Friday Links: Market Basket, War and Climate Change, etc.

by Chris Sturr | October 03, 2014

market-basket

(1) Alejandro Reuss on Market Basket:  I noticed that a Twitter account related to the low-wage worker organizing that is going on now, @LowPayIsNotOk, tweeted about a ridiculous article from Forbes arguing that the take-away from the return of Arthur T. Demoulas as CEO to the Market Basket supermarket chain is that good leaders know how to engage their employees’ volunteerism (Market Basket: The Power of Volunteerism And Employee Engagement).  That inspired me to post the piece on Market Basket by my co-editor, Alejandro Reuss, in our current issue (our Annual Labor Issue): The Meaning of Market Basket: Can Workers and Employers Be “Family”?  When I get around to it I’m going to reply to the tweet and say that although we are fans, we hope the group can get its economic reporting and analysis from somewhere besides Forbes.

(2) David Mihalyfy on university adminiatrators’ looting pay:  Great piece at the Jacobin website: Higher Education’s Aristocrats. We knew that university administrators’ pay was inflated, and that that’s related to inflated CEO pay, but by focusing on one institution (U. of Chicago) and giving concrete data and contextualizing the data, this piece does a great job of showing that high-pay for university administrators is a kind of looting.

(3) Sheila Collins on war and climate change: Great piece at Truthout by Sheila Collins:  War and Climate Change: Time to Connect the Dots.  The piece starts with the juxtaposition of the bombing of Syria and Obama speaking at the UN about the dangers of climate change–with no acknowledgement that there’s any connection between militarism and climate change. The article goes on to document the connections–the ways they contribute to each other. Along the way she talks about how militaries are the biggest polluters–a point Bob Feldman made in D&S with a piece back in 2003, War on the Earth.

(4) MIT study finds greener cement:  Via SolidarityEconomy.net, a press release from MIT about a greener (and stronger) kind of cement, which would reduce by 50% the greenhouse gas emissions that cement apparently gives off.

(5) Grand Rapids ArtPrize festival:  Via our pal Hillary Rettig, the internationally known community art festival in Grand Rapids, Mich. (hometown of Gerald Ford?), ArtPrize, was “surprisingly political!”. It included that traveling “Capitalism Works for Me!” sign/poll that we have covered on this blog (though judging by the photo Hillary sent, maybe Gerald Ford’s ghost still has a grip on Grand Rapids?).

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And Hillary mentions another exhibit:

“”I Am: Money Matters.” In the Fed Galleries at KCAD, 2014-2015 begins with a series of cascading exhibitions relating to the larger theme of identity. “I Am: Money Matters” will kick off our exhibition season by reflecting on themes of socioeconomics, value, currency, consumerism, etc. as they relate to identity.”

That’s it for now.

–Chris Sturr

 

 

 

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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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