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Do You Enjoy What You Do? at Dissent

I sat down like an actual human for a real life chat with Natasha Lewis from Dissent to talk about Work Won’t Love You Back (outdoors, in the cold but still worth it) and you can read the interview now. She writes:

Natasha Lewis: You’re a labor journalist, so you spend a lot of time covering labor struggles, but a lot of the people you write about in this book don’t have unions. Could you tell me a bit about that choice?

Sarah Jaffe: In some of these cases it’s people who can’t have unions, right? I start out with a mom. The artists that I talk about are trying to form an artists’ union, but there isn’t really one for them to be part of. So, in those cases, that’s the story: how do you organize when you are aren’t really recognized as needing or deserving a union?

In other cases, they’re in organizations like United for Respect and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, where they’re organizing as workers, but they’re not proper union members. Others are founding members of new unions like the game workers, or the hockey players who are forming their worker organization.

This is what the workforce looks like now: a whole bunch of people who don’t have access to traditional unions, don’t have access to organizing help, and don’t have traditional-looking workplaces.

Read the whole thing at Dissent

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Love (for work) will tear us apart at AJ Plus

Sarah Leonard interviewed me about Work Won’t Love You Back for AJ+’s newsletter, subtext. She writes:

Sarah Jaffe (@sarahljaffe) is a writer and journalist who chronicles social movements: how they rise and fall, and the social relationships that underlie them. Few have done as much to chronicle the rise of the left and of a new generation of labor organizing over the last decade.

Jaffe has long cast a critical eye on the way we talk about work. Her most recent bookWork Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone, is a work of reporting and ideas in the tradition of journalist-analysts like Barbara Ehrenreich. I talked to Jaffe on a Friday afternoon, when, it’s fair to say, we were both a little exhausted with work. 

Read the whole thing (and subscribe!) at subtext.
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Suffering for the Cause: an interview on Work Won’t Love You Back at ReproJobs

The good folks at Reprojobs, an outlet for workers in the reproductive health movement, interviewed me about Work Won’t Love You Back and particularly about my nonprofits chapter, which tells the story of a worker who was part of the union drive at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. They write:

YOUR BOOK EXPLORES THE HISTORY OF THE EXPLOITATION OF WORKERS, ORGANIZED LABOR, AND THEIR INTERSECTION WITH RACISM, CLASSISM, SEXISM, AND XENOPHOBIA. WE KNOW THAT SO MANY OF THE ISSUES IMPACTING REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM STEM FROM THESE OPPRESSIONS, AS WELL AS LABOR INEQUITY, BUT SO FEW WORKERS IN REPRO SEE THEMSELVES AS PART OF THE LABOR MOVEMENT OR LABOR ORGANIZING FOR THEMSELVES. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS? IN THE BOOK, YOU EXPLAIN THE HISTORY OF NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS BEGINNING AS CHARITY WORK DONE BY WEALTHY NON-WAGE EARNING WHITE WOMEN AS A HOBBY AND THEN DESCRIBE ITS TRANSFORMATION INTO THE TAX HAVENS FOR CORPORATIONS AND CAPITALISTS WE SEE TODAY, ALSO KNOWN AS THE ‘NONPROFIT INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX.’ THE REALITY IS THAT MANY OF OUR ORGANIZATIONS’ BOARDS AND FUNDING SOURCES ARE STILL DIRECTED BY PHILANTHROPISTS WHO ARE REMOVED FROM THE LIVED EXPERIENCES OF THE PEOPLE WE SERVE, OUR OWN EXPERIENCES AS WORKERS, AND UPHOLD THE RACIST AND CLASSIST SYSTEM CREATING THIS WHOLE MESS.

Read the whole thing at ReproJobs
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The Myth of “Loving What You Do” Has Ruined Modern Work for Everyone at Fatherly

I spoke with Lizzy Francis at Fatherly about Work Won’t Love You Back, care work, parenting, and collective action. She writes:

“Love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.” Or so the old adage goes. That phrase has been pummeled into our heads — and is even the slogan for a popular co-working space, printed on t-shirts and hats, an ethos in and of itself. For most people, that phrase is a load of crap, and it’s a harmful load of crap, too. After all, as long as people wonder how to find a job you love, they’ll never actually step in to make the job that they have a better one. “Do what you love, love what you do” is a fantasy of modern work that keeps people from understanding the ways in which they could make work better for themselves and their coworkers.

After all, the implication that “loving what you do” carries is that if you find something that stokes your passion, then frustration anger, or the rat-race struggle to get that promotion won’t actually feel like, well, work. It also has the pernicious effect of making money and benefits secondary to that passion — rather than the benefit of work itself. This type of thinking, however, pervades the modern workplace. And it’s making work worse than ever. 

“Work is awful,” says Sarah Jaffe, labor reporter and author of Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone. Work was awful before the pandemic, and the pandemic has just made work even worse.”

In her new book, Jaffe traces the death of typical factory jobs and the rise of care work (from service industry jobs, which account for the majority of work, to health care work) and emotional labor to the rising attitude that employees should love what they do to make their livings. Jaffe says that emotional labor is the hallmark of most middle-class jobs — whether you work in an office or as a nurse.

While that’s perfectly fine, it has led to an expectation that everyone is passionate about their 9-5’s. This false notion makes it seem like the job — not the salary, not the benefits, not the ability to stay home with your kids — is the reward in and of itself. When the work becomes the reward, everyone gets screwed. We overwork, we get underpaid, and worst of all, we don’t see a way out. Parents, especially, are caught under the wheel that keeps turning.

Read the whole thing at Fatherly

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Prison strikers building a movement for justice and decarceration, with Janos Marton

The nationwide prison strike that began August 21 is ongoing, and it comes at a moment when Americans are perhaps primed to hear demands from prisoners and consider them in a new way. Protests and uprisings in recent years have called attention to the rampant inequality perpetuated by prisons, jails, arrests, and prosecutions, and as prisoners coordinate with each other to resist their conditions on the inside, Janos Marton of the ACLU’s Smart Justice program joins me to talk about what people on the outside can do to support the strike and the demands of the prisoners.

 

People have been asking me what they can tangibly do. The organizers made clear in the lead-up to this strike that they weren’t expecting people on the outside to be able to do a whole lot to actually support the strike as it is happening because it is something that is facility specific and driven by and organized on the inside.
But they made a few exceptions. One is to the extent that there are protests being held outside of facilities, they said that it not only gives them energy and hope when they see people protesting in solidarity outside of their own facilities, but it also generally causes Corrections to think twice before retaliating, which is a major concern we had as an organization in the lead-up to the strike–that the organizers of the strike are going to be retaliated against either during or after the strike is over. The people can participate in local actions, that makes a big difference.
There is a Twitter account @IWW_IWOC which has been posting updates from the strike and occasional calls to action, usually around this issue saying something like, “Call such and such facility to make it clear to them not to retaliate against people participating in the prison strike.” Just continuing to amplify these messages.
I think the idea that there is a prison strike and what the demands of the prison strike are are still not well understood to the broader public. So, the more people who are aware of these issues can do to amplify the ten demands and the fact that the strike is happening, then that is helpful, too.
On a final note, when people read through the ten demands they may be surprised to see how many of them they already knew about and agreed with. Even though this is a radical act to strike in a prison setting and that is why we have to show such solidarity to these brave men and women, at the end of the day what they are asking for is very much in line with what people have been demanding for a very long time outside of prison walls, as well: an end to racist policing, investing in rehabilitation in the system rather than punishment, reducing the length of sentences, and ultimately this right to vote, this right to participate in democracy for all people.

Up at Truthout
Up at The Progressive

Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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A new agenda for labor law, with Celine McNicholas


Labor law in the US has been broken down over the past several decades until it’s nearly nonexistent. And yet a new wave of worker resistance and political interest in labor makes it a good time to push for a reimagining and rebuilding of the laws that govern the workplace. The Economic Policy Institute has just published a new agenda for doing just that–rebuilding the right to a union, giving unions real power again, and protecting workers who don’t have unions for what the institute calls “First Day Fairness.” Celine McNicholas, one of the authors of the report, joins me to talk about the movement that will be necessary to rewrite the rules to give workers an equal chance.

I think it is really encouraging that so many of these reforms already live in existing, already-introduced legislation in Congress. None of them get a great deal of attention, but in particular the Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act which was introduced this Congress which goes to the heart of many of the reforms aimed at ensuring that folks can unionize. That is the piece of legislation that includes some of the re-imagined right to strike reforms, as well. In terms of how likely it is that any of this passes, I think that is really on all of us. We have a responsibility as advocates to get in there and make sure that people are, number one, aware of these bills, and also that there is a grassroots movement. I think mentioning that you are in Wisconsin, there is a great demonstration in what workers can demand from elected officials. We absolutely have to greet this new Congress with the clear understanding, if it is Democratic controlled, that these issues are top-tier issues, that we demand that they be considered in the first hundred days. The fact that we haven’t had a minimum wage increase in so long at this point, we are looking at over a decade of failure to pass legislation, that is shared by both parties. I think in terms of the likelihood of all of these measures, any of these measures, passing is really incumbent upon all of us to speak up and demand that our elected officials don’t just treat these things as campaign slogans, but that we really demand action on these critical reforms that, quite frankly, affect all of us regardless of party affiliation, regardless of many of the other issues that may divide us. I think a fair economy and how we are all treated at work, how we are all paid, and economic justice, to me, is such a unifying issue that I really hold out hope that it will be a top-tier issue in a Democratic controlled Congress. Let Trump veto a minimum wage increase. Let Trump veto a bill that would actually give people in this country a meaningful path to have a union in their workplace. I remain optimistic that Democrats will recognize that these issues simply cannot be ignored going forward. That said, we have to demand it. It is not enough to just be against the status quo. We really need meaningful reform in this area.

Up at Truthout.
Up at The Progressive
Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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Continuing the teachers’ fight in West Virginia, with Rebecca Diamond

The teachers in West Virginia kicked off a multi-state strike wave last winter when they shuttered every school in the state over their consistently low wages, lousy working conditions, and most importantly, their broken Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA), the system that insures every public employee in the state. They won a raise, but the biggest fight, says Rebecca Diamond, a West Virginia teacher and member of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, is still ongoing–the fight to fix and fully fund PEIA. I spoke with Diamond recently at Netroots Nation.

They have had task force meetings and they have gone to all the communities and they have basically gathered from the communities what their main concerns are with PEIA and how it is going to affect them. These panel members are supposed to take it back to the committee and then, they are all supposed to meet and they are supposed to have a decision made before the election – Surprise! – and come up with what they feel like is going to be a solution.
The only solution that I feel like is going to suffice for teachers is if there is a funding source for it. If there is not a funding source for it…which, they have known for the last five years that there was not a funding source for PEIA. They basically just continued to put it on the backburner, because we have not done anything about it. And it is not just teachers, it is every state employee in the State of West Virginia. It is not like they were just hit by a truck and realized that, “How are we going to pay for that PEIA? What are we going to do for it?”
We have given them options. People have given them options to fund PEIA, but nobody wants to take the initiative to make that a funding source for PEIA.

Up at Truthout.
Up at The Progressive

Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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Contesting the Right’s Designs on Public Space, with Prof. Jalane Schmidt

August 11 will be the first anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Heather Heyer was killed and several other people injured when white nationalists and white supremacists from around the country rallied–and brought weapons. In preparation for the anniversary, Charlottesville activists are planning vigils and teach-ins and keeping an eye on the far right’s activities, from Portland, OR to Washington, D.C. Prof. Jalane Schmidt is an organizer with Black Lives Matter Charlottesville, and she joins me to discuss the recent far-right violence in Portland, the planned rally in D.C., and what Charlottesville activists are planning for the anniversary and beyond.

They are trying to push decent citizens out of the public square, anyone who opposes white supremacy, out of the public square, and also, to normalize their movement.
Part of what they are doing is they really like to go to places with iconic vistas; whether it is the Lee statue or to Mount Vernon, Washington’s estate up in Northern Virginia–that is where Identity Evropa went a few months ago–or other places. They like to have clean, unobstructed sight lines between themselves and whatever iconic place where they are: university auditoriums, for instance, the Oval Office, because that is very good for their recruitment. This makes for very good propaganda videos.
For instance, here, May 13th, 2017 was the first alt-right torch rally here in Charlottesville. Some 150 white supremacists gathered uncontested. They caught us flat-footed, by surprise. Then, of course, August 11th, around the Jefferson statue at the University of Virginia. Again, largely uncontested. Then, October 7th, 2017 they had a third torch rally here in Charlottesville, also catching us by surprise. That is what they like for their propaganda videos. That is what they like to circulate online. And Richard Spencer even said that last August 11th on the steps of the rotunda at the University of Virginia, “Look! We just took over!”
So, they want spaces cleared of the rest of us, especially those of us who are people of color. But, they are also trying to grow their movement. It is a strategy. That is why it is important to, yes, show up in greater numbers – there is safety in numbers – to say, “No, we won’t allow you to scare us away and we won’t allow you to take over public spaces and to normalize with your appearances there, your movement.”

Up at Truthout
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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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Building the movement for Medicare for All, with Benjamin Day

This week saw the 53rd anniversary of Medicare, created, as Benjamin Day of Healthcare-NOW! points out, in the middle of the upheaval and social movement agitation of the 1960s. Today we are in the middle of similar (and also very different) upheaval, and organizers are using it to build support for expanding Medicare to the rest of the population. I spoke with Day about the building of a Medicare for All caucus in Congress, the upcoming elections, and why street protests are still going to be important to the struggle.

 

I think that there is going to be a few phases of this movement. Right now, there is definitely a focus on the elections and trying to get…really pressuring all candidates to embrace Medicare for All. After this moment is over…and it looks like we will gain quite a few Medicare for All supporters in Congress just through the election process…but, after that, it is going to be sort of another social movement fight to get sitting reps to embrace it like happened last year.
I think what that looks like will really vary depending on whether Democrats retake the House or the Senate. We are kind of preparing the way for that. A lot of our work has been focused on these elections and pressuring candidates when they are most vulnerable and when they are most accountable, I think. But, Phase Two is really going to be doing very targeted organizing the districts of Democrats who should be on board with this bill and they are not yet.

Up at Truthout.
Up at The Progressive.

Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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Keeping the pressure on Chuck Schumer and the Democrats, with Liat Olenick of Indivisible Nation BK

Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer has been hearing from his constituents a lot lately, and they’re demanding he stand up and fight. That’s the message brought by Indivisible Nation BK, which has held rallies outside of Schumer’s Brooklyn home, his Manhattan office, and elsewhere demanding that Schumer unify the Democrats in standing up to Trumpism and Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. I spoke to Liat Olenick of Indivisible Nation BK about the group’s mission, and how it came together around the idea that someone should hold elected officials accountable.

Indivisible is all about holding your own elected officials accountable. As a Brooklyn group, we meet in Prospect Heights, Boerum Hill, Park Slope area, we’re literally in his backyard, we’re right near his house. We do have members from all over Brooklyn but because we’re so close to him we kind of feel a special responsibility to continue to hold him accountable and put pressure on him to be the leader that we need right now.
All elected officials are there for one reason, because they were elected by people going out and voting for them. When we signal to our representatives what we want them to do or that we are thankful for something or that we are disappointed in actions that they have taken, they pay attention because they want to, ultimately, get reelected and stay in office. The whole Indivisible model is based on that. We, especially with Chuck Schumer, take that really seriously because we are in his backyard and also because he is the most powerful Democrat in the country right now and more than anybody else, we need really strong consistent clear leadership coming from him and his office.

Up at Truthout.
Up at The Progressive.
Up at In These Times.

Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here