Distinguishing social democracy

Distinguishing social democracy:

Under left-liberal (as opposed to soc dem) regimes, organized labor does not participate in mid- to longer-range socio-economic planning. However, left think tanks can contribute mid- to long-range planning analyses.

Conversely, there are a variety of ways in which business leaders contribute to public policy formation, because business (public and private, but not cooperative) is regarded by the lib-left govt as the engine of growth.

This exclusion of cooperatives from the field of perceived contributors to growth indicates that lib-left govts may also be distinguished from social democratic govts by an assumption that growth is a product of “efficient” social-hierarchy-inflating organizational forms.

In lib-left regimes, labor views its role, and the liberal government views labor’s role as (often obstructive) ballast to economic growth initiatives that are seen as the natural concern of business. That’s labor’s negative role. It’s not a leadership role.

Labor’s positive role in capitalist democracy thus largely devolves to delivering votes to the left-liberal govt, because although the lib-left does not regard labor as a central social or economic policy resource, as opposed to conservative govts the lib-left govt will not actively try to break organized labor and it may implement those modest proposals of labor that do not impede the business-driven growth planning.

Hence, with a range of ruling (capitalist) political perspectives that always preemptively block information from labor (except what little leaks obliquely through the market), we repeatedly sink into crisis cycles–crisis of profit begets > capital deregulation and overmobilization, working class overregulation, demobilization, and dispossession beget > speculative bubbles/primitive accumulation beget > underconsumption crisis begets > further primitive accumulation, repeat. We fixate on the speculative bubbles moment in the midst of all this autistic failure, hoard wealth, and laud ourselves endlessly for being such top-notch managers and philanthropistes.

This is why for Rawlsianism to work, socialist politics and the communist horizon must be more highly valued, and even defended– by liberals.
As far as I know, this seeming impossibility has only been (temporarily) accomplished in Scandinavia and Minnesota. (While Latin America leftists tried to forge a left-lib coalition from scratch, the US destroyed this effort and enforced conservative rule in Latin America, see Greg Grandin.)

In “Right-wing Rawlsianism: A Critique” (forthcoming in Journal of Political Philosophy) Samuel Arnold argues that if liberals agree that agency is the essence of justice, then liberals have to pick which side they are on–because economic democracy fosters more agency than Trickledown provides.

Arnold’s is a clever detonation of a bridge from liberalism to conservatism, using some of the bridge-builders’ own ideal theory tools. (Particularly with respect to Rawls’ difference principle: A liberal justice-maximizing directive to choose the political-economic system that maximizes the least-advantaged group’s expectations for an index of primary goods that include income and wealth, but also status (qua capacity for agency in the workplace and self-respect in society).)

Upon deriving the optimal realization of liberal justice (agency) in workplace democracy, Arnold concludes (p. 32),

Milquetoast liberal egalitarianism is unstable: liberal egalitarianism must move far to the left in order to avoid being jerked far to the right.”

We need to keep heaping on the demonstrations that economic democracy fosters more agency than GDP/GNP tumescence.

For one example, insofar as political-economic systems can be said to have intentions, how plausible is it that capitalism does not intend to support social pathologies (Arnold, p.29)? Studies of primitive accumulation, the WEB DuBois tradition, socialist feminists, Harvey et al have a lot to say about how capitalism “intends to” (is built and maintained to) and does depend upon and support social pathologies. This approach apprehends the connection between economic (eg. workplace) tyranny and racism, sexism, colonialism, etc., for a powerpunch assertion that inequality is both fundamental to capitalism (even if it is shifted around across some social groups, over time and space) and fatally (from the perspective of justice) undermines agency (power to).

…& on the matter of historical-materialism’s putative incapacity to deal with difference (from a postmodern POV), from Arnold (p. 29):

Patriarchy, discrimination against the weak or the different, pressure to conform, and countless other social practices that prevent people from realizing their full agential potential: how long can these pathologies withstand the countervailing winds of a social democracy, with its democratic workplaces, its flattened division of labor, its robustly egalitarian public institutions?”

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Attacking Teachers’ Unions with Neoliberal Tactics


In LA, a neoliberal coalition involving the ACLU got a court to reduce teachers’ union-negotiated seniority protection, on behalf of poor students.
The Principal Established: “In Social Crises, Unions are Not Compatible with the Public Good”

In “partly” getting rid of seniority, the point is the establishment
of a governance principle: “The public good is diminished by unions’
negotiating power in establishing work conditions (in the form of linking both
compensation and job security with experience).” That principle is
what the neoliberal education reform industry was trying to achieve,
because it lays further ground for the claim that working class
organization (unions) violates civil law, which can be diffused across
American law and education policy.Why seniority is essential to quality jobs, unions and education quality:

Protecting seniority protects workers against being fired when their
union-negotiated wages and benefits begin to compensate for both
training and experience. Without seniority, the compensation won in
negotiations cannot be realized, and this means the union involves a
lot of work without being able to secure any effect. The union becomes nonviable.

Further, education is destabilized.The for-profit motivation for neoliberal education reform tactics:

The commercial interest promoting this antiunion governance principle
is that making working class organization illegal allows private
education firms to offer competitive products to replace public
education. Private education products are competitive insofar as their
profitability (required) to owners, top management and shareholders is
dependent upon 1) Rents: The private firms use education
infrastructure paid for by the public, and 2) Paying teachers
deskilled workers’ poverty wages (perhaps after a seductive
introductory offer good until teachers are no longer unionized).

Inasmuch as this is the motivated interest behind the neoliberal education
reform and privatization campaign, it is not always sufficient to make
the case that this private interest (opposed to unions) represents the public good.

This is why it is important for neoliberals to make the case that the poor
and/or people of color’s interests are also opposed to unions or union
levers.

The neoliberal crisis-exploitation strategy

The justifying context is crisis; conveniently for neoliberals, the poor are always in crisis in capitalism.

A situation in which the state is laying off teachers en masse (and
then
rehiring) and this is disrupting education is one hell of a basis
to claim that the cause of poor childrens’ educational disruption is
the union’s teacher seniority protection. I find the neoliberal actions of the
ACLU lawyers disgusting; but it’s my fault for being naive and romantic about the (Orange County!) ACLU. Orange County goes to show: Neoliberalism is conservatism, often dressed up in multiculturalism.
Consequences of education privatization and deunionization:
Labor market, economic, educational, political and social-psychological

The market discriminates in providing goods and services. (Or, if you think the public education system discriminates against the poor, you aint seen nothin yet…) Those education consumers who have the effective demand (wealth) will (have to) get a much better product in the market than those who do not, and this drop in service quality to the working class will be much larger than with a publicly-provided good or service. That’s why charter schools underperform public schools.

Teachers’ unions are the basis for a middle class in society. When the education market is privatized, individual families and the public pay largely for privatized profits, instead of middle class wages for educated professionals. With privatization and deunionization, profit must be generated out of education (a no- to low-profit sector in the poverty, working class and middle class markets), so you have to rid society of a large sector of middle-wage skilled jobs and replace them with a few highly-compensated upper management jobs and a large sector of low-wage junk jobs.


This deskilling labour market transformation reduces consumer demand and economic growth, and so the tax base is further reduced, even as for-profit education companies must be subsidized by the public in order to profit, and thus drain public resources. So this immediate-cost-saving strategy, deunionization/privatization, has significant and broad long-term economic costs, including state revenue decline that necessitates the  withdrawal of the very voucher system that enabled public education dismantling–leaving nothing but the smoldering shell of the education system, and transferring more superfluous money into the already-overstuffed pockets of the superrich elite. This is a formula for gutting a once-affluent economy.

Deunionization/privatization also produces a mismatch between the cost
of education required for the job (high) and the job compensation
(low), which will on a slight time lag result in more education system
destabilization.

Unions professionalize teachers; and devolving education decision-making power to professional–that is, responsible, judicious, skilled, competent–teachers, in interaction with parents and communities, creates the best, most responsive education decisions and innovation. Without the cultural respect for education and educators that strong unions can promote, education is degraded and devalued, as in Arizona for one example; skills and competencies consequently decline across the region.


With no academic incentive but for efficient junk job training, by and large students and people lose the comparative perspective, leadership and decision-making skills, and other middle class approaches and competencies that education can provide. One of the most profound cultural competencies lost, which only professional, respected, semi-autonomous teachers can deliver on a broad basis, is critical civic competency, including antiracism. The idea of the cross-tribe public good, today used by neoliberals as a tool for promoting private interest, is lost in a high-inequality society.

These are all reasons why, with loss of union density, happiness decreases across society, see this study.

Over 100 years ago, W.E.B. DuBois critiqued the neoliberal approach to educating African-Americans; in that era of “commercial triumphalism,” the neoliberalism was racist. In our era, it’s both racist and classist, as needed. No matter how pragmatically or sentimentally the strategy is marketed, in any era, the goal and effect of neoliberalism is to institutionalize extreme inequality and a high rate of exploitation.


From Chicago is the opposite to the LA deunionization approach.

Employee Free Choice Act

If we vote in a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress, there could be enough political support to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would reduce the number of opportunities businesses have to terrorize employees trying to unionize, and could restore working Americans’ lost ability to form and join unions.

Through unions’ capacity to educate members, unionization would enable working Americans to begin to exert political influence on economic decisions, a sorely needed corrective to the disastrous elites-only conservative economic program.

Business can’t run government by itself because, immersed in conservative rat-actor ideology, business leaders cannot govern for the good of the whole society. Governing only for their own immediate interests, they ultimately destroy not only politics, the environment, communities, and working class lives, but also the economy, including some of the basis of their own privilege.

As immediately annoying as it is to business owners, we need a strong, smart, involved working class to have a society that isn’t hellish.

Go Longshoremen!

May 2, 2008
Union’s War Protest Shuts West Coast Ports
New York Times

By WILLIAM YARDLEY
SEATTLE — West Coast ports were shut down on Thursday as thousands of longshoremen failed to report for work, part of what their union leaders said was a one-day, one-shift protest against the war in Iraq.

Cranes and forklifts stood still from Seattle to San Diego, and ships were stalled at sea as workers held rallies up and down the coast to blame the war for distracting public attention and money from domestic needs like health care and education.

“We’re loyal to America, and we won’t stand by while our country, our troops and our economy are being destroyed by a war that’s bankrupting us to the tune of $3 trillion,” the president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Bob McEllrath, said in a written statement. “It’s time to stand up, and we’re doing our part today.”

About 25,000 union members are employed at 29 West Coast ports, but the protest took place only during the day shift. A spokesman for the main West Coast employers’ group, the Pacific Maritime Association, said it appeared that about 6,000 workers did not show up for work, which meant that about 10,000 containers would not be loaded or unloaded from about 30 cargo ships.

The spokesman, Steve Getzug, cast the action as a strike and therefore a violation of the union’s labor contract, which is up for renewal this summer.

“What the union says and what the union does are two different things,” Mr. Getzug said. “This is genuine defiance.”

Union leaders said that the association had rejected their request weeks ago for Thursday’s one-shift work stoppage, but that local longshoremen continued to promote the protest. It went forward, the union leaders said, despite a demand on Wednesday by an independent arbitrator that they instruct members to go to work.

In many cases, dock workers were joined at port entrances or at rallies by other groups protesting the war or frustrated by economic issues or immigration policies. Some rallies seemed as much like street fairs as angry acts of resistance, with booksellers setting up stands and supporters of the presidential candidate Ralph Nader carrying banners.

On the Seattle waterfront, members of the United Auto Workers and the Service Employees International Union mixed with self-described socialists while many of the scores of police officers on the scene ate box lunches and petted their horses.

In Oakland, Calif., some truckers who said they were angry about high gas prices decided not to cross picket lines at the port.

“I got here ready to haul,” said César Lara, 41, a resident of Richmond, Calif., born in Zacatecas, Mexico. “They told me it was a picket but if I wanted to go in I could. But I’m supporting them and to end the war.”

Several drivers said truckers were planning their own nationwide work stoppage in the next several days to protest record-high gas prices and surcharges.

In Long Beach, Calif., part of nation’s largest port complex, truck drivers from California and neighboring states waited for the port security gates to reopen on Thursday evening, when union members said they planned to return to work. Nearby, in Wilmington, longshoremen met inside a hall while some union members outside read pink fliers stating the reasons for work stoppage.

Kevin Schroeder, director of Local 13’s political action committee, said, “The children of middle-class people are over there dying, so we decided to do something. We are fortunate enough to be in an organization that has a platform to do something.”

Rebecca Cathcart contributed reporting from Long Beach, Calif., and Carolyn Marshall from Oakland, Calif.

Senate Republicans block union bill

Senate Republicans block union bill
Staff and agencies
26 June, 2007
By JESSE J. HOLLAND, AP Labor Writer 1 minute ago

WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked a bill that would allow labor unions to organize workplaces without a secret ballot election.

The final vote was 51-48.

The House passed the bill in March. Democrats and labor unions pressed for a vote in the Senate in hopes of rallying their voters in the 2008 elections, where they hope to win the White House and increase their majorities in the House and Senate.

The GOP also plans to use the vote for election-year campaigning, with corporations and businesses being the top opponents to the legislation. The National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out a fundraising video last week asking people to contribute in order to help stop the Employee Free Choice Act.

The legislation was a litmus test vote for organized labor and businesses, strong supporters of Democrats and Republicans respectively. “Today‘s vote shows us who is standing with workers and which politicians are in collusion with corporate America to destroy the middle class,” Teamsters President Jim Hoffa said.

The bill would require employers to recognize unions after being presented union cards signed by a majority of eligible workers on their payrolls. Under current labor law, a company can demand a secret ballot election supervised by the federal government after being presented the union cards.

Unions complain that employers have greater access to workers during secret ballot campaigns and claim that corporate threats, intimidation and eventual firings have become common for union activists. By dragging out the election process, companies often succeed in wearing down union enthusiasm, they add.

The communications professional Holland concludes his article by listing the amount of money labor gives to Democrats. But since he somehow failed to list how much money organized capital gives to the Republicans, or even how much money organized capital gave to Republicans for this particular anti-union campaign, both of which figures would dwarf labor contributions to the Dems, I am not going to dignify such unbalanced storytelling with repetition.

sexual assault, working class abasement

Excerpted from a critique of the movie “North Country”, this article discusses the connections among economic decline, company unions, working class abasement, and sexual assault. It critiques privileged artists’ facile romanticization of legal resolution within the U.S.
North Country is directed by Niki Caro; screenplay by Michael Seitzman, based on the book, Class Action: The Landmark Case that Changed Sexual Harassment Law by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler.

The Jenson v. Eveleth Mines case, the first class-action sexual-harassment lawsuit in US history, inspired North Country, the new film directed by New Zealand filmmaker Niki Caro (Whale Rider). The lead plaintiff in that case, Lois Jenson, who began working at the northern Minnesota iron mine in 1975, along with 14 other women, ultimately won a multimillion-dollar settlement in 1998—eleven years after the suit was filed.

The punishing and often degrading legal battle against the company exacted an immense toll on the women, most of whom were left physically and mentally debilitated.

The Mesabi Iron Range contains some 110 miles of small towns built at the turn of the last century along a seam of iron ore called taconite. Eveleth Mines was opened by Ford Motor Co. in 1966, and the workers were organized by the United Steelworkers of America (USWA). In 1974, there was an affirmative action “consent decree” between the federal government, nine of the largest steel companies and the USWA, requiring the companies to provide 20 percent of their new jobs to women and racial minorities.

The Bingham/Gansler book hints at some of the conditions that led to the attacks on female workers: “At Eveleth Mines, attrition was high. In 1980, 1,425 employees worked at the mine. But in 1982, the mine shut down an entire line of production, cutting the workforce in half. In August 1983, Eveleth shut down completely for eight weeks. By the end of 1983, a paltry 723 remained—702 miners had vanished as if into the pit. Eveleth Mines had an additional problem: It was the least efficient of all the mines on the Range. Its labor and railroad costs were the highest, and it expended the second largest amount of energy per ton of taconite pellets.

“With so few jobs to go around, hostility at the mine increased toward the women who had enough seniority to keep their jobs.”

Various elements fed into the severity of the sexual harassment, aside from the brutality of the conditions and the inevitable backwardness of the semi-rural area. The United Steel Workers bureaucracy, steeped in chauvinism and anti-communism, refused to conduct a struggle against the loss of jobs, pitting workers against each other in times of economic downturn. In the late 1970s and 1980s, this same bureaucracy presided over the decimation of the US steel industry without lifting a finger.

Clearly, when workers are stressed about the possibility of losing the only decent jobs in a given area and cut off from any progressive solution, the imposition of racial and gender quotas will tend to bring out the worst in the most susceptible layers of the population. Moreover, the events took place under conditions of a general turn to the political right, not only within the more privileged layers of the American population, but also within sections of the working class. All in all, unhappily, the most propitious possible conditions existed for the abuses the women miners suffered.

The actual Jenson trial was a far more torturous ordeal than its shallow recreation in the film would suggest. Jenson describes the 11-year lawsuit as her rape by the judicial system; Class Action cites her comment: “I felt naked on the stand. The atmosphere in the courtroom was just like being at Eveleth Mines. I felt like a criminal and I was going to be sentenced to something.”

Are life’s problems (and the problems of working class women in particular) solved by victory in a hard-fought court case, with the hero(ine) handed a check at the end, as North Country implies? This schmaltz is little more than the American lotto myth. The conditions of working women are hardly idyllic in America; indeed, they are measurably worsening, thanks to bipartisan efforts in Washington.

A recent press release from the National Women’s Law Center notes that on October 26, the House Ways and Means Committee approved more than $8 billion in cuts to programs that benefit low- and middle-income women and their families in order to finance an additional $70 billion or more in tax cuts for the wealthy.

As well as cutting child support enforcement and other services, the Committee intends to reauthorize the Temporary Assistance Needy Families program with more severe requirements and restrictions on access to education and training. Also affected are Child Care and Development Block Grants, for which only $500 million in additional funding will be provided over the next five years. This represents half of the $1 billion increase previously approved by the House, far less than what will be needed to meet the increased child care demands resulting from the bill’s increased work requirements.

“Poor women and their children who have so little are being asked to make painful sacrifices while Congress moves ahead with plans to give even larger tax breaks to those who already have so much,” summarizes the NWLC.

Such is real life in America. From the film industry, often even with decent intentions, we largely receive stereotyped and trivial products, sharply at odds with life.

It is also worth noting that North Country, which rather complacently lauds the practice of launching class-action suits, appears precisely at the historical moment when the Bush administration, with the support of the Democratic Party, has signed into law a measure that will severely curtail the ability of consumers and workers to use class action lawsuits to seek damages for corporate malfeasance. The “golden age” of American jurisprudence advertised in North Country, in other words, which was never so golden to begin with, is already at an end!

Laurier, Joanne. 2005. “Serious problem, treated by not so serious people.” World Socialist Website, October 31. See http://www.wsws.org.