American Labor in the Global Slump: Interview with Steve Early
Posted on April 27, 2014
By Andrew Sernatinger and Tessa Echeverria
The global slump that began in 2008 has commonly been defined as a financial crisis. For many, the market crash was seen as something fictitious, a way of handing over trillions of dollars of public money, slashing social benefits and funding of basic welfare state programs.
But as capital reorganizes and ceases new opportunities, there has also been a wholesale assault on labor. In a previous interview, we spoke to Charlie Post about the concept of the precariat, where he argued that the form of flexiblized labor isn’t categorically new, but the consequences of unemployment have become much more severe with neoliberalism. Post has also written on the subject of lean production, which even now has been accelerated and extended into the public sector.
Here we explore the big picture of what is happening to US workers, the assault by employers and the activities of unions, both at levels of the top brass and the rank and file. For this topic, we interviewed Steve Early, a labor activist and reputed journalist. He is the author of Embedded With Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home (2009), The Civil Wars in US Labor: Birth of a New Workers’ Movement or Death Throes of the Old? (2011), and most recently Save Our Unions: Dispatches from a Movement in Distress (2013).
Andrew Sernatinger: I thought we could start by just having you talk a little bit about yourself. How did you come to be an activist and a labor journalist?
Steve Early: I’ve been involved in labor activity for over forty years now. After graduating from college I went to law school in Washington D.C. and got involved in assisting the tail end of a very important reform movement in the United Mine Workers (UMW), and had the great privilege of working for several years as a headquarters staff member of the UMW, including working on its journal and national union newspaper.
Most of the last thirty-five years that I’ve been involved in labor activity was either as a national staff member or now again rank and file member of the Communication Workers of America (CWA)—I worked on contract negotiations and strikes, organizing involving CWA members in the northeast for many years and now I’m a member of the CWA-affiliated newspaper guild in northern California, based here in San Francisco…