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  • Strikes And Power: Reflections On The "Black Lives Matter" Strike Of NBA Players

    Written on September 11, 2020

    The NBA players "Black Lives Matter" strike has been criticized by some on the left, suggesting that the "radical action" of the players was co-opted by the "neo-liberal" Barack Obama, much of it riffing off the discussions described in this article. This criticism makes me wonder about the depth of understanding of how strikes and collective action operate. And behind that lack of understanding are some naïve conceptions of power—what it is, of how it is built, and how it can be used.

    Strikes are one form of collective action, an organized withdrawal of labor. The strike is designed to generate leverage that can compel action on the part of other actors—almost always, an employer. (Strikes can also be against the government, but most often they are against the government as employer—think of the Teacher Spring Strikes or safety strikes against government compelling teachers to provide in-person education in unsafe conditions.) Consequently, strikes almost always come with specific demands, and the leverage they generate is used to achieve as much of those demands as is feasible.

    Strikes can have a symbolic component, an assertion of dignity by the strikers. Think, for example, of the 1968 sanitation workers strike in Memphis, with the famous picket sign "I Am A Man." (Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 while supporting that strike.) The most powerful strikes have this component. But the symbolic component of a strike does not exist on its own: it rests on the foundation of the actual demands. In the case of the Memphis sanitation strike, the demands about the terms and conditions of work gave meaning and content to the assertion of dignity. Once this symbolic statement has been made, a decision to remain on strike should be based on what can be done to create maximum leverage and win as much of the demands as possible.

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  • Willie Sutton In China

    Written on July 20, 2010

    When asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, convicted bank robber Willie Sutton famously replied, "because that’s where the money is." While Sutton later denied making the remark, it was such a fabulously duh response to a dumb question that the medical profession later adopted "Sutton's Law" to describe the principle of "going straight to the most likely diagnosis."

    So, what has this got to do with China? Well, in a recent Financial Times article, we learn that the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), fresh from its disastrous showing at the Honda strike (where its minions were videotaped beating up striking ACFTU members), has turned its attention to foreign-owned investment banks.

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  • What's Next For China's Workers

    Written on July 14, 2010

    China's workers burst into the world headlines again recently (see here, here, here, and here, for example)—taking to the streets to protest wages and working conditions, and exciting speculation about the possible political, social, and economic implications. Strikes and protests by Chinese workers are increasingly common. The Economist, citing an official Chinese publication, reported that "labor disputes in Guangdong in the first quarter of 2009 had risen by nearly 42 percent over the same period in 2008...." (These are government numbers, so the real numbers are likely to be even higher.)

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