Episode

5/5 The Forgotten Heroes Of U.S. Labor History w/ Kim Kelly & Jessica Cisneros

May 5, 2022

Emma hosts Kim Kelly, labor reporter and columnist at Teen Vogue, to discuss her recent book Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor. Then Emma is joined by Jessica Cisneros, candidate for Congress in Texas’s 28th Congressional District, to give us an update from the campaign trail. Kim Kelly begins by just situating the current state of the labor movement, particularly coming off of her reporting from Bessemer, Alabama, and reflecting on the differences between that Amazon unionization effort and the success we’ve seen in Staten Island recently, before she and Emma get into the importance of looking to labor history for lessons from past organizers and past victories. Next, they get into the mythological image of the American union worker, the older white guy with grease on him, and the electoral fetishization of appealing to him, contrasting this figure with the incredibly diverse makeup of a working class. Kelly then looks to her own connection to organizing, first reflecting on her parent’s union membership and then getting into her first experience unionizing the Vice office back in the early 2010s, becoming only the second digital media union, and seeing firsthand how unions can achieve incredible things for their workers, from accessible and gender-affirming care to reasonable wages and myriad other material changes. She and Emma then jump back to 1824 discussing the first factory strike in US history, by young women in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, as a first example of how unionization is both not a white male activity, and is incredibly effective at lifting those who are viewed as easily exploitable into positions of leverage and safety, looking to more contemporary examples of Flight Attendants as well, before looking to how executives use different racial and cultural groups to divide workers. Moving to the turn of the century, they first discuss the mass strikes of washerwomen in Atlanta during the 1881 Cotton Exposition as they get into a discussion on the segregation of the labor movement, looking also to the brotherhood of sleeping car porters (the first AFL-recognized Black union), and the Philly local aid chapter of the IWW (the first nationally recognized interracial union), before they shift slightly to the large-scale women’s organizing movement like the uprising of the 20,000 in NYC, discussing the paths they inspired including the impact of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory pushing one of the biggest engineers, Frances Perkins, of social security and the New Deal deeper into the realm of organizing. Moving to the West Coast, Kim and Emma discuss how the 1940s saw sugar cane plantations in Hawaii continuously shift between targeted immigrant communities, dropping one and looking to another as each organized themselves (before working together), and dive into the “Ya Basta!” movement for janitors in CA, before wrapping up by touching on the current state of the NLRB and the inspiration we can find in (certain places of) the Biden Administration. Emma also chats with Jessica Cisneros on fighting for workers and a progressive agenda when up against an anti-choice Democrat in Texas.

And in the Fun Half: Emma is joined by Matt and Brandon as they dive into Jordan Peterson’s most recent tear-shedding event, Matt explores the tension at Peterson’s speech at a bitcoin conference, and they discuss Starbucks pivoting to what workers really want (NFTs for mid-level management… and also lower pay for union workers). Karoline Leavitt goes on Newsmax to discuss the feminine urge to invest in local politics, Ben from Staten Island calls in on the future of reproductive rights, and the crew watches JJ Redick absolutely roast the Mad Dog on First Take. They also touch on the Madison Cawthorn leaks, plus, your calls and IMs!

Check out Kim’s book here: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Fight-Like-Hell/Kim-Kelly/9781982171056

Donate to Jessica’s campaign here: https://jessicacisnerosforcongress.com/

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