Monday May 25th, 2015, 3:37 pm (EDT)

Labor

Manufacturing America’s Dreams

Auto companies shield their low-tech exploitation of workers behind high-tech displays of mechanical prowess. The less a consumer knows about the blood and guts of manufacturing, the easier it is to buy the dream. So how does America think all this crap gets built?… Last summer, in a desperate attempt to entice young viewers to buy grandpa’s dream car, General Motors (GM) ran a TV ad that featured a chorus line of robot arms dancing to techno music around a series of Cadillacs strutting like runway models on chrome-plated wheels.… Don’t let yourself be seduced and deluded. The auto industry’s master talent isn’t robotics, it’s the ability to automatize humans—including drivers.… | more |

New this week!

Marx on the Camino de Santiago

Meaning, Work, and Crisis

When I walked the thousand-year-old route of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain in September and October 2014, I expected to discuss questions of health with fellow travelers. I assumed that an ancient pilgrimage would be full of walkers pondering health issues and would provide an ethnographer’s panacea for “getting in.” I was wrong. I was surrounded by walkers from all parts of Europe, but they were pondering the meaning of work, capitalism, and their lives. I found I was seeing a profound crisis of capitalism and individuals struggling with alienated labor as discussed by Karl Marx.… [W]hat I saw on the Camino de Santiago was certainly not a revolutionary movement. Envisioning satisfying work, however, helps change the shared conception of what work is. Raul Zibechi argued that as we struggle both individually or collectively, we engage in an emancipatory process that, as the Zapatista’s Subcomandante Marcos notes, “builds, includes, brings together and remembers whereas the system, separates, splits and fragments.”… Awareness of alienated labor and struggle against crisis, whether individual or collective, does seem to create imaginative space for change even if it does not necessarily reflect what has been thought of as revolutionary struggle.… | more |

The Politics of U.S. Labor

The Politics of U.S. Labor

From the Great Depression to the New Deal

The alliance of the industrial labor movement with the Democratic Party under Franklin D. Roosevelt has, perhaps more than any other factor, shaped the course of class relations in the United States over the ensuing forty years. Much has been written on the interests that were thereby served, and those that were co-opted. In this detailed examination of the strategies pursued by both radical labor and the capitalist class in the struggle for industrial unionism, David Milton argues that while radical social change and independent political action were traded off by the industrial working class for economic rights, this was neither automatic nor inevitable. Rather, the outcome was the result of a fierce struggle in which capital fought labor and both fought for control over government labor policy.… | more |

Neoliberal Co-optation of Leading Co-op Organizations, and a Socialist Counter-Politics of Cooperation

Many people think of cooperatives as small, locally owned businesses, such as groceries, cafes, or bicycle shops, where people can work in an equal and participatory non-capitalist organization. In reality, the U.S. co-op movement is tied to federal agencies whose agenda is promoting neoliberalism, both domestically and abroad, and the co-op movement itself has neoliberal leaders. Many co-ops in name are profit-driven capitalist corporations in practice. And even in the abstract, the co-op principles of smaller co-ops enable neoliberal cooperative politics. All of this, however, raises the question of what a co-op based on socialist values would be, and China’s Nanjie village provides a living example of that.… | more |

iCapitalism and the Cybertariat

Contradictions of the Digital Economy

We have now entered a period…when new waves of commodification set in motion in earlier periods are reaching maturity. The new commodities have been generated by drawing into the market even more aspects of life that were previously outside the money economy, or at least that part of it that generates a profit for capitalists. Several such fields of accumulation have now emerged, each with a different method of commodity genesis, forming the basis of new economic sectors and exerting distinctive impacts on daily life, including labor and consumption. They include biology, art and culture, public services, and sociality.… | more |

Labor in the Global Digital Economy

Labor in the Global Digital Economy

The Cybertariat Comes of Age

Ursula Huws ties together disparate economic, cultural, and political phenomena of the last few decades to form a provocative narrative about the shape of the global capitalist economy at present. She examines the way that advanced information and communications technology has opened up new fields of capital accumulation: in culture and the arts, in the privatization of public services, and in the commodification of human sociality by way of mobile devices and social networking. These trends are in turn accompanied by the dramatic restructuring of work arrangements, opening the way for new contradictions and new forms of labor solidarity and struggle around the planet.… | more |

Beyond the Degradation of Labor

Braverman and the Structure of the U.S. Working Class

Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital, first published forty years ago in 1974, was unquestionably the work that, in the words of historian Bryan Palmer, “literally christened the emerging field of labor process studies.” In the four decades since its appearance Braverman’s book has continued to play a central role in debates on workers’ struggles within industry, remaining indispensable to all attempts at in-depth critique in this area.… This continuing relevance of Braverman’s analysis has to do with the fact that his overall vision of the transformations taking place in modern work relations was much wider than has usually been recognized. Viewed from a wide camera angle, his work sought to capture the complex relation between the labor process on the one hand, and the changing structure and composition of the working class and its reserve armies on the other. This broad view allowed him to perceive how the changes in the labor process were integrally connected to the emergence of whole new spheres of production, the decomposition and recomposition of the working class in various sectors, and the development of new structural contradictions.… | more |

South Africa’s Resource Curses and Growing Social Resistance

The African National Congress (ANC), led during the 1990s by the late Nelson Mandela, is projected to be reelected in South Africa’s May 7, 2014 national election by a wide margin, probably with between 50 and 60 percent of the vote. But underneath the ruling party’s apparent popularity, the society is seething with fury, partly at the mismanagement of vast mineral wealth. The political and economic rulers’ increasingly venal policies and practices are so bad that not only did ANC elites play a direct role in massacring striking mineworkers in August 2012, but corporate South Africa was soon rated by PriceWaterhouseCoopers as “world leader in money-laundering, bribery and corruption, procurement fraud, asset misappropriation and cybercrime,” with internal management responsible for more than three quarters of what was termed “mind-boggling” levels of theft.… | more |

Spain, Economic Crisis, and the New Enclosure of the Reproductive Commons

In the past few years numerous authors have examined how the current economic crisis in Spain has differential impacts on women and men. While this is important to show, this article’s goal is to make the leap from a mere description of the gendered effects of the crisis, to an analysis of some of the very gendered processes that shape it at its core. In other words, the intent is to understand how both the crisis itself and the ways the state manages it are structurally shaped by gender.… [This article will argue] that the primitive accumulation, or accumulation by dispossession, currently taking place in Spain is deeply shaped by gender in the sense that one of the main strategies capital develops, and the state implements, is to push the responsibilities that the state formerly had for public welfare back onto women and households.… | more |

A Practical Solution to an Urgent Need

After the Second World War, autoworkers gained higher wages and benefits. We were separated from our class financially and in the process we embraced an economic system which causes global human misery. A misery which has come back to haunt us like a self-inflicted disease, an illness born of uncontrolled appetite. Many of my comrades worked excessive overtime, gambled on the stock market, and invested in extravagant real-estate ventures. They were buried so deep in debt that a strike was unthinkable to them. They couldn’t afford to miss a payment to the man. Everything they earned was turned over to dealers who already had plans for all the money these workers would ever make in their lifetimes. Consumption appeared to be an end in itself. The only difference between these good hard workers and junkies was that the capitalist system conferred status on their addiction.… | more |

Silvertown

Silvertown

The Lost Story of a Strike that Shook London and Helped Launch the Modern Labor Movement

In 1889, Samuel Winkworth Silver’s rubber and electrical factory was the site of a massive worker revolt that upended the London industrial district which bore his name: Silvertown. Once referred to as the “Abyss” by Jack London, Silvertown was notorious for oppressive working conditions and the relentless grind of production suffered by its largely unorganized, unskilled workers. These workers, fed-up with their lot and long ignored by traditional craft unions, aligned themselves with the socialist-led “New Unionism” movement. Their ensuing strike paralyzed Silvertown for three months. Historian and novelist John Tully tells the story of the Silvertown strike in vivid prose. He rescues the uprising—overshadowed by other strikes during this period—from relative obscurity and argues for its significance to both the labor and socialist movements. … | more |

Saving Our Unions

Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win?

Any review of the recent ups and downs of U.S. labor must start in Michigan, long a bastion of blue-collar unionism rooted in car manufacturing. Fifteen months ago, this Midwestern industrial state became another notch in the belt of the National Right to Work Committee, joining the not-very-desirable company of Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and twenty other “open shop” states.… The emergence of sun-belt labor relations in the birthplace of the United Auto Workers (UAW) was shocking to some. But this political setback was preceded by high-profile defeats in neighboring states that began in 2005. First Indiana, followed by Wisconsin and Ohio, stripped public workers of their bargaining rights (although the Republican attack on government employees was later repelled by popular referendum in the Buckeye State). Then in early 2012, GOP legislators in Indiana passed a right-to-work law applicable to private industry.… | more |

Social Inequities and Exclusions in Kerala’s ‘Egalitarian’ Development

Social inequalities and exclusions can devastate people’s lives, especially when they are far from the centers of power and control. This wreckage can be seen in many different parts of their lives, but particularly in their health. The health of any given country’s population is primarily determined by politics, and public policies play a critical role. All over the world, countries with a history of egalitarian ideologies, and corresponding policies aimed at reducing social inequalities, have healthier populations. The Indian state of Kerala, which has a long-running radical political tradition and a history of social-reform movements in the early twentieth century, is acclaimed for its achievements in health and social-sector development, including low levels of mortality and fertility, and high levels of life expectancy and literacy—all despite its low-performing economy. Kerala has become a veritable mecca for other low-income nations in social development and health advancement.… | more |

The Plight of the U.S. Working Class

Modern capitalism, sociologist Max Weber famously observed early in the twentieth century, is based on “the rational capitalistic organization of (formally) free labor.” But the “rationality” of the system in this sphere, as Weber was to acknowledge elsewhere, was so restrictive as to be in reality “irrational.” Despite its formal freedom, labor under capitalism was substantively unfree.… This was in accordance with the argument advanced in Karl Marx’s Capital. Since the vast majority of individuals in the capitalist system are divorced from the means of production they have no other way to survive but to sell their labor power to those who own these means, that is, the capitalist class.… The result is a strong tendency to the polarization of income and wealth in society. The more the social productivity of labor grows the more it serves to promote the wealth and power of private capital, while at the same time increasing the relative poverty and economic dependency of the workers.… | more |

The Labor Share Question in China

In the past two decades, China’s economic growth has been increasingly dependent on investment. To maintain the growth of investment, China must sustain a fairly high rate of profit, and the fall in labor’s share has been seen as a crucial factor to sustain profitability.… Although the mainstream economists have widely admitted there is a downward trend for labor’s share in China, they explain this trend with a story that has nothing to do with class struggle. In this story, the decline of labor’s share is caused by sectoral changes, mainly the decrease of agriculture and the increase of industry and services as a percent of GDP in the reform era…. [But] Does the decline of labor’s share result from sectoral changes?… [In fact] the decline of labor’s share resulted from the loss in the power of the working class during the transition to capitalism. Sectoral changes have disguised the class conflicts in this historical process.… | more |

European Labor

Political and Ideological Crisis in an Increasingly More Authoritarian European Union

Acute economic and political drama mark contemporary Europe. The terrible trauma of the financial crisis has been followed by a sovereign-debt disaster. In the countries most deeply affected, the people have been faced with massive attacks on public services, wages, pensions, trade unions, and social rights. The draconian austerity policies have pushed the situation in those countries from bad to worse, leading them into a deep depression.… Confronted with these multiple crises, the traditional labor movements appear perplexed and partly paralyzed. Social democracy is in political and ideological disarray and confusion, reflecting a deep crisis in these movements. On the one hand, social democrats have played a leading role in fierce attacks on trade unions and the welfare state in countries where they have been in power. On the other hand, other social democrats adopt statements and support appeals that sharply condemn the political course now followed by the European Union.… | more |

"This book shows what it takes to defend democracy, workers rights, and social justice unionism."
—Dolores Huerta

Save Our Unions

Dispatches from A Movement in Distress

Save Our Unions: Dispatches From A Movement in Distress brings together recent essays and reporting by labor journalist Steve Early. The author illuminates the challenges facing U.S. workers, whether they’re trying to democratize their union, win a strike, defend past contract gains, or bargain with management for the first time.… | more |

Labor Divided

Zak Cope, Divided World Divided Class: Global Political Economy and the Stratification of Labour Under Capitalism (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2012), 387 pages, $20.00, paperback.

[Zak] Cope argues that the seemingly pervasive racism and cultural chauvinism in the global North is not the result of false consciousness, misinformation, indoctrination, or ignorance (at least to the extent that much of the political left assumes). Rather, racism and cultural chauvinism are the expression of economic interests shared by a variety of social strata in the global North, all of whom have an interest in exploiting the global South. Central to this argument is the idea that the labor aristocracy—the relatively privileged global North working class—developed as a result of the exploitation of the global South, and therefore has a material interest in continuing this exploitation.… | more |

Revolutionary Road, Partial Victory

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

The year 1963 was a high-water mark for the civil rights movement—the year of the great March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which drew hundreds of thousands to march for civil rights. But the march also set the stage for the opening of a what was perceived as second, far more radical, phase of the civil rights strategy, developed by the March’s organizers. This led to the development, over a three-year period, of the proposed Freedom Budget for All Americans. It projected nothing less than the elimination of all poverty and unemployment in the United States before the end of the 1970s.… The 1963 March on Washington continues to stand as a great achievement, which—combined with hard-fought nationwide struggles—helped to secure meaningful civil rights and voting rights legislation, and impressive shifts in consciousness. Yet the promise and expectations of King, Randolph, and Rustin for a full realization of their goals for interlinked racial and economic justice remained unfulfilled.… | more |

"A fascinating history of an important historic neighborhood and a provocative analysis of the ways in which interest groups vie for control of urban geography."
—Tyler Anbinder, author, Five Points

Hell’s Kitchen and the Battle for Urban Space

Class Struggle and Progressive Reform in New York City, 1894-1914

Hell’s Kitchen is among Manhattan’s most storied and studied neighborhoods. A working-class district situated next to the West Side’s middle- and upper-class residential districts, it has long attracted the focus of artists and urban planners, writers and reformers. Now, Joseph Varga takes us on a tour of Hell’s Kitchen with an eye toward what we usually take for granted: space, and, particularly, how urban spaces are produced, controlled, and contested by different class and political forces. … | more |

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