Urban and Urbanization

After zombies: Notes on labor union and municipal renewal

If the new neoliberalism leans ever more into failure and ‘dead’ economic ideas, it also relies on the estrangement and exhaustion of its subjects, who have been depleted in the wreckage of protracted austerity; crisis as stasis. Yet, even as ‘zombie neoliberalism’ threatens to make zombies of us, teacher unionists across the U.S. organize for a more vibrant future. Turning to the case of Newark, NJ, this article shows how teachers have embraced a strategy not of bypassing or abolishing the institutions most hollowed out by neoliberal market rule but of taking these institutions over and imagining them anew. To illustrate, I show how teachers scale up campaigns from the teachers’ union to the classroom to the city, insisting each time that renewal and reckoning can transform these spaces into something more liberatory. Yet, teachers also encounter a depth of institutional inertia, detachment, and repression for which they are unprepared. The article argues that the zombie conjuncture requires an oppositional strategy of its own, one attuned to the numbing effects of crisis and the difficulties of working with the tools at hand, which have been thoroughly dulled.

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Volume 41 Issue 4

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