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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Report from Greece, plus more links on Greece

Marshall Plan poster(1) When Greece Bailed Out Germany: Via Portside, the image above was the “poster of the week” recently from the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, which organizes traveling exhibitions, including Art Against Empire: Graphic Responses to US Interventions Since World War II:

The U.S. inaugurated The Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Program, ERP) to rebuild Western Europe and counter the appeal of communism. Named after Secretary of State George Marshall, the plan ran from 1948-1952 and helped rebuild the economies of Western Europe on a capitalist model. In the fall of 1950, the Intra-European Cooperation for a Better Standard of Living Poster Contest was held throughout Europe whereby artists were encouraged to submit posters that captured the spirit and goals of the Marshall Plan with an emphasis on cooperation and economic recovery as the main theme. Over 10,000 pieces were submitted from Artists from over 13 Marshall Plan countries. The entries were submitted to a jury in Paris comprised of museum curators and other artist and scholars, each representing a different Marshall Plan country. They selected twenty-five winning posters, including this one from Sweden.

The flag of Greece, prominently located in the upper right, reminds us of Greece’s supporting role over sixty years ago to aid the economic recovery of Europe, and links to what is happening to Greece now. It is both ironic and criminal that Germany is the primary obstacle against forgiving or reducing Greece’s debt today, yet Greece-which was one of Germany’s creditors-supported reducing Germany’s debt after WWII. Greece was one of the countries that willingly took part in a deal to help create a stable and prosperous western Europe, despite the war crimes that German occupiers had inflicted just a few years before.

When will we ever learn!

For more details and analysis read:

Nick Dearden, The Guardian, Greece and Spain helped postwar Germany recover. Spot the difference.

Harold Myerson, Washington Post, republished at Business Insider, Germany failed to learn from its own history — and now Greece is paying the price.

(2) Report from Greece, from Mike Epitropoulos. For earlier dispatches Mike has written for D&S, see his Greece as a Demonstration Project and A Second Demonstration Project for Greece, and also this report from just before the referendum. He sent this one to us yesterday, after Tsipras had “negotiated” the austerity deal, but before parliament had voted in favor of it:

This Is What Disaster Capitalism Looks Like

I have held off commenting on the goings-on since my last entry because of the intrigue and utter insanity that characterizes the Greek and European political scene since the historic “NO” vote of July 5th, 2015.

We have seen an apparent betrayal of the Syriza program and of the rhetoric of the government’s position.  That is clear.

What we can say is that — under the transparent duress imposed on Greece by the Troika of the EU, ECB, and the IMF — is that, “this is what Disaster Capitalism looks like.”. It it precisely self-determination, sovereignty, and democracy that are under attack.  The interests of lenders, investors and profit are prevailing over the will of the people when it comes to those in positions of power.

It is also the case that Greeks apparently do “fetishize” the Euro and desire it more than they they desire the struggles necessary to regain their sovereignty, even in the face of openly-admitted unsustainable austerity, debt, and memoranda.

All political scenaria are still in play in my view, and ideological class warfare is still ongoing.  It is also clear that — even Keynesians like Krugman, Stiglitz, and others say — that the economics of the Greek case are NOT the issue as much as the POLITICAL ECONOMY is.  It clearly is NOT about economics.  This is bigger than Greece — way bigger.

Even in its apparent “betrayal”, Syriza has exposed and opened further cracks in the undemocratic foundations of the European project and those of an EU that is in clear trouble.

Having said that, I still do not have high hopes for an outright success of Syriza transforming the EU into a democratic institution.  Sovereignty is a secondary issue at best for them, and for too many Greeks, in my opinion.

We must also recognize the geo-political forces and interests directly and indirectly in play in this scenario, involving the West’s interests in the region and vis-a-vis Russia.  These might end up larger variables than meet the eye.

Who — at the end end of the day — are the “extremists”?  The communists?  The Nazis? The anarchists?  Or the capitalist oligarchs?

One thing is clear:  this insanity is what “Disaster Capitalism” — not democracy — looks like!  So, let’s not be too quick to cast the first stone.

(3) Yanis Varoufakis, from his blog, On the Euro Summit’s Statement on Greece: First thoughts.  Also, the Euro-Summit “agreement” annotated by Varoufakis, also from his blog.

(4) Jacob Soll, The New York TimesGermany’s Destructive Anger. Interesting.

(5) Leo Panich, Socialist Project/The Bullet, The Denouement.  I found this useful. But–see this post by Panich criticizing the position on Syriza of Richard Seymour of the blog Lenin’s Tomb, and this response from Seymour.

(6) Christos Laskos, John Milios and Euclid Tsakalotos, via Workers’ Liberty, Communist Dilemmas on the Greek Euro-Crisis: To Exit or Not to Exit?  This piece, which I haven’t read carefully enough, is from 2012, but it is interesting partly because it is co-authored by Euclid Tsakalotos, who replaced Varoufakis as the Greek finance minister.