Roundup on U.S. Labor

I’ve started a new project to round up information on developments in U.S. labor. The format is a broad assemblage of digital media that catch my attention, across the landscape of American labor and work.

I will post an update roughly every two weeks. Suggestions always welcome. Email me at brett@brettwallace.com.

Week 1 – Week of January 1st-15th, 2021

Updates include 1) unemployment is higher than The Great Depression with adverse impact by race and gender, 2) a note on the riot on the Capitol 3) Union activity at Amazon and Google, 4) reading list resources.

1. Unemployment.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor Employment Situation report announced the unemployment rate for December was unchanged at 6.7%.1 Per my earlier post, given the Dept of Labor reports on the U-3 unemployment rate, representing only the number of people actively seeking a job, these numbers can obscure what real unemployment is.
  • The real rate of unemployment is 25.7% (November 2020) when you count everyone who is not working, stopped looking for work, not earning above the poverty line, and/or working irregularly as unemployed. The rates are higher for Black, Hispanic, and women workers than they are for white workers.2
  • In looking back at all US recessions since 1949, data shows that women workers have been impacted much greater in this downturn.3
  • Peak unemployment hit 24.9% in The Great Depression of 1933. An interesting data point when some Republican Senators won’t approve a $2,000 stimulus check.
  • U.S. Department of Labor claims for the week ending January 2nd hit 922,072 – a staggering 175% increase from the same week last year. The hardest-hit industries include leisure and hospitality, private education, and government. Gains were noted in professional services, retail, construction, transportation, and warehousing.4
  • A new study by Gallup shows that one in four Black Americans experiences discrimination in the workplace. This makes the pursuit of economic and career mobility in the workplace very hard for some while it continues to afford systematic privileges for others.5
2. Wealth Inequality and Universal Basic Income
  • 2020 was another year of the Billionaire Bonanza. The top 13 billionaires have seen their wealth grow by $930.7 billion (32%), from March 18, 2020 – October 13, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. 6
  • The free-market theory that a rising tide (the wealth of billionaires) lifts all boats is systemically false. The United States has greater wealth inequality than any developed nation. Millions of U.S. working families live paycheck to paycheck. And, in a free-market economy, there is no social safety net or check on wealth inequality and distribution.
  • There is an irony with an article on Bloomberg City Lab on UBI given Mr. Bloomberg is #14 of the U.S. most wealthy list. We’ll park that for now. The article highlights experiments from Compton (CA) to Richmond (VA), new experiments in Universal Basic Income (UBI) are springing up around the country. There is mix of funding for these programs ranging from private philanthropic investment to public funds. There are some voices (mainly from the right) saying these experiments would make people work less and rely on the system, and other voices (more well founded in my opinion) concerned a UBI program may be used to disqualify them from other programs they rely on from disability or housing. 7
2. The Riot at the Capitol.
  • There are widespread economic setbacks across the working class. Millions of workers are facing a lack of economic mobility and provisions. We’ve been learning that those who stormed the Capitol are a mixture of external paramilitaries from white supremacist groups to members of law enforcement internal to the U.S. Government. We are also learning about the patterns of the attempted coup – which resemble more and more an orchestrated, planned event. These domestic terrorists are fighting for the restoration of an American vision, one that Trump has repeated over and over, that awards economic provisions and mobility for them and people who look like them – white people.
  • Also, here is a must-read in my opinion – Marx21’s statement on January 7, 2021 – “We must stand united against Trump and the insurgent far right.” 8
  • Thinking about this I was reminded a bit of the early days of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). 9The AFL arose from an alliance of craft unions and became the largest union grouping in the United States for the first half of the 20th century. In the early days, nearly everyone was admitted to the union, including radical and socialist workers, Black, immigrant, and women workers of all skill levels. But in the 1890s, the AFL began to organize only skilled workers in craft unions, mostly white men, segregating local unions, arguing new immigration hurt wages and unions. 10
3. Big Tech Union Activity.
  • Amazon workers at the new Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center (BHM1) seek to unionize.11 They would be the first Amazon location to do so. The new warehouse, coded “Project Bluebird”, opened on March 29th, is an 855,000-square-foot sortation center with 1,500 workers. 12 The workers filed a petition on November 20th with the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election to create a bargaining unit that would cover 1,500 full-time and part-time workers, represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).13
  • Google Workers formed a “solidarity” union (now up to 700 dues-paying members).14 The union is in coalition with the Communication Workers of America, and will not seek union representation or collective bargaining through the National Labor Relations Board. This effort comes after well-documented accounts in 2019 when Google hired a union-busting firm and retaliated against organizers inside the company. 15 This also comes 4 weeks after Timnit Gebru, a prominent researcher, was fired for a paper on the bias of AI. 16. After last week’s failed coup at the Capitol, the group is calling out YouTube for continuing to host videos by Donald Trump.
4. Reading List
  • Here is a great roundup courtesy of comrades at Marx21. 18

Footnotes

  1. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm
  2. https://www.lisep.org/
  3. https://voxeu.org/article/shecession-she-recession-2020-causes-and-consequences?fbclid=IwAR3nLLYXjamz3A0R2PAA1b9b8rgJhHiBVbd2KtK83Bm0tsVQXOJO8422yi4
  4. https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/OPA/newsreleases/ui-claims/20210001.pdf
  5. https://news.gallup.com/poll/328394/one-four-black-workers-report-discrimination-work.aspx?fbclid=IwAR3XIdw-xVHS4sBxD-cGH855WdD9LWCcYO626qtIEQw2EOSqXRpi-zCEwJo
  6. Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies, 10-13-20 Billionaires Data, accessed via web October 26th, 2020
  7. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-04/guaranteed-income-gains-popularity-after-covid-19
  8. https://marx21us.org/2021/01/07/we-must-stand-united-against-trump-and-the-insurgent-far-right/
  9. https://aflcio.org
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Federation_of_Labor
  11. https://prospect.org/labor/amazon-warehouse-workers-in-alabama-they-work-you-to-death/
  12. https://www.mwpvl.com/html/amazon_com.html
  13. https://www.rwdsu.info/amazon_effort_to_thwart_alabama_union_drive_suffers_early_defeat_at_labor_board
  14. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/04/opinion/google-union.html
  15. https://googlewalkout.medium.com/googles-next-moonshot-union-busting-7bd2784dc690
  16. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/03/technology/google-researcher-timnit-gebru.html
  17. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/04/opinion/google-union.html
  18. https://marx21us.org/2020/12/17/marx21s-picks-of-notable-books-of-2020/