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.

“If you are a pizza delivery man, how would you benefit from scissors?”

First up–interested in finding out more about the global solidarity network USi Live? Watch my interview with organizer Andrew Brady, here.

What’s Going On in the Workforce?

“If you are a pizza delivery man, how would you benefit from scissors?” Um, the same way everyone else does? Are weird interview questions on your job search radar?

Some of us are fighting against unpaid internships…others of us are making more than the median US income AS INTERNS. Weird, hunh? And speaking of interns…Is fabled film/tech/music conference South by Southwest heading for labor problems with their unpaid intern & volunteer situation? Maybe. Don’t know much about SXSW? Here’s a good history.

Wondering what it’s like to work in an Amazon warehouse in the UK? Wonder no more.

British economist Robert Sidelsky opines about the likelihood of technological unemployment—and why we can’t assume that Luddites of the modern day will be as wrong as their forbears were. Related: It’s not just that driverless cars will kill driving jobs—they’ll likely put auto insurance companies in a tailspin too.

Bernadette Hyland looks at the transition in her local economy in Manchester UK, where a generation of retired women factory workers are now being cared for by a younger generation of women—but these care workers don’t have nearly the wage or benefit standards that the factory women did. How will the caregivers pay, when they need to be care receivers?

Sharing, Solidarity & Sustainability

Already hosted your Peers Swap and still have stuff left to give? Here’s a new way to recycle your used clothes.

Do you have an idea for a sharing site to share a specific service or product? Near-Me wants to help you get online with it.

The sharing economy runs on the reputations of its users & providers. Trustribe is working to provide a one-stop reputation shop for the apps of the sharing economy.

Is car-sharing the solution to the world’s pollution problems? Probably not, but it’s a step in the right direction.

From Partners

Last week, we mentioned the report that looked at state-level inequality—here’s a new one from the Brookings Institute that drills down to find the most unequal US cities.

“The fact that the law allows America’s biggest companies to shelter almost half of their US profits from tax, while ordinary wage earners have to report every penny of their earnings, has to undermine public respect for the tax system.” From a new report by Citizens for Tax Justice about how US corporations often pay more tax overseas than at home.

Geeking Out

It’s 2014, people. If you’re hosting a conference, or organizing a panel or a workshop—make sure you have women on it. If not, GenderAvenger will be on the case.

Is wearable technology a human right? Steve Mann asks, why we would allow property to have always-on security, and not people?

Organizing Theory

Fascinating article by Sasha Issenberg about the technology & theory of identifying volunteers, in the modern age. Mostly about political campaigns, but has some lessons that are good for all of us who want to engage volunteers at a high level.

Been working on a keen new idea in labor law reform? The Labour Law Research Network is soliciting papers, for their conference in Amsterdam, June 2015.

Interesting stuff about using data to develop arguments in policy campaigns.

Reputation, Reputation, Reputation

Cory Doctorow utterly shreds the Chicago Police Department’s pre-crime algorithm theory. If you’ve ever had “questionable” associations, read this. (I have no other kinds of associations, personally. My poor children.)

Final Thoughts

“No matter which hardship index we use, (low) wage reliant mothers had more hardships than welfare-reliant mothers.”

Kathryn Edin & Laura Lein, Making Ends Meet