On robot dresses & worker-owned coops (sadly, not in the same article)

What’s Going on in the Workforce?
Sarah Jaffe has a great long read in Al-Jazeera about worker-owned coops in the US, particularly focusing on the struggles involved in setting them up.  And Abby Scher has a good look at how solidarity economy activists in Reading, PA are working to promote co-ops and other forms of community-owned wealth in that city.  Incidentally, Forbes estimates that if Apple were a worker-owned coop, every employee would earn over $400K per year.
Geeking Out
Voice recognition software gets to be the butt of lots of jokes (and I’ll always love Siri for the way she pronounces “Conshohocken”), but it’s getting so good that we’ll soon live in a world where “devices don’t have keyboards.” I guess I won’t need those haptic gloves anymore…
Robotic spider dress that protects my personal space? Where have you been all my life?!?
Organizing Theory
Thinking about organizing a skillshare in your community? Here’s a good walk-through of every step of the planning process.
From Partners
Strong work from Moshe Marvit about the right’s new push on Right to Work—passing local ordinances.
“I realized my work wasn’t necessary.” And here’s this week’s Studs Terkel Working update from In These Times—meet The Data Entry “Associate.
Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability
What happens to a town when Wal-Mart moves out, especially after it’s destroyed every business?
Could we socialize life-saving technology to decrease inequality?
I’m always a fan of ways of organizing against the robot apocalypse—but are we really losing the moral high ground on basic income to libertarians & right-wingers?

“We are slowly entering the robotic revolution…”

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

“We are slowly entering the robotic revolution…” Look, there are even charts!  And technologist Martin Ford points out that automation and worker fears of replacement may lead to deflation as well.

Excellent piece from Forbes on the hazards that sharing economy workers face AFTER they get hurt at work.

If robots have temp agencies, can a robot union be far behind?

Sarcasm is a beautiful thing. Henry Blodget cheers on capital for “crushing” labor, and laments the probably outcome.

Geeking Out
Are you ready to drive your car with your watch?
There’s something strangely compelling about a robot with 3D vision
Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability
Can combining time banks & coops help to meet your community’s needs?
Reputation, reputation, reputation
Maybe we should replace “don’t be evil” with “don’t be creepy” as an internet age mantra? Until then, campaigns will be scraping your grocery receipts to target you.
The FBI thinks it doesn’t need a warrant to spy on your cell phone in public. Think about that at your next demonstration.
Organizing Theory
“Political squatting” helps win campaigns for fair housing in England.
From Partners
Philly folks—David Dylan Thomas is giving a talk at Penn on January 29th—details here. We interviewed David back in September of last year…
And for those of you in DC—The Century Foundation is having a conference on solutions to child poverty, on January 22.
This week brings another installment of In These Times updates on Stud Terkel’s Working—here’s the Adjunct Instructor.

“Don’t go back into your cave of despair.”

Organizing Theory
“Don’t go back into your cave of despair.” How to turn movement moments into movement power.
Want some policy ideas for how to bring fresh food into underserved communities? Union of Concerned Scientists has a toolkit for that.
Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability
Relay Rides is the other thing you can do with your car to monetize it when you’re not quite willing to become a chauffeur…
“…if our reason for supporting different modes of sharing is a desire to create a more equitable and sustainable economic system, we need to significantly broaden our understanding of what constitutes a sharing economy.” 
“The idea that having a good job means being an employee of a particular company is a legacy of a period that stretched from about 1880 to 1980.” So says The Economist, writing about the sharing economy and the rise of the freelancer.
How Spanish groups are organizing collectively, including to provide trade education in communities.
Reputation, reputation, reputation
Pew on the future of privacy. “The current arms race of privacy between individuals who want it and governments who wish to eliminate it will continue unabated.”
From Partners
In These Times is revisiting Working by Studs Terkel, in its 40th year, with updated essays about work today. Here’s the Gravedigger.
Geeking Out
If you’re going to make a robot, it really ought to be a shark robot, right?
Welp. NASA emailed a wrench to the space station. H/t to reader Hannah Sassaman for this gem.
What happens when your bot breaks the law? Jeez, can’t I get my kids through high school before I have to worry about stuff like this?
What’s Going on in the Workforce?
In the “jobs so boring, it’s a good thing they made a robot for it” category? Testing car buttons.
On the other hand, do you really want fries with that? McDonald’s is introducing touchscreen ordering, to serve their next Xbillionth customer.
I continue to be convinced that artists and other content creators are going to be the people to figure out how this new economy works. Here’s Erik Arneson, talking about his success in giving away stories online, in order to build his distribution list.

“It did not take technology to spur the on-demand economy. It took masses of poor people.”

What’s Going on in the Workforce?
“It did not take technology to spur the on-demand economy. It took masses of poor people.” Even before the internet!
For millennials in the workforce, technology’s changes are very real. There is a “…mismatch between educational outcomes and workforce demands.” This new report finds that some millennials will be at a serious disadvantage in the new economy.
Amazing report from the Knight Foundation on media coverage of net neutrality. Upshot? Majority of voices on the debate were male & urban. Someone should organize some suburban & rural women to speak out about this…maybe as a workers’ rights issue.
From Partners
I mean, I know you want to do a presentation on cyborgs…or is that just me? If you’re theorizing about the web & work, Theorizing the Web might just be the conference for you—April, NYC.
Organizing Theory
While this article is about diversity in tech, I would argue it is not irrelevant for those of us who work in politics. Or the labor movement.
“In a new power framework, the heroes of social change will not be institutionalized professional organizers or long-standing dynamic leaders, but rather the people who decide in the face of their personal tragedies to seize their most vulnerable moment, publicly, and demand changes that will impact us all.” If we’ve learned nothing else in 2014, let us learn this.
Geeking Out
Open source robot? Why yes thanks, I will.
Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability
How can co-ops find allies in an effort to build a more democratic economy?
DC’s Community Purchasing Alliance uses cooperation to save money for its member organizations—mostly non-profits—and promote vendors that are environmentally & economically sustainable.
Want to make sure that your city’s bike share program is open & accessible to all communities? Why not encourage doctors to prescribe bike share memberships?
Final Thoughts
Here’s to a more economically just 2015…

“That’s not how capitalism works.”

Original Content
Douglas Williams had some thoughts this week about the proposal by labor lawyer Ben Sachs on setting up German-style works councils in US companies.
Like our original content? Why not visit the HtU Patreon page to learn how you can financially support this work.
Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability
“I don’t need to make any more (money)…That’s not how capitalism works.” Take a look inside the minds of various gentrifiers.
Here’s a deep dive on how the sharing economy, which has already disrupted so much in the B2C (business to consumer) universe, is poised to do the same thing in the B2B world.
How Venezuala has promoted—and sometimes failed to support—worker-owned co-ops.
Your suitcase might be the next possession the sharing economy seeks to monetize.
Organizing Theory
Interested in reducing corporate pay inequity between C-suite executives and front-line workers? Check out what these states are doing.
From Partners
The Young Worker Media Project has launched an effort on social media to show how millennials are fighting back on the job.
Peers is splitting their business into a foundation and a B Corp, to have more impact on promoting the sharing economy.
What’s Going on in the Workforce?
Venture capitalist Bill Davidow posits that at the current rate of development, machines could be smarter than the average American by 2025—and wonders what we’re going to do about work, when robots become cheaper and smarter than humans.
I want a minimum of 25 days off a year, and someone to make me take them without checking email
A night in the life of an Uber/Lyft driver.
“In America’s ‘future of work,’ youths’ ability to hustle might be their primary survival asset and new work identity.” On the sharing economy and its historical grounding in workless communities of color.
Reputation, reputation, reputation
How Facebook can track purchases you made offline or on other sites—and report back about your responsiveness to advertisers.

Whither the Works Council? A critique.

Labor is, God willing, at a turning point in this country. New campaigns have started to infuse fresh energy into a moribund and declining movement, and new models of collective action are being proposed in the course of these ongoing efforts. While the existing NLRB/NMB certification election-contractual bargaining system still functions on paper, in practice it has broken down. Employers do not hesitate when flouting the law while trying to head off a union vote going against them. Even when they lose, bosses are willing to sandbag their workers by refusing to even bother to negotiate, and striking has been gelded as a tactic through injunction and wrongly decided precedent about permanently replacing strikers. While corporate campaigns, which focus on pressuring shareholders and embarrassing companies into acting humanely, have met with some success they have not delivered the kind of widespread worker empowerment that the postwar period did. There’s absolutely no doubt that if workers are going to ultimately make their own destiny that a new model or approach is needed for unions. One that has been proposed, separately by the UAW and by Benjamin Sachs, is the implementation of works councils in the United States.

The works council model is one that is used across Europe, with the most prominent examples being in Germany, although works councils also exist in the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium. There, employees are elected to four-year terms on the works council, where they negotiate the terms of employment and workplace conditions with the employer. In Germany this is enabled through the Works Constitution Act, which was first passed through the Bundestag in 1952 and allows the formation of works councils in any private workplace of at least five people. While the employees who serve on the works council are not required to be in a union, over 77 percent of them are. As such, the works council functions as a strong facilitator of union power in German labor relations, especially in the large auto plants there.

(It should be noted that the works council system is different from a worker cooperative. The chief distinction is that workers in a cooperative have full control over the means of production, while a works council is, essentially, what we would consider to be a labor union bargaining unit in the United States.)

It is imagined in the United States as an unprecedented form of economic democracy. Our conception of a Board of Directors has very little to do with a company’s employees or their demands; rather it is an oligarchy of investors and corporate officers who run our nation’s business apparatus. So the thought of workers getting a say in the dealings of two of our nation’s largest industries, automotive and fast food, is one that is understandably exhilarating for those supportive of the labor movement.

There’s a couple of problems with implementing such a model in the US, though. Firstly, the National Labor Relations Act explicitly bans company unions in Section 8(a)(2). Sachs makes that clear in his piece, saying that implementing a works council model at McDonalds would require significant legal wrangling to avoid being proscribed by Section 8(a)(2), though far more optimistically than we would.

Another big concern is that the works council model could mollify working-class radicalism at a time where it is on the upswing. Few could have predicted that fast-food workers would be engaging in waves of walk-outs with the demand of a $15 an hour minimum wage. Combined with the recent demonstrations against state violence in major cities across the country and the connections between these two movements, working-class organizing might be in a stronger position now than in any other time since mass deindustrialization began in the 1970s.

Furthermore, story after story is raising awareness of how other countries have paid their fast-food workers a living wage and still managed to turn a profit. To turn all of this potential for a paradigm-shifting movement and steer it towards a highly formal and bureaucratic process before any real gains have been secured would seem to be an error. In fact, it could be argued that the bureaucratization of the labor movement is a key part of why it is in such dire straits in modern times. Why voluntarily repeat the errors that got us where we are today for a system that we are not even sure will work in the United States?

Finally, is winning a process that, from its beginning, privileges the interests of management at the same level as the interests of the workers really worth it? Given all of the effort, energy, and time that would get put into organizing works councils, is it a big enough win? Make no mistake, the purpose of works councils is for smooth functioning of commerce at a given employer by addressing the collective concerns of its workers. Whether the emphasis falls on the front half of that statement or the back half in an American implementation of works councils remains up in the air. At a time when labor is frequently discussing things in terms of labor-management partnerships and jointness, will workers’ interests be better served by a system where the union is not even an independent body but rather an organ inside the corporate structure?

Works councils have significant power in Europe and are able to redress major issues for the workers who participate in them. However, they gained this power in the shadow of the Cold War, at a time when capitalism had to show it gave a damn about Western workers lest they fall “victim” to Communism. That threat does not exist now. There is no indication that the works councils that are being proposed would be able to address the larger problems that the working class faces on a day-to-day basis. While alternatives to a dysfunctional NLRA-focused process should be considered, the notion of labor-management partnership can only function when labor has sufficient power to make everything stop.

We will only rebuild power through advancing the interests of the working class as a whole. Investing more in organizing, training, mobilization, and educating union workers about their rights is a part of this equation, but only by fundamentally aligning the labor movement with the communities it represents will we start to recover.

Cooperativ-izing the sharing economy

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability
Lisa Gansky wrote a compelling piece on how “sharing economy” companies should take a page from worker coops on investing in their producers. Trebor Schulz also has some thoughts about how to organize sharing economy platforms more like cooperatives.
Audi has piloted a new kind of car sharing in Sweden, where people who live in the same neighborhood can share a car.
Task Rabbit made major changes to the way it ran its business, earlier this year. Here’s a good piece on what that’s meant for users of both sides of the platform.
Want to know what the average ride-sharing platform driver makes in a year? Check out this post.
Geeking Out
I bet you can’t wait to go to the hardware store and be waited on by a robot. I personally can’t wait for the day that I don’t have to have hammers explained to me. (Unless that’s part of the UX?)
Organizing Theory
Is live-streaming protests journalism? or activism?
Participatory budgeting, at the state or local level, can help reduce infant mortality.

“The greatest challenge for humanity will be to decouple income and work.”

Original Content

Last week, Douglas Williams had some thoughts about Solidarity, the AFL-CIO and Ferguson.

Geeking Out

“The greatest challenge for humanity will be to decouple income and work.” Cosmos Mag takes a look at our robot future.

“Coming from the technology world, we were confounded when technology failed us.” What happens when some Fellows are assigned to build an app for low-income Americans?

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

If you don’t believe robots will be able to do emotional labor someday, you probably haven’t seen this Furby-like video.  I do have a hard time envisioning a food-delivery quad copter with facial expressions, myself.

How do you make yourself irreplaceable, in the face of automation? Get creative. Or start asking—why is work necessary at all (okay, that last point is mine.)

If you know me, you’ll know that I read practically every word that Jaron Lanier writes. Here he is, talking about AI—and how it can’t evolve to something better than human, because it REQUIRES humans to populate the big data sets it needs to function. But mythology leads us to believe that things might be possible that aren’t possible. Watch & learn, or read & learn.

Organizing Theory

Great piece about how Hollaback uses online engagement to foster offline organizing to prevent street harassment.

“New power values participation and is all about do-it-yourself.” Jeremy Heimans on what new power means for organizations.

Reputation, reputation, reputation

At what point will my cyborg have a higher Klout score than I do?

Are you a Flickr user? Might be time to check your license. At what point do you stop owning “your” photos?

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

If we want more walkable communities—are we enacting public policies that encourage them at the point of development?

Shareable lists 8 great things that coops do to strengthen communities. And while we’re on the subject of co-ops—the Small Business Administration just funded a support group for them in Seattle that hopes to incubate more.

Final Thoughts

“The way some pessimists put it is that all the low-hanging fruit has been picked. I would argue that there never was any low-hanging fruit; it was always of intermediate height and the question was, were people reaching for it? I’m frustrated because I think technology is progressing slowly, but I’m optimistic because I think it could be better.”

Peter Thiel, MIT Tech Review Vol. 117, No. 6

Solidarity, the AFL-CIO, and Ferguson.

The protests in Ferguson, Missouri have been, if nothing else, a working-class struggle. The people who are flooding into the streets to make their voices heard are not simply protesting the decision by a grand jury not to indict Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, they are railing against social, political, and economic systems that seem to put more distance between their machinations and the protestors’ humanity every single day. They are condemning a neoliberal state that appears to give license to murder so long as it is under the guise of “law and order”. And they are telling the world that they have had enough.

The most obvious facilitator of working-class power in these current systems is the labor union, and Richard Trumka has been amazing in his role as AFL-CIO President on this issue. Whether it was his speech to the Missouri AFL-CIO in the immediate aftermath of Brown’s death, or his brief remarks following the grand jury’s decision last night, Trumka has never wavered in his (accurate) assertions that the problems underlying Ferguson are rooted in classism and racism. He says that we will be hearing a lot from the labor federation in the future, which begs the question:

Why not now?

When I was interviewed by Colorlines a couple of months ago, I told Carla Murphy that the power of Trumka’s words were amplified because of the large numbers of law enforcement and correctional officers who belong to unions that are within his labor federation, particularly within the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). In the wake of news stories detailing the ways in which the local police union raised money for Wilson (a police union that included a sitting Democratic state representative on its fundraising board), hearing Trumka’s words were a direct challenge to anyone within the labor movement who did not express 100 percent solidarity with those in the streets throughout Ferguson.

But now it is time to transition from statements into actions, and the labor movement should be at the fore.

Polls since time immemorial have shown that Black workers support unions at a much higher rate than their white counterparts, and research by Roland Zullo found that Black women were the group most likely to be involved in a union until retirement, layoff, or termination. As the labor movement expands its organizing efforts into the South, it will be dependent upon Black workers for its success here, much as it depended on Black workers in the organizing campaigns of previous generations, such as Operation Dixie. But much as the Democratic Party found out in the recent midterms to their chagrin, Black support for labor is not written in stone, a permanence to passed on from generation to generation. It requires attention to be paid and work to be done on the issues that affect their communities on the day-to-day. And if there is an issue that looms over Black communities like a malevolent cloud, it is the specter of state violence and brutality.

When I was a teenager, I would fly to Chicago and spend the summer with my father, who was a labor educator for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW). We would travel throughout the Midwest as he gave stewards’ trainings and, in many cases, we would encounter workers walking a picket line in some sort of boycott or strike action. Whenever we came across these workers, we made it a policy to go to the nearest bakery or coffee shop and order donuts and coffee for the workers. Sometimes we would even walk the line with them for a little bit. It was the least we could do to show solidarity to people pushing for economic justice and equality.

The AFL-CIO must make it a policy to put the full force of solidarity behind oppressed people wherever they are. That means more than speeches; it means raising bail money, allowing protestors to use labor halls as staging areas for direct action, and many other actions to show that the labor movement has their back. Simply put, it means being there.

“Having a Facebook page is not the same as having a new power strategy.”

Original Content

I recently made some comments about using minimum wage campaigns to build power. This is a blog post adapted from those remarks.

Organizing Theory

“Having a Facebook page is not the same as having a new power strategy.” Fascinating read from the Harvard Biz Review on the ways that old power & new power (aka, the traditional & innovative) structures behave.

Can community groups and unions work together to win fights around housing AND workplace issues?

What’s Going on in the Workforce?

“In the 19th & early 20th centuries, individuals were either considered employed or unemployed; now, there is an entire gray spectrum of employment possibilities.” How to organize workers in the digital economy, where traditional organizing models don’t work?

“…robots get only better at everything they do today, and only cheaper…” h/t to reader Matt Richards for pointing out this interview with Carnegie Mellon’s head of robotics, Allah Nourbakhsh, who goes on to say, “…maybe  people should own shares in the robots that take their jobs, so that the people who are laborers today become the capital owners of tomorrow.”

The next time you’re feeling like the gig economy can’t get any worse? Remember Giri.

Crazy, unpredictable work schedules don’t just have an impact on workers. They also mean kids spend more time in day care. Enter the world of 24 hour daycare facilities.

Uber had a pretty bad week. Tom Slee has an excellent look at everything wrong with the sharing economy company that the left loves to hate. (Well, primarily because they’re so good at making themselves hateable.)

From Partners

Jobs with Justice has a new database out, showing info on guest workers in all 50 states, including which companies are petitioning most often in each state.

Geeking Out

“Too many people live frightened lives trying to scratch a living in the dark. We have to move these people to the light.” The Homeless World Cup brings together soccer players who are also street paper sellers from countries around the globe.

The K Chronicles Keith Knight makes a stark, graphic description of what income inequality is like in this cartoon, “A look behind the curtain.”

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Can we create enough demand, through city purchasing power, to jump start a  local economies’ manufacturing or service sector?

Many people want to figure out a way to fund the delivery of content without using advertisements. Here’s Google’s shot at that.

I think it’s fair to say that most readers of this newsletter will not be hanging out a Best Buy at 4 am on Black Friday, hoping to get the best deal on the new Xbox. If you’re practicing non-consumerism, why not share a photo on this Story of Stuff project?

This Philly student has launched a new platform to help forgive student loan debt.

Final Thoughts