Shaun Richman

Shaun Richman is Program Director at the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies at SUNY Empire State College.

Recent Articles

Take This Bullshit Job and Pretend to Love It

David Graeber's new book explores why millions of people's labor seems divorced from meaning or value.  

The British economist Joan Robinson once remarked, “The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all.” What kind of misery is it, then, if your particular form of exploitation is being asked to do nothing particularly useful? David Graeber explores this question in his thought-provoking and hilarious new book, Bullshit Jobs . Five years ago, he wrote an essay for the radical magazine Strike! , asking why people in the United States and England are not working the 15-hour weeks that John Maynard Keynes had predicted would be the result of technological advancement? In our post-scarcity society, he argued, only a tiny fraction of the population actually has to labor in order to provide for the material needs of all. “It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working,” he wrote. The essay went viral. Millions of people read it and thousands wrote...

Republicans Are Hard at Work to Turn Staten Island Blue

The Trump faithful in the only GOP quadrant of New York City may go for an ex-con Steve Bannon guy in June’s Republican primary.

(Dennis Van Tine/Sipa USA via AP Images)
Is Donald Trump an albatross around the neck of congressional Republicans? By appealing to his base and embracing the polarizing strategies that he has brought to new heights, will they cost themselves the last few swing districts in Trump-abhorring blue states? We New Yorkers might have the best view of the GOP’s struggle to stay afloat in America’s big cities right here on Staten Island. Republican Dan Donovan, who has represented New York’s 11th Congressional District for all of a term and a half, is in the fight of his political life in the June 26 GOP primary. Our ex-con ex-Congressman, Republican Michael Grimm—fresh out of jail—is running against Donovan to reclaim his old job. Grimm has gone full fascist in order to win the backing of former White House consigliere Stephen Bannon, as part of Bannon’s effort to destroy what’s left of the Republican establishment. Grimm gushed over Bannon’s early and enthusiastic endorsement. His...

Company Towns Are Still with Us

And as unions’ difficulties in organizing auto plants make clear, where a company dominates the town, unionization is really hard.

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
On a May morning in 1920, a train pulled into town on the Kentucky–West Virginia border. Its passengers included a small army of armed private security guards, who had been dispatched to evict the families of striking workers at a nearby coal mine. Meeting them at the station were the local police chief—a Hatfield of the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud—and several out-of-work miners with guns. The private dicks and the local militia produced competing court orders. The street erupted in gunfire. When the smoke cleared, ten men lay dead—including two striking miners, the town mayor, and seven of the hired guns. The striking miners had worked for the Stone Mountain Coal Company, in mines located outside the city limits of Matewan. There, they rented homes that were owned by their employer, shopped at a general store that was owned by their employer, and paid in a company-generated form of “cash” that could only be spent at that company store. When they...

Want to Really Help Workers? Protect their Speech!

Americans’ First Amendment rights should apply to American workers. 

AP Photo/Mike Groll
When does free speech stop being free? At the entranceway of one's job, apparently. That was the implication of a ruling this month from the Eighth Circuit Court, which found that the sandwich conglomerate Jimmy John’s was within its rights to fire six employees for making signs that protested the company’s policy of forcing workers to come to work when ill. While the decision came as a surprise to many, the logic underlying it—that employees have few, if any, free speech protections on the job—has had devastating impacts on American workers for decades. Indeed, the dramatic drop in union representation is due in part to the fact that our court system regulates employees’ ability to organize by the impact of their organizing on businesses’ bottom line, devoid of any concern for the free speech or civil rights of workers. Until we ensure that freedom of speech extends to the workplace, workers and the labor movement writ large will continue to suffer...