Archive for category: Labor
The April employment report was considerably weaker than had generally been expected, with the economy adding just 266,000 jobs. Furthermore, the prior two months numbers were revised down by 78,000. The unemployment rate edged up to 6.1 percent, but this was entirely due to more people entering the labor force. The employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) also edged up by 0.1 percentage point to 57.9 percent. That is still 2.9 percentage points below its average for 2019.
Performance Across Sectors Was Very Mixed
The leisure and hospitality sector accounted for more than all the gains in April, adding 331,000 jobs. Restaurants added 187,000; arts and entertainment added 89,600; and hotels added 54,400. State and local government added a surprisingly low 39,000 jobs, almost all in education. Employment in state and local governments is still 1,278,000 below the pre-pandemic level. There should be large employment increases here as more schools reopen in May.
Several sectors were big job losers. Manufacturing lost 18,000 jobs, which was entirely attributable to a loss of 27,000 jobs in the car industry. This was due to shutdowns caused by a shortage of semiconductors.
There was a loss of 77,400 jobs in the courier industry and 111,400 in the temp sector. It’s not clear whether these declines reflect demand or supply conditions. These tend to be lower paying jobs, so workers may have better alternatives. On the other hand, as people feel more comfortable going out after being vaccinated there may be less demand for couriers.
There was also a loss of 49,400 jobs in food stores, which could reflect reduced demand as people increasingly are going to restaurants. Employment in the sector is still almost 40,000 higher than the pre-pandemic level. Nursing care facilities lost 18,800 jobs (1.3 percent of employment). These also tend to be low-paying jobs, so this could reflect supply conditions.
Construction showed no change in employment in April. This could just be a timing fluke, the sector was reported as adding 97,000 jobs in March, and there is plenty of evidence that the sector is booming.
Some Evidence of Labor Shortages in Low-Paying Sectors
If employers are having trouble finding workers, as many claim, then we should expect to see more rapid wage growth and an increase in the length of the workweek, as employers try to work their existing workforce more hours. We do see some evidence of both.
The annual rate of wage growth comparing the last three months (February, March, and April) with the prior three months, was 3.7 percent for production and nonsupervisory workers overall, 4.1 percent for retail, and 17.6 percent for leisure and hospitality. These data are erratic, but they do indicate some acceleration in wage growth, especially for hotels and restaurants.
There is also some evidence for an increasing length of the workweek, which is consistent with employers having trouble getting workers. For production and nonsupervisory workers overall, weekly hours are up 0.8 hours from the 2019 average. It is the same for retail, and 0.6 hours for leisure and hospitality.
Recovery Is Benefiting More Educated Workers
Less-educated workers were hardest hit in the recession, but many of us hoped that the situation would even out as the recovery progressed. This has not yet happened.
The unemployment rate for college grads fell to 3.5 percent in April, compared with 4.0 percent in January. For high school grads, the drop over this period was from 7.1 percent to 6.9 percent. The EPOP for high school grads is now 4.3 percentage points below its 2019 average, for college grads the EPOP is down by just 2.6 percentage points.
Involuntary Part-Time Work Falls Sharply
There was a sharp fall in involuntary part-time work of 583,000. The current level is roughly equal to 2017 levels. By contrast, voluntary part-time is still 2,400,000 below its 2019 average, a drop of almost 12 percent. This reflects the loss of jobs in restaurants and hotels, many of which are part-time.
Unemployment Due to Voluntary Quits Remains Low
The share of unemployment due to voluntary quits edges up only slightly to 8.3 percent, still lower than at any point in the last quarter century, excepting the Great Recession. This measure is usually seen as a sign of workers confidence in their labor market prospects.
It is also worth noting that the share of long-term unemployment remains extraordinarily high, although it did edge down slightly from 43.4 percent to 43.0 percent. The all-time high for this measure was 45.2 percent in the Great Recession.
Mixed Report — Economy Is Moving in the Right Direction, but Slowly
In more normal times job growth of 266,000 would be seen as very strong, but not when the economy is down more than 8 million jobs. The job loss in some sectors may prove to be anomalies, and some of the slow growth is almost certainly just a question of timing, as with state and local government employment. It is possible that the unemployment insurance supplements are having some disincentive effect, but if so, that will quickly dwindle as they end in September.
Even with the weak job growth reported for April, the average growth for the last three months is still 524,000. If we can maintain that pace, the labor market will be looking pretty good by the end of the year.
From national media giants to small local newspapers, journalists are unionizing across the United States.
Many of these unions have sought representation from the NewsGuild, a branch of the Communications Workers of America (CWA). They include editorial staff, who recognize the shared working conditions of an industry in crisis.
By forming regional guilds, workers are able to form a network separate from their publications’ overly corporate culture, allowing them to establish shared demands and speak candidly about dwindling job opportunities, racist hiring practices, shrinking newsrooms, and scarcity myths promoted by fat-cat executives.
Much of this activity is unreported at the national level, but workers have publicized their actions on social media. Members of the New Yorker Union, for example, have detailed their negotiations with Condé Nast since their January 21 work stoppage. Management has been slow to propose methods of achieving a better work-life balance, and weeks of bargaining sessions have become public record on Twitter.
Journalists at Pitchfork and Ars Technica unions joined the New Yorker staff to counter the company’s meager wage proposals and reveal further disparities across newsrooms, including restrictions on freelancing with other publications for supplemental income.
“Management’s best defense of these positions is that they are intended to reflect the status quo,” New Yorker Union tweeted. “But if the status quo was working for employees, we wouldn’t have unionized. We will win the contract we deserve through collective action—our members stand together, ready to fight.”
Represented by the NewsGuild of New York — which also covers staff of the New York Times, BuzzFeed, The Nation, Daily Beast, and New York magazine, among others — these unions create space for constructive criticism of managerial corruption.
The NewsGuild empowers journalists nationwide to speak up about abusive practices in human resources departments and the hedge funds financing their publications, as publishers consolidate newsrooms and force staff members into increasingly unstable positions. It currently represents more than 16,000 media workers all over the country, and that number is growing.
Curbing the Spread Of News Deserts
The erosion of local journalism, while ongoing for more than a decade, has been accelerated by a “pivot to video” in the last five years. Parent companies rapidly acquire struggling independent newsrooms and shed workers in a comprehensive downsizing of labor and product, prioritizing video content and digital advertising over in-depth investigations.
Publishers typically misconstrue the power dynamics between them and tech giants like Facebook and Google, which together receive 99 percent of ad revenue growth. Studies repeatedly show that replacing investigative reporting with clickbait videos drastically drops website engagement for local newspapers, because most can be accessed right on social media platforms.
Many companies are unwilling to invest adequate funding into pricey video equipment and software. These kinds of corporate blunders mean local journalists take on extra work with no additional pay, all while management justifies producing less content and leaves workers out of their discussions.
While new media unions have long been in the spotlight, local organizing efforts risk vanishing into the background.
The NewsGuild launched the Save the News campaign in early 2020 to prevent the spread of news deserts across non-metropolitan areas. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, several newsrooms owned by media giant Gannett have been unionizing despite the company’s rampant union-busting tactics.
Four Gannett newsrooms in Florida — Palm Beach Post, Palm Beach Daily News, Naples Daily News and Fort Myers News-Press — voted to unionize on the same day last June. In December 2020, the Austin American-Statesman in Texas and the Desert Sun in southern California announced their respective union campaigns; the latter won in an overwhelming majority on February 17. And on February 10, the Record Guild in New Jersey went public, representing newsrooms at the Daily Record, NorthJersey.com (Bergen Record), and New Jersey Herald.
Waves of layoffs and furloughs led McClatchy newsrooms to form similar regional unions across publications. As the country went into lockdown in March 2020, the Idaho NewsGuild unionized editorial workers at the Idaho Statesman, and the company refused voluntary recognition. All non-management employees, 18 in total, voted unanimously to unionize by mail-in ballot.
Their success became foundational for other McClatchy newsroom organizing, with subsequent union campaigns receiving voluntary recognition from the company.
Workers at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram unionized in Texas, followed by South Carolina’s Packet/Gazette Guild — which brought together workers at the Hilton Head Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette — in November 2020.
The Washington State NewsGuild formed in December 2020, representing workers from the Tacoma News Tribune, the Olympian, the Bellingham Herald, and Tri-City Herald.
COVID-19 And The Labor Crisis In Journalism
The pandemic has uniquely accelerated the labor crisis in journalism, but over the last five years, unions have risen in popularity.
The Los Angeles Times Guild, which formed in 2017, set an example for organizers to elect their own leaders and represent themselves in negotiations, without the presence of union reps. In 2019, the Arizona Republic organized a similar democratic unit without voluntary recognition from Gannett.
These campaigns were inspirational for the Dallas NewsGuild, which formed in 2019 with editorial workers from the Dallas Morning News and Spanish-language sister publication, Al Día Texas. Both publications are owned by A. H. Belo, a family-owned business that attempted to sabotage the union campaign in underhanded ways.
Leah Waters, an organizer and editor at Dallas Morning News, detailed former CEO and majority stakeholder Robert Decherd’s claim that a family-oriented company — and $40 million in the bank with no debt — meant that a union would be unnecessary. Even with family values and a financial surplus, the newsroom still underwent waves of outsourcing followed by a major layoff of 43 workers in January 2019.
That summer, organizing discussions became more serious. More than 130 workers felt their duties increased, and their beats had shifted around, leaving little time to pursue longer-term investigations.
“The paper just wasn’t a destination anymore,” according to Waters. “In the ‘80s and ‘90s, this was a paper that everyone could not wait to work for, but it had become a paper that people couldn’t wait to leave. It’s sad, because this is my hometown paper. I started wondering how it got so bad. My colleagues have always been great to work with, but the conditions under which we were asked to produce great journalism were untenable.”
When Waters asked her coworkers about their concerns, they expressed having really high standards for their products that outsourced labor could never replicate. GateHouse workers in other parts of Texas had misspelled Dallas-specific names and left inaccuracies in Morning News stories. The Morning News staff had not received raises for 12 years, and the breaking news team experienced constant turnovers. Further, management claimed that the publication had switched from a newsroom “of record” to a newsroom “of choice” — a sort of scarcity myth claiming the paper cannot cover all the news, as they simply do not have the capacity.
“Who is going to pay for less coverage?” Waters posited. “And then, based on who pays for it, what is the content we are prioritizing? And who are we not covering exactly? As a newspaper, we historically have amnesia around communities of color in Dallas. Our union is deeply interested in reframing and recapturing audiences that are actually the majority of our community.”
The Latin American diaspora comprises more than 40 percent of the Dallas population. Even still, Latinx editors and writers at Al Día told Waters that they felt like “second-class” workers who were only ever consulted by management to do Spanish translations for them.
The Dallas Morning News has covered white affluent communities since 1895 — and A.H. Belo’s labor lawyers even attempted to sway the two newsrooms to form separate units — but their combined union with the NewsGuild is a much more accurate reflection of the communities they serve.
The Gannett Model: A Nightmare For Newsrooms
The corporate takeover of local journalism has brought out the interrelated nature of different newsrooms owned by the same company, with reporters often working across publications.
Andrew Pantazi, a reporter and organizer with the Florida Times-Union Guild, said that watching the 2016 union campaigns at Florida’s Lakeland Ledger and Sarasota Herald-Tribune made unionizing feel tangible in Jacksonville, along with campaigns at the Arizona Republic, South Bend Tribune, and Springfield News-Leader. He claims the Gannett model is unsustainable for workers and for the media industry in the long term.
“These companies have this view that if they just keep getting bigger, then somehow they will cut out all their costs by centralizing digital planning, centralizing editing and design work, centralizing and regionalizing until everything is solved,” Pantazi told Shadowproof. “But it’s not working, because they are speeding up the decline in revenue, and people don’t want to subscribe anymore.”
“No one wants to pay for worse content, and they are accelerating that by refusing to invest in the future,” Pantazi argued. “They have no plan for how we continue to get news in our communities outside the national landscape in 10 years. Our view is you do it by valuing workers. They clearly disagree and would rather give a lesser product every year with the hope that it just magically fixes itself.”
Gannett newsrooms are fertile grounds for organizing due to the company’s ongoing imposed buyouts, layoffs, and consolidation of printing, copy editing, and other operations — plus the recent $1.1 billion takeover by GateHouse Media.
Gannett, which profited from the Atlantic slave trade, is currently managed by hedge fund Fortress Investment Group. The company regularly faces criticism for its labor practices, particularly in relation to the golden parachutes and bonuses promised to its executives.
An endless cycle of exchanges and acquisitions has trapped workers in a bureaucratic nightmare, largely unfolding without transparency. At the very least, unions can guarantee workers a seat at the table and the potential to negotiate how these transactions affect them, so long as they succeed in winning their elections.
Last year, at the height of the pandemic, Gannett CEO Mike Reed fought NewsGuild efforts to hold mail-in union elections, arguing they were inappropriate. The company’s attorneys even filed a motion to object.
While their journalists were covering electoral politics and voter suppression in local communities, the company’s executives were actively attempting to stop their own workers from voting.
Pantazi claims that Reed has skirted on the edge of securities fraud by making inaccurate public statements about the company’s health, largely to increase shareholder value. He calls these actions “highly offensive” to the workforce and great incentives to change that dynamic across the country.
“They’ve shown what speaks to them,” Pantazi said. “The only thing that matters is money, so there is no other way to get their attention or improve our conditions unless we control the supply of money. We are going to control that when we control our labor.”
“If they are afraid that workers across Gannett are not going to continue producing this monetized journalism, and if they fear a credible strike, then all of a sudden they have to pay attention to us.”
Reporters and editors often work overtime to produce investigations while doing their regular news reporting, all while organizing in their minimal spare time. Their jobs as investigators for the public occasionally contrasts starkly with the missions of the financiers managing them.
Many Gannett workers have gone their whole careers without cost-of-living raises — not just merit raises but basic wage increases adjusted to yearly inflation — making it difficult for workers to envision fairer hiring practices or plan out their retirement.
Mark Olalde, an environmental reporter at the Desert Sun and organizer with the Desert Sun NewsGuild, claims it can be difficult to separate the work of journalism from the business.
“There have been multimillion-dollar payments to executives who take a new role and then multimillion-dollar payments for them to leave a couple years later due to a redundancy,” Olalde shared. “Until recently, Mike Reed worked for a hedge fund and was not even directly employed by us, by the very company he is leading.”
“Meanwhile, our journalists get rejected if they ask for a fair market rate, or if a female reporter asks to be paid as much as a male reporter doing the same level and volume of work,” Olalde said.
Pantazi also caught Reed in lies regarding layoffs and diversity hiring. When Reed told Poynter that the company would lay off 10 employees, Pantazi did his own independent study and found that management was actually planning to lay off up to 200 employees.
The company published columns asserting they would strive for better diversity in hiring, but Pantazi claims that in bargaining they fought just to get a very basic Rooney rule to interview non-white candidates.
In public statements, the company promises a workforce as diverse as their readership, but they have yet to sign contracts reflecting these commitments.
Olalde similarly claims that the company has made promises that have yet to trickle into the reality of hiring. A large segment of the Desert Sun coverage area and readership is Latinx, with a high percentage of first-language Spanish speakers, but their newsroom is almost entirely white.
Their union is also working toward fairer exit plans for workers nearing retirement age. Their veteran journalists are barely protected or guaranteed a significant retirement package, and the current system leaves them gambling their futures with each year they continue working.
“A few members of our unit have 20 to 30 years of experience,” Olalde said. “Every year, they’re offered a voluntary buyout and have to decide if they think they can make it until the next voluntary buyout without getting laid off. They know this community so intimately well, built a life here, yet they are not even allowed to go out on their own terms after decades of service.”
For older workers, it is important to preserve the legacy of their work and ensure it does not come crashing down due to private-equity capitalists based in New York City, who care much more about a higher quarterly earnings report. Accordingly, the Gannett caucus of NewsGuilds is in the process of finalizing a pay study across the country in its unionized newsrooms, similar to that of the Washington Post Guild, to give an overview of where inequalities exist among rank-and-file staff.
‘Hedge Fund Vampires’ Can’t Be Allowed To Win
Journalists in McClatchy newsrooms face similar kinds of neglect and slow progress, which was exacerbated by the company filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year.
The NewsGuild of Idaho took to social media to publicize the company’s mismanagement of Idaho Statesman editor Christina Lords, who was fired for advocating on behalf of workers.
In January, the Fort Worth NewsGuild publicized the poor childcare benefits available for editorial workers at the Star-Telegram.
The NewsGuild is working with four newspapers in Washington state that are short-staffed across multiple areas. Chase Hutchinson, an organizer and reporter for Tacoma News Tribune, claims he and other journalists collaborate throughout the state on different stories, making it easy to network with previously unfamiliar coworkers.
“McClatchy has been doing our job for us, by disinvesting in our newsrooms and not handling the necessary shifts, and that all culminated in the bankruptcy,” Hutchinson claimed. “But it was a much bigger story than that. It was about disinvestment in local journalists and lack of support for people doing the hard work every single day.”
“We started having conversations that were very eye-opening for everyone, and it expanded to other locations, too. We realized that the problems in Tacoma existed in Olympia, and Bellingham, and in the Tri-Cities. We’ve done a lot of the same work and seen each other’s bylines pop up in separate publications, because the company uses our stories across all four papers.”
McClatchy and Chatham Asset Management, the hedge fund managing them, have yet to respond to their demands, which include better work conditions, increased diversity, and higher wages. After withholding cost-of-living raises from its unionized workers, McClatchy voluntarily recognized the union.
“We have been going through the stresses and anxieties of the world writ large, but that has only reaffirmed the necessary work that we are doing in our day-to-day jobs and, once we clock out, immediately coming together and figuring out how to make that work continue to be supported and preserved beyond even our time here,” Hutchinson said. “We see it as not just us but our communities, too, because everyone should have a reliable and robust newspaper they can look to for information they need.”
Corporate consolidation is occurring across the mediasphere at a time when skilled journalists outnumber reliable job opportunities. In February, Alden Global Capital acquired Tribune Publishing, leading the NewsGuild and workers at the Chicago Tribune to publicize the hedge fund’s strategy of gutting local newspapers and maximizing profits.
Alden has garnered a reputation as a “hedge fund vampire,” and the Tribune acquisition means that the hedge fund will now manage major newsrooms like the Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, and New York Daily News — the latter of which will soon hold a union election with the National Labor Relations Board.
Outside of the NewsGuild, new unions at the Financial Times and Medium have announced campaigns since the start of 2021, and freelancers are also organizing with the Freelance Solidarity Project and the Industrial Workers of the World Freelance Journalists Union.
Media companies all hire and compensate full-time and freelance workers differently so journalists now have a better chance of achieving transparency.
The industry’s incentives are still out of place, especially with parent companies owned by hedge funds, but unions do not have a skewed perspective. They have labor power to build, and they can fight together for a more equitable future.
The post US Journalists Form Unions To Survive ‘Hedge Fund Vampires’ And COVID-19 Pandemic appeared first on Shadowproof.
A federal judge in Nebraska issued a temporary restraining order last week to block a December 28 strike by thousands of Union Pacific Railroad (UP) workers over unsafe conditions, the lack of protective gear and the failure to pay workers who are quarantined due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A strike by 8,000 members of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWED)—a division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters—would have quickly disrupted the operations of the second largest railroad in the US, which employs a total of 32,000 workers. The judge’s restriction lasts until January 8 and will be reviewed for extension on January 5.
The post Federal Judge Blocks Strike By Union Pacific Railroad Workers appeared first on PopularResistance.Org.
The most famous dysfunctional family of 1990s television enjoyed, by today’s standards, an almost dreamily secure existence that now seems out of reach for all too many Americans. I refer, of course, to the Simpsons. Homer, a high-school graduate whose union job at the nuclear-power plant required little technical skill, supported a family of five. A home, a car, food, regular doctor’s appointments, and enough left over for plenty of beer at the local bar were all attainable on a single working-class salary. Bart might have had to find $1,000 for the family to go to England, but he didn’t have to worry that his parents would lose their home.
This lifestyle was not fantastical in the slightest—nothing, for example, like the ridiculously large Manhattan apartments in Friends. On the contrary, the Simpsons used to be quite ordinary—they were a lot like my Michigan working-class family in the 1990s.
The 1996 episode “Much Apu About Nothing” shows Homer’s paycheck. He grosses $479.60 per week, making his annual income about $25,000. My parents’ paychecks in the mid-’90s were similar. So were their educational backgrounds. My father had a two-year degree from the local community college, which he paid for while working nights; my mother had no education beyond high school. Until my parents’ divorce, we were a family of three living primarily on my mother’s salary as a physician’s receptionist, a working-class job like Homer’s.
By 1990—the year my father turned 36 and my mother 34—they were divorced. And significantly, they were both homeowners—an enormous feat for two newly single people.
Neither place was particularly fancy. I’d estimate that the combined square footage of both roughly equaled that of the Simpsons’ home. Their houses were their only source of debt; my parents have never carried a credit-card balance. Within 10 years, they had both paid off their mortgage.
Neither of my parents had much wiggle room in the budget. I remember Christmases that, in hindsight, looked a lot like the one portrayed in the first episode of The Simpsons, which aired in December 1989: handmade decorations, burned-out light bulbs, and only a handful of gifts. My parents had no Christmas bonus or savings, so the best gifts usually came from people outside our immediate family.
Most of my friends and classmates lived the way we did—that is, the way the Simpsons did. Some families had more secure budgets, with room for annual family vacations to Disney World. Others lived closer to the edge, with fathers taking second jobs as mall Santas or plow-truck drivers to bridge financial gaps. But we all believed that the ends could meet, with just an average amount of hustle.
Over the years, Homer and his wife, Marge, also face their share of struggles. In the first episode, Homer becomes a mall Santa to bring in some extra cash after Homer learns that he won’t receive a Christmas bonus and the family spends all their Christmas savings to get Bart’s new tattoo removed. They also occasionally get a peek into a different kind of life. In Season 2, Homer buys the hair-restoration product “Dimoxinil.” His full head of hair gets him promoted to the executive level, but he is demoted after Bart accidentally spills the tonic on the floor and Homer loses all of his new hair. Marge finds a vintage Chanel suit at a discount store, and wearing it grants her entrée into the upper echelons of society.
The Simpsons started its 32nd season this past fall. Homer is still the family’s breadwinner. Although he’s had many jobs throughout the show’s run—he was even briefly a roadie for the Rolling Stones—he’s back at the power plant. Marge is still a stay-at-home parent, taking point on raising Bart, Lisa, and Maggie and maintaining the family’s suburban home. But their life no longer resembles reality for many American middle-class families.
Adjusted for inflation, Homer’s 1996 income of $25,000 would be roughly $42,000 today, about 60 percent of the 2019 median U.S. income. But salary aside, the world for someone like Homer Simpson is far less secure. Union membership, which protects wages and benefits for millions of workers in positions like Homer’s, dropped from 14.5 percent in 1996 to 10.3 percent today. With that decline came the loss of income security and many guaranteed benefits, including health insurance and pension plans. In 1993’s episode “Last Exit to Springfield,” Lisa needs braces at the same time that Homer’s dental plan evaporates. Unable to afford Lisa’s orthodontia without that insurance, Homer leads a strike. Mr. Burns, the boss, eventually capitulates to the union’s demand for dental coverage, resulting in shiny new braces for Lisa and one fewer financial headache for her parents. What would Homer have done today without the support of his union?
The purchasing power of Homer’s paycheck, moreover, has shrunk dramatically. The median house costs 2.4 times what it did in the mid-’90s. Health-care expenses for one person are three times what they were 25 years ago. The median tuition for a four-year college is 1.8 times what it was then. In today’s world, Marge would have to get a job too. But even then, they would struggle. Inflation and stagnant wages have led to a rise in two-income households, but to an erosion of economic stability for the people who occupy them.
Last year, my gross income was about $42,000—the amount Homer would be making today. It was the second-highest-earning year of my career. I wanted to buy a home, but no bank was willing to finance a mortgage, especially since I had less than $5,000 to make a down payment. However, my father offered me a zero-down, no-interest contract. Without him, I would not have been able to buy the house.
I finally paid off my medical debt. But after taking into account all of my expenses, my adjusted gross income was only $19. And with the capitalized interest on my student loans adding thousands to the balance, my net worth is still negative.
I don’t have Bart, Lisa, and Maggie to feed or clothe or buy Christmas presents for. I’m not sure how I’d make it if I did.
Someone I follow on Twitter, Erika Chappell, recently encapsulated my feelings about The Simpsons in a tweet: “That a show which was originally about a dysfunctional mess of a family barely clinging to middle class life in the aftermath of the Reagan administration has now become aspirational is frankly the most on the nose manifestations [sic] of capitalist American decline I can think of.”
For many, a life of constant economic uncertainty—in which some of us are one emergency away from losing everything, no matter how much we work—is normal. Second jobs are no longer for extra cash; they are for survival. It wasn’t always this way. When The Simpsons first aired, few would have predicted that Americans would eventually find the family’s life out of reach. But for too many of us now, it is.
December 10th, 2019
We read and reviewed David Ranney’s “Living and dying on the factory
floor”, which was about his decision to put his academic career on hold
and his subsequent experiences as a factory worker.  The following
thoughts relate to this decision, which used to be widespread within the
left. Today taking on working class jobs for political reasons is
either ridiculed as an artefact of political militancy or criticised as a
potentially manipulative act of privileged and educated middle-class
politicos who try to convert the workers.
I want to look at my own decision to remain a low-paid manual worker
from various angles. The text is not strictly biographical, but looking
at the subjective side of the decision is personal. It is not an account
of experiences in five dozen or so jobs, although it contains
descriptions. The text is not a ‘salting’ or organising manual, it looks
more broadly at aspects and difficulties of material survival,
intellectual satisfaction, political strategy and revolutionary morale,
including the danger of self-righteousness.
The text picks up issues raised at the end of the article “Profession
and Movement”, an article that looks at the wider consequences of
professionalisation within the left e.g. in terms of pursuing an
academic career or becoming a professional organiser of one sort or the
“You cannot simply proceed in a professional career and be
‘revolutionary’ in your free-time. We need our own structures as a
material alternative to the ‘profession’; we need commonly organised
living arrangements, collectives and (social) centres which would allow
us a different way to approach ‘work’: to kick a shit-job if necessary;
to work for a low-wage, because the job is politically interesting; to
stir up a workplace collectively.” 
It is difficult to create such a social and political environment for
a working class existence because, in the end, for most of us,
‘becoming or remaining’ a worker is less of an active choice, but an
outcome of a social process. I would argue that instead of being
individual victims of this process who try to struggle for individual
niche-solutions we should try and find collective ways to deal with it.
The aims of such a conscious and collective effort would be to share and
discuss more of your decisions about work and life with a clearer
political strategy in mind.
I started working in construction in my teens and continued to work
in what is generally labeled as ‘unskilled’ or ‘semi-skilled’ manual
work until today, around three decades later. I left school out of
choice, though not as a result of an elaborate political decision. It
was a mixture of general anger towards the system and self-preservation.
Coming from a family scarred by World War II and influenced by
generally socialist ideas, together with the increase in neo-Nazi
attacks post-1989 and the Gulf War in 1990/91, solidified the idea that
‘the system’ is still alive and killing. The system also killed in other
ways, as I lost three friends and lovers to heroin during that time. At
school the selection process, between those who were willing and able
to cooperate and those who were not, intensified. I felt that I had to
draw a line and guard myself against these forces that make us weak and
destroy our relationships: competitiveness, privileges, corruption, and
As there was little chance to just ‘drop out’ where I lived, as there
was no big sub-culture in this small shithole of a town, I decided that
I would sell them my body, but not my brain, personality or creativity.
To carry building materials and sweep sites felt like self-defence and a
big ‘fuck you’ to those who want to get into your head. The refusal of a
career is not mainly a subjectivist act of politicos. Most of the
colleagues I met refused to advance to supervisory positions or
white-collar jobs – while many dreamt of a way out through
self-employment or the lottery ticket.
Although I worked with them, my co-workers didn’t actually figure
much on my political horizon – a lot of them were recent migrants from
East Germany or so-called Russian-Germans, most of them pretty
conservative and in favour of the war in Iraq. I quickly learned that
‘workers’ are no holy cows. Many of my local antifascist comrades were
car mechanics, brick layer apprentices, nurses or painter and
decorators, so unlike today it didn’t feel too weird to do manual
labour. And although we made a lot of jokes about the proletarian
culture of CP antifascism in the 1930s this was more of an excuse to be
rowdy and to take the piss, rather than a serious reference to the
working class as a political subject. Still, it felt good to be somehow
part of a tradition and historical class force. In 1992 we travelled
from the West to the East to demonstrate in Rostock  after the
fascist attacks. Apart from Berlin I had never been to the East before
and had never seen such huge and dismal concrete tower-block estates.
Local unemployment had just increased from virtually zero to over 20
percent. Thousands of mainly West-German black-block antifascists walked
through the working class areas and shouted ’Shame on you!’ to everyone
around. Something felt wrong to me in this situation. .
Apart from practical antifascism I was more into Tupamaros (a
left-wing urban guerrilla group in Uruguay in the 1960s and 1970s and
Red Army Faction. However, even with all that teenage fanaticism and
despite RAF’s last and beautiful attack against the prison construction
at Weiterstadt in 1993 , it was clear that armed struggle doesn’t
lead anywhere. I started reading more about historical efforts to fuse
direct attacks on bosses and state with a mass base amongst ‘the
people’. I was impressed with the neo-Maoists of the Gauche
Proletarienne in France: they not only realised that the uprising of
1968 would have to spread from the universities deeper into society,
they even followed through on the personal implications to ‘go to the
people’, not to preach, but to learn from them. This seemed much more
radical and equal than what our local Trot group did, which is to stay
outside the class, to both idealise and patronise ‘the working class’.
But then there were no Maoists around, who would most likely have done
the same thing. Still, I felt that the revolutionary moral was right:
who the fuck are we to teach anyone? To be a revolutionary means to cut
your ties and to be on an equal level with the working masses.
I started looking for politics similar to the Gauche Proletarienne in
Germany and stumbled across groups like the Proletarische Front or
Arbeitersache [Workers’ Cause] which were active in the 1970s and
political writers such as Karl Heinz Roth. These groups, although there
were still flirting with Maoist jargon, were largely influenced by the
‘Workerist’ currents in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s. ‘Class
composition’ replaced ‘the people’. I was intrigued by the concept of
workers (self-)inquiry: finally an approach that allowed you to combine
the subjective and moral attitude of ‘being with the people’ with an
intellectual and empirical effort to understand what the working class
really is and how we can organise struggle under specific conditions –
modern capitalist conditions, not Chinese mountain paths. All of a
sudden everything became interesting and relevant! My construction site,
the collaboration between local university, local industries and the
British army base – and the new migration from the East. As a local
group we were now able to target the construction of a local detention
centre not only with our hatred against the prison system, but with the
strategic insight that it serves to re-structure local class relations.
Migration raids on local construction sites could be explained as an
attack to divide and spread fear. We could draw links between the
prison, the raids and working conditions on site in our leaflets to
The only group who shared the historical approach of Italian Marxism
of the 1970s and who expressed similar feelings towards the way the left
dealt with the phenomena of neo-fascism in general and the attacks in
Rostock in particular was Wildcat. To join the collective was important
on many levels: only as part of a collective effort can we reconcile the
existence as worker and the refusal of careers with the desire for and
necessity of intellectual work; only as part of a collective effort can
we stop material hardship and shift-work isolation from grinding us
down. In this sense the collective was my university and family.
After coming across the concept of workers’ inquiry and hanging out
with people who shared this perspective, ‘going to work’ changed
drastically for me. I left the construction job in the small local
company. I was curious to know what bigger sites looked like and how
things were organised in more modern industries. I signed up with an
agency and worked on shopping mall construction sites, suspension
bridges, in bike and carpet factories, in glass manufacturing plants.
Everything became illuminated. Where do my colleagues come from and what
do they think? What type of machines are used and why? How do the
bosses justify and enforce hierarchies? How do we cooperate with each
other and based on this, how can we stir shit up? What is the history of
the industry and how it is organised globally? Of course the question
of social change was the main driving force behind the curiosity, but
even on a solely sociological/scientific level I never got bored of
starting new jobs. It’s still my main hobby. The reasons and focus for
‘staying in the working class’ shifted. It was now less of a subjective
response to the system’s attempts to get hold of your mind and soul.
‘Working class’ became more of strategic location: let’s be in places
where potential mass power and social productivity clashes the hardest
with the collective experiences of impoverishment and systemic
oppression, either through personal bullying or through their mechanical
Another element is perhaps more spiritual. Physical work and having
to cooperate under shitty conditions brings the best and worst in
people. You meet a lot of arseholes for sure! But you also develop a
certain love for people and their fucked-up-ness. It means tons if a
tough guy full of toxic masculinity tells you about his worries about
his trans-daughter while sitting together in a maintenance dock under an
oily freight engine at 5:50am. Or when a face-tattooed welder talks
about the15 years he spent in an East German prison after his shift in a
hostel room that you share with five others. Of course there is a lot
of superficiality in relationships, as well, but it still means
something if, as in my current job, 500 sisters and brothers call you
‘brother’ every week. I am sure these things exist in better jobs, too,
but I guess the higher you go the more status and ambition gets in the
There are a lot of things you learn over time even in un- or
semi-skilled jobs – basic construction skills, repairing things, driving
weird vehicles, using the right cleaning chemicals etc.. Working in
call centres, car factories, on refuse trucks etc. gives you an idea
about how real the threat or promise of ‘total automation’ is. It is
still easier for men to get into these jobs – or to not feel out of
place there. Still, the main thing you can learn is less about the
technical know-how, but more about how to cooperate with people you
don’t know and you might not even like. To get tuned into what is
necessary to do, to react to what others are doing without many words,
as the other guys might not even understand what you are saying. When
you live with people or work with them in political groups you can often
tell if people have learnt how to ‘cooperate’ without many words. Those
with working class experience tend to tune in better.
The other thing you learn on the job is how to understand the meaning
of what people are saying – and to assess the difference between what
people say, think and do. Unlike more professional and self-conscious
office or academic environments, in working class jobs, people say
outrageous things in particular when it comes to the relation between
men and women or racism. People use the wrong language and might have
weird or incoherent explanations for stuff. Over time I learnt how best
to respond and disagree without shutting things down (or to shut things
down if necessary). I would say that having mainly worked in manual jobs
also helped me to integrate more with workers in Delhi, where I stayed
in workers’ colonies for two years. Of course you’re still a privileged
whitey from the north-half of the globe, but knowing what it’s like to
sweep streets or stand at assembly lines means that you actually share
quite significant experiences, despite differences in conditions. It
felt easier to tune in.
Up to this point all this might just be existentialist bullshit and
just an individual way to cope under the current system, amongst a
million other ways to cope individually. I might as well have gone
straight edge. We all just cope, the question is whether our life
choices have a collective and strategical sense. The most joyous
collective moments I had was with comrades who shared a similar working
life, who worked in jobs where they wanted to organise themselves with
their co-workers. To come from work, to share experiences and
conversations you had with people at work, to plan next steps, to
discuss leaflets and newspapers for the workplace. To read some
theoretical or empirical stuff relevant to your work and discuss it. To
cook meals for comrades on the late-shift. To talk about the risks and
potential of bigger actions! That was always the most fun thing to do,
even if the outcome was often modest! There is a certain beauty and
holistic spirit when your work-life is part of your collective strategy.
I never really understood why all revolutionaries wouldn’t want to live
There are of course political differences: a lot of revolutionaries
would question whether there are (still) ‘strategic’ or particularly
interesting industries and workplaces and whether working there yourself
is the best way to interact and intervene. Others question whether
there can be something like a revolutionary morality and individual
agency at all – are we not all just part of the multitude? Fair enough,
that’s a separate debate. One reason why the ‘centrality’ of work is up
for debate is the fact that during the period in question – from the
early 1990s to the 2000s – the working class was pretty invisible as an
acting force. While working in large and often unionised workplaces for
nearly three decades, from car factories to railways to refuse
collection, I only took part in two token one-day strikes, one
consisting of a building workers’ march for social security, the other
one was a similarly boring symbolic picket about railway reforms. This
is a rather sad balance sheet, but I don’t think it is uncommon, at
least not for workers in western Europe and the US. Given this period of
defeat and restructuring it is not surprising that ‘joining or
remaining within the working class’ was not too attractive an option.
Then there are material and psychological constraints which might
prevent us from just taking any odd low paid job. Here things have
changed a lot over time. In Germany in 1991 you still got 100% sick-pay
and to go on the dole three, four months a year was no problem. In the
UK in 2019 things look different. Things are fine if you are young and
physically fit, but what about when you get older? Will academic or
better paid jobs not give you more time for the political and
theoretical struggle? I would say from the early 1990s up to the
mid-2010s even with minimum wage jobs I always had enough money to take
two months off a year, to travel or to spend more time on other stuff. I
felt that comrades who pursued a professional career either as
academics, journalists, ‘professional organisers’ actually had less time
for political (or other) activities, although they might earn more
money – perhaps because there is more fear of leaving a job temporarily
or to spend time on things that don’t add to your profile. Because in
the end the CV counts. I also felt that I had more ‘intellectual
freedom’ to write and research what I wanted outside of academia. Being
part of a bigger collective meant that we managed to have access to
similar sources as academic researchers had. Perhaps if you are
interested in researching stuff that requires spending a lot of time in
historical archives or laboratories you will have trouble doing this
while being a minimum wage manual worker – these spheres are actually
quite exclusive. Otherwise I still think that much of the stuff that we
managed to write as a collective or as ‘worker intellectuals’ was
actually better than comparable academic texts. If your day-job doesn’t
suck your brain dry, but only your muscles, you might have more capacity
and urge to write the stuff you want.
Again, individual choice has an impact on groups and the left in
general. I remember that even in Wildcat there was a shift at some point
in the late 1990s when more people started to get computer-programmer
jobs, because they were better paid and allowed a more flexible
lifestyle. The collective might have benefitted from that, but the sprit
and direction of the meetings changed. When many of the comrades were
working in hospitals, factories or construction sites there was more
eagerness to make these experiences a central part of discussions and to
come to some practical conclusions. This is true for the left in
general: the atmosphere today is either pretty individualised (“I work
freelance”) or unconsciously competitive (“I just applied for this or
that grant/position/funding” – “Oh, me, too”) or instrumentalist (“You
are gig-economy workers? Great, I support your struggle (and I’m
researching you for my PHD”).). All this cannot be treated merely as
betrayal or expressions of corruption – the justified individual desire
to be acknowledged as an intellectual or political being has to be
Did I ever doubt my decision or are there any negative results? I
mean the whole thing is no one-way ticket to proletarian hell, it’s not
necessarily an irreversible decision for life. Being part of a political
movement gave me skills which would still allow me, even without formal
qualifications, to sell myself for bigger money to academia, to the
unions, to the alternative lefty circus. Ex-militants are the most
highly skilled managers. But certain things can’t be undone. Let’s start
with the psychological impact. To slave away, get up earlier, lift
heavier and come home more knackered than most of your comrades, only to
go to the next political meeting where people seem to have all the time
in the world tends to make you a bit of a self-righteous bastard. I
definitely became too judgemental and subjectivistic: why would I expect
anyone to change their life quite fundamentally and go against the
grain of wider society during a historical period that gives you little
hope that fundamental change is coming anytime soon? Self-righteousness
and lack of time doesn’t make you the best friend. There is some
physical damage, too, things start to ache. There are some worries
materially, old age and all – after three decades of work there is
little money, no assets and little to expect in terms of inheritance. I
still feel that there will always be comrades to help out, though. In
the absence of collectives, working class life tends to encourage
couple-hood. You become dependent on your partner materially and
emotionally. Things can become pretty conventional, e.g. in terms of who
is taking on the main responsibility for child-care and stuff.
Despite having had the privilege to be part of a political collective
I think I missed out on the student experience: to be with loads of
other young people who were the same age, to start a new phase of life
together. Being in a concrete builder apprentice class is definitely
less interactive, flirtatious and sociable. And there might have been
certain things to learn at university which are more difficult to learn
yourself or with your friends. Musical theory, archeology, machine
engineering amongst other things. Perhaps my main doubt concerns the
wider political organisation. I feel that if there had been a form of
organisation which was neither purely syndicalist like the IWW nor a
pretty loose collective such as Wildcat, moving from job to job and
meeting interested workers could have fed into something more
structured. Although opportunities for ‘long-lasting organising’ were
pretty rare, I met dozens of workers interested in struggles and debate.
To engage them in a wider organisational process and to keep in touch
even after the job finished would have been great. But then
unfortunately there was and there is still no bigger political
organisation that I think would make a productive contribution towards
revolutionary change. Still, there is a melancholy desire for a
proletarian party in a living and unorthodox sense.
The current UK radical left is pretty middle-class, or rather
‘precariously professional’. This might explain the attraction towards
the Labour Party as a seemingly easy way to bridge the gap between
intellectuals and ‘the workers’. It would need a separate analysis and
article to address the limitations of this type of politics. To
re-ground revolutionary politics within the class will need more than
organising campaigns, food kitchens in working class areas or tenants
unions. It will need two main steps: a collective debate about where
tendencies of self-empowerment and unification are already existing
within the class – e.g. in concentrations dominated by migrant work –
and the decision of organised cores of revolutionaries to practically
engage with these tendencies as workers. Part of this debate must be the
question of our material, intellectual and spiritual reproduction as
We are currently writing a book about the last six years of working
class political experiences in west-London in which we hope to make all
this more concrete. Stay tuned!
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdowns started in March, a new class of “essential workers” continued to go to work across the United States under new dangerous conditions. As stories came out about workers lacking personal protective equipment, or PPE, and working in crowded workplaces, union workers began to take action. They stopped work, organized sick-outs, won hazard pay, protested employer COVID-19 policies that left them unsafe and negotiated for improvements.
Unions have made workplaces safer, as research has shown that unionized essential workers have had better COVID-19 workplace practices during the pandemic. The presence of unions makes conditions safer for the general public as well. For example, unionized nursing homes in New York were found to have a 30 percent lower COVID-19 mortality rate among residents. When the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, and other government agencies failed to take adequate steps to protect workers, these workers had to take action. But 90 percent of U.S. workers are not union members, and millions of these non-union workers still need help. For too many of them, essential has meant expendable.
There was a clear need to find ways to assist workers in confronting this new unsafe world at work. That’s when the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee, or EWOC, was born. A joint project of the Democratic Socialists of America and the United Electrical workers union, EWOC recruited volunteer organizers to talk with workers who wanted to organize around COVID-19 concerns. It created a request form for workers to fill out, which it spread through social media. Inquiries from workers started coming in every day.
Organizing With EWOC
When EWOC receives the form, there’s an initial intake conversation, and an advanced organizer is assigned to collaborate with the workers on a plan to organize for improvements at work, on COVID-19, or any other issues. This takes the form of a series of phone and Zoom calls where they work through the basics of organizing.
Dawn Tefft is one of the leaders of the EWOC advanced organizers team. She was involved in the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association during the Wisconsin uprising of 2011, the movement that formed in response to Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation. However, the massive protests at the capital failed to stop the new law. That experience taught her that protest wasn’t enough, and that workers and union leaders throughout the state should have done more to prepare for a strike wave, as her union did.
She brought this focus on rank-and-file workplace power-building to EWOC, as part of a team that has developed the strategy for organizing with workers. On a recent EWOC call for volunteers and workers, she described that at the beginning of a campaign, an advanced organizer and the workers would rank issues and draft a set of demands. Together, they begin building a list of workers, divide up workers to contact in order to ask them to join an organizing committee or sign a demands petition, and begin planning a first action or a series of escalating actions. The organizing process is built around conversations among coworkers, and throughout these steps, the workers themselves must run the campaign, with EWOC organizers playing an advisory and mentorship role.
Since its launch, EWOC has already racked up a number of significant victories. Taco Bell workers in Michigan won PPE, paid sick leave and hazard pay; Jimmy John’s workers in Utah received better plexiglass barriers and rules allowing fewer customers in the store at any one time; Sprouts grocery store workers in Texas demanded and got PPE and store customer limits; and Good Vibrations store workers in Massachusetts had their concerns with COVID-19 and other issues addressed after a six week strike. While most of these campaigns are organized at fairly small workplaces, they provide lessons for growing and sustaining organizing at larger employers, which is always a tough challenge.
I have been involved as an EWOC organizer for several months, talking with workers to develop their campaigns. It’s clear from these conversations that most workers don’t have a solid understanding of unions or what workplace organizing is about. Rarely do people learn much about the labor movement, and much of what they do hear is distorted and filtered through corporate media. For the workers who want to move forward, it’s been inspiring to see them start to learn the art and science of workplace organizing.
These workers have faced a variety of issues. One university worker wondered why her department couldn’t continue working from home. A retail worker realized that coronavirus issues showed the real need to have a union at her store. A health care clinic worker has started talking with colleagues about the danger of the new surge in COVID-19 cases, and how they could be safer at work.
I worked with one woman who is employed at a small retail store. She organized with her coworkers for a better sick leave policy. “It was extremely empowering, as a low wage worker,” she said. “You often have a sense of powerlessness that there’s nothing you can do. But with organizing, it’s the one thing you can do to actually give yourself the things that you really need in the workplace.” She went on to describe the solidarity developed between her colleagues during their fight for sick leave. “Having conversations with team members really built that sense of comradery and power amongst ourselves. Realizing that we actually wanted the same things was a big deal too.”
I interviewed another worker at an agency that provides social services. The workers there had a number of COVID-19 safety concerns and other issues. She organized with her department to write a letter to their supervisor, and won regular health and safety meetings to design better COVID-19 protocols, more PPE, and paid travel time to their various work sites. She says this process has had a tremendous impact and folks feel more confident in bringing up issues. This has led to broader conversations with workers at other agencies about the systemically bad working conditions and treatment of clients in the industry, and how they can better advocate for, and organize with, their clients.
“[EWOC] has really helped give us a framework to understand how to start making changes about issues and grievances that we have about the care industry and treatment of people by organizing the workplace,” she said.
This work is not complicated, but it is challenging. Organizing is built on something as basic as having conversations with coworkers, but with an eye toward building power. It involves developing relationships, assessing concerns, understanding workplace social networks, identifying leaders and agitating toward collective solutions to the personal problems everyone has at work. It requires forging common demands and building the confidence of the workers with escalating collective actions that may lead to a strike if necessary.
EWOC has developed a training series to teach these organizing skills. It sees this project as not only helping workers to improve working conditions now, but also disseminating an understanding of workplace power and collective action to a large network of non-union workers. They can spread these skills and may want to organize or join more formal unions later on. Some of those workers eventually join EWOC as volunteers.
Now over six months old, EWOC has a few staff coordinators and has grown to involve hundreds of volunteers serving as intake and campaign organizers, media strategists, database administrators, trainers, researchers and other roles. So far over 2,000 workers have reached out to EWOC, and 25 workplace campaigns have won some of their demands, impacting about 1,000 workers. Currently there are 60 campaigns running, and over 500 workers have been through some EWOC organizing training.
Where Does This Go?
EWOC is an experiment in running a labor organizing project through a large network of volunteers outside of formal unions or worker centers. Moreover, during the pandemic this organizing work necessarily occurs on the phone and online. When the pandemic subsides, EWOC will have to coordinate a transition to some in-person conversations and events.
The EWOC approach can be seen as part of a larger effort to bring a class struggle organizing framework back into the labor movement, with similar politics to the United Electrical workers’ Them and Us Unionism. This may look very different from standard workplace organizing campaigns based on government-run union elections. Many workers may win improvements with direct action, but never seek official union recognition or a written contract. Rooted in rank-and-file workplace organizing, the EWOC model is perhaps most similar to the “solidarity unionism” of the Industrial Workers of the World.
As the network of workers involved in EWOC-assisted campaigns grows, organizers face a number of questions about the evolution of the project, including whether this group should evolve into a dues-funded membership organization. We need to ensure that when workers win gains, they maintain an “organized workplace” over time as turnover happens, and possibly solidify their victory through unionization and a contract. We have to find ways to grow linkages of solidarity between all these workplaces and develop the capacity to initiate successful organizing at huge employers with thousands or tens of thousands of workers. Can we distill some lessons from the growing list of campaigns, so we can learn how to win more effectively?
EWOC is exploring ways to incorporate workers from the campaigns directly into these conversations. EWOC has developed an encouraging new model in worker organizing that also draws from militant rank-and-file labor traditions. As we continue through this horrific pandemic, workers are demonstrating that they can save themselves. They just need the tools and training to do it.
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On November 26, the biggest one-day general strike in the world happened in India where over 200 million workers paralyzed the country and refused to work. Supported by 10 central trade unions and over 250 farmers organizations, the strike led to a near total shutdown in multiple Indian states.
The strike was bolstered by mass actions taken by farmers across the country, 300,000 of whom marched on New Delhi and shut down the streets, fighting for the repeal of three pro-corporate farming bills that passed Parliament earlier this fall.
Tomorrow, Tuesday December 8, Indian farmers plan to strike again. Since November 26, thousands of farmers have occupied several critical borders of Delhi, refusing to leave until the government repeals the three new laws. After the failure of the fifth round of talks, farmers unions have put out a call to shut down the country and escalate the pressure on Delhi. This upcoming strike has been supported by a coalition of opposition parties, ranging from the Congress to Aam Aadmi Party and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, all who see BJP as a threat to their own power. The Left Front, which controls some of the biggest trade unions, has also announced their support for the strike and will be holding demonstrations tomorrow. While the strike will be large, it is limited to farmers unions and a few other sectors and participation is not expected to be as high as it was on November 26th.
The strike has also been endorsed by the ten largest trade unions in the country. Workers in commercial transportation and banking have announced work stoppages and solidarity actions. Public transportation in Delhi, where much of the fire is currently being concentrated, is also likely to take a hit as a sector of transit workers have announced that they’re going on strike.
In order for farmers and workers to win their demands and deal an effective blow to the Modi government, it is essential that the working class enter the scene more actively and force an indefinite strike. Organized workers in strategic sectors, such as transportation, mining, banking, etc., need to once again go on a coordinated strike, bringing the whole country to a standstill. Worker demands including halting the privatization of public services, a more coherent Covid-19 response, and stimulus money and free meals for needy families across the country need to be met. As Modi ramps up nationalist rhetoric and turns a blind eye to violence against minorities — in effect condoning it — while continuing to openly support the interest of capitalists, Indian workers must fight, knowing that the state is not on their side and the only way to affect change is to shut the economy down.
Over the last two weeks, farmers have continued their pressure on the Modi government, refusing to concede their demands as they occupy key borders and roads leading up to the country’s capital. They have refused to accept the empty words offered by Modi and his cronies, and have pledged to continue this pressure until the government rolls back the new agricultural laws. To escalate this pressure, to win the demands not only of the farmers, but much needed relief for all the working and toiling masses, it is imperative that the working masses actively enter the scene with their tools of strikes and pickets and push for an indefinite general strike. Workers need to go beyond the Stalinist trade union leaderships, who continue to act as a conservative force and call for single-day strikes so workers can let off steam, but are unable to force the hand of the state and score real victories.
The current protests by farmers against the Modi regime have been one of the most powerful movements against the Modi regime. The strike on December 8 is the second general strike in India in two weeks, indicating a movement among the worker and peasant masses of a break with the Modi regime. To not only deal it a definitive blow, but also realise their own power, it is imperative that workers and peasants fight together, using the advantages of their strategic position.