31 December 2013

Imperialism, The Permanent Phase of Capitalism


Pieces of Samir Amin, 2011, Imperialism, The Permanent Phase of Capitalism

V I Lenin
Author of “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”

Is Generalized Monopoly Capitalism the Last Phase of Capitalism?

“Permanent”, but without a bourgeoisie?

Lenin described the imperialism of the monopolies as the “highest stage of capitalism.” I have described imperialism as a “permanent phase of capitalism” in the sense that globalized historical capitalism has built up, and never ceases from reproducing and deepening, the center/periphery polarization. The first wave of constituting monopolies at the end of the nineteenth century certainly involved a qualitative transformation in the fundamental structures of the capitalist mode of production. Lenin deduced from this that the socialist revolution was on the agenda, and Rosa Luxemburg believed that the alternatives were now “socialism or barbarism.” Lenin was certainly too optimistic, having underestimated the devastating effects of the imperialist rent—and the transfer associated with it—on the revolution from the West (the centers) to the East (the peripheries).

The second wave of the centralization of capital, which took place in the last third of the twentieth century, constituted a second qualitative transformation of the system, which I have described as “generalized monopolies.” From now on, they not only commanded the heights of the modern economy; they also succeeded in imposing their direct control over the whole production system. The small and medium enterprises (and even the large ones outside the monopolies), such as the farmers, were literally dispossessed, reduced to the status of sub-contractors, with their upstream and downstream operations, and subjected to rigid control by the monopolies.

Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah
Author of “Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism”

At this highest phase of the centralization of capital, its ties with a living organic body—the bourgeoisie—have broken. This is an immensely important change: the historical bourgeoisie, constituted of families rooted locally, has given way to an anonymous oligarchy/plutocracy that controls the monopolies, in spite of the dispersion of the title deeds of their capital. The range of financial operations invented over the last decades bears witness to this supreme form of alienation: the speculator can now sell what he does not even possess, so that the principle of property is reduced to a status that is little less than derisory.

The function of socially productive labor has disappeared. The high degree of alienation had already attributed a productive virtue to money (“money makes little ones”). Now alienation has reached new heights: it is time (“time is money”) that by its virtue alone “produces profit.” The new bourgeois class that responds to the requirements of the reproduction of the system has been reduced to the status of “waged servants” (precarious, to boot), even when they are, as members of the upper sectors of the middle classes, privileged people who are very well paid for their “work.”

This being so, should one not conclude that capitalism has had its day? There is no other possible answer to the challenge: the monopolies must be nationalized. This is a first, unavoidable step toward a possible socialization of their management by workers and citizens. Only this will make it possible to progress along the long road to socialism. At the same time, it will be the only way of developing a new macro economy that restores a genuine space for the operations of small and medium enterprises. If that is not done, the logic of domination by abstract capital can produce nothing but the decline of democracy and civilization, to a “generalized apartheid” at the world level.

30 December 2013

Begin with Marx


Pieces of Samir Amin, 2009, Begin with Marx

Samir Amin

The Necessity of Internationalism

Begin with Marx
Whatever you like to call it, historical capitalism is anything but sustainable. It is only a brief parenthesis in history. Challenging it fundamentally - which our contemporary thinkers cannot imagine is "possible" or even "desirable" - is however the essential condition for the emancipation of dominated workers and peoples (those of the periphery, 80 percent of humanity). And the two dimensions of the challenge are indissoluble. It is not possible to put an end to capitalism unless and until these two dimensions of the same challenge are taken up together. It is not "certain" that this will happen, in which case capitalism will be "overtaken" by the destruction of civilization (beyond the discontents of civilization, to use Freud's phrase) and perhaps of all life on this earth. The scenario of a possible "remake" of the 20th century thus remains but falls far short of the need of humanity embarking on the long transition towards world socialism. The liberal disaster makes it necessary to renew a radical critique of capitalism. The challenge is how to construct, or reconstruct, the internationalism of workers and peoples confronted by the cosmopolitism of oligarchic capital.

The construction of this internationalism can only be envisaged by the success of new revolutionary advances (like those initiated in Latin America and Nepal) which open up the prospect of surpassing capitalism.

In the countries of the South, the struggle of States and nations for a negotiated globalization without hegemonies - the contemporary form of delinking - supported by the organization of demands of the popular classes - can circumscribe and limit the powers of the oligopolies of the imperialist Triad. The democratic forces in the countries of the North must support this struggle. The "democratic" discourse proposed by the dominant ideology and accepted by the majority of left wings (such as they are), "humanitarian" interventions, and pathetic practices of "aid" do not genuinely confront this challenge.

In the countries of the North the oligopolies are already clearly "common goods" whose management cannot be entrusted to private interests alone (the crisis having shown the catastrophic results). An authentic left must have the courage to envisage nationalization as a first essential step towards their socialization through the deepening of democratic practice. The current crisis makes it possible to conceive a potential crystallization of social and political forces rallying all the victims of the exclusive power of the reigning oligarchies.

The first wave of struggles for socialism, that of the 20th century, showed up the limitations of European social democracies, of communisms of the Third International, and of popular nationalisms of the Bandung era: the loss of momentum and finally the collapse of their socialist ambitions. The second wave, that of the 21st century, must draw the lessons. In particular it must associate the socialization of economic management with the deepening of democracy in society. There will be no socialism without democracy, but equally no democratic progress outside a socialist perspective.

These strategic aims make it necessary to think about the construction of "convergences in diversity" (to take up the expression of the World Forum for Alternatives), of forms of organization and of struggles by the dominated and exploited classes. And I do not intend to condemn in advance those forms which, in their own way, get back to the traditions of social democracies, communisms, and popular nationalisms or move away from them.

It seems to me necessary to be thinking about the renewal of a creative Marxism. Marx has never been so useful and necessary to understand and transform the world as he is today, perhaps more so than in the past. To be Marxist in this spirit is to begin with Marx, not to end with him, or a Lenin, or a Mao, as the historical Marxisms of the last century conceived and practiced it. It's to render unto Marx what is his: the intelligence of having begun modern critical thought, critical of the capitalist reality and critical of its political, ideological, and cultural representations. Creative Marxism must unhesitatingly pursue the aim of enriching such critical thinking par excellence. It must not fear integrating all contributions resulting from reflection in all fields, including those contributions that were wrongly considered as "foreign" by the dogmatists of historical Marxisms of the past.

27 December 2013

Post-modernism, Ideology of Imperialism


Pieces of Samir Amin, 2009, "Post-Modernist" Discourse

Samir Amin


Ideology of Imperialism

Post-modernism caps the discourse called by some the "new spirit of capitalism," but it would be better to call it the ideology of the late capitalism/imperialism of oligopolies.  A recent book by Nkolo Foe gives a powerful description of how this functions very well to serve the real interests of the dominating powers.14

Modernism originated in the discourse of the Enlightenment in the 18th century in Europe, together with the triumph of the historical form of European capitalism and imperialism that goes with it, which subsequently conquered the world.  It suffers from contradictions and limitations.  The ambition to be universal that it formulated is defined by the affirmation of the rights of man (but not necessarily of woman!), which are in fact the rights of bourgeois individualism.  Real capitalism, with which this form of modernity is associated, is moreover an imperialism that denies the rights of the non-European peoples who have been conquered and subordinated to the levying of the imperialist rent.

Criticism of this bourgeois and capitalist/imperialist modernity is certainly necessary.  And Marx effectively undertook this radical critique, which it is always necessary to update and study more deeply.

The new Reason considered itself emancipatory; and so it was, to the extent that it freed society from the alienations and oppressions of the Anciens Regimes.  It was thus a guarantee of progress, but a form of progress that was limited and contradictory because it was capital which, in the final instance, was to manage society.

Post-modernism does not make this radical critique to promote the emancipation of individuals and of society through socialism.  Instead it proposes a return to pre-modern, pre-capitalist alienations.  The forms of sociability that it promotes are necessarily in line with adherence to a "tribalist" identity for communities (para-religious and para-ethnic), an antipode to what is required to deepen democracy, which has become a synonym for the "tyranny of the people" daring to question the wise management of the executives who serve the oligopolies.  Post-modernist critiques of "grand narratives" (the Enlightenment, democracy, progress, socialism, national liberation) do not look to the future but return to an imaginary and false past, which is extremely idealized.  In this way it facilitates the fragmentation of the majority of the population and makes them accept adjustment to the logic of the reproduction of domination by the imperialist oligopolies.  This fragmentation hardly disturbs that domination; on the contrary, it makes the task easier.  The individual does not become a conscious, lucid agent of social transformation, but the slave of triumphant commodification.  The citizen disappears, giving way to the consumer/spectator, no longer a citizen who seeks emancipation, but an insignificant creature who accepts submission.

14  Nkolo Foe, Le post modernisme et le nouvel esprit du capitalisme, Sur une philosophie globale d' Empire, Dakar: Codesria, 2009; Samir Amin, Modernité, religion, démocratie, Critique  de l’eurocentrisme et critique des culturalismes, Paris: Parangon, 2008; Samir Amin, Sur la crise, op cit, Chapters 2 and 3; Jacques Rancière, La haine de la démocratie, Paris: La Fabrique, 2008.


24 December 2013

Collective Bargaining, Strikes and Arbitration


Negotiation two-mind map

Chapter 8

Collective Bargaining, Strikes and Arbitration

Chapter 8, Major Features of Labor Relations in the USA

            (2): Collective Bargaining, Strikes, and Arbitration

Collective bargaining is the bilateral process of governing labor/management relations in the workplace. Without a union, the corporation unilaterally governs.

Negotiating a Contract

The first part of collective bargaining occurs when union leaders and management representatives negotiate and (hopefully) agree upon a written collective bargaining agreement (union contract). This legal document, which is enforceable by arbitrators and judges, includes:

·        Union rights: job titles represented by the union, union membership requirements, steward rights; bulletin board posting rights;
·        Management rights: to manage the workforce, except as limited by the contract;
·        Economic issues: pay rates, hours, pensions, medical insurance, vacations, sick leave;
·        Non-economic issues: work rules, seniority rules - for promotions, layoffs, overtime;
·        Employee rights: “just cause” required to discipline employees, grievance rights, arbitration of grievances;
·        Miscellaneous: contract duration, joint labor-management committees, etc.

The process of collective bargaining to achieve a contract includes several stages:

1.      Each side (union and management) decides on a list of its contract proposals (demands). Each side selects a bargaining team and a chief representative, and, usually, a lawyer.

2.      The two sides meet and exchange proposals along with opening presentations and supporting documents. They then take up the various proposals, one by one, “horse trading” and compromising as they go. Usually, the two sides agree to keep the progress of the negotiations private. When the negotiations do not proceed smoothly, the union will often mobilize its membership to show management that it can organize a strike if the negotiations break down. Management, on the other hand, may cut overtime or publicize its ability to move to lower-cost locations. Usually, the two sides agree on a new contract without resorting to a strike or lockout.

3.      If the two sides come to an impasse (cannot reach an agreement), management has the right to impose its last contract offer on the workers. In the private sector, the union has the right to strike to win its demands or prevent management from imposing its last contract offer, and management has the right to “lockout” its employees to force them to accept it.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) is a government agency that routinely offers to assist collective bargaining negotiations by sending in a mediator. In 2011, it mediated 4,700 negotiations, with the vast majority achieving settlements. For example, the FMCS mediated a new contract between two unions representing 62,000 grocery workers and three national supermarket chains that had been deadlocked over rising health care costs.[i]

Management’s ability to resist strikes has grown in recent years. Its weapons include: Using management personnel and replacements (“scabs”) to continue production at struck facilities; moving production to other plants; and informing union members they will not be allowed to return to work because “permanent replacements” have replaced them.

Unions have mainly abandoned the strike weapon because they have learned that they often lose when they strike, with “permanent replacements” sometimes taking some or all of their members’ jobs. The U.S. Department of Labor reported only 19 major strikes and lockouts in 2011 involving 1,000+ workers.[ii] The largest strike involved 45,000 employees of the telecommunications giant Verizon who struck in August 2011 for two weeks and returned to work without a new contract. The two sides agreed to keep the old contract in place while they continued to negotiate. As of mid-2012, they have not signed a new contract.

In the public sector, very few workers have the right to strike. Federal and most state and municipal employees can be fired if they strike. New York City (NYC) has a particularly harsh public sector labor law, called the Taylor Law (1967). It says that each striker has to pay a fine of two days’ pay for every day the worker was on strike, and it allows the government to fine the union and jail its leaders.[iii] When NYC’s subway and bus employees struck for three days in 2005, a court fined the union $1 million per day, jailed its leadership, and denied it the right to collect members’ dues through payroll “checkoff” (automatic deduction each month).[iv]

In the public sector, when the two sides cannot agree on a contract, laws prescribe many paths forward. U.S. Postal Service and many police and firefighter unions use an arbitrator (a neutral person chosen by the two sides) to decide the contract terms. Some states provide a mediator (who helps the two sides narrow their differences) and then a fact finder (who recommends new contract terms). In some states, the law allows the employer to impose new contact terms if one side rejects the fact finder’s recommendation. Often, there is no mechanism to settle the contract when mediation and fact finding fails, and negotiations continue for years before the two sides agree on a new contract.

Enforcing a Contract – Grievance and Arbitration

The second part of collective bargaining is the ongoing struggle between the two sides to compel the other side to live up to its contractual obligations. Thus, management disciplines employees who (it claims) violate attendance rules, work poorly, disobey instructions, steal, etc. The union responds by filing grievances (complaints) against the disciplinary actions and often appeals to an arbitrator for a final and binding decision. The union also files grievances when (it claims) management underpaid workers, required them to work in an unsafe environment, discriminated (sexual harassment, racist conduct), or violated seniority rights, etc.

The courts, management, and unions strongly support the use of the grievance procedure (including arbitration) to resolve day-to-day disputes about labor contracts. Therefore, almost all labor contracts include a “no strike” (and a “no lockout”) clause prohibiting collective actions that disrupt production (demonstrations, slowdowns, work-to-rule, sickouts, short strikes, lockouts). However, unhappy unions and groups of workers sometimes initiate these actions to protest speed-up, safety hazards, or firing of popular workers. When the union organizes these “unfair labor practices,” they open the union to being sued. Individual workers can be fired.

There are no “labor courts” in the United States. Congress, the Supreme Court, and the NLRB have decided that labor arbitrators, chosen jointly by management and labor, should hear and decide almost all grievances. Additionally, the NLRB has ruled that arbitrators (rather than NLRB specialists) should decide almost all charges of “unfair labor practices” involving alleged violations of already-existing contracts.[v] The same practice exists in the public sector.

Arbitrators make “final and binding” decisions about alleged contract violations. The union and the company each pay half of the arbitrator’s fees. This helps to ensure the arbitrator’s neutrality and allows workers to have free representation. An arbitrator can order an employer to reinstate to employment and award back pay to a worker who was fired “without just cause,” but the arbitrator cannot impose a fine for “pain and suffering” or other damages.

Discussion Questions

Discuss the right to strike. Should all workers be able to strike? Why?

[i] http://fmcs.gov/assets/files/Public%20Documents/2011_Annual_Report.pdf.
[ii] http://www.bls.gov/news.release/wkstp.t01.htm In 2009, there was a record low of 5 major work stoppages involving 13,000 workers. These numbers are tiny, compared with annual averages in the 1990s (32 strikes; 300,000 workers), 1980s (75 strikes; 400,000 workers), and 1970s (300 strikes; 1.2 million workers).
[iii] http://www.perb.state.ny.us/stat.asp#str.
[iv] http://www.twu.org/flipbook/2012winter/TWU_Winter2012.pdf.
[v] The National Labor Relations Board, under the Collyer Doctrine, refers issues to arbitration if they can be resolved under the collective bargaining agreement. Collyer Insulated Wire 192 N.L.R.B. 837 (N.L.R.B. 1971).

23 December 2013

Poverty, Civil Society, Good Governance


Pieces of Samir Amin, 2009, Poverty, Civil Society, Good Governance

Young Samir Amin

Poverty, Civil Society, Good Governance:

The Feeble Rhetoric of the Dominant Discourse

This dominant discourse claims that its objective is to "reduce, if not to eradicate, poverty" by supporting "civil society," in order to substitute "good governance" for "governance" that is judged "bad."

The very term "poverty" stems from a language which is as old as the hills, that of charity (religious or otherwise).  This language belongs to the past, not to the present, much less to the future.  It predates the language created by modern social thought, which tries to be scientific - that is, to discover the mechanisms that give rise to a visible and observed phenomenon.

The overwhelming mass of literature about poverty focuses exclusively - or almost - on "locating" the problem and quantifying it.  It does not pose questions such as "what are the mechanisms that create the poverty under discussion?"  Do they have some connection with the fundamental rules (like competition) that govern our systems and in particular - as far as the countries of the South receiving aid are concerned - with the development strategies and policies conceived for them?

Has the concept of "civil society," even if it is taken seriously (not to speak of its random use), been raised to the level at which a concept should be in order to take its chance and be worthy of inclusion in a serious debate that purports to be scientific?  As it is proposed, "civil society" is associated with an ideology of consensus.  It is a twofold consensus:

1.      that there is no alternative to the "market economy" (itself an indiscriminate expression that serves to replace an analysis of "really existing capitalism");
2.      that there is no alternative to representative democracy based on multi-party elections (conceived as "the democracy") that serves as a substitute for the conception of democratization of society, which is a process without end.

On the contrary, the history of struggles has seen the emergence of political cultures of conflict, based on the recognition of the conflict of social and national interests, which gives quite another meaning to the terms of "left" and "right."  It attributes to creative democracy the right and power to imagine alternatives and not just "alternations" in the exercise of power (changing the names for doing the same thing).

"Governance" was invented as a substitute for "power."  The opposition between these two qualifying adjectives - good or bad governance - calls to mind manichaeism and moralism, substitutes for an analysis of reality as scientific as possible.  Once again this fashion comes to us from the other side of the Atlantic where the sermon has often dominated political discourse.  "Good governance" requires the "decider" to be "just," "objective" (choosing the "best solution"), "neutral" (accepting a balanced presentation of arguments), and above all else "honest" (including, of course, the blander, financial meaning of the word).  On reading the literature produced by the World Bank on the subject, one finds oneself - judging from the grievances presented, usually by men of religion or of law (and few women!) - back in the East of ancient times, of the "just despot" (not even enlightened!).

The underlying ideology is clearly being used to simply eliminate the real question: what social interests does the governing power, whatever it is, represent and defend?  How can the change of power progress so that it gradually becomes the instrument of the majorities, in particular of the victims of the system, such as it is?  It goes without saying that the multi-party electoral recipe has shown its limits in this respect.

22 December 2013

Union Philosophies and Structures


Gumboot Dance at the Old Mine, Trevor Makhoba (Campbell Smith Collection)

Chapter 7

Union Philosophies and Structures

Chapter 7, Major Features of Labor Relations in the USA

            (1): Union Philosophies and Structures

Philosophies of Unions

Almost all American unions find it necessary to confront and struggle with management, while also working to develop areas of collaboration. Union leaders and members understand their responsibilities in three different ways:

1.      Defend their members’ immediate interests against their employers (“business or “bread and butter” unionism);
2.      Defend their members’ immediate interests and help other workers win gains under capitalism (“reform” or “social” or “solidarity” unionism);
3.      Defend their members’ immediate interests and unite with all workers with the goal of eventually overthrowing capitalism (“revolutionary” or “class conscious” unionism).

Business unionism and reform unionism struggle for dominance; support for revolutionary unionism is small. Reform unions have broader political interests than business unions do, more often supporting other workers and involving their membership in election campaigns and issues such as taxation, anti-discrimination laws, public education, health care.

Unions can also be classified as “service” unions and “organizing” unions. “Service” unions rely heavily on full-time, paid, professional staff to organize new members, file members’ grievances with management, organize strikes, lobby government officials, organize social activities, teach classes to union stewards, etc. Staff members “service” the membership, taking care of a member when something bad happens. The result is that members tend to view their monthly membership dues as payments for an insurance policy. Membership participation in the organization is minimal. In contrast, “organizing” unions have fewer full-time paid professional staff and encourage members’ voluntary participation. They often hire union activists for short-term concentrated efforts such as campaigns to organize new members.

Union Members’ Rights

People who become union leaders have many motivations. Some are members who want to help the union be successful for its members; some are careerists who want to use the union to advance their own careers; other are criminals who want to turn the union into their own private bank or are undercover agents of the employer.

The Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959 includes a “Union Member’s Bill of Rights”[i] that guarantees union members many democratic rights within their unions. These include rights to:

1.      Nominate candidates, run for office, vote in elections and meetings;

2.      Secret ballot voting on dues rates, initiation fees, and assessments;

3.      Freedom of speech and assembly, including criticize union officials, express any viewpoint at union meetings (subject to reasonable rules of conduct), and distribute literature;

4.      Sue the union without reprisal;

5.      Due process in internal union disciplinary hearings, including:
                    i.            Specific, written charges
                  ii.            Confront and cross-examine accusers
                iii.            A full and fair hearing and a decision based on the evidence

6.      Receive a copy of the collective bargaining agreement (union contract).

Membership and the Union Advantage

Employers have sound financial reasons to oppose unions. Unions cost employers money. In 2011, wages of the nation’s 15 million union members were 29% higher than wages of workers without union representation, on average, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Women in unions earned an extra $225 per week, or $12,000 more in one year. African-American union members earned $175 more per week, or $9,000 per year. And, Latino (Hispanic) union members earned 48% more, an additional $240 per week, or $13,000 per year.[ii]

Union membership, although small, reflects the population. Thus, 12% of male employees and 11% of female employees were union members in 2011. Whites (12%), Blacks (14%), Hispanics (10%), and Asians (10%) were all fairly equally represented in unions.[iii]

Unions’ Changing Organizational Structures

Historically there have been two basic types of local union structures in the U.S., craft and industrial. A local craft union consists of workers with one skill (carpenters, plumbers, drivers, pilots, teachers, journalists, nurses, etc.). A local industrial union is a union of many types of workers. For example, a local industrial union in the auto industry includes all employees in the plant – assembly line, maintenance, shipping, and office.

Over the years, many craft unions have merged. This increases their bargaining power and prevents the employer from first signing contracts with weaker unions and then forcing stronger unions to agree to the established “pattern” contract for the company or industry.

While unions used to be divided between private and public sector employees, this is also changing. As governments privatize public services (bus lines, hospitals, etc.), public sector unions organize those (now private sector) workers. And, as capital moves abroad and private sector unions lose members, private sector union unions turn to organizing public sector workers. 

Another important change in union structure is the growth of “conglomerate” unions, partly due to union mergers, and partly due to efforts to organize members wherever they can. Sometimes, these unions mirror the conglomerate structures of the employers they confront. The best example of a conglomerate union is the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). It has 1,900 craft and industrial local unions with 1.4 million members in 21 industrial divisions, including airline, bakery, laundry, building materials, construction, food processing, warehouse, freight, manufacturing, motion pictures, newspapers, public service, and railroad.[iv]

The major U.S. labor federation is the AFL-CIO, with 12.1 million members in 56 national unions.[v] Its largest unions are the teachers (1.5 mil.) and government employees (1.4 mil.). In 2005, several unions formed a rival union federation, Change to Win (4.5 million members).[vi] Its three largest unions are service workers (1.9 mil.), Teamsters (1.4 mil.), and retail food (1.3 mil.). One major union, the National Education Association (3.2 mil.) is independent.

The AFL-CIO is a decentralized organization, allowing autonomy to its member unions. It endorses political candidates and funnels campaign contributions to them. While it does not engage in collective bargaining, it encourages unions to negotiate together. When unions strike, it offers support, and it referees disputes when rival unions clash. One major reason the CTW unions broke away from the AFL-CIO was dissatisfaction with AFL-CIO organizing efforts. The CTW promised to allocate 75% of its budget to industry-wide organizing efforts and to reduce federation spending on political action.[vii] As of mid-2012, CTW has not endorsed candidates.

Discussion Question

What should be the differences and similarities between a union and a political party?

[ii] http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.t02.htm Table 2  Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by union affiliation and selected characteristics, 2010-2011 annual averages.
[iii] Ibid., Table 1. Union affiliation of employed wage and salary workers.
[vii] www.ufcw.org/docUploads/UFCW%20OUOV%20vn5%20FINAL.pdf?CFID=1251548&CFTOKEN=70586526; Larry Bridgesmith & John Gerth, “The Summer of Union Discontent Portend a Season of Employer Discomfort,” Journal of Health Law, Winter 2006, Vol. 39, No 1.  www.wallerlaw.com.sitemason.com/files/BsmithGerth.pdf.

21 December 2013

Conventional Economics


Pieces of Samir Amin, 2009, Conventional Economics

Conventional Economics:

An Ideological Instrument That Is Central to Capitalist Reproduction

The discourse of conventional economics refers to the current system as the "market economy."  It is inadequate, even deceptive: as we have already pointed out, it could equally well describe England in the 19th century, China of the Sung and Ming dynasties, and the towns of the Italian Renaissance.

The theory of the "market economy" has always been the backbone of "vulgar economics."  This theory immediately and wholly eliminates the essential reality: social relations of production (particularly, ownership as the immediate expression of these relations, promoted to a sacred principle).  It is replaced by the hypothesis of a society constituted by "individuals" (who, in the final analysis, become active agents in the reproduction of the system and its evolution).  These "individuals" (homo œconomicus) are ahistorical, identical with those who, since the origins of humanity (Robinson Crusoe), have possessed the same, unchanging qualities (egoism and the capacity to calculate and make choices that benefit themselves).  The construct built on these foundations -- the "market economy" -- therefore does not correspond to a stylized formulation of the world of historical and real capitalism.  It constructs an imaginary system into which it integrates almost nothing of the essentials of the capitalist reality.

Marx's Capital unmasks the ideological nature (in the functional sense of the word) of this construct of vulgar economics since Frédéric Bastiat and Jean-Baptiste Say, whose function has been simply to legitimize the existing social order, likening it to a "natural and rational order."  The later theories of value -- utility and the general economic equilibrium, developed in response to Marx in the last third of the nineteenth century, as well as those of their heir, contemporary mathematicized economics, described as classic, neoclassic, liberal, neoliberal (the name does not really matter) -- do not diverge from the framework defined by the basic principles of vulgar economics.

The discourse of vulgar economics helps to meet the requirements of the production and reproduction of actually existing capitalism.  It promotes, above everything else, a eulogy of "competition," considered as the essential condition of "progress."  It denies this attribute to solidarity (in spite of examples from history), which is confined to a straitjacket of compassion and charity.  It can be competition between "producers" (i.e. capitalists, without really taking the oligopolistic form of contemporary capitalist production into consideration) or between "workers" (which assumes that the unemployed, or the "poor," are responsible for their situation).  The exclusivity of "competition" is reinforced by the new language ("social partners," instead of classes in conflict) as well as by practices -- of, among others, the European Union Civil Service Tribunal, which is a fierce partisan of the dismantling of trade unions, an obstacle to competition between workers.

The adoption of the exclusive principle of competition also invites society to support the aim of building a "consensus" that excludes the imagination of "another society" based on solidarity.  This ideology of the consensus society, which is well on the way to being adopted in Europe, destroys the transformative impact of the democratic message.  It conveys the libertarian right-wing message that considers the State -- of whatever stripe -- as "the enemy of freedom" (which should be interpreted as the enemy of the freedom of enterprise of capital) and divorces the practice of castrated democracy from social progress.

20 December 2013

US Labor Law


Sidney Horowitz’ Booklet, Chapter 6

 Woody Guthrie: “This machine kills fascists”

Chapter 6

US Labor Law

Chapter V discusses laws regulating actions of workers and employers in the “free” job market. This chapter is about labor law, which confers a legal status on unions and establishes the collective bargaining rights and responsibilities of unions and employers.

The Wagner Act (NLRA) and the Taft-Hartley Act – Opposite Intentions

In 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression of 1929, Congress passed the historic National Labor Relations Act (NLRA, or “Wagner Act”). The NLRA not only protected workers from being fired for union activism (Chapter V); it also granted legal recognition to unions and collective bargaining. Congress passed the Act to end waves of historic industry-wide and city-wide (general) strikes that were severely disrupting production, commerce, and profits.

The Wagner Act established the right of private-sector workers to organize unions of their own choice, to picket, and to strike. To protect these rights from employer opposition, it defined many employer actions as “unfair labor practices.” Thus, it became illegal for employers to discriminate against (fire, demote, etc.) workers who joined unions and participated in “protected” union activities, including the right to strike. It also said employers could not dominate, interfere with, or give financial support to a union. And, it said employers could not refuse to bargain (in good faith) with leaders the workers had chosen.

The Wagner Act established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to interpret and enforce the NLRA. As various American presidents have led the country, they have appointed new members to the NLRB, with the result that the NLRB has remade – again and again – regulations that affect the relative strengths of labor and capital. In addition, courts have made, and remade, decisions as to what the law provides. The result is an “evolving labor law.”

In 1947, in the midst of the Cold War and coordinated industry-wide strikes by the newly organized unions, corporations attacked the Wagner Act as giving too much power to unions. The Republican Party majority in Congress then passed the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act, as a series of amendments to the NLRA. The T-H Act (Labor Management Relations Act, or LMRA) reduced union rights and increased employer rights. For the past 65 years, the T-H Act (as amended) has remained the nation’s most important labor law.

Union Rights, Limitations, and Misconduct

The Taft-Hartley added union “unfair labor practices” to the already-existing employer “unfair labor practices” in the NLRA. Some rules correspond to the employer unfair labor practices. Thus, unions cannot attempt to compel employees to join and/or participate in union activities. And, they must bargain collectively (in good faith) with employers.

The Taft-Hartley also bans many important union activities and forms of struggle, calling them “unfair labor practices.” These restrictions prevent unions from organizing new members and expressing their strength effectively, on both economic and political issues:

1.      Unions cannot engage in “secondary boycotts,” which are boycotts against employers that process or sell goods produced by a company that is involved in a strike. A boycott occurs when people refuse to use, buy, or deal with a company as an expression of protest or disfavor.
2.      Unions cannot engage in “secondary” (“sympathy” or “solidarity”) strikes to help other unions when they are on strike for their own wages and benefits. This outlaws general strikes, in an industry or geographic area. Especially in the era of huge companies with many production/sales/service sites, the right to conduct general strikes is very important.
3.      Mass picketing is illegal, preventing workers from displaying their collective membership power. Only “informational” picketing by small groups is legal.
4.      Political strikes (to influence government actions, including law-making) are not “protected” strikes by the T-H Act, so unions can be sued and workers fired for participating.
5.      The Act excludes supervisory employees from its coverage, so supervisors remain non-union and unable to participate in strikes. In addition, the Act does not consider independent contractors to be “employees” and does not give them the right to form labor unions.
6.      The Supreme Court (1938)[i] ruled that employers can “permanently replace” workers who strike, even though striking is a “protected act” and is the heart of union power. This decision, which employers began to use in the 1980s, has crippled most unions’ ability to strike.

Employers can sue unions for engaging in any “unfair labor practice.” For example, if autoworker local union “B” strikes to support striking local autoworker union “A,” employer “B” can sue union “B” for economic and punitive damages – and can fire “B” members who went on strike. Also, if a union does not obey a judge’s order (injunction) to end a strike, the government can sue the union and jail its leadership for violating a court order.

After a union has won a representation election within a (bargaining) unit of workers, showing that it has majority support (from those who voted), it then has the “right of exclusive representation” for that bargaining unit. Neither individual workers nor minority unions can bargain with the employer. Whatever bargaining agreement is achieved applies to all workers in that unit but not to other workers and employers in the industry.

In return for the “right of exclusive representation,” majority unions have the “duty of fair representation.” This means they must represent and defend all workers in the bargaining unit, including workers who do not like the union or its leadership.

Unions try hard to negotiate contracts that include a “union security” clause requiring all workers covered by the contract to pay dues and join the union. The T-A Act (Section 14b) allows individual states to pass “right-to-work” laws outlawing these “union security” clauses, and 22[ii] states have done so. If the contract does not have a union security clause, some workers do not join the union, preferring to keep their monthly dues (1.5-2.5 hours of pay) in their own pockets. Union supporters call these “right-to-work-for-less” laws since they weaken unions.

Employer Rights

The Taft-Hartley Act provides employers with extremely important rights. These include:
            1. The “free speech” right to campaign against unions during union organizing campaigns and afterward. This includes holding “captive audience meetings” with employees to convince them to oppose unionization.
            2. The right to “lock out” employees, which is the employer’s “strike.”
            3. The right to sue unions for committing “unfair labor practices.” If they win, they can bankrupt the unions.

Public Employees

Federal law allows national government employees to organize unions but denies them the right to strike – and it narrowly limits what subjects they can negotiate. The nation’s 50 states each pass their own labor laws for state and local government employees. In almost all cases, these employees also are denied the right to strike, but most can negotiate a wide range of issues.

Discussion Questions

1. Is the right to join a union a human right? Why?
2. Is the right to strike a human right? Why?

[i] N.L.R.B. v. Mackay Radio & Telegraph Co., 304 U.S. 333, 2 L.R.R.M. 610 (1938).