Thursday April 24th, 2014, 10:11 am (EDT)

Labor

Labor

Made in Venezuela: The Struggle to Reinvent Venezuelan Labor

Last month, the National Union of Venezuelan Workers (UNT) turned two. Since its inception in May 2003, the UNT has been at the center of debates surrounding the advances of Venezuela’s revolution in the labor arena. At root, these debates turn on issues of worker control: over their factories and over their unions. Democracy is at the heart of the attempt by Venezuelan workers to reinvent a labor movement long characterized by corruption and class collaboration… | more |

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… | more |

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… | more |

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… | more |

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… | more |

The Future of Organized Labor in the U.S.

Reinventing Trade Unionism for the 21st Century

An important debate has commenced within the ranks of organized labor regarding the future of the movement. From our experience we know that the ‘top-to-bottom’ approach to revitalizing workers’ organizations will not foster meaningful membership participation and support. The debate must be joined by rank-and-file union members and leaders, other labor activists, scholars and the broad array of supporters of trade unionism. It must be open, frank and constructive, recognizing that we all have a stake in the outcome of these discussions … | more |

The Stagnation of Employment

Except in times of war, capitalist economies almost never reach full employment. The mere absence of jobs for those desiring paid employment, however, is not necessarily a problem for the ruling economic interests. Unemployment and the underutilization of labor more generally—the existence of what Marx called the industrial reserve army of labor—is a necessary part of a capitalist economy, since it keeps wages low as workers are forced to compete with each other for jobs. This becomes a serious problem for the system or for the political structure when the shortfall in employment coincides with a deeper structural crisis; when aggregate demand and thus investment opportunities are hindered by low employment and low wages; and when a shortage of jobs creates a political problem, sometimes even igniting popular opposition at the grassroots of society. All three of these contradictions are apparent in 2004, setting the stage for a national debate on the question of jobs, which more than three years since the beginning of the 2001 recession is now suddenly a front page story… | more |

European Labor: The Ideological Legacy of the Social Pact

Europe’s trade union movement is on the defensive. It is also in a deep political and ideological crisis. At present, the trade unions are unable to fulfill their role as the defenders of the immediate economic and social interests of their members. They have lost ground in all sectors and industries. What was, in the post–Second World War period, the strongest and most influential trade union movement in the capitalist world is today openly confused, lacks a clear vision, and hesitates in its new social and political orientation. Ironically, the same theories, analyses, and policies which gave it its strength in the postwar period have now become a heavy burden. The ideological legacy of the “social pact” is now leading the trade union movement astray… | more |

Can U.S. Workers Embrace Anti-Imperialism?

The period between September 11, 2001 and the invasion of Iraq raised many questions about the psyche of the U.S. public in general and the U.S. working class in particular. The ability of the Bush Administration to utilize fear and patriotism to refocus attention away from pressing domestic issues has been astounding. The Republican Congressional victories in November 2002 were nearly unprecedented and most likely would not have happened had the focus on Iraq not emerged during the prior summer… | more |

“Workers of All Countries, Unite”

Will This Include the U.s. Labor Movement?

Capitalism is a system of production and distribution driven by the ceaseless efforts by capitalists to accumulate capital, that is, to maximize both profits and the growth of capital. Accumulation, in turn, is made possible by the exploitation of wage laborers, persons without any direct access to society’s productive property. Workers are forced to sell their ability to work but when they do, they are owed nothing by their employers except a wage. That is, the employers have no social obligation to the workers; their relationship to them is impersonal in the extreme. It follows that, in the abstract, employers do not care anything about the workers’ “characteristics.” To them, black workers are interchangeable with whites, men with women, one nation’s workers with those of any other. Employers are, in a word, equal-opportunity exploiters. They will replace one worker with another, move their capital to take advantage of cheaper labor (whatever its characteristics), and pit one group of employees against another, whenever such actions will, in their view, make it easier for them to accumulate capital … | more |

Working-Class Households and the Burden of Debt

It is an old axiom, common to both Marxian and Keynesian economics, that uneven, class-based distribution of income is a determining factor of consumption and investment. How much is spent for consumption goods depends on the income of the working class. Workers necessarily spend almost all of their income on consumption, with relatively little left over for savings or investment. Capitalists, on the other hand, spend only a small percent- age of their income for personal consumption. The overwhelming proportion of the income of capitalists and their corporations is devoted to investment … | more |

The Blair Kitsch Proiect

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, it was not simply the Soviet Union or the “communist idea” or the efficacy of Marxist solutions that collapsed. Western European social democracy, too, was severely dented. In the face of a triumphalist capitalist storm that swept the world it, too, had to trim its sails. The fact that, barring Spain, social democratic parties or coalitions govern most of Western Europe today is of inter- est largely because of the collective experience it provides: these parties can no longer deliver effective policies that improve the conditions of the majority of electors whose votes have placed them in power. Capitalism, unchallenged from any quarter, no longer feels the need to protect its left flank by conceding reforms… | more |

Us Versus Them

Laboring in the Academic Factory

Consider the following items culled from some of the journals, newspapers, and email discussion groups to which I subscribe: … | more |

The Road Not Taken

Paul Buhle, Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1999), $18, 315 pp.; Mike Parker & Martha Gruelle, Democracy is Power: Rebuilding Unions from the Bottom Up (Detroit: Labor Notes, 1999), $17, 255 pp.

In a very well-known passage, Marx said, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.” Elsewhere, he said, “The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” These words of wisdom provide us with a good entry point into a review of these two exceptional books … | more |

Braverman and the Class Struggle

Since Paul Sweezy gently rejected my first submission to Monthly Review in 1972, he and Harry Magdoff and all of the MR writers and staffpersons, living and deceased, have been my mentors, helping me to see things more clearly and to act more effectively. And Harry Braverman’s book ranks near the top of MR’s books which have deeply influenced my thinking. I remember mentioning it in my PhD defense in 1976. I told the committee that one of the weaknesses of my thesis, which was about public school teachers’ unions, was that it had not incorporated the pioneering work of Harry Braverman in Labor and Monopoly Capital. I had a suspicion that the work of teachers was not immune to the forces described so well by Braverman: detailed division of labor, mechanization, Taylorization. Today, as the fine scholar David Noble will tell us, these forces are bearing down upon the professoriate, with potentially devastating results … | more |

On Twenty-Five Years with Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital

I was extremely pleased to have the opportunity to read, once again, Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital and to reflect on the last twenty-five years. While the years seem to gallop now, I want to try in this brief time period to capture a few moments and reflections and share them with you … | more |

November 1998, Volume 50, Number 6

November 1998, Volume 50, Number 6

» Notes from the Editors

There’s been a lot of discussion in MR about the implications of “globalization.” We don’t intend to repeat the arguments here, but we recently received a communication that brings into focus one major aspect of this much debated issue: what it means for workers to “think globally, act locally.” … | more |

On Gender and Class in U.S. Labor History

The relationship between gender and class, central to understanding the history of the labor movement, raises important issues for Marxist analysis in general. Grappling with the complexities of this relationship forces us to confront a wide range of theoretical and practical questions. What is the connection between “material conditions” and “identity”? What role do culture, discourses, sexuality, and emotions play in shaping people’s responses to their material conditions? How are the varieties of consciousness of class related to other identities and affiliations? These questions challenge us theoretically and politically, as we seek to develop a working-class politics that incorporates struggles against all forms of oppression … | more |

April 1998, Volume 49, Number 11

April 1998, Volume 49, Number 11

» Notes from the Editors

Readers may remember that in last year’s summer issue on labor we talked about a roundtable organized by MR for activists in the labor movement and held in our office in New York last March. The idea was to provide a forum for labor activists to establish connections among themselves and to discuss issues of common interest at a particularly important historical moment, at a time when the labor movement in various parts of the world, including the United States, is beginning to show signs of renewal. We also hoped to revive the long dormant connection between the socialist left and the labor movement, and we were very pleased to discover that people within the movement were anxious to work with us too … | more |

Teamster Reform Movement Survives Carey’s Debacle

What’s remarkable about the aftermath of Ron Carey’s removal as a candidate for Teamsters president is the staying power of the reform movement. Most predicted the union would quickly fall back into the hands of the mobbed-up Old Guard, personified by James Hoffa, Jr. But in recent local elections rank and file members have chosen to carry on with the business of reform, without the man who once symbolized those changes in the Teamsters … | more |