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Immigrant Labor and the New Precariat

Fighting the “Immigrant Threat” Narrative

Ruth Milkman’s latest book is a strong scholarly response to the “immigrant threat” narrative that has been central to U.S. politics in the last decades. In Immigrant Labor and the New Precariat, the distinguished labor and migration scholar has a clear goal: to reframe the conversation about migration and increased inequality in the United States, reversing the causal relation that blames migration for the U.S. working class’s current perils. | more…

People line up to vote in the European elections at the Central Station in Amsterdam, Netherlands May 23, 2019

The Elephant in the Room

Left Parties and the European Union

European left parties have, over the last couple of decades, become increasingly critical of political developments in the European Union, particularly as a response to the austerity policies that followed the financial crisis of 2007–08 and the subsequent euro crisis. These were accompanied by high and sustained unemployment and promises of a social pillar that never materialized. Nevertheless, even if criticism of the European Union has sharpened, this has not been well reflected in the political strategies of the left. | more…

The Long Deep Grudge: A Story of Big Capital, Radical Labor, and Class War in the American Heartland

The Left and the Class Struggle

Both Toni Gilpin’s The Long Deep Grudge and Michael Goldfield’s The Southern Key offer ample evidence that the grand era of U.S. labor history scholarship is not yet past. The Long Deep Grudge is in equal parts labor history and family reminiscence as Gilpin seeks the fuller story of her father, who played a leadership role in the United Auto Workers union. The Southern Key is in many ways a study of a different variety, but very much of a similarly militant kind. Goldfield, a labor activist veteran himself, draws the big picture of what he sees as the central failure of the U.S. left: the failure to organize the South. | more…

A farmer operates a harvester to reap rice in a field at Xiaogang Village in Fengyang County, east China's Anhui Province, on Sept. 27, 2018

Revisiting Collectivism and Rural Governance in China

The Singularity of the Zhoujiazhuang People's Commune

Zhoujiazhuang is singular, being the only de facto people’s commune in China today. At present, Zhoujiazhuang still maintains the political, economic, and social structure that has been essentially in place since 1956. For over sixty years—since ten years before the Cultural Revolution and thirty-eight years after the dismantling of almost all people’s communes in 1982—Zhoujiazhuang has survived as an organizational unit over the same territory comprising the same six natural villages. | more…

Local staff members of Puhan cooperatives in the field

Negotiating Debt

The Making of Puhan Rural Community in North China

Originally set up in 1998 in China, the Puhan Rural Community was the first peasant-initiated, cross-village organization established after the collapse of the top-down people’s communes and the implementation of the household responsibility system. Puhan learned a lesson about the exploitation of usurious microfinance and decided that it was capable of establishing a system of mutual aid credit by itself, changing the cultural emphasis on money. Its story of struggling with rural financial organizations opens up a debate on the trap of marketization and monetization, the root causes of loans and debts, the negotiating power of collectives, the production mode of ecological agriculture, and the redefinition of the commonwealth. | more…

African American migratory workers in front of a 'juke joint' in Belle Glade, Florida (February 1941)

Race Is About More Than Discrimination

Racial Capitalism, the Settler State, and the Challenges Facing Organized Labor in the United States

Organized labor—based on white-exclusive and later white-dominated, though not necessarily exclusive, trade unions—formed itself as part of the settler state, not in the sense of being an apparatus of the state, but in the sense of accepting certain important precepts. The unions took for granted the nature of the settler state and, as such, conceived that the unions were to exist to serve the “legitimate” population, or at least the working class of the legitimate population. | more…

Tell the Bosses We're Coming: A New Action Plan for Workers in the Twenty-First Century

Tell the Bosses We’re Coming: A New Action Plan for Workers in the Twenty-First Century

Lengthening hours, lessening pay, no parental leave, scant job security… Never have so many workers needed so much support. Yet the very labor unions that could garner us protections and help us speak up for ourselves are growing weaker every day. In an age of rampant inequality, of increasing social protest and strikes— and when a majority of workers say they want to be union members—why does union density continue to decline? Shaun Richman offers some answers in his book, Tell the Bosses We’re Coming. | more…

Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, VA in August 6 2012

Dead Labor

My pop was always working on our house, a shack that was all my parents could afford in the great hunger for homeownership that came after the Second World War. But nothing ever quite got finished, either for lack of funds or motivation. But if he wasn’t quite a craftsman himself, he admired craft. He was moved by the effort and intricacy of how things were made. ‘Honey, look at this old wooden chest with these lovely silver handles. Think of all the work that was done to this thing by someone’s hands.’ | more…

Labor leader Clinton Jencks (center) in the fictionalized film "Salt of the Earth"

The Legacy of Clinton Jencks

In 1950, the mainly Mexican and Mexican-American members of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Local 890 went on strike against Empire Zinc in southern New Mexico. One of the only fair-haired and pale-skinned union men in meetings and jail was Mine Mill organizer Clinton Jencks. Raymond Caballero’s study, McCarthyism vs. Clinton Jencks, exhaustively details how the federal government brought the entire weight of its repressive apparatus down on the heads of Jencks, his family, and his union siblings. | more…

Radical Seattle: The General Strike of 1919

The Origins of the Seattle General Strike of 1919: The Timber Beast

Seattle in 1919 was an island in a still immeasurable sea of timber. The Pacific coastal forests were estimated to contain nearly two-thirds of the timber in the country, and the Washington State forests accounted for the largest part of these. The physical hardships associated with the lumber industry, including isolation deep within the rain forests, made working conditions an even more miserable burden than low wages. The work was seasonal and layoffs were common; the completion of one job might mean termination and the search for work elsewhere. When the winter rains brought an end to work in the woods, the state’s loggers fled to the city, not welcome elsewhere. In some years, there might be thousands on Seattle’s streets. | more…

Radical Seattle: The General Strike of 1919

Radical Seattle: The General Strike of 1919

On a grey winter morning in Seattle, in February 1919, 110 local unions shut down the entire city. Shut it down and took it over, rendering the authorities helpless. For five days, workers from all trades and sectors – streetcar drivers, telephone operators, musicians, miners, loggers, shipyard workers – fed the people, ensured that babies had milk, that the sick were cared for. They did this with without police – and they kept the peace themselves. This had never happened before in the United States and has not happened since. Those five days became known as the General Strike of Seattle. | more…

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