Deconstructing Hierarchies: On the Paradox of Contrived Leadership and Arbitrary Positions of Power | Colin Jenkins
Theory | January 12th, 2017
Bosses don't grow on trees. They don't magically appear at your job. They aren't born into their roles. They are created. They are manufactured to fulfill arbitrary positions of power within organizational hierarchies. They possess no natural or learned talents, and they are not tried and tested through any type of meritocratic system. Rather, they gravitate to these positions of authority by consciously exhibiting attributes that make them both controllable and controlling - being punctual, highly conformist, placing a premium on appearance, knowing how to talk sternly without saying much of anything, blessed with the ability to bullshit.
To Escape Trump's America, We Need to Bring the Militant Labor Tactics of 1946 Back to the Future | Anonymous member of the IWW
Analysis | November 23rd, 2016
The last general strike in the US was in Oakland in 1946. That year there were 6 city-wide general strikes, plus nationwide strikes in steel, coal, and rail transport. More than 5 million workers struck in the biggest strike wave of US history. So what happened? Why haven't we ever gone out like that again? Congress amended US labor law in 1947, adding massive penalties for the very tactics that had allowed strikes to spread and be successful - and the business unions accepted the new laws. In fact, they even went beyond them by voluntarily adding "no-strike clauses" to every union contract for the last 70 years, and agreeing that when they do strike in between contracts it will only be for their own wages and working conditions, not to support anybody else or to apply pressure about things happening in the broader society.
The Bosses' Utopia: Dystopia and the American Company Town | Nicholas Partyka
Analysis | May 20th, 2016
At many points in American history wealthy capitalists saw it as beneficial to construct planned communities for their workers. These ran the gamut from unsanitary ramshackle slums and ghettoes with little planning or services, to highly elaborate planned communities designed according to the proprietors' ideology of choice, in which even small details were prescribed and regimented. In some of these capitalist-inspired utopian experiments, designed to 'elevate' workers, one can see clear examples of many dystopian themes manifested in real-life. Looking at the experience of company towns one readily discerns significant dystopian elements, e.g. some rather reminiscent of George Orwell's now famous Big Brother. The high-handed, obtrusive, and moralistic scrutiny of private life; the regimentation of work and social life; the uniformity of living standards; strictly imposed and enforced moral codes, are all dystopian elements one can find in the work of the most well-known dystopian writers, e.g. Orwell, Huxley, and Zamyatin.
Americans Don't Miss Manufacturing - They Miss Unions | Ben Casselman
Commentary | May 20th, 2016
A new report this week from the Labor Center at the University of California, Berkeley, found that a third of production workers - non-managers working on factory floors and in related occupations - earn so little that their families receive some form of public assistance such as food stamps or the Earned Income Tax Credit. Many of those workers are temps, who account for a growing share of factory employment. The median wage for a manufacturing production worker, according to separate data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $16.14 an hour in 2015, below the $17.40 an hour for all workers.
Revolutionary Shop Stewards and Workers Councils in the German Revolution | Kevin E. Van Meter
Book Review | April 27th, 2016
If Ralf Hoffrogge were writing within an American context rather than a German one, he would be situated between two important developments in the United States. A new cohort of social movement historians is addressing the gaps in anarchist, anti-authoritarian, and left-communist historiography. Neighboring this is a resurgence of interest in workers' councils historically and in the contemporary period. With the recent translation and subsequent publication of Working-Class Politics in the German Revolution: Richard M üller, the Revolutionary Shop Stewards and the Origins of the Council Movement in two editions, Hoffrogge enters this discourse with a extremely detailed political biography of a nearly unknown militant whose finest years coincided with the German Revolution and workers' council movement of 1918. Communists of various stripes have laid claim to Rosa Luxemburg and anarchists to Gustav Landauer, both murdered as the revolution was suppressed with the latter yelling "to think you are human" as he was stomped to death. Council communists and autonomists have been gifted Richard Müller, who was forgotten in part because he survived.
Workers Against Work: Doing What You Hate | Tom Regel
Commentary | March 16th, 2016
If to grow up and get a life means to enter into the professional working world and, in many instances, climb the career ladder, then what's in it for those who don't intend on growing up on those conditions alone, for those who maintain little or no coherent relationship with present modes of existing, who reject the future and all its currently miserable projections? To be anti-work isn't necessarily to be for laziness (although it has an investment stake in that utopia); it is rather to flatly reject the idiotic premise of progress, futurity, individual freedom, fulfillment and success, as it is currently projected through the insular prism of competitive, atomized and alienated wage labour, and to be opposed to the historical norms and prescribed patterns of adulthood that are reinforced and reproduced by a positive work ethic and the world of work in general.
Getting Beyond the Goods: Direct or Indirect Action in the American Union Movement | Dennis Gravey
Analysis | February 15th, 2016
It is very possible that in the next few years millions of American workers could win significant wage increases through minimum wage legislation, and do so without militant strikes or building their capacity for shop-floor direct action. For those of us fighting for significant wage increases this is great news, but for those of us fighting for an overthrow of capitalism, this should be very worrisome. Central to this tension is a strategic question, namely, Shall unionists prioritize direct or indirect action? If we aim for revolution, we must choose the former?
The Future of Work: The Rise and Fall of the Job | Bethany Moreton
Commentary | October 29th, 2015
Since 2000, rising American productivity has become de-coupled from job growth: Despite sizzling profits and the ever-receding horizon of a brighter future for all-just on the other side of endless "disruption"-the celebrity industries of Silicon Valley and Wall Street are hollowing out middle-class jobs. When anything at all is filling the void, too often it is the cruelly misnamed sharing economy or hourly work for minimum wage, both greased with record levels of household debt. After a century of insisting that the secure, benefits-laden job was the frictionless meritocratic means of rewarding society's truly valuable work and workers, today we find that half the remaining jobs are in danger of being automated out of existence.
Capitalism, Exploitation, and Degradation | Dr. Nicholas Partyka
Analysis | October 8th, 2015
Our main question here will be, Is there morally bad exploitation in capitalist employment relationships? To begin I will examine Ruth Sample's excellent account of moral exploitation, and contrasting it at points with the earlier view of Alan Wertheimer. The subtitle of Sample's book offers us an interesting way to approach the explication of her view, and so I will in turn address the questions, What is exploitation, and Why is it wrong? Briefly, Sample's view is that exploitation involves taking advantage for private gain of vulnerability in another, or ignoring their needs in the transaction. This kind of behavior is morally wrong, as Sample suggests, because it fails to show respect for the exploited party.
A New Lost Generation: Student Loans, Wage Slavery, and Debt Peonage | Dr. Nicholas Partyka
Analysis | July 24th, 2015
In literature, the term "lost generation" refers to a cohort of authors whose work defines the post-First World War era. This group includes literary notables like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others. According to the dominant understanding, what made this group of expatriate writers, centered in Paris, 'lost' was not a sense of geographic dislocation, but rather one of spiritual or moral dislocation. Their experiences in or with the war lead them to question, even to abandon the systems of values that they had held prior to the war. This kind of sentiment, and experience, was not uncommon in society at large. This is likely part of why these authors' work achieved such prominence in this period. Many people left lost in this era, even before the onset of the Great Depression.
Work Matters! Workers Matter! Unions Matter! | Dr. Nicholas Partyka
Analysis | June 16th, 2015
Low-wage workers bear the costs of our convenience in similar ways in many different industries. From hotel maids, to home cleaning services, to fast-food and restaurant workers, to warehouse workers, all bear the costs of our standard of living, by having theirs degraded. Many of us, myself included, are keen on online shopping because of its convenience. Like many others, I buy many things from Amazon.com, and mostly because I can find them cheaper there. Behind the nice packages we receive in the mail are the warehouse workers, who suffer physically demanding work, long hours, and low pay so that we can get cheaper products delivered right to our doorstep.
'Fight for 15' Inspires Bold Demands | Sonia Singh
Commentary | April 22nd, 2015
As thousands of low-wage workers prepare to rally and strike on April 15, demanding $15 an hour and a union, their high-profile mobilization has already inspired workers in a range of industries far beyond fast food. From school support staff to UPS part-timers, Fight for 15 is raising the confidence of unions to put bold demands on the bargaining table for their own low-wage members-and to back up those demands with community action. The surge in low-wage worker organizing is also fueling campaigns to boost the minimum wage, spreading the momentum for $15 to new cities, including a wave of action across Canada.
On the Meaning of "Middle Class" & the State of the Middle Class | Dr. Nicholas Partyka
Analysis | March 24th, 2015
When politicians talk, one of the recurring themes about which they spew platitudes is the economy. It would be the subject of another essay to unpack what is meant by "the economy" when politicians and other capitalist elements use that term. This aside, in discussing the economy there is a phrase that politicians use with such alacrity that it has become trite. This phrase is, "middle class". Politicians, pundits, and social commentators deploy this term in many contexts, but almost always appealing to its ubiquity of membership, critical role in democracy, and moral virtue in their speeches. These constant references to the middle class in the popular political discourse have rendered this term impenetrably vague. If we listen to politicians then one would be led to believe that most Americans are members of this middle class, whose health and prosperity the politicians never tire of proclaiming as their highest priority. Speeches are one thing, reality another. Let us interrogate this concept of the "middle class", and see what to make of this notion that plays such a prominent role in American political discourse on the economy.
The Problem of the Backward-Bending Supply Curve of Labour | Dr. Nicholas Partyka
Analysis | February 12th, 2015
The backward bending supply curve of labour is a phenomenon well known to economists. This curve models a situation where workers choose to substitute leisure time for work time, ie. wages, thus reducing the pool of labour available. Let us think through this "problem", and consider in what sense, and for whom, it is problematic. Why indeed should there not exist a backward bending supply curve for labour, especially if capitalism allows for workers to truly improve their station in life? If workers are empowered, and achieve a certain level of material independence, and can thus make their own decisions about how to allocate their time, they will strike a balance between consumption of leisure time and labour time. The problem is that the balance of these that is optimal for the worker will likely be sub-optimal for capitalists, in that it reduces the supply of wage-labour for sale on the market. A glut of supply of labour-power on the market is what enables the capitalist to control bargaining with workers, and thus also to control the product of labour. Control over workers' labour, and the product of that labour is the foundation of capitalists' surpluses.
The Way We Work Matters for Democracy | Dr. Nicholas Partyka
Analysis | January 15th, 2015
The way we work matters for democracy. Or, more technically, the nature of the labour-process under capitalism matters for democracy. This is because the way we work affects who we are, how we see the world, and how we make decisions in it. Work transforms those who labour. Human capacities, or talents, are largely learned. If they are practiced they develop and grow, if not they wither and atrophy. Human beings never stop learning. The workplace is a site of learning. Leaving the formal school grounds does not mean one stops learning. One other way to look at learning is training. Education, especially in philosophy, history, and science, is training in how to see the world, how to think about it critically and independently.
Zombie Apocalypse and the Politics of Artificial Scarcity | Colin Jenkins
Commentary | December 19th, 2014
Dystopian narratives have long been an alluring and thought-provoking form of entertainment, especially for those who take an interest in studying social and political structures. From classics like Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World to the current hit, The Hunger Games, these stories play on our fears while simultaneously serving as warning signs for the future. Their attractiveness within American society is not surprising. Our lives are driven by fear. Fear leads us to spend and consume; fear leads us to withdraw from our communities; and fear leads us to apathy regarding our own social and political processes.
Adjuncts Organize: An Interview with St. Rose (NY) Professor, Bradley Russell | Daniel J. Kelly
Interview | November 19th, 2014
In late September, 2014, something happened at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY that hasn't happened often enough in recent years. Eighty percent of the approximately 300 adjunct professors at the private, liberal arts college turned out to vote to unionize. When the results were tallied the professors had voted by a margin of 175 to 61 to join Local 200 United of the Service Employees International Union. Local 200 is part of S.E.I.U's Adjunct Action, a nationwide project to organize adjunct professors. As many of our readers will know, the adjunct professor phenomenon is just another neoliberal strategy to disempower the workforce. By a policy of no benefits, no job security, and no raises the employing class atomizes another subset of workers. In other words, if they can fool them into thinking they're independent contractors they will be less inclined to act collectively to secure power in the workplace. This has been part of the neoliberal agenda for nearly forty years and for much of that time that agenda has worked, but not at the College of Saint Rose in 2014.
Why Consensus Decision-making Won't Work for Grassroots Unionism | Tom Wetzel
Commentary | November 5th, 2014
Syndicalists have always supported a form of direct democracy based on majority rule. Like most American unions, the Industrial Workers of the World officially endorses Robert's Rules of Order - although some of their smaller branches use a stripped down version called Rusty's Rules. The point to taking a vote is that it enables an organized group to come to a decision that expresses the collective will, even when there is some disagreement. This doesn't mean that all decisions are made by voting. In grassroots organizations based on majority decision-making, it often happens that most decisions are made without taking any vote - especially in smaller meetings. That's because people are often able to come to agreement just by discussing the issue or proposal.
Rise of the Scab Army: The Historical Roots of Modern Police as "Paddy Rollers" and Strikebreakers | Joshua Deeds
History | October 7th, 2014
The Police are a notorious institution due to their function in society. They have a second bill of rights that others don't, afforded by their "Union" - a term that should be used loosely in regards to Police, as they often play the State's hand in strike-breaking. In this function, they are an army of scabs. They regularly abrogate others' rights and avoid accountability on the basis of taking a life daily. In this regard, the Left and Right have different critiques of Police in society and often meet in the middle; however, the Left has historical context behind its critique. In the Libertarian Capitalist ideology, the function of Police would be privatized, and private security forces or a paramilitary organizations, such as Blackwater now Academi, would fill the void.
Who Stole the Four-Hour Workday? | Nathan Schneider
Commentary | August 6th, 2014
Alex is a busy man. The 36-year-old husband and father of three commutes each day to his full-time job at a large telecom company in Denver, the city he moved to from his native Peru in 2003. At night, he has classes or homework for the bachelor's in social science he is pursuing at a nearby university. With or without an alarm, he wakes up at 5 AM every day, and it's only then, after eating breakfast and glancing at the newspaper, that he has a chance to serve in his capacity as the sole US organizer and webmaster of the Global Campaign for the 4 Hour Work-Day. "I've been trying to contact other organizations," he says, "though, ironically, I don't have time." But Alex has big plans. By the end of the decade he envisions "a really crazy movement" with chapters around the world orchestrating the requisite work stoppage.
Bullshit Jobs, the Caring Classes, and the Future of Labor: An Interview with David Graeber | Thomas Frank
Interview | June 3rd, 2014
This sort of thing threw a lot of people in positions of power into a kind of moral panic. There were think-tanks set up to examine what to do-basically, how to maintain social control-in a society where more and more traditional forms of labor would soon be obsolete. A lot of the complaints you see in Alvin Toffler and similar figures in the early '70s-that rapid technological advance was throwing the social order into chaos-had to do with those anxieties: too much leisure had created the counter-culture and youth movements, what was going to happen when things got even more relaxed? It's probably no coincidence that it was around that time that things began to turn around, both in the direction of technological research, away from automation and into information, medical, and military technologies (basically, technologies of social control), and also in the direction of market reforms that would send us back towards less secure employment, longer hours, greater work discipline.