Is organized labor in the U.S. making a comeback? Over the last few years, unionization efforts have proliferated across the service sector, in Amazon, Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, just to name a few. The movie and TV industry is facing rare, simultaneous strikes by writers and actors. By early August, more than 300,000 UPS workers may be on strike, which would be the largest private sector strike in the US in several decades.
My guest this month is Eric Blanc, assistant professor of labor studies at Rutgers University. Eric studies strikes, new workplace organizing, digital labor activism, and working-class politics. He is also a longtime labor activist, currently serving as organizer trainer for the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee, a collaboration of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and United Electrical Workers of America. Full disclosure: I am also a member of the DSA. Eric is author of, among other books, Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics (Verso 2019). His writings have appeared in journals such as Politics & Society, and also in The Nation, The Guardian, and Jacobin.
Following my conversation with Nadia Kim last month about age and optimism, I wanted to talk to an early-career sociologist. Eric was recently a graduate student in Sociology at NYU, making him my youngest guest so far. I started out as usual by asking Eric for his take on whether we’re living through especially dark times. Like Anna Branch in May, Eric takes the long view, even with regard to climate change.
Given the current weather all over the world, I find Eric’s optimism about climate change heartening, even as I am unable to share it fully. The wave of labor activism and the possibility of a large strike at UPS in a few weeks is indeed energizing. Eric’s assertion of the need for sociologists to work with, and for, activist organizations echoes Nadia Kim’s call last month. Our discussion of the larger political implications of labor activism for democracy in the U.S. was especially illuminating for me; it echoes my conversation with Cedric De Leon of the UMass Labor Center in February.
Join me in August for a conversation with Prudence Carter, outgoing president of the American Sociological Association. Hope you have a good summer till then!