How can we revitalize the labor movement to reverse inequality, beat financialization, and win worker protections from the state?
Unions once served as the “core equalizing institution" of American capitalism, as sociologist Jake Rosenfeld demonstrated in What Unions No Longer Do. In the 1950s, union membership in the U.S. was on par with Germany, Finland and Canada. Now the share of workers who engage in collective bargaining here is nowhere close to levels in those countries. The role of unions as a “countervailing power” against big business has nearly disappeared. Since the 1970s, the fall of union density has been the reverse image of the rise in income inequality and financialization. Workers’ power, wages, and dignity have suffered.
How can we change that?
We invite you to answer this call in a reading group. A new labor movement is rising. Teachers are launching illegal strikes in "red" states, “essential” workers are walking out of warehouses, hospitals, and restaurants, pension funds with worker representation are weaponizing “labor’s capital,” graduate students are unionizing, and service sector employees are winning a $15 minimum wage. Chiefly, we seek to understand “how labor can win” in America’s gigged, financialized, and plutocratic economy. We will therefore survey a variety of initiatives and strategies put forth in today’s labor movement. We aim to examine these issues through a sociological lens.
Perhaps the most important task of this book club will be to brainstorm new methods and lines of research that can illuminate the many ways, new and old, in which people can use collective action in the workplace to expand economic and political democracy. We hope this reading group can serve as a wellspring for innovative sociological research that can deliver practical value to aspiring employee activists, organizers, and policymakers.
Will you join us? If so, please write to Teke Wiggin (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Devin Wiggs (email@example.com) with a brief description of your interests and propose any books/articles/issues you would like the group to eventually discuss. We plan on meeting for an hour once a month to discuss articles or a book that the group decides to read. We hope our first meeting will take place during the third week of January.
For our first meeting, we will read a primer on the latest developments in the American labor movement: sociologist Jake Rosenfeld’s "US Labor Studies in the Twenty-First Century: Understanding Laborism Without Labor."