Wednesday, November 30, 2011


As over 1200 police continue to clear out the occupy encampment in LA, having arrested at this stage over 200 activists, more than two million public sector workers in the UK have engaged in a one day general strike. Rifling through any number of video clips to grasp in some way the scale of the strike, I cam across the following clip of a rally earlier today at George Square in Glasgow, where president of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) Janice Godrich delivered an awe-inspiring speech culminating in a merciless summary of the logic of austerity: "From each according to their vulnerability; to each according to their greed."

Watching Godrich, I'm reminded of a recent article on the rise of women to leadership roles in US labor unions. Troublingly titled "Redefining the Union Boss" (the willful confusion of union leadership with employers is clearly a cheap provocation), the article profiles three women: Sandy Pope who is now competing for against James Hoffa, Jr. for presidency of the Teamsters; Rose Ann Demoro, the executive director of the 170,000 strong National Nurses United; and Mary Kay Henry, the first woman to lead the Service Employees International Union. Likewise, Janice Godrich is the first woman president of the PCS.

Janice Godwin (center) in support of Building Workers, London, July 2010

Somewhat obviously, this shift in leadership coincides with the increasing feminization of labor and here, however scatteredly, I'm reminded now of the essential role women played, and shockingly without the privilege or promise of employment, during the 1972 Brookside Strike documented in Barbara Kople's soul-shattering film Harlan County, USA.

The increase in women union leadership in the Anglophone world with (but likely not proportionate to) the continued (global) feminization of labor also coincides with an increasing radicalization of union activity articulated, one can hope, with a broader shift in consciousness. In any case, if a decisive shift in consciousness is too much to ask for (Prynne: "hope is a stern purpose"), it is enough and really a privilege from this distance to be so moved by the force of ones devotion.