Sara Horowitz, who has deep family ties to traditional labor organizing, has resurrected and modernized a nineteenth century form of labor organizing—the mutual aid society—and updated it for today’s freelance workers. Through advocacy, education, and the provision of services (particularly health insurance), the Freelancers Union offers a path forward for workers who lack established identities and benefits derived from being employees of a particular firm.
A Relevant Past for the Digital Age? A Conversation about the Burdens and Promises of Labor History for Today
This “panel” will be more of an experimental dialogue, a public discussion, between one of the most innovative labor organizers today, Sara Horowitz of the Freelancers Union, and a leading scholar of labor history, Jefferson Cowie.
Starting with some opening thoughts from the two participants, we will then move to an open, dynamic, and wide-ranging discussion about the tensions between labor’s past and its future—seen especially through questions of digital labor. Following our dialogue, we will plenty of time for questions from the audience. The focus of our attention will be on a series of questions: What might be useful to resurrect? What is holding things back? How has labor’s success limited its future? What’s new about alt-labor? What are the “suppressed historical alternatives” (as Barrington Moore put it) that we might begin to think about using to re-imagine a path forward in the present? What is genuinely new and what might have historical analogues?
The two panelists are primed to answer these questions by combining academic research and innovations in on-the-ground organizing experience.