Official society decided long ago that it no longer needed large numbers of Black workers in the city, so when the Hurricane hit they seized upon it as an opportunity to cleanse the city of what they saw to be its “surplus population.” That’s why the struggle that Katrina refugees are waging to rebuild their city is emblematic of the kind of struggle that many workers will find ourselves waging in crumbling industrial cities from Newark to Detroit to Gary.
Last year one of the most remarkable protests in American history took place. Up to a million or more people marched in the streets, effectively staging walkouts from work and school. These marches shocked official society and exposed to many the not-so-hidden conflicts underneath the surface of the supposed booming American economy and civil peace. They expressed a critical mass of accumulated frustration with increased attacks on immigrant workers in the U.S. over the past few years by the federal and local state governments, employers and a resurgent racist populist movement.
The wheels on the bus did not go ‘round and ‘round for almost three days and no one could take the A train if they desired. Though it barely survived three days, the New York City transit strike was national news. It may not be permanently placed in our collective memories like famous nursery rhymes and jazz songs, but it should be. There were both important achievements and significant defeats in this struggle that affected tens of millions and had a whole city talking. Taken together, they provide an opportunity to move farther in the future. It is important to assess what was at stake in this strike and what were its limitations.
Two major events happened the last two years whose meaning many hope are interconnected in some fashion. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), also known as the Wobblies, celebrated their 100th anniversary. This was an opportunity to make a festival of the ideals of workers self-management. Also, the New Unity Partnership (NUP), a faction within the trade union bureaucracy of the AFL-CIO, separated from the national labor federation. Many have seen NUP as an important step forward in reviving the labor movement. Now joined by the Teamsters, this coalition has the new name of Change to Win.
On the anniversaries of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, we witness many television presentations recalling the sacrifices and heroism of the firefighters that survived and perished trying to save innocent citizens as the twin towers of New York City came tumbling down. With this in mind we might reflect on what firefighters represent, not merely to American civilization, but to labor’s role in its pursuit of self-government.
The Wages for Women’s Housework Campaign together with Selma James and the Global Women’s Strike raise basic questions stemming from the demand that women’s work be paid since their work is invaluable for sustaining this society, as it is presently constituted. What role have working class housewives played under capitalism? How might we conceptualize women’s rebellion against capitalist labor? Can waged labor be a progressive force for women’s liberation? What does international solidarity mean between women, and particularly housewives?
The Atlanta strike of 1977 shows the coming of age of a coalition of black and white city officials, along with civic and business elites, under the leadership of the city’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson. Just seven years earlier Jackson publicly sided with sanitation workers against a white mayor seeking to fire them. Jackson and some members of the civil rights establishment, in positions of local government by the mid-1970s, did not hesitate to marshal the forces of official society against the self-activity of black workers.
Stan Weir was a lifelong laborer and labor activist. During 50 years on the job, he worked as a merchant marine, an autoworker, a teamster, and a longshoreman. Here he learned the principles that would inform and guide his activism for the rest of his life: direct, on-the-job action to settle grievances; the importance of unions with leaders who stay on the job; and the role of informal workgroups.
Not Only the Front or Back, But the Whole Bus Will Be Ours: Reflections on Organizing Around Atlanta Public Transit
A legacy of the New South, Atlanta is home to an ongoing struggle over public transit between its largely working class black population and a multiracial transit board of directors which includes old guard Civil Rights elders, black church leaders, and wealthy businessmen and women, black, brown, and white alike.
The economy and politics of higher education are at the heart of teaching assistant efforts to keep their union. Large research universities run on the backs of its staff, out-sourced labor, adjuncts and graduate teaching assistants, while a handful—administration, tenured faculty, employers and the state—profit and claim to represent the social mission of the university.
Mike Ermler has been a long-time activist in Detroit involved in both labor and anti-fascist organizing. He talks to NBJ about his experiences through three decades of workplace militancy, anti-racism, and deindustrialization in Detroit.
Franklin Rosemont, Michael Denning and Moe Foner have written important books that address the intersections between political and labor movements and the meaning and role of culture. Each contain insights as well as significant pitfalls that should serve as a warning for all those who seek to tackle the role of cultural thought and practice in relation to labor movements and politics.
Poetry & Art
Damn near 28 years
Joe had given to the company
along with his knees, back, and shoulders.
Since they eliminated his helper,
he did the work of 2 men.