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Workplace Democracy and Collective Consciousness: An Empirical Study of Venezuelan Cooperatives

Liberal ideology insists that a society in which conscious solidarity is the dominating attitude/approach is impossible, because humans are primarily and perpetually motivated by individual material incentives. But the revolutionary process that Venezuela embarked upon in 1999, known as the “Bolivarian Revolution,” is challenging the core liberal tenet that narrow self-interest is the immutable human condition… | more |

The State of Official Marxism in China Today

During November 13–14, 2006, I participated in an “International Conference on Ownership & Property Rights: Theory & Practice,” in Beijing. This was not just an academic conference, it was related to a sharp debate taking place in China at that time over a proposed new law on property rights.1 Although none of the presentations at the conference made any direct reference to the proposed new law, everyone knew that it was the subtext of the conference debate… | more |

The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers

The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers

Mainstream, or more formally, neoclassical, economics claims to be a science. But as Michael Perelman makes clear in his latest book, nothing could be further from the truth. While a science must be rooted in material reality, mainstream economics ignores or distorts the most fundamental aspect of this reality: that the vast majority of people must, out of necessity, labor on behalf of others, transformed into nothing but a means to the end of maximum profits for their employers. The nature of the work we do and the conditions under which we do it profoundly shape our lives. And yet, both of these factors are peripheral to mainstream economics.… | more |

Conditions of the Working Classes in China

This article is based primarily on a series of meetings with workers, peasants, organizers, and leftist activists that I participated in during the summer of 2004, together with Alex Day and another student of Chinese affairs. It is part of a longer paper that is being published as a special report by the Oakland Institute. The meetings took place mainly in and around Beijing, as well as in Jilin province in the northeast, and in the cities of Zhengzhou and Kaifeng in the central province of Henan. What we heard reveals in stark fashion the effects of the massive transformations that have occurred in the three decades following the death of Mao Zedong, with the dismantling of the revolutionary socialist policies carried out under his leadership, and a return to the “capitalist road,” leaving the working classes in an increasingly precarious position. A rapidly widening polarization-in a society that was among the most egalitarian-is occurring between extremes of wealth at the top and growing ranks of workers and peasants at the bottom whose conditions of life are daily worsening. Exemplifying this, the 2006 Fortune list of global billionaires includes seven in mainland China and one in Hong Kong. Though their holdings are small compared to those in the United States and elsewhere, they represent the emergence of a full-blown Chinese capitalism. Rampant corruption unites party and state authorities and enterprise managers with the new private entrepreneurs in a web of alliances that are enriching a burgeoning capitalist class, while the working classes are exploited in ways that have not been seen for over half a century… | more |

Heroes and Villains in the Cold War Battle for the United Electrical Workers

John Hoerr, Harry, Tom, and Father Rice: Accusation and Betrayal in America’s Cold War (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005), 344 pages, cloth $29.95.

The image still haunts me: a man in his thirties, eyes glassy, blood streaming from a head wound. A foot soldier in the domestic Cold War, this union stalwart had been beaten by anticommunist thugs who imagined that changing unions in the Westinghouse Electric plant in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania would be a blow against Stalin. Mistaking assault on a volunteer organizer for damage to a Soviet leader is just the kind of tragically stupid error one might expect in a period generally befuddled by fear. Fifty-five years later, confusion as to the meaning of these events continues to hang over the era like an early-morning fog… | more |

Lost and Found: The Italian-American Radical Experience

Philip V. Cannistraro and Gerald Meyer, eds., The Lost World of Italian-American Radicalism: Politics, Labor, and Culture (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2003), 346 pages, cloth $79.95, paper $29.95.

When, almost ten years ago, I came from Italy to study in New York I was shocked by the discrepancy between Italian-American and Italian politics. To my amazement, I discovered that the left, which has always played, and still plays, an important role in Italian politics, occupies a marginal, if not nonexistent, place in Italian-American political culture. Even worse, I learned that Italian Americans are perceived as a basically conservative group, whose only ties to Italy appear to be the Mafia and food. How did Italian Americans end up identifying themselves, and being identified, with such conservative values and reactionary political forces? Why did their political consciousness diverge so markedly from their Italian counterparts?… | more |

Labor, the State, and the Struggle for a Democratic Zimbabwe

When Zimbabwe attained its first independent government in 1980, led by President Robert Mugabe and liberation fighters of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), there were reasons to hope for a bright future. The new country inherited significant infrastructure from the prior Rhodesian settler regime, including relatively modern transportation and communications systems and an impressive set of import substitution industries. The economy had been built with extensive state support and planning (along with capital controls) to evade UN sanctions. By way of reconciliation, Mugabe sought good relations with local and regional capital, while establishing economic ties to China and East Bloc countries that had supported the liberation struggle. Roughly 100,000 white settlers remained in the country, operating the commanding heights of commerce, finance, industry, mining, and large-scale agriculture, as well as domestic small businesses. The 1980s witnessed rapid growth at first, then droughts, with 5 percent GDP growth when rainy seasons were average or better. Thanks to the construction of thousands of new clinics and schools, indices of health and education showed marked improvement… | more |

October 2005 (Volume 57, Number 5)

Notes from the Editors

The much-anticipated split in the AFL-CIO, the labor federation in the United States, took place in Chicago, at the federation’s annual convention. Three unions—the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Teamsters, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW)—left the federation, and more will likely follow. The dissident unions call themselves the Change to Win Coalition, and they have suggested that what they have done parallels the formation of the CIO in 1935, which resulted in the organization of the nation’s mass production industries. They will be holding their inaugural convention in late September… | more |

Can Germany’s Corporatist Labor Movement Survive?

For seven years Germany has been governed by a center-left coalition. This government was elected in 1998 because a majority of the electorate was tired of conservatives promising that fiscal austerity, lower unemployment benefits and social security, and restrained wage growth would bring prosperity and full employment. However, the new government’s program has made that of its predecessor look like neoliberalism with a human face. The new government, led by the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), has launched the most severe attacks on labor and social standards since the establishment of a welfare state after the Second World War. Since, for most of its history, the SPD has presented itself as the main force pushing for expansion of the welfare state, its anti-worker actions have deeply disappointed its followers and surprised its opponents… | more |

Embedded with Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home

Embedded with Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home

Embedded With Organized Labor describes how union members have organized successfully, on the job and in the community, in the face of employer opposition now and in the past. The author has produced a provocative series of essays—an unusual exercise in “participatory labor journalism” useful to any reader concerned about social and economic justice. As workers struggle to survive and the labor movement tries to revive during the current economic crisis, this book provides ideas and inspiration for union activists and friends of labor alike.… | more |