Alt-labor: the new, ungovernable red-state labor movements, led by teachers


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I sincerely hope so, but it may be a lot harder than you think. Red-staters have been told for decades that “Right-to-Work” laws were setting them free from wicked union bosses. Despite their own best interests, an awful lot of people will never vote Democratic. We are, after all, the party of dirty hippies and black people,


PATCO could not be reached for comment.


Not content with earlier poison pills in the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations (withdrawal votes every 5 years and “voluntary” dispute settlement), the Trump administration has blundered further into populism with a union-endorsed proposal to tie NAFTA rules of origin (ROOs) provisions to wage rates in Mexico of up to $15 per hour. (ROOs govern the percentage of content required to qualify for NAFTA tariff breaks.) Using trade agreements to dictate increased wages and stricter labor regulations has been a goal of congressional Democrats since the 1990s.


It’s interesting that it’s taken so long for people to react when the end of WW2 was when the right wing started its efforts to dismantle labor unions and labor rights. It only has accelerated in the recent years as it’s clear that the capital owners aren’t keen to even pay a living wage for labor. The sooner we have this fight on this matter the better because it’s not going to end well if we let the rich and powerful decide who deserves to live/die.


The Janus thing is cognitive dissonance for me; I was a non-union civil service employee who was forced to pay fair-share so I could be “represented” by the union.
My experience:
The union went on strike over a contract negotiation, and I drove through the picket lines every day. I was supporting a family on my pay, and “strike pay” ($15/day) wasn’t available for non-union members. The great union leadership ended up settling 3 weeks later for less than the county originally offered - less % of pay increase and less insurance coverage.

I know without unions the bosses can do whatever they want, but unions, in my experience, often claim to be “helping” the members without actually doing anything positive. All the union stewards I knew* were as corrupt or capitalistic as the bosses; maybe I just knew too small a subset to judge correctly.

(*AFL-CIO and AFSCME, mostly)


Unions, like most things, can be done well or badly. There are places in the world where they work WITH management and help when time are tough so that the plant/office/whatever can make it through the lean times and hire more people on when times are better. One thing: unions should never be for profit.



Labor is definitely changing, and we need a good name for this change. I’ve been brainstorming what to call this for a while now. I’m a huge fan of Cory Doctorow, but I’m not sure about the ‘alt labor’ name. Attaching ‘alt’ to everything seems a little boring, plus, it makes it sound like they are somehow related to MAGA hat wearing alt-righters.

At first I called the new movement ‘new labor’, then I changed to calling it ‘wildcat labor’. Wildcat labor just kind of rolls off my tongue easier.

Also, I’m not sure how radical these teachers actually are. I mean, they just want books written within the last two decades, and chairs for students to sit on. That’s not radical. Everybody wants that. It’s a shame that they have to destroy traditional organized labor structures to strike for that, but here we are. Out with the old, in with the new.


One important question is whether alt-labor will take hold in “blue” states – as Corey Robin points out, the liberal left was AWOL-to-hostile when teachers in Chicago struck over the same issues

It’s more than just party loyalty. Liberals fortunate enough to live in forward-thinking and prosperous and sane states (AKA “blue” states) can get complacent about these matters, trusting local institutions to sort things out somewhat reasonably. Remaining that complacent after the events of the last few years is foolish, though.


I don’t think that the teachers are destroying traditional organized labor structures, rather that has been the objective of corporate wing of the GOP. I would say that the teachers are doing an end run around the unions that have been crippled and made mostly irrelevant by the rich and powerful.


it’s becoming increasingly obvious that we’re all dirty hippies and black people now.


What’s your point?


Public sector strikes, regardless of how organized or unorganized they are, can have dramatic and unexpected consequences.


Okay, so which potential consequences are you trying to warn us about?


Teachers in these backwards states actually getting raises? That would be “dramatic and unexpected”*.

[* also scary for those who worship St. Ronnie, slayer of the labour dragon]


Uh, mass firings. PATCO isn’t exactly a subtle reference. Public sector employees are subject to a lot more regulations and rules than private sector. Where I live, it’s illegal for them to strike.


But it was an irrelevant one because mass firings based on stricter regulation of public-sector employees can happen with or without a union (which at least provides the benefit to the state of a negotiating partner or, alternatively, a target). So your point is still missing in action.

What this story demonstrates is that despite the destruction of PATCO and the subsequent 30-year anti-union campaign based on the Orwellian term “right to work”, public employees (especially well-educated ones) will organise and take action in other ways if they’re treated poorly.


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