Air Date 4/29/2022
[00:00:00] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast, in which we shall take a look at the rising wave of successful unionization efforts, and the corporate tactics being leveled against them, including the propaganda that surrounds the very culture of labor.
Clips today are from The Real News, ABC News, Democracy Now!, Some More News, and On The Media, with an additional members-only clip also from On The Media.
From Amazon to Starbucks, workers are rising up—and progressives need to support them at all costs Part 1 - The Real News - Air Date 4-8-22
[00:00:29] HARVEY J. KAYE: For 45 -- in fact, I should say 50 -- years, capital has declared -- they have always been in conflict with labor, but for the past 45 to 50 years, there has been a class war against working people in the United States.
Conservatism was always eager to pursue that class war. But then in the seventies there emerged something known as neo-liberalism. Which in one sense is a classic form, a classic form of reduce wages, break up unions, taxes, empower business, et cetera.
But we should understand that the word actually signified something very significant in the seventies. It meant a new form of liberalism. That is, the neo-liberals that included Jimmy Carter and others were determined to take the Democratic party and turn it away from the Roosevelt tradition. And when they declared war on capital by way of the Trilateral Commission of Corporate and Political Leaders, by way of the famous Louis Powell memorandum to the Chamber of Commerce -- and people can read those it's available online -- the fact is that as much as it seemed a political move, it actually was the political vanguard of the class war on labor. And it was powerful in the seventies. They used to say, don't know if it's true or not, that in the seventies, the fastest growing enterprise was union-busting law firms. And it came to a head in 1978 when Doug Fraiser left the Dunlop Commission and wrote an open letter, I believe it was open, to Jimmy Carter saying I cannot serve on a labor management commission when they have declared class war on us. While the fact is, the Democrats turn their back on working people, on the labor movement, and decidedly on the FDR tradition. And the class war extended, not only from the workplace, it extended out into a war on the rights of women, the rights of people of color, and we have seen for these decades -- and I want to make it very clear, Max, you know, you came out to Wisconsin to cover this, to look back on this story -- for decades we've public employees -- well, specifically professors and academics in Wisconsin -- pursued collective bargaining rights. This was the first state to grant collective bargaining rights to public employees back in 1959. And in 2002, when Scott Walker and the Republicans took control of the legislature and the governor's mansion, they immediately pursued what? the disfranchisement, I'll call it that, the disempowering, they stripped public employees of their collective bargaining rights.
What's going on now, and I'll just sum it up now, what's going on now is we've seen workers go out on strike. We've seen them walk out of jobs. And those workers include everyone from teachers to Kellogg's corn flakes makers basically. And we see it down in Alabama now. And what we've seen in the Amazon strike is this breakthrough moment. Starbucks workers are doing it. Everyone who has a job recognizes, even if they're not old enough to know how long this has been going on, that they are literally the targets of class war and the billionaires, as Bernie would say, are becoming, soon enough, trillionaires.
[00:03:54] SARA NELSON: I think about where we are, and I'm just thinking also about Chris and I think about Chris Smalls getting fired in 2020, and Amazon having 150% attrition rate. There hasn't been a desire to fix anything where it is. It's all been about if you don't like it, go somewhere else. And the most common phrase that workers heard for decades was, get a job somewhere. If you don't like it here and get a job somewhere else, you know? Go find another one. It's your fault if you don't like it. And what Chris said, and what needs to be said, is No, you're not going to chase me away. I'm going to make it better right here. I'm going to stick it to you and I'm gonna stick with it as long as it takes to do that.
And really, I mean, that's the moment that we're in here. Are we gonna stay and fight or are we just going to continue to let them demoralize us?
I always talk about the four D's of union busting.
There's divide. They find every single way to divide us. And, more recently it has been along identifying with a political party.
Two, they find a ways to delay. So they'll delay any improvements, any resolution. That makes people give up.
And, they find ways to demoralize us and bring us to that demoralization.
I'm sorry. The third is distract. So they'll distract with all kinds of things that get us moving in a different direction. For flight attendants it's almost a joke. Every single time we go into contract negotiations the company says, Ooh, we're going to do a new uniform [laughs]. But I mean, there's a lot of ways to distract, right?
But ultimately moving to the place, the union busters' holy grail is demoralization. Because when you get to that place, you're under a rock. You're not even trying anymore. There's not even anger. There's not even any emotion that allows you to propel yourself forward.
So right now we're fighting through all of that. I mean, when we talk about being free, that has to include economic freedom. And in this country, we have not been willing to say that. We haven't been willing to say that for a very long time, if fully ever, because even the New Deal of course left certain people out. So it still was buying into those four D's of union busting.
But we really have an opportunity right now to have people connect together. I mean, I'm down on the picket line in Alabama and I can't tell you the number of times that I have to stop somebody with a snarky comment about, oh, those coal miners just have to get over it and get on with it. Like we're not going to going to use coal anymore. They are mining metallurgical coal that is essential to making steel. Guess what? It's going over to China. They're turning it into steel. It's coming back as windmills, as a different source of energy. But beyond that, it's never the worker's fault. Never, ever. Who were the first environmentalists? It was the United Mine Workers of America when they were fighting the coal companies to make sure that they weren't poisoning the towns that they were living in and poisoning the water of their children. They were fighting back on those issues. They were fighting for those safety provisions in the workplace.
So I think it's really important that anytime that we're looking at another worker and thinking that we're in competition with them, that we have to check ourselves and understand that's the union buster at work. We got to come together. Women: women have been -- well I think about the textile workers in New York -- women who were fighting because they had lost their husband. They had lost the breadwinner. They had to still provide for their children, were willing to take jobs at a lower rate than men because they had to work. They had to out of desperation. They had to try to provide for their families. And so they were exploited in that way.
But then also the unions that existed at the time hated the women for undercutting the wages of the men. But it's really the box who's setting up the systems. That's what we have to understand is all of these things have been set up for us to fail. Cab drivers are not against Uber drivers. They're against the system that Uber created to undercut the cab drivers' work. Right? And to undercut all of us and to try to create an Uberization of our entire economy so that if we need a nurse, maybe we'll just call for them on an app. And they're not really an employee of anyone, so they can't have any employment rights.
I mean, that's where we're getting to if we don't understand that all of these tactics across the board are the same, and we have to join together as workers, have each other's backs in solidarity.
And so, being down there, going to Alabama for me is, it's spiritual. The mine workers were the ones who led the fight for the eight hour day. And here we are fighting for it once again. Ask any worker out there: do you work an eight hour day? It's gone. Your either enforced over time, or the company is not scheduling you enough to meet your benefits, right? Either way they're undercutting that. The eight hour day is gone. We're fighting for the same things that we fought for before: sick leave, vacation, rights on the job, the right to collectively bargain.
This, where you're met, never should have let this strike happen. They're not even meeting at the table because they understand that they have the state of Alabama on their side, and they can order the Alabama troopers usher the scabs into the mine in order to get by the strikers and even maybe hit them on the way.
So we're in the same fight that we were in a hundred years ago. That's what we have to understand. This could no longer be about "labor built the weekend, labor built the eight hour day, labor got us sick leave, all these things." True. But if we don't understand that it's always a struggle, we lose our muscle. And that's what has happened. We've gone to a place where unions are the HR solution for management, as opposed to with relationships behind closed doors, as opposed to understanding our fundamental purpose, which is to join working people together in the workplace, take capital on where it is. If we think that we can form another political party and solve this, we don't understand how this works.
Because if workers form unions and make these demands on the boss, at some point the boss is going to break and want everyone else to have to provide the same benefits. That's how we move forward. And we need to move forward and finalize what Walter Reuther tried to get done, which was a pension and healthcare for every single worker in this country.
No matter who you are, that that promise, but coming for a full day's work, and decent work for your lifetime of working ages, we'll provide you healthcare and a secure retirement. That's really simple. But when he went to the auto workers and said, let's go together and get this done so that you don't have to be responsible for that, they said, no, it sounds too much like socialism. And it didn't happen. So he said, instead, I'm going to take it from you. And that is what started to form what people now call the union card. And they'll try to sell the union label.
The fact of the matter is that we are failing the 13 million union members who exist today if we're not organizing in the millions right now. Because all it is is a backward slide now.
There is no distinction between the non-union worker and the union worker who has a union card. In fact, there are workers in my union who do not have the healthcare that they should have. They're recently organized, and the management is saying it's a non-starter. There are other union members who are in that same position. So we have to understand.
And then the union members who do have the healthcare, guess what? The hedge funds are controlling that. They're closing the hospitals. They're cutting back on nurses and janitors and everyone else to make the healthcare system work. They're squeezing everyone from everywhere. You can't get healthcare, even if you do have health insurance.
So the big issues that we need to take on in this country, that we need to move forward, are only going to happen if we start in the workplace. That's the only way it's going to happen. Because the only person that Jeff Bezos has to answer to right now is Chris Smalls. He doesn't have to listen to any politician, doesn't have to listen to the voters. But he's got to listen to Chris Smalls.
And so that's what people have to fundamentally take in, is that if we're going to have a society that works for all of us, we got to take on capital right in our workplace. We've got to make sure that we're setting our demands straight, that we're joining together, that we're supporting each other in these issues, because I promise you, it's the Business Roundtable, the Chamber -- they're all coordinating on all the tactics that they can use to take more from us every single time. And if we're not struggling forward, we're going to lose that muscle to make it work. And we're also never gonna set the demands that Harvey has set out.
By the way, it's really important to set those demands. But you also got to be realistic about the politics of getting there. And they only way we change the politics is by organizing in our workplaces because then people register to vote. They're demanding those things of their employer. And all of a sudden the employer doesn't want to be the only one who has to pay.
That's the reality. That's the special sauce. That's, what's going to get us to an actual economic bill of rights. And if we don't do it, then we are not actually Americans. Because this is what it says to be American. And so it's on us. It's on each one of us to make that work.
By the way, United Mine Workers: we are one and we are everywhere. Let's make that real again.
Apple Store employee explains why he_s fighting to unionize - ABC News - Air Date 4-26-22
[00:13:35] TERRY MORAN: The state of Georgia here in the United States, where employees at the Cumberland Mall's Apple Store in Atlanta made history as the first retail store to file for our union election in the Apple universe. And the move is seen as a milestone, as employees ramp up efforts to unionize the tech Goliath retail workforce.
While negotiating better pay and benefits so far, more than 70% of the stores, more than 100 eligible employees have signified yes to unionizing. So that movement is going well. Helping lead the charge is Genius Bar Technician at the Apple Store in Cumberland, Derrick Bowles. Thanks for joining us, Derrick.
[00:14:15] DERRICK BOWLES: Of course, thank you for having me.
[00:14:17] TERRY MORAN: So, with nearly two thirds of the Cumberland Mall's Apple Store employees signing union authorization cards, what happens next?
[00:14:25] DERRICK BOWLES: So, we filed our petition last Wednesday. Apple will take some time to respond to us. There will be some time, some back and forth haggling over some details, and then hopefully sometime June we will have an election that we will win, to form the first union.
[00:14:42] TERRY MORAN: It's exciting, but why? Why do Apple employees at this store, and I assume you say at other Apple Stores around the country, why do you guys need a union?
[00:14:54] DERRICK BOWLES: There are a few things. I've been with Apple for 10 and a half years. When I joined Apple, we were a $450 billion company, somewhere around there, and now we're a $3 trillion company. We've grown fairly massive, I don't think that's a surprise to anybody. What we have seen is that pay in retail has not kept up with cost of living. So in Atlanta, for example the average apartment would cost you somewhere around $1,650 or so. If you want to be able to qualify for that, as we think that a full-time employee should be able to afford a one-bedroom apartment by themselves, if you work full-time you deserve the dignity of a home to call your own, and to qualify for that, you got to make $28 an hour.
It's not cheap living in Atlanta. It used to be championed as a fairly low cost of living city, but prices are going up, like they are everywhere else, and we just want to make sure that workers who work full time and who help Apple to create the kind of profits that it does get a fair shake.
[00:15:57] TERRY MORAN: That's a great point. Apple Stores generally located in, my hunch is, higher income neighborhoods and cities in this country and around the world where cost of living is higher. So how does unionization help reduce income inequality, and even poverty in those communities?
[00:16:15] DERRICK BOWLES: So if you look historically, you go back into the 30s and 40s, and you start seeing, as union membership increases, you see probably a 20 point drop in the percentage of income going to the top 10% of US income earners, and you see a bigger share going to average workers. Starting in the late 60s early 70s, union membership starts to get just pummeled and union power is we can through Supreme Court rulings and legislation, and as that happens, what we see is a massive increase in income inequality again.
We started seeing that the top 10%, again, starts taking a much, much larger percent of the wages. This particularly affects women and people of color, because the average Black man will make 22% less than the average White man in the same job, accounting for the same experience, same region, and same education. Unions are a way to guarantee that everybody gets a fair wage. It doesn't matter your race. It doesn't matter your gender. It doesn't matter your sexual orientation. None of that matters. In the union, you are all together, you are all working together, and everybody gets a fair shot.
[00:17:30] TERRY MORAN: And then that's it. I'm old enough to remember the heyday of unions in the 1960s and labor Democrats, where Democrats were closely aligned with unions, and it did make a difference. Derrick Bowles, we wish you and your colleagues good luck, and congratulations on what you've accomplished so far.
“We Just Unionized Amazon”: How Two Best Friends Beat the Retail Giant’s Union-Busting Campaign - Democracy Now! - Air Date 4-4-22
[00:17:48] AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Can you talk about the significance of this victory?
[00:17:53] JOSEFA VELASQUEZ: I mean, I don’t think we can really understand how big this is. These guys, to their credit, really were this grassroots movement, and they took on Amazon, which is a behemoth, and Jeff Bezos, the second-richest person on Earth. And they really did it through their connections with the people in the facility. I mean, I think both Chris and Derrick have worked at multiple Amazon sites in the last few years, and they know the people that they work with. They understand the company. You know, a lot of times when you see anti-union messaging, it’s always, “These outsiders are coming in. They’re going to threaten the way that your work is done.” But these are two individuals and many other organizers who know the nitty-gritty and the details of how Amazon works. I mean, sometimes they would explain things to me, and I would just stare at them with a blank expression because it was so wonky. So, the fact that not only they understood the company and the work that was being done behind it, they look like the people who work there. Amazon thrives on high turnover among its employees, so you do see a lot of people who are very young.
And it’s very quintessential New York with some of these captive audience meetings. We’ve heard leaked audio previously from some of these meetings down South, but in New York what you’re hearing is people pushing back. New York is a union town, but these guys really didn’t have much institutional backing or support. And it is the ultimate Cinderella story.
[00:19:22] AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: You talked about, to say the least, Amazon being large. It’s the second-largest private employer in the country — right? — right behind Walmart, and, of course, Jeff Bezos, the second-wealthiest man on Earth. I wanted to go back to 2018, when then-Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said Amazon believed its workers didn’t need a union.
[00:19:45] JEFF BEZOS: Very good communications with our employees, so we don’t believe that we need a union to be an intermediary between us or our employees. But, of course, at the end of the day, it’s always the employees’ choice. And that’s how it should be. So, we’re — but, for sure, we would be very naive to believe that we’re not going to be criticized. I mean, that’s just part of the terrain. You have to accept that. One other thing I tell people is, if you’re going to be — if you’re going to do anything new or innovative, you have to be willing to be misunderstood.
[00:20:19] AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: That was 2018. “You have to be willing to be misunderstood.” I wanted to go back to Christian Smalls. There was an internal memo that was leaked saying that you weren’t very smart, and so they would make you the face of the movement — a challenge you took up in a very big way, saying, “OK, if I’m the face, I’m the face.”
[00:20:40] CHRISTIAN SMALLS: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. When that memo came out, that obviously motivated me to continue advocating for workers’ rights across the nation. Me and Derrick, we traveled the country. We protested in front of Jeff Bezos’s mansions and penthouses that we can find on Google, from the East Coast to the West Coast. And we decided to go back home to Staten Island.
Once again, we were invested in this company. Derrick is still invested. He’s over six-year vet. They don’t realize who we are to this company. We understand the warehouses more than Jeff Bezos do. So it’s funny that he said, “You’re going to be misunderstood,” because we were. We were underestimated. We were counted out. People didn’t believe in us. People thought that this wasn’t going to happen. They had never thought that — expected that we were going to be here. It’s not just Jeff Bezos and his general counsel that didn’t want us to get here. It’s a lot of other people as well, that claimed to be on the same side, that didn’t believe that we would be here. So, for us to be here at this moment, it’s once again surreal for us.
[00:21:45] AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: Now, you went down to Bessemer. I remember when we were doing a piece, we heard you were down there. Now, that, the Bessemer union-organizing effort, was run by RWDSU — right? — the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. And we’re still waiting to hear the results now —
[00:22:04] CHRISTIAN SMALLS: Yeah.
[00:22:04] AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: — on the second vote. The NLRB said that Amazon had to have a — allow for a second election because they had interfered with the first one. Why didn’t you go with, oh, RWDSU or the Teamsters, for example? The Teamsters union praised the workers at Amazon in Staten Island for your victory and ongoing union efforts of Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, tweeting, “What these elections show is Amazon workers want a union. The workers in Bessemer and Staten Island don’t have to wait for the government or anyone else to tell them they have power. They’re taking a stand & Amazon can’t skirt the law indefinitely. The #Teamsters are excited to continue this fight against Amazon — on the shop floor, at the bargaining table, & on the streets.” But it is Amazon Labor Union that actually won this battle, and it’s the first against Amazon to win.
[00:23:03] CHRISTIAN SMALLS: Right, right. Well, once again, these established unions, with their resources and the money that they have, the volunteers that they have, I tell everybody, they had 28 years. Amazon has been around for 28 years. We’ve done something that was unprecedented, because when we went down to Bessemer, we saw some missed opportunities with the campaign the first time. We saw things that didn’t really fit what Amazon workers represent. And I felt that, in order to take down the machine, it has to become — it has to come from within. It has to be the workers organizing themselves. And that’s what we did with the ALU. We created something that resonated with the workers. We are the workers. We know the ins and outs of the company. We live the grievances. We understand the concerns. We know the language. We look like Amazon employees, especially here in New York.
So, bringing in an established union, that would have took so much time away from actually campaigning towards an election, because we would now have to educate the union on what Amazon is and how to connect with workers. And I think Amazon uses that against us. Already, even with the ALU, they claim that we’re a third party. If you listen to the captive audiences, they say “they” are going to make the decisions for you. They tried to separate us. But they couldn’t do that, because we say we are — we are all the union. All the workers together are the union. And together, we’re going to make these decisions. And that’s how we were able to be successful against Amazon.
[00:24:40] AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: I wanted to ask Josefa Velásquez about what’s happening in Bessemer. You’ve got a very close vote. I think it’s 993 “no” votes, 875 “yes” votes, more than 400 contested ballots. According to the NLRB, the National Labor Relations Board, there will be a hearing within a few weeks to decide if the challenged ballots will be opened and counted. Talk about the difference you see in strategizing between what happened in Staten Island and what’s happening in Bessemer right now.
[00:25:17] JOSEFA VELASQUEZ: Right. I think, it’s what Chris said, that these are Amazon workers who are unionizing and organizing within their ranks, as opposed to what’s happening down South, where you do have a major labor union that is helping organize. And the first time around with the vote in Bessemer, they got a lot of heat, because you’re bringing in celebrities, high-profile politicians. That’s not the people who work at Amazon. Those are people who surely order stuff from Amazon, but that’s not the folks that are inside packing up orders, shipping them out, putting in 10- to 12-hour days. So there was a disconnect there. And they had a second chance at it, and it’s still really close.
And you can’t discount the fact that New York is typically pro-union and union-friendly. But at the same time, you know, to the ALU’s immense positioning, it’s organizing within the ranks and understanding how this company works and the intricacies of it. For us at the user-facing platform, it’s three clicks, and you have your product. But for the workers themselves, it’s all of these different steps, all of this jargon. And you understand that, at least in New York, sometimes to get to the Amazon facility in the northwest corner of Staten Island, you have to take a bus, you have to take a train, and then another bus, and it’s a two-hour commute each way. So they understand who are the workers behind this organization. And it’s really, I think — you know, a lot of the times you get the word “grassroots” thrown around, but this is a case where it’s truly grassroots, where you have people who understand how Amazon works. I mean, Derrick still works inside of the facility and saw the union busting going on firsthand. Chris has worked as a supervisor in Amazon previously. He’s trained people. So they know exactly who the workers are and their grievances and how the union can help make things better.
[00:27:10] AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: So, Derrick, what are your plans now? ALU has won this enormous victory. What are your demands?
[00:27:22] DERRICK PALMER: Well, just having better benefits, better pay, like sick time. Those are the basic things. Also job security. Amazon has a 150% turnover ratio at JFK alone. So, people that come and commute from all these different boroughs, their jobs should be secure. It shouldn’t take them three hours to get to work, and then, when they get there, they could possibly be fired. The possibilities of that are very high. So we have to make that change, and also recruiting more workers to get involved with the union, becoming shop stewards. So we want to have shop stewards in different departments, so that we have workers representing other workers and that we can create an environment where our demands and the workers’ needs are appreciated. So, if you have these workers on the inside being more involved with the union, then now you create a powerful force that ultimately can’t really be stopped, and Amazon has to abide by these rules.
[00:28:29] AMY GOODMAN - HOST, DEMOCRACY NOW!: And, Josefa, if you can talk about the comparison of what’s happening with Amazon now and with Starbucks, what we’re seeing all over the country right now?
[00:28:40] JOSEFA VELASQUEZ: Right, and I think it all goes back to the early days of the pandemic, where everyone was lauding essential workers, people who still had to work, while some of us had the luxury to work from home, and these 7 p.m. clap-outs that we had. All these people had to work through the pandemic. And suddenly, from one day to the next, we just forgot about it, and it became in the back of our minds. So now you have this moment where people were more conscious of the working class, the people who keep us fed, the people who deliver our coffee, deliver our packages. And so I think it created this moment, really, in history where people started recognizing the working class more so than before, especially when it comes to like tech and big companies, where now you’re seeing Amazon and Starbucks having these major profit margins, while their workers are struggling to pay rent, to keep themselves fed, and are getting sick and dying from this virus.
So, it created this moment where everyone was looking around and saying, you know, “We have an immense amount of power, because people are no longer putting up with some of the working situations they have — they have other alternatives — and that at the end of the day, dying over a Starbucks is not worth it, so let’s create something different. Let’s organize. You know, there’s power in numbers.”
And I think there’s two very clear things happening here, where it’s these worker-led movements and also a very big generational shift into the feelings towards unions. Gen Z and millennials don’t have the same antipathy that perhaps Gen Xers and Baby Boomers have towards unions. These are unicorn-type jobs, where if you’re able to grab a union job, great. These are very rare. So, it’s this idea of organizing and this behind-the-scenes look through social media of how my coffee gets made in the morning and all the steps behind it — and same thing with Amazon, it’s “How does my package actually get from point A to point B?” — that I think caused this moment of revelation for everyone that it’s not OK how people are treated.
Unions And Strikes Are Good -Some More News - Air Date 3-30-22
[00:30:47] CODY JOHNSTON - HOST, SOME MORE NEWS: Over 140, 000 people went on strike last year, for concerns including, "Please pay us more," and "Please give us healthcare," and "Hey, could we not die on the job?"
One of the most notable strikes started in October, 2021. 10,000 United Auto Workers, employees for John Deere in Iowa, went on strike citing stagnating wages despite increasing profits. Workers only receive a 5% pay increase, while the CEO received a 160% pay raise.
The strike continued after John Deere made some concessions increasing the pay raise to 10%, but this new contract allowed a loophole for them to keep hiring supplemental workers who would earn way less than workers doing the same job. Which seems like a clever way to start to phase out your normal employees for supplemental workers, whom you get to pay less for literally no good reason, while trying to pit your employees against each other. Nice work there, dicks-running-John-Deere!
Unsurprisingly United Auto Workers voted to remain on strike while this two-tier pay system continues to exist. John Deere responded to the strike by getting an injunction to limit the number of picketers outside the factory to four at a time, and to ban burn-barrels that were keeping strikers warm at night. Using the power of the freezing cold to fight against strikers; you know, Mr. Freeze stuff, but without the relatable backstory about loving his wife.
They also forced salaried workers to become scabs, and take over the factory floor work, despite these salaried workers being woefully untrained and unprepared to, you know, work in a factory. Almost immediately after John Deere forced their workers to go on the factory floor, someone crashed a tractor into an electrical box. Oops! I guess the unskilled, replaceable work of operating 10,000 pound machines requires some, um, skill.
While this incident is admittedly pretty funny, what's not funny is that John Deere cares so little about it's salaried employees that they're willing to risk the lives of office workers by thrusting them into an environment they haven't trained for. And they care so little about their factory workers, that in all the years they've been running the company, they haven't bothered to learn how difficult their job is. It feels like the embodiment of Michael Scott. Like there has to be an Office episode about this.
Anyway, the John Deere strike ended only after the company relented and gave workers a 10% pay raise. But this was far from the only strike that struck even before Striketober began. In Striketember, Nabisco employees went on strike for an attempt by the company to implement a similar two-tier wage system. The strike only ended when the union was able to demand increased wages and killed said payment system.
Then there's the Kellogg strike in Omaha, in which workers, also like the John Deere strikers, are against a two-tier system, where Kellogg's is able to pay those they deemed transitional employees less for the same amount of work as legacy employees. Kellogg's was also trying to increase the number of employees they get to classify as transitional employees. So, you know, trying to pay more employees less. The strike was also over poor working conditions where they're forced to work 12 to 16 hour days, given mandatory overtime, and were punished for taking sick days. If there's one thing we've learned during the pandemic, it's that forcing people to work when they're sick is smart and good and smart again and good again. The strike ended after the union voted to accept a new work contract that offered higher wages and more benefits.
Speaking of gross food we love, in October, McDonald's workers walked off the job in 12 different cities over the company inadequately protecting workers from sexual, verbal, and physical harassment in the workplace. Also, 60,000 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees threatened to strike, citing grueling working conditions, over 12 hour work days with little-to-no breaks, and low pay. IATSE president Matthew Lobe said, "Our people have basic human needs, like time for meal breaks, adequate sleep, and a weekend. For those at the bottom of the pay scale, they deserve nothing less than a living wage."
Wow! Sleep? Meal breaks? What's next? Not having your every move monitored while having to skip bathroom breaks to keep your job?
Also known as being an Amazon employee. How incredibly shocking that while we were writing this episode, Amazon experienced a bunch of walkouts from employees demanding a higher wage and longer breaks. Did I say we wrote this episode? No, no, no. This is spontaneous. It's... it's rebel radio! Hard Harry! Et cetera and so forth.
Anyhow, in related news that I'm spontaneously mentioning, 30,000 Kaiser Permanente employees threatened to strike in November, also citing a two-tiered system in which newer hires would be given up to a 39% pay cut for the same work as other employees, despite the company making $10 billion during the pandemic, and its CEO getting a $35 million retirement package.
Hey, do you notice a trend in these strikes? One of their primary complaints has been unequal pay for newer hires, which creates a system of arbitrary inequity among the workforce. The workers striking may not even be the ones getting the pay cut, but still go on strike in solidarity. Unions recognize that when companies do this, they splinter workers into smaller groups, causing rifts and making it harder to organize. In this case, it was more like Kaiserperman-not-permanente..., not-permanent... Kaiser... permanent... not permanent... Because the company caved, is the point; agreeing to do away with the two-tier payment system and increasing wages.
Shane Burley, the communications organizer of the Oregon Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, said "I'm really happy we have an agreement. It was a really long fight. It only happened because we basically put forth the largest healthcare strike in American history." In fact, around half of the 140,000 people who went on strike in 2021 were healthcare workers. Or, you know, the heroes on the frontline of the pandemic that we made cute Funko Pops out of, and some weird political cartoons imagining them getting killed in a war, before forgetting to do anything materially useful for them at all, or like, even viewing them as people with lives who were just doing a job that wasn't supposed to have casualties. Like, imagine if a serial killer was slaughtering a bunch of accountants, and instead of doing anything, we just called them brave soldiers and thank them for their sacrifice. That would be weird and [bleep] up.
And so, in 2021 nurses went on strike for 10 months in Massachusetts at St Vincent Hospital. The hospital is owned by Tenet, a very serious action adventure through time and space that I have not gotten around to seeing yet. And a for-profit healthcare company that owns 60 hospitals in the U S and is valued at over $8 billion. The nurses union had been negotiating with hospital management for two years for a better contract, asking for pay increases, and safer working conditions, but mainly for the hospital to address its staffing issues. More specifically, that there was not enough staff per patient. The strikers called out a policy of the hospital to send nurses home during a shift if the management thought they were not needed, a practice called flexing. But despite how it sounds, this was done out of cost-cutting, and not overstaffing. Meaning that the remaining nurses on duty became swamped. And, amazingly, this happened even during the pandemic.
[00:37:48] NEW YORK TIMES CLIP: To maximize profits, American hospitals have been intentionally under-staffing nurses for decades. Long before the pandemic.
What the hospital industry doesn't want you to know is that there's never been more licensed nurses in America; hospitals just aren't hiring them.
[00:38:08] CODY JOHNSTON - HOST, SOME MORE NEWS: After the 300 day strike of 700 workers, the nurses union won. They not only beat the hospital management's attempt to replace them with strike breakers, they also got their main demands over staffing issues, 2% pay raises, better health-- since the nurses need healthcare, too-- and provisions for nurses who are assaulted on the job, which is, sadly, a thing that happens a lot.
This is also an improvement for patients. Research has shown, unsurprisingly, that patient outcomes improve when they get more individual time with nurses.
But despite what seems like a win for both the nurses and the patients, amazingly, there was an attempt to kill the nurses union following their victory. The National Right to Work Defense Fund, an anti-union organization, has given money to aid in a union decertification effort, led by a strike breaking nurse who, quite ironically, said the union was "Dividing workers."
Some fun facts about the National Right to Work Defense Fund: it was established in 1968, and tries to advance right-to-work laws that prohibit unions from having agreements with management that all employees must pay dues. Also, it was started by a white supremacist. Because this is America, you see.
And so the anti-union right to work movement started with the Christian American Association led by Republican businessman, Vance Muse. Just to give you an idea of who Vance Muse was, his own son described him as a white supremacist, an anti-Semite, and a communist-baiter; a man who beat on labor unions, not on behalf of working people-- as he said-- but because he was paid to do so. Vance Muse also fought women's suffrage, tried to bring back child labor, and published anti-Semitic and anti-black propaganda.
In other words, the founder of the right to work is a man perpetually on the wrong side of history, who was probably paid to do it. And this is the same movement alive and kicking today, and trying to kill unions even after successful strikes that improve conditions for workers and patients.
Luckily the St. Vincent's nurses union voted to keep their union. So, that's good. In fact, the pushback against anti-union propaganda and toxic work culture in general seems to be growing. Posts from the anti-work subreddit have reached immense popularity and media pearl clutching. The anti-work subreddit has 1.8 million members since starting out as a niche community for work abolition, ending forced labor through capitalism. They cite books like "The Abolition of Work by Bob Black."
But for most of the users, it's a place to vent about their struggles and mistreatment at work, as well as a place for cathartic, if not sometimes fake, posts about texts they send their bosses quitting jobs that treat them poorly. It rose to prominence during the pandemic alongside the Great Resignation of people quitting in record numbers. And again, whether or not these posts of people telling off their workplaces are real or not, this subreddit really rose to fame as some hardcore comeuppance porn. Their popularity reveals how many people fantasize about quitting their job after a round of abuse from their boss.
And most importantly, people realizing they have the chance to actually demand better treatment and have leverage. As in, realizing the value of their labor and the fact that they aren't as replaceable as they've been told.
Why Work Won't Love You Back - On The Media - Air Date 4-22-22
[00:41:07] SARAH JAFFE: For most of Capitalism, the industrial work that made up the backbone of the system was miserable. It's hard, it's grinding, it's exhausting and breaks your body. So there is essentially a deal struck between bosses and employees. The work probably sucks, but we're going to pay you all right, and you're going to have a weekend, and you're going to probably be able to buy a house.
And this idea that you will find pleasure in your work was relegated to the sidelines. It was there for sort of critics of the system, like English artisan William Morris, who was both a maker of beautiful prints and also a radical socialist who was writing critiques of the system. He argued that people should get pleasure in the work itself, as well as the fruits of their labor. That that would actually be a more equal and a more just and less miserable society. We don't get that.
[00:42:00] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: We get a place to live, the ability to support a family, an occasional vacation, a weekend. Those basics were something that workers were willing to pay for with eight hour, five day work weeks.
[00:42:18] SARAH JAFFE: Right, and that was not that historically long a period of time that that ruled. But it is this thing that still has a really solid hold over our imaginations, because it gave us some expectation that we would be fairly remunerated for our work. The 1970s brings us a crisis of profits, essentially, where workers are getting an increasing piece of the pie and suddenly the pie stops growing. This has all sorts of reasons, everything from an oil crisis to political changes, but employers start outsourcing the factory jobs. We no longer want to pay people an ever growing slice of the pie.
Something replaces those jobs—teachers, care workers, retail workers, restaurant workers—and that work already existed and already had a different set of expectations for emotional labor and things like that, and also the cool knowledge jobs where you get to sit around talking on the radio about the book that you wrote, which are a minuscule part of the economy, really, those jobs too are expanding, and those to come with a different expectation that you will like it. You should be grateful for it.
One of the reasons that I think it's interesting to talk about this history is just to remind people that it's not always been this way, and it's still not this way for every worker. I went to Indiana to get a report on the Carrier factory closing after Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders had made a big deal out of it on the campaign trail in 2016. I was talking to workers and I was like, "What are you going to miss about the job?", and they all looked at me like I had three heads. You know, the paycheck. Maybe they were going to miss their buddies in the union and going to the bar after work for a round of beers before they go home, but nobody was like, "Oh, I'm really going to miss standing at the machine for 12 hours a day," no, "I'm going to miss $26 an hour plus overtime is what I'm going to miss."
[00:44:15] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: They had been roped in by the Fordist compromise, which receded in the 70s and then we got neoliberalism or post-Fordism, or, as you say, late capitalism. A world of fewer social services, fewer worker protections, jobs going offshore and workers begging for them to stay.
You quote Joshua Clover in his book, saying, "labor is locked into the position of affirming its own exploitation under the guise of survival," and you say that was a short step to the labor of love. Explain that.
[00:44:51] SARAH JAFFE: So one of the things that's been fascinating about the strikes this year is that we've seen a lot of strikes in manufacturing, which is a place we haven't seen that many of them in recent years because workers have been too busy trying to keep those plants open. Again, I revisit the Carrier plant, the Lordstown GM plant in Ohio, where factories are closing down and the workers are desperately trying to save them.
The striking thing about the Carrier plant actually was sort of on either side of it, there is an Amazon warehouse and a Target warehouse. You look around and you know what the jobs that you're going to get are when the factory closes. You're going to be making $15 an hour if you're lucky, which doesn't pay the mortgage on the house you bought $26 dollars an hour.
And so you go from being able to strike, shut down production, make demands for more, like the workers at John Deere did this summer – to begging your employer not to shut the factory down entirely and move it to Mexico, to Bangladesh, to Vietnam, to China. So that creates a very different relationship to the job and to the employer, and that connects really easily to this idea that was already proliferating in other forms of work: that we love our jobs, that we're grateful for our jobs, that our jobs give us meaning and fulfillment and pride.
[00:46:10] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: So this idea of love, roll back, again, to the 70s. You quoted Margaret Thatcher saying: "Whose society? There's no such thing. There are individual men and women and there are families." And the implication is work is an extension of family, so you should love it and be prepared to sacrifice for it.
[00:46:34] SARAH JAFFE: Yeah. One of the things that was fascinating when I was reporting my book was I expected to hear a lot of family talk in caring workplaces—in hospitals and health care and teaching, maybe in arts institutions. I didn't expect to hear it so much where I did, which was actually the video games industry. Games workers were always hearing it.
Literally, one company that I reported on in the book refers to itself on its website as a fampony. And I know about this company because it fired one of its workers for organizing.
I was speaking to the games workers and Kevin Agwaze, who is the person that I based my video games workers chapter on, he was joking about " you move halfway across the country to take a new job at the games company. And then there are these mass layoffs every year. And so they've laid you off six months after they've told you that you've joined the family" and it's like, your family doesn't have mass layoffs once a year. Where you evaluate Aunt Susan and decide nope, she's out now. No more part of the family.
Firing your family is very, very difficult. Firing your workers is very, very easy. One of the things that happens when you have this incredible pressure for everything to be on your individual back, is that it becomes all about your individual achievement, your individual relationships with your job, your individual utility maximizing, your ability to keep an eye out for the next good job and jump as soon as it comes along. That kind of pressure, among other things, it really militate against having these conversations with your coworkers, of realizing that actually, we're all in the same boat here.
[00:48:06] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: So it disrupts collective action.
[00:48:08] SARAH JAFFE: Exactly. It tells you that the solution, if you don't love your job, is to go find a job you do love, rather than to try to make your job better. And that is, I think, the most useful thing that the labor of love story does for employers writ large. It tells us that it's all on us.
[00:48:31] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: And with the decline of the factory job of the industrial job with a decent wage, you've got this reliance on love and the jobs that are now proliferating are care jobs, health jobs and so on, and they in particular can engender burnout.
[00:48:51] SARAH JAFFE: Yeah, the thing about burnout, which has become a sort of buzzword these days, is that the term and the condition originally come out of research on caring workers, on doctors and nurses. That doctors and nurses who were burned out were losing that motivation of caring about their work that they just couldn't bring themselves to care anymore.
But what is burnout to the factory worker who maybe never really cared that much about the drill that you lift, however many times an hour to do your part on the assembly line? It's very hard to feel intrinsically motivated about that, even though you might feel pride in the car that you helped build. And in the money that you bring home, burnout essentially becomes a problem of the labor of love.
[00:49:40] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: I remember talking to a therapist who talked about something that was in the 60s called stewardess syndrome, where you had to smile, even when sleazy business people were touching you or pulling at your skirt. You had to really convey a love for your job and a kind of happy subservience. And that and the emotional toll it took, was devastating.
[00:50:12] SARAH JAFFE: Right, and this is very interesting, because actually the research that sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild did, that led her to come up with the concept of emotional labor, was on flight attendants, and it was on that very particular thing that you're talking about. That work of suppressing how you really feel when the creepy guy in first class puts his hand on your butt, to keep smiling and be like, "Can I get you a scotch, sir?" even though I want to murder you? That's work!
I was rereading this wonderful article from, again, early on in the pandemic at Tribune Magazine by Polly Smyth, and she was a retail worker. The piece was called How COVID Turned Cashiers Into Carers, and she told this haunting story of handing a customer his change through the little hole in the plexiglass that was supposed to prevent them from breathing on each other. And this customer reached out and took her hand and just held on to it. And she writes, after about 10 seconds, he let go, looked down at the floor and said," I'm very sorry. The thing is, I live alone."
Every customer at the checkout counter, you have to smile at and all of that, but then how much harder is that when you're realizing that this customer hasn't touched a human in weeks? And that story just, it haunts me because it's such a perfect example of how much harder these jobs got in maybe ways that we didn't even think about.
[00:51:35] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: Does work ever love you back?
[00:51:37] SARAH JAFFE: I mean, work is just not a thing that can love you. And even if you have a great boss and look, I've had great bosses; that doesn't take away from the pressures that every employer will face and the fact that at the end of the day, they sometimes have to make a choice that isn't the best for me because it's the best for the business. And that is just a fundamental thing that isn't solvable, necessarily, by your boss being nicer. It's solvable by changing these relationships
[00:52:09] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: Between the worker and the work.
[00:52:12] SARAH JAFFE: Right. And that's a big, broad social relationship that gets changed at the top by economic systems and public policy. There is a limited amount of life hacks that can solve this problem, and the shifting from one job to the next can absolutely change your life for the better, but it's also still going to be a job.
From Amazon to Starbucks, workers are rising up—and progressives need to support them at all costs Part 2 - The Real News - Air Date 4-8-22
[00:52:35] SARA NELSON: We had this infusion of relief during COVID, and people had an opportunity actually to see what that could look like. But... but... you said... you called it emergency, but actually, what we want to talk about here, is that, this is not emergency status. This should be the status quo.
And so I think about democracy, and... I know, I have learned so much about democracy by being a union leader. And being a union member. And the reality is, that anywhere that democracy exists, if people don't participate, democracy dies. And so, we have to make sure that people are able to participate.
Right before covid, we had, uh, we had a strike wave. Remember? Teachers, grocery workers, we had walkouts at Google. We had... we had the most strikes in 2018 than we had had in decades. And so people were starting to express the fact that our country has become something that is not... uh, is not reflective of the promise that we've all been given through our constitution, and what was laid out, uh, by, uh, our founding fathers, and by, uh, everyone who had participated in making this great, uh, American experience. But, um, we have a lot more to do to make it work for us.
And so people are out there protesting right where they are in their workplaces. And that is a place where democracy exists, too. See, capital-- unchecked-- has led us to a place where fewer and fewer people are participating. I think about the 2016 election, when I was out there talking with workers, and there were workers who said, "I don't have time to go to the polls, I'm working two and three jobs."
So think about that. The more that people have security, the more that people can... can take care of their families, the more likely that they are to participate. Part of what capital has done is tried to make it very, very difficult... to try to make the bar very, very high for anyone to be able to participate; and try and make people believe that they don't call the shots, that they can't make a difference with their vote, that they can't make a difference by getting engaged.
And as collective bargaining has been on the decline, with the decline of union membership, we have no concept that the individual worker can actually stand up, and meet the boss in the eye when they're standing with the rest of their coworkers. We have no concept of the fact that we can actually come together and solve problems through collective bargaining. There's been a complete breakdown of democracy.
Then you have the pandemic on top of that, and now workers have a shared experience, and they see we've been stretched so far, every... across the board, in every single industry, we're more productive than ever. What does that mean? It means we're working longer hours and we're working with fewer people to do the same job. Where has all of that productivity gone? It's gone into the hands of Wall Street; it's gone into the pockets of the billionaires.
And that continued to happen throughout the pandemic with the exception of the airline industry, where we're 80% unionized, and where we made management have to negotiate with us before we went through the political process.
So I always say: start in the workplace and the politics will follow. What we got was a workers-first relief program of payroll support. And we had to do this because in this country, without healthcare provided, if you don't have a paycheck, you also don't have health care. And so our proposal was: keep everyone where they are; pass that money directly through to the workers where they continue to pay their taxes, which lifts up the local communities... uh, they continue to pay into Social Security and, and hold up our social programs, into, um, uh, our programs like unemployment with so many people out on the unemployment line; and you keep people in place and ready to meet the demand when the crisis is over.
Um, but there's another really important thing that we did. We kept stock buy backs and executive compensation. And they acted differently. They fought against us, but they had to agree because without us, they were not going to get the relief, and the airline industry was going to collapse altogether.
And so we put our demands out there, they had to meet them, and they act differently when they know that they can't enrich themselves. They get to the business of running the business.
So, this is just one small example of what's possible, and workers saw the example of what's possible during COVID.
But they also saw that, not only have we been squeezed, we have been treated as disposable, because we were sent into the workplace as essential workers, and it was only about that cost-item.
Essential workers: that... that title that capital has been so used to giving people, to make them feel pride in what they're doing, and have people feel like they'd be willing to accept anything just for a little praise. The fact of the matter is, when people die, when they see their coworkers die, when they see them in unsafe conditions, that changes.
So, here we are in this moment where workers can... are actually waking up to the idea that maybe there's another answer; maybe there's another way to go about this. And Chris Smalls, I can't give him enough credit. And the people who stood with him...
Let's just talk about that win in New York for just a minute: you know, he was a worker who wanted to move up in the account... in the company who was working hard, actually, at Amazon, wanted to pride in where he was. And when his company abused him so badly, not only pushing them into unsafe conditions, but when he stood up and said something about it, to try to make it a better workplace, they fired him instead of listening to him! And then they targeted him!
And this has been what capital has done forever. They think they have all the control because they have all the money. But he kept at it, and organized, and did something that other people don't think is possible, because they can't even believe that workers can wake up to the power that we have right now.
And that is the moment that we're in. So I don't think this is about what's possible, okay? A lot of people are saying "This shows what's possible." BULLSHIT! Okay? Workers have this power right now. It exists right now. All we have to do is wake up to it.
And then join together and look at... look at the worker-led movement that was led in that warehouse. It was diverse. It engaged everyone. It did all the right things in organizing without using the organizing terms, or having someone else tell them what to do. They had fun together, because they were taking on the boss. They were taking on what some people would say is the most power. But the truth is, that the people in charge right now, the billionaires, they don't have power.
They don't. They have money, and they have control. Workers have power, because nothing moves without us.
The Holiday You May Have Missed - On The Media - Air Date 4-20-22
[00:59:18] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: Why did these labor unions, going for that big push, choose May 1st?
[00:59:25] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: For the building trades, May 1st was the date when the annual contracts were renewed. The goal was... they begin organizing 1884 making demands; hopefully, they would succeed, and they would celebrate on May 1st, 1886; if they did not succeed, they held out the threat of striking on May 1st, 1886, which in many cases happened.
Once that date was chosen, the more traditional trade unionists, and the anarchists and socialists, who have broader revolutionary goals, also tap into the associations of May Day with the Spring Rites; with gathering flowers, with bringing in the green, with--
[01:00:06] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: What do the Spring Rites have to do with labor?
[01:00:09] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: Nothing.
They use it in their iconography, in poetry, in plays, and things that become central to the annual anniversary.
[01:00:19] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: Now, it's May 1st, 1886; 80,000 people march in Chicago; 30,000 in Baltimore... how many in New York?
[01:00:28] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: 30,000 in New York.
St. Louis, Baltimore, Akron, Minneapolis, Milwaukee; all across the country, workers came out, union leaders giving speeches, and anarchist, Albert Parsons, well-known anarchist in Chicago, was at the head of the march with his wife, Lucy Parsons. They almost didn't participate because initially, when they heard of this movement for the eight-hour day, they felt it was-
[01:00:53] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: Too small.
[01:00:54] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: - too small. Not what they really wanted, which was revolution. But when they saw the momentum, they realized that's where the workers were. They needed to be out in front of it, in the front of the parade.
[01:01:04] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: But it's the anarchists that get even more closely associated with it; even in our editorial meeting, when we were discussing this, someone raised the Haymarket Affair, that happened a few days after May Day. You note that that association is a manipulation. It's purposefully wrong.
[01:01:25] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: It was a peaceful protest in Haymarket Square in Chicago, organized by local anarchists, in response to the police killings of six strikers on May 3rd. Initially, I think about 1,000 people gathered, and as the evening wore on, and it started to rain, their numbers dwindled down to about 300.
One of the anarchists was speaking on a wagon, and when the police came into the square to order the meeting to disband-- there was concern that some of the speech may have been inflammatory-- someone threw a bomb into the square. The bomb killed one police officer immediately; six other policemen died subsequently of their wounds, most likely from the bullets the police began firing indiscriminately.
Eight anarchists were arrested and tried and convicted for conspiracy, four of whom were executed. And they became martyrs to the anarchist cause. It seemed to prove the anarchists right about the oppressive nature of the state.
[01:02:22] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: It was the anarchists that tried to link the two events?
[01:02:28] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: The anarchists conflated the two. Socialists embraced that as well, because, I think, they shared a concern about the reactionary nature of the state, and if it were not won over by workers, workers would never find justice. And for socialists, that was to be achieved through the ballot.
For anarchists that was to be achieved through revolution, possibly acts of direct violence, depending on which anarchist group you're looking at.
There was sympathy and support for the anarchists in that moment. Samuel Gompers came out to their defense. He became the head of the American Federation of Labor in December 1886. But Gompers, and the AFL, and the craft unions that became affiliated with that, quickly came to realize that the association with May 1st and Haymarket didn't necessarily help them advance their goals, because they were attempting to get public support for the existence of unions. It was very easy for employers and more conservative Americans to smear the labor movement as illegitimate by associating it with the anarchists.
[01:03:42] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: May Day itself seemed to have become associated with red organizations, communism; many might have guessed that the entire holiday was invented in Moscow.
[01:03:56] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: Yes, exactly. May 1st takes on an international component earlier than you might think.
In 1889, when socialists were meeting in Paris, representatives from the AFL attended and spoke about the great success of May 1st, 1886. Even though it didn't secure the eight-hour day forever, the struggle continued, pulling workers together in a united demand was appealing to the socialists in Europe and they said, "You know what? Starting in 1890, we're going to do the same thing." European socialists began to use May Day, May 1st, for their labor demands.
[01:04:32] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: It continues to this day. Unlike here?
[01:04:36] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: Exactly. By 1903, the AFL doesn't want to go near May Day with a 10-foot pole. It's been urging its members to turn out instead on the September Labor Day.
[01:04:47] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: What's the difference between May Day and Labor Day?
[01:04:52] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: May Day was becoming known as International Workers' Day in the 1890s. Labor Day began in 1882 here in New York, launched by Matthew Maguire, who was a machinist and a socialist from Brooklyn, who had a very radical vision.
[01:05:09] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: It was a precursor to May Day?
[01:05:12] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: Yes, and nothing to do with the eight-hour day. It had, an essence, a more broader utopian vision. It starts out radical, but the AFL rises, and it takes over this event, and shapes it to suit its own goals.
[01:05:25] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: How did its message differ from May Day?
[01:05:30] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: The AFL termed Labor Day, labor's "national" day. There was very much an emphasis on the national connection, that these workers who turned out on Labor Day were patriotic, or American. It becomes part of the AFL distancing itself from May Day, which was becoming known as International Workers' Day.
[01:05:49] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: There's another holiday that we roundly ignore that is marked on May 1st: that's Loyalty Day.
[01:05:58] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: Loyalty Day emerges post World War II. May 1st is chosen specifically to counter any attempts to revive radical May Day demonstrations.
Coming out of the war, the Veterans of Foreign Wars took the lead in sponsoring Loyalty Day demonstrations. They were supported by different fraternal organizations, the Catholic Church, John Birch Society. And spoke in the newspaper coverage of how they were seeking to "walk the communists off the streets."
They worked with city officials to have the supporters of Loyalty Day get the parade permits for a good chunk of the days. The Communist Party did hold parades, but they were later in the day, and they were smaller.
And so Loyalty Day becomes a part of the way in which the history of May Day in the United States is forgotten. It's a part of the story of this construction of a Cold War Americanism.
[01:06:52] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: How long does it last?
[01:06:54] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: By the mid-'50s, the Communist Party and the left-led unions dwindled in size and in strength, due to a number of assaults during the Second Red Scare, the prosecution of the Communist Party leaders under the Smith Act in 1949.
[01:07:12] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: They didn't take to the streets, so there was no need to counter them.
[01:07:15] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: Right. The workers in the left-led unions really struggled with this. I have really dramatic accounts of workers in District 65, here in New York, which was a union that was left-led, and had ties to the Communist Party.
[01:07:30] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: What do they do?
[01:07:31] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: Retail, wholesale, and warehouse workers. There's a really moving account. In 1946, District 65 workers were holding a meeting and they were debating, "Can we continue to support these May Day parades?" The union was facing pressures on all sides to purge its ranks of communists. Certainly, by 1947, with the Taft-Hartley Act, which required union leaders to sign an affidavit swearing they were not communists, and if they didn't, the union would not have access to the National Labor Relations Board. That put tremendous pressure on these left-led unions.
But one worker said at this meeting, "Most labor people know that May Day started in America. Therefore, I think that we should study more about these May Day parades and labor history, and make sure that we know before we can accuse ourselves in our labor of following some foreign ideology, or stuff like that, I think that May Day is our day, and we have to point out to the wealthy people in America, that we are united and we will stop them from exploiting us."
And so, there was real passion. These workers had that memory, and that... they hadn't lost it yet, in the late '40s.
[01:08:39] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: If we go back to the 1880s-- really, just after the Civil War, maybe-- there was the struggle to define what it means to be American what it means to be loyal; what it means to be patriotic.
[01:08:52] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: Yes. May Day existed in that context from the very beginning. The decision on the part of workers and radicals of what they're carrying in their parades-- when it came specifically to what flags they are carrying-- is very revealing. Some of them were navigating a hybrid radical-American identity. They didn't want to cede control over what the Stars and Stripes meant to employers, to opponents of organized labor. They staunchly defended their right to carry the American flag with their red flags.
You see the Socialist Labor Party members in New York in the 1890s, passing resolutions that they were going to carry the American flag into Union Square. Some just wanted to carry the red flag, but you see their desire to claim that flag in an era where, in 1893, Flag Day becomes a holiday; the Pledge of Allegiance attempts, in public schools, to assimilate children of immigrants-- anxiety over immigration, with some 25 million immigrants coming to the United States between 1865 and 1920.
These workers and these radicals are smack in the middle of that story because they were mostly immigrants.
[01:09:58] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: You were talking about the Socialist Party in New York. Morris Hillquit was the leader of the Socialist Party at the time.
[01:10:07] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: He wrote an editorial that was published in "The Call," the Socialist Party newspaper, responding to criticisms launched at the Socialist Party, critics who said, "How dare they? How dare those socialists carry the stars and stripes alongside the red flag. The red flags the flag of bloodshed and violence."
Hillquit retorted, "The red flag is the flag of brotherhood, and that we have a right to carry the stars and stripes, and it's those who are criticizing us, who long ponds the stars to the trusts and monopolies, and that their stripes were the stripes of prison garb, and the black flag of the pirate was a more appropriate emblem for them."
Their carrying the American flag didn't mean they were subscribing to the more mainstream notion of the flag as an unquestioned loyalty to the country. They were carrying it with the goal of trying to make America be true to itself. Their understanding of what that meant, that the revolution of 1776 needed to be extended into the economic sphere, they actually felt a duty in a way, to carry the flag.
[01:11:08] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: We've seen a wave of teacher strikes around the country, of push back to years of education budget cuts. I think a lot of us were surprised when we learned that teachers can only legally strike in 13 states. Does this recent round of strikes resonate somehow with the past?
[01:11:25] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: The echoes I hear are of the great disparity between the rich and the poor. We talk about being in the Second Gilded Age, before the Progressive Era, before the New Deal protections. Now, we're on the other side of attempts to dismantle the New Deal. We're back in a period where, I think, maybe workers are finding that coming together, demonstrating their militancy and their solidarity, is important. Just as those workers in 1884 realize that they couldn't fight this on a case by case basis when you're up against large corporate powers and monopoly, similar language that you hear, similar concerns circling back again now.
[01:12:05] BROOKE GLADSTONE - HOST, ON THE MEDIA: If that's the case, do you think that with this current resurgence, some American workers may find themselves linking up with May Day again?
[01:12:14] DONNA HAVERTY-STACKE: Possibly. It may come to serve their agenda more successfully, since there is a growing awareness in certain sectors of the labor movement of the need to address capitalism globally, however, that might take shape. Maybe it is coming together on May 1st in solidarity.
You have yet to see a concerted effort among labor unions in the United States to revive May Day to where it once had been. Younger generations are learning that history through connecting up with older generations who have the memory of what May Day meant. It can become a usable past again.
Final comments on the intrinsic human needs that, when fulfilled, give meaning to any work
[01:12:53] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with The Real News speaking with airline union organizers about class war and union busting tactics. ABC News spoke with an Apple employee organizing the first Apple Store union in Atlanta, Georgia. Democracy Now! talked with Chris Smalls and others about the successful unionization campaign at an Amazon warehouse. Some More News ran down a murderer's row of recent labor abuses by major companies. On The Media discussed the propaganda of "labor of love" and the anti-worker rhetoric of love it or leave it. And The Real News speaking further with the airline industry union organizer discussed the fundamental connection between democracy and the workplace. That's what everyone heard, but members also heard a bonus clip from On The Media, looking at the history of May Day, International Workers' Day, which is celebrated nearly everywhere but in the US, where it was created.
To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly into your new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or request a financial hardship membership, because we don't make a lack of funds a barrier to hearing more information. Every request is granted. No questions asked.
And now, I have some more thoughts about issues, sort of swirling around the concept of labor, but first, some activism for you. As the surge in labor organizing continues, members of Congress are raising concerns that the National Labor Relations Board may not be able to meet the demand. The NLRB plays an essential role for labor, overseeing private sector union elections, and refereeing disputes between labor groups and employers. However, eight years of stagnant funding and losing roughly 30% of its staff since 2010 has left the department, weak.
Members of the House and Senate are calling for a $94 million increase in the NLRB budget for the next fiscal year, saying the board has been, "starved to death for a decade." But, like everything, it will be an uphill battle, so call your members of Congress today and tell them you support workers rights to organize, and that you demand the increase in funding to revitalize the National Labor Relations Board. Check the show notes for the full story on this issue, and be sure to share it and this call to action with others.
Now, I want to talk a little bit today about how work is part of life, not something to be balanced against life. So the show today got me thinking about the human connections, particularly during COVID lockdown, that were being forged through places of work, sometimes between the employees and the customers. We heard the story of the man who lived alone and reached out and held a cashier's hand and then explained, I'm sorry, but I live alone, and that got me thinking, because very recently I was talking with the cafe owner who we visited during our first months of lockdown. The cafe owner was telling us about how they became a, one of the only places in the neighborhood that was open, where a person could go other, than the grocery store, and get something to eat, get something to drink, but also have some sort of human connection. I think particularly because this cafe is owned and operated by the owners, that's who people were talking to.
When they would come in, it is the owner who they would see. They had basically been forced to, hopefully temporarily, lay off their entire staff and this mom and pop operation went on operating with just the two of them, doing all of the baking, all of the ordering, all the supplying, everything, and then managing the register and making all the food. So, we were talking much more recently and she was reminiscing about the stories from that time and how bizarre and hectic it was. And she talked about, several people, multiple people, but primarily men who had come in during those early days of lockdown crying. She didn't go into a lot of detail, but it was that total disconnection from society. Some had been losing their work, some were going through a divorce, and then the isolation just became really too much for them, and she said that, for some, for a small number, suicide was a very serious concern for these people.
The way she tells the story, she described it, she could see what was going on with them and instead of just fulfilling their order and wishing them well and sending them on their way, she said, "you know what? No. Come on. You're coming with me," and she took them to the back of the cafe where lots of boxes were stacked up. She said, "sit here. You're going to be okay. Be quiet. Other people can't know that you're here. Particularly if the police come by, it could be a very serious problem if you are here, but I'm not letting you leave right now," and she ended up forming genuine bonds with these people. They would come to the cafe and she would let them hang out as long as they needed. She would talk with them. She would exchange phone numbers and be in touch after hours as well. Through this, she became undoubtedly a defacto friend and mother to many throughout the community.
This obviously is just one of countless stories along these lines. There was a story published in the New York Times under the Modern Love column titled, He Delivered for Me: How my UPS man went from annoyance to emotional lifeline, and it turned out that the UPS man had begun, not just having a chat with the author of the piece, but had been chatting with people all throughout his route during lockdown to check on people, make sure they were doing okay, and just give them someone to talk to.
COVID is by no means unique in terms of generating these types of stories. In the most recent bonus episode that we did for members, we talked in more depth than I'll have time for today about Rebecca Solnit's book Paradise Built in Hell, and here's just a quick excerpt from it. She is describing the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco, and she writes,
"Mrs. Anna Amelia Holshouser woke up on the floor of her bedroom on Sacramento Street, where the earthquake had thrown her. The house in Western San Francisco was slightly damaged. Her downtown place of business, she was a beautician and masseuse, was a total wreck. And so she salvaged what she could and moved on with a friend, Mr Paulson. Like thousands of others, they ended up trudging with their bundles to Golden gate Park, the thousand acre park that runs all the way west to the Pacific ocean. There, they spread out a quilt and lay down, not to sleep, but to shiver with cold from fog and mist and watch the flames of the burning city whose, blaze shown far above the trees."
"On their third day in the park, she stitched together blankets, carpets, and sheets to make a tent that sheltered 20 people, including 13 children. And Holshouser started a tiny soup kitchen with one 10 can to drink from, and one pie plates to eat from. All over the city, stoves were hauled out of damaged buildings. Fire was forbidden indoors since many standing homes had gas leaks or damaged flues or chimneys. Or primitive stoves were built out of rubble and people commenced to cook for each other, for strangers, for anyone in need. Her generosity was typical, even if her initiative was exceptional. Holshouser or got funds to buy eating utensil across the bay in Oakland. The kitchen began to grow and she was soon feeding 200 to 300 people a day. Not a victim of the disaster, but a victor over it, and the hostess of a popular social center, her brothers and sisters keeper."
So essential workers, as we have been calling them, or simply those who do the work that is essential, whether they are getting paid for it or not, is a constant in times of disaster. That is always there. Those people are always there doing that work. And the percentage of people doing that work is I think much higher than we generally think of. For many, they are the links to, not just society, but humanity.
So the whole work-life balance thing, to get back to this, is bullshit. Not because life is made for working and there should be no disconnect between working for a corporation and the rest of your life, but because the work that you do should be made to fit into a life. There shouldn't be thought of the separation because when you begin to think of that separation, you start to think that, "well, the time spent working, it's okay if that's mind numbing, soul crushing, and miserable, because I have my real life over here," It shouldn't be that way. No one should be expected to give over 40 hours, or more, of their lives each week to do something that is not worthy of being called life and needs to be relegated to something else called work.
We heard today about different types of jobs and which we might think of as being labors of love. And sure, you may not hear someone working on a factory line talk about loving their work, but you may very well hear them say that they love their job, and it is very likely to be because of their coworkers that they will say that. However, when I conjured an image of a person with a factory job saying something like that, I don't think of someone working in a factory today. Maybe they're there, maybe they feel that way, but what I think of, and the person who I think is more likely to say something like this, is an old timer who worked at the same plant for 30 years alongside a group of coworkers who all did the same.
And this, I think, is why the story we heard from the Amazon warehouse employee who had struggled to organize her coworkers because she hardly ever saw the same people twice was so horrifying. Yes, it's horrifying because it's an anti-union organizing tactic, to keep workers busy and monitored at all times. And yes, Amazon likely did all of that on purpose for anti-union reasons. But what is, I think, incidental to that and likely something to Amazon didn't intend to do, and probably never even thought that about, is that those anti-union policies also strip the humanity from the experience of that work. Working in a warehouse, it doesn't have to be miserable by definition. It could be filled with camaraderie and friendship and joy that infuses the relatively unpleasant work with meaning.
My first job was at a pizza restaurant and I can't think of more than maybe one or two tasks I regularly did at that job that I would consider enjoyable, but many of my friends from school worked there and I made many other friends on the job. So when I think back on that work, I think of it as having been thoroughly enjoyable overall, because I'm not actually remembering the work, I'm remembering the humanity that was associated with that work.
So, as much respect and admiration as I have for the union organizers who are fighting for better pay, benefits, and working conditions, I can't help it feel like an opportunity is being missed to sketch out that the definition of better working conditions needs to go beyond doing what is good for the individual employee in terms of flexible bathroom breaks and the like, but what we need is to create environments that are conducive to human needs, which includes comradery, friendship, socializing, and solidarity. Those things that money can never replace and are fundamental to making work an integral part of a well lived and authentic human life. Not just something to be endured while our real life is waiting for us at home.
As always, I would love to hear your comments on this or anything else. Keep the comments coming in at (202) 999-3991, or by emailing me to [email protected]. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their research work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken, and Scott for their volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to all those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple Podcast app.
Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content and no ads in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. Speaking of building comradery and solidarity, join our Best of the Left Discord community to discuss the show, the news, other podcasts, interesting articles, videos, and books—that's where I caught wind of A Paradise Built in Hell. Links to join are in the show notes.
So, coming to you from far outside, the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC. My name is Jay!, and this has been the Best of the Left Podcast coming to twice weekly thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestoftheleft.com.