Workers fighting for the future want a lot more than fair wagesOn November 17, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
These protests have been called a modern day French Revolution. Every weekend since November 2018, thousands of people have been gathering in the streets of France. These are working class French people, from the left and right, and they aren’t really happy
about life right now. They call themselves the Gilets Jaunes and are actually part of a bigger,
more global trend. Workers in many countries are coming together across industries. And, yes, they’re fighting for better wages and working conditions. But they’re also fighting for better schools, climate change, racial injustice, gender equality, connecting these issues back to the
economics of our working lives. So we went from France to the US to find out what the future o labor might look like. I’m Molly Rubin, this is Quartz. Subscribe to the Quartz channel. First, a bit of history. A century ago, labor in the US pretty much looked like this. The factories that sprang up in the industrial era were really dangerous and full of toxic fumes. Workers needed to organize to protect themselves from literally dying on the job. They formed unions to bargain with employers for specific, work-related improvements: safer conditions, higher wages, better hours. Fast forward to today and labor now looks more like this. – Our ideas of who goes to work are changing. This is Sarah Jaffe, a journalist and author who has been studying labor and grassroots movements for over a decade. – This idea of the white man industrial worker with a wife at home taking care of his kids doesn’t work anymore. And it doesn’t work in part because the workforce and the workplace is changing. Sarah says today’s labor movements recognize that improving conditions for all workers means addressing racism, sexism, and other prejudice. And they’re organizing in a world where the workplace itself is more nebulous, made up of gig economy workers, freelancers, and service employees. And it’s shaped by new technology and it’s competing with automation. It’s a lot more difficult for an individual Uber driver or temp worker to come together to ask for better wages.
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But that’s what’s been happening in France. France is no stranger to protest movements. What makes the Yellow Vests different is how they’re organized—— organically, on social media, across the political spectrum. The yellow vests are a symbol of working people in the country, literally. Anyone who drives a car, whether you’re a cab driver or a teacher getting to school, you are required to keep one of these vests in your car. It started out as a protest against a planned gas tax increase, but expanded to include everything from homelessness to education to environmental policy to healthcare. And they’ve made these demands in the context of improving workers’ lives. These kinds of wide-ranging demands are a hallmark of many recent protest movements, from Occupy Wall St to #MeToo, with activists connecting demands they once fought for separately. Like climate change and workers rights. – We are a movement of young people to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. Aracely Jiminez is part of the Sunrise Movement, a group working to build support for the Green New Deal. – The Green New Deal is not one thing, that is the whole point of the model of the Green New Deal. It was a whole package of policies that transformed an economy and
transformed people’s lives. – So why is investing in renewable energy a good thing for labor? – Well, it means jobs are definitely more stable, it means you have a more stable income, it means that jobs in renewable energy aren’t going to give you terminal or chronic illnesses. Sunrise activists came together
to fight against climate change, but have expanded the movement with demands ranging from indigenous rights to stronger labor laws. Also in the US, the Red for Ed movement started with
things many teachers unions fight for: smaller class sizes, better wages, more resources. – Investing in education is critical to every issue in this country: crime reduction, to closing the wealth gap, to competing internationally, to everything. And they’re organizing outside their unions. It’s not just teachers who are here today, It’s parents, students, construction workers, retirees. – Have you ever participated in a rally
or protest like this before? – No I have not. – No this is my first time. – This is the first time. – Now is the time to ride this wave and to build on the power that’s already been created by other movements across the country. A broad message is great to bring people in, but it also hurts these movements because it makes it hard to understand what they’re really asking for. How can you accomplish anything when you’re asking for everything? Without a concrete goal or real leadership, the Yellow Vests’ momentum has slowed, and the movement could end up just fizzling out like Occupy Wall St did. The lack of a coherent mission also means their message has been hijacked by political groups on the far-right and far-left, who both claim solidarity with the protesters. The Yellow Vest movement has also been criticized for its violence and
vandalism in France. – Part of thinking about work and labor and class in a globalized world is also thinking about what it looks like to build international connections, to actually not just be talking about the French setting everything on fire, but actually talking to people who
are involved in these movements. And to be thinking about what the politics we build out of this does. People in other countries have built on what the French did and picked up lessons. They’re even wearing their own yellow vests. Some are asking for broad economic justice, while others are fighting for better climate policies and fighting government corruption. At the core, they all want better working lives. So maybe the legacy of these movements won’t be a specific policy change or law. Maybe, like the fight itself, it’ll be broad and part of a bigger shift in the way we talk about the struggles
of any worker in the world.