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Where Is the Organizing Energy?

Starbucks employee Tim Swicord and Gailyn Berg pose for a portrait outside of a Starbucks in Springfield, Va on April 13, 2022. (Michael A. McCoy for NPR)

As I’ve stated in multiple places, the real organizing energy is in performatively liberal companies where college-educated (at least in part) workers are empowered, angry, and treated like crap at work. While this Times piece doesn’t put it quite this way, it is basically what is going on here.

Over the past decade-and-a-half, many young, college-educated workers have faced a disturbing reality: that it was harder for them to reach the middle class than for previous generations. The change has had profound effects — driving shifts in the country’s politics and mobilizing employees to demand fairer treatment at work. It may also be giving the labor movement its biggest lift in decades.

Members of this college-educated working class typically earn less money than they envisioned when they went off to school. “It’s not like anyone is expecting to make six figures,” said Tyler Mulholland, who earns about $23 an hour as a sales lead at REI, the outdoor equipment retailer, and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. “But when it’s snow storming at 11:30 at night, I don’t want to have to think, ‘Is the Uber home going to make a difference in my weekly budget?’”

In many cases, the workers have endured bouts of unemployment. After Clint Shiflett, who holds an associate degree in computer science, lost his job installing satellite dishes in early 2020, he found a cheaper place to live and survived on unemployment insurance for months. He was eventually hired at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, where he initially made about $17.50 an hour working the overnight shift.

And they complain of being trapped in jobs that don’t make good use of their skills. Liz Alanna, who holds a bachelor’s in music education and a master’s in opera performance, began working at Starbucks while auditioning for music productions in the early 2010s. She stayed with the company to preserve her health insurance after getting married and having children.

This is one of the very real positive impacts of the Bernie campaigns. These are Bernie’s people in a nutshell. They are young, they are angry, and they are determined to make a change. This is a very positive way to make that change. It also doesn’t fit a Marxist ideal of a working class, but who cares? That stuff is pretty meaningless anyway. Let’s support organizing wherever it happens. If it’s college educated gender non-binary kids with tattoos and piercings and tri-colored hair, well, great! They are also the working class in a service economy that has burdened them with gigantic student debt.

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