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African American migratory workers in front of a 'juke joint' in Belle Glade, Florida (February 1941)

Race Is About More Than Discrimination

Racial Capitalism, the Settler State, and the Challenges Facing Organized Labor in the United States

This article will be released in full online July 13, 2020.

Organized labor—based on white-exclusive and later white-dominated, though not necessarily exclusive, trade unions—formed itself as part of the settler state, not in the sense of being an apparatus of the state, but in the sense of accepting certain important precepts. The unions took for granted the nature of the settler state and, as such, conceived that the unions were to exist to serve the “legitimate” population, or at least the working class of the legitimate population. | more…

Tell the Bosses We're Coming: A New Action Plan for Workers in the Twenty-First Century

Tell the Bosses We’re Coming: A New Action Plan for Workers in the Twenty-First Century

Lengthening hours, lessening pay, no parental leave, scant job security… Never have so many workers needed so much support. Yet the very labor unions that could garner us protections and help us speak up for ourselves are growing weaker every day. In an age of rampant inequality, of increasing social protest and strikes— and when a majority of workers say they want to be union members—why does union density continue to decline? Shaun Richman offers some answers in his book, Tell the Bosses We’re Coming. | more…

Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, VA in August 6 2012

Dead Labor

My pop was always working on our house, a shack that was all my parents could afford in the great hunger for homeownership that came after the Second World War. But nothing ever quite got finished, either for lack of funds or motivation. But if he wasn’t quite a craftsman himself, he admired craft. He was moved by the effort and intricacy of how things were made. ‘Honey, look at this old wooden chest with these lovely silver handles. Think of all the work that was done to this thing by someone’s hands.’ | more…

Labor leader Clinton Jencks (center) in the fictionalized film "Salt of the Earth"

The Legacy of Clinton Jencks

In 1950, the mainly Mexican and Mexican-American members of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers Local 890 went on strike against Empire Zinc in southern New Mexico. One of the only fair-haired and pale-skinned union men in meetings and jail was Mine Mill organizer Clinton Jencks. Raymond Caballero’s study, McCarthyism vs. Clinton Jencks, exhaustively details how the federal government brought the entire weight of its repressive apparatus down on the heads of Jencks, his family, and his union siblings. | more…

Radical Seattle: The General Strike of 1919

The Origins of the Seattle General Strike of 1919: The Timber Beast

Seattle in 1919 was an island in a still immeasurable sea of timber. The Pacific coastal forests were estimated to contain nearly two-thirds of the timber in the country, and the Washington State forests accounted for the largest part of these. The physical hardships associated with the lumber industry, including isolation deep within the rain forests, made working conditions an even more miserable burden than low wages. The work was seasonal and layoffs were common; the completion of one job might mean termination and the search for work elsewhere. When the winter rains brought an end to work in the woods, the state’s loggers fled to the city, not welcome elsewhere. In some years, there might be thousands on Seattle’s streets. | more…

Radical Seattle: The General Strike of 1919

Radical Seattle: The General Strike of 1919

On a grey winter morning in Seattle, in February 1919, 110 local unions shut down the entire city. Shut it down and took it over, rendering the authorities helpless. For five days, workers from all trades and sectors – streetcar drivers, telephone operators, musicians, miners, loggers, shipyard workers – fed the people, ensured that babies had milk, that the sick were cared for. They did this with without police – and they kept the peace themselves. This had never happened before in the United States and has not happened since. Those five days became known as the General Strike of Seattle. | more…

Copenhagen house' (John Gale Jones; Joseph Priestley; William Hodgson; John Thelwell; Charles James Fox), by James Gillray (died 1815), published 1795

The Trial of Thomas Hardy

A Forgotten Chapter in the Working-Class Fight for Democratic Rights

November 5, 2019, is the 225th anniversary of the acquittal of Thomas Hardy on charges of High Treason. Hardy is nearly forgotten today, but for decades workers and democrats in England celebrated November 5 as the anniversary of a major victory, a triumph over a powerful state that had deployed immense resources to crush working-class organizations and suppress popular demands for democratic rights. | more…

Lexit

Socialist Internationalism Against the European Union

Costas Lapavitsas’s The Left Case Against the EU (Polity, 2019) is recognized as the leading work advocating Lexit, the left-wing case for Brexit, and for nations leaving the European Union more generally. In light of current Conservative British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s commitment to exit the European Union by October 31, even if it means a no-deal Brexit, the role of the left takes on growing importance. Moreover, this raises issues of the European Union generally, including the dominance of neoliberalism within it and the question of German hegemony. Here, Neil Davidson offers an assessment of Lapavitsas’s book. | more…

Value Chains: The New Economic Imperialism by Intan Suwandi

Value Chains: The New Economic Imperialism

Winner of the 2018 Paul M. Sweezy – Paul A. Baran Memorial Award for original work regarding the political economy of imperialism, Intan Suwandi’s Value Chains examines the exploitation of labor in the Global South. Focusing on the issue of labor within global value chains—vast networks of people, tools, and activities needed to deliver goods and services to the market and controlled by multinationals—Suwandi offers a deft empirical analysis of unit labor costs that is closely related to Marx’s own theory of exploitation. | more…

Value Chains: The New Economic Imperialism by Intan Suwandi

Labor-Value Commodity Chains

The Hidden Abode of Global Production

The analysis of global commodity chains creates some crucial questions in relation to the nature of imperialism in the twenty-first century: (1) whether decentralized global commodity chains can be seen as constituting a decentralization of power among the major actors within these chains, and (2) whether the complexities of these chains suggest that the hierarchical, imperialist characteristics of the world economy have been superseded. I argue that the answer to both of these questions is no. Despite the seemingly decentralized networks, and notwithstanding the existing complexities that characterize global commodity chains, the capital-labor relations inherent in these chains are still imperialistic in their configurations. | more…