New: Annual Labor Issue

May/June 2020 cover

Our May/June issue, which is our Annual Labor Issue, is finally at the printers. We just posted Nicole Aschoff’s feature on app workers in the pandemic.  Here is the p. 2 edtiors’ note:

Or Does It Explode?

People from across the political spectrum understand why people riot. Langston Hughes knew that a dream deferred might dry up, fester, or sag—or it might explode. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of riots as “the language of the unheard.” Even former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was capable of understanding that looting after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq was the result of pent-up anger: “While no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who have had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime.”

But make no mistake: What we have seen in cities across the United States in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers are multiracial, multigenerational protests against this most recent and many other killings of unarmed Black people—protests that night after night are turned into riots—police riots, in particular.
A “police riot”—the term was popularized by the Walker Report on the violent clashes at the 1968 Democratic National Convention—is one that is instigated by the police or their agents provocateurs, who escalate violent confrontation with civilians. This is exactly what we have been seeing in cities across the country today.

And the looting that has occurred? Leave it to the satirical newspaper The Onion to put it in perspective, with the headline “Protestors Criticized for Looting Businesses Without Forming Private Equity Firm First.” The cartoon by Barry Deutsch in our March/April issue depicted a private equity firm as a vampire, sucking blood out of a company it takes over, claiming he’s forcing it to “innovate and learn to do more with less blood!” By the cartoon’s last frame, the vampire’s victim is dead.This could be a metaphor for the economic underpinning that surely has contributed to the fervor of these protests. Decades of financialized neoliberalism, with its austerity, wage stagnation, and job insecurity, have left working-class Americans—and especially working-class Black people—in desperate straits.

According to the Federal Reserve, in 2018, at the height of the last economic recovery, nearly 40% of U.S. adults said they would have difficulty covering a $400 emergency. This was before we were hit with a pandemic whose impacts, as Alejandro Reuss explains in Part 1 of a joint series with Labor Notes, “lay bare grave failings of economic policy and institutions—indeed, of the capitalist system itself.” The seriousness of the pandemic’s impacts on the U.S. working class—and disproportionately on Black people—arise from unequal access to health care, employers’ power over workers, and the scourge of unemployment, with nearly over 40 million people having lost their jobs since the beginning of the crisis. It speaks volumes about the priorities of our ruling elites that our militarized police and the National Guard have all the equipment they need and yet we are left unequipped to deal with either the pandemic or the economic crisis.

In this, our Annual Labor Issue, Pavlina Tcherneva’s cover story presents an alternative to the mass unemployment that experts tell us is guaranteed after a shock and the resulting severe recession: guaranteed employment, with the government backstopping payroll as the “employer of last resort” and providing a Job Guarantee. Nicole Aschoff surveys the situation of app-based tech workers in the midst of the pandemic. Yeva Nersisyan and L. Randy Wray argue that the response to the pandemic shows why we need to move beyond “pay-for politics”; the task is to find and deploy the resources our economy has to meet our real needs (hint: health care and jobs are more important than militarized police). And Esra Uğurlu and Gerald Epstein depict the Fed’s response to the crisis so far as being much like Uncle Sam’s in this issue’s cartoon: bailouts for Wall Street and rugged capitalism for the rest of us. Also in this issue: Jayati Ghosh on “Neoliberalism as Neocolonialism,” Arthur MacEwan on unsustainable growth, and more.

The economic system our ruling elites have constructed may have sucked the U.S. working class dry like that vampire, but we know the working class is not dead, because people of all races are in the streets looking for a brighter day. Despite all the dark clouds, this truly is a silver lining.

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