I’m a bit too busy to write something today, but this is worth a read. From Robert Tressell’s fantastic book, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, this is an outstanding illustration as to why the existing system is utter bullshit and why exactly the Greeks are busy burning down half of Athens. The whole book is available here for free and worth a couple read-throughs.
‘Money is the cause of poverty because it is the device by which those who are too lazy to work are enabled to rob the workers of the fruits of their labour.’
‘Prove it,’ said Crass.
Owen slowly folded up the piece of newspaper he had been reading and put it into his pocket.
‘All right,’ he replied. ‘I’ll show you how the Great Money Trick is worked.’
Owen opened his dinner basket and took from it two slices of bread but as these were not sufficient, he requested that anyone who had some bread left would give it to him. They gave him several pieces, which he placed in a heap on a clean piece of paper, and, having borrowed the pocket knives they used to cut and eat their dinners with from Easton, Harlow and Philpot, he addressed them as follows:
‘These pieces of bread represent the raw materials which exist naturally in and on the earth for the use of mankind; they were not made by any human being, but were created by the Great Spirit for the benefit and sustenance of all, the same as were the air and the light of the sun.’
… ‘Now,’ continued Owen, ‘I am a capitalist; or, rather, I represent the landlord and capitalist class. That is to say, all these raw materials belong to me. It does not matter for our present argument how I obtained possession of them, or whether I have any real right to them; the only thing that matters now is the admitted fact that all the raw materials which are necessary for the production of the necessaries of life are now the property of the Landlord and Capitalist class. I am that class: all these raw materials belong to me.’
… ‘Now you three represent the Working Class: you have nothing – and for my part, although I have all these raw materials, they are of no use to me – what I need is – the things that can be made out of these raw materials by Work: but as I am too lazy to work myself, I have invented the Money Trick to make you work for me. But first I must explain that I possess something else beside the raw materials. These three knives represent – all the machinery of production; the factories, tools, railways, and so forth, without which the necessaries of life cannot be produced in abundance. And these three coins’ – taking three halfpennies from his pocket – ‘represent my Money Capital.’
‘But before we go any further,’ said Owen, interrupting himself, ‘it is most important that you remember that I am not supposed to be merely “a” capitalist. I represent the whole Capitalist Class. You are not supposed to be just three workers – you represent the whole Working Class.’
… Owen proceeded to cut up one of the slices of bread into a number of little square blocks.
‘These represent the things which are produced by labour, aided by machinery, from the raw materials. We will suppose that three of these blocks represent – a week’s work. We will suppose that a week’s work is worth – one pound: and we will suppose that each of these ha’pennies is a sovereign. …
‘Now this is the way the trick works -’
… Owen now addressed himself to the working classes as represented by Philpot, Harlow and Easton.
‘You say that you are all in need of employment, and as I am the kind-hearted capitalist class I am going to invest all my money in various industries, so as to give you Plenty of Work. I shall pay each of you one pound per week, and a week’s work is – you must each produce three of these square blocks. For doing this work you will each receive your wages; the money will be your own, to do as you like with, and the things you produce will of course be mine, to do as I like with. You will each take one of these machines and as soon as you have done a week’s work, you shall have your money.’
The Working Classes accordingly set to work, and the Capitalist class sat down and watched them. As soon as they had finished, they passed the nine little blocks to Owen, who placed them on a piece of paper by his side and paid the workers their wages.
‘These blocks represent the necessaries of life. You can’t live without some of these things, but as they belong to me, you will have to buy them from me: my price for these blocks is – one pound each.’
As the working classes were in need of the necessaries of life and as they could not eat, drink or wear the useless money, they were compelled to agree to the kind Capitalist’s terms. They each bought back and at once consumed one-third of the produce of their labour. The capitalist class also devoured two of the square blocks, and so the net result of the week’s work was that the kind capitalist had consumed two pounds worth of the things produced by the labour of the others, and reckoning the squares at their market value of one pound each, he had more than doubled his capital, for he still possessed the three pounds in money and in addition four pounds worth of goods. As for the working classes, Philpot, Harlow and Easton, having each consumed the pound’s worth of necessaries they had bought with their wages, they were again in precisely the same condition as when they started work – they had nothing.
This process was repeated several times: for each week’s work the producers were paid their wages. They kept on working and spending all their earnings. The kind-hearted capitalist consumed twice as much as any one of them and his pile of wealth continually increased. In a little while – reckoning the little squares at their market value of one pound each – he was worth about one hundred pounds, and the working classes were still in the same condition as when they began, and were still tearing into their work as if their lives depended upon it.
After a while the rest of the crowd began to laugh, and their merriment increased when the kind-hearted capitalist, just after having sold a pound’s worth of necessaries to each of his workers, suddenly took their tools – the Machinery of Production – the knives away from them, and informed them that as owing to Over Production all his store-houses were glutted with the necessaries of life, he had decided to close down the works.
‘Well, and what the bloody ‘ell are we to do now?’ demanded Philpot.
‘That’s not my business,’ replied the kind-hearted capitalist. ‘I’ve paid you your wages, and provided you with Plenty of Work for a long time past. I have no more work for you to do at present. Come round again in a few months’ time and I’ll see what I can do for you.’
‘But what about the necessaries of life?’ demanded Harlow. ‘We must have something to eat.’
‘Of course you must,’ replied the capitalist, affably; ‘and I shall be very pleased to sell you some.’
‘But we ain’t got no bloody money!’
‘Well, you can’t expect me to give you my goods for nothing! You didn’t work for me for nothing, you know. I paid you for your work and you should have saved something: you should have been thrifty like me. Look how I have got on by being thrifty!’
The unemployed looked blankly at each other, but the rest of the crowd only laughed; and then the three unemployed began to abuse the kind-hearted Capitalist, demanding that he should give them some of the necessaries of life that he had piled up in his warehouses, or to be allowed to work and produce some more for their own needs; and even threatened to take some of the things by force if he did not comply with their demands. But the kind-hearted Capitalist told them not to be insolent, and spoke to them about honesty, and said if they were not careful he would have their faces battered in for them by the police, or if necessary he would call out the military and have them shot down like dogs, the same as he had done before at Featherstone and Belfast.
I’ll write on Greece tomorrow. My thoughts are with those in the streets.
After locking out 465 members of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 27 in London, Ontario, Caterpillar decided last Friday to close its 62-year-old locomotive facility there and move production to newly “right-to-work” Indiana, where American workers will work for half of what Canadian workers would make. Caterpillar’s decision to close the plant after workers refused to agree to major wage concessions has provoked outrage across Canada in light of the fact that Illinois-based Caterpillar made a record $4.8 billion in profits in 2011.
CAW members, who have already been blockading a completed locomotive from leaving the London plant, have vowed to continue blocking any products from leaving there as they attempt to extract a better severance from the company. The CAW local is also considering occupying the plant. “The CAW has occupied workplaces when employers have shown disrespect,” Canadian Auto Workers Union President Ken Lewenza told Bloomberg. “It’s a tool. It’s an option.”
As I reported last week, under the Investment Canada Act, foreign companies taking over Canadian companies must demonstrate a “net benefit” to Canada. Critics claim that the government allowed a foreign-owned company (Caterpillar) to buy a Canadian company without having any intention of providing any “net benefit” to Canada.
I really hope the CAW follow through with that occupation, because fuck Caterpillar and because Stephen Harper won’t stand up for them. They might not be able to save their jobs, but they might be able to make this a Pyrrhic victory for Caterpillar.
In addition, don’t think that the recent dues freeloading law passed by Indiana has absolutely nothing to do with this decision by Caterpillar, because it has everything to do with it. Caterpillar is staggeringly profitable, and the wages paid at this plant aren’t insane. They are decent, skilled-labor wages, but the environment in the US is conducive to a race to the bottom, the jobs go away and lives get just a little better for those in Muncie and a whole lot worse for those in London.
This whole sad story yet again proves exactly how morally bankrupt the existing economic system is. This plant closure will ruin people’s lives. It will unhome people, it will impoverish people, it will cause a whole swath of societal ills that won’t be addressed because of Mike Harris’ public sector cuts in the nineties. I remember very clearly supporting my teachers’ picket line in 1997 because of what Harris was looking to do was so repellant. What’s happening in London is the inevitable continuation of that neoliberal effort. There is literally no reason, none at all, to do any of this aside for sheer naked avarice.
The Liberals will probably try to make hay over this, but they have supported similar efforts in the recent past under Martin. The only party that’s in a position to really slam Harper and the Tories on this is the NDP, recently ascendant to the Official Opposition after the last election. However, I fear that the leadership vacuum within the New Democrats after Layton’s passing will leave them unable to really go after Harper for allowing and even supporting this kind of asset stripping. If Layton was still alive, they would have easily been able to absolutely shellack the Tories on this bullshit, but with their leadership election taking up all the air in the room, it will be an afterthought at best.
In the end, I’m hoping for the best, but I don’t think this turns out happy for the CAW workers. It’s really fucking sad. I hope someone burns down the house of Caterpillar’s CEO.
Greece is, to put it simply, fucked, and the Greeks realize it. The EU and IMF are meeting today to figure out how to fuck them over further in the name of preventing a default and thus triggering another crisis of capitalism when we haven’t even remotely come close to recovering from the last one. If anything, a Greek default could cause a bigger crisis because of how precarious things are right now.
Yet the Greeks have been remarkably resistant and the EU’s decision-makers have yet to figure out the best way to make Greece play by the privatize-and-burn neoliberal model that’s been forced down the throat of dozens of countries in the developing world. This is, to some extent, due to their unions and some of their left wing (their Communists are regrettably moving in lock step with the government). Lagarde, Merkel, and Zapatero had hoped, like in every other instance this particular model had been rolled out, it could be pushed through in an undemocratic fashion as fast as possible because ‘there is no alternative’ and ‘this is a crisis and you have to take bold action’.
Except that there is an alternative to what the European Commission and the IMF have planned for Greece, and some workers at a hospital in Kilkis have decided to take bold action, just not the bold action the international financiers were hoping for.
Health workers in Kilkis, Greece, have occupied their local hospital and have issued a statement saying it is now fully under workers control.
The workers have responded to the regime’s acceleration of unpopular austerity measures by occupying the hospital and outing it under direct and complete control by the workers. All decisions will be made by a ‘workers general assembly’.
The hospital has stated that. “The government is not acquitted of its financial responsibilities, and if their demands are not met, they will turn to the local and wider community for support in every possible way to save the hospital defend free public healthcare, to overthrow the government and every neo-liberal policy.”
As I’ve stated earlier, this is what Occupy here in the US will have to move towards doing. It requires a big leap of faith and a lot of courage, because the first successful one will be attacked by police just as savagely as Occupy Oakland was on the 28th and heaped with scorn in the media, likely in the vein of, “look at those Occupy hippies tryin’ to get jobs AND THEY STILL CAN’T DO IT RIGHT!”
It will get attacked by the cops because taking over a failed capitalist institution and turning it into a going concern outside that framework is intolerable to the employing class. An enterprise like reopening a failed business as a worker collective shows their method of organizing society to not be the only way, but potentially a less successful one. So out come the enforcers with tear gas and rubber bullets to prevent this from even making a short-term run at success. I’d also add that it’s important to take over a closed business and not start up a new worker co-op. Part of the point is to be provocative and confrontational, and by doing so draw attention to this effort.
Once the cops have cleared the reoccupied business, it then becomes necessary to figuratively poison the well, to keep people from trying something like this again, which is where the media reaction to this fits in. Occupying abandoned buildings for community centers and the like is at least noble in intent, which is why you barely saw why the OPD embraced their inner blackshirt on January 28th mentioned. If an Occupy reopens a shuttered business in this time of massive un-and-underemployment, that would be entirely too good of a story to just ignore, but the media couldn’t afford to depict in in a positive light.
The media narrative would be along the lines of, “Well, those Occupy hippies have done it again! They finally got jobs, but since they are dumb hippies, they can’t just do things normally like getting a job at McDonalds. Get this…they took over an abandoned business and started it back up again, and since they are dumb hippies, they decided to run it democratically! How crazy is that! How can they function without a boss! Good thing the cops went in and cleared them out before something bad happened.”
Granted, the actual phrasing would probably be a bit more subtle than all that, but that would be the general tone. Make no mistake: the Occupy protests in their current form have the employing class worried. The reoccupation of foreclosed homes has them alarmed. A shift to this kind of occupation, just taking over shuttered businesses and running them democratically, would scare the fuck out of them and push them to try and break up the Occupy movement for good. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s possible to win this particular battle.
So if I’m right about the reaction to such a workplace occupation, how do you successfully defend it? Firstly, you take over the space quickly and quietly. You don’t announce it beforehand, you don’t launch the start with a march. You pick out a dozen or so people from the group who are interested in doing this, take over the space, and get it up and running. Operate it quietly as any other business for a couple weeks if possible. Then launch it as an Occupy effort. Have the march, the big press release talking about putting power back in the hands of the people, the whole nine yards. When the cops come to clear you out, to hell with Chris Hedges’ liberal ass and fight them off. Make the cops go full-on stormtrooper to shut down the business and make sure you capture them doing so on video (this last part probably won’t be a problem) and slam them for physically assaulting ‘job creators’. Finally, when the media comes to pass judgement on this enterprise, have another two reoccupations in the pipeline that you can launch so you can prove them to be liars when they say it was unsustainable.
The next stage of this movement has to be reoccupying closed workplace. I’ve said that for a while, and I think this Kilkis hospital takeover hints at me being correct about this. I’m going to watch what news emerges from that like a hawk because it presages what’s feasible here in the US. A better world is possible, we just need to bring it into being.
Ever since Obama took office, everyone on the far right seems to bleat endlessly about ‘class warfare’. Mitt Romney does it when he talks about the politics of envy. Newt Gingrich does it when uses Dinesh DeSouza’s bullshit line about Obama being a Kenyan anti-colonialist. Paul Ryan does it when people call him on his shit-awful Medicare plan. All the various bloviating Fox News talking heads go on and on about it whenever a moderately fair tax rate is proposed for the wealthy.
I want to make something perfectly clear: what Obama is doing isn’t class warfare, at least not in the way they think. For the record, this is what class warfare actually looks like.
On Saturday, workers violated a court order preventing them gathering within two hundred metres of the factory. The protests turned violent, workers set company cars on fire, and clashed with the police. The Police used sticks to beat back protestors, and then opened fire when their initial attempts at dispersing them had failed.
Murali Mohan a union leader and main agitator in the dispute was attacked by the police. Has was battered with batons, and died from his injuries whilst in police custody.
Nine workers required hospital treatment due to receiving bullet wounds, all of whom are said to be in a ‘critical’ condition.
After the news of Mohan’s death reached the workers, four hundred of them stormed the house of senior company executive, K. C Chandrekhar, and beat him to death.
Please note that there’s not a single mention of higher taxes or increased regulation in this story.
The far right is trying to tar President Obama, and it’s somewhat successful because no one in the American polity actually knows what class war looks like. This is mostly because what remains of the Left in the US is relatively quiescent or blends into the background whenever a larger issue comes to the fore until very recently. As examples, I’d point towards the lack of strikes by labor unions and the gays rights movement, respectively. Likewise, their rhetoric completely ignores the fact that there has been a sustained class war waged since 1980, only it’s been top-down as opposed to the scary bottom-up class war that has all the various Fox News luminaries so concerned.
Reagan breaking PATCO and advocacy for supply-side economics was class warfare. Clinton’s destruction of welfare and deregulation of financial derivatives was class warfare. Virtually the entirety of George W. Bush’s presidency was class warfare. Obama’s deficit commission and support for cuts to Social Security and Medicare is class warfare. The police repression of Occupy across the country is class warfare. It’s all class warfare, only waged against people like me on behalf of people like Jamie Dimon or Lloyd Blankfein and not the scary kind that’s the other way around.
That said, I think the era of an inactive Left is coming to an end. The mass protests in Madison was just the first hint that things were shifting. Then Occupy came about and now there’s an uptick in activity by and interest in the unions that can only do some good. And while the employing class continues to attack the working class (most recently in Indiana with their bullshit union dues freeloading law), you are finally starting to see those attacks galvanize (instead of shred the morale of) the Left.
We’re a long ways from India and storming an executive’s house to beat him to death with lead pipes (and I don’t think it’s really necessary to do that here unless you see striking workers get gunned down), but I think showing whiners like Romney and Ryan what class warfare actually looks like is coming so long as we get off our asses and get down to the hard work of waging it.
On the other hand, perhaps this generation can still come out as good, proper kvetches. Witness this popular parable making its way through corridors, water-coolers, pubs, and internet boards about Generation Y’s situation on today’s job market:
The older generations told us: “Study hard in high school, because you need to go to college. You don’t want to be stuck flipping burgers when you get older, do you?”
Well we studied hard in high school, took out loans, went to college, and graduated.
Now the older generations tell us: “Get to work flipping burgers, you spoiled brats!”
This at least comes closer to identifying the real issue: everyone from the upper-middle class downwards has found themselves reduced to just doing whatever it takes to get by and pay their bills at the end of the month. With full irony intended, this is supposed to be how the poor live! But now everyone is poor, and Gen-Y’s 85% rate of moving back in with our parents post-graduation can only hide this fact for so long.
Everyone under the age of thirty who is underemployed should be forced to read this whole piece, because it quite accurately crystallizes a fair chunk of my thinking on the current economic situation. We are all supremely fucked, and there isn’t a way out of this mess within the existing system, and what’s more I think more and more of my generation realize this, whereas our parents and Gen X don’t. When talking about these political issues with my parents, there is a reformist streak to their solutions. If we elect the right politicians, things will get fixed eventually. If the employing class can just be shamed sufficiently, they will do the right thing.
They aren’t idiots, far from it, and they are also far from being alone in falling into that kind of trap. Reformism and gradualism are basically ways to reduce the impact of the problems being created by neoliberal capitalism so that people don’t actually get pissed enough to solve the root issue, and that’s capitalism itself. Reformist programs like welfare is treating the symptom and not the cause, and so long as people treat it as a legitimate alternative to actual revolutionary change, we’ll be back in this mess even if a robust welfare state gets pushed through, be it five years from now or five decades from now. Nothing frustrates me more than otherwise decent and honest people saying, “we have to work through the system first before we try anything else,” because we’ve already tried working through the system and it’s failed miserably. It was called the post-war era, and virtually every single program implemented then is under a sustained attack now. You doubt this? Look at the entire austerity hysteria sweeping the West and then talk to me.
You have the UK Tories dismantling the welfare state and the NHS bit by bit and the Labour party sitting by and half-heartedly endorsing their actions. You have the Canadian Tories starting the pull apart their universal health care system by starting to privatize it. You have Social Security and Medicare under threat as Democrats have endorsed plans that amount to the demise of those two programs. And these are only the most visible examples. You give me twenty minutes and I’ll turn up more, because there’s always more and it’s always worse. Oh, and in most cases, the groups doing the biggest damage to these programs are usually the ones that implemented them a generation and a half ago.
The fact of the matter is that the programs like Social Security, Medicare, and labor protections were compromises that only came into being because there were a lot of folk who had learned how to fight between 1941-45 and weren’t about to come back to a Depression-era existence. The people running the show realized this, and gave some ground realizing that it could be clawed back later on down the road. So they gave ground, didn’t fight too hard against Medicare or Social Security, and negotiated decent contracts with labor unions once those institutions had been purged of most of their radicals. These compromises gave birth to the American ‘middle class’ mindset, and ultimately neutered any chance for genuinely radical ideas to gain any traction within the body politic.
Until the latest crisis, which has shown an upswing of interest in economic models that are genuinely democratic and egalitarian in nature. Hopefully the Millennials don’t fall into the trap our grandparents fell into and start to push for genuine change to the way society is organized, because otherwise nothing will get better.
Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.
“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”
As with my previous piece about Apple, this is par for the course and an inevitable outgrowth of capitalism, particularly neoliberalism. When people are talking about making America more competitive in the global market, this is what they are talking about: making everyone live in company barracks so that a foreman can come and wake you up in the dead hours of night to work twelve hours straight with no break on the whim of some egomaniacal asshole who doesn’t like that his phone screen can scratch when he has his metal keys in his pocket. This is barely a quarter step up from chattel slavery.
Let’s not forget that the contractor in question (Foxconn) has had to put up anti-suicide nets because it treats its workers in such a degrading and horrific fashion, and that recently two hundred workers threatened to commit suicide in the face of a manager breaking an agreement. It’s this kind of degradation and autocratic behavior that enable the kind of ‘flexibility’ that has Apple’s executives going on about how they can’t onshore these jobs again.
Fuck every single one of these people and those that benefit from the wealth they gain by abusing their workers. They should be reviled for doing this. They shouldn’t be able to show their fucking faces in public. They shouldn’t be allowed to eat out at restaurants. Their children should be ostracized in school. People should turn their backs on them when they speak, and every single business that isn’t a gigantic conglomerate should turn away their custom, because if they had their way, these executives would bind us so thoroughly to a cycle of poverty and serfdom that it would be impossible to escape from.
However, these people are beyond shame. As I said earlier, they don’t eat at restaurants and drink at the bars we do. They don’t fly aboard the same planes as us, they don’t live in the same neighborhoods as us, and their kids don’t go to the same schools as us. You can’t embarrass these people because they aren’t a part of the community. The only answer is to dispossess these bastards by taking control of the system so it can be run communally and for the benefit of the worker, and not the executive.
The way forward is organizing the industries that remain here, and building new ones under communal control. Until we break the control these wannabe feudal lords have on our lives, nothing will get better. For my part, I’m done ever giving my money to Apple ever again. I will not put my money in the pockets of scum like this, not a dime, not ever again. I’ve used a Mac since I was 3, and I can’t stomach making the people who are unapologetically doing this any richer.
Congress may take books, musical compositions and other works out of the public domain, where they can be freely used and adapted, and grant them copyright status again, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
In a 6-2 ruling, the court ruled that just because material enters the public domain, it is not “territory that works may never exit.” (PDF)
The top court was ruling on a petition by a group of orchestra conductors, educators, performers, publishers and film archivists who urged the justices to reverse an appellate court that ruled against the group, which has relied on artistic works in the public domain for their livelihoods.
With the whole uproar of PIPA and SOPA, it’s important to not lose sight of the fact that there are other efforts to subvert participation in the media landscape by the bulk of the population and not just media conglomerates. Bet your bottom dollar that this new power for Congress will inevitably get abused, as public domain works can get recopyrighted and sold to private hands. This is a bad decision, and one that is a further effort to preserve an intellectually bankrupt idea a little while longer.
Since the tie between content and its physical container has been severed by the computer, the concept of intellectual property has become increasingly obsolete. It is the artificial imposition of scarcity on an item that can potentially be perfectly copied infinitely. Copyright (and patents) are like trying to charge for breathing. As Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine, said when he released the method of making his vaccine into the public domain, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” His decision not to exercise his intellectual property rights prevented profiteering and by doing so probably saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Understand that I’m not saying artists shouldn’t be compensated for their hard work, because that’s literally as far from where I’m coming from as one can get. What I’m saying is that we need to come up with a new method of compensating artists than the methods we have right now, because the system we have isn’t working. As a stopgap, though, we should resist attempts by groups like the MPAA and RIAA to bulwark this system through legislation like PIPA and SOPA and court decisions like this, because it will only make whatever new method to compensate artists we develop more difficult to implement.
And for maximum irony, the lead plaintiff in this case won’t be able to play Prokofiev and Shostakovitch due to licensing fees costing too much. Yes you read that last one correctly, and yes it’s that Shostakovitch, the famous Soviet composer. You couldn’t make this shit up if you tried.
Trumka, one of two union leaders on the council, said the body is too narrow to provide recommendations to President Obama that are balanced between the interests of business and other groups such as labor.
He specifically took issue with the report’s calls for lower corporate taxes and fewer regulations, saying they would not lead to more jobs.
“Overall, I disagree that reforming our regulatory system and reducing the statutory corporate tax rate are crucial elements of ‘competitiveness’ for the United States going forward, nor does empirical evidence support the claim that significant net new job creation would result from such ‘reforms,’” he said.
Maybe there’s hope within the AFL-CIO yet. Substantively speaking, the AFL-CIO is going to fall in behind the Democrats come November, but that they are willing to shoot a raspberry at Obama and lambast the Jobs Council’s neoliberal idiocy is an encouraging sign. This combined with Trumka talking about the split within the labor movement around the Keystone XL pipeline and not taking a federation-wide stand on the project, the AFL-CIO seems to be recovering from its moribund centrism and is charting a more aggressively progressive course.
If I were Trumka and wanted to build on this, I’d invest my resources in both new organizing and modernizing the AFL-CIO. Part of the problem is that the labor movement has waned in relevance to most people, and the only way to change that is to increase the number of people affiliated with the unions and to open up the AFL-CIO’s decision-making process. My generation is starving for this kind of progressive advocacy, and the labor movement is the logical group to push for these causes. If they don’t take up the banner, then some other entity will come into being to do so.
The pessimistic side of me wants to say, “no, nothing will happen, death is certain,” but I hope Trumka realizes that if he doesn’t get the unions moving soon they will cease to be relevant. He’s not a dumb man and managed to carry off one of the more militant strikes in modern American history when he ran the UMWA, so I think he realizes the necessity of breaking the unions away from the establishment as much as possible. In any event, it’s good news and I hope more comes of it.
For context, La Senza is a subsidiary of Limited Brands that specializes in high end underwear and lingerie, similar to Victoria’s Secret. The workers in question were basically fired in a snap after La Senza UK filed for bankruptcy. Through some legal fuckery, La Senza was restructuring in a way that would allow them to reduce the amount of money it owed in wages already earned by sales associates for their hard work. These women weren’t going to take this news without a fight, nor were they going to wait for a legal system slanted against them to make its decision. Several workers took over their now-empty stores in protest, and occupied them for all of a day and a half until the bankruptcy administrator announced that they would be paid their back wages.
This story echoes the success of the Republic Windows And Doors occupation in late 2008. In both cases, workers getting screwed out of wages and severances took over their former jobsite and held it until they got satisfaction. While both stories are inspiring, the La Senza story is especially inspiring to me, as I work in the service sector. To see people working a similar job to myself undertaking a collective action that would protect their interests stirs my heart and gives me hope that such tactics can be used to boost wages, restore cuts to hours, and end abusive practices by management.
This is what I was talking about when I discussed occupying closed workplaces in this post. The actions of the La Senza workers in the Liffey Valley are exactly the kind of thing needed to get society working for average people again and not the wealthy. Now I’m waiting on fired workers to take over a shuttered workplace and start it back up again. That’s the next inflection point, the shift from occupation to reclamation, and it will be beautiful to see when it comes.
Royal Dutch Shell, one of the largest and most profitable companies on earth has announced it is closing its pension scheme for new UK employees. This is despite having record high share prices, a turnover of over £360 billion, and having much more money paid into the pension scheme than is taken out. Shell has one of the most financially sound schemes in the UK, with a £1.1 billion surplus. There needs to a be a genuine joining up of pension campaigns between the private and public sectors.
Again, if you have any doubts, any doubts at all, that the prevailing economic order isn’t one of exploitation and degradation, look at this story. Setting aside for the moment that Royal Dutch Shell has literally ruined people’s lives and livelihoods in Nigeria and is currently trying to evade all responsibility for doing so by trying to argue that the Alien Torts Statute only applies to individual people and not corporations and like Caterpillar trying to break the CAW in London, Ontario with a fifty percent pay cut, Shell has absolutely no reason to do this aside from turning an even more absurd amount of profit. Their pension is entirely sustainable for as far as can be predicted with any kind of accuracy. They could sustain this pension for decades and not feel any pain.
However, the employing class is beyond shame. It can’t stand any limit on its actions or (in this case) having to share any of the wealth it acquires. This pension is, to the people running Shell, an unacceptable drain on money better spent on executive bonuses and money for the board of directors, so it gets wiped out all in the name of increasing profits for the people running the show. You can’t embarrass the people of the employing class out of doing things like this because they live in a parallel world to the one people like me exist in. Such soft forms of accountability as shame only function when the people it’s being used on exist in and care about their standing in the community. But with gated developments with excellent security, high-priced restaurants, and private jets, these people defy such measures because they don’t actually have to live in the communities their actions harm. Because of this, industrial action is the only way that these people be brought to account for this kind of legalized theft.
This story is basically a warning for everyone who is working and isn’t in a union. At least in a similar situation that is happening at Unilever the workers getting screwed out of their pensions have the ability to kick back against it because they are members of Unite. Whether they’ll be successful remains to be seen, but there’s at least a chance they can stop this. The workers of Royal Dutch Shell have no such representation and no chance to prevent this affront from happening. When you come right down to it, if you aren’t organized, you have no rights.
As long as the working class remain scattered and, by extension, inactive in defending our own interests, these same bastards will keep fucking us over. This is a fact, and one that everyone needs to get around to accepting so we can actually do something to change it.