Category Archives: Economy

When we lose control of our labor power

by Will

Background to the 1844 Manuscripts

Some of us around Gathering Forces are reading a selection from The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 by Karl Marx. We should be careful not see this document as just a brilliant piece of writing coming from a solitary brain of an intellectual giant. Instead this writing is a powerful product of its time with all sorts of issues and events shaping its coming together. Four things which stand out in shaping this document are: a) Marx was breaking from Hegel who thought history moved through a world spirit and alienation was only mental. b) Marx was heavily influenced by the working class and specifically the Silesian weavers uprising in Germany. This was an important moment for Marx has it continued to propel him to break from bourgeois radicalism and left-wing Hegelianism. He saw that the movement of history was the process of production, that it was materially located in the working class. So two things are solved in this piece: alienation’s material dimension and the labor process as the central thread of human history. What placing the labor process as central to human history meant was that by only solving the contradictions in how humans work can we hope to build a radically new society. Or as Raya says, “He began with the proletarian activity at the point of production. He separated labor from product and from property, and looked for the contradiction within labor itself. It is through this contradiction that the laborer would develop, that is, would overcome the contradictions in the capitalist method of production (Marxism and Freedom, 55).” c) Marx was separating himself from the various dimensions of French socialism. It’s a big list so I won’t go into it here but folks can look up Utopian Socialism, Auguste Blanque, and Proudhon to get a sense of what I mean. d) He was using British political economy as a basis for his critique of political economy.

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Once Again: Obama, The Left and the Crisis

A week after the Obama administration has pushed through the Bush era tax cuts for the rich, it is a good time to again reflect on the meaning of Obama and the role of the Democratic Party.

The 2007-2008 election campaign of Obama was unique in that it took on a popular character, which ultimately helped him win the Democratic primary and the general election. Under the slogan of “change we can believe in” Obama promised a new type of bourgeois politics to answer the country’s pressing problems.

However, after two years of economic crisis the capitalists and ruling class have responded by successfully attacking the living standards and the remnants of the political power of the working classes and oppressed people. Arguably, general social and political polarization is the greatest it has been in generations.

How do we explain the discrepancy between the promises of Obama’s election victory and this reality? What is the nature of the Democratic Party? How can we historicize its current character? What is its relationship to the need to find the political forms within the new content among the American oppressed and working classes that seems to be emerging in response to the crisis?

Meanwhile, a new dust up within the Left is going on between supporters and critics of Obama and the Democratic Party.

One side, led by the trade unions, the Congressional Black Caucus, The Nation and the former Progressives for Obama, argues for a popular front against finance capital and the white populist right.

The other side urges direct opposition to Obama and the Democratic Party and the call for some kind of political alternative.

We are reposting some of that analysis below.


Protest Obama, An Open Letter to the Left Establishment

Bill Fletcher, Responding to the Letter to the Left Establishment regarding Obama

Glen Ford, Psycho-Babbling Obama

Paul Street, Note to “the Left”: Obama Hates You

Part II of State Capitalism and World Revolution

By Will and Jubayr

What up everyone? Hope readers are having fun with State Capitalism and World Revolution ☺ I don’t think I got much to say as the questions kinda get at what SCWR is constantly trying to hammer from different angles. Here are some more questions which can guide us as we read SCWR.
Chapters 6-8

1-What is SCWR saying about the plan, the state, and the party? Why is it antithetical to the self-government of the working class?

2- What is the implications between the following two formulations: crisis of revolution is in the crisis of leadership versus the crisis of revolution is the crisis of the self-mobilization of the working class? Where does Trotskyism fall on this question and what does it say about Trotskyism according to SCWR?

3- What is the political economy of the post WWII era as JFT sees it? Has it changed in the neo-liberal era? If so, how?

4- How does SCWR describe the role of unions in the state-capitalist era?

5- What is the theory of permanent revolution? How does SCWR orient towards it in the post WWII era?

6- In “Leninism and the Transitional Regime” SCWR poses quiet an interesting history of Lenin’s relationship to the Russian working class after the October Revolution. Is SCWR being completely accurate in its historiography of Lenin?

Lee Sustar on the Current State of US Labor

The prospects and challenges currently facing not only organized labor but the working class in general are synthesized well in the below article from International Socialist Review no. 66, “US Labor in the crisis, Resistance or retreat?” authored by Lee Sustar.

Sustar, who relies to a certain extent on Kim Moody’s very solid 2007 book, US Labor in Trouble and Transition, paints a broad picture of contemporary labor as one that has faced a thirty-year employer assault that has destroyed its organizations, left workers with stagnant wages, and looted its social services, meanwhile the profits and power of capital soar. The result of this attack has not only left workers in the objectively worst position it has been in since the 1930s and before but has also created a general crisis of historical memory where a newer generation of workers lack the traditions of struggle of an older one.

This ruling class offensive which has been exacerbated by the economic crisis, has hurt people of color, women, and queer folks most acutely. Talks of the “he-cession” which depict the loss of those jobs that employ men disingenuously leave out how it affects the unpaid labor of women who both produce future workers and reproduce current workers’ ability to work. They forget how the recession affects queer folks who already are not entitled to domestic partner benefits. And they forget the already disproportionately unemployed and underemployed black working class who have suffered another round of job losses and concessions that have affected the industries where they are most concentrated, including public employment.

The union bureaucracy has undergone a change. Decades ago, they were reined in through the capital-labor social contract to help deflect working class self-activity into bureaucratic channels. The union structure became removed from the struggles of the shop floor and colluded with management to ensure labor’s productivity. Nowadays, these institutions are dead and dying as capital no longer needs them. The appearance of labor’s organized reup via Andy Stern’s SEIU is in fact appearance only, for in the name of organizing it has undercut labor conditions, bargained behind workers backs, attacked independent unions, and has partnered with management to ensure not only productivity, but capital growth. The UAW is another manifestation of this transition where it has gone from management partner to shareholder under American auto’s restructuring. Where previously it oversaw the destruction of union jobs and wage and benefit concessions, under its new position it is leading this process with the creation of a two-tier workforce.

The hopes for any labor renewal from above that came with either the election of John Sweeney to the AFL-CIO helm in 1995, the Change to Win split in 2005, or the election of President Obama have come crashing down every time. Instead, Sustar points to the 2006 immigrant general strike, the Republic Windows occupation, the Smithfield Strike, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers boycott, and the growth of workers centers as new forms of organization and activity as new possibilities for renewal. People of color have been central to each of these experiences and, at least with the CIW, the Smithfield Strike, and workers centers, have taken place within the US South.
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As the South goes, so goes the Nation

*Written with Will

W.E.B. DuBois spoke these words – as the South goes, so goes the nation – many years ago to capture the fact that the South represents a key link in the chain for the U.S. working class in terms of resistance against exploitation and the violent suppression of organizing and organization among workers and people of color. This is no less the case today. The South (defined here as the 11 states of the former Confederacy plus Kentucky) has been central to the ruling class offensive and reorganization of capital for the last 40 years. Kim Moody illustrates the South’s growing importance for U.S. capitalism since the 1950s in his book U.S. Labor in Trouble and Transition.

To try to summarize some of Moody’s key arguments: Claims that industry has completely disappeared from the U.S. and been replaced by the service sector are without basis. Some on both the left and the right have played into the myth that the U.S. is a de-industrialized land with no working class, no industrial proletariat as typically understood. The growth of the service sector in recent decades is neither new nor indicative of the death of industry. In fact, services have outpaced industry since the early 20th century because as the capitalist economy expands from local to national to global, the problems of circulating capital, distributing goods and determining profits require more and more service type labor. The industrial core remains the sector on which most economic activity is dependent. While some industry in the U.S. has declined dramatically since the 60s and 70s – textiles and clothing for instance – for the most part manufacturing has simply relocated from its strongholds in the Northeast and Midwest to the South.
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Fighting Unemployment, Not Each Other


I am posting an excellent essay by Michael Hureaux Perez from Black Agenda Report.  I can really relate to this piece because he lives right down the street from where I lived for two years, in West Seattle where I still work and organize. Hureaux Perez and I are both teachers. I work at an alternative program for youth who dropped out of high school or skipped and need to catch up on their credits.   I bet we’ve had some of the same students.  In his piece he tells the story of Marleney,  a young woman who could very well end up in my class because of all the issues she is facing.   She’s behind in credits, her husband is undocumented and can’t find work, and she is also unemployed.

Marleny’s situation is not unusual.  The other day in class I showed my students the 2000 census maps for West Seattle.   Most of them come from White Center (Marleny and Hureaux Perez’s hood), Delridge, and High Point neighborhoods.  When you look at the maps of Black, Latino, and Asian-Pacific Islander unemployment rates, these neighborhoods are like dark dots in a sea of white.  35th Avenue runs through West Seattle dividing the employed, white, college educated middle class from the unemployed and working class people of color.  It’s like Seattle’s 8 Mile. When my students saw these maps they were beefing.  And these were made before the economic crisis; it’s only getting worse now.  I asked my students what should be done about this.  A few said we should go rob the people living on the other side of 35th.  Others said we should riot.

One of my former students decided to channel this anger into productive action.  He and I did a study group over the summer and we just recruited our friends to start a new group called Employment Justice Action.   We are demanding jobs, especially for unemployed youth of color who are hardest hit by the economic crisis.  We’re starting by demanding that the local Walgreens hire more people from the neighborhood.  They take money from the neighborhood; if folks can’t work there, why should we shop there?
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Economic Crisis in the Third World

By fatima and Will

Just as in the US, where capitalists have been straining their eyes looking for green shoots in the stock market, while ignoring the deepening recession among ordinary people, economists consider the relatively stable GDPs of countries like China and India as a sign that people in those countries are not as affected by the economic crisis. They even go so far as to say that working people in the third world have “safety nets” to fall back on during hard times.

As the article below from New Left Review points out, the IMF and co. promote the informal sector as a way to be self reliant until the economy improves. If true, that would be nice, since these same people contributed to rolling back any job security and collective bargaining rights that workers had fought for. Or they say that returning to the rural farm that people had originally migrated from will serve as a temporary solution. The article asks the obvious question, “Why did they leave in the first place?” Continue reading Economic Crisis in the Third World

What can the Ssangyong strike in South Korea teach us?

SsangyongOne of the most militant strikes in the current crisis has been the occupation of Ssangyong Motors in South Korea.
The strike failed to win its main demand of no lay-offs, however, it blazed a light in a murky time of reactionary offensives by the rulers and defensiveness by the oppressed that characterizes much of the current moment. There is a lot that we can learn from these heroic auto-workers.

Loren Goldner, who was in South Korea during the occupation, has a comprehensive interview here about the strike.

Also, here is a summary of Goldner’s conclusions taken from the Libcom archive.

Ssangyong motors strike in South Korea ends in defeat and heavy repression

by Loren Goldner

The Ssangyong Motor Company strike and plant occupation in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, ended after 77 days on Aug. 5. For the 976 workers who seized the small auto plant on May 22 and held it against repeated quasi-military assault, the settlement signed by Ssangyong court receivership manager Park Young-tae and local union president Han Sang-kyun represented a near-total defeat. Worse still, the surrender was followed by detention and interrogation of dozens of strikers by police, possibly to be followed by felony charges, as well by a massive ($45 million) lawsuit against the Korean Metal Workers’ Union and probable further lawsuits against individual strikers for damages incurred during the strike. The hard-right Korean government of Lee Myong Bak is signaling with these measures—its latest and most dramatic “take no prisoners” victory over popular protest in the past year and a half– its intention to steamroller any potential future resistance to its unabashed rule on behalf of big capital.

The Ssangyong strike echoed in many ways the dynamic seen in the recent Visteon struggle in the UK and in battles over auto industry restructuring around the world. Involving, on the other hand, an outright factory seizure and occupation, and subsequent violent defense of the plant against the police, thugs and scabs, it was the first struggle of its kind in South Korea for years. Its defeat—one in a long series of defeats extending over years—does not bode well for future resistance.
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The Economic Crisis and Talk of Recovery

by Will

The US has been in the most severe recession since the Great Depression from late 2007 till now.  Ben Bernake and a host of other economists have declared that the economy has entered the process of recovery.  This is a remarkable statement considering the actual conditions of working people in the U.S.  Michigan has an unemployment rate above 15% and California, the eighth largest economy in the world is at around 12%.  Meanwhile, the national average is at 9.8%, clearly on track to break the psychologically devastating double-digit marker.  Radical economists argue national unemployment is closer to the 17-20% range and that in places like Detroit it is hovering somewhere in the 30% percent area.

I have thrown a lot of numbers at people in one paragraph and at times these numbers can hide the human dimensions of how devastating unemployment can be for a person and their family.  This takes on psychological, emotional, racial, and gendered aspects which alter peoples lives.  Marriages are broken; people lose faith in themselves and throw their life away to drugs and crime, neighborhoods are destroyed, and dreams are vanquished. This is made worse by the pronouncements of Bernake that a recovery is here.  What does it mean for a person who cannot get a job during a recovery?

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