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Estlund, Cynthia. Working Together: Crossing Color Lines at Work
2005, Labor History. 46 (1):79-98
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Added by: Deryn Mair Thomas
Abstract: Amidst signs of declining social capital, the typical workplace is a hotbed of sociability and cooperation. And in a still-segregated society, the workplace is where adults are most likely to interact across color lines. The convergence of close interaction and some racial diversity makes the workplace a crucial institution within a diverse democratic society. Paradoxically, the involuntariness of workplace associations—the compulsion of economic necessity, of managerial authority, and of law—helps to facilitate constructive interaction among diverse co-workers. Where racial diversity is a fact of organizational life (and the law can help to make it so), then employers and workers have their own powerful reasons—psychological and economic—to make those relationships constructive, even amicable. I contend here that it is where we are compelled to get along, and not where we choose to do so, that we can best advance the project of racial integration.

Comment: This text raises interesting questions about the relationship between diverse workplaces and democratic practices, and in particular, makes an interesting argument about the implications for racial integration. It can therefore be used to prompt students to think generally about democratic political structures, citizenship, and equality, while also encouraging discussion in particular about the role that work plays in promoting good civic practices.

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Shelby, Tommie. Justice, Work, and the Ghetto Poor
2012, The Law and Ethics of Human Rights. 6 (1): 69-96
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Added by: Deryn Mair Thomas
Abstract: In view of the explanatory significance of joblessness, some social scientists, policymakers, and commentators have advocated strong measures to ensure that the ghetto poor work, including mandating work as a condition of receiving welfare benefits. Indeed, across the ideological political spectrum, work is often seen as a moral or civic duty and as a necessary basis for personal dignity. And this normative stance is now instantiated in federal and state law, from the tax scheme to public benefits. This Article reflects critically on this new regime of work. I ask whether the normative principles to which its advocates typically appeal actually justify the regime. I conclude that the case for a pro tanto moral or civic duty to work is not as strong as many believe and that there are reasonable responses to joblessness that do not involve instituting a work regime. However, even if we grant that there is a duty to work, I maintain that the ghetto poor would not be wronging their fellow citizens were they to choose not to work and to rely on public funds for material support. In fact, I argue that many among the black urban poor have good reasons to refuse to work. Throughout, I emphasize what too few advocates of the new work regime do, namely, that whether work is an obligation depends crucially on whether background social conditions within the polity are just.

Comment: This text is useful for several reasons. First, it introduces an argument examining a civic obligation to work; second, it discusses that obligation in relation to structural injustices regarding socio-economic and racial inequality. It can be used to discuss the intersection of these topics more generally, or to further discuss philosophical questions concerning who should have access to good work and why.

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