How suburban design may contribute to a lack of union organization

As part of a larger article about why the large number of unemployed Americans “became invisible,” the suburbs may be part of the problem:

Workers have also become suburbanized. Back in the 1960s or even the 1980s, the unemployed organized around welfare or unemployment offices. It was a fertile environment: people were anxious and tired and waiting for hours in line.

“We stood outside of these offices, with their huge lines, and passed out leaflets that said things like: ‘If you’re upset about what’s happening to you, come to this meeting at this church basement in two weeks. We’ll get together and do something about this,’ ” recalls Barney Oursler, a longtime community organizer and co-founder of the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee in the early 1980s. “The response just made your heart get big. ‘Oh, my God,’ they’d say, ‘I thought I was alone.’ ”

The Mon Valley Unemployed Committee, which is based in Pittsburgh, helped organize workers in 26 cities across five states, simply by hanging around outside unemployment offices and harnessing the frustration.

Today, though, many unemployment offices have closed. Jobless benefits are often handled by phone or online rather than in person. An unemployment call center near Mr. Oursler, for instance, now sits behind two sets of locked doors and frosted windows.

More broadly, this could be attributed to a decrease in geographically-based relationships. With decentralized residences and workplaces, people gather around different features than the neighborhood block.

Interestingly, the next paragraph of the story talks about how workers in other countries have tried to mobilize online. If you don’t live near your former co-workers or if you do but don’t really interact with them, perhaps you would be willing to join a Facebook group or sign an online petition to further your collective interests.

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