Labor History: A Key to Making Bad Jobs Better

By Rebecca Lurie

This summer, the Pinkerton Foundation released a new paper called “Make Bad Jobs Better: Forging a “Better Jobs” Strategy,” by Steven L. Dawson. Dawson argues that the tightening labor market and improving economy offer new opportunities for organizers, educators and workers to bargain harder and “make bad jobs better.” Here, Rebecca Lurie, Program Director for the Community and Worker Ownership Project at the Murphy Institute, responds:

This Pinkerton Paper sings my song! Words like dignity, agency, organizing, self-worth, stability, respect are music to my ears. When workforce development can build pathways to this we do much more than create one job placement at a time. We contribute to the work of building a more just society, rooted in self-actualization and empowerment. Continue reading Labor History: A Key to Making Bad Jobs Better

New Labor Forum Highlights: July 11th, 2016

The New Labor Forum has launched a bi-weekly newsletter on current topics in labor, curated by the some of the most insightful scholars and activists in the labor world today. Check out some highlights from the latest edition below.

The 2016 election season has simmered with both an inchoate and occasionally crystal clear sense that there is something intrinsically wrong with the U.S. political economy. Despite macroeconomic indicators of post Great Recession recovery, the 99 percent remains strangled by low and flat-lined wages, increasingly precarious work, mountains of personal debt, and political disenfranchisement. The resulting anger and distress, of course, can sometimes lead to constructive possibilities.

This issue of Highlights considers the transformational potential of the present moment. We begin with a proposal for large-scale organizing aimed at asserting control over wealth and capital in the interest of poor and working-class people. In “Organizing in a Brave New World,” Stephen Lerner and Saqib Bhatti make an argument for bold campaigns that confront financialized capitalism head-on and address the racial disparities at its core.

We also take a look at a new report by Tom Liacas and Jason Mogus, “Behind Today’s Breakthrough Advocacy Campaigns.” It’s a clear and helpful guide to some of the newest and best organizing taking place today by groups that aren’t following the usual scripts, including Black Lives Matter and the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Last but not least, we include a fresh article from John Nichols about the ongoing struggle over the Democratic Party Platform. That struggle — which peaked this past weekend in Orlando — represents a fascinating window into the divide between movement activists and electoral campaigners.


  1. Organizing in a Brave New World by Stephen Lerner and Saqib Bhatti
  2. Behind Today’s Breakthrough Advocacy Campaigns by Tom Liacas & Jason Mogus, Stanford Social Innovation Review
  3. Democrats Toughen Trade Stance—but Reject Formal Opposition to the TPP by John Nichols

Photo by Tony Website via flickr (CC-BY-SA)

Dial-an-Organizer: Using Storytelling and Emotion to Build Movements

By Kressent Pottenger

Imagine: you call a hotline to complain about how you were fired for being pregnant or harassed by your manager. On the other end, an operator gives you advice on organizing and labor law.

It sounds unlikely today, but in the 1970s, a group of women clerical workers, frustrated with their treatment, developed and achieved success with these non-traditional methods of organizing.

Migrating from the unpaid labor of the home to wage labor in the office, women workers needed a safe way to confide the humiliations and degradation they were experiencing in their offices. The working women’s group 9to5 therefore developed the “9to5 Job Survival Hotline,” which functioned much like hotlines for domestic abuse or suicide. This private hotline allowed women workers to call, anonymously, describe their grievances in what was at times embarrassing detail, and determine how to push back. 9to5 thereby created a safe space via phone for women workers to call and speak about what they endured on the job, and learn what course of action to take next. Continue reading Dial-an-Organizer: Using Storytelling and Emotion to Build Movements

Who Needs Debt Forgiveness?

Ah, student debt. 43.3 million Americans have it. And Hillary Clinton feels our pain.

As part of her latest platform proposal, the Initiative on Technology & Innovation, Clinton is proposing that a small subset of the currently-afflicted be eligible for some forgiveness, to the tune of $17,500. Sounds like a step in the right direction, at first blush.

Unfortunately, this newly-eligible will subset will consist solely of the young “innovators who start social enterprises or new businesses in distressed communities.”

There’s much to laud in Clinton’s new proposal, including access to debt-free college and employee profit-sharing. But, debt relief for entrepreneurs seems tone deaf at best, trending toward a neoliberal approach to systemic class inequality: liberate the job creators, for they will save us all. Continue reading Who Needs Debt Forgiveness?

Undesigning the Redline

In recent years, “gentrification” has infiltrated the everyday speech of urban residents struggling to stay in their communities in the face of rising rents. But gentrification is only one piece of a much longer history of displacement and policy-produced poverty in American cities. This history runs from slavery through Jim Crow, redlining, racial covenants, blockbusting, urban renewal, capital flights, planned shrinkage, the war on drugs, mass incarceration and serial displacement, and weaves a painful narrative of structural racism whose practices and consequences remain alive today.

In “Undesign the Redline,” designing the WE — a “social impact design studio” — illustrates this history in illuminating and sometimes painful detail. Currently on exhibit at the New York City offices of Enterprise Community Partners, this exhibit includes photography, maps, timelines and tools for community engagement, and puts present struggles for racial equality in historical perspective. Using housing policy as an anchor, Undesign the Redline makes it clear that segregation and persistent poverty are the natural outgrowth of a system that has explicitly divided people based on race. Continue reading Undesigning the Redline

New Labor Forum Highlights: June 27th, 2016

The New Labor Forum has launched a bi-weekly newsletter on current topics in labor, curated by the some of the most insightful scholars and activists in the labor world today. Check out some highlights from the latest edition below.

With this newsletter, we offer commentary and labor news on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster musical, Hamilton. Haven’t seen it? Odds are most of you haven’t, but that won’t stop anyone from having an opinion of Miranda’s lyrical prowess and its ‘true’ political meaning. We’ll begin with a clip of Miranda performing Hamilton Mixtape at the White House back in 2009, when the show was still being written.

Donatella Galella and James McMaster both offer critiques that capture a central dilemma: while Hamilton exalts the working-class origins and anti-slavery sympathies of its central character, it also elides Hamilton’s anti-democratic views and Wall Street founding role and furthers the immigration myth of a lone hero overcoming all odds by his exceptionalism and hard work. It was recently announced that the cast of Hamilton will host a special show for the Clinton campaign, as part of a commitment to fighting Republican nominee Donald Trump. It’s ironic, since Trump could likely stand behind most of the political messages present in the musical. Since we thought it would be of particular interest to our subscribers, we’re also including an article from the New York Times by Michael Paulson about recent labor negotiations between the show’s producers and the cast over profit sharing.

Finally, we include a review by Sherry Linkon of two recent plays with working-class characters and conflict at their center: Lynn Nottage’s Sweat and Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew Both plays depict‘tenuousness of solidarity, the persistence of divisions around race and class, and the injuries of economic insecurity’, and serve as a reminder that workers and their experiences matter.


  1. Video: Lin-Manuel Miranda Performs at the White House Poetry Jam
  2. Racializing the American Revolution Review of the Broadway Musical Hamilton/ Donatella Galella
  3. Why Hamilton is Not the Revolution You Think it is/ James McMaster
  4. ‘Hamilton’ Producers and Actors Reach Deal on Sharing Profits/ Michael Paulson, NYT
  5. Review of 2 plays: Lynn Nottage’s Sweat and Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew/ Sherry Linkon

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik via flickr (CC-BY-NC-SA)

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