About Labor

We all know how I feel about organized labor. It is crucially, crucially important to have strong, functioning labor unions.

Look at the teacher strike in West Virginia. Isn’t it a wonderful, inspiring thing? The teachers refused to be further mistreated and abused. They organized, stuck together, and achieved a victory.

If you have ever done any organizing, you know that it’s not about making a logical argument, showing the numbers, and proving points. What’s a lot more important are human relationships, emotions, trust, feeling comfortable with people in your unit.

It’s a lot harder to organize in an environment of mistrust, suspicion, and mutual dislike between workers. Any collective action requires an enormous amount of trust between participants because getting atomized, alienated consumers to do any collective action at all is ridiculously hard.

The vision of self as an island that is better off outside of any collective process is formed slowly and by means we don’t even notice. Those people who tell me, “I don’t need a union. I can negotiate on my own behalf” or “and how do I know you won’t tell the dean what we’ve been talking about here?” are guided towards this vision of self and others. There’s a million strategies to make workers fear and avoid each other.

All of these microaggressions seminars, ethics trainings, gender parity tutorials – their whole point is to make workers detest each other. We tell ourselves they have no effect on us but that’s delusional and well in line with thinking that an exceptional individual can bootstrap themselves out of ideological and intellectual processes that everybody is subject to.

It does have an effect. All of these exhortations to suspect and fear our fellow worker have an effect. Nobody is an exceptional cookie that can rise above this. This is poisoning the workplace for all of us. This is what we need to resist.

Unless we have a clear vision of all the anti-labor strategies employed against us, we won’t win.

30 thoughts on “About Labor

    1. Yes! We unionized non-tenure-track faculty several years ago. And last year we unionized tenured and tenure-track faculty!!! I’m a union rep now.

      Labor rules!


  1. Yay! I love it. I remember a few years ago when you used to say that even the word ‘collective’ made you retch.

    By the way, how do you answer blood-and-soil nationalists (like Cliff) who claim that racial solidarity is the only kind of solidarity that can be achieved?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. There are a lot of different types of solidarity.

        I have no idea what SB is thinking (long ago gave up that useless pasttime). I will say that solidarity has to be based on something outside individuals and bigger than the individual, whether cultural (language, cultural norms, religion, sense of shared history) or biological (not necessarily racial there are bigger or smaller categories that can work.

        I will also say that Pretty Boy Dress up Doll Trudeau’s idea of a ‘postnational’ country held together by only by a few slogans that are devoid of actual meaning is a big pile of dysfunction waiting to happen.


        1. Trudeau is a passionate believer in neoliberal dogma and he is promoting it with single-minded dedication. My liberal friends in the US all pee themselves with admiration for him and don’t understand why I detest him. But it’s precisely this, he recites the right slogans while doing the dirty work of capital. Which becomes clear the second you look at what he is doing and hear what he actually says in less guarded moments.


  2. I am trying to write an op-ed style piece on this right now. But you have said it in a nutshell. Can I perhaps cannibalize it & then call it a co-authored piece … after talking with you IRL, getting your comments on the cannibalized version, etc.? It would be for the AAUP blog. Reason: we have hell in our chapter, for the reasons you give, and I really wonder whether there is a point to having a union or a professional organization at all, or whether we are so close to the super-neoliberal individual + the plantation individual that any idea of collegiality, let alone solidarity, is passé.


  3. Be careful about praising unions too much — or at least make your words VERY “inclusive” — or you’ll incur the wrath of Shakesville!

    Yesterday Joe Biden was in Pittsburgh campaigning for Democrat Conor Lamb . Speaking to a group of mostly white, male union workers, Biden gave a very standard pro-worker, pro-jobs speech, talking about how holding a job confers dignity, etc. (His innocuous words are quoted in McEwan’s post this morning).

    McEwan went totally off the rails, screaming that Biden is “deliberately concealing that history … of women — and men of color — being harassed and threatened for ‘taking away’ jobs that confer dignity from white men.” She then added that Biden is going “full Nazi” and ” all full up on white supremacist patriarchy.”

    Go read her raging post. It’s truly amazing.


      1. I support anybody who wants to organize and form a union to improve their labor conditions. And Amazon workers seem to really REALLY need it. So I’m all in favor. I use Amazon all the time, and I do not for a second believe it is impossible to give workers conditions that are not as inhuman and ridiculous as they are right now.


        1. I asked about it because an Amazon strike would be massively inconvenient for many. Also Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post which is the non-wingnut DC paper. The steel industry barely exists in this country anymore; but anything touching retail employs a ton of people.

          Everything you mention in your original post is a hallmark of knowledge worker or white collar workplaces. Even the term “white collar” feels antiquated. Knowledge workers and white collar workers don’t really see the need for unions but maybe they should?
          I don’t quite understand why IT workers don’t unionize already.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Amazon unionization is one of my biggest dreams. I wouldn’t enjoy a strike, obviously, but the world won’t end if we have to buy things elsewhere for a few weeks. If there’s a need to strike, workers should do it.


      1. On the subject of Biden, I just got an email signed by him. Line 3 has the words “fat cats in Washington” in it. After that I stop reading and never find out what it is about. Incredible tone-deaf.


  4. The UCU strike in the UK is also pretty amazing – and since the union represents academic AND academic-related staff (librarians, IT staff, finance office, those sorts of professional roles), it’s been cool to see how solidarity is developing between the rank-and-file academics and administrators, even though the current system seems to WANT to pitch them against each other…


    1. That’s really cool. At my school, we have two campuses located at about 5 hours distance. And there are constant attempts to pitch is against each other and to make us resent our colleagues at the sister campus for being “lazy and entitled.” It’s so shitty and I hate it.


      1. One of my big beefs — and this is a serious question, the Marc Bosquets of the world say it is insensitive of me — is the accusation by contingents that tenure track and tenured faculty caused their plight. I don’t agree. I find yet weirder the ones who want to remain contingent, and don’t want to go on the tenure track job market or through a tenure review, but want pay parity. (AND extra pay by the hour for meetings and service, sometimes.) … I say these things and then I also note that on our campus there are only 18 AAUP members out of many hundred faculty, and that of those, many who are professors have no solidarity with the contingent or necessarily any collegiality with anyone.


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