Labor 15.2 (May, 2018)

In This Issue

Editor’s Introduction

  • Leon Fink, Editor’s Introduction

The Common Verse

  • Carl Wade Thompson, “Armor

LAWCHA Watch

  • Keona K. Ervin, “Race and Economic Struggle in St. Louis

Contemporary Affairs

  • Andrew Gomez,”Organizing the “Sweatshop in the Sky”: Jono Shaffer and the Los Angeles Justice for Janitors Campaign

    This oral history article documents the early organizational and tactical history of the Justice for Janitors movement in Los Angeles. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) launched Justice for Janitors in the 1980s as a national campaign designed to combat declining union density in the janitorial services industry. The Los Angeles chapter, based at SEIU Local 399 and dominated by Latino rank-and-file members, remains one of the great success stories of the movement, with major contract victories in 1990 and 2000. Centered on the oral history testimony of Jono Shaffer, this article details the specific strategies developed by organizers and members to combat the dominance of low-pay, subcontracted labor in the region. In particular, Shaffer addresses the use of broader organizing tactics such as trigger agreements while also stressing the importance of on-the-ground direct action in yielding key victories in the early years of Justice for Janitors.

  • Articles

    • Hannah Forsyth,”Class, Professional Work, and the History of Capitalism in Broken Hill, c. 1880–1910

      This article traces the history of the professions against their emergence in the Australian outback town of Broken Hill, where the structures of late nineteenth-century capitalism and class conflict are particularly obvious. It demonstrates the ways that capitalism fueled the professions: it needed and helped produce them, ensuring the interests of the professionals were aligned, structurally at least, with capital. But the professionals were drawn demographically from an older, British middle class. Practitioners brought a particular morality to their work, derived from religious persuasion (especially Evangelicalism) and established social norms. Such moral attributes as thrift, truthfulness, efficiency, and civic responsibility imbued the professional skills that were valued as each of the professions evolved, becoming embedded in hierarchies that organized each profession. Hierarchical systems were structured according to merit, which increasingly made it seem, to the professionals, that class was earned. This was key to the political compact that the professions implicitly made with society in ameliorating, with their moral character, some of the worst effects of capital, at this stage of industrialization. The professionals thus embodied and enabled the type of “progress” and “civilization” that were central justifications for the settler colonial project, which relied on a pairing of the economic with the moral in the colonial imagination.

    • Liesl Miller Orenic, “The Base of the Empire: Teamsters Local 743 and Montgomery Ward

      Teamsters Local 743’s organizing at Montgomery Ward shows how organizing labor worked in the postwar American “mixed-economy” capitalism by straddling both legitimate and illicit channels of commerce and power. Using this win as a springboard, with entrepreneurial zeal, the union’s president, Don Peters, built the largest Teamsters local in the nation. The union developed an extensive service apparatus, instituted internal organizing and education, fostered a presence in public life, and followed a constant and creative organizing agenda in tune with a changing metropolitan workforce and economy. At the same time, Peters associated with organized crime, particularly through insurance and pension activity and small-scale organizing beyond the mail-order industry. The union made bread-and-butter issues a priority but also addressed the social and political interests of its diverse membership. The historic win at Montgomery Ward served at the base of Peters’s empire and was the first step in the construction of a distinctive entrepreneurial unionism.

    • Liesl Miller Orenic, “The Base of the Empire: Teamsters Local 743 and Montgomery Ward

      Teamsters Local 743’s organizing at Montgomery Ward shows how organizing labor worked in the postwar American “mixed-economy” capitalism by straddling both legitimate and illicit channels of commerce and power. Using this win as a springboard, with entrepreneurial zeal, the union’s president, Don Peters, built the largest Teamsters local in the nation. The union developed an extensive service apparatus, instituted internal organizing and education, fostered a presence in public life, and followed a constant and creative organizing agenda in tune with a changing metropolitan workforce and economy. At the same time, Peters associated with organized crime, particularly through insurance and pension activity and small-scale organizing beyond the mail-order industry. The union made bread-and-butter issues a priority but also addressed the social and political interests of its diverse membership. The historic win at Montgomery Ward served at the base of Peters’s empire and was the first step in the construction of a distinctive entrepreneurial unionism.

    • Will Colley,”The Work: Dealing and Violence in the War on Drugs Era

      This essay demonstrates that drug prohibition has been a prime driver of violence as workers in the informal economy engaged in rational market regulation. Most studies of the carceral state have been top-down assessments that have not considered the ripple effects of the lucrative, frenzied drug trade. Through an examination of the experiences of dealers, the essay shows how their search for rewarding work interacted with the contextual issues of poverty, racial segregation, deindustrialization, and government policy to account for a substantial amount of mayhem in the war on drugs era. The fervent enforcement of prohibition increased violence and incarceration as offenders acted in sensible ways to secure their livelihoods.