Tag Archives: workers

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

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

Why would workers want to change the world?

9 Aug

It makes perfect sense that capitalists would push the idea that workers are not capable of running the world. For the same reason capitalists and their supporters claim a few rich people “own” the collective means of production: These are ways to justify minority rule. In effect, the one per cent minority is telling the 99% majority: “Our money gives us the power to run the world and you’re too stupid to do anything about it.”

Bullshit of course, but there’s a question to answer before rebutting these two piles of propaganda poop: Why would workers want to run the world?

And this is not just some rhetorical question. It is a summing up of dozens of questions and statements that I hear everyday from people around me, all workers who should know better. Here are a few:

“Let the managers manage — it’s too much of a headache.”

“The world is so messed up, it’s too late to do anything about it, anyway.”

“We’d fuck it up.”

“There’s no collective solution, the best we can do is look after ourselves.”

“My friends and family, that’s all I care about.”

“I’m not here for a long time, just a good time.”

“Go back to the land.”

“I can barely look after myself, let alone run the world.”

“It sounds good, but it will turn out bad. It always does.”

In other words, why even consider the project of the vast majority of people, who are workers, getting together and trying to make a better world?

The easiest answer is: We’re screwed if we don’t. The one percent that currently rules the world is doing what small ruling classes have done throughout history — run their world in their self-interest. If they get rich from war, there will be war. If they get to choose between health care for all or more profits for themselves, they’ll choose profit. If lots of money is to be made by pouring ever more carbon into the atmosphere and capitalists are running the world, global warming will get worse and worse.

Workers must take power away from the greedy one percent and run the world in the interests of all because if we don’t things will keep getting worse.

And workers, organized together, are the only people with the potential power to create a democratic economy, which is the only way of taking power away from the ruling minority. If we don’t do it no one will.

“Is that the best you can come up, a negative reason?” some might ask.

But in fact there’s lot of positive reasons. I can think of a few right off the top of my head:

Changing the world to make it a better place will be fun. All those who participate will have the time of their lives.

Your grandchildren and their grandchildren will love you for doing it.

It is the right thing to do.

Imagine a world where everyone was actually given an opportunity to develop all their potential and be the best person they could be. That would be good, wouldn’t it? Trying to achieve a world like that is a very good thing.

I’m sure others can come up with a lot more positive reasons why workers should want to change the world.

Think of these reasons as the tools we need to build a movement.

You’ve got to start someplace.

Ernie Peshkov-Chow









%d bloggers like this: