Tag Archives: new commune-ism

We need to demand more than simply more

2 Sep

Why is there so much attention paid to people as consumers, but so little to people as workers?

Is it because the mere mention of our rights as workers brings up all kinds of uncomfortable truths that threaten the very ideological foundations of the current economic system?

As we celebrate Labour Day these are important questions to ponder.

The vast majority of us are wageworkers. Wages are our primary source of income. Or we collect a pension because we and/or our spouse were once workers. Or we are dependents of workers.

In fact a huge proportion of the money spent by consumers in our economy comes directly or indirectly from our wages as workers.

Despite this obvious reality, while the media is jam-packed with material about consumer rights, consumer choice, ads claiming the best price for consumers, stories about politicians claiming “to do what’s best for consumers” and much more focused on consumption, there is almost nothing about work or workers’ rights. Typically what little there is concerns strikes or other “disruptions” to the economy. It’s as if workers are just cogs in a giant machine, only worth discussing when a breakdown occurs. There’s certainly no money to be made promoting workers’ rights; in fact we are seen primarily as a cost that reduces profit.

Yes, there is some lip service given to workers as a resource; words to the effect that “we’re all in this together” might be spoken, but real examples of workplace democracy are few and very far between. If workers were truly valued as people “all in this together” wouldn’t there be at least some semblance of democracy at work?

Instead, under our current economic system, the master-servant relationship is the legal framework that dominates workplaces.

Reality for most workers, which means most people, is a fundamental lack of respect at work. That’s why “the system” prefers to focus on us as consumers rather than as workers.

So what, one might ask? What’s the big deal if we must give up being treated as an equal human being at work, so long as we are well paid? The object of work is to make enough money so that we can consume what we want and enjoy the good life, nothing more.

Aside from the fact many of us are not well paid, the answer to the question “so what?” is that work is an essential element of human identity. When asked at a party, “what do you do?” not many of us answer: “I shop.” And if we did, what would that say about us?

What we do — work — is what defines us, what makes us human. We want a job that is a source of lasting satisfaction, not simply consumption. When the system does not provide that sense of satisfaction at work alienation is the result. This leads to stress, addictions and other forms of ill health.

Even some unions become complicit in this alienation, focusing exclusively on getting more money, which is another way of agreeing with right wing supporters of the existing system that its members are just consumers.

These right wingers want us to only care about more money. They want us to consume more. Smart capitalists are Keynesians. They want workers to demand more and to spend more. But we’ve reached the limit of Keynesianism in two senses: Capitalists have abandoned it en masse so appeals for them to return to some golden era of Keynes is a pathetic dead end. And even if the capitalists were willing to give us more, more has become an environmental dead end.

Instead workers and their unions must learn to dream bigger.

We must learn to demand more than simply more.

Gary Engler

Rant: Sense, cents and sensibility

27 Aug

It makes no sense we blow billions buying bombs or bailing out banks, but can’t afford to end world hunger. It makes no sense we pay to see a movie and then are forced to sit through commercials before it starts.

“It makes no sense.” I’m using these words more and more often.

The tyranny of idiot capitalism has become so ridiculous that it must be a sign the system is in crisis. The outrageous lies and distortions told to defend it have got to mean capitalism is finally obfuscating on thin ice.

At a minimum, please tell me other people have noticed the same absurdities that make me feel like smacking every sycophantic shill for the ruling class across the side of the head and screaming: “You’ve got to be kidding me! This is the best system possible? This is the height of human achievement? What do you take us for? Utterly brainwashed fools?” (And then I think it takes one to know one.)

Capitalism means freedom. Really? For the ever-greater proportion of people working in precarious part-time jobs paying peanuts? For the 70-year olds behind counters selling Big Macs or greeting Wal-Mart shoppers? For the tens of millions who have had their pensions chopped? For the garment workers toiling in life-threatening conditions in Bangladesh or Haiti or Honduras to earn $5 per day? For the millions of suburbanites who spend a quarter of their income and their waking hours on and in the vehicle that takes them to their shitty job? For the tens of thousands who have been recently bombed into “our way of life” by the greatest or one of the lesser capitalist powers? For the generations to come who will face climate change caused by profits earned spewing ever more carbon into the atmosphere?

Don’t interfere with the free market. You mean the same “free” market that has destroyed millions of good working class (what the scared-of-the-socialist-bogeyman Americans call “middle class”) jobs in order to enable a few dozen multi-millionaires to become billionaires? The market that had to be saved by bailouts to the very companies that caused its crisis, but which can’t afford good free public education for all? The market that gives us ever more processed food made from genetically modified plants fed to animals that graze in slashed-and-burned rainforests then shipped ten thousand miles but can’t provide nutritious meals of locally grown real food for every child on the planet? The market that is so efficient it requires hundred of billions of dollars to be spent on advertising to convince us to buy its products? The market that gives us plenty of $80,000 cars and $10,000 watches but can’t give billions proper sewage and water systems? The market that enforces patents owned by huge corporations, instead of the right for all to access affordable life-saving medicines? A market free from government controls, which when you really think about it means a market whose rules are made by and for the rich instead of through democratic decision-making?

Yes, we live in an absurd world. A world all about making cents, not sense.

The apostles of greed claim competition and choice are the only rights worth fighting for, as if we are all only consumers. But the vast majority of us are workers too. What about our rights at work? They are ignored, trampled upon and denied because that is what the “free” market requires.

Yes, we live in an absurd world but it can’t possibly get any worse. Can it?

It will, if we don’t fight back.

It can and it will get worse unless millions of people join together behind a common vision of an alternative to this system of one dollar, one vote called capitalism.

Once upon a time we did have a vision of an alternative economic and social system. Once upon a time a movement of hundreds of millions of ordinary people with that vision was created to build a better world and it was successful in many places, winning the universal franchise, public education, the 8-hour day, pensions, health and safety legislation, public health programs, daycare, laws against discrimination and more. Pretty much every reform that was listed in the Communist Manifesto 165 years ago.

But the unions and political parties that came out of that movement never won the most important thing: equality of power, the right of everyone to participate in running both our economic and political system. It never fought for and won something best described as economic democracy.
It left power in the hands of tiny minorities who ultimately run the world in their self-interest. And now these self-serving minorities are rolling back the reforms our mothers and fathers struggled so long and hard to win.

Yes we live in an absurd world. And it will get worse unless we come together to change it. It’s time we showed some collective sensibility.

 Ernie Peshkov-Chow

The problem is too much power for the rich

23 Aug

For forty years people have been bombarded with claims that economic well being depends on private capital not on governments. Public utilities and services have been privatized. Regulations on corporations have been weakened. Taxes paid by corporations and the top income brackets have been slashed. Capital has been freed to move jobs from higher wage to lower wage countries.

Capitalist minorities — major shareholders and top corporate executives, two percent and less of populations — have increased their share of total income from ten percent to twenty percent. Capitalists have increased funds for private investment, but roads, bridges, rail lines, sewage and water systems have been allowed to deteriorate.  Capitalists also have more money to finance election campaigns, to lobby and manipulate political agendas. Public spending on schools, hospitals, medical care and other social services has fallen behind needs. Chronic unemployment has risen. More people must get by on part-time work. Unemployment levels for young people are 25 percent, 50 percent and higher.

For immense majorities who depend on income from labor and social services, the problem is not too much government; it is too much money and power in the hands of corporations and the super-rich.

Governments should be criticized for disregarding the well being of majorities. Corruption, secrecy and duplicity should be condemned. But what in government is corruption in corporations is proprietary right. Corporations legally direct resources and social labor behind closed doors for the profits of shareholders. To make it seem that this is a matter of private rights, capitalist law deems corporations to be individuals. Corporations are actually the system’s dominant institutions. The largest transnational corporations have more revenues than most governments.

Corporations are not the competitive individuals of free market theory. They dominate markets. They patent products, technologies, and processes. They buy up the most profitable sources of supply, control marketing networks, and spend millions on advertising to tie consumers to existing brands. Whenever possible, they introduce technologies that reduce employment. They outsource wage and salary work. The fewer people employed, the less paid for labor, the more profits for shareholders, the more money for executive bonuses.

As capital’s share of total income rises, the share going to labor and the needy falls. As most markets decline, capitalists turn to speculation, betting on price changes in real estate, futures or derivatives. Casino capitalism adds nothing to real means of livelihood; winners merely gain at the expense of losers. Financial bubbles are followed by crashes. As more businesses fail, capitalists hold on to what they can by demanding that debtors be punished for the sins of creditors. Austerity leads to further declines in working-class income and markets.

Governments should be opposed for supporting policies that favor capitalist minorities and acting as the agencies of militarism, wars and repression. Minority privilege rests on the force of arms. Some capitalists promote war because they believe that military action can give them access to new resources and markets. Others profit from the purchase of drones, missiles, airplanes, fuel, and the provisioning of armed forces.

Edward Snowden exposed government secrets. He also exposed the central role private corporations have in surveillance and repression. His employer, Booz Allen Hamilton is a defense, security and surveillance contractor that has 26,000 employees and revenues of $5 billion, 99 percent from the U.S. government. Just as the privatization of prisons has led to growth in numbers jailed and to the use of penal labor for private profit, the privatization of surveillance can be expected to lead to more intrusive surveillance. The internet, once hailed for democratizing information, is already a tool of surveillance for private profit.

The most ominous consequence of capitalism is global warming. Because existing profits depend on cheap energy, capitalists refuse to believe that the burning of fossil fuels leads to climate change. Their remarkable wealth has made them so smugly self-assured that they have convinced themselves that if they deny the obvious global temperatures will not rise; ice caps will not melt; oceans will not become more acidic; extreme weather events will not become more frequent.

In the face of overwhelming evidence, corporate capitalism increases investments in tar sands and fracking, while cutting investments in solar, wind, tidal, and biothermal energy. They invest little in alternative nuclear power technologies that could eliminate nuclear waste and the threat of meltdowns. Corporate interests that concede the threat of global warming, promote new profitable uses for industrial waste. They propose reducing heat from the sun by blasting reflective chemicals into the atmosphere, and absorbing more carbon by dumping iron filings into the ocean and plowing “biochar” — the ashes of incinerated garbage — into soils.

If governments are to act in the immediate and long-term interests of humankind, the power of capitalist minorities must be reduced; democratic rights must expand. Taxes paid by corporations and the super rich must be raised at least to 1950s levels. Privatizations should be reversed, public ownership expanded. Wherever practical, utilities and public services should be directed by local communities.  Allowing those with the most shares to have the most votes must be replaced with one person one vote. People everywhere must have a right to a voice and equal vote in directing their communities’ economic activity. Workers in all occupations must have the right to democratically direct their social labor time.

Al Engler

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