October 11, 2018

Five Principles for Engagement on the Future of Work(ers) and Two Big Ideas

In these videos, Sarita Gupta (Jobs with Justice) talks about collective bargaining and the future of work and Michelle Miller (Coworker.org) describes the concept of “surveillance capitalism” and data generated by workers. Please watch and share these videos! 

Below, Emma Oppenheim (Open Society Foundations) and José García (Ford Foundation) share how they're thinking about the future of workers.

The future of work is everywhere. Between the two of us, we’ve attended countless conferences, meetings, report releases, or other future of work-themed events. In philanthropy, many of us are grappling with the changing nature of the economy and employment, and how it intersects with our programmatic priorities. The terrain is shifting quickly as new research is released and advancements are announced, and it can be hard to keep up with the ongoing conversations.

As members of Funders for a Just Economy (FJE), a program of the Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG), we’re coming together to track this arena, better described for our purposes as the future of workers, as a group—no one should have to do this work alone!

We think that two practices are missing from philanthropy’s approach to the future of workers. The first is a set of principles to guide our analysis as we drink from the proverbial firehose of information. We echo our colleague, Beth Gutelius', proposal of a set of principles for engagement:

  1. Change is certain, but its path is not. Many observers of the coming changes are quick to repeat dystopian predictions of mass unemployment and robot takeovers. Let us be clear that humans create technology, just as humans create policy and humans decide what is socially and economically acceptable in our society. There are myriad ways we can and should consider shaping the process of technological change as it plays out, and funders can play an important role in encouraging a thousand flowers to bloom in this arena.
  2. The effects of technological change will be uneven across race, gender, immigration status, and geography. These disparate impacts should occupy a central place in our analysis of proposed interventions.
  3. We can think about the future of work as another form of a just transition. In the climate change realm, this term means building a system to replace our current resource extraction and consumption culture with healthy, sustainable, vibrant, non-extractive economic and social opportunities. In the world of work, we can borrow a just transition framework, which will involve more forms of technology and change jobs and industries. The results of this shift—both positive and negative—will not be spread evenly. Funders are well positioned to support groups that are organizing and advocating for innovative policy solutions come from this framework.
  4. The role of the public sector will be crucial in setting and enforcing workplace standards and delivering social protections. Especially after the recent SCOTUS decision in Janus v. AFSCME, there is no other institution better positioned to provide common frameworks and accountability measures for the employment relationship. Innovation and expansion of a range of crucial benefits will be important, including making programs more flexible and robust enough to meet the realities of the modern economy.
  5. Those workers most affected by an issue should be involved in shaping any proposal or campaign to address it, and the process should help build workers’ voice and agency to act. There are many ideas floating around that might improve the lives of workers, but workers themselves know best what they need, and those on the front lines, especially immigrants, trans and queer workers, women, and workers of color, should help to shape both policy and workplace conditions so that they are tailored for their reality.

In addition to a set of principles, we believe we must continue to grapple with these issues through regular meetings, conversations, and shared learning, or risk allowing others to continue to frame both the problem statement and the solution sets on the table. As a network with over 100 members and a long history of helping funders engage in collective learning and analysis, FJE is well positioned to play this role, and indeed is already stepping in to address this gap.

Last summer, FJE convened its members for an initial dive into the future of work to discern areas of overlapping interest. This year, FJE hosted a series of virtual conversations about prominent topics in the future of work swirl, like technology and automation, universal basic income, and laws that limit protections for platform company workers. We presented a workshop on the evolving worker justice movement during the NFG biennial conference in St. Louis, MO. And, we partnered with Sarita Gupta of Jobs with Justice and Michelle Miller of Coworker.org to hear their biggest ideas about the future of workers, the changing nature of employment, and where they see the worker justice movement heading. All of these activities helped to move us, collectively, toward a more nuanced understanding of the change underway.

We’ll undertake this collective work with a commitment to curiosity, adopting the framework of the five principles for engagement as a north star of sorts to help us assess information, proposals, and arguments about the future of work. We invite you to join us on this exploration!


 

Emma Oppenheim is program officer for economic advancement with the Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs. She manages a grant-making portfolio that seeks to build an economy governed by policies that promote equitable growth and just distribution of resources, as well as a portfolio focused on strategies that harness technology to build the power, reach, and sustainability of organizing and advocacy.

José García is a program officer on the Future of Work team at the Ford Foundation. The Future of Work team seeks to bridge the gaps between consumers’ hopes and needs, workers’ experiences, changing business models, evolving technology, and political strategies, with an eye to shaping a collective agenda. By bringing together unlikely partners, José and the team aims to seed strong coalitions that can devise powerful solutions to the challenges wrought by the changing nature of work today.

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September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


  

Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!

 
August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Dimple was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


  

Dimple AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.