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Labor Imperialism Redux? The AFL-CIO’s Foreign Policy Since 1995

Throughout much of its history, the AFL-CIO has carried out a reactionary labor program around the world. It has been unequivocally established that the AFL-CIO has worked to overthrow democratically-elected governments, collaborated with dictators against progressive labor movements, and supported reactionary labor movements against progressive governments.1 In short, the AFL-CIO has practiced what we can accurately call “labor imperialism.” The appellation “AFL-CIA” has accurately represented reality and has not been left-wing paranoia.

Dressing the Wound: Organizing Informal Sector Workers

Neoliberal capitalism, which has dominated the world’s economies for the past thirty years, has been disastrous for the exploited and oppressed masses. Not only have workers been increasingly oppressed, but the nature of the work they do has changed dramatically. While organized workers try to remain on their feet, production moves to the unorganized sectors. The production process is dispersed to small-sized enterprises. Outsourcing has spread so much that millions of workers bring their work home to continue production for their factories. Employment without insurance no longer constitutes an exception, but has become the norm. A worker with insurance is considered to be lucky. The number of unorganized women and child workers has increased rapidly. Working hours and labor laws have become more “flexible.” Order-based production has destroyed job security. Full-time, regular employment has been gradually replaced by part-time, temporary, and precarious work. Thus, the informal sector (which encompasses child labor, migrant workers, temporary workers, contract workers, domestic workers, homeworkers, and workers in small production units and subcontractor firms) has become more and more prevalent around the world

Guantánamo and the New Legal Order

The “war against terrorism” has provided all executive branches of the leading Western governments with a perfect opportunity to make some deep adjustments to society. These changes are so far-reaching that they approach a shedding of the old political regime. We in the West are witnessing a reversal of the role of criminal procedure right across the board. Its usual function-to guarantee fundamental freedoms and cap the powers of police and government-is morphing into the opposite, a suspension of constitutional order. By extending exceptional proceedings to all stages of the criminal process-from inquiry to trial-private life is being invaded and the expression of public freedoms chilled. The antiterrorist legislation is explicitly political, and the subjectivity of its approach leaves significant room for interpretation. The arbitrary nature of the antiterrorist measures comes out particularly clearly in the lists of individuals and organizations officially labeled as “terrorists.” Being listed means that one can legally be subjected to measures such as close-up surveillance, violation of the privacy of all means of communication from mail to electronic, and having bank accounts frozen

Empire—American as Apple Pie

The Bush administration’s denial of imperial ambitions clashes not only with what most of the world sees as this nation’s unprovoked aggression in Iraq and drive for global domination. It also departs from U.S. tradition established in the early years of the republic and the colonial era that preceded it

Report from Venezuela: Aluminum Workers Choose Their Managers and Increase Production

Alcasa, a state-owned aluminum processing plant in the southeastern state of Bolívar, has long been an important employer in a region where the lion’s share of Venezuela’s mining and processing plants are located. Yet since the mid-1990s it has been plagued by inefficiency and corruption. According to Trino Silva, secretary general of the union, Alcasa’s production has been in “the red” for the past sixteen years. Though the aluminum they produce is in high demand and despite considerable production increases over the past few years, the company has been unable to turn a profit. Silva blames a corrupt factory management that used Alcasa as its piggy bank throughout the 1990s, all the while holding the threat of privatization over workers’ heads. It was no idle threat. A few miles down the road, SIDOR, one of Latin America’s largest steel plants and long the pride of the state Venezuelan Corporation of Guyana (CVG), was privatized in 1997. From a workforce approaching 20,000 full-time direct employees (with several thousand more contract and temporary workers) in the late 1980s, SIDOR has downsized to only 4,000 direct employees and approximately 6,000 contract workers

April 2005 (Volume 56, Number 11)

April 2005 (Volume 56, Number 11)

Notes from the Editors

Annette Rubinstein’s ninety-fifth birthday will be celebrated on Saturday April 9 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the new home of the Brecht Forum/New York Marxist School, at Westbeth, 451 West Street, at the corner of Bank Street, in Manhattan. We are pleased to join Annette’s family, friends, and comrades in also marking her thirty years of teaching at the Brecht Forum and eighty-five years of conscious socialist practice. Our friends at the Brecht promise refreshments, good music, an interesting program, and lots of fun and joy. For additional information call 212-242-4201 or go to Annette has asked that instead of gifts contributions be made to The Brecht Forum, Inc

A Statistical Portrait of the U.S. Working Class

The biennial State of Working America (hereinafter SWA), written by economists at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., is the best compendium and analysis of U.S. labor market statistics there is.* In one convenient book, there are data on the distribution of income and wealth, all aspects of wages and benefits, employment and unemployment, poverty, regional labor markets, and international labor comparisons. In addition to the data, there are explanations for all of the major labor market trends. Does the stagnating minimum wage contribute to poverty? Is rising wage inequality the result of the growing educational requirements of jobs? Are trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) necessarily good for workers as mainstream economists keep telling us? Why do the wages and incomes of racial and ethnic minorities continue to lag behind those of whites? Does the labor market model of the United States, with its very limited regulation, deliver better results for workers than does the more institutionally-constrained model of most European nations? Mishel, Bernstein, and Allegretto analyze their data using sophisticated statistical techniques to give us answers to these and many other questions. A review of this book, along with some critical commentary, will give readers a good idea of how workers in the United States have been faring and what they can reasonably expect in the future

The Japanese Economy in Structural Difficulties

According to The Annual Economic Fiscal Report (July 2004) prepared by the Ministry of Economic and Fiscal Policy, the Japanese economy is recovering from the prolonged stagnation that began with the bursting of the financial bubble in 1990-91. This recovery started at the beginning of 2002. It is characterized by the restored increase of both profitability and spending on plant and equipment in the private business sector and an increase in demand from abroad, while public spending (like public works) has been rather held down. In the fiscal year 2003 (up through March 2004) for instance, the Japanese real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was said to have grown by 3.2 percent. Contributions to this growth rate came from the growth of domestic demand in the private sector (2.9 percent) and the growth of foreign demand (0.8 percent), offset by a mild decline in government spending (minus 0.6 percent). The annualized rate of GDP growth in the quarter January-March 2004 was said to have reached 5.6 percent and especially encouraged the official expectation of a strong economic recovery

Targeting Disability

In addition to old-age benefits, it is often forgotten that Social Security provides survivor and disability insurance protections as well. The privatization debate has overlooked the fate of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) as a part of the program’s family of benefits

Welcome to Wal-Mart: Always Low Prices, Always Low Wages

Liza Featherstone, Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 282 pages, cloth $25.00.

In 1999, Wal-Mart became the largest private employer in the world. If it were a country, its annual sales would make it approximately the twentieth largest economy. The company is notoriously anti-union, but it has become increasingly a focus of attention for the labor movement around the world. Recent proposals by U.S. unions regarding major changes in direction have included a proposal for a $25 million per year Wal-Mart campaign. These are only some of the reasons why Liza Featherstone’s Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart is a timely and necessary book

March 2005 (Volume 56, Number 10)

March 2005 (Volume 56, Number 10)

Notes from the Editors

In the face of continuing right-wing attacks on Social Security since the Reagan era in the 1980s, MR has responded repeatedly by pointing to the phony nature of the Social Security crisis. Two articles of note are Jacob Morris, “Social Security: The Phony Crisis” in the February 1983 issue of MR and “Social Security, the Stock Market, and the Elections” in the October 2000 issue. Those wanting a thorough historical understanding of this struggle are encouraged to look back at these articles. Given the nature of the right-wing onslaught, which all along has pretended that the Social Security trust fund was threatened with “bankruptcy,” MR’s chief thrust has been to dispel such misconceptions. Our primary purpose has been to counter what has been one of the major propaganda campaigns of our time. If Social Security is in peril of “collapse” it is only because of current plans to privatize it. However, there is a great danger in this controversy of getting drawn into endless debates on the financing of the Social Security system in the United States, while losing sight of the more fundamental issues

The End of Rational Capitalism

The twentieth century’s dominant myth was that of a “rational capitalism.” The two economists who did the most to promote this idea were John Maynard Keynes and Joseph Schumpeter. Both were responding to the great historical crisis of capitalism manifested in the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War. In the wake of the greatest set of horrors the world had ever seen, accompanied also by the rise of an alternative, contending system in the Soviet Union, it was necessary for capitalism following the Second World War to reestablish itself ideologically as well as materially. In terms of the ideological requirement, the two economists who accomplished this most effectively were Keynes and Schumpeter—not simply because they epitomized the best in bourgeois economic ideology, but also because they were the leading representatives of bourgeois economic science. What they set out in their analyses were the requirements of a rational capitalism and at least the hope that these requirements would be achieved

Homo Floresiensis and Human Equality

The discovery by a team of Indonesian and Australian researchers of the remains of a previously unknown species of hominid, Homo floresiensis, on the Indonesian island of Flores was characterized by some scholars as the greatest discovery in anthropology in a half-century and was selected by Science magazine as the leading runner-up for the 2004 “breakthrough of the year” (first place went to the discoveries of the Mars Exploration Rovers that indicate Mars was once wetter than it is today and potentially capable of supporting life). The discoverers of the new species note that it was a particularly small hominid, with an adult stature of approximately one meter and an endocranial volume of about 380 cm3, less than one-third that of the typical modern human and even small relative to its body size. They argue that it is most likely a descendant of Homo erectus that evolved in long-term isolation, with subsequent endemic dwarfing. Another interesting aspect of the find is that Homo floresiensis apparently lived until at least 18,000 years ago and was, therefore, a contemporary of anatomically modern humans. Many scholars where shocked by both the small stature of and late date attributed to the new hominid, with some moved to question whether the remains were not merely those of a deformed modern human, a suggestion that its discoverers reject as unsupported by the evidence

The Ghosts of Karl Marx and Edward Abbey

My wife Karen and I were on the road, traveling around the United States, for 150 days. We left Portland, Oregon on April 30, 2004, and over the next five months, we drove about 9,000 miles, through sixteen states. We visited thirteen national parks, seven national monuments, and towns large and small. We walked on streets and hiked on trails; we talked to people; we read local newspapers and watched local television stations; we shopped in local markets; and we observed as much as we could the economics, politics, and ecology in the places we stayed. What follows are some of my impressions