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  • Originally published 03/31/2014

    New film about Cesar Chavez

    Many people thought Cesar Chavez was crazy to think he could build a union among migrant farmworkers.

  • Originally published 03/25/2014

    Sharecropper’s Troubadour

    University of Washington historian Michael Honey on John Handcox, African American singer and labor activist in the Jim Crow South.

  • Originally published 06/26/2013

    Jefferson Cowie: The Future of Fair Labor

    Jefferson Cowie is a professor of labor history at Cornell and the author of “Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class.”ITHACA, N.Y. — SEVENTY-FIVE years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act to give a policy backbone to his belief that goods that were not produced under “rudimentary standards of decency” should not be “allowed to pollute the channels of interstate trade."The act is the bedrock of modern employment law. It outlawed child labor, guaranteed a minimum wage, established the official length of the workweek at 40 hours, and required overtime pay for anything more. Capping the working week encouraged employers to hire more people rather than work the ones they had to exhaustion. All this came not from the magic of market equilibrium but from federal policy.For decades afterward, Congress brought more people under the law’s purview and engaged in perennial struggles to maintain or increase the minimum wage. Fifty years ago this month, John F. Kennedy signed its most important amendment, the Equal Pay Act, which guaranteed women and others equal pay for equal work....

  • Originally published 05/08/2013

    Terrorism in the Workplace

    Strikers in Ludlow, Colorado, 1914. Credit: Wiki Commons.In Bangladesh, more than six hundred workers died in the collapse of the Rana Plaza with hundreds more still missing and presumed dead. We must be shocked by this tragedy, but not at all surprised.

  • Originally published 01/22/2013

    Linda Gordon: Why Abortion Is a Labor Issue

    Linda Gordon is a University Professor of the Humanities and professor of history at NYU, teaching courses on gender, social movements, imperialism and the 20th-century U.S. in general. She has published a number of prize-winning works of history and won many prestigious awards, including Guggenheim, NEH, ACLS, Radcliffe Institute and the New York Public Library¹s Cullman Center fellowships.On Dec. 11, 2012, Michigan passed two right-to-work laws, one for public and one for private employees. As even our president said, “right to work” in this case means “right to work for lower wages.” These laws do not free workers to reject joining a union, because they already have that right. Instead, the laws abolish the requirement that those who don’t join a union pay the equivalent of union dues, a requirement designed to prevent “free riders”—workers who benefit from union contracts without paying their fair share.

  • Originally published 01/15/2013

    Eight Things I Miss About the Cold War

    Credit: Wiki Commons.At a book festival in Los Angeles recently, some writers (myself included) were making the usual arguments about the problems with American politics in the 1950s -- until one panelist shocked the audience by declaring, “God, I miss the Cold War.” His grandmother, he said, had come to California from Oklahoma with a grade-school education, but found a job in an aerospace factory in L.A. during World War II, joined the union, got healthcare and retirement benefits, and prospered in the Cold War years. She ended up owning a house in the suburbs and sending her kids to UCLA.Several older people in the audience leaped to their feet shouting, “What about McCarthyism?”  “The bomb?” “Vietnam?” “Nixon?”

  • Originally published 01/10/2013

    Why Ports Are the New Factories

    Crane at the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach, California. Credit: Wiki Commons.Last month, union activists across the country celebrated what they saw as the latest opportunity to kickstart the moribund labor movement: a strike at Walmart on Black Friday. Retail workers, or as Walmart calls them, "associates," across the country were to walk out on the greatest shopping day of the year. The walkout was to signal the national unity of retail workers and strike a blow that would stagger the giant from Bentonville. At the same time, it would galvanize liberal consumers who would support the walk-out by their refusal to shop. Bringing together consumers and workers, they believed, would force America's largest retailer to the negotiating table.It failed.Walkouts were erratic. Shoppers, most of whom were hard-pressed workers themselves, thought more about the presents under the tree than the picket lines, if there were any. It turns out, as one might expect, that coordinating a walkout at thousands of locations across the country was hard, even in this age of social media.

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