“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