There are plenty of songs that capture aspects of the labor movement: Judy Collins’ “Bread and Roses,” whose lyrics were inspired by a labor leader’s speech; Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” a meditation on working-class struggles – even Snow White’s “Whistle While You Work,” which offers a cheery take on getting through one’s daily chores.
This year, there’s another tune to consider adding to the canon: Rihanna’s “Work,” a catchy dance hall single whose looping repetitions of its title phrase evoke the endless monotony of the modern job.
Indeed, many workers today feel that it’s all “work, work, work, work, work, work” – with little payoff. While the stock market has been climbing for years, wages are only beginning to creep up. Unemployment is down, but many remain out of the workforce. And organized labor, which historically has improved working conditions and given employees a greater voice in negotiations with managers and owners, is mired in a long-term decline dating back to the Reagan administration.
And yet unions are still critical players, especially in a labor-friendly state like New York. In this special edition, City & State reports on the the role of organized labor in the construction industry, at the ballot box, and in broader policy matters like raising the minimum wage.