Labor Rights And Economic Justice

Labor Rights And Economic Justice

Over the past 40 years, the global economy has undergone dramatic changes, a shift marked by a decline in protectionist and welfare state policies in the global north, the emergence of non-western economic superpowers, and the expansion of low-wage manufacturing in poor countries. Global restructuring and neoliberal social policy have devastated communities from Detroit to Buenos Aires to Mumbai.  Developed countries have experienced a transition from a disproportionate reliance on manufacturing to service-sector employment and corresponding economic instability for much of the working and middle classes.  Factories have shut down, well-paying jobs have disappeared, vast communities abandoned and carceral economic landscapes entrenched. Outsourcing and subcontracting of jobs and technological displacement, together with an unrelenting political assault, have eroded the power of labor unions, and contributed to the rise of the “precariat”–a cohort of workers who work part-time, intermittently, or as independent contractors.

Although a broad swath of Americans is affected by these economic trends, communities of color, and especially women of color, immigrants, and LGBTQIA are hardest hit. The politics of race are central to how class is constituted, structuring both the labor market and class hierarchy.  People of color disproportionately experience employment discrimination, job instability, wage theft, homelessness, unemployment, deep poverty,  and incarceration and the mark of a criminal record.  Deeply ingrained racism means that many white Americans believe that higher poverty rates in communities of color are due to racialized ‘cultures of poverty’ or character flaws. The normalization of white supremacy and neo-nazism is a frightening example of how an agenda that purportedly speaks to the working class can take the form of xenophobia, racism, and fascism.

The Economic Justice group of the Scholars for Social Justice Initiative aims to think through these trends by situating them in a broader historical context of gendered racial capitalism and drawing on the exciting new forms of labor organizing and resistance.  Although mainstream labor unions have been weakened by these economic shifts, members of traditional unions continue to mobilize in the face of attack.  In addition, poor and working people have been developing small-scale innovative strategies to counter economic devastation.  New patterns of labor and economic justice organizing—the formation of cooperatives and community gardens, alternative economies, organizing by restaurant workers, taxi drivers, farmworkers, fast food, retail and domestic workers—led by people of color has emerged outside the boundaries of the traditional labor movement.  Although organizing in this sector is not new (in some cases examples of it emerged over 100 years ago), the significance of this organizing is now becoming apparent.  The service sector now accounts for 80% of jobs in the United States.  The precarious nature of this work is serving as a model for a growing portion of the American working class that is increasingly encountering insecurity in the workplace.  Their examples of “whole worker” organizing across lines of race, gender, ethnicity, citizenship status and language; of organizing across employer, occupation, and industry; of targeting the state, especially at the local level with some victories in Blue Islands of governance; and organizing in public spaces utilizing social movement strategies to develop a broad base of support, are offering new ways forward for the labor movement. Moreover, many of these local initiatives have established transnational connections with sister organizations, illustrating how workers can collaborate, share knowledge, and inspire one another.

Labor Rights And Economic Justice

Over the past 40 years, the global economy has undergone dramatic changes, a shift marked by a decline in protectionist and welfare state policies in the global north, the emergence of non-western economic superpowers, and the expansion of low-wage manufacturing in poor countries. Global restructuring and neoliberal social policy have devastated communities from Detroit to Buenos Aires to Mumbai.  Developed countries have experienced a transition from a disproportionate reliance on manufacturing to service-sector employment and corresponding economic instability for much of the working and middle classes.  Factories have shut down, well-paying jobs have disappeared, vast communities abandoned and carceral economic landscapes entrenched. Outsourcing and subcontracting of jobs and technological displacement, together with an unrelenting political assault, have eroded the power of labor unions, and contributed to the rise of the “precariat”–a cohort of workers who work part-time, intermittently, or as independent contractors.

Although a broad swath of Americans is affected by these economic trends, communities of color, and especially women of color, immigrants, and LGBTQIA are hardest hit. The politics of race are central to how class is constituted, structuring both the labor market and class hierarchy.  People of color disproportionately experience employment discrimination, job instability, wage theft, homelessness, unemployment, deep poverty,  and incarceration and the mark of a criminal record.  Deeply ingrained racism means that many white Americans believe that higher poverty rates in communities of color are due to racialized ‘cultures of poverty’ or character flaws. The normalization of white supremacy and neo-nazism is a frightening example of how an agenda that purportedly speaks to the working class can take the form of xenophobia, racism, and fascism.

The Economic Justice group of the Scholars for Social Justice Initiative aims to think through these trends by situating them in a broader historical context of gendered racial capitalism and drawing on the exciting new forms of labor organizing and resistance.  Although mainstream labor unions have been weakened by these economic shifts, members of traditional unions continue to mobilize in the face of attack.  In addition, poor and working people have been developing small-scale innovative strategies to counter economic devastation.  New patterns of labor and economic justice organizing—the formation of cooperatives and community gardens, alternative economies, organizing by restaurant workers, taxi drivers, farmworkers, fast food, retail and domestic workers—led by people of color has emerged outside the boundaries of the traditional labor movement.  Although organizing in this sector is not new (in some cases examples of it emerged over 100 years ago), the significance of this organizing is now becoming apparent.  The service sector now accounts for 80% of jobs in the United States.  The precarious nature of this work is serving as a model for a growing portion of the American working class that is increasingly encountering insecurity in the workplace.  Their examples of “whole worker” organizing across lines of race, gender, ethnicity, citizenship status and language; of organizing across employer, occupation, and industry; of targeting the state, especially at the local level with some victories in Blue Islands of governance; and organizing in public spaces utilizing social movement strategies to develop a broad base of support, are offering new ways forward for the labor movement. Moreover, many of these local initiatives have established transnational connections with sister organizations, illustrating how workers can collaborate, share knowledge, and inspire one another.

Team Members

Adom Getachew

FULL BIO

Sarah Haley

FULL BIO

Premilla Nadasen

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Dorian Warren

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Teaching and Learning Documents

By clicking on the button below, you can access a collection of teaching and learning resources on Economic Justice.

Teaching and Learning Documents

By clicking on the button below, you can access a collection of teaching and learning resources on the subject of Economic Justice.

``The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.`` - Cesar Chavez