Our Annual Labor Issue is out!

0915cover--very-largeOur September/October Annual Labor Issue is out!  (In time for Labor Day, for the first time in a long while!) We have emailed the full-color pdf to electronic subscribers and print subscribers should be getting their copies in the mail in the next few days.  See the full table of contents here.

We have posted two articles from the new issue to the website: John Miller’s “Up Against the Wall Street Journal” column on German Wage Suppression, and Harry Konstantinidis’s “Making Sense” piece, What’s Next for Greece?. Konstantinidis talks about what Syriza, or whichever party or coalition wins the snap elections that have been scheduled, can and should do to deal with the harsh terms of the agreement Syriza was forced to accept from the Troika. (His recommendations are in sync with the ones Leo Panitch and Sam Ginden put forward in recent pieces emphasizing that the Greek government still has some latitude despite the austerity agreement; see The Syriza Dilemma in Jacobin and The Real Plan B: The New Greek Marathon, in The Bullet; you can listen to Leo Panitch present some of these ideas on this recent episode of Doug Henwood’s great radio show Behind the News).)

Here is this issue’s page 2 editorial note:

“Born Free … But Everywhere in Chains”

That is Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s description—from The Social Contract (1762)—of the plight of suffering humanity. And it aptly describes the condition of labor in the world today. The “chains” are not, for the most part, literal. But the downtrodden condition of labor, in an era of rampant capitalist power, is unmistakable.

In the United States today, fewer than one in fifteen private-sector workers is a union member. The average real hourly wage has hardly budged for half a century. And workers’ share of total income has declined dramatically: from about 66% in 1960 to about 56% today, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.

These overall figures, moreover, hardly capture labor conditions for the most vulnerable workers in the United States. As Zoe Sherman describes in “Manicures, Pedicures, and Commodity Fetishism,” the mostly immigrant women workers in New York City nail salons labor under abhorrent conditions: Most get less than the minimum wage. Wage theft is widespread. And exposure to toxic chemicals creates serious health hazards.

The picture is hardly rosier around the world. Germany, once known for “high road” labor relations, has turned sharply toward wage repression. As John Miller argues in his “Up Against the Wall Street Journal,” that has meant inadequate domestic demand and sluggish growth. But it has also bolstered Germany’s trade surplus, contributing to huge trade deficits for countries like Greece.

In India, tens of millions of women have exited the wage-labor force in the last decade. Even as the Indian economy has boomed, economist Sirisha Naidu observes, women have lost jobs in the declining agricultural sector, but gotten few jobs in the growing industrial sector. The enormous shift of women from wage labor to unpaid household labor, Naidu argues, represents a survival strategy where paid employment opportunities are scarce.

Meanwhile, Mexico has experienced a transition, since the late 1980s, from statist capitalism and party-state control of labor to even-more-naked exploitation under neoliberalism. As Dan La Botz reports, some 18 million Mexican workers get wages of $9 per day or less. Yet, even in the midst of widespread disillusionment with the political system, no clear, radical alternative has emerged—either in terms of new insurgent unions or political movements.

In all these cases, we need to look unflinchingly at the depths of the problems and come up with clear-eyed ways forward.

In the depths of the crisis in Greece—and of the Syriza government in the wake of the latest capitulation to the creditors—economist Harry Konstantinidis outlines a sorely needed leftist program, including the “productive reconstruction” of the Greek economy along principles of worker self-management and participatory budgeting.

For India, Naidu argues for a new development program prioritizing job creation, living-wage and labor-conditions regulation, and essential public services. Government action against gender discrimination and sexual harassment, too, is necessary for inclusive development.

Finally, Cynthia Kaufman argues that, to help get us out of the “economic dependency trap of capitalism”—reliance on the capitalists who control investment, production, and employment—the solidarity economy cannot remain “utopian islands in a sea of misery.” Rather, it must become part of a broader movement for expanded social safety nets, shortened work hours, and reduced economic inequality.

Leaping into change can be terrifying. But at some point, the status quo becomes intolerable, and the promises of those in power too empty to be believed any longer. There may be but glimmers of a fight-back today, perhaps at first just to stave off further losses, then to win back some of what has been taken away. But those struggles can also be the beginnings of a bigger struggle—to create a new kind of society, founded on liberty, equality, democracy, and solidarity.

It may not be literally true that workers—born free but everywhere in chains—have nothing to lose by taking that leap. But this is true: They have a world to win.

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Links: SEC and CEOs, Greece, Mexico, Trump, Salaita


(1) Greece: In addition to the great video by Alicé Anil embedded above (well worth watching; includes clips with Krugman, Stiglitz, and Rick Wolff!), whose “Know Bullshit!” project looks great, these items were of interest:

(2) Mexico:  The cover story for our Sept/Oct annual labor issue, which is in layout and will be out soon, is on the crisis of labor in Mexico. It’s by Dan La Botz. The issue will also have a beautiful photo essay by David Bacon on the occupation of a public park in Tijuana. So these items caught my eye:

  • Emilio Godoy, Inter Press Service, Mexico’s Anti-Poverty Programmes Are Losing the Battle. One thing that comes out in Dan La Botz’s article is how much wages have gone down over the years in Mexico, and how that is a deliberate strategy of the oligarchs and their bought-and-sold political class.  So this report from Inter Press Service about the failure of government anti-poverty initiatives is not surprising, since government policies are at odds with each other.
  • Steve Horn, DeSmog Blog, Hillary Clinton State Department Emails, Mexico Energy Reform and the Revolving Door. Hat-tip to TM. This is also very interesting given what La Botz says about how elites in Mexico have been pushing for energy-sector “reform” (including union-busting), apparently with help from the U.S. State Dept. under Clinton.

(3) Trump:  Three post-debate items:

(4) SEC ruling on CEO pay:  Some of the coverage of the SEC finally implementing the Dodd-Frank rule requiring publicly traded companies to disclose the ratio of CEO pay to median worker pay:

(5) U. of Illinois, Phyllis Wise, Steven Salaita:  This sequence of events made me happy:

  1. The Nation, Steven Salaita, Professor Fired for ‘Uncivil’ Tweets, Vindicated in Federal Court
  2. Chicago Tribune, After tumultuous year, U. of I. chancellor abruptly steps down. For a while, I wondered why, and then:
  3. Inside Higher Ed, What Illinois Kept Secret. The day after Phyllis Wise resigned, we found out why: a trove of emails was released, including some showing that Salaita had been considered hired, and apparently also that donor pressure was what led them to fire him.