Tag Archives: Covid-19

Foretelling Labor’s Future in the Cloudy Crystal Ball

Pearl River     Roughly 39 million Americans have applied for unemployment, not even counting gig and self-employed workers, workers who have abandoned job search, or couldn’t access the benefits, which means real unemployment is over 50 million.  Statistical unemployment will be 17 or 18% but clearly, we’re at Great Depression levels of over 20%, and likely higher.  No one argues that the current situation in the United States is not at levels that have not been reached since then, and many are arguing that we are on course to exceed those levels.

Talking to Joe McCartin, professor of history at Georgetown University and director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor on Wade’s World and likely the preeminent labor scholar currently, I asked him to look into his crystal ball and give us a sense of what this situation might mean for workers and labor organizations.  In so many words, Joe’s response, was in effect, “cloudy with a chance of scattered thunderstorms.”  He underlined the fact that he was a historian not a fortuneteller, so we ended up spending more time fingering our worry beads than conjuring sugarplum visions of the future.

Joe pointed out that the speed of the job loss in this depression was historically unique.  90 years ago, the job loss was a slower moving storm, while this cataclysmic drop was lightening fast over less than ten weeks.  We are charting unknown territory.  The surge of union organizing success then had largely been as employment improved and then solidified under labor codes for workers’ wages and bargaining rights in the war years.

We bemoaned the fact that service workers had been particularly hit in this depression and shared the fear that public employees would see large job losses as well, just as we saw after the Great Recession in 2008.  Unions in the public and service sector from teachers to casino workers to janitors have been the leading organizing unions over recent decades, and we worried that they may not be in shape to help lead a resurgence.

Trying not to be totally Debbie-downers, we speculated that the status of gig workers as workers, rather than independent contractors, was likely to become a more permanent situation.  We were wistful about whether they had the potential for new organization, saying so, without necessarily really believing it.  We took a couple of whacks at the devastation being wrought by private equity in housing and health care with more conviction.

Professor McCartin has more recently been linked to the notion of something called “bargaining for the common good.”  Joe explained this as linking unions and communities together and expanding collective bargaining demands past the workplace into areas like housing, and obviously health in the time of the pandemic.  This isn’t exactly a new concept, far from it, but always worth promoting.  Unfortunately, as Joe and I expressed our fears about the current situation and the likely horror it is bringing to workers and low-and-moderate income families, any notion of significant advances in collective bargaining with diminished union strength, seemed hollow.

Talking about the common good during times of virtual full-employment is one thing, but right now when we haven’t hit bottom yet, given the callous inequity of the governmental response, for many it may take a while to go from everyone for themselves to realizing our only hope is through collective action.

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Making Reality from Fiction:  Underground Soccer Leagues

Pearl River     Remember way back in another lifetime, pre-pandemic, before the coronavirus global killer wave?  It seems years ago, but it was only last summer that ACORN’s French affiliate, Alliance Citoyenne, gained huge attention throughout France and all of Europe and the Francophone world, when our members and leaders led actions with Muslim women and girls in Grenoble and Lyon who were refused entry to swimming pools, even with their children, if they were wearing any face covering, like a burqa.

This was about more than French cultural chauvinism, valuing their historic view of the world over any other concerns, social or religious.  They banned such clothing from all public places, not just swimming pools.  They also banned any women wearing a burqa from public employment in outright employment discrimination.

Now their hypocrisy is showing even more clearly.  During the pandemic, masks were de rigueur.  As France opens up now, they are also requiring that anyone using public transportation wear masks, yet the burqa bans continue to be in full force and effect.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t just in France, but widely across the European Union and even in Quebec in North America.  Civil rights groups are reportedly gearing up to challenge the bans.

Having led the fight in France, I wasn’t surprised when the head organizer of the Alliance, Adrien Roux, told me in our weekly call that they had been contacted by a group of thirty Muslim women soccer players who wanted to be able to play with any kind of head covering they thought appropriate in line with their religion.  Coincidentally, in a rarity for me, I had been reading a dystopian novel, called The Resisters by Gish Jen set some years in the future.  I had stumbled on a reference to it in a sports page that piqued my interested because it mentioned that baseball was a dominant theme throughout the book.  Our heroes, the resisters, in the book, are Surplus, the vast army of the unemployed, after artificial intelligence has eliminated millions of jobs and nation states have consolidated in a new economy dominated by the Netted.  Our heroes create an underground baseball league from various Surplus communities and go to great links to keep Aunt Nettie, as they call the constant governing surveillance force, from finding them playing and stopping the games.

So, why not an underground league of Muslim women soccer players in France and perhaps throughout Europe?  Why not challenge other teams to play in defiance of the rules, just as white and black college basketball teams played each other in defiance of segregation norms in the United States in the 20th century?  I have a feeling I know who would win eventually.

Picture this as well.  In a 50-person Uber call in New Orleans among members and of ACORN’s Louisiana affiliate, the fear of the virus and the concern for more effective masks provoked some amazing discussion.  In fact, there was a serious proposal to re-purpose Spanx as a full head covering for neighborhood African-American women.  If you can imagine that, it’s not hard to see a burqa as perhaps a better virus solution and absolutely a more comfortable one.

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