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Does working from home weaken the working class?

By Blue Bird Beta - New Syndicalist, September 16, 2020

This piece came about from conversations within IWW Cymru, and we hope that it kicks off discussion in the wider labour movement. A quick note, while many forms of labour take place at home, such as unemployed and unpaid caring, in this piece “work from home” is used to refer to employed and “self-employed” workers who carry out computer-based work, or former office work.

For many years, workers have been told that flexible hours and working from home are impossible demands. But as companies have been forced to adapt to lock-down this perceived common sense has been shattered. This presents a range of possibilities and opportunities for workers who seek more autonomy in how and where they work.

However, trade unions have yet to examine the enormous challenges that arise when people work from home. Despite surface appearances, it is not quite as liberating as we might think. If not organised by and for the workers, working from home could actually make our conditions worse. This mode of work challenges our typical methods of workplace organising, and it could weaken the working class in some fundamental ways.

Understanding and Responding to the Changing Nature of Work in the Bay Area

By various - ReWork the Bay, Working Partnerships USA, and Jobs with Justice San Francisco, May 2020

New technologies, accelerating climate change, shifting migration patterns, changes in economic and political norms, and a host of other trends are likely to impact—and indeed already are impacting—key features of work and employment, including management relationships, the types of jobs available, compensation patterns, and other issues that shape the day-to-day lives of working people.

This report presents a framework for understanding why and how work is changing in the San Francisco Bay Area. It provides a scan of strategies that Bay Area workers, communities, businesses, educators and elected leaders are deploying to address changes, and offers a suggested rubric for evaluating the potential effects of such strategies.

In the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, a global epicenter of innovation and extraordinary wealth, low-income communities and communities of color struggle with crises in housing and economic stability, and climate change makes itself felt through increasingly destructive wildfires. If Bay Area funders, advocates, policymakers, and worker organizations ever hope to realize quality, empowered jobs for all, we must be able to articulate how work is changing and identify the systemic interventions that will push change to benefit working people.

Read the text (PDF).

Truck Driver Misclassification: Climate, Labor and Environmental Justice Impacts

By Sam Appel and Carol Zabin - New Economics Foundation, August 2019

The next great challenge for California climate policy lies in the transportation sector. Vehicles account for fully 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions in California, the most of any economic sector in our state, and consistent and significant reductions in vehicle emissions remain elusive.

In the transportation sector, commercial trucking is a critical focus area for climate policy. Heavy-duty vehicles emit a fifth of all transportation-related greenhouse gases. They also produce toxic air pollutants that significantly increase risk of cancer and other severe health challenges for California residents, particularly in low-income communities of color.

To meet these challenges, California has passed and continues to develop new policies designed to accelerate the adoption of low- and zero-emissions vehicles in the commercial trucking subsector. These policies set increasingly stringent emissions standards for commercial trucks over time and provide incentives to buy down the cost of new vehicles and retrofits in advance of these mandates.

This report analyzes a major barrier to successful implementation of new clean truck standards: the common trucking industry practice of classifying (and often misclassifying) truck drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

Contracting out truck driving shifts the costs of truck ownership and operation from trucking companies to individual truck drivers. Contract truck drivers, particularly misclassified contractors, earn low incomes and face high capital costs. While regulatory compliance costs for large trucking firms represent a small percent of total revenue, contract truck drivers face compliance expenses far in excess of their yearly income. Under the contractor business model, truck drivers least equipped financially to buy and maintain clean vehicles bear the financial burden of attaining the state’s climate goals in this sector.

This report describes the fundamental misalignment of the contractor business model in trucking with California’s climate goals. The report proceeds by discussing:

  • California’s policies to reduce heavy-duty truck emissions.
  • The environmental, public health, and environmental justice impacts of non-compliance with emissions standards.
  • The nature of the contractor business model, evidence of the widespread misclassification of independent contractors, and the consequent low incomes of truck drivers.
  • The direct link between low road industry practices and the failure to meet emissions standards.
  • Policy principles that can address the climate, economic justice, and environmental justice challenges in the commercial trucking industry.

Currently, the low road labor practice of misclassifying workers in the trucking industry undermines climate action by shifting the costs of emission reductions to the most economically vulnerable actors in the industry: contract truck drivers. Because drivers are unequipped to meet emissions standards, communities impacted by truck pollution continue to suffer the effects. With the correct policy levers in place, California policymakers have an opportunity to support a trucking industry that complies with climate policy and that upholds employment and labor laws for California workers.

Read the report (PDF).

The Fortress World of Capitalism vs. the Beautiful Possibilities of Cooperation

By Cynthia Kaufman - Common Dreams, July 7, 2017

Our beloved world is entering an increasingly unstable period, full of dangers and also full of possibilities. In many countries, old political parties are crumbling faster and anyone thought imaginable. Old geopolitical alliances have come unglued as the US comes to exercise its role as world hegemon in new and unpredictable ways. The development of the internet, of mobile phones and of apps has led to incredible disruption of many aspects of many societies: from how we pay for and listen to music, to how we consume and propagate information and news, to how we shop for almost anything. All that is solid is melting into air.

At this crossroads it is possible that the global community will move in the direction that the dominant social forces seem to be pushing us towards. That possibility has been called “fortress world.” It is a world where we continue to burn fossil fuels and destroy the atmosphere; where climate refugees desperate to leave Africa are forced by military means to stay in a continent with a decreasing ability to produce food; where finance capital fashions a “market” that continue to squeeze working class people to into extreme poverty; where xenophobia rises in the wealthier countries and keeps masses of people voting for politicians who serve the masters of an extractive and unequal economy. That fortress world is a real possibility and the election of Donald Trump is certainly a sign that this worse future may be on the way.

But it is also possible to build a future where fossil fuels are phased out very quickly, where the political forces that oppose the domination of finance capital come to win elections, and where we work hard to create an economy where no one needs to work very hard.

The technical solutions to the climate crisis are already well at hand. Renewable energy is now economically competitive with fossil fuels, and alternatives to dirty technologies have emerged in virtually every sector of production. The problem of poverty and wealth is also an easy one to solve on a technical level. The world produces enough food to feed everyone, and our technology has developed to the point where we can meet our needs with very little work.

To give one simple illustration of how within reach a better life for all is: take the total personal income in the United States. Divide it by the number of people, and multiply by four. It turns out that the average family of four could have $220,000 per year to live on if we had income equality.  Imagine raising minimum wages, taxing the wealthy, and providing a guaranteed minimum income as ways of distributing that income. Imagine reducing work hours so that, as productivity when up, work time could go down, and work could be shared among those who needed an income. One of the main arguments against this approach is that without the profit incentive our technology would not develop. Imagine worker owner cooperatives developing better ways of doing things and sharing the wealth that comes from those developments with the people who work on them.

A new wave of automation is about to hit the world’s economies so hard that millions of service jobs will be lost in the coming period. People are starting to talk about the need for a guaranteed minimum income to deal with that displacement. If that wave hits the US with the current political consensus in place, it will mean another giant step toward the fortress world, as some people profit enormously while others have no access of the means to survive.

Scuttle the Shuttle: Lyft, strikes and blockades

By staff - LibCom.Org, June 22, 2017

Saying "It's just a bus but without the regulation/without unions/only for people with smartphones" is very incomplete as well, and it's worth unpacking why.

Firstly, regulations and working conditions are all the eventual product of years of struggle and strike action: from the ‘Great Upheaval’ of 1877 and the 1894 Pullman railway strikes all the way to the transit strikes which hit Philly last year, strikes in the transportation of goods and people have been a staple of US labour relations.

Yet to say "That’s because workers organised into unions" also doesn't explain why transport is so prone to strike action. There are a few reasons why strikes (and unions) are so much more common in transport than they are in other sectors in the American labour market.

The first reason is this: stop mass transit and tens of thousands of other workplaces are disrupted when their employees turn up late (if they turn up at all) or their customers decide not to come out and spend money to avoid transport hassle. This creates an extra pressure on bosses to keep the service running.

The second reason: transit is mostly immune from spatial fixes. While bosses can move a car or garment factory to China, doing the same with a bus or train route obviously isn't viable. Thus, while factory workers in the US were mostly decimated in the 1970s, transit/distribution have kept going to some extent until now.

For the genesis of Lyft Shuttle, a good place to start would be the 2009 deregulation of the UK post service. This followed the massive 2006-7 strike wave in the postal service, where staggered official strikes were backed up by work-to-rules and the refusal of other postal workers to cross picket lines, leading to disciplinary action which then led to further wildcat strikes. Post just did not get delivered for weeks at a time in some cases.

The response was to allow private companies to handle some deliveries, piggy-backing off Royal Mail's central infrastructure. Firms were then able to shift postal provider if affected by strike action, weakening leverage of workers: disruption was disrupted.

Fast-forward ten years and the gig economy starts to see industrial strife as Deliveroo workers go on wildcat strike in London. The atomisation of the workforce is clearly still not entirely successful as collection points still afford places for riders to meet and discuss issues, swap contacts and organise their strike via WhatsApp. Still harder than it used to be at Royal Mail depots though.

The rise of the bad jobs economy

By Neil Loehlein - Socialist Worker, February 27, 2017

DONALD TRUMP'S presidency is sure to bring intensified attacks on U.S. workers. He has promised massive tax handouts to corporations, rollbacks of labor and environmental regulations, cuts in social services, attacks on abortion providers, and incarceration and deportation for undocumented workers.

Yet, in a grim twist of irony, anxiety and insecurity about the dismal conditions of U.S. workers, felt by many people, was a critical factor in Trump's "victory" last November.

One major component driving the sense of insecurity is the increase in jobs considered contingent or nonstandard over the past 10 years. Irregular hours, variable earnings, temporary or on-call employment, and a lack of job security are some of the aspects associated with this type of work.

This isn't a phenomenon of small businesses, either. In a majority of cases, these work arrangements involve large companies employing outsourced labor instead of directly hiring their workforce.

In an economically uncertain climate, bitterness at working a contingent job--or fear of falling into this type of work--was likely a factor in convincing some number of working place people to vote for Trump out of desperation at the economic conditions they face.

The shift, insofar as it took place, was neither universal, nor the result of the positive appeal of Trump's right-wing program. Most important of all, as Charlie Post explained in International Socialist Review, Hillary Clinton failed to mobilize traditional Democratic voters.

Faced with a choice between a corporate Democratic candidate with little to offer but more of the same and a populist demagogue who promised to bring back jobs to the U.S., a small section of workers--particularly older, white workers in a couple Rust Belt states that have experienced significant job losses in manufacturing over the years--chose the latter.

They will be tragically disappointed. Trump may have promised to "bring jobs back" to the U.S. during his campaign, but he has been ambiguous about the types of jobs he would create and how he plans to create them.

Trump claims he will revive manufacturing jobs lost to other countries through trade deals like NAFTA. But that facts say something different: Only a minority of U.S. manufacturing jobs were lost to "offshoring" to countries like China or Mexico. Studies show other factors, like automation, played a bigger role.

As Lee Sustar wrote at SocialistWorker.org, Trump's broader plans for government spending cuts, deregulation and privatization will only lower living standards for workers overall. At best, his proposal for infrastructure investment may create some highly skilled jobs in construction, but nothing on the scale required to fix the dearth of decent-paying jobs.

Trump's current hiring freeze on federal workers may even lead to the loss of hundreds of well-paying jobs. Plus, deregulation of labor standards and the spread of right-to-work states under Trump's leadership could easily lead to a further proliferation of contingent employment.

The deteriorating conditions for workers that feed working class discontent will only get worse if Trump is allowed to get away with his reactionary program.

Smoke and Mirrors: Lonmin’s failure to address housing conditions at Marikana, South Africa

By staff - Amnesty International, August 16, 2016

Since 2012 Amnesty International has commented and campaigned on the serious policing failures that led to the deaths at Marikana, calling for full accountability and reparations for the victims and their families. That work continues.

This report examines abuses of the right to adequate housing of mine workers at Lonmin’s Marikana mine operation. Its primary focus is an examination of Lonmin’s response to the findings of the Farlam Commission.

In this regard it looks both at what Lonmin has done and what the company has said about the situation.

Read the text (PDF).

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