Category Archives: Labor Studies

Newark Students Sit-In to Protest Charter Schools

Dr. Stephen Brier is part of the Consortial Faculty at The Murphy Institute

The current political struggle over charter schools has often pitted poor parents and students of color against teacher unions. That division has a long and bitter history that can be traced back almost half a century to the divisive 10-week long strike in fall 1968 by the United Federation of Teachers against local community control efforts to improve the New York City public schools. That epochal struggle profoundly changed the city’s racial and ethnic politics. And over the past four decades the relationship between teachers unions and communities of color has frequently been marked by sharp disagreements and sometimes open battles about the best ways to improve the public schools.

The recent charter school movement has sought to take advantage of this breech between communities of color and the labor movement, using smart tactics and a lot of hedge fund and private capital funding to develop charter schools that use public money and public spaces for private gain, all under the guise of improving education by giving parents “school choice.” The charter school movement has been able to drive a wedge that keeps the forces fighting for vital educational transformation at odds with unionized teachers and their leaders.

But in Newark, New Jersey, students recently decided to take a forceful stand on this issue. They inserted themselves directly into the charter school struggle, staging a dramatic sit-in last week against the school superintendent, Cami Anderson, because of her uncritical support for charter schools in their city. When Anderson attempted to address a Newark school board meeting last week in support of expansion of charter schools, she was confronted by Newark Student Union President Kristin Towkaniuk, who shouted “We will not move until we have justice.” It’s important to remember that the Newark public schools received a huge $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2010, funds that were earmarked for expanding “school choice” in the troubled city. Newark students are telling Zuckerberg, Anderson and other charter school supporters loud and clear that charter schools are not the answer to the systemic problems with the city’s public school system.
Photo by Paul Sableman via flickr (CC-BY).

South Asian Contract Workers at NYU’s Abu Dhabi Campus Exploited

Dr. Stephen Brier is part of the Consortial Faculty at The Murphy Institute

As if we needed yet another indication that New York University (NYU) exploits its employees (while also blatantly disregarding the needs and desires of its downtown neighbors), The New York Times reports on the deplorable conditions experienced by South Asian contract workers who were brought to build NYU’s glittering monument to its own hubris, the Abu Dhabi campus of the college in the United Arab Emirates. Being forced to pay labor recruiters as much as a year’s wages in order to gain the privilege of working 6 or 7 days a week, 12 hours a day (much like indentured servants in the 17th and 18th centuries), and to live in numbered “labor camps,” which are little more than prisons, led many contract workers to go out on strike for better wages and working conditions. Their efforts were met by stark repression by the Abu Dhabi government. Five years ago, NYU offered a fig-leaf when these conditions in Abu Dhabi were first revealed, claiming it had issued a “Statement of Labor Values,” which turns out not to be worth the paper it was printed on.

This system is a perfect example of who pays the price for academic and cultural globalization and exploitation, a system that NYU and its tin-eared leader, John Sexton, have proudly perfected over the past decade. If you are interested in learning more about conditions in Abu Dhabi, check out this online article by NYU journalism student Kristina Bogos, who visited one of the UAE labor camps.

Updated: 5/20 at 3:30 PM

Responding to the May 19 article in the New York Times, NYU offered “our apologies” to exploited Abu Dhabi contract workers, as reported in a follow-up article in the Times. The Times piece ends with a quotation from Ramkumar Rai, a Nepali immigrant who worked on the Abu Dhabi project who is still waiting for his final six months of pay 16 months after he left the UAE: “When will the money? If the money comes it will be O.K.”

Photo by Nick & Mindy Martin via flickr (CC-BY-NC).

A Great Place for News about NYC Unions and Working People

Dr. Stephen Brier is part of the Consortial Faculty at The Murphy Institute

The Labor Press is a regular, trustworthy source of news about NYC unions and working people’s struggles in the city and beyond. You can subscribe to it via email, which arrives weekly, and it’s a must read for anyone interested in workers’ battles for a fairer and more equitable world.

Two articles in the current issues are especially worthy of attention, focusing on the efforts to organize low-wage workers in the city:

  • A report on the challenge by a Haitian immigrant, Pierre Metivier, who works in the fast food industry, to Andrew Cuomo to switch paychecks for a day so the governor can know what it’s like to live in NYC on a hourly wage of $8.
  • A victory by “carwasheros,” who won a contract and a wage increase after three strikes at the Off Broadway Car Wash in Queens, the seventh victory in the campaign to improve the working conditions and pay of car wash workers.

Check out these and other reports and articles at http://www.laborpress.org/  .

Precarious Solidarity – Labor and The Environmental Movement

This post was written by Penny Lewis, an Assistant Professor of Labor Studies at The Murphy Institute

For the second time in two weeks the New York Times has devoted its lead news story to reports about our unfolding environmental cataclysm.  Last week’s lead brought home the fact that climate change is happening now, covering reports that track contemporary shifts in temperature and rainfall across the United States.  Yesterday’s story, far removed from our borders, is even more disturbing: the western ice sheet of Antarctica is fatally compromised, and the oceans will rise at least 4 feet this century from this alone. Quite possibly they will rise much more, and most certainly much more – 10-12 feet – in the following period.

If you’re like me, you read these stories with a churning set of feelings: powerlessness, frustration that approaches rage, a sense of profound loss. And you might also find yourself revisiting the same question: how can we engage this central problem of our time?

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Catherwood Library Takes on the Books that Shaped Work in America

The following post was co-authored by Aliqae Geraci, a Murphy Institute Labor Studies Masters Alum and now a research librarian at the Martin P. Catherwood Library, part of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University; and Jessica Withers, a library communications and development assistant. The articled was originally posted on the U.S. Department of Labor Blog. 

As staff of Catherwood Library, one of the few dedicated labor relations libraries in U.S., we are always looking out for innovative ways to join and facilitate conversations about work and labor. As avid readers of the Labor Department’s blog and newsletter, we were thrilled to learn about the list of Books that Shaped Work in America − an initiative of the department and the Library of Congress Center for the Book − and knew immediately that we wanted to be part of the project. It was a moment for us to reiterate our commitment to collecting and preserving the literature and research of labor and the workplace. Our main reading room display was the perfect setting to showcase many books on the list during the spring 2014 semester. Jessica Withers designed the display, creating placards echoing the design of the Books that Shaped Work in America initiative and pulling content from our collection of over 200,000 items. Catherwood owns about half the 100 titles originally selected for the list, and many more are scattered across the numerous libraries at Cornell University. We were able to show the depth and breadth of Catherwood holdings, including a 1974 first edition of Studs Terkel’s “Working” and the graphic adaptation illustrated by Harvey Pekar.

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