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Postmortem on Bessemer Amazon Defeat

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/04/2021 - 10:54am in

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Labor

It is important to look at the union’s strategy, comparing it to both other failed campaigns (especially of the UAW in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky), but also to a variety of mostly less publicized campaigns which were in fact successful.

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The post Postmortem on Bessemer Amazon Defeat appeared first on New Politics.

Heads up! Chins down! Resisting the New Bipartisan Neoliberal Project in Education

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 11/04/2021 - 6:20am in

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Education, Labor

Teachers’ work is being transformed beneath our collective nose. We have missed an opportunity to combat the project in its earliest stages but we cannot delay in understanding and combating the new iteration of neoliberalism’s global project in education.

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The post Heads up! Chins down! Resisting the New Bipartisan Neoliberal Project in Education appeared first on New Politics.

Can’t talk right now, I’m transferring energy.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/04/2021 - 11:21pm in

You work all the time. But what is work, really? And how has that changed? In Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots, anthropologist James Suzman digs into these questions. But whether he realizes it or not, he leaves an even bigger one to us.

The future of work is a hot topic. Automation, climate, and inequality make us wonder what’s coming down the pipe, and how to prepare. We might have to change how work works by decoupling labor from pay… difficult questions. But one thing is clear: if we are to change our conception of work, it will help to understand the one we have.

So what’s work, really?

Suzman starts at the beginning—3.5 Billion years ago. Because at its essence, he argues, work is not whatever you get paid for. It is a transfer of energy

Thanks to the law of entropy, he explains, everything in the universe tends to chaos. Life forms impose some kind of order, but creating and maintaining that order takes energy. It requires work to grow leaves or make honey or build a house. So yes, even bacteria and trees do work, despite the fact that they don’t have thoughts about it.

So, Suzman posits that the act of work has been around for a long time, but the idea of work is newer. He explains that our mastery over fire was a likely catalyst. In reducing the energy required to survive, fire gave us leisure. And that might have helped us conceive of its counterpart: work.

How has it changed?

With that energy-definition in place, Suzman talks us through work’s cultural evolution. We start with hunter gatherers: there’s a Kalahari desert tribe who still hunt large animals by chasing them down on foot, just like back in the day. They run until the animal is so dehydrated that it lays down and awaits their spear.

He points out that although such hunts are exhausting, the tribe is lounging most of the time. They conceive of the world as abundant, and have no concept of private property. You only worry about your immediate needs, which are almost always met.

With the arrival of agriculture, that’s what we lost. Because Suzman suspects that the first food surpluses also introduced the concept of scarcity. Once you have a pile of crops, that pile—unlike nature—starts and ends somewhere. And it can be said to belong to somebody.

So farming ushered in modern economics. We started thinking everything was scarce, and inequalities increased. At the same time, farmers had to wait for their crop to mature and thus needed to live on credit for much of the year. So by keeping a record of their debt we created—you guessed it—money.

After that it’s domesticated animals, machines, cities, and the industrial revolution, causing living standards to rise. Working hours rose, then fell, then rose again. Suzman takes us past Luddites, the Great Depression, JK Galbraith, and the War on Talent, all the way until the present where we continue to work a lot while AI seems to breathe down our neck.

As he sends us off, Suzman admits that we can’t go back to hunter-gathering, but hopes that we take inspiration from the tribes and broaden our understanding of work. He reminds us that scarcity and limitless needs are not inevitable truths, nor are they necessary assumptions. These are fantastic points and his detailed evolution of work is very insightful. But it’s missing a piece.

Now for the biggest question

Imagine that you decide to clean up your room, and you call Suzman in to help. He comes over and finds all kinds of junk drawers you didn’t even realize you had, and he spreads the contents all over your living room floor. Then he leaves.

He helped with a crucial step. To reorganize something, you need to know what you’ve got, and identify all the items. But to put them in a better place, you need to know what they’re for. Why did you buy the things you own? And what’s your purpose in rearranging?

To put it bluntly, Work falls short on the question of why. It’s a big book about what we’ve been doing, without much to say about what we do it for. 

To be fair, there are occasions where motives are discussed. One is when he points to a rare bird that builds very elaborate nests only to break them apart and all start over again. Similarly, some people run ultramarathons. Darwin’s survival of the fittest can’t explain it, Suzman says, so it’s probably a way to get rid of energy surpluses. 

I can’t explain the bird either. But ask any ultramarathon-runner, and I bet they’ll tell you they did it because it was a meaningful experience—not because they were sitting on the couch bouncing up and down and only 31 miles would do the trick.

The second occasion is consumer culture. Suzman cites Galbraith who points to the way advertisers exploit our relative needs, making us want to work more to buy more. This undoubtedly plays a role. And to state the obvious, many of those less affluent will do any work that can help them survive.

But is that it?

Consider your own case

Why do you do the job you have? Is it the easiest way to survive? Is it a means to get rid of surplus energy?  I doubt it. The right kind of work GIVES you energy. How does it do that? Because it’s meaningful. Why is it meaningful? Because you are able to contribute something. You are able to make a change. You are fulfilling a purpose you set for yourself. So these are the questions to ask: What’s the work out there that we think needs doing? What should work be for?

Perhaps Suzman didn’t get to these questions because there wasn’t much room for them in the past. In that case, fair enough. It may be that today’s circumstances of relative affluence and increasing levels of automation give them real relevance only now. But if we want a concept of work that we can carry forward, we can’t let ‘em drop.

And Suzman will be happy to know that there are plenty of young economists ready to do away with the assumptions of scarcity and limitless needs. But doing away with things is not enough. We need to introduce some new stuff too. And if you’re asking me, that new stuff is meaning

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some work to do •

About the Author: Heske van Doornen is Manager of the Young Scholars Initiative and co-founder of this blog. Twitter: @HeskevanDoornen

Buy the Book
Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots Book
By James Suzman | Penguin Press (2021)

Want to review a book you read? YSI will reimburse you for the price of the book, and will consider your piece for publication on Economic Questions. Reach out to contact@economicquestions.org to get started.

How Corporations Crush the Working ClassThe most dramatic change...

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/04/2021 - 4:16am in

How Corporations Crush the Working Class

The most dramatic change in the system over the last half-century has been the emergence of corporate giants like Amazon and the shrinkage of labor unions.

The resulting power imbalance has spawned near-record inequalities of income and wealth, corruption of democracy by big money, and the abandonment of the working class.

Fifty years ago, General Motors was the largest employer in America. The typical GM worker earned $35 an hour in today’s dollars and had a major say over working conditions.

Today’s largest employers are Amazon and Walmart, each paying far less per hour and routinely exploiting their workers, who have little recourse.

The typical GM worker wasn’t “worth” so much more than today’s Amazon or Walmart worker and didn’t have more valuable insights about working conditions.

The difference is those GM workers had a strong union. They were backed by the collective bargaining power of more than a third of the entire American workforce. 

Today, most workers are on their own. Only 6.4% of America’s private-sector workers are unionized, providing little collective pressure on Amazon, Walmart, or other major employers to treat their workers any better.

Fifty years ago, the labor movement had enough political clout to ensure labor laws were enforced and that the government pushed giant firms like GM to sustain the middle class.

Today, organized labor’s political clout is minuscule by comparison. 

The biggest political players are giant corporations like Amazon. They’ve used that political muscle to back “right-to-work” laws, whittle down federal labor protections, and keep the National Labor Relations Board understaffed and overburdened, allowing them to get away with egregious union-busting tactics.

They’ve also impelled government to lower their taxes; extorted states to provide them tax breaks as a condition for locating facilities there; bullied cities where they’re headquartered; and wangled trade treaties allowing them to outsource so many jobs that blue-collar workers in America have little choice but to take low-paying, high-stress warehouse and delivery gigs. 

Oh, and they’ve neutered antitrust laws, which in an earlier era would have had companies like Amazon in their crosshairs.

This decades-long power shift – the ascent of corporate leviathans and the demise of labor unions – has resulted in a massive upward redistribution of income and wealth. The richest 0.1% of Americans now have almost as much wealth as the bottom 90% put together.

The power shift can be reversed – but only with stronger labor laws resulting in more unions, tougher trade deals, and a renewed commitment to antitrust.

The Biden administration and congressional Democrats appear willing. The House has just passed the toughest labor reforms in more than a generation. Biden’s new trade representative, promises trade deals will protect American workers rather than exporters. And Biden is putting trustbusters in critical positions at the Federal Trade Commission and in the White House.

And across the country, labor activism has surged – from the Amazon union effort, to frontline workers walking out and striking to demand better pay, benefits, and safety protections.

I’d like to think America is at a tipping point similar to where it was some 120 years ago, when the ravages and excesses of the Gilded Age precipitated what became known as the Progressive Era. Then, reformers reined in the unfettered greed and inequalities of the day and made the system work for the many rather than the few.

It’s no exaggeration to say that we’re now living in a Second Gilded Age. And today’s progressive activists may be on the verge of ushering us into a Second Progressive Era. They need all the support we can give them.

Cartoon: Big Bezos is watching

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 06/04/2021 - 9:50pm in

If you haven't heard about Amazon's delivery driver surveillance cameras, this Thomson Reuters article is a good place to start. Amazon has a long history of inflexible micromanaging of the motions of warehouse workers, so they're just extending that to the trucks now.

If you are able, please consider joining the Sorensen Subscription Service!

Follow me on Twitter at @JenSorensen

Labor conference to cull policies and confirm move to the right

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/03/2021 - 4:44pm in

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Labor

Scott Morrison’s appalling response to the rape scandals in the Liberal Party means an early election this year is off the cards for now. But Labor is getting itself ready just in case, with its National Conference being held on 30-31 March to set down policies.

The event will be even more stage-managed than usual after the party opted for an online event held over two days mid-week.

Leader Anthony Albanese is dumping many of the policies Labor took to the last election, moving to the right and adopting a small target strategy that avoids serious change or any effort at taxing the rich to fund much-needed services.

The “draft” policy platform hammered out between Labor’s factions prior to the conference has been slashed to 115 pages, down from the 310-page document ratified at the party’s last national conference in 2018.

The effort to reduce tax handouts for rich property investors taken to the last election, through changes to negative gearing and capital gains tax, have been dumped altogether.

House prices have soared since negative gearing was introduced under John Howard’s Coalition government in 1998, making it all but impossible for many young people to buy a home. After a dip last year during the COVID crisis, house prices are back to new record highs in Sydney and Melbourne and are set to rise further.

As economics commentator Greg Jericho wrote, “any political party seeking to do something about housing affordability needs first to change negative gearing and the ability for people to get a 50 per cent discount on capital gains tax rate.”

Yet Labor has waved the white flag on any action—blaming its failure at the last election on “too many policies” as Albanese has put it. But its real failure was to explain how the rich were the ones who would lose out. Its plan to increase taxes on shareholders through changes to franking credits has already been dropped too.

Labor’s policies now include further backing for fossil fuels, too. Instead of taking a stand against Morrison’s nonsense about a “gas-fired recovery” from COVID, it has rushed to embrace it. Not only does its platform declare that Labor “supports the critical role that gas plays in the Australian economy”, it even accepts Morrison’s lie that gas is needed as a transition fuel in reducing emissions by saying it “has an important role to play in achieving Labor’s target of net zero emissions by 2050”.

Worse, it declares that failed Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology has a “crucial role” to play. CCS was dreamed up by fossil fuel companies as a figleaf to pretend their operations could continue indefinitely. Despite decades of research and government funding it is still nothing but an expensive failure, currently estimated to inflate power costs to six times more than renewables plus storage, if it even works.

Labor for Refugees made another attempt to amend the platform to end Labor’s support for offshore detention, but that won’t be changed at this conference. Labor, however, remains committed to providing permanent protection visas and abolishing the Coalition’s fast track system of refugee assessment.

Gutted

The slimming down of party policy has also removed rafts of previous commitments. Both Palestine and LGBTI policies were initial victims of the cull.

Labor’s agreement to recognising a Palestinian state, voted through at its last national conference, was a small break from its otherwise firm devotion to supporting Israel and the US alliance. But it simply disappeared from the platform.

NSW right faction heavyweight and former NSW Premier Bob Carr had to intervene personally to have it reinstated.

LGBTI activists have not had the same success. Pledges to end coercive medical interventions on intersex children and to end out-of-pocket costs for trans and gender diverse people seeking gender affirmation treatment, as well as all references to HIV, have all been removed.

Advocacy group just.equal has also condemned the failure to commit to measures to extend anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTI school students and teachers.

“Labor’s LGBTIQ+ policy commitments continue to go backwards. In the 2018 platform the term LGBTIQ appeared 46 times, now it appears eight times,” just.equal’s Charlie Burton said. “Labor’s 2019 election loss was not the fault of LGBTIQ+ people but we seem to be ones being punished for it.”

Labor has announced changes over industrial relations that it says will increase the rights of casual workers. Some of these address union demands over equal pay for those employed via labour hire companies and an increased right for casuals to move into a permanent job.

But the overall direction is clear. Labor lost the last election because not enough people trusted it to deliver on promises of change. Dropping those promises altogether won’t get it anywhere.

By James Supple

The post Labor conference to cull policies and confirm move to the right appeared first on Solidarity Online.

The Education Trap

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/03/2021 - 12:00am in

Book image provided by Harvard University Press ————— Despite its centrality in public life and scholarly debate, education, surprisingly, has...

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Union Democracy and “The Final Goal”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 21/03/2021 - 2:29am in

Union democracy or more accurately the transformation of major unions into living democratic participatory organizations and cultures is a necessity precisely because of the corporations’ massive powers of resistance.

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The post Union Democracy and “The Final Goal” appeared first on New Politics.

Can Amazon Be Organized? In Alabama They’re Trying

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 10/03/2021 - 1:36am in

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Labor

In Bessemer, Alabama, 5,800 warehouse workers will vote this month on whether or not they want a union at the Amazon facility there. If they vote to unionize, it will be the first successful union campaign at Amazon in the United States.

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The post Can Amazon Be Organized? In Alabama They’re Trying appeared first on New Politics.

Mumia Time or Sweeney Time

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 06/03/2021 - 6:32am in

Dave Roediger wrote in 2000, "[T]he extent to which Abu-Jamal knows that he needs to identify with the labor movement, and that some in the labor movement know that they need to support him, signals what the working class movement is becoming and can be."

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The post Mumia Time or Sweeney Time appeared first on New Politics.

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