Our May/June 2022 issue–our Annual Labor Issue–is at the printers, and we’ll send the pdf out to e-subscribers tomorrow. Print subscribers should get their copies in a couple of weeks. (Not a subscriber? You can subscribe online here.) The issue’s cover story, “Shut Up and Work: ‘Free’ Labor and Unequal Freedom of Expression,” by economist and D&S Collective member Zoe Sherman, is posted here. As usual, our p. 2 editors’ note gives you a tour of the issue:
Tipping the Balance
The easiest way to tell that right-wingers’ concern about supposed threats to free speech is a sham is that they tend to ignore the place where speech is suppressed the most: the workplace. In his bid to buy Twitter, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has promised to run the social media platform as a “free-speech absolutist,” as he has declared himself. But Musk has routinely restricted the speech and expression of Tesla workers, e.g., by requiring laid-off workers to sign “separation agreements” that restrict them from disparaging the company. The company has also retaliated against whistleblower employees. For Musk, free speech rights seem to extend to the wealthy and powerful and to right-wing extremists, but not so much to people who challenge the powerful.
This issue’s cover story, by economist and D&S collective member Zoe Sherman, charts out how, under the wage-labor system and a government that favors capital, workers sell their free speech rights along with their labor power during the working day. The recent organizing drives at Amazon warehouses and Starbucks stores show how freedom of expression is central to labor struggles, with employers suppressing pro-union speech through surveillance and captive-audience meetings, but recent union victories against those companies show how workers can get their voice and fight back.
The articles in this year’s Annual Labor Issue are about the balance of power between capital and labor in the workplace, in the labor market, and in the economy as a whole. In his “Dr. Dollar” column, Arthur MacEwan finds an examination of power in the workplace in an unexpected source: a recent report from the U.S. Treasury Department. The report begins its analysis with the monopsony power many firms have in the labor market—their ability to set wages as if they were the only buyer of labor power. But the report details a range of sources and consequences of employer power.
Despite the upper hand capital has often had, labor has its moments of resurgent power, and today seems to be one such moment in the United States, even beyond the victories at Amazon and Starbucks that Sherman discusses. John Miller’s “Up Against the Wall Street Journal” column takes a close look the “Great Resignation” and the current labor shortage that has empowered workers, especially low-wage workers, to seek out better jobs and push up their wages. And Robert Ovetz reminds us of another area of recent organizing surges and victories—the nonprofit sector, which, as Ovetz points out, has about 10 times the number of workers that Amazon does. The nonprofit industry ballooned in the neoliberal era, and is now seeing rebellion among its workers against poverty wages and long hours.
Bill Barclay’s feature on how California’s industrial system of intensive agriculture developed, with its reliance on a steady supply of wage laborers, recounts changes in the balance of power between labor and capital in that system. The victories stretch from a successful strike by the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association in 1903 through Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta organizing the United Farm Workers in the 1960s and 1970s, but capital has always seemed to regain the upper hand. While mostly non-white workers have made California an agricultural powerhouse, as Barclay puts it, “class power has directed the returns of this bounty into the hands of an almost completely white Anglo landowning class.”
Meanwhile, Martin J. Bennett’s feature on the fight to raise the minimum wage shows the key role California has played on behalf of non-agricultural low-wage workers. This more recent history of labor and organizing in California explains why the state became central to the fight, and how the movement’s goals, now for $20 an hour and a union, could shape the upcoming midterm elections.
Also in this issue: capsule reviews of labor books (and a film) from members of the D&S Collective and the D&S Writing Workshop, an update on current employment and wage conditions from our “Economy in Numbers” columnist Ed Ford, and more!