Article 43

 

American Solidarity

American Solidarity - Time To Stand Up

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

New Deal 2.0

By PW Editorial Board
People’s World
December 11, 2009

There are millions of unemployed ready to go to work today. The only missing element is someone to hire them.

Since private industry isn’t hiring, where will jobs come from? What did the country do during the Great Depression?

In the 1930s the New Deal put construction workers on the job building infrastructure we have used ever since. Much of that network is at the end of its life, so let’s do it again, but this time with “green” planning built in.

In the 1930s artists were unemployed. The New Deal hired them and they gave us the fantastic murals, mosaics and monuments in our public places. We could use a lot more of them.

Planting all those trees in our national forests and parks, and building all those lodges, cabins and trail shelters in state and national parks and elsewhere was a good idea. Only thing is, we need more of them.

Under the New Deal the Federal Writers Project subsidized play and book writing and all kinds of other literary pursuits. Advertising people and writers of all kinds are out of work today.

In the 1930s white collar workers with college degrees were unemployed. The New Deal hired many of them into the regulatory bodies it set up to control the worst excesses of capitalism and to regulate private industry. Hiring some of our college graduates to do this again, today, seems like a worthwhile idea. It certainly beats sending them to Wall Street where they work on devising methods that ruin both the economy and eventually, their own livelihoods.

But to win the old New Deal, it took a fight. Its going to take the same thing to win a new New Green Deal.

Below is an abridged caption and short history of the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, click HERE for the full history.

When FDR took office, he immediately commenced a massive revitalization of the nation’s economy. In response to the depression that hung over the nation in the early 1930s, President Roosevelt created many programs designed to put Americans back to work.

In his first 100 days in office, President Roosevelt approved several measures as part of his “New Deal,” including the Emergency Conservation Work Act (ECW), better known as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). With that action, he brought together the nations young men and the land in an effort to save them both. Roosevelt proposed to recruit thousands of unemployed young men, enlist them in a peacetime army, and send them to battle the erosion and destruction of the nation’s natural resources.

The CCC, also known as Roosevelts Tree Army, was credited with renewing the nation’s decimated forests by planting an estimated three billion trees from 1933 to 1942. This was crucial, especially in states affected by the Dust Bowl, where reforestation was necessary to break the wind, hold water in the soil, and hold the soil in place. So far reaching was the CCCs reforestation program that it was responsible for more than half the reforestation, public and private, accomplish in the nation’s history.

Eligibility requirements for the CCC carried several simple stipulations. Congress required U.S. citizenship only. Other standards were set by the ECW. Sound physical fitness was mandatory because of the hard physical labor required. Men had to be unemployed, unmarried, and between the ages of 18 and 26, although the rules were eventually relaxed for war veterans. Enlistment was for a duration of six months, although many reenlisted after their alloted time was up.

Problems were confronted quickly. The bulk of the nations young and unemployed youth were concentrated in the East, while most of the work projects were in the western parts of the country. The War Department mobilized the nationҒs transportation system to move thousands of enrollees from induction centers to work camps. The Agriculture and Interior departments were responsible for planning and organizing work to be performed in every state. The Department of Labor was responsible for the selection and enrollment of applicants. The National Director of the ECW was Robert Fechner, a union vice president chosen personally by President Roosevelt.

Young men flocked to enroll. Many politicians believed that the CCC was largely responsible for a 55 percent reduction in crimes committed by the young men of that day. Men were paid $30 a month, with mandatory $25 allotment checks sent to families of the men, which made life a little easier for people at home.

Camps were set up in all states, as well as in Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Enrollment peaked at the end of 1935, when there were 500,000 men located in 2,600 camps in operation in all states. California alone had more than 150 camps. The greatest concentration of CCC personnel was in the Sixth Civilian Conservation Corps District of the First Corps Area, in the Winooski River Valley of Vermont, in December 1933. Enlisted personnel and supervisors totaled more than 5,300 and occupied four large camps.

The program enjoyed great public support. Once the first camps were established and the CCC became better known, they became accepted and even sought after. The CCC camps stimulated regional economies and provided communities with improvements in forest activity, flood control, fire protection, and overall community safety.

Although policy prohibited discrimination, blacks and other minorities encountered numerous difficulties in the CCC. In the early years of the program, some camps were integrated. By 1935, however, there was, in the words of CCC director Fechner, a complete segregation of colored and “white enrollees,” but segregation is not “discrimination.” At its peak, more than 250,000 African Americans were enrolled in nearly 150 all-black CCC companies.

An important modification became necessary early in 1933. It extended enlistment coverage to about 14,000 American Indians whose economic circumstances were deplorable and had mostly been ignored. Before the CCC was terminated, more than 80,000 Native Americans were paid to help reclaim the land that had once been theirs.

In addition, in May 1933, the president authorized the enrollment of about 25,000 veterans of the Spanish American War and World War I, with no age or marital restrictions. This made it possible for more than 250,000 veterans to rebuild lives disrupted by earlier service to their country.

In June 1933, the ECW decided that men in CCC camps could be given the opportunity of vocational training and additional education. Educational programs were developed that varied considerably from camp to camp, both in efficiency and results. More than 90 percent of all enrollees participated in some facet of the educational program. Throughout the CCC, more than 40,000 illiterate men were taught to read and write.

By 1942, there was hardly a state that could not boast of permanent projects left as markers by the CCC. The CCC worked on improving millions of acres of federal and state lands, as well as parks. New roads were built, telephone lines strung, and trees planted.

CCC projects included:

# more than 3,470 fire towers erected;
# 97,000 miles of fire roads built;
# 4,235,000 man-days devoted to fighting fires;
# more than 3 billion trees planted;
# 7,153,000 man days expended on protecting the natural habitats of wildlife; 83 camps in 15 Western states assigned 45 projects of that nature;
# 46 camps assigned to work under the direction of the U.S. Bureau of Agriculture Engineering;
# more than 84,400,000 acres of good agricultural land receive manmade drainage systems; Indian enrollees do much of that work;
# 1,240,000 man-days of emergency work completed during floods of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys;
# disease and insect control;
# forest improvement timber stand inventories, surveying, and reforestation;
# forest recreation development - campgrounds built, complete with picnic shelters, swimming pools, fireplaces, and restrooms.

In addition, 500 camps were under the control of the Soil Conservation Service. The primary work of those camps was erosion control. The CCC also made outstanding contributions to the development of recreational facilities in national, state, county, and metropolitan parks. By design, the CCC worked on projects that were independent of other public relief programs. Although other federal agencies, such as the National Park Service and Soil Conservation Service contributed, the U.S. Forest Service administered more than 50 percent of all public work projects for the CCC.

Residents of southern Indiana will always remember the extraordinary work of the CCC during the flood of the Ohio River in 1937. The combined strength of the camps in the area saved lives as well as property. The CCC also was involved in other natural disasters, including a hurricane in New England in 1938, floods in Vermont and New York, and blizzards in Utah.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was one of the most successful New Deal programs of the Great Depression. It existed for fewer than 10 years, but left a legacy of strong, handsome roads, bridges, and buildings throughout the United States. Between 1933 and 1941, more than 3,000,000 men served in the CCC.

The effects of service in the CCC were felt for years, even decades, afterwards. Following the depression, when the job market picked up, businessmen indicated a preference for hiring a man who had been in the CCC, and the reason was simple. Employers believed that anyone who had been in the CCC would know what a full days work meant, and how to carry out orders in a disciplined way.

Today, many of the remaining physical features the CCC built have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Posted by Elvis on 10/24/18 •
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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Democratic Socialism

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Why Americans Struggle to Understand Social Democracy
What Social Democracy and Socialism Are  And Aren’t

By Umair
Eudaimonia
August 15, 2018

I chuckle every time I hear it - which is every day, lately. “Denmark isn’t socialism! France isn’t socialist!! There’s no socialism in Europe!” So say American elites, pundits, columnists, usually men with earnest glasses. Have they been smoking too much capitalism?

They’re reacting to the dire prospect of socialism like priests who just met the devil - only the devil was busy saving souls from hell. They don’t quite know what to do with that. How to process it. They don’t even understand, funnily enough, just like those priests, whether or not to even call it “the devil” anymore. Hence: “Nothing’s socialism!! Nope!! how else to square the prospect of socialism rising amongst young Americans, except by denying it exists?” “That’s not the devil!! - thats just another cowboy!!”

The devil, my friends, is the devil. Only maybe he was never the monster you thought. Lets dispel a few myths.

Social democracy isn’t the cartoonish Cold War caricature of socialism (hence, Americans don’t understand it well.) America’s weary, Red Scare caricature of socialism - a bunch of bearded Marxist-Leninist intellectuals, all of whom look like Che Guevara in berets, sipping coffee on the Left Bank, plotting the violent global overthrow of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat, debating abstruse theories of the “means of production” and the “fraternity of labor,” which will lead inevitably to global communist revolution, under a single world government. If that’s what you mean by socialism - in other words, ideas from the 1850s, spoken by men in the 1950s - its true to say that social democracy isn’t that. But is that what socialism really is at all, in any senseʢ
 this cartoon villain?

Without socialism, life as you know it wouldn’t exist. You already know socialism. Socialism is your favourite park, school library. Its the time you spend there. It’s the people who work there. You like socialism. Socialism is your friend.

Think about in the opposite sense. Imagine we were back in 18th century London, Amsterdam, or Paris. If we’d obeyed modern-day American economics, where would these cities have ended up? Without sewers, pipes, parks, avenues, squares, or even gutters, probably. And yet Flint doesn’t have potable drinking water. Do you see my point? American thought lives in a fantasyland - socialism is the devil!! And yet, modern life as we know would cease to exist overnight without it. You’d be taking out a honeybucket every morning - not flushing a toilet (gross, right?) In that sense, you already know socialism, intimately - and you’ve known it all your life. It isn’t the bizarre Stalinesque, Leninist caricature of the Cold War. Its just everyday life.

(It’s deeply inaccurate, as American thinkers are trying to do these days, to say that all the things above are just redistribution.Ӕ Your public library is eminently not just stuff that was redistributed from the rich, to you. It’s a genuine form of public investment. The labour, the work, the design, the bricks, the pipes, the shelves, the books - these things are what people invested in together. There wasn’t some rich dude they took it from. They reap the benefits together, too. There are rules to make sure no one walks off with all the books, sure - but no one has a right to stop anyone else from using the library. Your public library, parks, and schools, are indeed socialism. And you probably cherish and value them, too.)

Social democracy began as socialism. Just in part, not in whole. Today, its evolved far beyond the Cold War caricature of Marxist-Leninist “socialism.” Social democracy in the simplest sense just means a system that’s partially, not fully, socialist. Now, American thinkers will go on denying this until the cows come home - remember those priests? But the fact is that “social democracy” was born of Marxism. In the late 1800s, after the age of revolutions in 1848, Marxism split up into a few camps. The hardcore still foresaw a need for (violent, sudden) revolution, which would bring about worldwide socialism. But the other camp called for a gradual transition to socialism - one country, one institution within a country, one system, like a healthcare or school system - one step at a time. This was what came to be called social democracy. But for precisely that reason, not to call social democracy socialism - as if they were somehow distinct entities, events, or ideas - is deeply historically, politically, and economically inaccurate, the kind of doublespeak for which Americas now famous, and which leaves Americans foolish. It’s not Leninism (global revolution!), its not Stalinism (the communist party!), it’s not Trotskyism (revolution, comrades, now!) but it is a kind of socialism. A gentler kind. That’s OK. So are the pipes in your house.

Social democracy is so far ahead of American capitalism now its like alien technology to a Stone Age tribe - which is why Americans struggle to understand it. Nobody today, though, really, in a social democracy - except maybe the few hardcore Marxists still left - is sitting around discussing the proletariat overthrowing the bourgeoisie, in a sudden, violent global revolution, after which everyone sings the Internationale, at the inauguration of Global Communism. Can we get real?

Social democracy has gone way, way beyond all that. These days, its something like the world’s most advanced operating system for human progress - full of strange, awesome, profound new ideas, about how to govern, manage, own, and run societies, which are so far ahead, that America simply can’t understand them with obsolete American ideas, like “shareholder value” and “individual responsibility” and 401Ks, all of which are simply now decades behind - and especially not with Cold War caricatures. It’s the most sophisticated and successful set of economic and social ideas and institutions human beings have ever created, which have led to the best - longest lived, happiest, safest, wealthiest - lives ever, full, stop, period, in all of history. What are some of those ideas?

Social democracy goes (way) beyond old-world notions of socialism. It means public goods are held in trust for the very people they are used by - not “state ownership” of the means of production. Socialism’s often said to mean state ownership of the “means of production.” What does that even mean? Have you ever thought about it? This isn’t 1868, my friends. The economy isn’t made of factories and clanking machines anymore. What are the “means of production,” these days, anyways? Server farms?

For just that reason, social democracy does indeed involve public ownership - but not of the “means of production,” really. Of basic public goods. Healthcare, education, transportation, energy, media, and so on. These aren’t really “means of production,” in the old Marxist sense - factories oppressing the proletariat. The modern variant of social democracy is about providing exactly those things which everyone needs, but capitalism cannot provide at low enough cost, or high enough quality.

So it’s not the “means of productionm” really, which are socialized - but public goods. And it’s not the “state” which owns them, either. Have you ever wondered what “state ownership” even is? What does it mean? The problem is that it never really meant anything at all - and so it could mean anything. Hence, dictators quickly rose to the top of purely socialist societies, like Stalin. But in modern social democracy, rather than the “means of production” owned by the state, public goods are owned by the people that use them - more accurately . They are held in trust, usually, by cities, towns, regions, and so forth. That means that they genuinely belong to everyone - not just some “council” or party committee, which was often the problem in Soviet style socialism - and yet no single person or actor can skim off their benefits for themselves.

The “means of production,” where they still exist, in the traditional sense, factories and so on, like in Germany, aren’t “socialized” so much in the sense of ownership, but in the sense of management - their workers sit on boards. It’s a vivid example of how the idea that “socialism” can mean something apart from “oh no, they’re taking our property rights!!” and go far beyond what Americans can understand given old, obsolete ideas.

Social democracy has grown because capitalism is becoming obsolete. It lets people realize themselves to a vastly higher degree than capitalism alone. Now, the part that Marx left out of the means of production are owned by the “state” was about purpose. When the means of production were owned by the state, what would the point be? Who’d define it? He didn’t say. Apparently, the proletariat would figure that part out when they got there. And that brings me to my final point.

Public goods each have a different social purpose, which can be maximized under social democracy - but capitalism is only ever one-dimensional. The purpose of a healthcare system is health. Duh, you might say. But the purpose of a healthcare system in capitalism is profit. Hence, American life expectancy falling. The purpose of an education system is knowledge. But the purpose of an education system in capitalism is debt and degree farming. Hence, Americans are getting dumber. Do you see the problem? Capitalist institutions simply are not flexible, functional, or usable enough to build genuinely prosperous societies with anymore. Let me put that another way.

Capitalism is obsolete because it is too blunt a tool with which to build a working society. You can’t build a house with only a chainsaw - at least not a very nice one. You need different tools, for all your many tasks. The same is true of a society. If capitalism’s the only tool you have - you’ll never be able to build a working healthcare, education, financial system, to name just a few, because those things cannot be run just in the old binary of “for profit” or “not for profit.” They must each be run for a different set of human outcomes, far beyond that tired dichotomy - health, life expectancy, knowledge, intelligence, savings, security, investment, and so forth.

Now, so far, in human history, only, really, under social democracy have we learned to construct such institutions best. We can build organizations, whose ownership is held in trust by communities, with explicit, specific goals, such as human health. That’s the modern day NHS. But we can never accomplish any of this under capitalism - we can only use the old model of shareholders owning an organization which is run either for or not for profit. That either serves shareholders with profit - or no one, really, at all. That doesn’t help us one bit when it comes to genuinely building systems which realize human potential.

So you should see the rise of social democracy in America - or at least the slender possibility of it - as an eminently good thing. Just as Russia was the last nation to accept capitalism, so America is the last one to accept socialism. Today, its capitalism that’s becoming obsolete, for obvious reasons. Meaningless, stagnation, misery, rage, despair, greed, ruin. Social democracy is alien technology to Stone Age men.

Or, if you like… if the devil’s saving souls, maybe he’s not the prince of hell. Maybe it was the other guy, all along.

SOURCE

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Explaining Socialism To A Republican

By Nurse Pam
Addicting Info
June 23, 2012

I was talking recently with a new friend who Im just getting to know. She tends to be somewhat conservative, while I lean more toward the progressive side.

When our conversation drifted to politics, somehow the dreaded word socialism came up. My friend seemed totally shocked when I said All socialism isn’t bad.  She became very serious and replied “So you want to take money away from the rich and give to the poor?” I smiled and said “No, not at all.  Why do you think socialism means taking money from the rich and giving to the poor?”

“Well it is, isn’t it?” was her reply.

I explained to her that I rather liked something called Democratic Socialism, just as Senator Bernie Sanders, talk show host Thom Hartman, and many other people do. Democratic Socialism consists of a democratic form of government with a mix of socialism and capitalism. I proceeded to explain to her the actual meaning terms democracy and socialism.

Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens take part. It is government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Socialism is where we all put our resources together and work for the common good of us all and not just for our own benefit. In this sense, we are sharing the wealth within society.

Of course when people hear that term, “Share the wealth” they start screaming, “OMG you want to rob from the rich and give it all to the poor!” But that is NOT what Democratic Socialism means.

To a Democratic Socialist, sharing the wealth means pooling tax money together to design social programs that benefit ALL citizens of that country, city, state, etc.

The fire and police departments are both excellent examples of Democratic Socialism in America.  Rather than leaving each individual responsible for protecting their own home from fire, everyone pools their money together, through taxes, to maintain a fire and police department. It’s operated under a non-profit status, and yes, your tax dollars pay for putting out other peoples fires. It would almost seem absurd to think of some corporation profiting from putting out fires.  But it’s more efficient and far less expensive to have government run fire departments funded by tax dollars.

Similarly, public education is another social program in the USA. It benefits all of us to have a taxpayer supported, publicly run education system. Unfortunately, in America, the public education system ends with high school.  Most of Europe now provides low cost or free college education for their citizens. This is because their citizens understand that an educated society is a safer, more productive and more prosperous society. Living in such a society, everyone benefits from public education.

When an American graduates from college, they usually hold burdensome debt in the form of student loans that may take 10 to even 30 years to pay off. Instead of being able to start a business or invest in their career, the college graduate has to send off monthly payments for years on end.

On the other hand, a new college graduate from a European country begins without the burdensome debt that an American is forced to take on. The young man or woman is freer to start up businesses, take an economic risk on a new venture, or invest more money in the economy, instead of spending their money paying off student loans to for-profit financial institutions.  Of course this does not benefit wealthy corporations, but it does greatly benefit everyone in that society.

EXAMPLE American style capitalistic program for college: If you pay (average) $20,000 annually for four years of college, that will total $80,000 + interest for student loans. The interest you would owe could easily total or exceed the $80,000 you originally borrowed, which means your degree could cost in excess of $100,000.

EXAMPLE European style social program for college: Your college classes are paid for through government taxes.  When you graduate from that college and begin your career, you also start paying an extra tax for fellow citizens to attend college.

Question - You might be thinking how is that fair? If youre no longer attending college, why would you want to help everyone else pay for their college degree?

Answer - Every working citizen pays a tax that is equivalent to say, $20 monthly.  If you work for 40 years and then retire, you will have paid $9,600 into the Social college program.  So you could say that your degree ends up costing only $9,600. When everyone pools their money together and the program is non-profit, the price goes down tremendously. This allows you to keep more of your hard earned cash!

Health care is another example: If your employer does not provide health insurance, you must purchase a policy independently.  The cost will be thousands of dollars annually, in addition to deductible and co-pays.

In Holland, an individual will pay around $35 monthly, period.  Everyone pays into the system and this helps reduce the price for everyone, so they get to keep more of their hard earned cash.

In the United States we are told and frequently reminded that anything run by the government is bad and that everything should be operated by for-profit companies. Of course, with for-profit entities the cost to the consumer is much higher because they have corporate executives who expect compensation packages of tens of millions of dollars and shareholders who expect to be paid dividends, and so on.

This (and more) pushes up the price of everything, with much more money going to the already rich and powerful, which in turn, leaves the middle class with less spending money and creates greater class separation.

This economic framework makes it much more difficult for average Joes to Ҕlift themselves up by their bootstraps and raise themselves to a higher economic standing.

So next time you hear the word “socialism” and “spreading the wealth” in the same breath, understand that this is a serious misconception.

Social programs require tax money and your taxes may be higher. But as you can see everyone benefits because other costs go down and, in the long run, you get to keep more of your hard earned cash!

Democratic Socialism does NOT mean taking from the rich and giving to the poor.  It works to benefit everyone so the rich can no longer take advantage of the poor and middle class.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 08/16/18 •
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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Rising Of Global Unions Part 2

image: solidarity

I wish it would have taken a little less than 12 YEARS SINCE PART ONE of this series.

For a another eye-opening report on how bad working for this company is in America - see the Chris Hedges show with JESSICA BRUDER on AMAZONBIES.

Now ask yourself - what’s wrong with Americans that they - we - didn’t join the MULTI-COUNTRY STRIKE?

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How European Workers Coordinated This Months Massive Amazon Strike - And What Comes Next

By Rebecca Burns
In These Times
July 28, 2018

As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos net worth topped $150 billion last week, making him the richest man in modern history, thousands of Amazon workers across Europe went on strike.

The work stoppage, which lasted three days at some facilities, was one of the largest labor actions against Amazon to date, and the first to receive widespread coverage in the U.S. media. But the strikes and protests in Spain, Germany and Poland were just the latest in an escalating series of actions against Amazon in Europe, where workers belonging to both conventional unions and militant workers’ organizations are forging a transnational movement against the internet juggernaut.

In Germany, which is Amazon’s second-biggest market after the United States, workers at the company’s fulfillment centers waged the first-ever strike against Amazon in 2013. “In the beginning, it was purely about wages, about being able to pay for the cost of living,” says Lena Widmann, a federal secretary and spokesperson for the German services union Verdi. “Now its also about respect, and about being heard.”

After the first strikes, Amazon began to give German workers regular raises. It also made improvements to ventilation and lighting in some of its warehouses, and, in response to worker complaints about the physical and psychological toll of on-the-job requirements, added a “fruit day” with company-furnished fruit baskets.

But Amazon has refused to codify even these modest changes through a collective bargaining agreement. The union estimates that approximately 2,400 workers at six of the company’s fulfillment centers in Germany participated in last week’d three-day strike, out of about 16,000 that Amazon employs in Germany. Organizers will continue pushing to incorporate more workers in shop-floor organization, to contact new facilities that Amazon has opened in the past year, and, ultimately, to win a union contract.

“We’re talking about a long fight ahead it’s not going to be solved by Christmas, and our members are very aware of this,” says Widmann. “But more and more people are joining the movement.”

In a statement responding to the strikes, an Amazon spokesperson said, “Amazon is a fair and responsible employer and as such we are committed to dialogue, which is an inseparable part of our culture. We are committed to ensuring a fair cooperation with all our employees, including positive working conditions and a caring and inclusive environment.”

In 2014, Amazon began to open warehouses in Poland, where wages are lower and labor laws are laxer. A chapter in the 2018 book CHOKE POINTS: Logistics Workers Disrupt the Global Supply Chain describes working conditions in the Polish warehouses:

Most employees have to work standing or walking (some for several miles during one shift), and many jobs involve highly repetitive movements, lifting heavy goods and boxes, or pushing heavy carts. Amazon wants the warehouses running day and night. Therefore, workers in Poland have to work four 10-hour shifts per week, with an additional unpaid 30 minutes break. The shifts schedule changes every month from day shift. Such a shift system and shift rotation disturbs workersԒ sleeping rhythm and leads to serious health problems. In addition, it makes it difficult to organise a private life.

To bring down the sickness rate, Amazon Poland hired a company in spring 2017 which checks whether workers are at home during sick leave. A worker who was dismissed because of a sick leave wrote: “At Amazon we hear about safety every day, about health, but the reality is different. Not everyone can keep up the race at Amazon. People are treated like machines. But even machines fail and stand still. We are not allowed to do that.”

Moreover, Amazon’s expansion into Eastern Europe threatened to undercut the effectiveness of strikes being waged by German workers. So in 2015, rank-and-file activists Germany and Poland held the first of what became a series of cross-border meetings of Amazon workers. Polish workers have organized within Inicjatywa Pracownicza (Workers’ Initiative), a radical trade union that uses the black sabo-tabby as its logo. Polish labor law imposes a restrictive bar on strike actions more than half of an entire workforce must participate in a strike vote - but Polish Amazon workers have carried out a series of slowdowns to coincide with ongoing strikes in Germany. 

Coordination between Amazon workers in different countries taking place through cross-border meetings of rank-and-file workers, as well as the labor federation UNI - has played an important role in ramping up strike action elsewhere in Europe. When Italian Amazon workers first went on strike in November 2017, they were joined by Verdi members for a two-day work stoppage during Black Friday. Soon after, Amazon signed its first-ever collective bargaining agreement with Italian unions, which introduced new scheduling protections and wage increases for overnight shifts. 

The call for a Europe-wide strike during Prime Day was issued by Spanish Amazon workers, who first struck in March at the country’s logistics center in Madrid. The Spanish labor union “Confederacion Sindical de Comisiones Obreras” (CCOO), which is the majority union for Amazon workers at a national level, declared the strike a “complete success,” with a reported 98 percent of the 2,000-person workforce taking part.

However, the strike also reportedly led to reprisals and firings of temporary workers, and in May a group of Madrid workers issued a call for a Europe-wide strike under the name “Amazon en Lucha.”

“We know that Amazon is using its logistic network in Europe to counter the effect of our respective strikes,” wrote its authors. “We in Madrid believe that only if we struggle together will we gain recognition for our demands”. Similarly, only with a joint action at a European level will workers organize in those places where there is no union representation yet.

In addition to strikes and slowdowns in Spain, Germany and Poland, Amazon workers in Great Britain marched over the weekend in a festival celebrating the birth of trade unionism, holding signs reading “We Are Humans, Not Robots.” An estimated 87 percent of U.K. Amazon workers have back or neck problems, according to a survey by the trade union GMB. 

“Amazon is a global company and uses global tactics, GMB official Mick Rix told El Pais. ԓWe have to do the same.”

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 07/26/18 •
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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Shift Change

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...the plan announced October 13 by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to hand over $250 billion in taxpayer money to the biggest banks, in exchange for non-voting stock, was never really intended to get them to resume lending to businesses and consumers--the ostensible purpose of the bailout. Its essential aim was to engineer a rapid consolidation of the American banking system by subsidizing a wave of takeovers of smaller financial firms by the most powerful banks.
- The Dirty Little Secret Of The US Bank Bailout, October 29, 2008

Economist Richard Wolff is a proponent of democracy at work: an alternative capitalism that thrives on workers directing their own workplaces. In the documentary film Shift Change, producers Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young tell the stories of successful cooperative businesses from Spain to San Francisco. We caught up with Dworkin and Young to find out what makes cooperative businesses work. 

Theresa Riley: What drew you to this topic as filmmakers? Why did you want to make this film?

Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young: As filmmakers we don’t just expose problems. We want to help people find solutions. In 2002 we were in Argentina at the height of their economic crisis, and in hundreds of workplaces which had closed, workers took over the company, went back to work, and made a go of it. These examples made quite an impression on us, and we featured their stories in two films: Argentina - Hope in Hard Times and Argentina Turning Around. A friend who saw the Argentina documentaries suggested that we learn more about the Mondragon cooperatives in the Basque Country of Spain. When we did, we were moved and inspired by this successful model of worker ownership and its potential to change the culture of work not just in Spain but around the world. Our investigations revealed that there are hundreds of thriving worker cooperatives that promote economic democracy right here in North America, but they are little known.

Riley: How many businesses in America are worker-owned?

Dworkin and Young: Employee ownership in the U.S. is much more widespread than usually understood, with at least 11,000 such businesses in operation. Many are Employee Stock Ownership Plans or ESOPs, where employees own part or all of the company. Introduced under President Nixon, this is one way for private companies to transition to employee ownership. ESOPs may or may not be democratic and participatory places to work. Worker cooperatives are both owned and managed by their workers - one worker, one vote. According to the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, currently there are about 400 worker cooperatives in the U.S. They operate many types of businesses, mainly services, and are growing especially among Latino immigrants and in working class communities.

Riley: Most of the businesses you visited in the film seemed to have weathered the economic downturn of recent years. But have some co-ops failed? How do privately-owned small businesses and worker-owned businesses compare? Do they fail less often?

Dworkin and Young: One of the challenges faced by cooperative businesses is that they have to survive in the larger economic system, over which they have little control. Worker co-ops in Mondragon and in the U.S. have done better than other similar sized businesses in the current economic crisis. When sales and profits are down, worker owners dont just close the doors. People take a hard look and try to figure out what they can do to make things better - such as adding new products or finding ways to improve efficiency and productivity. At any given time some co-ops are doing better than others, depending on the industry in which they operate. So in Mondragon each year co-ops that are profitable pay into a “rainy day fund,” and co-ops that are going through hard times are able to withdraw funds to help them out. In co-ops where business is slow, members can often find temporary work in co-ops that are doing better. And since workers own and manage the company, they may agree to reduce their pay on a temporary basis until business picks up again. That way nobody has to lose their job. Cooperative networks that function in a similar way are just beginning in the U.S.

Riley: The film makes it look like co-ops are pretty smooth operationally.

Dworkin and Young: Most of the co-ops we chose have proven themselves. They’ve had decades to learn how to operate smoothly. New employees go through a probationary period, from as little as six months to a couple of years, during which they discover if they like working in a cooperative environment, and current co-op members can decide if they think the new employee would work out. After this trial period the person generally has to apply for membership and be voted in by existing members. At that point the new member needs to make an investment in the company, usually ranging from $500 to $20,000, with about 10 percent paid in cash and the rest from payroll deductions. People who would not feel comfortable in this environment weed themselves out. People who have shown they donҒt work well cooperatively are not asked to join. New members then get training in co-op management. So there are various stages of selection and development to make sure that co-op members have the temperament and the skill to work together smoothly.

In the U.S. we learn from an early age to navigate hierarchical social structures, and we have lots of practice competing but little practice cooperating. So we have a lot to learn in order to make cooperatives a success. But many people are willing to make the effort. We have participatory instincts that are stifled in the dominant economy. One friend lit up when I told him that in worker cooperatives, people are encouraged to put forward their ideas about how to make the company better. Thats sure different, he said; everywhere I have ever worked you’re best off if you keep your head down and your mouth shut. So I wouldnt say that workers are resistant to cooperation, but rather our cooperative instincts are suppressed and trained out of us. To help overcome this, all of the co-ops we visited place a high priority on initial training and ongoing leadership development of their members. And it works.

Riley: What happens when agreement can’t be reached? Or when consensus leads to failed strategy?

Dworkin and Young: Worker co-ops are organized and run by their members and they have very different management structures. Those that manage by consensus, such as the Arizmendi Bakeries profiled in our film, tend to be small. Members can meet with one another face to face and on short notice to deal with problems and correct them. Most co-ops around Mondragon and the larger ones in the U.S. tend to have professional management that operates much the same as management in a conventional enterprise. The key difference is that the co-op board of directors is elected by the employees. Nobody who does not work in the co-op has a say in how the business is run, so the co-op tends to serve the needs and wishes of its members as opposed to absentee owners. Everyone has an incentive to work constructively together and help the business succeed.

But as Fred Freundlich, a professor we interviewed at Mondragon University offered, Broad democratic management doesn’t solve all human problems. When major disagreements do arise, “The ownership and governance structures in those enterprises, that they’re democratic, that they’re more participatory, helps ameliorate these problems, even if it doesn’t make them go away.”

Riley: What can we learn from places where it has not worked?

Dworkin and Young: The history of worker co-ops in this country is mixed. Many got started in the late 19th and early 20th century with the arrival of immigrant groups. In our region of the Pacific Northwest, there were a lot of cooperative plywood mills. Many of these failed because they had not made provisions for the business to survive as a cooperative long term, after the original members retired.

Weve heard of companies begun in a wave of optimism in the 1970s that failed for either of two basic reasons. Some were not businesslike enough (there was not a good market for their product, their product or service was not of sufficient quality, or they didn’t manage finances, time, and materials well). Others were not cooperative enough (they were such successful businesses that they were bought up by a large corporation and ceased to be a part of the cooperative economy). Newer co-ops have learned from past co-op failures and designed programs to overcome them. They have become sophisticated businesses that are more agile and nimble than conventional firms while retaining their co-op purpose. Technical assistance is available from experienced experts in terms of how to convert a regular business to one that is employee owned and even more successful in the future. And to discourage co-ops from selling out to corporations for a big profit, in many cases, if the co-op should be sold, members can only recover the funds they have invested with a modest return, but any profits above that have to be given to other co-ops or public interest organizations.

Riley: What aspects of co-op workplaces can non-co-ops adopt? How would we get started here at Moyers & Company, for instance? Any tools we can share with our audience?

Dworkin and Young: Nearly all workplaces, even those which are not owned by their employees, can still be more democratic. They can invite ideas and criticisms from staff without penalizing someone who challenges (constructively) how things are currently done in an effort to do things better. Decision making and finances can be more transparent, so every employee has an idea of the risks and limitations that the enterprise faces and their own contribution to that. Performance evaluations which are traditionally between an employee and a supervisor can also include peers, customers, etc. And even a non-cooperative institution can be devoted to the common good above and beyond the short term gain for that enterprise. We now have B corporations in various states where a commitment to solving environmental and social problems is enshrined in the corporate legal structure alongside financial profit. Many employee-owned businesses allow workers to spend a given percentage of their paid work time either improving their own skills or examining ways to improve the business. That is also something conventional businesses and non-profits could do.

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Posted by Elvis on 10/11/17 •
Section American Solidarity • Section Job Hunt
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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.

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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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