“He fights to be seen as a human being, because maybe then he will be paid like one and treated like one.”

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

“He fights to be seen as a human being, because maybe then he will be paid like one and treated like one.” An incredible look at St. Louis fast food workers’ organizing by Sarah Kenzidor.

Would a basic income plus technological unemployment force a restructuring of production?

“What can we do to bring home jobs using robotics technology?” Seems counter-intuitive, no? Georgia Institute of Technology thinks robots will deliver more jobs than they kill. PS—the self-driving car? It’s closer than you think.

One town in Sweden is experimenting with a new schedule for their employees—setting up a six-hour workday, but maintaining full-time pay—to see if it will improve productivity & reduce employee stress.

Sometimes, it’s hard to put your finger on what it is that can be so upsetting about the profit-based parts of the  sharing economy. And then there’s this.

Reputation, Reputation, Reputation

The next time you’re at a mass demonstration, you might want to bring your tinfoil hat.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

If you’ve wondered how trade unions and worker-owned coops are collaborating around the world, wonder no more. This excellent paper will give you new insight.

“…the rational reaction to living with social stratification is to compete for all you can get, as you’re not guaranteed a fair share.” Why inequality is bad, from an evolutionary point of view.

What would make the owners of a clothing retail website take out an ad in the Wall Street Journal decrying fast fashion? It’s bad for workers, bad for the environment, and overall, just bad.

When self-driving cars mean we don’t need big parking structures in center cities, maybe we’ll all live in apartments the size of parking spaces.

Organizing Theory

From an organizational perspective, a daily email seems like it will run the risk of alienating supporters. Greenpeace’s mobilization team took a risk, when they wanted to update their list about the Arctic 30.

Are you building a team to do online engagement? Here are some of online organizing firm Echo Ditto’s best practices.

The major social network driving voter contact in India’s election? What’s App.

Geeking Out

You’ve kinda gotta admire a guy who took out €.5M in bank loans and used it to fund anti-capitalist organizing. I bet his FICO score is ruined, though.

Drones that recharge themselves by landing on power lines? I think I saw that in a Transformers movie…

 

“We are a culture that buys a lot of junk.”

Original Content

Julia Carrie Wong explored the intersection of apps that hire domestic workers, and domestic workers who are self-organizing into co-ops and other kinds of employee-empowering structures in this new post.

Kenzo Shibata wrote about the need to take seriously the labor of digital organizing here.  Well, that is, if you want to win…

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“We are a culture that buys a lot of junk.” In this case, fast fashion—but it’s about to get more expensive. Thank an organizer in Bangladesh or China! No, really, thank them—I’m not being sarcastic.

The world’s about to get its first 3-D printed house. The construction industry—and the waste it generates—may never be the same. In the US, Reaction Housing is planning to build a shelter system that’s light enough to be moved by hand—but can stop a bullet. There’s nothing on their website to explain why someone might be shooting at you.

Should the super-rich all quit their jobs, so someone else can have them?

Can unions and other workplace-oriented groups help their members save money on their energy bills? These UK groups think so.

Reputation, Reputation, Reputation

Are you ready for a social network that’s made up only of people who live in your neighborhood? I’m not sure I want a round-up of bikes stolen & who needs to cut their lawn…but this does seem to have more uses.

Google Glass, or similar technology, seems to have a lot of upside when you think about it in the context of a hospital—instant access to medical records; the health care provider looking at the patient, instead of down at a screen; the ability to hold a consult with someone in a different place. But hospitals are wrestling with some serious concerns about uploading so much personal information to the cloud.

Do you ever get annoyed when people you don’t know well reference something you’ve shared on Facebook? This game will teach you about what level your privacy settings really are .

Mega-corporations are spending mega-money to monitor their presence online. Here’s a story about Wells Fargo’s social media command center. Wonder what hashtags they’re tracking…

Organizing Theory

Why do people engage in protest or direct action? If you’re designing a campaign that requires mass mobilization, read this.

Curious about how to use open data to organize? TechPresident has a good primer, with lots of examples of how to engage communities. And while we’re on the topic of data — here’s how some organizers have been thinking about using data to promote resilience in fragile communities.

In the for-profit sector, the best-performing companies turn over their entire board once every nine or ten years. I’m wondering if anyone has done a similar study on non-profit boards?

Geeking Out

Can tech-infused sponges make surgery safer for patients? This company is betting on it.

Google Glass has some cool factor…but Orcam? Will change the life of a visually impaired person.

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

Contributoria continues to be the most interesting experiment in funding journalism, at least to my mind. Here’s Brett Scott, writing about the ways that funding investigative journalism continues to evolve.

Is there a case to be made that part of what’s driving unemployment in Italy is automation of jobs? This professor thinks there is.

Here’s a pretty incredible, data-driven effort to figure out how musicians’ ability to make money has changed in the light of digital tech—and where the future of musical revenue streams will come from.

Toyota was one of the pioneers of having robots and humans work together on the line. Now, they’re thinking about adding back jobs for humans. Turns out, you can’t become a master car maker without first being an apprentice.

“I’m hard pressed to make a case for my edge over a robot…” Says a doctor.

Win Campaigns by Respecting Digital Labor

Guest Post by Kenzo Shibata

It’s a challenge to make the case that digital organizing is a skill that most people simply do not have.

Think of it this way. How often do you see a show with a cult following get canceled by the network and aggrieved fans feverishly write letters extolling the popularity of the show? Regardless of Nielsen ratings or lack of interest from advertisers, “If only the network execs knew how much this show means to me and my friends, they would keep it on the air for a million years.”

Everyone with a TV thinks they know better than a network executive. Everyone with an iPod thinks they know better than the record companies. Everyone who watches movies thinks they know better than film producers.

Naturally, everyone with a Twitter account or a Facebook profile thinks that if given the opportunity, they could write engaging content that would get more shares and retweets than anything someone paid to do the work can get.

This is simply not true.

In the universe of media, digital media is still brand new. The practices change as fast as the platforms do. New strategies are hashed out, tested, and either launched or abandoned every day. Digital organizers have to either adapt or watch their campaigns fall flat.

I was recently asked to write a case study on a digital campaign I coordinated five years ago and I turned in a chapter on the theory behind the digital strategy. My editor was expecting me to give a nuts-and-bolts account of what I did so that others can emulate me. Had I written what my editor asked, no one could have emulated me because none of the platforms work the same way they did five years ago. It would have been like giving instructions on how to fix an eight-track cassette player because you want to hear the latest Skrillex album.

Over those five years, I’ve read countless blogs, attended conferences, asked questions, and tried tactics that worked and others that failed. I’ve taken courses. I’ve taught courses. I’ve kept up with the changes and trends in the various platforms I’ve used.

None of these are things that the average person with a Twitter account has the time or interest in doing. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with those people, it’s just that they do not have experience or training to coordinate a digital campaign.

Digital campaigns are just that — campaigns. They aren’t a few tweets thrown at the end of an effort to boost the message. They take time and planning. The digital component of a campaign are tactics that should flow seamlessly through the traditional methods employed.

I often hear the complaint from traditional organizers that digital will never replace door knocking, phone calls, or face-to-face meetings so we shouldn’t devote much time to do.

I agree that digital will never replace traditional methods, but it is another tool in the toolset. If we as progressive campaigners ignore those tools, we give the other side a competitive advantage.

There had to be organizers early in the twentieth century who said that phone calls will never replace door knocking. And they were right.

Digital tools are not mutually exclusive from traditional methods.

Just like traditional organizing methods, digital organizing is labor. The folks who do the work may love doing it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t time-consuming and taxing. Although the work looks easy since it’s mainly clicking mice and tapping on phones, when organizers are doing this work, they aren’t spending time with family, enriching themselves in other areas, or practicing self-care.

In addition, the work you don’t see — calling and visiting activists, attending meetings, testing new methods — takes up as much if not more time than actually producing the social media content.

That’s right — social media work is work that must be respected and compensated.

Jennifer Pan explains in Jacobin Magazine “The invisibility of the labor of social media has adversely affected even those who are paid to tweet.” Pan is describing the emotional labor that is extracted from digital organizers. Her analysis extends to people working in digital marketing and news media.

“Despite their lack of editorial influence, these social media workers must perform the emotional labor of fielding any fallout that results from the publication of controversial articles, often … contending with thousands of angry messages over the course of a few hours. “

So whether you work for a labor union, a pizza chain, or a national news outlet; this labor can wear down the person behind the screen. I know from personal experience, coordinating social media around a labor strike sometimes means answering the phone at midnight to talk to a nervous activist who thinks he may not have the ability to feed his family if the strike is prolonged.

Just like organizers who knock on doors and make calls, we digital organizers work with real people with real concerns and our ability to do so determines our effectiveness. Digital organizing may require a knowledge of technology, but technology alone does not fuel campaigns; people do.

Political and cultural critics who offer their ideas for free over social media as a means to be heard are arguably the most exploited for their labor. These critics spend years building followings through organizing and by honing their craft that requires their being both pithy and concise. Their ideas are often attacked by people whose mainstream platforms are threatened by this work, or even worse, stolen entirely with minimal if any credit given at all.

Julia Carrie Wong, writing for The Nation wrote about how some feminists of color have proposed locking their Twitter accounts from journalists and others who use their ideas to fuel their own. Wong, who has worked as a union organizer,  believes that locking out people who fish for ideas is much like traditional labor actions against wage theft.

A Twitter blackout could be viewed as a form of labor action, with tweeting cast as a form of work. That work is obviously unwaged. Are some Twitter users becoming an unpaid workforce exploited for their intellectual and emotional labor?

Maybe it would take a day without digital organizing for people to see how much labor intensive the work is. Imagine if your Congressman, or if the CEO if Taco Bell had to curate their own feeds.

Another way digital labor is dismissed and exploited are through lines like, “But you love doing this, I see you on your Facebook all day.”

Here’s a little secret. You know how digital organizers seem to be on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all day? It’s not just that we love doing it. We’re organizing you. We curate our own feeds to lead by example, to make personal connections with people we’re  organizing, to test out new methods, and to boost the message of the organizations and campaigns we work for.

Sure, I do love the medium and that’s why I chose this kind of work, but I also love my family. I love my friends. I love my hobbies. I cannot be fully engaged in any of these things when I’m coordinating a campaign.

Miya Tokumitsu calls this “but you love it” argument the “Do what you love” mantra and she warns,

Before succumbing to the intoxicating warmth of that promise, it’s critical to ask, “Who, exactly, benefits from making work feel like non-work?” “Why should workers feel as if they aren’t working when they are?” Historian Mario Liverani reminds us that “ideology has the function of presenting exploitation in a favorable light to the exploited, as advantageous to the disadvantaged.”

When some asks an organizer to “just tweet between housecalls” or post content to Facebook between meetings, they are exploiting their labor. When a boss extracts additional labor from a worker without additional compensation, they are taking work away from someone else while wearing down their current employee. We as organizers, digital and traditional, need to push back on this.

Digital organizers have a skill and to be effective, that skill must be respected. Respect means devotion of resources. Respect means treating that labor like any other labor. I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones because I get to do this work for a cause I believe in and I am compensated for my work.

I said this before, but it certainly bears repeating.

If we progressives aren’t on top of digital strategy, we’re ceding major ground to the people who are trying to crush us. If we treat digital organizing as an afterthought — that means treating the digital labor as free labor — we will lose.

Startups and domestic worker campaigns are shaking up the house cleaning business, but only one of them has backing from venture capital

It’s hard to imagine a lot of people saying “No” to a hot new tech startup fresh off a $38 million fundraising round from some of Silicon Valley’s top investors. But that’s the answer Homejoy, an “Uber for house-cleaning” app that has quickly expanded to major cities across the US, got when it reached out to two domestic worker organizations in San Francisco, hoping to recruit workers and craft some kind of pilot partnership. The two organizations are La Colectiva, a worker-run cleaning collective, and Caring Hands, a worker association affiliated with the Latina immigrant organization Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA) that provides training and job placement for domestic workers. Their members were not willing to work for Homejoy’s rate of $13 per hour.

Homejoy and the domestic worker groups represent two very different types of the “disruptive” innovation that the San Francisco Bay Area seems to specialize in these days. Domestic worker organizing has defied major structural disadvantages –exclusion from the National Labor Relations Act, isolation in individual homes that prevents workplace organizing, and the fact that most domestic workers are immigrant women and many are undocumented – to mount campaigns like the multi-year fight for a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights that was signed into law in California last September. Their movement has played a key role in both energizing and transforming the labor movement, helping to push the AFL-CIO in the direction of representing all workers, not just those in unions.

Homejoy, and a similar startup Handybook, aim to shake up the domestic employer experience by replacing an older generation of cleaning service companies like Merry Maids. The two startups promise easy and reliable online booking of cleaners who have passed extensive screening processes. Homejoy focuses solely on cleaning, while Handybook provides workers who can handle a range of household tasks, including cleaning, repairs, plumbing, and electrical work. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle highlighted the fact that the apps can eliminate the “awkward” need to interact with the person cleaning your home. Handybook founder Oisin Hanrahan told the Chronicle: “People prefer to hit the chat box in the lower left hand corner of the site and ask someone who is in the position to influence a booking to put in a special request, rather than ask the person who will be doing the cleaning.”

That article led Salon’s Andrew Leonard to comment, “From a larger social perspective, the absolute last thing the world needs are apps that further isolate the ascendant upper classes from the people who occupy lower economic strata… This is how the arteries of class stratification harden beyond hope of repair. This is how real living human beings become little more than apps, themselves.” For the most part, I agree with Leonard that the attitude toward domestic workers expressed in the Chronicle’s article is classist and dehumanizing. But after interviewing several domestic workers, domestic worker organizers, and the founder of Handybook (Homejoy agreed to answer written questions but failed to respond once the questions were submitted), I came away with a slightly more complicated view of the home-cleaning startups, and what effect they might have on the hundreds of thousands of domestic workers in the United States.

Earlier this year, the California Domestic Workers Coalition launched a statewide campaign called Dignity in Action to promote education and implementation of the new state law advancing domestic worker rights. The coalition is comprised of seven member groups, including MUA and La Colectiva. They plan to train domestic workers to lead “Know Your Rights” workshops and hope to achieve a broad reach to workers beyond their memberships. Together, the member organizations count about 1500 members, but they estimate that there are about 250,000 domestic workers statewide.

The challenge of reaching domestic workers on a larger scale is a key concern for organizing efforts, and part of the reason the National Domestic Workers Alliance has hired Palak Shah to serve as its Social Innovations Director. Shah described her position: “The idea is for us to experiment with additional strategies, such as market-based strategies or public-private partnerships.” Such experiments are in order because, despite the successes that have already been achieved, domestic worker organizing is still only reaching a small fraction of domestic workers in this country.

By contrast, Handybook has achieved scale rapidly. Since its founding in mid-2012, Handybook has expanded to 13 cities. In a phone interview, founder Oisin Hanrahan told me that the majority of Handybook’s business is in housecleaning, and that more than 200,000 workers (Handybook calls them service providers) have applied to work through the start-up so far. Hanrahan says that the acceptance rate is less than 3%.

With so many applicants (Handybook’s service providers are considered independent contractors who are self-employed), Handybook uses a partially-automated, data-driven approach to select workers. Applicants complete online assessments like multiple choice questions on how they would tackle a specific cleaning job. They also go through extensive background checks, social security number matching, and a screening call. Since Handybook collects data on customer satisfaction, it’s able to work backwards to identify markers of workers who received particularly high feedback, and then seek the same attributes in new applicants. Hanrahan told me that one positive marker is whether a person dials in on time for the screening call – a data point that becomes part of a worker’s profile.

Such an approach couldn’t be farther from the organizing models of San Francisco’s domestic worker organizations. At Caring Hands, immigrant women receive training in skills like contract negotiation and ergonomic cleaning techniques. Caring Hands also matches workers to employers. Unlike Handybook or Homejoy, Caring Hands does not require background checks or social security number matching (many domestic workers are undocumented immigrants and both organizations are involved in campaigning for immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship). Instead, the organization vouches personally for each member. “We can advocate for workers and say we’ve known them for at least 6 months,” says organizer Dalia Yedidia. “We think the personal connection is more important.”

La Colectiva is a worker-run cleaning collective that was founded in 2001. Guillermina Castellanos, who co-founded the group, told me through a translator that she has worked as a domestic worker since she was 5 years old in Mexico, and since she was 15 years old in the United States. In addition to running the cleaning service, the members of La Colectiva “study the history of domestic work in the United States and on a global scale, discuss fair pay rates for different types of domestic work, and attend empowerment and self-esteem groups,” Castellanos says.

La Colectiva workers charge $70 for a 3-hour minimum job, and $15 for each additional hour. Employers receive $10 off the total bill if they provide non-toxic cleaning supplies. Caring Hands doesn’t prescribe rates, but when I spoke to MUA member and house cleaner Veronica Nieto, she told me that $20/hour is “a living wage that also recognizes that this is hard work.” Homejoy’s rates are lower because it only charges customers $20/hour for cleaning – passing $12-15 on to the worker and keeping the rest for itself. Handybook doesn’t have a fixed rate, but according to Hanrahan, service providers keep about 80% of what customers pay. He says house cleaners receive $17-22/hour.

When I spoke to Hanrahan, he was concerned about the “blowback” Handybook had received after the San Francisco Chronicle’s article. “We’re very conscious of our brand,” he said. “We don’t want to be perceived as someone building a platform for people to stop talking to each other.” Hanrahan said that he was aware of domestic worker organizing, but that Handybook was not involved. “Of course the values around respect and fair labor standards and avoiding exploitation make a lot of sense,” he said, and emphasized that many of Handybook’s workers are single mothers who appreciate the flexibility of the platform. “Our goal is to allow our service providers to earn as they want to earn.”

Daniele DeLeone, a 24-year old New Yorker who cleans homes through Handybook, agreed with Hanrahan that the app is a great way for her to find work that fits her schedule. DeLeone is a full-time student who lives with family and describes herself as “semi-independent.” After working in restaurants, she found Handybook through a Craigslist ad. “You’re able to choose what hours you work,” she says. “The pay is much better than what I would get hostessing.”

DeLeone’s top priority when she’s working in other people’s homes is “safety and security,” so she finds the Handybook system – where the company knows where she is at all times and she can communicate with them while on the job – very helpful. “I watch way too many Law & Orders to put myself at risk,” she says. She described one situation where a customer wanted her to go out on a ledge to clean windows. DeLeone said no, and was able to call Handybook, which backed her up. She also appreciates that customers have to pay ahead of time (with credit cards through the Handybook interface). In an industry where, according to Yedidia, wage theft is rampant, that’s a serious plus.

DeLeone was not aware of domestic worker organizing efforts, like Domestic Workers United which operates in New York City. When I described the efforts of the groups, DeLeone, who is planning to attend veterinary school after graduation, said, “I would imagine that’s more for people who are being abused or if it’s their livelihood forever.”

That is a major distinction and part of the reason why domestic workers like Nieto are as much concerned with dignity and respect for domestic workers as they are with legislation around working conditions. Prior to joining MUA, Nieto worked for a woman who had a team of about four others working for her. “She paid us $10 per house cleaned, no matter how long it took,” Nieto said. After 5 or 6 years working under those conditions, Nieto joined MUA where, she says, “I began realizing that what I’d been paid was not a real wage. I realized that I was part of thousands of domestic workers who have been underpaid.” Now Nieto has a very different attitude toward domestic work. “I deserve respect as a person doing work, just like any other work, like a doctor or an architect. My job is to clean.”

To Nieto, the most important aspect of her relationship with an employer is clear communication and respect, a stance that is echoed by Castellanos, who says “face to face interaction” is “necessary in fostering healthy communication and a good professional relationship.” Castellanos rejects the sense of “awkwardness” raised by the Chronicle article: “Domestic workers take care of the parts of employers’ lives that are most precious to them, be it their home or their family members. Employers also provide domestic workers with something that is also incredibly important to them: work. There should be no shame in this mutually beneficial arrangement, and through improved communication both the lives of the domestic workers and their employers can be transformed through mutual respect and recognition.”

Can these intensely personal values translate to a larger scale? Both Caring Hands and La Colectiva allow potential employers to get in touch through their websites, and Yedidia says, “We’ve seen a big jump in bookings through using online tools.” But how far the groups are willing to go in embracing technology is an open question. Kira Cummins, who provides staff support to La Colectiva, said of Homejoy, “Unless they change their working conditions, we’re not interested in working with them.”

Both Yedidia and Cummins were pleased to hear about Handybook’s higher wages, but Handybook hasn’t expressed any interest in collaboration. And with backing from venture capitalists, it’s unlikely that Handybook, Homejoy, or any for-profit company will ever consider changing societal attitudes toward domestic workers a central goal.

Palak Shah, the social innovations director, says of the start-up companies, “We’re open to partnering with the industry to the extent that they’re providing good jobs, not poverty jobs, and that the jobs foster dignity and respect and allow people to care for their families.”

Nieto is more skeptical. “In the little I know about these apps,” she says, “I worry that it might not work for the workers. Communication is key, and communication through a computer could be a challenge for us, especially because we need to be respected as people, not as robots.”

 

 

“…we should be working to ensure that a future without jobs is a future where we all get to enjoy the benefits of free time.”

If you’re a weekend Twitter user, you may already know about #Saturdayschool. Douglas Williams wrote a great piece profiling Professor Rhonda Ragsdale, and how she’s created a new kind of digital teach-in.

What’s Going On in the Workforce

“…we should be working to ensure that a future without jobs is a future where we all get to enjoy the benefits of free time.” Amen, Sarah.

And what better way to enjoy our free time than with sex robots? Which might also lead to technological unemployment for sex workers.

You may have seen that the NY Times Magazine wrote about the inequality-erasing benefits of worker-owned co-ops last Sunday…but did you also know that they can increase their workers’ life expectancy?

Are happier workers more productive? This study, by economists in the UK, says yes. If anyone wants to drop off some chocolate to me at work, I promise to be more productive.

Reputation, Reputation, Reputation

Most car insurance companies already give a “good driver” bonus. Will we change the way we feel about that, when they’re getting real time data on our driving habits from our cars?

Microsoft has announced that they are adding player reputation to each user’s Gamercard—and the reputation score is being crowdsourced from other players. If you want a pretty good explanation of the perils and potential improvements that come from such a system, check the comments to this post.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Are you interested in the sharing economy, but not quite sure how to start? Why not participate in Global Sharing Day on June 1st?

What if you could turn trash into electricity?

Smart cities work more efficiently, saving money & other resources. Here’s how Boston has been working to use the GPS tech that exists in many cars, to map road hazards.

From Partners

Want 8 simple (ok, not really) ideas about how to increase income equality? Check out this long read by Harold Meyerson.

Organizing Theory

Do you want a better way of crowd-sourcing decisions by your volunteers or spread-out staff? Loomio is a new, open-source decision making tool inspired by Occupy—and it’s free.

No one can guarantee that they can make content viral—but here’s a good slideshow of Greenpeace’s best practices for making it more likely, when you’re doing non-violent direct actions.

Got an idea about how to use social media for engagement of people in under-represented communities? Check out this competition that’s making micro-grants for just that purpose.

Are you hacking your way to a better world, or just complaining about the one we’ve got?

Geeking Out

Want to read some crazy predictions about what the short-term (30 years off) future might hold for humanity? Here you go. My personal favorite is from Karen Wickre, editorial director of Twitter (wait, that’s a job?).  “I love what access to technology can do—I just want it to be evenly distributed. That would blow my mind, and I bet I’m not alone.”

And while we’re on the crazy prediction train—do I get to look like Molly Millions, now that Facebook has bought Oculus Rift?

Final Thoughts

“Economically there was no reason why a laborer named, say, Mickey, should dislike a laborer named, say, Mihal; the Mihals did not lower the wage rates of the only kind of jobs they were able to get. Nor did they take others’ jobs away from them; the steel industry was in its period of greatest expansion, building new mills & furnaces & hiring new men by the hundred. That the company openly preferred foreigners as laborers that immigration from wester Europe had fallen off, that the hours were long, the work hard and the opportunities for advancement rare, helped explain why the unskilled labor force was predominantly foreign by the beginning of the new century. For the English-speaking peoples’ unconcealed racial prejudice, their attitude that it was a disgrace to work on a level with Hunkies, there was no rational excuse. But it was a fact, a large & not pretty fact which marked, stunted & embittered whole generations.”

Thomas Bell, Out of This Furnace

School Is In Session: How one history professor is modeling the future of labor education

Sometimes, the greatest ideas and innovations begin unintentionally. So it was with #SaturdaySchool, the weekly Twitter social justice teach-in hosted by Rhonda Ragsdale, a Ph.D. candidate at Rice and Associate Professor of history at Lone Star College:

“On Saturday mornings, my children would be asleep and I decided to make that space a time for myself. But I didn’t want to really get out of bed or do any work, and seeing as I always had a technological device in my hand, I would always do these teaching rants on some article I had read. And some of my followers started calling this ‘Saturday School’, and tweeting ‘Hey look, @profragsdale is doing Saturday School again.’”

#SaturdaySchool has become a weekly get-together for progressive and leftist activists on Twitter to share information and gain a greater understanding of the issues that affect our communities. It is a fun way to engage those who work both in and out of various progressive causes. But as Ragsdale pointed out in my interview with her, she is simply following a long-held tradition in American social movement activism.

Teach-ins are large forums where people can gain understanding about sociopolitical issues. They are mixtures of education and activism where the participants are expected to take the information they learn and use it to engage in direct action. Though teach-ins on topics like lynching had been occurring since the early 20th century, this social movement tactic first entered the public consciousness this week in 1965. At the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a majority of the faculty had agreed to go on a one-day strike against the war, which earned them the opposition of the Governor (George Romney, not ironically), the Chancellor, and their fellow faculty, who threatened to censure those who refused to teach their classes. At a meeting designed to come up with alternative actions that professors could still use to show their disapproval with the war, a professor in the Anthropology department came up with an idea: the faculty would teach their classes. But instead of letting students out at the normal time, they would continue teaching. All night. And so it was: the teach-ins of March 24-25 drew over 200 faculty and 3,000 students. The teach-in swept through college campuses in 1965, with a teach-in at the University of California at Berkeley being the largest. That one attracted 30,000 students from May 21-23.

Teach-ins, Ragsdale says, are effective because “they have a high potential to mobilize, and you create group solidarity and consciousness through hashtags and linking community groups to one another.” As any organizer can tell you, this is important: so often we see organizations seeking to reinvent the wheel, especially when it is a national progressive organization that is entering a battle that local activists have already been fighting in for a while. When a forum like #SaturdaySchool addresses a topic that gets people discussing the struggles that they have faced in organizing around a particular issue in a particular place, it can act as a signpost to make folks aware of ongoing activism in a particular community. This small bit of information makes movements stronger and builds the sort of intramovemental trust that we see precious little of nowadays. Ragsdale has connected with folks through #SaturdaySchool who have engaged in offline research projects with her; not only is this great for movement-building, it is also beneficial for the research that undergirds progressive activism.

The power of social media as a teaching tool is not limited to hashtags on Twitter, according to Ragsdale. She also singles out Pinterest (yes, that Pinterest) as a medium that social justice-minded folks can use to inform and teach people, discussing how one of the participants in Saturday School has a great social justice collection on the medium. “It’s another digital archive that could be used in classrooms….Sociological Images is another one that has just great collections on Pinterest.”

The effectiveness of digital teach-ins like #SaturdaySchool are so apparent, it is a wonder why the labor movement has not sought to engage in a similar kind of activity. Outside of the AFL-CIO Digital Training Series that took place last summer, I have not seen many efforts to engage the labor community on Twitter in labor education. That is a mistake: Twitter users are likely to be younger and highly educated on the whole, and they are also more mobile. And given that those demographics are more likely to support the labor movement, engaging in accessible labor education with Twitter denizens seems like a no-brainer.

The great thing about utilizing the progressive and social justice networks on Twitter to do digital teach-ins is that there are a lot of people out there with all kinds of specializations in research and praxis. It is no different within the labor community: we have amazing journalists, academics, organizers, strategists, and engaged leadership that are one click away. Ragsdale advises labor to utilize those assets, stating that “…most are willing to participate in online teach-ins for free or little more than a thank you tweet.” Social media gives us unprecedented access to the folks who shape the way the labor movement; we must use that proximity to educate the public about the challenges and struggles workers face on the workplace, as well as what individuals can do about it

Growing up in the South, moving to the Midwest, and then moving back South again has given me a lot of perspective on the ways in which the labor movement is simply invisible down here. That invisibility has consequences. There are people who are genuinely opposed to the labor movement on ideological or personal grounds in places like Alabama; that much is obvious. You will never reach those folks no matter how good your organizing plan or labor education apparatus is.

But there are also a lot of folks who are simply following the prevailing opinion in their community, and have little information on the impact of a labor union. There are also folks who are aware that unions are needed, but not necessarily up on the why or how. It is these groups of people that are most affected when the battle between labor and management is constantly framed from the latter’s point of view, and they can make the difference between a unionized workplace and a company victory.

For them, teach-ins on labor are needed, both offline and on Twitter. Rhonda Ragsdale is modeling the future of labor education for us all to see; we would do well to heed her example.

“Do you feel that work and play should not be mutually exclusive?”

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

“Do you feel that work and play should not be mutually exclusive?” I’m not gonna lie—this is long. But if you want a real insight into the perils of working as a freelancer in the app economy, it’s worth it.

In SF and have an idea about how to solve the city’s homeless problem? Check out this Hacktivation, scheduled for the last weekend in March. (Protip—equipping the homeless as wifi hotspots is a non-starter.)

This borrowing shop exemplifies what’s best about the sharing economy, IMO.

How is our use of apps and shared vehicles to get around going to change the way that cities plan? Here’s one theory.

Reputation, Reputation, Reputation

Can micro finance help Americans who lack credit get access to capital?

I’ve been wondering how long it would take for someone to come up with the idea of aggregating all your online ratings on various marketplaces into one score. erated claims to have done it.

From Partners

Here’s a call for papers/proposals for what sounds like a really interesting conference that the New School is hosting in November 2014. “Digital Labor, Sweatshops, Picket Lines & Barricades.”

Last week, I went to a very interesting meeting about the future of work (as did many of you!). One of the things that struck me about it was how many people mentioned a universal basic income as a possible solution to income inequality in the future. If you’re interested in finding out more about that, you might want to check out this conference in Montreal, this summer.

One thing that meeting made me wonder about was whether anyone has studied what the rate of pay inequity is, in worker-owned co-ops, seen through the lens of gender and race. So far, just one study has cropped up—which only deals with gender. Anyone who’s got more academic research on this topic—please send it along!

Organizing Theory

If your state legislature let you edit proposed laws via wiki, would it spur citizen engagement? This California Assemblyman is experimenting with just such a plan. On a related note, this NJ congressional candidate is crowd-sourcing his campaign platform on GitHub.

You want to change the world by telling stories? Medium wants to help. They’re looking for 10 do-gooders (c3 status not required) to help out with professional told & photographed stories.

Geeking Out

I’ve finally found my people…hello, technoprogressives!

NASA study of income inequality says that math leads them to only two outcomes: socialism, or societal collapse. But don’t worry, either way, you likely won’t live to see it.

What’s Going On in the Workforce?

Interested in how to succeed as a Mechanical Turk? Peep this thread on Reddit, which is full of helpful tips.

Caregivers beware—while some scientists think it’ll be a long while before we’re able to program social intelligence into robots, others are planning to have robot housemaids for the elderly soon.

Are you trying to make product decisions with a distributed workforce? Or just want to increase worker input on organizational decisions? Try using this new service, Agora, that gives more options to the crowd.

Check out this new documentary about the working conditions of adjunct faculty and precariously-perched academics.

Would you let your employer monitor your sleep, if it was under the guise of making you a better employee?

Incredible look at how the South Korean diaspora fueled the volatile “fast fashion” industry in the Americas, through first- and second-generation immigrants.

Final Thoughts

“No social movement, no matter how liberating, can bring permanent happiness to the people it touches. We grow old; we lose loved ones. We fall short of our greatest goals and fail to live up to our most optimistic visions of our own character. When history opened up to American women in the late twentieth century, it did not offer them permanent bliss. It gave them an opportunity to face the dark moments on their own terms and to exalt in the spaces between.”

Gail Collins, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present

“When one fishes, there’s an art to landing the fish…”

Did you read Wyatt Closs’s “How Workers Could Get Hijacked on the Digital Highway” yet? You really ought to do that…

What’s Going on in the Workforce

“When one fishes, there’s an art to landing the fish…” This might be the best thing I’ve ever read about teaching, wrapped up in a post about how to engage students, through social media and in-person.

“For all of North Brooklyn’s book groups and websites and meet-ups dedicated to alternative monetary systems, the solidarity economy is, for the time being, at its best in the service sector.” Tip your barista, people.

“What if a company maximized jobs over profits?” Interesting question for  the Harvard Business Review to be asking

Running a unionized worker-owned co-op? Join 1 worker, 1 vote.

Uber has apparently bent to the popular sentiment that, if you are helping people hail & pay for car rides, you might actually have some responsibility if something bad happens—even if you aren’t employing the drivers. So they got insurance.

Organizing Theory

Serious trigger warning on this one—but kudos to this ad company, for figuring out how to incorporate google glass into this PSA.

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Peers & the Freelancers’ Union are teaming up to host a Q & A on tax prep for folks who work in the sharing economy—Wed. March 19th at 3 pm Eastern/12 Pacific.

“(non-profit) professionals are taught to say, “how can I help you with the skills and the expertise that I have?” None of us are taught to say, “I need your help too.” Some interesting thinking about how time-banking works—and how it could work differently, if more of us did it.

“It’s tricky for us to focus on property tax in a vacuum. You almost have to look at the entire picture of what the contribution is from the business community—from the philanthropic standpoint as well as the tax base.” Um. Yeah. Right. Guess no one should be too surprised that Silicon Valley companies are just like old school corporations, when it comes to continuing policies that create inequality.

The YMCA in London is working on the problem of access to affordable housing, in that very expensive city, by building pre-fab one-bedroom apartments that can be moved by crane.

If the car is a symbol of individualism—is car-sharing a symbol of collective action? So argues this blog post by French/Belgian car-sharing service, Djump. Kudos to them for wanting to spark a dialogue about reforming (not rejecting) regulation.

Are you thinking about building a makerspace? Here are some tips on how to build community around hardware-sharing.

Geeking Out

Mmmm….robot-made Oreos

Final Thoughts

“Life is going to be complicated no matter what, so you might as well open the door and invite it into your house, or your pickup, as the case may be. Besides, someday, when you have to carry your double bed on your back, someone you once helped might give you a lift. It’s the basic investment plan of the poor: save what you have by sharing it.”

Julia Alvarez, A Wedding in Haiti

How Workers Could Get Hijacked On the Digital Highway

by Wyatt Closs

We all know how intertwined the internet is in our lives. And while we surf along merrily until our hearts are content and eyes glaze over, what we may not realize is how easily access for the average working person could get hijacked.  And why the Beastie Boys are taking on AT&T in shareholder meeting rooms. More on that in a second.

“Internet hijacked? No way,” you say? Way. It all has to do with this notion of having ‘net neutrality’ which you may have heard of but like me, didn’t dig that deep into it.

It’s broken down in this video featuring socially responsible investment adviser Farnum Brown.  This man manages millions of dollars for individual investors who want to earn a return with more than just a bottom line but instead with some meaning – people like the Beasties.

What the Beastie Boys Want from AT & T

In a follow-up interview after the video was done, I also liked this explanation he gave: 

“What you’ve had so far is relatively good pricing of the Internet so far by most consumer standards, but what we could be headed towards is something like Cable TV with tiers and gateways and premiums for different levels of services unless the possibilities within the current system are checked.”

Uh-oh. That wouldn’t be good. These days, it’s almost a given that the internet, which was generated by government resources, is like a utility, a vital part of daily life (YouTube cat video watching aside perhaps).

Susan Crawford, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and author of a book with the almost-too-long-for-Twitter title “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age,” concurred, writing in a NY Times op-ed

“High-speed Internet access isn’t a luxury; it is basic infrastructure, like electricity, clean water and a functioning street grid, that is essential for the free market to function.”

Our private consumptions aside, as the very definition of work place increasingly shifts, be it for telecommuting, working in a virtually-managed company or doing freelance or contract work from home, workers in this digital economy depend on a fully-functioning, high-quality, top-speed internet. A lack of neutrality is like someone having the capacity to dramatically change the fees a taxi driver has to pay to rent their medallion &  vehicle at any moment.

And this kind of work is only continuing to grow as the economy gets reshaped, and moves from the old, traditional, centralized workplace or office.

  • People on average spend 1 day a week telecommuting.
  • The online work platform, Elance, reports hirings have increased 51%
  • England’s trade union federation, the TUC, reports one in five workers aged over 55 are regularly working from home
  • A Brandman University – Forrester Research survey of Fortune 500 hiring managers showed 56% of hiring managers expect that the practice of virtual teaming will steadily or greatly increase in their company

It’s not just digitally-oriented jobs like writers, designers or information technology jobs that a ‘toll booth’ to the internet would impact. Imagine if a home care worker who relies on the internet for medical information or keeping in contact with someone’s doctor, nurse, or pharmacy, sees a sudden spike in their cost to access those functions?

So, what are working families and workers in the digital economy to do? Well, it’s a little complicated, much of it hemmed up by the actions of FCC Chairman Michael Powell in 2002. His ruling led to creating a painted corner for the FCC legally that has made attempts to change a definition of what’s called “common carriage” in the telecoms game, a completely jingle-jangled mess. Through a series of rulings and lawsuits the FCC’s principles currently look like the way those curly telephone cords would get all twisted.  The Crawford NY Times op-ed lays this out further.

“The most elegant resolution would be for the FCC to reverse the decision of Michael Powell, who now heads the Cable TV trade association by the way” says Brown. Cha-ching! Why that hasn’t happened yet in six years of the Obama administration is perhaps the subject of another blog.

The other solution, in the mean time, is going straight to the companies and getting them to change their ways and policies and see the greater good in net neutrality for the long-term.

And that brings us back to the Beastie Boys. Who, as the video explains, have taken up a campaign against AT&T, Verizon and others, using their stature as shareholders to get  net neutrality from inside.  They’ve had two votes now, the latest getting 24% of shareholders support or $36 Billion dollars worth of Verizon stock. Not bad.  But not quite enough to drop the mic just yet.

The reality is that the only industry that benefits from not having net neutrality is this handful of companies that dominate your ability to get on the internet.  All other businesses are subjected to the hijacking to give you, say, critical information and content at a fast high-quality speed.  Google, Facebook, Hulu, Netflix, everybody. See how Netflix started duking it out with Comcast not too long ago over these matters.

Oh, and that whole Comcast – Time Warner merger thing isn’t like to reduce this risk, by the way.

Brown observes “We have this era of “Regulatory Capture”, where the entities that are to do the regulating are dominated by people who are part of that industry’s money-making.” He added later  “But as an investor, by and large, you’re investing across universal means, even if its an individual stock.” And so, not having net neutrality is bad for businesses across the entire economy because its anti-competitive and inhibits innovation. “

Yeah, and what he said. And, well, its just not cool.

 

Dig Deeper at:

“Suppose we found that the only way to guarantee full employment is to institute a 10 hour work week?”

What’s Going On in the Workforce?

“Suppose we found that the only way to guarantee full employment is to institute a 10 hour work week.” Robots are coming, people.  It’s just a question of when…and how we decide to react. They say that the best jobs of the future will be those that combine machine creativity with human ingenuity. IBM’s super computer, Watson, is going to be a key player. Even if you’re a chef. Would a universal basic income create freedom from jobs? And why do people think that’s a bad thing?

Ever wonder how worker-owned coops decide what to pay their CEOs? Here’s a good analysis on that topic by Ed Mayo.

An excellent post from Fast Company about efforts by musicians to remind producers that synthesizers are not the same as people playing real instruments.

Fascinating look at the business of being a cartoonist in this post by Grigory Kogan about how he’s building a tool for cartoonists to use, in order to maximize their cartoons’ earning potential. Relatedly, how do you prevent piracy on the internet, if you run one of the world’s largest sources for digital photos? Maybe you just don’t. Getty’s decision to give away 35 million photos in exchange for link backs is good news for the rest of us, maybe not so good for the photographers who created the work.

Amazing reporting by Vice & ProPublica about temp work in the US—here’s part 1 (of 5)

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

New companies have been launched to help AirBnb hosts manage their properties. I’ve gotta say, there’s a pretty long tradition of this kind of thing at the Jersey Shore—are we counting beach houses as part of the sharing economy?

Some interesting points in this post by NYU’s @erinmorgangore on how non-profits could use the sharing economy & its demands, to improve their own efficiency or help low-paid workers do better, economically.

Chokwe Lumumba, mayor of Jackson, MS was a tremendous supporter of co-ops, and his recent passing was a blow to anyone who supports organizing for better economic equality in the South. Join the folks who are supporting his legacy, by making a donation to their Jackson Rising: New Economies conference.

Despite the fact that Mondragon had a bit of a rocky year, there was still a 32% increase in the founding of new worker-owned coops in Spain last year.

Reputation, Reputation, Reputation

So you’re telling me you don’t need more things to be creeped out about, privacy-wise? Best not to read this article about license plate scanners and the databases they feed, then.

If we start living with robots, will we trust them with all our secrets? Or forget to shut them down, when we don’t want those secrets recorded?

From Partners

Swedish union Kommunal made this brilliant ad for International Women’s Day, featuring their union’s president doing the fastest thing a woman can do to get paid like a man…

Organizing Theory

If you’re online, and an activist with a smart phone, you’ve probably committed an act of “crowd-enabled connective action,” even if you didn’t know it was called that. Now, researchers are starting to study it. Good luck with those millions of #ows tweets, folks.

Geeking Out

Wanna figure out how your city can build its own fiber optic network, even if Google never comes calling? We’ve got the hookup. Or case study, if you prefer.

Maybe you’ve never worried about how to get online in the remotest parts of Africa—but these folks at BRCK have, and they’re building a tool to make it easier.

Skynet is real folks. It just took a little longer to get here than we thought.