from feminist movement; it also allowed feminist activists to ignore the fact that increased entry of bourgeois women into the work force was not a sign that women as a group were gaining economic power.”—bell hooks, “Rethinking the Nature of Work” in Feminist Theory From Margin To Center. Relevant.
“There was this additional, fraught context that someone didn’t take into consideration and probably couldn’t take into consideration because they are oblivious. They are oblivious to the context because they’ve never been around people who are familiar with it, because they’ve never been held accountable. People often fail to understand the importance of diversity. They assume it’s all about quotas and political correction but it is about so much more. Diversity (and we’re talking race, class, gender, sexuality, political affiliation, religion, all of it) is about putting multiple points of view into a conversation. It’s about ensuring that no one is operating in the kind of cultural vacuum where they don’t stop to consider context. It’s why certain people and shows and publications keep running into the same brick wall of public outcry about diversity—because these people consistently demonstrate a callous and willful ignorance of context. They see these lines that shouldn’t be crossed and cross them anyway because they are blissfully unencumbered by context.”—
“As the figure shows, if the minimum wage had kept pace with average wages—i.e., if minimum wage workers saw their paychecks expand at the same rate as the average worker—it would be about $10.50 today. If the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity[i]—i.e., the economy’s overall capacity to generate income— it would be almost $18.75 today. Finally, imagine if workers at the very bottom were seeing the same kind of raises as workers at the very top. If the minimum wage had gone up at the same rate as wages for the top 1 percent, it would be over $28 per hour.[ii]”—
“But many lower-profile migrants have virtually no voice on the Hill. Undocumented women laboring as domestic workers in private homes, or day laborers and dishwashers paid under the table, are no less in need of relief. But under the proposals in play, they can only hope for a more limited legalization process, which might impose deep financial penalties and drag on for years (some estimates suggest up to several million could be disqualified by barriers such as minor past convictions or English-language requirements). Moreover, it’s unclear how far “comprehensive” reforms would go toward ensuring enforcement of labor protections for all—citizen and non, with or without papers—which labor activists see as a crucial step toward building a truly fair, inclusive workforce.”—
Today the main barriers to further progress toward gender equity no longer lie in people’s personal attitudes and relationships. Instead, structural impediments prevent people from acting on their egalitarian values, forcing men and women into personal accommodations and rationalizations that do not reflect their preferences. The gender revolution is not in a stall. It has hit a wall.
In today’s political climate, it’s startling to remember that 80 years ago, in 1933, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to establish a 30-hour workweek. The bill failed in the House, but five years later the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 gave Americans a statutory 40-hour workweek. By the 1960s, American workers spent less time on the job than their counterparts in Europe and Japan.
“Saying a federal push has made his own efforts to raise the minimum wage in New York more “complex,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested Sunday he might drop language increasing the minimum wage to $8.75 from his budget proposal to allow for further negotiation.”—
And here it comes. Cuomo’s got the excuse he wanted not to have to raise the minimum wage after all: Obama’s call for a federal minimum wage hike of $9/hour and indexed to inflation.
We all saw it coming—as Blake Zeff wrote, Cuomo has a history of pushing progressive social issues like marriage equality, that don’t “upend the economic status quo.” Thus his recent loud push for the Reproductive Health Act, as featured in the New York Times this weekend and as I reported on in-depth for RH Reality Check, fits perfectly into this framework.
Raising the wage, of course, does not.
If he can drop the minimum wage hike from his budget proposal, he’ll please his big-money donors and he can claim that because Obama’s plan is better than the one he was proposing ($9 an hour plus inflation as opposed to $8.75) he’s actually still progressive.
Never mind that getting a $9 an hour indexed minimum wage through this Congress is about as likely as a Tupac/Biggie Smalls joint tour.
There’s absolutely no reason for Cuomo not to push a minimum wage hike in New York; it’s the most expensive state in the country and it’s full of low-wage workers who would see a real material benefit in their lives from even a dollar an hour more.
The Times-Union also points out, “State law gives the governor a strong hand in negotiations by limiting changes legislators can make to budget bills; if Cuomo left language in, he could essentially dare legislators to pass it into law along with the rest of the budget or shut down state government if they refuse.”
So this is in Cuomo’s hands once again. A group of state legislators is calling for the state to embrace Obama’s proposal and make it law here first, where the cost of living is much higher than most other states. The governor could make this state a leader not just on marriage or abortion rights, but on economic justice too.
We’ll see if he wants to. I’m betting the answer is no.
“Raising the minimum wage benefits more than just low-wage workers. When people make more money, they spend more money and businesses benefit. The Economic Policy Institute estimated that raising the minimum wage to $9.80 would actually create jobs because more people could spend more money. Low-wage workers are more likely than any other income group to immediately spend any extra income on previously unaffordable basic needs or services. The increase in consumer spending increases demand, which in turn, results in new hiring. On top of the economic benefits, raising the minimum wage has strong public support. A recent poll found that 73 percent support raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour in 2014 and indexing it to inflation—both a higher wage and a shorter time line than the President’s proposal. Another poll found that 78 percent of the general public believes the minimum wage should be high enough so that no family with a full-time worker falls below the official poverty line. So, if it’s good for the economy and it has strong public support, why is raising the minimum wage such an uphill fight? Because wealthy and corporate interests would rather keep the wage low. In contrast to the broader public, only 40 percent of the wealthy support a minimum wage high enough to keep families out of poverty. When the minimum wage was last raised in 2007, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which strongly opposes raising the minimum wage, spent $53 million on lobbying. In short, raising the minimum wage is not a priority for wealthy and corporate interests, and as a result, it is not a priority for Congress.”—
Mijin Cha makes a great point here that people who follow me are probably already aware of. But looking at it laid out like this raises the question: if raising the minimum wage would actually increase spending and demand, why are business groups so dead-set against it?
Ideology is a helluva drug. The anger at the (working) poor that comes out whenever I write about the minimum wage or the people who are paid it never ceases to surprise me. I get less hate tweets for writing about abortion.
To reiterate: $9 an hour is still too low, particularly for workers where I live in New York. (Gov. Cuomo is calling for a state minimum of $9.80*; currently New York is at the federal minimum.) But a raise of $1.75 an hour would still make a difference in the lives of people like Naquasia LeGrand, who told me she’d gotten her first raise in a year and five months after striking her job at KFC—a whole twenty cents an hour.
*Edited: Cuomo is actually calling for $8.75 and as I noted later, is actually backing away from that even as state lawmakers call for New York to pass an increase that matches Obama’s proposal.