Workers' Inquiry: Class War Strategies, San Francisco Zinn Bookfair, 19 Nov 2017

Half Moon Bay Burger King wages

San Francisco's unemployment rate is 2.8%, an all-time low. The causes are various, but it's clearly due to the tech boom and astronomically high housing costs creating a massive labor shortage. This inquiry draws on participants' workplace situation -- borrowing from Silver's Forces of Labor -- to find ways to strengthen workers associational and structural power to leverage this condition for working class advantage.

JOLT (job openings & labor turnover data) based on Bureau of Labor Statistics

We will begin with an informal class composition analysis:

About a third of Americans work either for the government or in the education and health services sectors, which include teachers, doctors, and nurses. Another quarter are in retail, leisure, and hospitality, which includes people working in stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and hotels. An additional 14% are employed in professional and business services, which include employees of law, architecture, and management firms.

In total, 2/3 of American jobs are in the local service sector, and that number has been quietly growing for the past 50 years. Most industrialized nations have a similar percentage of local service jobs. The goods and services in this sector are locally produced and locally consumed and therefore do not face global competition. Although jobs in local services constitute the vast majority of jobs, they are the effect, not the cause, of economic growth. One reason that productivity in local services tend not to change much over time is that it takes the same amount of labor to cut your hair, wait on a table, drive a bus, or teach math as it did 50 years ago.

Productivity in the tech sector increases steadily every year, due to technological changes in the larger society. Historically, wages grew with productivity growth. 50 years ago, manufacturing was the sector driving this growth, that allowed labor organizing to great raise the wages of all American workers, including local service workers. Today, the tech industry is the driver, determining the baseline wages of all American workers, whether they work in tech innovation or not.

The labor shortages in the booming tech industry bring high salaries to the communities where they cluster (another topic, but including "Silicon Forest" in Portland, OR, "Silicon Beach" and the tech/entertainment/media cluster around Santa Monica/Venice/Culver City, CA, biotech in San Diego, "Silicon Alley" in NYC, Research Triangle in North Carolina, Route 128 outside Boston, "Silicon Hills" in Austin, TX, etc., etc.) and their impact on the local economy is much deeper than their direct effect. Housing costs shoot up astronomically, making survival more difficult for the working class in all other sectors.

Attracting a scientist or a software engineer to a city triggers a multiplier effect, increasing employment and salaries for those who provide local services. For each new software designer hired at Twitter in San Francisco, there are 5 new job openings for baristas, personal trainers, doctors, and taxi drivers. The multiplier effect also drove the rise of app-based gig economy services provide by new tech exploiters of those working under the legal fiction of being "independent contractors," like Uber, Lyft, Task Rabbit, Doordash, Postmates, etc., etc.

Tech will never be responsible for the majority of jobs in the U.S., but it has had a disproportionate effect on the economy of American cities affected by the recent boom. Most sectors have a multiplier effect, but the tech sector has the largest multiplier of all: about 3 times larger than manufacturing.

Our workshop will use Beverly Silver's analysis of workers power to strategize a fightback and ways to leverage the current labor shortages -- especially marketplace bargaining power -- to push for a class struggle response to the tech boom in cities like San Francisco. But we need to rethink ways to take the class war on the offensive everywhere.

Workers' Inquiry: Class War Strategies Against Bay Area Boom, a Participatory Workshop

Ricardo Flores Magon Room (316)

2:45 - 3:45 p.m.

Howard Zinn Book Fair 2017: The World We Want
Mission Campus, City College of San Francisco
1125 Valencia Street
November 19th, 2017
10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

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Nov 19 2017 16:31


  • The multiplier effect: for each new high-tech job in a city, five additional jobs are ultimately created outside the high-tech sector." -- Enrico Moretti

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