The first edition of Why Unions Matter was published in 1998. In it I argued that unions mattered because they were the one institution that had dramatically improved the lives of the majority of the people and had the potential to radically transform both the economic and political landscape, making both more democratic and egalitarian. I showed with clear and decisive data that union members enjoyed significant advantages over nonunion workers: higher wages, more and better benefits, better access to many kinds of leaves of absence, a democratic voice in their workplaces, and a better understanding of their political and legal rights. What is more, unions benefitted nonunion workers through their political agitations and through what is called the “spillover” effect—nonunion employers will treat their employees better if only to avoid unionization.
During the Cold War, many of the people with a radical vision of the world were driven out of our labor movement. Today, as unions search for answers about how to begin growing again, and regain the power workers need to defend themselves, the question of social vision has become very important. What is our vision in labor? What are the issues that we confront today that form a more radical vision for our era.
For decades we’ve been told that “there is no alternative” to global capitalism—that trust in the market was the only way to bring progress and end poverty, despite the clear absence of an actual end to poverty. The global financial crisis of 2008 has undermined the rhetoric of inevitability, as even its most prominent practitioners begin to question the logic of neoliberalism. A Washington Post editorial titled “The End of American Capitalism?” quotes the Nobel Prize–winning former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz as saying: “People around the world once admired us for our economy, and we told them if you wanted to be like us, here’s what you have to do—hand over power to the market. The point now is that no one has respect for that kind of model anymore given this crisis. And of course it raises questions about our credibility. Everyone feels they are suffering now because of us” (October 10, 2008).
“If we believe in people, if we believe that the goal of a human society must be that of “ensuring overall human development,” our choice is clear: socialism or barbarism.” These concluding lines from “The Path to Human Development” appear on the back cover of one Venezuelan edition—a pocket-sized edition much like the widely circulated “Socialism Does Not Drop from the Sky” (chapter 5 of Build It Now). The other edition, together with an extended edition of that latter essay (including my “New Wings for Socialism” from the April 2006 Monthly Review), is being published as The Logic of Capital versus the Logic of Human Development for the communal council libraries in Venezuela.
This year marks the eightieth anniversary of the 1929 Stock Market Crash and the beginning of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis in the history of capitalism. However, while the Great Depression has been very much in the news of late, this is not due so much to this anniversary as to the fact that for the first time since the 1930s an economic crisis has arisen on a scale and of a nature that invites direct comparison with that earlier deep downturn, which threatened the entire system and ended in the Second World War.
In the early 1990s there was near unanimity in the media, in Western political circles, and even among academics that the collapse of the Cuban revolution was imminent. Even today, many observers regard it as only a matter of time for Cuba to undergo a transition to democracy (understood as a narrowly defined polyarchy) and a “market economy.”
The Cuban revolutionary victory of January 1, 1959, was a news event of epochal proportion even for those who knew little about that country. For many, it was like discovering a new world. And as in the age of the great navigators, encountering it was clouded both by ignorance and the prejudices that usually accompany such revelations.
On August 19, 1960, Che Guevara gave a talk to the Cuban Militia “On Revolutionary Medicine”: “A few months ago, here in Havana, it happened that a group of newly graduated doctors did not want to go into the country’s rural areas and demanded remuneration before they would agree to go.”
Nancy Morejón’s mother was a tobacco worker; her father worked on the Havana docks and was a merchant seaman. She is a direct beneficiary of the Cuban revolution, holding a degree in French literature from the University of Havana. The author of twelve volumes of poetry and numerous books and articles on Cuban and Caribbean culture, she has also been director of the Caribbean Studies Center at Casa de las Americas, the premier Latin American cultural institution. Morejón’s work has been translated into many languages, including, in English, Looking Within (Wayne State University Press, 2003) and With Eyes and Soul, with photographs by Milton Rogovin (White Pine Press, 2004, www.whitepine.org) from which this poem is reprinted. Copyright © 2004 by Nancy Morejón; Translation copyright © 2004 by David Frye. Used by permission.
Over the last fifteen years, Cuba has developed one of the most successful examples of urban agriculture in the world. Havana, the capital of Cuba, with a population of over two million people, has played a prominent, if not dominant role, in the evolution and revolution of this type of agriculture. The phrase “urban agriculture in Cuba” has a somewhat different meaning, simultaneously more and less restrictive than might appear at a first glance. It is more inclusive, as it allows for large expanses, urban fringes, and suburban lands. For example, the entire cultivated area of the Province of the City of Havana belongs to urban agriculture.