Tag Archives: Unions

The Mundanity of Activism: University of California Graduate Students

For the Classical Theory course that incoming graduate students in our department take, David S. Meyer includes an article by Daniel F. Chambliss called “The Mundanity of Excellence: An Ethnographic Report on Stratification and Olympic Swimmers.

Most of the folks in my cohort were perplexed when we read it.

“Maybe it’s for methodological theory, or something?”

“I don’t know, I was thinking he’s trying to appeal to the Inequality people?”

It turned out Professor Meyer was offering advice on academia, generally. Excellence is about persistence and consistent work, not natural ability. Continue reading

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When Bad Structures Happen to Good Movements

By Jen McKernan

Failure in social movements is an overwhelming topic. When I started thinking about things under our control that we could do differently to minimize the chances of self-imposed failure, I kept coming back to the organizational structures we create. We know that more money, more time, better lists, and more volunteers would all help. But how can we also work smarter with the resources we have, while we continue to work harder to improve our resources?

I spoke with terrific organizers and activists who contributed incredible insights and revisions. They have all been a part of many different movements, brainstorms, meetings, plans, rallies, accountability sessions, campaigns, debriefs, press conferences, and work groups to make the world better for more people. They gained their hard-won experience in the trial by fire that is organizing. The result is short list of bad structures that happen to good movements. Continue reading

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Is “Growing the Economy” Really the Answer to Wage Stagnation?

On August 27, David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition to discuss why, despite healthy corporate profits and stock market gains, wages remain stagnant. After addressing the usual suspects, such as globalization and technological change, he claimed that the best solution to wage stagnation “is the old-fashioned one: a faster growing economy.”

So, does the old adage remain true that “a rising tide lifts all boats”? To believe this, you have to ignore a lot of data. Exhibit A is the chart that the Economic Policy Institute updates every year, which shows wage growth relative to productivity growth. Since productivity growth is the measure of the economy growing, we would expect wages to rise as productivity goes up if the cure for wage stagnation was in fact a growing economy. But what do we actually see?

Growth of real hourly compensation for production/nonsupervisory workers and productivity, 1948–2011

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Source: http://www.epi.org/publication/ib330-productivity-vs-compensation/

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What’s needed at this political moment? 5 well-known leftists, 5 strong opinions

At the Working-Class Studies conference last weekend, I heard an amazing dialogue about class, race and movement-building by five progressive journalists and activist scholars: Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now!, Frances Fox Piven, Bill Fletcher Jr. of Blackcommentator.com, and former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert of Demos, with conference organizer Michael Zweig, author of The Working Class Majority moderating.

I was struck by how openly they disagreed with each other in front of us 200 listeners, by how passionate all five of them are about creating a more just society, and by what vast depth of experience they brought to the panel. Here are some highlights: Continue reading

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WTF M1GS? Occupy May Need to Separate to Unite

“Where’s the Fairness?” chanted about 300 striking Summit Medical Center nurses and other supporters on May 1 in front of Alta Bates Hospital on the Berkeley/Oakland, California border. This California Nurses Association (CNA) event was part of a string of events for the Occupy movement’s call for a May Day General Strike (M1GS). Reporters, tweeters, and bloggers converged in downtown Oakland to report on more tear gas and arrests, but a broader analysis of May Day in the Bay Area conveys a different story.

Historically, successful political movements have a broad-based alliance of distinct groups          engaged in their own struggles but which also come together under a common cause. On May Day, labor and community-based organizations, along with Occupiers, participated in a series of events which demonstrated the potential for this unity.

Yes, potential. When I mentioned this observation to some Occupy and labor activists, the reaction was that I was being, well, Pollyannaish. Indeed, two key actions that day created movement schisms. Nonetheless, it is because more organizations want to participate in this broader movement that these inevitable debates occur. Indeed, the organizing of diverse semi-coordinated actions that day by a variety of groups – Occupy, student, labor, immigrant, etc. – was a sign of the possibility of an alliance, however tenuous. Continue reading

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