Belabored Podcast #38: Caring for America, with Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein

Subscribe to the Belabored RSS feed here. Subscribe and rate on iTunes here. Check out the full Belabored archive here. Tweet at @dissentmag with #belabored to share your thoughts, or join the conversation on Facebook. Belabored is produced by Natasha Lewis.

This week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Harris v. Quinn, a case that could break public-sector unions around the country. Ostensibly about whether home health care aides can be required to pay their fair share of union representation costs, in reality it’s a much bigger, much scarier story. Sarah and Michelle talk to Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein, the authors of Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State. Boris, the Hull professor and chair of the Department of Feminist Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara, and Klein, Professor of History at Yale University and a co-director of Yale’s Initiative on Labor and Culture, discuss the case, the formation of home care workers’ unions, and the potential ramifications for all public sector workers.

Michelle and Sarah also discuss the NLRB’s complaint against Walmart and strikes at the Pentagon, global inequality and disaster capitalism in New Orleans, and have a spiritually-flavored “Argh! I Wish I’d Written That”.


Pentagon Workers Strike

Feds Charge Walmart With Breaking Labor Law In Black Friday Strikes

Labor wins two rulings, Walmart vows to fight back

7,000 New Orleans Teachers Fired Improperly, Appeals Court Says

Michelle: New Orleans Teachers Get Justice But Schools Still Imperiled By Reform

The Global Elite: Rigging the Rules that Fuel Inequality

Oxfam report: Working for the Few

Interview with Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein:

Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State

Home-Care Workers Aren’t Just “Companions”

Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein’s Amicus Brief for Harris v. Quinn

Areesa Johnson, Illinois Home Health Worker, on Harris v. Quinn

SCOTUSBlog Recaps Arguments in Harris v. Quinn

Labor Finds Unlikely Savior in Scalia

Argh! I wish I’d written that:

Sarah: United Church Ministers Unionize Under Unifor Banner

Michelle: Workers of the World, Faint!

The Last Great Strike - UC Press [Advertisement]

Want to read our Spring issue for free? Sign up for our newsletter by March 31 to receive a full PDF when the issue launches.


The Kurds

[W]hen we refer to all Kurdish fighters synonymously, we simply blur the fact that they have very different politics. . . right now, yes, the people are facing the Islamic State threat, so it’s very important to have a unified focus. But the truth is, ideologically and politically these are very, very different systems. Actually almost opposite to each other. —Dilar Dirik, “Rojava vs. the World,” February 2015

The Kurds, who share ethnic and cultural similarities with Iranians and are mostly Muslim by religion (largely Sunni but with many minorities), have long struggled for self-determination. After World War I, their lands were divided up between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, though there have been small separatist movements, Kurds are mostly subjected to the same repressive treatment as everyone else (though they also face Persian and Shi’ite chauvinism, and a number of Kurdish political prisoners were recently executed). The situation is worse in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, where the Kurds are a minority people subjected to ethnically targeted violations of human rights.  

Iraq: In 1986–89, Saddam Hussein conducted a genocidal campaign in which tens of thousands were murdered and thousands of Kurdish villages destroyed, including by bombing and chemical warfare. After the first Gulf War, the UN sought to establish a safe haven in parts of Kurdistan, and the United States and UK set up a no-fly zone. In 2003, the Kurdish peshmerga sided with the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein. In 2005, after a long struggle with Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurds won constitutional recognition of their autonomous region, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has since signed oil contracts with a number of Western oil companies as well as with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), both clan-based and patriarchal.

Turkey: For much of its modern history, Turkey has pursued a policy of forced assimilation towards its minority peoples; this policy is particularly stringent in the case of the Kurds—until recently referred to as the “mountain Turks”—who make up 20 percent of the total population. The policy has included forced population transfers; a ban on use of the Kurdish language, costume, music, festivals, and names; and extreme repression of any attempt at resistance. Large revolts were suppressed in 1925, 1930, and 1938, and the repression escalated with the formation of the PKK as a national liberation party, resulting in civil war in the Kurdish region from 1984 to 1999.

Syria: Kurds make up perhaps 15 percent of the population and live mostly in the northeastern part of Syria. In 1962, after Syria was declared an Arab republic, a large number of Kurds were stripped of their citizenship and declared aliens, which made it impossible for them to get an education, jobs, or any public benefits. Their land was given to Arabs. The PYD was founded in 2003 and immediately banned; its members were jailed and murdered, and a Kurdish uprising in Qamishli was met with severe military violence by the regime. When the uprising against Bashar al Assad began as part of the Arab Spring, Kurds participated, but after 2012, when they captured Kobani from the Syrian army, they withdrew most of their energy from the war against Assad in order to set up a liberated area. For this reason, some other parts of the Syrian resistance consider them Assad’s allies. The Kurds in turn cite examples of discrimination against them within the opposition.