Category Archives: New Labor Forum

New Labor Forum

New Labor Forum is a national labor journal from the Murphy Institute and the City University of New York. Published three times a year, New Labor Forum provides a place for labor and its allies to test and debate new ideas. Issues we explore include (but are not limited to): the global economy’s impact on work and labor; new union organizing and political strategies; labor’s new constituencies and their relationship to organized labor’s traditional institutions; internal union reform and new structural models for the labor movement; alternative economic and social policies; and the role of culture in a new, revitalized labor movement. Read the latest issue or subscribe to New Labor Forum.

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)

New Labor Forum Highlights: June 11th, 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.

In this newsletter, we turn our attention to the suburbs. And for good reason, since that’s where slightly over half of U.S. residents currently live. You may have noticed that today’s suburban dwellers increasingly don’t conform to the mythic image of the suburbanite. By 2013, 61 percent of all immigrants to the U.S. lived in the suburbs, and that percentage continues to increase. And, rather than the prized destination of prolonged efforts to escape urban ghettos, many of these suburbs are where immigrants settle upon arrival. Partly as a result of these trends, the last census showed suburban poverty to have grown at more than twice the rate of urban poverty.

In the current issue of New Labor Forum, Phil Neel describes this new suburban landscape: where once there were only bedrooms and commuter trains, now there are factories, warehouses, distribution centers, and sometimes blasted waste-lands lacking many of the essential services, like child care and public transportation, more common to cities.  He argues that one need look no further than Ferguson, Missouri for evidence that conditions now prevalent in suburbs will contain new challenges, as well as new possibilities, to spur movements for social and economic justice. For all of these reasons, anyone interested in the nation’s social and political future would do well to study suburbia. Toward that end, we also offer a recent report on the challenges of suburban poverty by Margaret Weir, as well as a review of Lorrie Frasure-Yokely’s Racial and Ethnic Politics in American Suburbs, the 2016 winner of two national book awards.

Table of Contents

  1. The New Geography of Suburbia/ Phil A. Neel, New Labor Forum
  2. The Rising Challenge of Poverty in the Suburbs/ Margaret Weir, Scholars Strategy Network
  3. The Changing Face of the U.S. Suburbs/ Josh Fox, Harris Public Policy- The University of Chicago

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski via flickr (CC-BY-SA)

New Labor Forum Highlights: May 28th, 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.

Corporate America has always played a weighty, often determining role in our political life.  And toward the turn of the twenty-first century corporate influence in our politics began to take on a new form.  Nowadays, we’ve grown accustomed to the sight of business tycoons, lacking a scintilla of political experience, offering themselves up as “public servants” and for the highest offices.  And they do so brashly, suggesting that it’s precisely their lives as entrepreneurial autocrats commanding their own business empires that makes them best qualified to set things right in the political arena.

Here, we offer three considerations of this phenomenon. In the May 2018 issue of New Labor Forum, Lily Geismer explores how this peculiarity of the business mogul as political leader came to be and why it is such an authoritarian threat to democracy. And New Labor Forum Editor-at-Large Steve Fraser examines the emergence of the business mogul as both policy maker — in the form of the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Bill Gates, and the Walton family, to name a few — and as elected official, with our 45th President as only the most flagrant example. We also offer a review essay by Andrew Elrod of two recent books by Gordon Lafer and Nancy MacLean exploring the wildly successful work of corporate chieftains to propose and pass legislation of their liking.

Table of Contents

  1. Napoleons in Pinstripes: The Rise of the Business Mogul as Politician/ Lily Geismer, New Labor Forum
  2. Playing God/ Steve Fraser, TomDispatch.com
  3. Book Review: Property Supremacy/ Andrew Elrod, New Labor Forum

Photo by UN Geneva via flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND)

New Labor Forum Highlights: May 14th, 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 May 2018 issue of New Labor Forum is out. On the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, the journal features an article by Reuel Schiller measuring the magnitude of King’s loss in relation to the dissolution of the Poor People’s Movement he helped birth and the subsequent suspension in large-scale, multiracial organizing for economic justice.

Today may mark the beginning of the end of that long hiatus. As we send this newsletter off, The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, launches a nation-wide event including nonviolent moral direct actions in over 30 state capitals, and a series of similar actions that will take place over the next 40 days. This follows two years of meetings in communities throughout the country which led to a report, entitled “The Souls of Poor Folk: Auditing America 50 Years After the Poor People’s Campaign Challenged Racism, Poverty, the War Economy/Militarism and Our National Morality.” Those conversations in turn resulted in a Declaration of Fundamental Rights and Poor People’s Moral Agenda. We include here a profile of the campaign’s co-founder, the Reverend William Barber, by Jelani Cobb in the current issue of The New Yorker, as well as a report on the campaign that ran over NPR earlier this morning.

As the Poor People’s Campaign seeks to end the poverty that plagues approximately 40 million Americans, we would all do well to reassess the War on Poverty, declared by President Lyndon Johnson four years before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.  In a 2014 article for New Labor Forum, Frances Fox Piven argues that, contrary to accepted wisdom, that the War on Poverty was a largely victorious engagement which mobilized pressure from below reinforced by the Democratic Party’s need to shore up its dwindling political reach in the North, producing a measurable reduction in poverty over the next twenty years. Yet now, Piven notes, not only is poverty back, but the faces of poverty have changed. The most telling difference is that, when Michael Harrington wrote The Other America and Lyndon Johnson took up arms, poverty was thought to afflict people cut off from employment in the mainstream economy, like older people no longer working or those living in Appalachia or the country’s urban ghettos.  Today poverty has become, as it once was back in the 19th century, a function of exploitation at work (not mostly exclusion from work) so that somewhere between 30 and 40 million people make up what we call “the working poor.” And it is this changed nature of poverty that the new Poor People’s Campaign explicitly intends to address.

Table of Contents

  1. Mourning King: The Civil Rights Movement and the Fight for Economic Justice/ Reuel Schiller, New Labor Forum
  2. William Barber Takes on Poverty and Race in the Age of Trump/ Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker
  3. 50 Years Later, Reviving King’s Poor People’s Campaign/ Brakkton Booker, NPR Radio
  4. The Changing Faces of Poverty and Inequality: How We Once Came to Fight a War on Poverty/ Frances Fox Piven,  New Labor Forum
  5. The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival Portfolio/ JustSeeds Artists’ Cooperative
  6. Scholarship for Diversity in Labor Awards & Reception/ Joseph S. Murphy Institute

Photo credit: Department of the Interior. National Park Service(II). Region VI, National Capital Region. (1916 – 1933), Photographer – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (Public Domain)

New Labor Forum Highlights: April 30th, 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 wildly successful teachers’ strike in West Virginia earlier this spring has not only inspired walkouts in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado and Arizona, but has managed to turn the tide in the all-important realm of public opinion.  According to a recent survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, a full 78 percent of Americans believe that teachers are underpaid. And remarkably, slightly more than half approve of teachers’ strikes to defend public education and protest low pay. Given the fact that members of teachers’ unions currently represent fully a quarter of all union members nationwide, this growing support for teachers holds extra importance.

Here, we offer a piece by New Labor Forum Editor-at-Large Steve Fraser, who examines the conditions that have caused red state teachers to shed the respectability and ambiguity of middle-class status to wage a working-class rebellion. And in a piece written for today’s newsletter, Chris Brooks suggests what teachers’ unions will have to do to keep up with a movement spurred by the rank-and-file, in defense not just of themselves, but also of the children and communities they serve. We also include an op-ed by Paul Krugman, who reveals how the tax cutting protocol of right-wing state governments has led to wage and benefit cuts for teachers and four-day school weeks and substandard conditions for students. And these circumstances, it seems, have finally caused the broader public to reject the conservative propensity to scapegoat teachers for the failures of a public education system plagued by unequal funding and fiscal austerity. We will continue to assess the lessons and inspiration this uprising offers a debilitated labor movement and political movements of the burgeoning resistance.

Table of Contents

  1. Teaching America a Lesson/ Steve Fraser, TomDispatch.com
  2. What Should Unions Do After The Strike Wave?/ Chris Brooks, New Labor Forum
  3. We Don’t Need No Education/ Paul Krugman, The New York Times
  4. Amid Strikes, Americans back teacher raises/ The Associated Press, NORC Center for Public Affairs Research

Photo by Charles Edward Miller via flickr (CC-BY-SA)

New Labor Forum Highlights: April 17th, 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.

This newsletter appears one week in advance of the fifth anniversary of Rana Plaza garment factory collapse, the worst disaster in the history of factory-based garment production. Evidence had been legion of the construction defects of the Rana Plaza factories in the Dhaka District of Bangladesh. In fact, on the morning of April 24th, some of the 3,639 Rana Plaza workers had pointed out large cracks in the factory walls and refused to enter.  Factory owner, Sohel Rana, is reported to have threatened the circumspect workers with non payment for the month of April and, with hired goons, forced their entry into the building. Less than an hour later, 1,135 workers perished in the collapsing buildings.

In their trenchant article for New Labor Forum, Rich Appelbaum and Nelson Lichtenstein reveal the great degree of integration between corporate brands and retailers and the manufacturers of the global south that source their product. This global supply chain functions under a legal regime that absolves those brands and retailers of responsibility for the substandard pay and working conditions that undergirds this business model.

This week, from April 18-24, students, union members, consumers, and activists around the world will participate in a Global Week of Action calling on apparel brands to sign the 2018 Accord, a promising initiative discussed in the Appelbaum and Lichtenstein article, to hold powerful retailers and brands responsible for working conditions in supplier factories. In the United States, demonstrations will take place at A&F stores around the country on Saturday, April 21.

Table of Contents

  1. An Accident in History/ Rich Appelbaum and Nelson Lichtenstein, New Labor Forum
  2. Global Week of Action/ United Students Against Sweatshops
  3. Are factories better in Bangladesh after Rana Plaza? That depends on who you ask/ Andrea Crossan and Jasmine Garsd, Public Radio International, The World
  4. “Rana Plaza” Poem/ Eileen Ridge

Photo by rijans via flickr (CC-BY-SA)