In June 2019, I attended the annual International Labour Conference (ILC) convened by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland. This year was particularly special, as it marked the 100th anniversary of the ILO. Through the establishment of international labor standards, the ILO has played a key – and often overlooked – role around the world to advance social justice and decent work for all. Continue reading “A TIME OF CELEBRATION AND RENEWED ENGAGEMENT: EVERYDAY TRANSGRESSIONS”
- Nobody’s Home: Candid Reflections of a Nursing Home Aide
- To Plead Our Own Cause: Personal Stories by Today’s Slaves
- Stanley’s Girl: Poems
- A Man with No Talents: Memoirs of a Tokyo Day Laborer
- Missing: Persons and Politics
I’ve worked on hundreds of exceptional Cornell books over the years, but these stand out mostly for the way they have so vividly shared worlds I wouldn’t otherwise have seen.
Fran Benson’s bundles of ILR books:
The World through the Lens of Class
- No Longer Newsworthy: How the Mainstream Media Abandoned the Working Class
- Class Lives: Stories from across Our Economic Divide
- Missing Class: Strengthening Social Movement Groups by Seeing Class Cultures
- Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America
- The Working Class Majority: America’s Best Kept Secret
- What’s Class Got to Do with It: American Society in the Twenty-first Century
- Class and Campus Life: Managing and Experiencing Inequality at an Elite College
- New Working Class Studies
“I’ll be running on the economy,” said President Donald Trump, regarding his plans for the 2020 presidential campaign. “And why wouldn’t he?” the AP story replied. The report argued the “sunny employment figures offered fresh evidence of a strong national economy.”
It was the same story across the rest of the mainstream media. For example, ABC News heralded a “booming jobs market,” CNN said “this is as good as it gets in the labor market,” USA Today concluded “it would be hard to ask for a more favorable report.” and NBC stated “for graduating [college] seniors, the timing could not be better.”
Yet, can anyone really say that this is a shining economy when nearly 80 percent of workers live paycheck-to-paycheck and that 4 in 10 workers don’t have the funds to cover a $400 emergency expense? (The mainstream media gave us those two stories as well, but they fail to connect the dots when reporting on the larger economy.)
In the wave of stories on the recent jobs report, much of the mainstream media, with its institutional eye on upscale readers and viewers, has again miserably failed to account for the condition of America’s vast working class majority. As I explain in my new book, No Longer Newsworthy: How the Mainstream Media Abandoned the Working Class, since the late 1960s and early 1970s the mainstream news media have been targeting an upscale audience, essentially redlining off the working-class news audience. This might have made business sense to executives running increasingly consolidated news corporations traded on Wall Street – let’s go for the upscale demographics! – but in the long term it put blinders on the editorial eyes of much of the country’s journalism organizations.
Case in point: the New York Times. An analysis of the jobs report by one of its economics writers began by noting “For years it was the central question in an otherwise impressive recovery by the American job market: Why aren’t wages rising faster?”
The article said that “Economists proposed all sorts of theories to explain the mystery” of stagnant worker pay, and among the grab bag of theories is “falling rates of unionization.” But that was not the answer in this story, despite substantial evidence.
Instead, he concluded, the reason for the long recovery in wages is that the official government unemployment rate doesn’t account for other potential workers on the sidelines who might be willing to get back into the economy. Thus, wages can only go up when unemployment is extremely low and demand for workers puts upward pressure on wages. This is finally happening, the author said, almost 10 years after the recession. (Hooray for workers! And take note: these economic rules don’t seem to apply to executive-level compensation.)
Of course, in this view, workers have no agency. They are merely captives of the “natural” laws of economics. Never mind that the past four decades of low wages has been made possible by a concerted effort to put private and public labor unions asunder, cripple fair enforcement of labor law, deprive workers of earned overtime wages, push medical care expenses onto workers or eliminate medical insurance all together, and enable corporations to raid pension funds – all while Wall Street and corporate profits achieved ever-higher records.
More than four decades ago, the mainstream news media began to transform its audience and its stories. Labor unions and the working class shifted from normal, respected subjects in journalism’s coverage to abnormal, misunderstood, and mostly invisible subjects. This shift resulted in our current media landscape: labor reporters are nearly gone, economic reporters hail the record-breaking economy, and political reporters wonder why the working class seems so angry.
Christopher R. Martin is Professor of Digital Journalism at the University of Northern Iowa. He is also author of an award-winning book on how labor unions are covered in the news media, Framed! Labor and the Corporate Media (Cornell University Press).
Also of interest:
Listen to Jonathan Hall, in an interview with Professor Christopher R. Martin, here.
Philip Rathgeb, author of the recently published Strong Governments, Precarious Workers: Labor Market Policy in the Era of Liberalization, chatted with our publicity manager Cheryl Quimba. Here’s their conversation:
What is Strong Governments, Precarious Workers about?
It examines why some European welfare states protect unemployed and ‘atypically’ employed workers better than others. While all countries faced the emergence of such precarious workers, some compensated them with better protection and training, whereas others reinforced new divisions within the workforce. The question is, why? Looking at the cases of Austria, Denmark, and Sweden in particular, I find that trade unions are the most consistent force in resisting precarious employment and welfare. What is most striking, however, is that left-right differences between political parties matter less for trade unions – and thus precarious workers – than differences between weak and strong governments. Only when governments are weak can trade unions enforce greater social solidarity in the interest of precarious workers. The book therefore challenges theories that attribute precarity to union clientelism.
Can you explain this relationship between strong governments and precarious workers?
The gradual stages of the liberalization era shifted the balance of class power from labor to capital, which created opportunities for employer associations to push governments in their preferred direction. Governments of the right as well as the left therefore stimulated job creation by liberalizing the labour market. Strong governments are unrestrained in this regard, because they are internally united and have enough seats in parliament. As a result, they can marginalize trade unions to prevent lengthy and costly negotiations. Weak governments, by contrast, need trade unions for consensus mobilization, which creates opportunities for trade unions to strike policy deals for precarious workers. Variations in government strength best explain why trade unions in Social Democratic countries like Denmark and especially Sweden faced remarkable defeats in labor market reform, whereas their counterparts in a Conservative country like Austria remained influential and could thus enhance the protection of precarious workers.
What motivated you to write this book?
What I find striking is the gradual breakdown of the long-term employment relationship in favour of flexible short-term jobs. Among the middle classes of my generation – the so-called “millennials” – this shift is often welcomed, because it can create greater autonomy in working life. You can switch jobs and adapt working hours according to your current life situation or desire for self-realization. This is certainly a great progress for well-educated people without problems in making ends meet or reconciling work-family life.
But I care more about the other side of this story: in-work poverty, unpredictable income, low protection when unemployed or retired. While “flexibility” means greater autonomy for some, it means greater insecurity for others. I wanted to understand when political actors respond to the social demands of workers that are unemployed or on temporary ‘atypical’ contracts, as they face the costs of growing flexibility on contemporary labour markets.
Why do you think this is important?
Precarity is associated with several trends that are detrimental to democracy and society. First, we know that precarious workers are less likely to vote, because they gradually lose faith in the political system. This refers to a process of political resignation so impressively captured by Marie Jahoda, Paul Lazarsfeld, and Hans Zeissel in their seminal study Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal. I vividly remember reading this book when I was in high school, as it has shaped my way of thinking about unemployment ever since. Second, it is clear that precarious workers are more likely to face economic poverty, unequal life chances, poor health, and even an increased relative risk of suicide. Understanding how political actors respond to precarity is thus of great political and social significance in contemporary capitalism.
Philip Rathgeb is a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Konstanz.
A few days ago, Ithaca hosted its first Fashion week and as I strolled downtown, I encountered all sorts of enthusiastic fashionistas. Two women were sketching designs with chalk on the sidewalk, a runway rehearsal was happening at Dewitt Mall, and I thought people in general looked quite stylish. But what does clothing have to do with books?
When it comes to men’s fashion and the workplace, the research presented in Buttoned Up, by author Erynn Masi de Casanova, can help understand this relationship. Casual Fridays is an institution, telecommuting is sometimes the rule, and a decrease in formal dress codes is evident. And even though many workplaces now encourage a business casual dress code, men high on the food chain tend to prefer the traditional two-piece suit. The Boston Globe pointed out that the homogeneity in men’s work attires throughout decades shows this conformism. So why do men feel constrained in their choices about how to look professional?
Masi de Casanova interviews dozens of men in three US cities with distinct local dress cultures—New York, San Francisco, and Cincinnati—and asks what it means to wear the white collar now. Her findings suggest that, aside from recent changes in gender expectations, the suit lingers as a symbol of status, gender, and class privilege.
The Conversation argued that “stereotypical men, especially older men, are thought not to actively engage with fashionable clothing.” And regardless of the incipient niche market that seem to be willing to challenge this assumption, a quick peek into the most well-known fashion shows can prove that the target for male fashion garments is overwhelmingly, young men.
Finally, the Harvard Business Review asked the crucial question: What happens when men don’t conform to masculine clothing norms at work? It turns out that when picking out an outfit, most men fear that crossing gender boundaries and traditional clothing norms will pose identity dilemmas and ultimately, lead to conflict.
All in all, men are happy to strategically blend in when it comes to dressing up for a job, the freedom provided by the business casual code resulting in anxiety. So how can we turn the tables? How to foster workplaces that allow for their male employees to express themselves, and how to get rid of traditional ideas of masculine power? Buttoned Up provides with an interesting insight into men’s feelings and explains why when at work, they embody the idea that “fashion is not really for us”.
Check out the latest review for this book!
Recommended watch for this post: Dr. Ben Barry’s “The Refashioning Masculinity Project”:
About the author of this blog post: Adriana Ferreira is the Social Media Coordinator at Cornell University Press. She is originally from Uruguay and often wonders how she ended up in Upstate New York. Her dream is to own an ice-cream shop. She doesn’t have Wi-Fi at home.
Matilda Rabinowitz’s illustrated memoir challenges assumptions about the lives of early twentieth-century women, which is why it’s so perfect for Women’s History Month, and why we are sharing a selection of the more than 160 scratchboard images from within her book. The images were carved by Robbin Legere Henderson, Rabinowitz’s granddaughter.
As part of our month-long celebration of Black History Month, we broke open the stacks and searched for unusual books that showcase African American history. With our focus on labor history, through our imprint ILR Press, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that we have a book of classic labor posters. Still, it’s gratifying and energizing to look through and discover posters within this book that broach subjects of race discrimination, hate crimes, and African American organized labor.
Here’s a small selection of these posters from the pages of Agitate! Educate! Organize! American Labor Posters by Lincoln Cushing and Timothy W. Drescher. Continue reading “Labor Posters with a Message of Equality”
Human rights strategist Greg Asbed has been granted a 2017 MacArthur Fellowship. A co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Greg’s story, and the story of the immigrant farm workers who have fought for and won significant gains in worker rights against great odds, has been documented in I Am Not a Tractor! How Florida Farmworkers Took On the Fast Food Giants and Won by Susan L Marquis, forthcoming from ILR Press this fall. The following is a brief excerpt from the first chapter.
God, it was frustrating, but the two knew they were in the right place. When Greg Asbed and Laura Germino looked out the window of the small storefront office, they faced the cracked asphalt, broken concrete dividers, and courageous weeds that made up the Pantry Shelf parking lot. Throughout the day, the occasional beat-up Ford or rusted Chevy would pull in, seeking the shade of the grocery store wall. But most were walking. Women, arms loaded with bags, walked out the market’s doors and down streets patterned by the shade of trees loaded with Spanish moss and the glaring sun of southwest Florida. Some carried fruit that reminded them of home in Haiti, but most were carrying the soda, chips, and other junk food that was cheapest in the overpriced market. Continue reading “From Immokalee Organizer to MacArthur Fellow: Meet Greg Asbed”
“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.” —Mark Twain
By Gregory Wood, author of Clearing the Air: The Rise and Fall of Smoking in the Workplace
As I wrote about the histories of working-class smoking, tobacco control, and nicotine addiction in my book, Clearing the Air: The Rise and Fall of Smoking in the Workplace, I was often reminded of my own difficult past as a heavily addicted cigarette smoker. In fact, the project stemmed from two important sources: first, my discovery of unique documents that detailed the history of working-class smoking practices at Hammermill Paper Company in Erie, Pennsylvania, during 1915; and the insights gained from my own hellish experiences with nicotine addiction. For eleven years, throughout what was my twenties, I was a regular smoker who came to know very well the power of addiction and how tobacco use facilitated challenges to managers’ authority at work.
I began smoking as a new student in college in order to socialize with other individuals who happened to be smokers: in other words, I started using tobacco to fit in with a new peer group. My addiction to nicotine unfolded very quickly, occurring over a period of no more than a month in the fall semester of 1992. Sadly, I took to smoking very, very easily. By December 1992, toward the end of my first semester in college, I needed nearly a pack of cigarettes every day in order to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Continue reading “The Labor of Addiction: A Personal History of Smoking in the Workplace”