Category Archives: Labor Studies

Debating the Merits of a Job Guarantee

By Steven Attewell

This Labor Day, many people no doubt gave thanks for the low unemployment rate (while perhaps bemoaning wages that aren’t keeping up with inflation). Yet at the same time, at many Democratic Party Labor Day BBQs, presidential candidates and other elected and activists touted proposals for a job guarantee to ensure full employment.

What explains this seeming contradiction? Part of it is that low unemployment doesn’t seem to be resulting in the wage gains that it used to. Part of it is that progressives want to be prepared for the next recession, so that we don’t have to wait years and years for full recovery. Part of it is that progressives want some way to appeal to working class white voters without throwing people of color under the bus.

This sudden flood of proposals on job guarantees has provoked a lively discussion on the merits of these proposals. One of the common refrains in this debate is a skepticism about whether the Federal government could employ so many people so soon. Continue reading Debating the Merits of a Job Guarantee

Labor Notes Shares Vision for Organizing in Post-Janus America

Since the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME declared required agency fees for public sector unions unconstitutional, many in the labor world and media are scrambling to ask the question: Can labor unions bounce back after Janus?

According to Labor Notes, the answer is yes — but it will require thought and a plan. The publication just released “Rebuilding Power in Open-Shop America,” offering historical context, a diagnostic tool and a prescription for how workers and their unions can remain strong and regain and rebuild power.

Check it out.

Millennials and the Labor Movement that Refuses to Die

This post was originally featured at Mobilizing Ideas.

By Ruth Milkman

Two years ago I focused my ASA Presidential address on social movements led by Millennials, building on Karl Mannheim’s classic treatise on “The Problem of Generations.”  As the first generation of “digital natives,” and the one most directly impacted by the economic precarity that emerged from the neoliberal transformation of the labor market, the Millennial generation has a distinctive life experience and worldview.  Disappointed by the false promises of racial and gender equality, and faced with skyrocketing growth in class inequality, Millennial activists embrace an explicitly intersectional political agenda.  This generation is  the most highly educated one in U.S. history, and indeed it is college-educated Millennials who have been most extensively galvanized into political activism.  My address documented their role as the dominant demographic in four high-profile 21st-century social movements:  Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, the “Dreamers” and the campus-based activism around sexual assault (which later helped spark the multi-generational “Me Too” movement).

When I researched and wrote that piece, there was little evidence of a significant Millennial presence in the organized labor movement.  In fact, young workers have  been underrepresented among labor union members for decades, in part because of the scarcity of new union organizing efforts.  But now that may be changing.  In 2017, over three-quarters of the increase in union membership was accounted for by workers under 35 years old, as a recent Economic Policy Institute post noted. (The total number of U.S. union members in 2017 rose by about 262,ooo over the previous year, although the unionization rate was unchanged.)  In addition, survey data show that Millennials express far more pro-union attitudes than their baby boomer counterparts do. Continue reading Millennials and the Labor Movement that Refuses to Die

New Labor Forum Highlights, June 25th, 2018

The New Labor Forum has 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 future of public sector unions in the U.S. hangs in the balance, awaiting the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision due this week, even as soon as tomorrow. This case will decide whether public sector workers in a workplace represented by a union and benefiting from a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by that union will have to continue paying an “agency fee” to the union for the work it does on their behalf. With a public sector unionization rate five times that of the private sector rate, the expected ruling against the American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees threatens to undermine what has been a redoubt of union strength, heightening the need for bold new ideas to rebuild the labor movement.  That is what we offer here.

We begin with a provocative think-piece (due out in our September 2018 print issue) by Larry Cohen, Board Chair of Our Revolution, the successor organization to Bernie 2016, and past President of the Communications Workers of America. Cohen argues that the future of enterprise-based collective bargaining in the U.S. is bleak, and that now’s the time to move to a sectoral bargaining system, which protects industry-wide wages and conditions of employment for workers in many other countries, from South Africa to Norway. He discusses why organized labor and progressive democrats should make universal, sectoral bargaining a top demand and why it will make other victories possible.

Next we offer a strategic proposal by Luke Elliott-Negri and Marc Kagan for what may be a new opportunity to organize the tens of thousands of public sector adjuncts in New York State in the post Janus environment. This chance for organizing results from a recent law unions managed to pass in New York, intending to blunt the expected blow of the Janus decision. Unions in states like California have made similar legislative inroads that may also offer similar promising options for organizing.

Chris Brooks weighs in on the question of whether unionists should press for a “members only” brand of unionism made more likely in the wake of the anticipated Janus decision. Examining a 2011 Tennessee law targeting teachers’ unions, Brooks cautions against embracing “members only” trade unionism and the resulting competition among unions that may vie to represent workers in the same bargaining unit. He argues that inter-union competition, which has long been promoted by strategists on the right and some on the left, more often benefits employers than workers.

With this newsletter, we take a hiatus for the summer season, returning on Labor Day. In parting, we leave you with a wildly imaginative, searing poem by Alberto Rios, Arizona’s first state poet laureate. In it, he contemplates the very nature of a border, giving us all something to ponder as we respond to the fact of the thousands of children at our border, incarcerated and separated from their parents into the unknowable future.


Table of Contents

  1. The Time Has Come for Sectoral Bargaining/ Larry Cohen, New Labor Forum
  2. An Odd Twist: Might a Response to Janus Make Adjunct Organizing Easier in New York State?/ Luke Elliott-Negri and Marc Kagan, New Labor Forum
  3. The Cure is Worse than the Disease/ Chris Brooks, New Labor Forum
  4. The Border a Double Sonnet/ Alberto Rios, New Labor Forum

Photo by Richard Gillin via flickr (CC-BY-SA)

Congratulations to Spring 2018 Graduates!

On May 30th, the Murphy Institute hosted our spring graduation party.

The event was emcee’d by Diana Robinson, who graduated with an MA in Labor Studies, and Racquel Barnes, who graduated with an MA in Urban Studies. Thanks also to MA in Labor Studies graduate, and new father, James Van Nort for his stirring speech.

Some photos from the event are below.  A big congratulations to our graduating class of 2018!

Photos by Aaron Lenchner

And congrats to our graduates who attended the CUNY School of Professional Studies commencement ceremony at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall on Friday June 1st. Some photos of our grads are among those posted on the SPS Facebook page.

Video: The Future of Capitalism and the Future of Work

On May 4th, the Murphy Institute hosted a daylong conference to explore the ways in which structural changes in the labor market, skyrocketing inequality, and rapid technological innovation have sparked renewed debate and speculation about the future of capitalism and the future of work itself. Featuring leading scholars, journalists and activists’ perspectives on these issues, the day engaged three key debates:

  1. The impact of technological innovation, especially robots and artificial intelligence, on workers and on the labor market
  2. The vast increase in capacity for surveillance and data collection by high-tech firms and its implications for daily life as well as for the workplace
  3. The impact of the ecological crisis and the political failure to address it for the future of capitalism and the future of work.

Check out all three conversations below!

Part I:

Part II:

Part III: