Annual Labor Issue

by Chris Sturr | September 25, 2014

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We have finally sent our September/October 2014 Annual Labor Issue out to e-subscribers (print subscribers should get it within a week to ten days).  And I just posted our cover story to the website, The Future of Work, Leisure, and Consumption in an Age of Economic and Ecological Crisis, which is an interview with economist and Boston College sociology professor Juliet Schor.

Here is the editors’ note from p. 2 of the issue:

Unconventional Wisdom

Here are some bits of “conventional wisdom” about labor relations and work in the United States today:

  • It’s part of the America’s cultural DNA to “work hard and play hard.” American habits of work and consumption, in contrast with other rich capitalist countries (somehow France always comes up), are deeply ingrained in American culture. We would never accept more leisure at the expense of incomes or consumption.
  • U.S. workers have gotten hammered over the last decades, and globalization is the main culprit. The “good jobs” in manufacturing are gone—decimated first by low-wage import competition and then by offshoring—and are never coming back.
  • Cities and states have to compete to attract new investment, but with the right kinds of inducements they can draw in new businesses and new employment—most likely in services. The jobs may not be as good as the old manufacturing jobs, but at least they are jobs, and that additional income can spur further spending, investment, and employment, revitalizing local economies.

Well, the conventional wisdom here isn’t especially wise. Either it is missing critical parts of the story, or it gets some parts of the story just plain wrong.

As economist Juliet Schor points out in our interview, the American way of work, leisure, and consumption has changed over time—and not in little ways. The U.S. labor movement was historically ahead of Europe’s in the fight to shorten the working day. Until the Second World War, the rich capitalist countries were on a common trajectory of declining work hours. It’s only since then that the United States has diverged from that path. If these patterns have changed before, under particular historical circumstances, however, they can change again, under different circumstances. A new and better way of life—greater leisure, greater equality, more economic security, and greater environmental sustainability—is still possible.

As for the ongoing decline of U.S. labor, the story can’t be reduced to the impacts of globalization. Labor writer and activist Dan LaBotz explains what’s happened to labor in U.S. trucking over the past few decades: shrunken and weakened unions, declining wages, and long work hours (not all of them paid). Sound familiar? But trucking, unlike manufacturing industry, is not impacted directly by import competition or global sourcing. The changes in labor relations in the industry have been caused by changes in domestic labor relations and regulatory policy, among other things. That casts the effects of globalization (better said, “neoliberal” or “corporate” globalization) in a new light—as part of a larger story in which employers have succeeded, by various means, in tilting the balance of class power dramatically in their favor.

Cities are building new sports facilities, convention centers, and tourist attractions in search of post-industrial futures. Tourism and entertainment were supposed to be new growth industries that would make up for the loss of manufacturing jobs. Across the country, casino-gambling initiatives keep getting put on the ballot, basically with one promise—jobs. But according to economists Ellen Mutari and Deborah Figart, anyone looking to casino gambling as the future needs to take a hard look at Atlantic City’s present. Casinos are closing, the city’s casino employment has been declining for the better part of two decades, and casino workers are facing the same familiar erosion of wages, job security, and working conditions.

The “conventional wisdom,” at its core, has an air of fatalism: The fault supposedly lies in the inexorable rise and fall of this or that industry, in disembodied global tides beyond our control, or—worst of all—in our own unchangeable natures. Wrong on all counts. The changes that created the world we know were wrought by human beings. The hard, messy, conflictive process of creating the future, too, will be the labor of human beings.

If you don’t subscribe to Dollars & Sense, we hope you will. (Click here to subscribe to the print edition or the electronic edition.) If you subscribe today, we can send you the Annual Labor Issue as a bonus issue.

–Chris Sturr

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Climate March Links: Industrial Policy!

by Chris Sturr | September 19, 2014

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A few items in advance of this weekend’s Climate March in NYC:

(1) Ron Baiman of the Chicago Political Economy Group sent us this:

I’m sometimes asked: What is industrial policy?

This article (“Sun and Wind Alter Global Landscape, Leaving Utilities Behind”) by Justin Gillis of the New York Times shows what industrial policy is. If Germany, a country with little sun, and little wind-swept land mass can do it, we all can! In fact as the article notes, German (and Chinese) industrial policies are bringing prices down and making these planetary saving technologies economically viable for all of us.

Instead of fighting for a mythological and nonsensical “free market” we should be doing the same. Industrial policy is necessary to move the massive “collective action” transformations necessary forward. Even Elan Moss’ battery factory in Nevada is going to be funded with a substantial share of (extorted) state subsidies. It’s unfortunate that this kind of “shake down” (or defense appropriations) is how its done in the U.S.–not a good method that often results in unwarranted subsidies to private business. I have not analyzed the battery deal, but it does appear to at least have the potential to create some good jobs and high tech manufacturing in the U.S. after decades of outsourcing. See CPEG long-time advocacy for “green technology” industrial policy here, here, and here.

(2)  Burlington, VT:  Via SolidarityEconomy.net, originally from DailyKos:  Vermont’s Largest City Now Using 100% Renewable Energy Sources. Reported also in Business Insiderthe Boston Globe, and the Washington Post. The DailyKos piece also talks about Germany’s achievements for energy independence, as does…

(3) Christian Parenti on Behind the News.  The second hour of the most recent (posted) episode of Doug Henwood’s excellent radio show Behind the News (click here, click play, and scroll to the second hour, or listen to the whole thing!) has an interview with Christian Parenti about his article on the Jacobin website, Reading Hamilton from the Left. The discussion of Jefferson and Hamilton (Parenti is arguing that Hamilton was far more progressive) is good, but the (later) part on Hamilton as kind of the father of develomentalism–government intervention in the capitalist economy–and Parenti’s point that Hamilton-esque policies are needed to address climate change–are really great, and relates to Ron’s piece (above) about industrial policy. (Reminded me of Jim Cypher’s piece in our March/April 2013 issue about Brazil’s “neodevelopmentalism”–though there the industrial policy isn’t being marshalled to combat climate change, quite the contrary.)

One of the most interesting bits is his point that one key way the gov’t could spur alternative energy is as a major consumer–if in compliance with the Clean Air Act the government started running all those fleets of government vehicles and all those government buildings on alternative energy, that would create a market for such energy and spur development of clean-energy technology–which is what Germany (and Spain, and Portugal) are doing. (Add to this that the U.S. government, and the U.S. military, is the world’s biggest polluter, as we documented in Bob Feldman’s great piece War on the Earth more than ten years ago, and there is plenty the government could do.)

(4) National Jobs for All Coalition flyers again:  In my last post I gave a link to the NJfAC great Green Jobs for All flyer. which also proposes government intervention to address climate–via government-created green jobs (addressing the jobs crisis at the same time). Here’s more encouragement for people to print these up and distribute them at the march.

Ok, that’s it for now. Enjoy the march, for those of you who are going!

–Chris Sturr

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