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The Long Shadow of Race

I have always lived in the long shadow of race. Johnstown, Pittsburgh, Portland, Miami Beach, in every city racist remarks and racist actions were commonplace. You didn’t have to look for them; they were hard to escape. And on our road trips, no matter where we went or for how few days, it was not at all unusual for a white person to offer a racist comment. It is almost as if there is an understanding among whites that they are all fellow conspirators in the race war | more…

Class: A Personal Story

I was born in 1946 in a small mining village in western Pennsylvania, about forty miles north of Pittsburgh, along a big bend in the Allegheny River. The house in which I lived during my first year of life had neither hot water nor indoor plumbing. It was a company house, and my grandmother had purchased it for $1,000 from the mining company after the town had ceased to be a company town, thanks to the United Mine Workers. A small coal stove in the living room heated the entire house | more…

Capitalism Is Rotten to the Core

Immanuel Ness, Immigrants, Unions, and the New U. S. Labor Market (Temple University Press, 2005), 230 pages, cloth $59.50, paper $21.95.
Howard Karger, Shortchanged: Life and Debt in the Fringe Economy (Berrett~Koehler Publishing, 2005), 252 pages, cloth $24.95.

The widening and deepening of capitalism, which many economists misname globalization, has had traumatic impacts on workers. Sped up by what has been called neoliberalism (basically, the political program of modern global capital), the growing penetration of capitalist production and consumption relationships around the globe has literally pitched workers from pillar to post. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has forced hundreds of thousands of Mexican peasants and wage workers to abandon their home country and migrate to the United States. Similarly, government austerity and “free market” programs—curbing food and health subsidies to the poor, closing and selling state enterprises, suppression of worker and peasant protests, and the like—in countries like India and China have deprived many workers of what security they had attained and pushed peasants from their land into cities | more…

The ABCs of the Economic Crisis: What Working People Need to Know

The ABCs of the Economic Crisis: What Working People Need to Know

The economic crisis has created a host of problems for working people: collapsing wages, lost jobs, ruined pensions, and the anxiety that comes with not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Compounding all this is a lack of reliable information that speaks to the realities of workers. Commentators and pundits seem more confused than anyone, and economists—the so-called “experts”—still cling to bankrupt ideologies that failed to predict the crisis and offer nothing to explain it. | more…

Labor Movements: Is There Hope?

For the past thirty years, the class struggle has been a pretty one-sided affair, with capital delivering a severe beating to labor around the globe. When economic stagnation struck most of the world’s advanced capitalist economies, beginning in the mid-1970s, capital went on the offensive, quickly understanding that the best way to maintain and increase profit margins in a period of slow and sporadic economic growth was to cut labor costs. Governments and global lending agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund began to implement policies that made workers increasingly insecure | more…

Why Unions Matter: 10th Anniversary Update

Why Unions Matter: 10th Anniversary Update

In this new edition of Why Unions Matter, Michael D. Yates shows why unions still matter. Unions mean better pay, benefits, and working conditions for their members; they force employers to treat employees with dignity and respect; and at their best, they provide a way for workers to make society both more democratic and egalitarian. Yates uses simple language, clear data, and engaging examples to show why workers need unions, how unions are formed, how they operate, how collective bargaining works, the role of unions in politics, and what unions have done to bring workers together across the divides of race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. | more…

A Statistical Portrait of the U.S. Working Class

The biennial State of Working America (hereinafter SWA), written by economists at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., is the best compendium and analysis of U.S. labor market statistics there is.* In one convenient book, there are data on the distribution of income and wealth, all aspects of wages and benefits, employment and unemployment, poverty, regional labor markets, and international labor comparisons. In addition to the data, there are explanations for all of the major labor market trends. Does the stagnating minimum wage contribute to poverty? Is rising wage inequality the result of the growing educational requirements of jobs? Are trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) necessarily good for workers as mainstream economists keep telling us? Why do the wages and incomes of racial and ethnic minorities continue to lag behind those of whites? Does the labor market model of the United States, with its very limited regulation, deliver better results for workers than does the more institutionally-constrained model of most European nations? Mishel, Bernstein, and Allegretto analyze their data using sophisticated statistical techniques to give us answers to these and many other questions. A review of this book, along with some critical commentary, will give readers a good idea of how workers in the United States have been faring and what they can reasonably expect in the future | more…

The Ghosts of Karl Marx and Edward Abbey

My wife Karen and I were on the road, traveling around the United States, for 150 days. We left Portland, Oregon on April 30, 2004, and over the next five months, we drove about 9,000 miles, through sixteen states. We visited thirteen national parks, seven national monuments, and towns large and small. We walked on streets and hiked on trails; we talked to people; we read local newspapers and watched local television stations; we shopped in local markets; and we observed as much as we could the economics, politics, and ecology in the places we stayed. What follows are some of my impressions | more…

Inspiration from Behind the Walls

David Gilbert, No Surrender: Writings from an Anti-Imperialist Political Prisoner (Montreal: Abraham Guillen Press, 2004), 283 pages, paper $15.00.

David Gilbert is serving a seventy-five year to life prison sentence for his participation in the 1981 holdup of a Brinks armored truck in which three persons were killed, two police officers and a security guard. The attempted robbery was an effort to raise money for the Black Liberation Army (BLA), an underground offshoot of the Black Panther Party. By the time of the Brinks events, David had been a committed revolutionary for nearly twenty years. In 1965 he founded the Committee Against the War in Vietnam while a student at Columbia University; he was a founding member of the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1967; he was a leader of the famous student strike at Columbia in 1968; and he was an early member of the Weathermen faction of SDS in 1969, whose members soon went underground to wage war against U.S. imperialism and racism, renaming themselves the Weather Underground. They hoped to support all those around the world actually fighting against U.S. imperialism and even to ignite a popular uprising in the United States through a series of spectacular bombings of government facilities (including the Pentagon) and corporate offices and banks, as well as by written propaganda and analysis | more…

Poverty and Inequality in the Global Economy

Capitalism is hundreds of years old and today dominates nearly every part of the globe. Its champions claim that it is the greatest engine of production growth the world has ever seen. They also argue that it is unique in its ability to raise the standard of living of every person on earth. Because of capitalism, we are all “slouching toward utopia,”—the phrase coined by University of California at Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong—slowly but surely heading toward a world in which everyone will have achieved a U.S.-style middle-class life | more…

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