Last Thursday, thousands of fast food workers in 100 cities across the U.S. walked off the job to protest low wages, demanding higher wages (the cry “Fight for 15” called for $15/hr wages) and the right to unionize. On Facebook, I quickly saw infographics like this one being posted and shared. In these infographics, supporters of low-wage workers argue that taxpayers are subsidizing fast food companies by: 1) paying for performance-based executive pay through corporate tax breaks, and 2) paying for government food assistance programs for workers who cannot afford to subsist only on the wages the companies pay them, when the better solution would be for the companies to pay workers a living wage. This framing of the issue is interesting in part because it uses arguments typically associated with both the left and the right: the demand for better working conditions, the right to unionize, and fairer wages for workers are arguments associated with the left, while arguments about the need for less burden on “taxpayers” are typically associated with the right.
While most stories focused on this aspect of the day’s actions, an article in Time Magazine moved beyond a focus on the framing of the issue to a discussion of shifting strategies and tactics in the labor movement. The article’s author, Victor Luckerson, argues that “flash strikes”–widespread, one-day strikes designed to draw national attention as opposed to company-specific long-term strikes designed to directly pressure employers–are a growing phenomenon and are the necessary result of declining union membership. This calls to mind the immigrant rights mega-marches on May 1, 2006, called “A Day Without Immigrants” because immigrant marchers were committed to walking off the job to demonstrate the dependence of the U.S. economy on immigrant labor.
What do you think of the term “flash strikes”? What other examples of this phenomenon can you think of? Do you agree with the labor experts cited in the Time article that one-day strikes are a good or even necessary tactic for social change in today’s context?
This past June, President Obama took executive action to defer the deportation of “Dreamers”: undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, are under 30, have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, and have no criminal records. The policy represents a small but important victory for immigrant rights activists, many of whom are religious. Their religiosity is worth noting for two reasons. First, in an age when the dominant public image of religion is often politically and theologically conservative, this serves as a reminder that “progressive religion” is not an oxymoron. Second, increasing immigration to the U.S. is transforming American religion, altering dominant traditions through the integration of new immigrants and diversifying the general landscape through the growth of religious traditions like Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Some estimates suggest that 40 percent of Catholics in the U.S. are now Mexican or Latin American immigrants.1 This religious context forces even majority-native-born religious groups to recognize the suffering of immigrants in their midst, evidenced by efforts like the Catholic Justice for Immigrants campaign. Continue reading
The first of May, or May Day, is known in much of the world as International Workers’ Day. In the U.S., Occupy protestors planned a day of action to highlight workers’ struggles in today’s financial system, though it is too early to fully assess the size and impact of their activities. May Day is also the anniversary of the Catholic Worker Movement, started in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin as a newspaper publishing pieces on labor, social justice, and peace from a Catholic perspective. Today, the Catholic Worker Movement includes houses of hospitality– intentional communities engaged in direct service to the poor and in peace and justice activism– around the world. Referencing the recent controversy over the Vatican’s reprimand of a group of American nuns, the New York Times published an article today on the Catholic Worker, contrasting the vision of Catholic Christianity embodied by the movement (which the article depicts as similar to the vision of the reprimanded nuns) to the vision of Catholicism championed by the Vatican. In particular, the story highlights the centrality of political activism to the Catholic Worker’s vision of Catholicism, both now and throughout its history. To read more, see the article.
The New York Times recently published a set of essays in its Room for Debate series, exploring how black church activism has changed since the 1960s. The impetus for the debate– “Black Churches and a New Generation of Protest”– is the recognition that black church activism has declined since the days of Martin Luther King, Jr., coupled with recent calls from African American church leaders to “Occupy the Dream” by engaging in protests at Federal Reserve banks around the country.
Several distinguished scholars and religious leaders participate in the debate about the current state of black church activism, writing about the issues they see as most pressing for black churches to address. Some argue for a focus on education and better reintegration of former prisoners; others recommend an emphasis on environmental justice. Continue reading
A story on ABC News reports that Occupy Wall Street headed to Brooklyn yesterday, calling for more attention to foreclosures. Removed from public spaces (and with winter approaching), activists are taking on a new strategy through much of the nation: occupying vacant foreclosed homes to draw attention to the bailout of the banks and to the power they wield compared to middle-class Americans who have lost their homes. In Brooklyn, protestors occupied a vacant home whose former residents are now homeless due to a Bank of America foreclosure.
As most movement scholars and activists realize, while creativity is an important source of new strategy, the media often makes the use of new strategies seem like an unorganized, spontaneous decision by activists. Rather, the use of new strategies is typically organized and planned well in advance, however creative that strategy may be. For example, in NYC, the group Organizing for Occupation (O4O) and its partners have been working for many months to develop a strategy to combat foreclosures, deciding to focus their efforts on occupying vacant homes and on disrupting auctions of foreclosed homes. See the video below of an O4O action that disrupted a Brooklyn foreclosure auction back in October.
Results of a new poll by the Public Religion Research Institute were released yesterday that draw a profile of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements. The poll finds that about a quarter of Americans identify with the values of the OWS movement, and about the same number identify with the values of the Tea Party movement. On the other hand, close to half feel that neither group shares their values.
The demographics of the supporters of each movement vary widely. Some of these variations are unsurprising. For instance, Democrats and liberals more often support OWS than the TPM, with the converse also being true. Also, the only religious affiliation that is correlated with supporting the TPM over OWS is white evangelical, while other religious affiliations are associated either with equal support for the two groups or with preference for OWS.
However, there are a few findings that are less obvious and that have important implications for both movements. First, twice as many political moderates express support for OWS compared to the TPM, a statistic that suggests that the OWS might be doing a better job of speaking for “middle America” than the TPM at this point in time. Also, in terms of the potential impact of the two movements on electoral politics, there is a significant difference in voter registration between supporters of the two groups, with ten percent more TPM supporters registered to vote than OWS supporters. While both movements have sought to exert political pressure through means other than voting, the lower registration rates among OWS supporters may be an important piece of the puzzle in the 2012 general election.