Sep 12, 2022·edited Sep 12, 2022Liked by Leah Libresco Sargeant

1. I worked in legal aid for a number of years and cannot emphasize how important union organizing was to making that work sustainable. Having group solidarity about what we could reasonably take on, what wages were fair, and plans about how to take increasingly creative actions before hitting the point of a strike were really helpful. We never had to strike, and didn’t always get what we wanted from management, but we ensured certain basic protections for staff that ultimately made the work more sustainable for individuals and the org over the long run.

2. I like your earlier suggestion about compensation for caretakers as support we give for to people maintaining the social fabric. In terms of how we teach people to value that, I think that’s hard from a secular political perspective. I’ve often thought that a national year of service could be really helpful for this kind of thing — before college young adults would have to do some kind of military/CCC/AmeriCorps program. People really tend not to understand or value human vulnerability and interdependence until they’re in the thick of confronting it in person, and if they don’t get that through their community or faith they may just… not get it for a long time. Not saying it would fix everything, but placing young people in positions where they’ll encounter this stuff could at least be a start.

Expand full comment
Sep 12, 2022·edited Sep 12, 2022Liked by Leah Libresco Sargeant

I work for a public community college, so our union contract has a "no strike/no lockout" clause. It wasn't until that job that I'd heard the term "work to rule," but that's a one-step-below-striking labor tactic where you theoretically do *only* the list of responsibilities in your contract, no more - so for faculty, for instance, that looks like all the mechanics of prepping, teaching, and grading a class, but not (for example) checking your email outside of work hours; there's also a lot of voting to adjourn staff meetings right after they begin. It's very much not a perfect solution: there's a lot of disagreement about what to do about things that help students but are non-contractual work (for example, writing recommendation letters), a certain amount of feeling at my workplace that WTR benefits some union positions more than others (because of some differences in how the faculty and staff responsibilities break down), and I feel (though mine isn't a universal opinion) that WTR added to the damage and mistrust in the relationship between our faculty/staff and our management. But it can be a way to get people's attention, and it is the closest you can get to a strike if you can't legally strike. So that's a half-answer to your question, because I think there may well be a better model of organization than that; but it's the best I've actually *seen.*

Expand full comment

Individually, a worker can't just walk away from their work - but collectively they can and should to protect their wellbeing and, critically, the well being of the people they care for.

This morning, for instance, 15,000 nurses went on strike across the state of Minnesota. It's the largest private nurses strike in US history. Notice was given, as is required by law, and the employer is absorbing the cost of staffing positions on short notice. While wages are part of the issue, safe staffing is a major factor in the contract negotiations, as is frequently the case in care work contracts. When your nurse is handling more patients than she/he can safely, *your* health is at stake.

Similarly, when the Minneapolis teachers went on strike earlier this year, major issues were class size caps and mental health support for students.

I very much believe strikes - collectively withholding labor - is as vital a tactic in care work scenarios as in any other workplace.

I also think that can absolutely be the case for care work at home as well. Look at the impact of the Women's Strike of Iceland in October 1975 - the case can be made that that single day did more for women's rights (in Iceland) than any other action. Again, it was collective action for collective change - the power of solidarity to change systems and improve society.

Expand full comment
Sep 18, 2022Liked by Leah Libresco Sargeant

1. I think one thing that careworkers do have is the power to make new institutions. Since careworkers don't have "b*****t jobs", they are the institution. One can't, for example, have a medical practice without doctors/nurses. Similarly, a pre-school doesn't exist without preschool teachers. Admin in such places does real work to keep the institution running, but at the end of the day admin fulfills an ancillary role for the institution. It would be possible for a group of doctors to walk away from a poorly run/exploitive institution and start their own practice. In contrast, the administration cannot walk away from the doctors and still have a medical practice.

2. Doing what is described in 1. is possible but obviously hard. There are tangible matters of obtaining funding and resources for such a venture that usually require outside help and partnering. Likely caregivers founding a new institution have to learn new administrative skills. That said, it would be wonderful to see advocacy and grant giving foundations provide resources for caregivers to found healthier institutions.

3. I wonder if having the people who run an institution be required to be a careworker as well (obviously giving them time for their admin duties) would lead to healthier institutions. If one has to live under a bad policy one created, maybe one is more motivated or clear sighted at how to fix that policy.

4. I don't offer this suggestion because I think it is the only route for caretakers to advocate for themselves, but it is still a route.

Expand full comment