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Connections, both real and hoped for, between the labor movement and environmentalists have been news for at least fifteen years now. The possibility of such a connection came into wider view at the Seattle World Trade Organization protests in 1999, when alliances between trade unionists and other protest groups made headlines…. Despite the once-exciting and novel possibility being now institutionalized in such organizations as the Labor Network for Sustainability, the Blue-Green Alliance, and SustainLabour, the thrill seems to be gone for mainstream environmentalist discourse, and labor has largely faded from view.… [The struggle to reduce work hours is fertile ground for uniting the efforts of workers and environmentalists.]… That fight for time, however, came to an end decades ago. Now those with jobs demand higher wages instead, and perhaps even overtime work, while the many unemployed and underemployed fight to work at all. Today the dominant idea of a working-class agenda is to fight to be allowed to sell one’s time.… | more…

Organizing for Better Lives

Todd Jailer, Miriam Lara-Meloy, and Maggie Robbins, The Workers’ Guide to Health and Safety (Berkely, CA: Hesperian, 2015), 576 pages, $34.95, paperback.

The new Workers’ Guide to Health and Safety—with drawings on every page—is a fun read, which is an unusual thing to say about a book with such a serious intent. Garrett Brown, an industrial hygienist with decades of experience as an inspector and activist in California, Mexico, and Bangladesh, claimed with some justification that of all the books on occupational health and safety, “almost none…are accessible to workers or their organizations.” The Workers’ Guide is the first major book aimed at organizing for healthier conditions in the labor-intensive export industries of countries like Bangladesh and China, Mexico’s maquiladora frontier, in Central America and Southeast Asia, and even in the United States itself, where for many, working and living conditions are being beaten down.… | more…

Marx’s Theory of Working-Class Precariousness

Its Relevance Today

As a concept, worker precariousness is far from new. It has a long history in socialist thought, where it was associated from the start with the concept of the reserve army of labor. Frederick Engels introduced the idea of precariousness in his treatment of the industrial reserve army in The Condition of the Working Class in England. Marx and Engels employed it in this same context in The Communist Manifesto, and it later became a key element in Marx’s analysis of the industrial reserve army in volume I of Capital.… In recent years, however, the notion of precariousness as a general condition of working-class life has been rediscovered. Yet the idea is commonly treated in the eclectic, reductionist, ahistorical fashion characteristic of today’s social sciences and humanities, disconnected from the larger theory of accumulation derived from Marx and the socialist tradition. The result is a set of scattered observations about what are seen as largely haphazard developments.… In the face of such a confusion of views—most of them merely ad hoc responses to what is presumed to be an isolated social problem—it is necessary to turn back to the classical Marxian tradition, where the issue of precariousness was first raised.… | more…

The Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left

The Syriza Wave: Surging and Crashing with the Greek Left

Forthcoming in January 2017

Utterly corrupt corporate and government elites bankrupted Greece twice over. First, by profligate deficit spending benefitting only themselves; second, by agreeing to an IMF “bailout” of the Greek economy, devastating ordinary Greek citizens who were already enduring government-induced poverty, unemployment, and hunger. Finally, in response to dire “austerity” measures, the people of Greece stood up, forming, from their own historic roots of resistance, Syriza—the Coalition of the Radical Left. For those who caught the Syriza wave, there was, writes Helena Sheehan, a minute of “precarious hope.”… | more…

Union Power: The United Electrical Workers in Erie, Pennsylvania

Union Power: The United Electrical Workers in Erie, Pennsylvania

Forthcoming in February 2017

If you're lucky enough to be employed today in the United States, there's about a one-in-ten chance that you're in a labor union. And even if you’re part of that unionized 10 percent, chances are your union doesn't carry much economic or political clout. But this was not always the case, as historian and activist James Young shows in this vibrant story of the United Electrical Workers Union. The UE, built by hundreds of rank-and-file worker-activists in the quintessentially industrial town of Erie, Pennsylvania, was able to transform the conditions of the working class largely because it went beyond the standard call for living wages to demand quantum leaps in worker control over workplaces, community institutions, and the policies of the federal government itself.… | more…

Should New York City Teachers Support Opt Out?

Two Views in the UFT

New York State’s Opt Out movement was described by the New York Times as “the vanguard of an anti-testing fervor that has spread across the country.” The movement consists primarily of parents and students who fought against high-stakes Common Core State Standard (CCSS) tests by “opting out” of taking the exams.… [However,] this article is not about the massive parent and student-led “Opt Out Spring” of 2015. It is about how Opt Out threw into relief two different ways of thinking about unionism within New York City’s UFT [United Federation of Teachers].… The leadership of…[the UFT,] the largest union local of any kind in the United States…. supported the CCSS and standardized testing, including the use of student test scores as part of teacher evaluations, and refused to support Opt Out.… Meanwhile, rank-and-file UFTers in the MORE-UFT (Movement of Rank and File Educators) caucus and other groups joined the city’s Opt Out movement as part of the struggle against “ed deform.”… | more…

A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerillas' Victory

A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrillas’ Victory

Millions of words have been written about the Cuban Revolution, which, to both its supporters and detractors, is almost universally understood as being won by a small band of guerillas. In this unique and stimulating book, Stephen Cushion turns the conventional wisdom on its head, and argues that the Cuban working class played a much more decisive role in the Revolution’s outcome than previously understood. Although the working class was well-organized in the 1950s, it is believed to have been too influenced by corrupt trade union leaders, the Partido Socialist Popular, and a tradition of making primarily economic demands to have offered much support to the guerillas. Cushion contends that the opposite is true, and that significant portions of the Cuban working class launched an underground movement in tandem with the guerillas operating in the mountains.… | more…

Digital Labor and Imperialism

A century has now passed since Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916) and Bukharin’s Imperialism and World Economy (1915), as well as Rosa Luxemburg’s 1913 Accumulation of Capital, all spoke of imperialism as a force and tool of capitalism. It was a time of world war, monopolies, antitrust laws, strikes for pay raises, Ford’s development of the assembly line, the October Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, the failed German revolution, and much more. It was a time that saw the spread and deepening of global challenges to capitalism.… This article reviews the role of the international division of labor in classical Marxist concepts of imperialism, and extends these ideas to the international division of labor in the production of information and information technology today. I will argue that digital labor, as the newest frontier of capitalist innovation and exploitation, is central to the structures of contemporary imperialism. … | more…

Social Movements and Progressive Governments

Building a New Relationship in Latin America

The major element missing from Latin American politics in recent decades has been, with rare exceptions, the traditional workers’ movement, beaten down by flexibilization, subcontracting, and other neoliberal measures.… The fall of the Berlin Wall and the defeat of Soviet socialism left the parties and social organizations of the left inspired by that model seriously weakened. At the same time, trade unions were hit hard by the weakening of the working class, part of the larger social fragmentation produced by neoliberalism. In that context, it was new social movements, and not the traditional parties and social organizations of the left, that rose to the forefront of the struggle against neoliberalism, in forms that varied widely from one country to another.… The situation in the 1980s and ’90s in Latin America was comparable in some respects to the experience of pre-revolutionary Russia in the early twentieth century.… [M]any of the region’s peoples said “enough” and started mobilizing, first in defensive resistance, then passing to the offensive. As a result, presidential candidates of the left or center-left began to triumph, only to face the following alternative: either embrace the neoliberal model, or advance an alternative project motivated by a logic of solidarity and human development.… [Consequently,] a major debate has emerged over the role that new social movements should adopt in relation to the progressive governments that have inspired hope in many Latin American nations.… | more…

The Silvertown Strike

A Partisan History

There is a concept in biology called “punctuated equilibrium”: organisms can display little discernible change over long periods of time before sudden, sharp, and profound changes. Without wishing to give credence to teleological or determinist views, it does seem that human history is profoundly dialectical. Sharp change that bewilders an apologist for the status quo can inspire and give hope to those of us who believe that a better world is possible. We live in interesting but depressing times today. Neoliberal ideas are hegemonic. The old collectivist values of the labor movement have been submerged in a tide of market fundamentalism, summed up in Margaret Thatcher’s claim that “there is no such thing as society; there are only individuals and families.” When I began researching for my Silvertown book, it became apparent to me that a similar flood tide of liberalism had washed over much of nineteenth-century Britain. This portrayed the status quo as normal, natural, and inevitable, but the equilibrium was punctuated in the last decades of the century.… | more…

Monthly Review Volume 67, Number 5 (October 2015)

October 2015 (Volume 67, Number 5)

Fifty years ago this month, beginning in early October 1965 and extending for months afterwards, the United States helped engineer a violent end to the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI). Between 500,000 and a million Indonesians were killed by conservative factions of the military led by General Suharto and by right-wing Muslim youth—all with the direct involvement of the CIA, the close cooperation of the U.S. Embassy and State Department, and the guidance of the Johnson administration’s National Security Council.… In forthcoming issues of Monthly Review we are planning to publish work on the Indonesian genocide, which, alongside the Vietnam War, constitutes a major turning point in the history of Southeast Asia in the period, and one of the most brutal acts of mass carnage inflicted by imperialism in the twentieth century. The dire implications of this carry down to the present day.… | more…

The New Imperialism of Globalized Monopoly-Finance Capital

An Introduction

It is now a universal belief on the left that the world has entered a new imperialist phase.… The challenge for Marxian theories of the imperialist world system in our times is to capture the full depth and breadth of the classical accounts, while also addressing the historical specificity of the current global economy. It will be argued in this introduction (in line with the present issue as a whole) that what is widely referred to as neoliberal globalization in the twenty-first century is in fact a historical product of the shift to global monopoly-finance capital or what Samir Amin calls the imperialism of “generalized-monopoly capitalism.”… | more…

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