Article 43


Bad Moon Rising

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Bad Moon Rising Part 69 - The End Of Empire

image: dying america

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
- Abraham Lincoln

“The economic anarchy of CAPITALIST SOCIETY as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the EVIL."
- Albert Einstein - Why Socialism, 1949

“Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.”
- John Maynard Keynes

“I wouldn’t call it fascism exactly, but a political system nominally controlled by an irresponsible, dumbed down electorate who are manipulated by dishonest, cynical, controlled mass media that dispense the propaganda of a corrupt political establishment can hardly be described as democracy either.”
- Edward Zehr Columnist, 1936-2001

The Death Spiral Appears Unstoppable

By By Chris Hedges
October 1, 2017

The American empire is coming to an end. The U.S. economy is being drained by wars in the Middle East and vast military expansion around the globe. It is burdened by growing deficits, along with the devastating effects of deindustrialization and global trade agreements. Our democracy has been captured and destroyed by CORPORATIONS that steadily demand more tax cuts, more deregulation and IMPUNITY from prosecution for massive acts of financial fraud, ALL THE WHILE looting trillions from the U.S. treasury in the form of BAILOUTS. The nation has lost the power and respect needed to induce allies in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa to do its bidding. Add to this the mounting destruction caused by climate change and you have a recipe for an emerging dystopia. Overseeing this DESCENT at the highest levels of the federal and state governments is a motley collection of imbeciles, con artists, THIEVES, OPPORTUNISTS and WARMONGERING generals. And to be clear, I am speaking about Democrats, too.

The empire will limp along, steadily losing influence until the dollar is dropped as the world’s reserve currency, plunging the United States into a crippling depression and instantly forcing a massive contraction of its military machine.

Short of a sudden and widespread popular REVOLT, which DOES NOT SEEM LIKELY, the death spiral appears unstoppable, meaning the United States as we know it will no longer exist within a decade or, at most, two. The global vacuum we leave behind will be filled by China, already establishing itself as an economic and military juggernaut, or perhaps there will be a multipolar world carved up among Russia, China, India, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa and a few other states. Or maybe the void will be filled, as the historian Alfred W. McCoy writes in his book “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power”, by “a coalition of transnational corporations, multilateral military forces like NATO, and an international financial leadership self-selected at Davos and Bilderberg” that will “forge a supranational nexus to supersede any nation or empire.”

Under every measurement, from financial growth and infrastructure investment to advanced technology, including supercomputers, space weaponry and CYBERWARFARE, we are being rapidly overtaken by the CHINESE. In April 2015 the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggested that the American economy would grow by nearly 50 percent over the next 15 years, while Chinas would triple and come close to surpassing America’s in 2030, McCoy noted. CHINA became the world’s second largest economy in 2010, the same year it became the world’s leading manufacturing nation, pushing aside a United States that had dominated the world’s manufacturing for a century. The Department of Defense issued a sober report titled “At Our Own Peril: DoD Risk Assessment in a Post-Primacy World.” It found that “the U.S. military no longer enjoys an unassailable position versus state competitors,” and it no longer can automatically generate consistent and sustained local military superiority at range. McCoy predicts the collapse will come by 2030.

Empires in decay embrace an almost willful suicide. Blinded by their hubris and unable to face the reality of their diminishing power, they retreat into a fantasy world where hard and unpleasant facts no longer intrude. They replace diplomacy, multilateralism and politics with unilateral threats and the blunt instrument of war.

This collective self-delusion saw the United States make the greatest strategic blunder in its history, one that sounded the death knell of the empire - the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The architects of the war in the George W. Bush White House, and the array of useful idiots in the press and academia who were cheerleaders for it, knew very little about the countries being invaded, were stunningly naive about the effects of industrial warfare and were blindsided by the ferocious blowback. They stated, and probably believed, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, although they had no valid evidence to support this claim. They insisted that democracy would be implanted in Baghdad and spread across the Middle East. They assured the public that U.S. troops would be greeted by grateful Iraqis and Afghans as liberators. They promised that oil revenues would cover the cost of reconstruction. They insisted that the bold and quick military strike “shock and awe” - would restore American hegemony in the region and dominance in the world. It did the opposite. As Zbigniew Brzezinski noted, “this unilateral war of choice against Iraq precipitated a widespread delegitimation of U.S. foreign policy.”

Historians of empire call these military fiascos, a feature of all late empires, examples of “micro-militarism.” The Athenians engaged in micro-militarism when during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) they invaded Sicily, suffering the loss of 200 ships and thousands of soldiers and triggering revolts throughout the empire. Britain did so in 1956 when it attacked Egypt in a dispute over the nationalization of the Suez Canal and then quickly had to withdraw in humiliation, empowering a string of Arab nationalist leaders such as Egypts Gamal Abdel Nasser and dooming British rule over the nation’s few remaining colonies. Neither of these empires recovered.

“While rising empires are often judicious, even rational in their application of armed force for conquest and control of overseas dominions, fading empires are inclined to ill-considered displays of power, dreaming of bold military master strokes that would somehow recoup lost prestige and power”, McCoy writes. “Often irrational even from an imperial point of view, these micromilitary operations can yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the process already under way.”

Empires need more than force to dominate other nations. They need a mystique. This mystiquea mask for imperial plunder, repression and exploitation - seduces some native elites, who become willing to do the bidding of the imperial power or at least remain passive. And it provides a patina of civility and even nobility to justify to those at home the costs in blood and money needed to maintain empire. The parliamentary system of government that Britain replicated in appearance in the colonies, and the introduction of British sports such as polo, cricket and horse racing, along with elaborately uniformed viceroys and the pageantry of royalty, were buttressed by what the colonialists said was the invincibility of their navy and army. England was able to hold its empire together from 1815 to 1914 before being forced into a steady retreat. Americas high-blown rhetoric about democracy, liberty and equality, along with basketball, baseball and Hollywood, as well as our own deification of the military, entranced and cowed much of the globe in the wake of World War II. Behind the scenes, of course, the CIA used its bag of dirty tricks to orchestrate coups, fix elections and carry out assassinations, black propaganda campaigns, bribery, blackmail, intimidation and torture. But none of this works anymore.

The loss of the mystique is crippling. It makes it hard to find pliant surrogates to administer the empire, as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. The photographs of physical abuse and sexual humiliation imposed on Arab prisoners at Abu Ghraib inflamed the Muslim world and fed al-Qaida and later Islamic State with new recruits. The assassination of Osama bin Laden and a host of other jihadist leaders, including the U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, openly mocked the concept of the rule of law. The hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees fleeing our debacles in the Middle East, along with the near-constant threat from militarized aerial drones, exposed us as state terrorists. We have exercised in the Middle East the U.S. military’s penchant for widespread atrocities, indiscriminate violence, lies and blundering miscalculations, actions that led to our defeat in Vietnam.

The brutality abroad is matched by a growing brutality at home. Militarized police gun down mostly unarmed, poor people of color and fill a system of penitentiaries and jails that hold a staggering 25 percent of the worlds prisoners although Americans represent only 5 percent of global population. Many of our cities are in ruins. Our public transportation system is a shambles. Our educational system is in steep decline and being privatized. Opioid addiction, suicide, mass shootings, depression and morbid obesity plague a population that has fallen into profound despair. The deep disillusionment and anger that led to Donald Trump’s election - a reaction to the corporate coup d’tat and the poverty afflicting at least half of the country - have destroyed the myth of a functioning democracy. Presidential tweets and rhetoric celebrate hate, racism and bigotry and taunt the weak and the vulnerable. The president in an address before the United Nations threatened to obliterate another nation in an act of genocide. We are worldwide objects of ridicule and hatred. The foreboding for the future is expressed in the rash of dystopian films, motion pictures that no longer perpetuate American virtue and exceptionalism or the MYTH OF HUMAN PROGRESS.

The demise of the United States as the preeminent global power could come far more quickly than anyone imagines,” McCoy writes. “Despite the AURA OF OMNIPOTENCE empires often project,” most are surprisingly fragile, lacking the inherent strength of even a modest nation-state. Indeed, a glance at their history should remind us that the greatest of them are susceptible to collapse from diverse causes, with fiscal pressures usually a prime factor. For the better part of two centuries, the security and prosperity of the homeland has been the main objective for most stable states, making foreign or imperial adventures an expendable option, usually allocated no more than 5 percent of the domestic budget. Without the financing that arises almost organically inside a sovereign nation, empires are famously predatory in their relentless hunt for plunder or profitwitness the Atlantic slave trade, Belgiumӗs rubber lust in the Congo, British Indias opium commerce, the Third ReichҒs rape of Europe, or the Soviet exploitation of Eastern Europe.

“When revenues shrink or collapse,” McCoy points out, “empires become brittle.”

ҔSo delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly wrong, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, eleven years for the Ottomans, seventeen for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, just twenty-seven years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003 [when the U.S. invaded Iraq], he writes.

Many of the estimated 69 empires that have existed throughout history lacked competent leadership in their decline, having ceded power to monstrosities such as the Roman emperors Caligula and Nero. In the United States, the reins of authority may be in the grasp of the first in a line of depraved demagogues.

ӔFor the majority of Americans, the 2020s will likely be remembered as a demoralizing decade of rising prices, stagnant wages, and fading international competitiveness, McCoy writes. The loss of the dollar as the global reserve currency will see the U.S. unable to pay for its huge deficits by selling Treasury bonds, which will be drastically devalued at that point. There will be a massive rise in the cost of imports. Unemployment will explode. Domestic clashes over what McCoy calls Ӕinsubstantial issues will fuel a dangerous hypernationalism that could morph into an American fascism.

A discredited elite, suspicious and even paranoid in an age of decline, will see enemies everywhere. The array of instruments created for global dominance, wholesale surveillance, the evisceration of civil liberties, sophisticated torture techniques, militarized police, the massive prison system, the thousands of militarized drones and satellites - will be employed in the homeland. The empire will collapse and the nation will consume itself within our lifetimes IF WE do not WREST POWER from those who rule the corporate state.


Posted by Elvis on 10/05/17 •
Section Bad Moon Rising • Section Dying America • Section Next Recession, Next Depression
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Thursday, May 04, 2017

Book: Down and Out in the New Economy

image: Down And Out in the New Economy

Homeless and Unemployed in an Economy We’re Supposed to Think Is Liberating
In Ilana Gershon’s new book ”DOWN AND OUT IN THE NEW ECONOMY,” the employer power dynamic is called into question.

By Ilana Gershon
University of Chicago Press
April 27, 2017

The following is an adapted excerpt from the new book Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (or Dont Find) Work Today by Ilana Gershon (University of Chicago Press, April 2017):

Chris, an independent contractor in his midfifties, knows a lot about what it means to deal with an unstable job market, especially during those moments when you are between gigs and don’t know when you are going to get the next one. There was a period in 2012 where he hadn’t had a contracting job for a while, and he had no idea how he was going to pay his rent. He realized he might be able to make his rent for another month, but if he didn’t get a job soon, he might be homeless. He decided that he needed to get his body ready for this very likely possibility. I started to sleep on the floor a few hours each night, as long as I could take it, so I could get used to sleeping on a sidewalk or on the dirt. That’s how bad it looked. It just seemed hopeless, Chris said. Out of the blue, a staffing agency based in India contacted him and offered him a contract in the Midwest, giving him enough money to make it through this bad patch. But this stark moment, in which he saw homelessness around the corner, is part and parcel of the downside of careers made up of temporary jobs. Chris responded to this possibility in the way that you are supposed to if you are constantly enhancing yourself. He began to train his body for living on the streets, realizing that he needed to learn how to sleep without a bed. He was determined to be flexible and to adapt to potential new circumstances. Seeing the self as a bundle of skills, in practice, means that for some people enhancing your skills involves training yourself to survive being homeless. This too is a logical outcome of our contemporary employment model.

I have studied how people are responding to this new way of thinking about work and what it means to be a worker. In the United States, people are moving away from thinking that when they enter into an employment contract, they are metaphorically renting their capacities to an employer for a bounded period of time. Many people are no longer using a notion of the self-as-rented-property as an underlying metaphor and are starting to think of themselves as though they are a business, although not everyone likes this new metaphor or accepts all its implications. When you switch to thinking about the employment contract as a business-to-business relationship, much changes - how you present yourself as a desirable employee, what it means to be a good employer, what your relationships with your coworkers should be like, the relationship between a job and a career, and how you prepare yourself for the future.

The self-as-business metaphor makes a virtue of flexibility as well as the practical ways people might respond in their daily lives to conditions of instability and insecurity. As Gina Neff points out in Venture Labor, the model encourages people to embrace risk as a positive, even sought-out, element of how they individually should craft a career. Each time you switch jobs, you risk. You don’t know the amount of time you will have at a job before having to find a new one, and you risk how lucky you will be at getting that job and the next job. And with every job transition, you risk the salary that you might make. If there is a gap between jobs, then some people will find that they no longer experience a reliable, steady, upward trajectory in their salaries as they navigate the contemporary job market. Yet this is what you are now supposed to embrace as liberating.

Chris’s experiences cycling between employment and increasing periods of unemployment was a familiar story for me. I interviewed so many people in their late forties to early sixties who had a few permanent jobs early in their careers. But as companies increasingly focused on having a more transient workforce, these white-collar workers found their career trajectories veering from what they first thought their working life would look like. They thought that they might climb the organizational ladder in one or maybe even three companies over the course of their lifetime. Instead, they found that at some point in their mid to late forties, they started having shorter and shorter stints at different companies. The jobs, some would say, would last as long as a project. And as they grew older, the gaps between permanent jobs could start growing longer and longer. They struggled to make do, often using up their savings or selling their homes as they hoped to get the next job. Some started to find consulting jobs in order to make ends meet before landing the hoped-for permanent job, and then found themselves trapped on the consulting trackliving only in the gig economy. True, not everyone felt like contracting was plan B, the option they had to take because of bad luck. In their book about contractors, Steve Barley and Gideon Kunda talk about the people they interviewed who actively chose this life. I met these people too, but they weren’t the majority of the job seekers I interviewed. Because I was studying people looking for a wide range of types of jobs, instead of studying people who already had good relationships with staffing agencies that provided consultants, I tended to meet people who felt their bad luck had backed them into becoming permanent freelancers. These were people who encountered the self-as-business metaphor as a relatively new model, one they felt they actively had to learn in order to survive in today’s workplace, as opposed to the younger people I interviewed, many of whom had grown up with the self-as-business model as their primary way to understand employment.

When you think of the employment contract in a new way, you often have to revisit what counts as moral behavior, since older frameworks offer substantively different answers to questions of moral business practice. People have to decide what it means for a company to behave well under this new framework. Consider the self-as-business model. What does a good company do to help its workers enhance themselves as allied businesses? What are the limits in what a company should do? What counts as exploitation under this new model? Can businesses do things that count as exploitation or bad practices now that might not have been considered problems earlier, or not considered problems for the same reasons (and thus are regulated or resolved differently)? Businesses are certainly deeply concerned that workersҒ actions both at work and outside of work could threaten the companys brand, a new worry - but this is the tip of the iceberg. And the moral behavior of companies isnt the only issue. Can workers exploit the companies they align with now or behave badly toward them in new ways?

Yet while these two metaphors - the self-as-property and the self-as-business - encourage people to think about employment in different ways, there are still similarities in how the metaphors ask people to think about getting hired. In both cases, the metaphors are focusing on market choices and asking people to operate by a market logic. Deciding whether to rent your capacities is a slightly different question than deciding whether to enter into a business alliance with someone, but in both instances you are expected to make a decision based on the costs and benefits involved in the decision. In addition, both metaphorical contracts presume that people enter into these contracts as equals, and yet this equality doesn’t last in practice once you are hired. In most jobs, the moment you are hired, you are in a hierarchical relationship; you are taking orders from a boss. Some aspects of working have changed because of this shift in frameworks, but many aspects have stayed the same.

Avoiding Corporate Nostalgia

I talked to people who were thoughtfully ambivalent about this transition in the metaphors underlying employment. They didn’t like their current insecurity, but they pointed out that earlier workplaces weren’t ideal either. Before, people often felt trapped in jobs they disliked and confronted with office politics that were alienating and demoralizing. Like many people today, they dealt with companies in which they were constantly encountering sexism and racism. Not everyone had equal opportunities to move into the jobs they wanted or to be promoted or acknowledged for the work that they did well.

However, as anthropologist Karen Ho points out, when you have a corporate ladder that excludes certain groups of people, you also have a structure that you can potentially reform so that these groups will in the future have equal opportunities. When you have no corporate ladder, when all you have is the uncertainty of moving between companies or between freelance jobs - you no longer have a clear structure to target if you want to make a workplace a fairer environment. If there is more gender equality in the US workplace these days than there was thirty years ago, it is in part because corporate structures were stable enough and reformers stayed at companies long enough that specific business practices could be effectively targeted and reformed. Part of what has changed about workplaces today is that there has been a transformation in the kinds of solutions available to solve workplace problems.

I see what people said to me about their preference for the kinds of guarantees and rights people used to have at work as a form of critique, not a form of nostalgia. People didn’t necessarily want to return to the way things used to be. When people talked to me nostalgically about how workplaces used to function, it was often because they valued the protections they used to be able to rely on and a system they knew well enough to be able to imagine how to change it for the better.

Many people I spoke to were very unhappy with the contemporary workplace’s increasing instability. They worried a great deal about making it financially through the longer and longer dry spells of unemployment between jobs. I talked to a man who was doing reasonably well that year as a consultant, and he began reflecting on what the future would hold for his children. He didn’t want them to follow in his footsteps and become a computer programmer, because too many people like him were contingent workers. He wanted them to have their own families and reasoned: “If everybody thinks they can be laid-off in two weeks, how would they feel confident enough to be a parent and know that they’e got twenty-one years of consistent investment?”

It is not that the people I spoke to necessarily wanted older forms of work. What many wanted was stability. No matter how many times people are told to embrace being flexible, to embrace risk, in practice many of the people I spoke to did not actually want to live with the downsides of this riskier life. The United States does not have enough safety nets in place to protect you during the moments when life doesnt work out. Because you are supposed to be looking for a new job regularly over the course of a lifetime, the opportunities when you might become dramatically downwardly mobile increase. There are more possible moments in which you have to enhance your skills at surviving on much less money or even living rough.

Changing Notions of What Counts as a Good Employment Relationship

When people are thought of as businesses, significant aspects of the employment relationship change. The genre repertoire you use to get a job alters to reflect this understanding as you use resumes, interview answers, and other genres to represent yourself as a bundle of business solutions that can address the hiring company’s market-specific temporary needs. Networking has changed what it means to manage your social relationships so that you can stay employed has shifted. Some people I met are now arguing that you treat the companies you are considering joining in the same way you would treat any other business investment: in terms of the financial and career risk involved in being allied with this company.

It is not just that you evaluate jobs differently when you know that your job is temporary - deciding you can put up with some kinds of inconveniences but not others. Instead, you see the job as a short-term investment of time and labor, and the job had better pay off - perhaps by providing you with new skills, new networks, or a new way of framing your work experiences that makes you potentially more desirable for the next job. What if this new framework allows workers to have new expectations of their employers, or can safeguard workers’ interests in new ways? If you have this perspective, what are the new kinds of demands that employees could potentially make of employers?

For Tom, this new vision of self-as-business was definitely guiding how he was judging the ways companies treated him and what was appropriate behavior. I first contacted Tom because I heard through the grapevine that he refused to use LinkedIn. I was curious, as I had been doing research for seven months by that point and only came across one other person who was not using LinkedIn (and has since rejoined). We talked about his refusal, and he explained to me that LinkedIn didn’t seem to offer enough in return for his data. He clearly saw himself in an exchange relationship with LinkedIn, providing data for it to use and in return having access to the platform. Fair enough, I thought: as far as I can tell, the data scientists at LinkedIn and Facebook whom I have met see the exchange relationship in similar ways. Yet Tom decided that what LinkedIn offered wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t worth providing the company with his personal data. So I asked him about various other sites that he might use in which the exchange might be more equitable, and he lit up talking about these other sites. For Tom, because he saw himself as a business, and viewed his data as part of his assets, he was ready to see LinkedIn as offering a bad business arrangement, one he didn’t want to accept. The self-as-business framework allowed him to see the use of certain platforms as instances of participating in business alliances. Some alliances he was willing to enter into, but not all.

This wasn’t his only encounter with a potentially exploitative business arrangement. He typically worked as an independent contractor, and a company asked him to come in for a job interview. When he got there, his interviewer explained that the position was a sweat equity job - Tom wouldn’t get a salary, but rather he would get equity in the company in exchange for his labor. “Okay” he replied. “So what is your business model?” His interviewer was surprised and discomforted to be asked this. He refused to answer; employees don’t need to know the details of the company’s business model, he said. Tom felt that this was wrong; because he was being asked to be an investor in the company - admittedly with his labor instead of with money, he felt should be given the same financial details that any other investor in a company would expect before signing on. It sounded to me like Tomגs interviewer was caught between two models: wanting the possible labor arrangements now available but unwilling to adjust whom he told what. The interviewer was not willing to follow through on the implications of this new model of employment, and as a result, Tom wasnt willing to take the job. This is one way in which the self-as-business model offers a new way to talk about what counts as exploitation and as inappropriate behavior - behavior that might not have been an issue decades ago, or would have been a problem for different reasons (perhaps because a couple of decades ago, few people found sweat equity an acceptable arrangement).

But this new model also opens up the possibility that companies can have obligations to their employees that they did not have in the same way before. Since companies often dont offer stable employment, they now provide a temporary venue for people to express their passion and to enhance themselves. Can this look like an obligation that businesses have to their workers? Perhaps - businesses could take seriously what it means to provide workers with the opportunities to enhance themselves. Michael Feher argues that if people are now supposed to see themselves as human capital, there should be a renewed focus on what good investment in people looks like - regardless of whether workers stay at a single company.

SHOULD COMPANIES now help provide TRAINING for an employee’s next job? Throughout the twentieth century, companies understood that they had to provide their workers training in order for them to do their job at the company to their best of their ability. Internal training made sense both for the company’s immediate interests and for the company’s ability to retain a supply of properly trained workers over the life of the company. Now that jobs are so temporary, who is responsible for training workers is a bit more up in the air. Yet some companies are beginning to offer support for workers to train, not for the benefit of the company, but so that workers can pursue their passion, should they discover that working at that company is not their passion. Amazon, for example, in 2012 began to provide training for employees who potentially want radically different jobs. Jeff Bezo’s explained in his 2014 letter to shareholders: We pre-pay 95% of tuition for our employees to take courses for in-demand fields, such as airplane mechanic or nursing, regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon. The goal is to enable “choice.” It makes sense for a company to support its workers learning skills for a completely different career only under the contemporary perspective that people are businesses following their passions in temporary alliances with companies.

This model of self-as-business might give workers some new language to protest business practices that keep them from enhancing themselves or entering into as many business alliances as they would like. For example, just-in-time scheduling in practice is currently preventing retail workers from getting enough hours so that they can earn as much as they would like to in a week. This type of scheduling means that workers only find out that week how many hours they are working and when. They cant expect to have certain hours reliably free, and they need to be available whenever their employer would like them to work. Marc Doussard has found that good workers are rewarded with more hours at work. While white-collar workers might get better pay in end-of-the-year bonuses for seeming passionate, retail workers get more hours in the week. If workers make special requests to have certain hours, Doussard discovered, their managers will often punish them in response, by either giving them fewer hours to work or only assigning them to shifts they find undesirable. In practice, this means that workers have trouble holding two jobs or taking classes to improve themselves, as unpredictable shifts will inevitably conflict with each other or class times. Predictable work hours, in short, are essential for being able to plan for the future - either to make sure you are working enough hours in the week to support yourself or to educate yourself for other types of jobs. Since companies are now insisting that people imagine themselves as businesses, what would happen if workers protested when companies dont allow them to “invest in themselves” or when they are thwarted from having as many business partnerships (that is, jobs) as possible? Perhaps employees should now be able to criticize and change employers’ practices when they are prevented from being the best businesses they can be because of their employers workplace strategies.


Posted by Elvis on 05/04/17 •
Section Bad Moon Rising • Section Revelations • Section American Solidarity • Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy • Section Microsoft And Windows • Section Job Hunt • Section News • Section Telecom Underclass • Section Dying America
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Monday, May 23, 2016

Rise Of The Temp Workers Part 10 - China

Chinese Part-Time Workers Soar As Economy Deteriorates

By Tyler Durden
Zero Hedge
May 22, 2016

Not only is China facing a significant risk of an economic hard landing, but, as we have noted on many occasions, the country is also facing what perhaps may be an even greater risk: SOCIAL UNREST.

As the economy CONTINUES TO WEAKEN, and LAYOFFS CONTINUE TO MOUNT, China has started to relax its own labor rules in order to try and keep everyone happy… for now; as China is experiencing a surge in part-time workers. In order to control costs, but still meet whatever demand comes, Reuters REPORTS factories are now hiring by the day instead of keeping workers around in a full employment contract. In turn, workers are happy with the arrangement of course, because at least it provides the opportunity to make a day’s wage, knowing that if they are hired for that day it means there is work, and they’ll get paid for their efforts.

Squeezed by high costs and unpredictable demand, some factories in southern China’s manufacturing heartland are turning to a new strategy to survive: hiring workers by the day.

It is a far cry from Beijing’s vision of a slick, hi-tech manufacturing future of computers and chip makers: on a warm morning in the southern town of Shiling, dozens of workers gather on a city street to haggle for a day of work making bags for $20 to $30.

Factory owners in this leatherworking town, and in those nearby, say just-in-time labor allows them to stay competitive, even if day wages can be higher, individually, than full-time salaries.

Workers, operating in a legal grey area, say they tolerate the conditions because many fear factories offering permanent jobs could fail to pay if clients dry up and the manager runs off.

“We never used to hire temporary workers, because labor costs were not very high. Our workers were on staff,” said Huang Biliang, who runs a button factory in the southern city of Dongguan. “But recently we’ve started to hire more temporary labor.”

In a stainless steel factory in the nearby town of Jiangmen, David Liang, manager of Chiefy, agrees: “Every additional (permanent) worker I hire is an additional risk.”

The cost of social unrest is well known to the government, and if allowing slightly different rules of employment means that the masses will be happy, then its something officials are willing to tolerate. Although, at the end of the day, officials may have no choice but to soften their stance. As He Fan, chief economist of Caixin Insight Group points out, the manufacturing sector is shrinking, and casual workers may already be on track to outnumber permanent workers as it is.

Though China has tightened rules, officials have also expressed concerns about them. In March, Finance Minister Lou Jiwei publicly criticized the labor contract law, which requires companies to provide employees a written contract.

The same month, Guangdong province - which has raised its minimum wage at regular intervals in recent years - said it would scrap scheduled rises to the local minimum wage in 2016, and keep it at 2015 levels through 2018.

“The total employment of the manufacturing sector is shrinking,” said He Fan, chief economist of Caixin Insight Group, but not the informal portion of that. He sees the shift to more casual labor as also partly led by younger workers.

“If my assumption is correct, then the casual workers may outgrow the permanent workers.”

Needing to maintain employment, local authorities appear to tolerate the arrangement.

For now, workers like 39 year old Wang Binge, are happy with the part-time arrangement while looking for more stable work.

In Shiling, in China’s bag capital, men and women gather in the early morning looking for a days work.

Factory managers in vans and on scooters each hold a sample of the bag they produce; workers crowd around them, examining the sample and discussing the per-piece wage.

Among the workers is 39 year-old Wang Binge, who until three years ago ran her own small handbag workshop nearby. The workshop was once profitable enough to allow her to buy a Toyota and build a house in her hometown in southern Hunan province.

But orders dried up, and now Wang looks for jobs that pay at least 180 yuan ($27) for about a 12 hour day.

So many factory owners have fled without paying their staff, Wang and other workers said, that they feel safer being paid cash by the day, while hoping for more stable work.

At the end of the day, if workers are even tentatively happy, it improves the chances that the government won’t have to deal with further unrest. For China officials, that’s all that matters at the moment.


Posted by Elvis on 05/23/16 •
Section Bad Moon Rising
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Friday, March 20, 2015

Bad Moon Rising Part 68 - Why Workers Wont Unite

By Kim Phillips-Fein
March 16, 2017
The Atlantic

Globalization and technology have gutted the labor movement, and part-time work is sabotaging solidarity. Is there a new way to challenge the politics of inequality? Tackling inequality is clearly going to require more than technocratic fixes from above. It isnt likely to succeed unless workers themselves can reclaim some bargaining power, and the sense of political and social inclusion that can go with it. 

The Ludlow Massacre, as it became known, was but one skirmish in a protracted, often violent conflict that raged throughout the United States during the early years of the 20th century. A radical social change was at stake: Would the miners, meat-packers, silk workers, garment makers, and steelworkers of the newly industrial nation be able to join labor unions in order to bargain over the terms of their worktheir wages, their hours, the safety of their jobs? One contemporary journalist described the tent colonies as the outward sign of civil war.

The labor movement helped create the confidence in mobility that we associate with being middle-class. Almost 100 years later, the attention of the country was once again galvanized by a tent city - this one in Zuccotti Park, a few blocks away from the New York Stock Exchange. Initially the inspiration of a few activists determined to call attention to poverty in the midst of New Yorks extreme wealth, Occupy Wall Street - like the early labor movement - tapped into a widespread sense of dispossession and fear, this time in the wake of the 2008 financial panic and the recession.

The Ludlow strikers, were they able to time-travel to Lower Manhattan in 2011, would have found much that seemed familiar, starting with the statistics about economic inequality: the richest 1 percent of the nation controls 40 percent of the wealth and earns 20 percent of the national income, proportions similar to those in the early 20th century (and up from about 25 percent and 9 percent, respectively, in the 1970s). The miners would have recognized, too, the anger about widespread unemployment, the spectacle of lavish upper-crust consumption, and the increasing influence of private money in politics.

But they might well have wondered: Where are the unions? Even though it got some support from labor groups, Occupy Wall Street was more directly focused on unemployment, student-loan and consumer debt, and the generous terms of the 2008 bailout for the financial sector than on specific issues related to working conditions. The Occupy movement has unquestionably had an influence on activism in New York and elsewhere (even helping to mobilize demonstrations in response to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner). It has also played a key role in revitalizing debates about income inequality. But these accomplishments have not translated into a revival of workplace organizing.

The rolling one-day strikes staged last year by low-wage workers at fast-food restaurants and convenience stores demanding $15 an hour and a path to union recognition were a reminder of what’s missing. In 2014, only 6.6 percent of the private-sector workforce belonged to a union - about the same rate as in the era of Ludlow. Among public-sector workers the figure is higher (about 35 percent), but a lower proportion of the total workforce is unionized than in any other period since the late 1930s, shortly after the signing of the National Labor Relations Act. In 1914, the labor movement stood at the beginning of what would be a long upswing; now its gains have been almost completely reversed.

Today, the labor movements decline is widely considered an irreversible reality. As anxiety about inequality and the erosion of the middle class rises, so does awareness that still more seismic changes are ahead in a landscape of work where long-term employment is on the wane. Today, both PROFESSIONAL and low-wage jobs are dominated by an IDEOLOGY OF FLEXIBILITY and by a reality of transient relationships between employers and employees. Those ties are getting only more tenuous as the “on-demand economy” takes off, with the spread of Uber-style instant consumer services. A media beat that had all but disappeared seems to be making a tentative comeback. Politico has started a section devoted entirely to labor issues in response to reader interest. The Huffington Post now employs a full-time labor reporter.

So far, though, the fraught future of labor in the U.S. has notably failed to generate public protest on a significant scale. Nothing in American politics compares with the civil-rights crusade, the movement against the Vietnam War, or the labor wars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Could that change? Might the future possibly hold a resurgence of the indignation about class disparities - and about the labor and economic circumstances they reflect - that was once focused on the workplace?

Today, the labor movementҗs decline is widely considered an irreversible realitythe inevitable outcome of globalization and automation, and the norm for a postindustrial economy, hardly worthy of comment. When discussions turn to the glaring and still growing imbalance of power between working-class and elite interests in our political system, Republicans celebrate the free market and certainly donҗt invoke a return of unions. But neither do most Democrats. Why this is so, why its a problem, and what if anything might be done to revive the politics of workҒthese issues are the subject of two very different books: the historian Steve Frasers The Age of Acquiescence and Only One Thing Can Save Us, by Thomas Geoghegan, a longtime labor attorney.

Fraser offers a sweeping, forcefully argued comparison between, on the one hand, the economy, ideology, and politics of the first Gilded Age and, on the other, the contemporary political scene. Geoghegan undertakes a far more personal assessment. In the disarming style of a self-deprecating lawyer in a beleagured field, he describes his experiences representing workers in Chicago, which he treats as a microcosm of the problems that labor faces across the nation.

Both authors make a case that grappling with inequality in a meaningful way will require more than overhauling taxes on the rich or government programs that aid the poor. The current liberal roster of solutions for income stagnationגThomas Pikettys notion of a global wealth tax, Elizabeth Warrenגs push for cheaper college loans, the economist Austan Goolsbees proposal to direct 3 percent of GDP to educational opportunities, from preschool to community collegeҒcant help sounding wishful in the current political climate. In any case, Geoghegan emphasizes, a narrow focus on skill building is an inadequate approach to tackling inequities, especially in an economy increasingly premised on short-term employment.

In a system as skewed as ours currently is toward elite interests, he and Fraser urge a return to גthe labor question as the key to confronting not just the economic gap but its political and cultural consequences. To begin to restore some semblance of the democratic culture and values that inequality erodes, we need to pay attention to work itself, and to the economic leverage and the political and social solidarity that can grow out of the workplace.

Fraser and Geoghegan are well aware of the paradox theyӔve set for themselves: the very place they herald as a potential crucible of power for Americans struggling for security has been hollowed out, and the realm of work has been transformed in ways that the Ludlow miners likely wouldnt recognize. Those strikers, a diverse array of colliers from around the world, were exploited in the crudest physical way and still forged a common culture in the dark spaces of the mines. The absence of such a shared sensibility is a hallmark of todayҒs workforce of temps, freelancers, and would-be entrepreneurs. Yet without it, as Fraser and Geoghegan are not alone in wondering, where is a crucial impetus for challenging the politics of inequality going to come from? The story of the rise and fall of the labor movement offers unsettling insights, and no assurances, about a revival. Then again, as both authors would hasten to say, gauzy nostalgia is not what the country needs.

Class warfare, Americas exceptionalist credo holds, is something that happens elsewhere. This is, after all, the country that likes to take credit for inventing the idea of the middle class. With no history of royalty and no hereditary social orders, everybody is supposed to have an equal opportunity to rise. In the 1950s, the political theorist Louis Hartz wrote that because the United States had never known feudalism, it was immune to socialism. The historian Richard Hofstadter suggested that open class conflict went against the grain of the American political tradition. Even Karl Marx (while acutely aware of racial slavery as a class system) didnҒt bet on the emergence of an impoverished proletariat in the U.S., given the countrys abundance of land.

As notable as the collapse of union membership is the rapid rise of workers who have only an attenuated connection to their jobs. Fraser and Geoghegan donҒt envision a sudden surge of socialist sentiment in the U.S. either, but Fraser takes pains to point outdrawing on the scholarship of a generation of labor historiansҗthat the story of Americas industrializing era in fact features plenty of class struggle. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw fierce confrontation over the economic future of the nation. Workers had no protected right to organize, and employers were not compelled to recognize unions. Yet workers in voluntary organizations (and sometimes even nonmembers) were able to stage strikes that shut down much of the national rail system and roiled the largest factories. Strikers were frequently confronted by employersג private armies as well as by state militias and the National Guard. Industrial sabotage wasnt uncommon. Although the class contest raging in the workplace was only intermittently felt in national elections, from New York CityҒs Lower East Side to Colorados coalfields it fueled a radical culture openly skeptical of capitalism. All of this, Fraser argues, is markedly absent today. We live in an Ғage of acquiescenceӔunhappily facing similar problems, but no longer believing that we have any power to create or even imagine an alternative to the ascendancy of elites in an era of global competition.

To explain whats changed, Fraser turns to the very structure of the American economy. A century ago, the United States was a developing nation, eagerly devouring the raw materials of the natural world. It was turning trees into lumber, iron into steel, the expanse of prairie into cash crops of wheat and corn. Many of its laborers were barely a generation removed from preindustrial life. They (or their parents) had been self-sufficient artisans, peasants, or small farmers before being swept into the massive new factories of the Gilded Age. The emerging capitalist system shattered their traditional communities, and thus seemed גintolerable to many of those violently uprooted by its onrush. Accustomed to their independence, they were haunted by the nightmare of becoming wage slaves. The fear of disempowerment, as other labor historians have argued, drew partly on an embattled masculinity, but women, too, were active in building unions and striking to challenge the authority of their employers; the famous ӔUprising of the 20,000 among garment workers in Lower Manhattan began 16 months before the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911.

The new proletarians longed to restore the economic autonomy they had once taken for grantedӔand, not yet steeped in the culture of the marketplace, they believed this was possible. The factories, corporations, markets, and banks that they viewed as their oppressors were still so new that their endurance hardly seemed assured. Many workers imagined that sweeping transformations would continue. They felt that the horrific world they saw around them could not last, that they had the power to help usher in a more humane and egalitarian social order.

Frasers key insight is that their preindustrial heritage, combined with an acute awareness of the dynamism of the new economy, may have left the workers of the last century far more גaudacious in envisioning a noncapitalist future than people are now. Moved by their utopian hopes, the growing ranks of workers in the fast-developing industrial system found the courage to challenge the inequities surrounding themӔa spirit of bravery that Fraser suggests has now largely evaporated.

He and Geoghegan emphasize a pragmatic, rather than a romantic, perspective on a labor movement that proceeded to grow and that, despite its roots in a culture fiercely critical of the market, ended up firmly entrenched within capitalism. The campaign for better conditions in the workplace slowly made inroads on the state level in the early 20th century. Many of the crucial goals of the Progressive yearsthe rights to a minimum wage, a limit on hours, unemployment insuranceחwerent enshrined at the national level until the 1930s. Other benefits - health insurance, pensions, paid vacations - were won only through collective bargaining between employers and the newly recognized unions in the 1940s and 50s.

By the early 1950s, more than one-third of all workers were union members. Any company at which a majority of employees voted to form a union in a federally supervised election had to sit down at the bargaining table. Unions also guaranteed a measure of real independence on the job: the clear rules and procedures of the contract protected workers from the arbitrary power of managers.

This institutional regime meant that companies were compelled to share a greater proportion of the wealth they generated with the people who contributed to its creation. The leverage exerted by unions may have helped keep executive pay in check. Union clout made possible regular wage increases that allowed factory workers to purchase their own homes, as well as some of the expensive goodscars, refrigerators, television sets - they helped produce. As the scholar Jack Metzgar wrote in his memoir of growing up as the son of a union steelworker in the 1950s, If what we lived through in the 1950s was not liberation, then liberation never happens in real human lives.

Unions also mobilized people to vote in support of government measures that served to redistribute wealth (such as notably high taxes on the upper income brackets in the postwar years, and regular increases in the minimum wage). To a large degree, the labor movement created the economic stability, social independence, and deep confidence in the promise of mobility that we associate today with being middle-class.

Fraser and Geoghegans recognition of the accomplishments of postwar labor doesnגt blind either of them to the movements shortcomings. The ҒNew Deal order, as Fraser calls it, was very regionally defined (bypassing most of the South) and excluded large numbers of people. Many nonwhite workers, in particular, were left out of the postwar social bargain. Service-sector industries that employed disproportionate numbers of women were never well organized. Postwar unions fully accepted the culture of mass consumption. That meant rejecting the morally charged politics of the earlier labor movement, which emphasized democratic participation and the dignity of work. After years of struggle, labor leaders were thrilled to have won a proverbial seat at the table at last. But the new ethos also helped to produce a union culture that made inclusion in the Establishment a higher priority than continuing to fight for weaker social groups.

At its worst, self-interested complacency encouraged corruption within the Cold War labor movement. The Teamsters were the most famous example, but not the only one. The United Mine Workers, the union that the Ludlow strikers had once fought to build, descended into autocracy; its disastrous low point arrived in 1969, when the dissident Jock Yablonski was murdered in his home, along with his wife and daughter - victims of hit men hired by the union president. (As a college student and then as a young labor lawyer, Geoghegan worked with Miners for Democracy, an organization created in the wake of Yablonskis death to fight for reform - an experience he chronicled in his 1991 memoir, Which Side Are You On?)

Labor’s sclerosis left it ill-prepared to grapple with the structural and political changes of the 1970s, as the global position of American manufacturing faltered. The country’s industrial infrastructure was already on weakening ground by the 1950s. As Fraser argues, the late 20th century brought its steady disassembling. Intensifying competition from Europe, Latin America, and Asia in the 1970s and 80s pressed companies to move abroad in search of workers who lacked the protections common in the United States, continuing trends that had begun in the postwar years. Corporations in which labor had made modest inroads now mobilized against unions. The use of professional union-busters spread. So did automation and production speedups. Retail and service companies (such as Walmart) built their economic plans around cheap prices, made possible by easy access to low-wage, nonunion labor both in the stores and at suppliers.

Unions could do little to assuage a mounting, very realistic fear among working-class people. Labor pushed an alternate agenda: expanding public-sector jobs to fight unemployment, developing training programs for laid-off workers, making sure trade policy favored industry. There was a wave of strikes in the early 1970s. But years of defeats and a declining base left unions struggling to gain much support in this defensive stance. (A few prescient unions had earlier made various proposals to discourage capital flight - none of which gained much traction.) At the same time, new business groups, such as the Business Roundtable, were blaming the labor movement for inflation, and the new right attacked unions and government with equal fervor. President Reagan’s breaking of the AIR-TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS strike in 1981 symbolized the beginning of a new era. The use of strike breakers - once rare - became common.

Even unions less crippled by internal conflicts would have been challenged by the sheer scale of the economic transformation in the late 20th century, which turned once-vibrant industrial cities into ghost towns. The dynamism and expansion 100 years earlier, which had stoked workers sense of their own strength and capacity, gave way to stagnation and fatalism, and a resigned timidity at work. Today, strikes have almost vanished from our economic landscape: in 2013, a scant 15 strikes involved more than 1,000 employees each (down from 187 in 1980, the year Reagan was elected). Unionization has fallen sharply even in parts of the economy where it was once ubiquitous, such as the manufacturing sector.

Many of the unions that are hanging onғincluding those in the auto industry, once the standard for union powerhave adopted two-tier contracts, so that new hires are paid according to a different pay scale. Geoghegan suggests that such bargains, though they may rescue unions from extinction in the short term, generally serve to erode whatever workplace solidarity might remain: to have workers earning $14 an hour toil beside those making $28 an hour does not promote a sense of common interest. De-skilling in industrial companies, he observes, undermines workplace mobility, too: where foremen were once drawn from the rank and file, today they are college-educated supervisors, monitoring workers who have no chance of ever moving up.

Meanwhile, the unions that have managed to remain strongҗmost notably in the public sector, which was organized amid civil-rights ferment during the 1960shardly enjoy the role of vanguard. Civil servants such as firefighters, postal workers, and teachers have found it difficult to counter the widespread perception (fed in large part by constant attacks from the right) that they are protecting their own wages and comfort at the expense of others. In the context of economic decline, whatever limited power labor might possess breeds resentment more than admiration.

By now, as notable as the drop in union membership is the rapid rise of workers who have only an attenuated connection to their jobsחbecause they are on temporary contracts, work fewer than 35 hours a week on ever-changing schedules, or are defined as independent contractorsח rather than employees. One way to think about whats happened in recent years is that the precarious economic position of nonwhite or female workers in postwar America has become closer to the norm for all workers.

About one in 10 American workers is self-employed (the most rapidly growing groups in this category are maids and housekeepers, carpenters, landscapers, and hairdressersӔa far cry from the farmers of yesteryear). Part-time workers make up 17 percent of the labor force. Workers hired as independent contractorsas are many at FedEx, for exampleҗarent eligible for unemployment insurance, donחt have the right to organize a union, arent guaranteed overtime pay or the minimum wage, and lack access to the employment protections afforded by the Civil Rights Act. Their employers donҒt have to contribute to Social Security. (Some FedEx drivers have successfully challenged this employment classification in court.)

With the on-demand economy thriving, the ranks of freelancers are growingone can now hire a lawyer, doctor, computer programmer, or run-of-the-mill office worker for short-term service via the Internet. They, too, generally lack the basic perks of stability, such as a retirement plan and health insurance. Describing one boss who compelled his workers to set themselves up as legal corporations so the company could avoid the cost of employee benefits, Geoghegan writes, ҒSometimes I think: one day, every American worker will be a John Smith, Incorporated, every cleaning lady, every janitor, every one of usit will be a nation of CEOs in chains.ד His bleak vision captures the culminating challenge facing a labor revival. That hurdle is rooted in the contemporary ethos of work itself, never mind global and technological factors: how to liberate wage slaves who are, however perversely defined, their own masters.

In the 19th century, anger at lost autonomy brought workers together to organize, to reassert a sense of independence and dignity threatened by the rise of giant corporations and new workplace hierarchies. Key to claiming rights and clout for themselves was solidarity with others. Just as important for them, and for their successors, was an experience of group bargaining power, not only in their companies and factories but also in a democracy: participating in the labor movement was inseparable from becoming actively engaged more broadly in political life.

Today, even as jobs get more precarious, the ideal of independence endures, and a seductive language of artisanship flourishes, promising opportunities for self-realization and freedom from the routinized, bureaucratic workplace of yore. What todays workers are missing is the pull of collective action. The rising generation grew up not with the memory of laborהs early tenacity and vigor, but with the reality of unions under attack from without and in disarray within.

Tackling inequality is clearly going to require more than technocratic fixes from above. It isnt likely to succeed unless workers themselves can reclaim some bargaining power, and the sense of political and social inclusion that can go with it. For Geoghegan, that cultural shift is the crucial goal, though he is also armed with economic arguments about the importance of unions in achieving structural change.

Drawing on Keynes, he makes the case that worker organizations, exerting pressure from below within corporations, will more effectively contribute to the redistribution of wealth than rejiggering taxes or government spending can hope to. Such an approach could create new domestic markets, fueled by rising incomes rather than by debt-driven spending. (Even today, despite the weakness of organized labor, median weekly earnings for unionized workers are about $200Ғor 27 percentmore than for nonunion workers.) The result would be an economy less prone to destructive boom-and-bust cycles. Expanded markets might, he suggests, lead to lower trade deficits as investors put money toward productive uses, rather than toward financial speculation. Higher incomes for working-class Americans might also reduce the intense antagonism toward taxes; the government could more easily invest in infrastructure and social programsҗeven education.

But the heart of Geoghegans case isnחt his upbeat, Keynesian vision of union-catalyzed economic change, which will inevitably prompt debate. (So will his celebration of Germanys economyҒ17 percent of the workforce is unionized and labor is represented on corporate boardsgiven that he barely mentions the countryҗs role in enforcing austerity throughout the rest of Europe.) Above all, he looks to worker organization as a force for political change. He heralds it as the route to counterbalancing the power of elites by spurring democratic participation, and securing representation for the interests of workers (and the middle class).

Burnishing his credentials as a critic of an older unionism focused only on collective bargaining, Geoghegan invokes as models unions like National Nurses United and the Chicago Teachers Union. Both have sought to position themselves as leaders in social movements, not just as the representatives of their members immediate financial interests. Each aims for a broad political coalition and embraces a big agenda.

For National Nurses United, that means urging a greater say for nurses in how hospitals operate. The Chicago Teachers Union, which staged an unexpectedly popular strike in 2012, connected teachersג concerns about health benefits and the ways in which their work would be evaluated to larger questions. The union broached the topics of funding for education, privatization of public schools, overly large class sizes, and the lack of support for art, music, and special education. At stake was the whole question of teachers role in determining educational policy. ItҒs no accident that such unions represent service-sector professionals, disproportionately women, whose labor serves a greater public good; trained in professions that have their own ethical codes, these workers are pushing for more socially engaged autonomy. Such unions weigh in with confidence against corporate interests, committed to the idea that participatory activism counts.

Nurses and teachers might seem to have little in common with low-wage, blue-collar, or temporary workers, whether farmhands or clericals. Still, Geoghegan sees these unions as important and relevant examples of a willingness to depart from the mid-century template for collective bargaining. Any real revival of organizing, in his view, is bound to require a jettisoning of older models. There is little alternative, given the right-to-work laws on the books in 24 states and the hostility toward union-election campaigns: winning a majority vote is an uphill battle even if many in the workplace want a union.

Geoghegan suggests that unions could give up on the old insistence on exclusive representationҒthe idea that a majority of workers must vote to support a union, which then must represent everyone in the workplace in collective bargaining. Instead, workers could jockey to form organizations that would be empowered to bargain for any who chose to join and pay dues. To counter employer discrimination against union supportersӔwho are often threatened with being fired or demoted for wearing a union button or talking about organizingGeoghegan proposes a push to get union allegiance defined as a civil right that deserves legal protection, like race and gender. Workers punished for their pro-union sentiments would be enabled to sue through the courts rather than be limited to an appeal to the National Labor Relations Board. Or unions could stop focusing on their contracts and aim for more say over corporate management. State governments, he suggests, could offer tax breaks for firms that allow union representation on their boardsחanother weapon in the arsenal of incentives that states already use to attract business.

Where there are union stirrings, workers are indeed experimenting with new strategies. At companies such as Walmart, employees have struggled to join forces to advocate for better pay and more-stable schedules so that they arent forced to rely on food stamps and public assistance to supplement their low wages. Aware of how hard the company will fight formal union recognition, they arenחt seeking to hold an election anytime in the near future. Instead, they welcome whoever wants to join them in pressuring the company through demonstrations, strikes, and Black Friday protests. The Fight for $15Ғ campaign by fast-food workers, airport employees, and home health aides (supported by the Service Employees International Union) has adopted similar moves. Participants have simply taken to the streets to make a moral appeal to the public and demand change. For the moment, theyve bypassed the lengthy, often futile process of filing for an election, winning union recognition, and bargaining over a contract.

Geoghegan knows full well that some leaders in the larger world of organized labor may be reluctant to adopt such confrontational tactics in their own unions, and that employers generally have met them with fierce resistance. Despite tentative signs of life, the prospect of a new labor movement sweeping the country - unions fought for by baristas and waiters, janitors and temps, day-care workers and grad students - still seems as remote and romantic as imagining the steel mills reassembled from their ghostly remnants on the South Side of Chicago. But neither Geoghegan nor Fraser has given up on a spirit of rebellious imagination, because the alternative, as their clear-eyed accounts refuse to gloss over, is immersion in a different kind of dream.

Today, the expectations associated with a middle-class identity - homeownership, a college education, and health care, as well as the secure social position that they make possible - linger on, even though the historical context that once made those markers realistically attainable for many has long since disappeared. The political culture of equality engendered by the New Deal and the postwar order no longer exists. Nor do the economic institutions that thrived during those decades - more-affordable higher education, labor unions, and a growing social safety net. But those markers of middle-class arrival continue to beckon as integral hedges against losing ground (which indeed they are, perhaps even more now than in the past). And when they prove out of reach, people feel aggrieved enough to take on risk in a gamble for security: they are willing to borrow heavily on credit cards, take out chancy mortgages, or borrow against their homes if that’s their only recourse.

Economically, some may argue that a nation so starkly divided between rich and poor is prone to frequent recessions, high levels of unemployment, and debt-driven panics and crises. But the deeper problems, as Fraser and Geoghegan suggest, are moral and political. The stark hierarchies of the material world generate a culture of defeat and paralysis. At every level of our society today, the idea that only people with money matter is confirmed daily. From the kind of health care that we receive, to the schools our children attend, to the parks near our houses, our segregation by wealth renders a common social experience nearly impossible.

Organizing in the workplace isnt enough, alone, to close those gaps. It can, though, give people a way to see themselves as something other than disempowered individuals. It can help instill the sense that they are part of society, linked to others around them, bearing mutual responsibility for the circumstances they inhabit, not just as workers but as citizens. WhatӔs at stake is more than paid vacations or even health insurance or higher wages. When people organize at work, they alter something larger than any particular policy. They change the balance of power itselfon their jobs, and also potentially in their cities and states, and in Washington.

Without this larger vision of workplace democracy and political engagement, unions stand no chance of revival. A claim on the moral imagination has always been crucial to laborҒs success. Hard though it may be to grasp in retrospect, the labor movement of 100 years ago, as Fraser writes, was as much a freedom movement as the abolitionist movement had been or [the] civil rights movement would become.ג

Whether it is possible to animate work with this meaning today is an open question. Near the end of his book, Geoghegan commits the equivalent of heresy for a labor lawyer: totally committed though he is to fending off the destruction of those unions that still exist (and represent 16.2 million people), he admits that a small part of him cant help hoping that the right will continue its legal assault on organized labor until the entire rickety apparatus born of the New Deal collapses.

Unions would then be forced back into the streets, into relying on the active support of the people they seek to represent, as well as of the larger public. People might be jolted into recognizing that they’ve forgotten how to insist on their rights and freedom as workers. They would need to find waysas people did a century agoӔto speak about their aspirations in a political language that lays claim to democratic principles and counters the illusion that the world must be divided between a superelite and those whose mission is to serve it.

Labor has grown so weak by now that whatever form of organizing might come next will have to start almost from scratch anyway, to build something entirely new. Such an idea may seem dauntingbut no more so than it must have appeared to the miners in Ludlow. What that something might be - what it will look like, and how it might help us remake our society together - is an unavoidable question of the 21st century.


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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Bad Moon Rising Part 67 - Minerva

Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown
Social science is being militarised to develop ‘operational tools’ to target peaceful activists and protest movements

By Dr. Nafeez Ahmed
The Guardian
June 14, 2013

A US Department of Defense (DoD) research programme is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies. The multi-million dollar programme is designed to develop immediate and long-term “warfighter-relevant insights” for senior officials and decision makers in “the defense policy community,” and to inform policy implemented by “combatant commands.”

Launched in 2008 the year of the global banking crisis - the DoD ‘Minerva Research Initiative’ partners with universities “to improve DoD’s basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the US.”

Among the projects awarded for the period 2014-2017 is a Cornell University-led study managed by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research which aims to develop an empirical model “of the dynamics of social movement mobilisation and contagions.” The project will determine “the critical mass (tipping point)” of social contagians by studying their “digital traces” in the cases of “the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the 2011 Russian Duma elections, the 2012 Nigerian fuel subsidy crisis and the 2013 Gazi park protests in Turkey.”

Twitter posts and conversations will be examined “to identify individuals mobilised in a social contagion and when they become mobilised.”

Another project awarded this year to the University of Washington “seeks to uncover the conditions under which political movements aimed at large-scale political and economic change originate,” along with their “characteristics and consequences.” The project, managed by the US Army Research Office, focuses on “large-scale movements involving more than 1,000 participants in enduring activity,” and will cover 58 countries in total.

Last year, the DoD’s Minerva Initiative funded a project to determine WHO DOES NOT BECOME A TERRORIST AND WHY?‘ which, however, conflates peaceful activists with “supporters of political violence” who are different from terrorists only in that they do not embark on “armed militancy” themselves. The project explicitly sets out to study non-violent activists:

“In every context we find many individuals who share the demographic, family, cultural, and/or socioeconomic background of those who decided to engage in terrorism, and yet refrained themselves from taking up armed militancy, even though they were sympathetic to the end goals of armed groups. The field of terrorism studies has not, until recently, attempted to look at this control group. This project is not about terrorists, but about supporters of political violence.”

The project’s 14 case studies each “involve extensive interviews with ten or more activists and militants in parties and NGOs who, though sympathetic to radical causes, have chosen a path of non-violence.”

I contacted the project’s principal investigator, Prof Maria Rasmussen of the US Naval Postgraduate School, asking why non-violent activists working for NGOs should be equated to supporters of political violence and which “parties and NGOs” were being investigated - but received no response.

Similarly, Minerva programme staff refused to answer a series of similar questions I put to them, including asking how “radical causes” promoted by peaceful NGOs constituted a potential national security threat of interest to the DoD.

Among my questions, I asked:

“Does the US Department of Defense see protest movements and social activism in different parts of the world as a threat to US national security? If so, why? Does the US Department of Defense consider political movements aiming for large scale political and economic change as a national security matter? If so, why? Activism, protest, ‘political movements’ and of course NGOs are a vital element of a healthy civil society and democracy - why is it that the DoD is funding research to investigate such issues?”

Minerva’s programme director Dr Erin Fitzgerald said “I appreciate your concerns and am glad that you reached out to give us the opportunity to clarify” before promising a more detailed response. Instead, I received the following bland statement from the DoD’s press office:

“The Department of Defense takes seriously its role in the security of the United States, its citizens, and US allies and partners. While every security challenge does not cause conflict, and every conflict does not involve the US military, Minerva helps fund basic social science research that helps increase the Department of Defense’s understanding of what causes instability and insecurity around the world. By better understanding these conflicts and their causes beforehand, the Department of Defense can better prepare for the dynamic future security environment.”

In 2013, Minerva funded a University of Maryland project in collaboration with the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to gauge the risk of civil unrest due to climate change. The three-year $1.9 million project is developing models to anticipate what could happen to societies under a range of potential climate change scenarios.

From the outset, the Minerva programme was slated to provide over $75 million over five years for social and behavioural science research. This year alone it has been allocated a total budget of $17.8 million by US Congress.

An internal Minerva staff email communication referenced in a 2012 Masters dissertation reveals that the programme is geared toward producing quick results that are directly applicable to field operations. The dissertation was part of a Minerva-funded project on “counter-radical Muslim discourse” at Arizona State University.

The internal email from Prof Steve Corman, a principal investigator for the project, describes a meeting hosted by the DoD’s Human Social Cultural and Behavioural Modeling (HSCB) programme in which senior Pentagon officials said their priority was “to develop capabilities that are deliverable quickly” in the form of “models and tools that can be integrated with operations.”

Although Office of Naval Research supervisor Dr Harold Hawkins had assured the university researchers at the outset that the project was merely “a basic research effort, so we shouldn’t be concerned about doing applied stuff”, the meeting in fact showed that DoD is looking to “feed results” into “applications,” Corman said in the email. He advised his researchers to “think about shaping results, reports, etc., so they [DoD] can clearly see their application for tools that can be taken to the field.”

Many independent scholars are critical of what they see as the US government’s efforts to militarise social science in the service of war. In May 2008, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) wrote to the US government noting that the Pentagon lacks “the kind of infrastructure for evaluating anthropological [and other social science] research” in a way that involves “rigorous, balanced and objective peer review”, calling for such research to be managed instead by civilian agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The following month, the DoD signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the NSF to cooperate on the management of Minerva. In response, the AAA cautioned that although research proposals would now be evaluated by NSF’s merit-review panels. “Pentagon officials will have decision-making power in deciding who sits on the panels”:

“ there remain concerns within the discipline that research will only be funded when it supports the Pentagon’s agenda. Other critics of the programme, including the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, have raised concerns that the programme would discourage research in other important areas and undermine the role of the university as a place for independent discussion and critique of the military.”

According to Prof David Price, a cultural anthropologist at St Martin’s University in Washington DC and author of Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State, “when you looked at the individual bits of many of these projects they sort of looked like normal social science, textual analysis, historical research, and so on, but when you added these bits up they all shared themes of legibility with all the distortions of over-simplification. Minerva is farming out the piece-work of empire in ways that can allow individuals to disassociate their individual contributions from the larger project.”

Prof Price has previously exposed how the Pentagon’s Human Terrain Systems (HTS) programme - designed to embed social scientists in military field operations - routinely conducted training scenarios set in regions “within the United States.”

Citing a summary critique of the programme sent to HTS directors by a former employee, Price reported that the HTS training scenarios “adapted COIN [counterinsurgency] for Afghanistan/Iraq” to domestic situations “in the USA where the local population was seen from the military perspective as threatening the established balance of power and influence, and challenging law and order.”

One war-game, said Price, involved environmental activists protesting pollution from a coal-fired plant near Missouri, some of whom were members of the well-known environmental NGO Sierra Club. Participants were tasked to “identify those who were ‘problem-solvers’ and those who were ‘problem-causers,’ and the rest of the population whom would be the target of the information operations to move their Center of Gravity toward that set of viewpoints and values which was the ‘desired end-state’ of the military’s strategy.”

Such war-games are consistent with a raft of Pentagon planning documents which suggest that National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance is partially motivated to prepare for the destabilising impact of coming environmental, energy and economic shocks.

James Petras, Bartle Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University in New York, concurs with Price’s concerns. Minerva-funded social scientists tied to Pentagon counterinsurgency operations are involved in the “study of emotions in stoking or quelling ideologically driven movements,” he said, including how “to counteract grassroots movements.”

Minerva is a prime example of the deeply narrow-minded and self-defeating nature of military ideology. Worse still, the unwillingness of DoD officials to answer the most basic questions is symptomatic of a simple fact - in their unswerving mission to defend an increasingly unpopular global system serving the interests of a tiny minority, security agencies have no qualms about painting the rest of us as potential terrorists.


Posted by Elvis on 06/14/14 •
Section Bad Moon Rising
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