How might organized labor be engaged in ending mass incarceration? One approach is to emphasize how carceral labor is exploited as a substitute for rights-bearing “free labor." But the mere threat of substitution does not ensure solidarity. A more promising avenue is to consider how carcerality itself extends into so-called "free" labor markets. Under this "carceral labor continuum," anti-carceral unionism emerges not from broad concerns over economic substitution but instead from the practical demands of workplace organizing.
Two different mortal threats to democracy have been on vivid display this past year: Trump’s January 6 insurrection and the Supreme Court’s rampage through statutory and constitutional law. Considering these events on split-screen raises some uncomfortable questions about LPE analysis of democracy, law, and courts. In particular, certain law-is-just-politics views deployed to dismiss the Court seem to foreclose criticism of Trump’s attempted coup as lawless. More generally, for democratic institutions to assert and receive primacy requires some conception of law that does not just dissolve back into “politics.”
Employers wield power over workers by virtue of control over their institutional status and not solely, or even principally, by virtue of the power to cut off wages. Yet, in attempting to distinguish "status" and "economic" coercion, we must avoid the idea that status is implicitly non-economic and the economy operates apart from the social.
Luke Herrine, Noah Zatz, Veena Dubal, Blake Emerson, Diana Reddy, Nate Holdren, Caroline Grueskin, and Charlotte Garden offer their initial reactions to the Court's decision blocking OSHA's vaccine-or-test mandate.
Embracing the terms “economy” and “political economy,” as LPE has done, risks – unless we are careful – invoking just the kind of separate, reified realm that we are trying to critique. In our view, defining “the economy,” and studying how legal institutions have done so, should be central issues that LPE scholarship aims to address.
The threat of precarious work does not come exclusively from marketization swamping a shrinking welfare and regulatory state. It comes as well from a metastasizing and thoroughly racialized carceral state, one that simultaneously speaks the language of public violence and sings in the liberal key of choice. Even critical accounts of the criminal legal system fail to fully capture the relevance of this dynamic, focusing only on how it produces economic exclusion, not also incorporation on subordinated terms.