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The Revolution in Work Calls for an Evolution in Living

By Graham Peebles - CounterPunch, March 17, 2017

Poverty blights the lives of billions of people throughout the world: in developing countries, where it is acute, and industrialised nations, where it’s hidden but growing. It rises out of social injustice, makes exploitation and abuse inevitable, brings death and disease, robs people of opportunity and dignity, feeds anger and resentment.

Much like the rubbish that litters the streets of our cities, the poor, destitute and hungry are swept out of sight. Their existence is an embarrassment to politicians and sits uncomfortably within the shiny materialistic image promoted by cities and countries eager to attract ‘inward investment’.

As more jobs become obsolete due to new technology and the closure of traditional industries, unemployment is set to rise, incomes disappear, and, unless there is a radical reappraisal of the economic environment, poverty levels will rise, perhaps exponentially. In fact, with wages stagnant many of those now living in poverty are actually in work – the ‘working poor’ – trying to survive on a pittance, many of whom cannot feed themselves without the support of food banks.

Why we must fight for a safe climate

By Zebedee Parkes - Green Left Weekly, February 17, 2017

My generation has never experienced a below average temperature. The last time the global temperature was below average was in February 1985.

The recent heatwaves across Australia ushered in a new record-breaking summer: every year for the past decade has been hotter than the last.

Meanwhile our political leaders — privileged white men in suits — brought coal into parliament and made jokes while they and their corporate mates continue to burn our collective future.

We are already getting a taste of what our future holds if we do not take urgent action.

Extreme bushfires have burnt down entire towns across Australia in the past couple of years. Pacific islands are already becoming uninhabitable due to rising sea levels. Climate change-induced droughts in Syria destroyed its agriculture and helped create the conditions that led to the civil war. Floods in Pakistan in 2011 affected 5.4 million people, destroying crops and leaving millions displaced, forced to live in makeshift shelters without access to safe drinking water. The Himalayan glaciers are already melting, potentially leaving 2 billion people across Asia without sufficient drinking water.

The consequences of climate change will only get worse if we do not make serious changes rapidly. Already the Artic Sea ice is melting, which could mean sea level rises of 3–5 metres, making many coastal cities uninhabitable.

This ecological crisis is the result of human activity. Because of a constant drive for profits, corporations are felling the Amazon rainforest at an alarming rate to create cattle pastures for beef production. The Amazon forest is one of the most crucial in the world in terms of soaking up carbon dioxide.

When we desperately need to reduce emissions, corporations, often backed and funded by governments, continue to build major fossil fuel projects, such as the Adani coalmine, poison our water and destroy farmland with gas fracking projects and pursue unsustainable projects that are destroying crucial ecosystems, such as the Beeliar Wetlands and the Great Barrier Reef.

No matter how urgent the need for action on climate change, corporations and their governments refuse to change. 

Solar power is now cheaper in some parts of the world than fossil fuels. In Australia, scientific studies show we have the capacity to have 100% renewables in 10 years. Yet the government continues to give billions a year in subsidies to fossil fuel corporations — money that could be going to renewable energy.

Since the international climate talks in Paris in December 2015, when the world cried out for serious climate action, Australia’s big four banks have poured $5.6 billion into fossil fuels. Governments and the fossil fuel industry are not going to change their destructive practices unless we force them to.

To do this and give ourselves a chance of a future we need to change our economic system. Right now eight men own more wealth — and all the privileges and power that go with it — than the poorest 50% of the Earth’s population.

For serious climate action to be a reality we need a society where the majority of people — workers, farmers, students, the poor, First Nations people and refugees, the victims of climate change — are making decisions in the interests of our collective future.  

To achieve this will take a gigantic struggle. But it also presents an opportunity to change the world. As Naomi Klein, author of Capitalism vs the Climate said: “I think climate change can be the catalyst we need … In a world where profit is consistently put before both people and the planet, climate economics has everything to do with ethics and morality.”

If we address climate change, we can begin to construct the kind of world we want to live in.

The World Needs Big Ideas — Here are 10 from the Far Left

By Mary Lorax - Medium, March 4, 2017

The world is in crisis — socially, economically, and environmentally. The world needs big ideas, people want big ideas, and the Democratic Party doesn’t have any. That’s why Hillary lost — she offered nothing.

Bernie offered some narrative, and some solutions, too — like free college — and that’s why he gained a following, and why he was polling ahead of Trump. But Trump offered explanations for our crises too. And not only that, he offered ideas, BIG IDEAS, as terrible as they may have been.

The radical left has a lot to offer. We have new, innovative, and necessary ideas. However instead of promoting them and developing them, we often get caught up in reacting to an increasingly far-right, neoliberal political landscape — always on the defensive. We need to be developing our own ideas, and creating and sharing visions. We can’t be afraid of presenting bold proposals for fear of them sounding too far-fetched in an extremely right-wing media and political climate. People want big, revolutionary ideas.

So here’s a list of some of the left’s coolest ideas.

Big Brother Capitalism Strikes Back

By Paul Street - CounterPunch, February 28, 2017

In classic capitalist fantasy, the “private” marketplace is a land of liberty and the state is a dungeon of oppression.  Modern social democrats have tended to invert the formula, upholding the state as a force for social protection against the tyranny of the capitalist market.

The truth is more complex than either narrative allows. As Marxists and other leftists have long known, “free market” relations and the state combine to impose class oppression on the working-class majority under capitalism.  Both the market and the state are under the interrelated and overlapping, mutually reinforcing control of capital. This is especially true in the United States, where government’s social-democratic functions – and the popular movements that have historically fought to install those functions – are much weaker than they are than in other “developed” capitalist nations.

The common worker and citizen faces a double whammy under the U.S. profit system. She must rent out her critical life energy – her labor power – and subject herself to the despotic, exploitative (surplus value-extracting) direction of “free” market-ruling capital to obtain the means of exchange required to obtain basic life necessities sold on the market by capital. To make matters worse, she must contend with a government that functions not so much to protect her and the broader community from capital (including capital as employer) as to deepen capital’s political, social, and market power over and against her, other workers, and the common good.

Are Americans Ready to Strike?

By James Trimarco - Yes Magazine, February 14, 2017

It was April 2012, and I was standing outside a Brooklyn subway station, handing out fliers for the May 1 general strike. Organizers were calling on employees to refuse to go to work and for students to refuse to go to school. We were urging everybody to gather in the streets instead for a festival of resistance and to demand economic justice.

Our fliers said “No work, no school,” and we meant it. We knew that getting even 5 percent of the city’s workers and students to strike would show the 99 percent’s willingness to walk away from an economy that exploited them. “Just try running this city without our labor,” we wanted to say.

But when May Day came around, we found most businesses bustling. Shopping and banking went on without a hitch. Even though thousands of people in cities across the United States participated, our organizing just hadn’t been strong enough to make a dent in business as usual.

Today, there are new calls for strikes in response to the actions of the Trump administration. The novelist Francine Prose published the first of these at the Guardian website. “Let’s designate a day on which no one (that is, anyone who can do so without being fired) goes to work, a day when no one shops or spends money, a day on which we truly make our economic and political power felt,” she wrote. Shortly after that, the creator behind the TV show The Wire, David Simon, suggested the date of Feb. 17 on Twitter. “No one spends, no one produces,” Simon tweeted in response to a critic. “The metric they understand is profit.”

Organizers quickly put together a website and are organizing local events in almost every state via a Google doc. This strike has two specific demands, according to its website, both of which ask members of Congress to stand up for the U.S. Constitution.

But Feb. 17 is just the beginning.

General Strike: How the Working Class Takes Control

By Jack Rusk - Left Voice, February 9, 2017

Since the Women’s March brought millions into the streets the Saturday after inauguration, there has been a rising clamor on social media for a ‘general strike’ against the Trump administration.

Since the Women’s March brought millions into the streets the Saturday after inauguration, there has been a rising clamor on social media for a ‘general strike’ against the Trump administration. The call to stop work was picked up by the U.K. Guardian, Washington Post and now by Cosmopolitan magazine. And the discussion took off so quickly, it gave us multiple proposals for when the strike should happen: February 17 (to counter President’s day), March 8 (International Women’s Day), May 1 (the international workers’ holiday and anniversary of the huge immigrant-led protests of 2006). And the proposals emphasize different kinds of demands, from general resistance to Trump, to defending the rights of women, Black Lives Matter, and immigrants through mutual action to enforce those rights.

But numerous leftists also came forward to announce concerns about the feasibility of a general strike, especially if labor unions are not involved in organizing it. Among the first was Alex Gourevitch, writing in Jacobin, who gives an informative history of militant strikes in the U.S. that faced repression by the state and (sometimes) won. The implication of this and similar pieces is that a general strike call is irresponsible for this spring because organized labor is simply not in a position to carry out the work stoppage and protect striking workers:

If you’re going to ask people not just to risk losing their jobs but potentially face the armed apparatus of the state, there had better be preparation, leadership, and some evident readiness for mass labor actions… It would be reasonable for workers to dismiss the call for a general strike. It looks like they are being asked to be actors in someone else’s drama, by people who just cottoned on to the fact that things are shitty out there.

Gourevitch has the elements of a good argument there, but this kind of naysaying about general strikes misses the point. Of course the workers in the U.S., after decades of setbacks, can’t carry off the kinds of strikes that are difficult even with high levels of organization. But it is very important to recognize that strikes called for Black lives, women’s safety and immigrant rights are not appeals from outside the workers’ movement, they are bottom line calls for solidarity that labor must take seriously if it is going to defend the working class and mobilize against anti-union and anti-strike laws.

What is remarkable, and should be lauded by everyone on the left, is that the mass movement in this country has settled on a tactic that is not just rooted in the working class, but involves the whole class as a class — the general strike. Not to enthusiastically support and amplify this demand is for the left to fall behind the mass movement and the consciousness of the most active workers.

What socialists can advocate, which Gourevitch does not, is just how powerful the strike weapon can be, and how to get from the big protests we can expect on February 17 and March 8 to an actual shutdown of U.S. capitalism, starting with a true holiday from all work on May Day. To see that, we have to look outside the U.S. and have an international view of the workers’ movement that is lacking in the Jacobin article. Because the kind of action that we are now talking about — a massive political protest launching into a strike wave — is exactly how the worker’s movement usually revives itself, most recently in the protests to bring down the dictatorship in Egypt.

To Halt the Slide Into Authoritarianism, We Need a General Strike

By The Shutdown Collective - Truthout, February 11, 2017

In the weeks immediately after Donald Trump won the presidential election, many people expressed serious concern about the content of his policies and platform. This isn't surprising. Having lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million, Trump had the thinnest support of any incoming president in modern history. However, in the two weeks since he has taken office, these concerns have moved into a whole new realm. Widespread opposition to his administration is mobilizing now not merely around the content of his policies (what he does), but also the manner in which he is governing (how he does it).

President Trump has begun his term by governing by executive order, launching a rapid series of initiatives that threaten the democratic constitutional structure of the United States. These include: repeated attacks on the institutions of a free and independent press; silencing and summary dismissal of government employees, including the Attorney General; failure to divest personal business interests from the office of the presidency, or release his tax statements; the consolidation of power in a small circle of close friends (e.g., dismissing top military officials from the National Security Council to make room for political advisor and Breitbart executive, Stephen Bannon) and family (e.g., the appointment of his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a senior White House adviser). Perhaps most infamously, the administration has moved forward with a wide-reaching immigration and refugee ban that specifically targets people based on their religion and country of origin. Taken together, these signal a dangerously anti-democratic, even authoritarian impulse at the heart of the Trump administration.

We have seen this before. In other times and other places, authoritarian leaders have come to power through the manipulation of democratic institutions, often by exploiting major divisions within the general electorate. Even though they come to power in this semi-democratic manner, such figures recognize that they will not be able to maintain the broad-based support needed to remain in power, or accomplish anything while there. As a result, they frequently work to undermine the basic institutions of democracy, such as independent electoral commissions, the judiciary, and a free press.

Let’s Get to Work

By Erik Forman - Jacobin, February 7, 2017

The Left has a long tradition of asking ourselves, “What is to be done?” Ever since Lenin posed this rhetorical question, it has served as the hook for an ever-expanding genre of think pieces and calls to action on every imaginable social-movement dilemma.

“What is to be done?” bounces from movement to movement, crisis to crisis, and occasionally illuminates more foundational existential problems of the Left. In that spirit, Jacobin’s recent “Rank and File” issue examined one of our more urgent contemporary questions: what is to be done to revitalize the labor movement?

Contributors offered up numerous diagnoses and prescriptions. Charlie Post pointed out the crucial role the militant minority played in labor’s twentieth-century successes; Jane McAlevey called for “whole worker organizing,” Joe McCartin urged unions not to squander the brief window between the Friedrichs decision and the next attack on collective bargaining rights; and Sam Gindin proposed the “class-based left” as an alternative to social movement unionism.

Since publication of these articles, labor’s crisis has deepened. The right wing now controls all three branches of the federal government and the majority of states. The sequel to Friedrichs, Janus v. AFSCME, is headed for the Supreme Court, threatening to decimate public-sector unions nationwide. Talk of a national right-to-work law is spreading.

Figuring out “what is to be done” has only become more urgent. But there’s a problem with this question, evident first at the level of grammar. “What is to be done?” commits every writing teacher’s cardinal sin: the passive voice. Who is the subject here? Who is going to do what needs to be done?

The absence of an active subject is more than a grammatical problem — it represents the problem of the labor left. The militant minority is small to nonexistent, and it’s not even clear who is going to do the work to rebuild it. There is a large gap between the intellectual left and the working class it discusses.

Working-class voices are rare among the talking heads who dominate left discourse. Most theorists on the Left write of labor from the perspective of intellectuals who stand above the class struggle, rather than workers in the thick of it.

The decision-makers for labor are often literal miles away from their own rank and file. As a result, we more often talk about unions organizing workers than workers organizing unions. Workers are positioned as the objects rather than the subjects of their own organizations.

This alienation manifests in a variety of ways: members don’t participate in meetings, are unready or unwilling to strike, accept concessionary bargaining, and as the recent election made clear, express alarming levels of support for right-wing candidates.

Labor liberals believe these problems can be corrected with small-picture fixes: social media, paper coalitions with community groups, narrow campaigns against this or that particular right-wing legislation, and other tactical shifts that leave the structure of the union unchanged. The present moment shows that this band-aid approach has failed to reverse labor’s decline.

And even if they could, they would not go far enough. The labor left must seek not just to salvage labor’s existing institutions but to transform them and build new ones. Our goal should be to make workers the subjects rather than the objects of their own organizations — and of history.

Our prescription for the labor movement’s renewal needs a new grammar. Instead of asking “What is to be done?”, we could start with a different question: “What should I do?”

As it turns out, the right-wing hecklers we’ve all encountered are half right: we should get jobs. And then we should do what we tell workers to do all the time: organize our workplaces.

This tactic has a name and a history. It’s called “salting,” and it was foundational to the development of the American labor movement.

Beyond Resistance: Defeating Trump’s Burgeoning Dictatorship

By - CounterPunch, January 31, 2017

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a dictator is “a ruler or governor whose word is law.” And whether it’s via Trump’s tweeted word, which triggers stocks to rise or drop across the planet, or via his signature on an executive order that just banned over 100 million people, including legal residents, from entering the U.S., Trump seems to be just that. Despite its lack of constitutionality, his word functions as the law. Although his Muslim ban (which discriminates against people based on national origin and religion, and is therefore a breach of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) was temporarily stayed by the courts, Trump released a statement shortly afterward announcing that it remains in complete effect. In this defiance of the law he seems to be following the example of Andrew Jackson. For let us recall that Jackson notoriously defied the Supreme Court’s ruling in Worcester v. Georgia, which held that the Indian Removal Act was unconstitutional, and that the brutal removal of the Cherokee people via the infamous Trail of Tears to Oklahoma be stopped. Jackson (whose portrait was recently hung in Trump’s Oval Office) ignored the Court, permitting the ethnic cleansing of Georgia to continue.

While it isn’t clear whether Trump or the courts will prevail over the issue of the Muslim ban, it seems clear that the constitutional crisis posed by Trump’s presidency will only intensify (just as the economic crisis, and the ecological crisis, and the refugee crisis that stems from these, will only intensify). And though defensive protests against this burgeoning dictatorship are crucial, and the turnout in airports across the country on Saturday were key to blocking part of Trump’s ban (in law if not in fact), defensive protests alone are insufficient. Offensive actions must also be waged, or those who wish to stop Trump will always be a step behind a movement committed to rapidly gutting society, eliminating basic democratic norms, and instituting barbarism across a wide range of fronts. As when Hannibal marched his elephants and army over the Alps toward Rome, and Scipio defeated him by taking the offense, attacking Carthage and forcing Hannibal to retreat, the opposition to Trump must take the offense. The focus of the resistance ought to be the removal of Trump from power, as well as his accomplices, though this must not be the sole goal. The resistance must also not allow power to revert to those whose policies created the misery that gave rise to Trump in the first place.

As many have pointed out, Trump’s victory can be understood as stemming from a rejection of neoliberalism, particularly the neoliberalism of Clinton and Obama (a political-economic order characterized by permanent war, permanent unemployment, privatization, austerity, and free trade agreements that have hollowed out and impoverished much of the country). Deeply unpopular and mistrusted, most Trump supporters did not support him for positive reasons. One of the most unpopular people to ever run for president of the US, he was supported because he loudly and clearly rejected the miserable neoliberal status quo. It is crucial to point out, however, that Trump was not rejecting the status quo in favor of creating anything genuinely new. As his campaign slogan made patently clear, he was not rejecting the status quo in order to go beyond it. He was rejecting it in order to return, to regress, to a time before neoliberalism (and not just before neoliberalism but before environmental regulations, labor laws, occupational safety and health regulations, rights for women, rights for African-Americans, and other social advances introduced over the past century).

While Trump’s Secretary of State, who represents the interests of Exxon foremost, is overjoyed to roll back environmental laws that infringe upon corporate profits, Trump’s white nationalist (aka alt-right) supporters (who have an accomplice in the White House in the person of Steve Bannon), would like to regress even further back in time, to before modernity itself. Though it may be understated, we can characterize this tendency as reaction. And, because much of the reaction is animated by a rejection of neoliberalism, which it shares with the left, the left ought to make an effort to strengthen itself, and weaken Trump, by encouraging this anti-neoliberal faction of the Trump coalition (many of whom were Bernie Sanders supporters) to switch allegiances. To be sure, according to the legendary military strategist Sun Tzu, the supreme strategy of warfare, after attacking strategy itself, is attacking alliances.

Democratize the union: let the rank-and-file decide!

By Alexander Kolokotronis - ROARMag, January 25, 2017

According to exit poll data, Donald Trump won Ohio union households 54 percent to 41 percent against Hillary Clinton. At the national level, Clinton achieved a narrow victory, winning 51 percent, to Trump’s 42 percent. This despite the fact that labor unions spent more than $100 million in support of Clinton. Of course, factors relating to race, gender and class are at play. Nonetheless, the right-wing slant of union households should also be cause for concern.

Unionization of US workers has declined both under Democratic and Republican administrations and congresses. In the 1950s, approximately 35 percent of US workers were in unions. Today, this number has dropped to a mere 11 percent. Unless organized labor finds solutions to problems pervasive within its own organizations and structures, union membership numbers will continue to shrink, and remaining members will be too cornered to mobilize effectively.

To tackle longstanding administrative and organizational problems endemic to labor unions, we must start with how we approach union dues. That is, creating member-focused and driven mechanisms which endow the rank-and-file with direct control over dues allocation a fiscal base amounting to $8.6 billion in the United States.

Fortunately, such mechanisms of direct control like participatory budgeting  have been tried and tested in other areas of social life. Participatory budgeting has revitalized social life and empowered people through its implementation in municipalities, in schools and colleges, in public housing and now even at the national level. What problems could participatory budgeting address in labor unions? And how can it provide a socialist thrust to one of the bulwarks of the American left?

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