Friday Roundup

Vol. 2, No. 6


June 15, 2018

Happy Friday, sociologists! Here are a few of the articles and essays we’ve been reading this past week.

Immigration

Gender

Indigenous Issues

The Gig Economy

On Campus

Research Findings

Does education create good jobs?


June 13, 2018

In January 2012, President Obama called for states to extend compulsory education in the U.S. to age 18.  More recently, the White House unveiled its America’s College Promise Proposal, which calls for free community college tuition for responsible students. 

Common arguments in support of more education suggest that education spurs innovation and expands skilled and higher paying jobs.  Counterarguments suggest education could reduce skilled jobs by promoting the development of new technology, production practices, and machines that can replace skilled labor.

We know that education has important occupational benefits for individuals, but do these benefits spill over into society as well?  At the turn of the century, I find that they do. Continue Reading…

Commentary

Panel – The Fight for $15 movement for low-wage workers


June 6, 2018

Workers and supporters celebrate a $15 minimum wage at Sea-Tac Airport.

Labor Studies Journal recently published a debate on the Fight for $15 labor movement. We are delighted to host a virtual panel including short summaries of the debate by each of the authors, all of whom are leading labor scholars and activists.

Steven Ashby praises The Fight for $15 as “one of the most vital, innovative, and militant struggles in recent US labor history.” He notes that the movement has “created the pressure to win 19 million low-wage workers a total of $61 billion in annual raises through state and local legislation raising the minimum wage, and employers pressured to raise their minimum pay.”

Ashby concludes that the American labor movement must build on the momentum of the Fight for $15 and coalesce around a movement to organize low-wage workers nationwide.

Jonathan Rosenblum points out that although the Fight for $15 movement has been successful in winning pay increases for more than 19 million low-wage workers, in the years since SEIU leaders launched the Fight for a Fair Economy, private sector union density has continued to decline – down from 7% to 6.5%.

Rosenblum asks whether the Fight for $15 movement can channel the energy of the walkouts into the construction of a more durable organizational basis for increased workers’ power.

Tom Juravich agrees that the Fight for $15 has been successful – both in increasing wages and in changing how Americans think about low-wage work. But its gains have largely been in the form of symbolic power. He questions whether the movement can expand beyond the “low-hanging fruit on both coasts?”

Juravich concludes that for the movement to succeed, it needs to find a way to move beyond symbolic power and gain “real structural (economic) leverage,” perhaps by focusing resources on organizing a specific “union city” rather than running “low level campaigns across the country.”

Commentary

In defense of the stunning Fight for Fifteen movement


June 6, 2018

The Fight for Fifteen movement, launched in New York City in late 2012, is one of the most vital, innovative, and militant struggles in recent US labor history.  As one Fight for Fifteen organizer put it, now many young workers “are looking at the union movement, not as something that’s stodgy, old, and past its prime, but as something that’s exciting and new and the way forward for hope in our lives…Fight for Fifteen is making the union movement cool again.”

Fight for Fifteen has won unprecedented victories.  The National Employment Law Project reports that in its first four years Fight for Fifteen created the pressure to win 19 million low-wage workers a total of $61 billion in annual raises through state and local legislation raising the minimum wage, and employers pressured to raise their minimum pay.

Yet the movement has been the subject of exaggerated, often snarky and dismissive, critical comments from a number of left writers.

Continue Reading…

Commentary

The Fight for $15 campaign of fast food workers: A good start, but not nearly enough


June 6, 2018

Hit “pause” for a moment on the latest Trump outrage and recall the political landscape following the Wall Street-induced train wreck of nine years ago. The Obama administration bailed out the financiers, businesses fired 8.7 million workers, banks foreclosed on more than 14 million homeowners, and unions lost 1 million members.

Labor law reform died in spite of Democratic congressional supermajorities. The Affordable Care Act, stripped of universal coverage and the public option, barely limped across the finish line. Democrats lost control of the political narrative and got crushed in the November 2010 elections.

One in every six American workers was seeking work, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker launched his union-busting plan, and an ascendant Tea Party–driven national discourse – setting the stage for today’s mess – blamed the economic crisis not on corporate greed but on the federal government, immigrants, and unions.

Amid this deepening crisis, in early 2011 the leadership of SEIU, the union I worked for at the time, experienced an organizational epiphany. To stop the slide into irrelevancy, SEIU swung the union’s resources into a massive, $60 million grassroots campaign in 17 cities, deploying 1,500 organizers to reclaim the high ground in the economic debate and to organize workers into unions on a massive scale.

Continue Reading…

Commentary

The Fight for $15 and the limits of symbolic power


June 6, 2018

Steven Ashby is right to mark the achievements of the Fight for $15. As he reminds us, this national campaign brought wage increases to nearly 20 million American workers during a time when union density fell to below 7%. Equally important is the way in which the Fight for $15 forever redefined low wage work in the U.S.

Much like the occupy movement altered the discourse on inequality, I would argue that Fight for $15 forever changed how Americans think about low wage work

But by looking primarily at the tactics of Fight for $15, Ashby backgrounds an analysis of the larger strategy of the Fight for $15. The closest he comes is when he suggests that “The Fight for Fifteen goal is to create such bad publicity that a company like McDonalds chooses unionization to end the protest and to gain the positive publicity of the first food chain to treat its workers with respect.”

To date, the Fight for $15 had largely worked building symbolic power through one day strikes and media campaigns. They have been very successful in changing public perceptions of low wage work, and in the Gramscian sense of changing hearts and minds of Americans.

The Fight for $15 have very effectively used this symbolic power along with short-term coalitional power to affect change to wage laws and other employment standards. In the process they have realized the power that this “naming and shaming” around the poor wages and horrific working conditions of low wage workers has over progressive politicians and those striving to be considered progressive.

To date we have seen these changes in the most progressive state and municipalities. The question that remains for the Fight for $15 is how far can this movement expand beyond the low hanging fruit on both coasts?

Continue Reading…

Friday Roundup

Vol. 2, No. 5


June 1, 2018

Happy jobs report Friday, sociologists! Here is watch we’ve been reading and watching this week.

Gender

Sex

Prisons and Policing

Trade Wars

Immigration

Work

Inequality

On Campus

New book

Exploring the connection between institutional scholarship and interactionism

and
May 29, 2018

A few years ago this blog ran a panel on ‘The future of organizational sociology’. In this panel renowned organizational scholars discussed the current position of organizational sociology as a field of research at a time when a large amount of organizational theory and research was developed and conducted at business schools. They argued that the future of the field could only be ensured if there were a continued discussion between sociologists based within these very different kinds of institution.

Related debates on the future of organizational sociology and the direction of its development were published in the mid-1980s, for example by Robert Dingwall and Phil Strong and more recently by Patrick McGinty. These authors discussed the long-standing concern of interactionist research with organizations, the ‘negotiated order’ and with the ‘organizing of social life’. They looked for reasons for the neglect of this body of studies by those who, over the past 40 years or so, have developed organizational sociology in departments of sociology and in business schools.

Dingwall, Strong and McGinty argue that for a long time organizational sociology has been preoccupied with formal organizations and with the generation of concepts to aid its study, but that organizational sociologists have followed this interest at the expense of studying the contingencies and complexities of social actions that bring about organizational practices. In contrast to this, they point to the important contribution that interactionism has made to organizational sociology in its study of society as local practice (occurring in specific contexts) and situated practice (tied to specific instances of interaction).

Our book Institutions, Interaction and Social Theory follows on from these arguments by exploring in detail the connection between institutional scholarship and ‘interactionist’ research.

Continue Reading…

Research Findings

Are Asian Americans disadvantaged by “white privilege”?


May 26, 2018

We often hear pleas for frank discussions about “race in America.” Yet rarely are Asian Americans ever seriously considered in this supposed dialogue. The important history and notable socioeconomic achievements of Japanese Americans, for example, are typically entirely ignored. If Japanese Americans are considered at all, then usually they are naïvely portrayed as the spineless victims who got interned during World War II but who are otherwise insignificant for understanding “race in America.” See for example, Race in America by Desmond and Emirbayer who even refer to the Japanese American internment as the historical origin of “The Prison Boom” even though those internees were never charged with any crime much less convicted of one.

Ignoring the socioeconomic circumstances of Asian Americans was once possibly justified on the grounds that they were such a small demographic group. In recent decades, however, the population of Asian Americans has been rapidly increasing. In percentage terms, they are now the fastest growing racial category. Asian Americans have become ubiquitous in many professional occupations, elite universities, media outlets, and notable artistic and cultural organizations. They have often been known to be superlative leaders in business, government, athletics, and the military.

Yet contemporary American sociology, like some of the general public at large, continues to be ill at ease in accepting Asian Americans as a mainstream group to consider in the national dialogue on racial relations. This reluctance may arise because Asian Americans are a non-white minority that appears to be at odds with popular liberal views about a “racial hierarchy” which is said to foster “white privilege.”

The typical liberal discourse on “race in America” is generally framed as purporting to promote the liberation of oppressed non-white minorities from the evils of racial discrimination. But this mantle is a bit awkward to promulgate in regard to a group like Japanese Americans who traditionally have had lower poverty rates than whites as well as higher levels of educational achievement, per-capita household income, and occupational attainment.

Continue Reading…

Friday Roundup

Vol. 2, No. 4


May 25, 2018

Happy Friday, sociologists! Friday Roundups have been few and far between this semester, but we’re on summer time now and we’ll be ramping them back up. Here are a few of the things we’ve been watching and reading over the past few weeks.

Labor

Changing Economies

Immigration

Gender

Health Care

On Campus