Guillotine #6: For Love or Money

"We talk a lot about the need for a politics of pleasure, and once again I’m talking not just sexual pleasure but all sorts of pleasures. To be able to say that not only should people not worry about starving to death but that they should be able to eat healthy, fresh, good food that they like. And I think it’s important to point out that this is not greed, that the myth of the greedy poor person is a distraction from the real greed, the systemic greed that’s embedded in policy. This is our right to live lives that are enjoyable, not just to pursue happiness or whatever the damn cliché is."

Melissa Gira Grant and I spend a lot of time talking to each other about politics, power, sex, labor, money, and love. Now we’ve put that conversation into chapbook form, brought to you by the fabulous Sarah McCarry and Guillotine press.

Preorder the special edition, with a limited-edition broadside designed by Bryan Reedy and letterpress printed by Sarah McCarry, here.

Posted at 11:08am and tagged with: labor, me me me me,.

Guillotine #6: For Love or Money

"We talk a lot about the need for a politics of pleasure, and once again I’m talking not just sexual pleasure but all sorts of pleasures. To be able to say that not only should people not worry about starving to death but that they should be able to eat healthy, fresh, good food that they like. And I think it’s important to point out that this is not greed, that the myth of the greedy poor person is a distraction from the real greed, the systemic greed that’s embedded in policy. This is our right to live lives that are enjoyable, not just to pursue happiness or whatever the damn cliché is."

Melissa Gira Grant and I spend a lot of time talking to each other about politics, power, sex, labor, money, and love. Now we’ve put that conversation into chapbook form, brought to you by the fabulous Sarah McCarry and Guillotine press.

Preorder the special edition, with a limited-edition broadside designed by Bryan Reedy and letterpress printed by Sarah McCarry, here.
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.

Taking the Caring Out of Teaching - In These Times

My latest, on New York’s new standardized testing regime.

Posted at 9:37am and tagged with: labor, classwar, teachers, testing,.

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.”

The audio for our panel at the Left Forum is available now! 

Posted at 11:46am and tagged with: labor, feminism,.

Bad Green Jobs - In These Times

As New York’s CitiBike program launches, the company that runs to program is accused of wage theft by its Washington, D.C. workers. 

Posted at 12:59pm and tagged with: labor, classwar, bicycles, bikes, nyc, newyork, greenjobs, jobs, wage theft, longreads,.

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 Coalition of Immokalee Workers (I’ve covered their work before, here) hit NYC on Saturday ahead of Wendy’s shareholder meeting to protest the fast food chain’s refusal to sign their fair food agreement. The agreement requires that companies pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes purchased, to be paid back to the workers. It’s certainly not enough to lift them out of poverty, but it helps. 

The CIW’s actions are always raucous, joyful and full of music and great art. This one was no exception. Check it: 

Posted at 12:48pm and tagged with: labor, classwar, food, new york,.

Sharecropping on Wheels - Working In These Times

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. 

Posted at 5:01pm and tagged with: labor, savannah, south, ports,.

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?”

Unions to Banks: Pay Up

When politicians won’t lead and instead blame public workers for state budget troubles, what do we do? 

OK, it doesn’t make a great chant, but it does make an interesting story. 

Posted at 4:31pm and tagged with: unions, labor, banks, classwar,.

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.

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.

A Day Without Care | Jacobin

Working time, care work, gender, and strikes. 

Posted at 7:21pm and tagged with: classwar, labor, feminism, longreads,.

“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.