inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #51 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Fri 13 May 11 12:51
    
Mark, thanks for alerting me to that.  
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #52 of 131: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 13 May 11 14:32
    
Hey, I test software and do usability studies for a living.  Don't
mention it. ;-)
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #53 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Fri 13 May 11 14:55
    
These are undoubtedly hard times for labor, Angie, as the state is
clearly trying to "resolve" the economic crisis, and the debts incurred
from massive bailouts, by cutting back or laying off public sector
workers.  Periods of high unemployment are often difficult times for
labor to organize, since the pool of people who might take your job if
you strike is significantly enlarged.  And as you say, lack of
information about labor history and a lack of awareness of the value of
the commons add to these challenges, especially for workers in the
public sector.

But if one thinks back to the 1930s, crises can also be times when the
labor movement can reinvent itself (as it did then, creating new forms
of labor organizing and new strategies like the sit down strike).  

One hopes that this may ultimately happen during this crisis, since
the labor movement is in such sorry shape: union density is at the
lowest levels in almost 100 years in this country and the old model of
trade unionism -- often dubbed "business unionism" -- has not
strengthened labor's collective power.  Unions have focused too much on
helping just the workers within their union, rather than workers in
other unions or the majority of workers who are not unionized.  And
many unions have been happy to make deals with management and channel
workers' dues towards Democratic Party candidates, which have left them
largely unwilling to mount militant campaigns, unlikely to be involved
in direct action, and isolated them from the wider community that
might support them.

Wisconsin has been very interesting in so many ways. It was sparked by
rank and file graduate student workers, who had no compunction about
taking direct action and occupying the Capitol building. And then
teachers used another radical tactic -- a wildcat strike, by
collectively calling in sick.  All of these things were outside of
mainstream organized labor's playbook.  The kinds of support they
inspired from the wider community was stunning.  

But unfortunately at the end of the day, the old ways of doing things
won out.  The leadership of the unions called off the direct action,
told people to leave the Capitol building, and put their energies yet
again into electoral politics, in this case re-call campaigns, rather
than seriously considering a general strike, which even the head of the
Madison firefighters union endorsed.  (Interestingly, the national
firefighters union shortly thereafter announced that they would no
longer give money to candidates in federal elections, because the
Democrats weren't fighting for union workers.)
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #54 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Fri 13 May 11 14:57
    
Angie, I'm so glad you've brought up the ideas of Ursula Huws, who is
one of the most interesting thinkers on the left in my opinion.  She
talks about the inherent drive within capitalism to constantly create
more commodities, often out of activities that were previously done
outside of the market.  So for example, unwaged food preparation in the
home becomes a service one pays for -- restaurants and catering -- and
then leads to a tangible commodity: the packaged meal.  

What Huws argues is that there can be political consequences to this
trajectory, that the transition from people performing for each other,
to going to the movie theatre, to watching DVDs in one's own home, has
reinforced our isolation from one another.  This is coupled with the
erosion of public spaces, which disappear in the drive to privatize and
sell off everything, or semi-public spaces (like bookstores or public
transport).  

Huws suggests that if we don't encounter each other, we can't share
our experiences, think of our experiences as collective ones, and
perhaps decide to take action together. (Technology like the internet,
however, seems to play a dual role: it both isolates people from each
other and brings some people together who would otherwise not encounter
each other.)
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #55 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Fri 13 May 11 15:11
    
A question for you all: would you mind it if I repost some of your
questions on my blog?  I can do it anonymously (although you can let me
know if you would rather I attribute your question to you by name). 
Let me know if you would NOT want your question reposted on my blog and
I shall act accordingly.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #56 of 131: David Gans (tnf) Fri 13 May 11 15:23
    
The default is to not permit this, as I know you've been informed; but the
general tendency is to say yes when asked.

You are welcome to repost my words if you so desire.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #57 of 131: . (wickett) Fri 13 May 11 15:52
    

You are welcome to post my words, also, but without attribution, please, 
beyond an initial.

Tony Judt talked a lot about "visual representations of collective
identity," in _Ill Fares the Land_."  We had our face-to-face 
rituals--such as going to the Post Office for our mail or our pension-- 
that have now been replaced by "friends" or "communities" across the 
world.  Yet, we remain local persons, electing politicians within specified 
borders.  
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #58 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Fri 13 May 11 16:30
    
I should have phrased that a bit better.  I certainly will not repost
anything unless I have the explicit permission of the poster.  But do
tell me if you prefer that I post your words with just initials or
anonymously.  The level of discourse here on The Well has really
impressed me and that's what motivated my query about reposting.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #59 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Fri 13 May 11 17:42
    
While I haven't read the Judt book, Wickett, I do think that the ways
our lives are structured, in and out of work, have a significant impact
on the potential for us to come together collectively.

A young writer called Jim Straub published a very interesting article
several years ago about the inverse relationship between union
membership and membership in evangelical churches in the Midwest.  He
argued that as unions have been declining as a result of
deindustrialization, conservative evangelical churches have stepped
into the void left by them.  These mega-churches offer people social
supports of various kinds, at a time when public services and the
social safety net have been cut back, such as childcare, job help,
money, as well as a face-to-face sociability.  I think that there is a
visceral need that people have for such tangible, in-person communality
and that the left should take heed of this.  

That isn't to suggest that the internet can't add to such feelings of
solidarity.  During my short foray into The Well, I've been impressed
both by how smart and how amicable the conversations appear to be here.
 What I've seen bucks the conventional wisdom that the internet -- and
the left -- don't bring out the best in people.  While I don't want to
take the conversation too far afield, I'd love to know why you all
think that's not the case here.   The lack of anonymity can only be a
partial answer, I would think.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #60 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 13 May 11 21:15
    
Don't think I've said anything worth reposting, but sure you can if
you like; with initials please.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #61 of 131: Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Sat 14 May 11 08:11
    
Ditto about my comments.  Quite right about evangelical churches
providing these services.  Sarah Posner's book, God's Profits, alerted
me to this.  The painful irony is that many of these churches were GOP
recruiting grounds, especially during the Rove era, and as wage
stagnation, non-military job prospects, and access to higher education
worsened under GOP policies, the parishioners depended on their
churches even more.   
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #62 of 131: David Gans (tnf) Sat 14 May 11 10:21
    
And those churches sold them out by encouraging them to vote in the
plutocrats' interest rather than the community's.

Sasha, I think accountability is the single most important factor in the
generally civil tone of the WELL.  The fact that people pay to be here is
also important; people are extremely unlikely to pay a hundred bucks a year
for a place to spraypaint.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #63 of 131: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 14 May 11 10:30
    
You can post my words, but I'd prefer anonymous or initials also.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #64 of 131: David Wilson (dlwilson) Sat 14 May 11 12:28
    
you can post mine too.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #65 of 131: Angie (coiro) Sat 14 May 11 13:27
    
Since this is a worldwide viewable public conference, Sasha, feel free
to quote me. You can also just link to the whole thing.

One thing I admire about so much of your book is the refusal to treat
issues, people, and groups with a sweeping good/bad brush. Let's apply
that to unions. I doubt too many people here would argue that labor
unions are conceptually good and necessary to a fair economic
structure. But in practice, we see in unions sometimes the same faults
we do in other elements: power struggles, money grabbing, corruption.
In some egregious cases (locally, the MUNI transit union comes to
mind*), the power of the union can actually interfere with the best
possible product and service reaching the consumer.

The economic fall is both challenge and opportunity for wider
unionization. But what has to happen *within* the unions to make best
possible outcome universally and in terms of service as important as
the standing of the individual employee? How do we (and I include
myself, as a union organizer and proponent) show the public that what's
best for the union IS best for the larger society, and eliminate those
instances where that hasn't been the case?

*Example:
<http://blogs.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2010/09/muni_union_seeking_injunction.php>


For another questionable result of union power, see
<http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/16/nyregion/16rubber.html>
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #66 of 131: Angie (coiro) Sat 14 May 11 13:39
    
On another note - I couldn't help but think of this discussion today,
when I saw this headline from the New York Times:

Health Insurers Making Record Profits as Many Postpone Care

Companies continue to press for higher premiums, saying they need
protection against any sudden uptick in demand once people have more
money to spend on their health.


Story at <http://is.gd/o7YUnw>

In other words: thank god, consumers can't afford to get the care they
need right now. We're raking in the gold.  But just in case the
economy improves, and people start demanding what they're paying for,
we need MORE MONEY.

Once I stopped vomiting, I had two thoughts:

1.) Kudos to the Times for putting the insurer's demands succinctly in
context; and

2.) I can't wait to hear what Sasha's got to say about this.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #67 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Sat 14 May 11 23:11
    
Unions have not done themselves a lot of favors in quite a while.  As
I mentioned earlier, the structure of unions has been very problematic,
and many of their leaders have often been very cosy with management --
along with out and out corruption in some cases -- making some bizarre
deals in the process.  These deals are ultimately not good for their
workers and can be alienating to everyone else.  As a friend who heads
up a progressive East Coast union puts it, over the past 30 years,
unions have acted in many ways like a special interest -- asking for
narrow sectoral protections -- so it shouldn't come as a surprise that
they are easily smeared as a special interest now. 

This is an extremely difficult time for unions.  They're being
demonized by politicians and much of the media, while facing some of
the most aggressive anti-union legislation and cuts to their members. 
They've been making concessions about wages and benefits for years, to
the point where for many unions, there's not a lot left to give up. 
But if they're not seen to be making concessions, they're attacked for
being greedy. And unions are being pitted against each other,
especially private sector against public sector unions.  (Perhaps it's
not entirely surprising that some private sector unions have been
reluctant to come out for public sector workers, since public sector
workers didn't come out for them when they were under attack in
previous years.) 

This is really the time that labor should make it clear that their
interests are the interests of the public at large (your grandmother
deserves medical care from someone who's not forced to give
assembly-line type treatment, your kids should be taught in small
classes, union workers wages can lift the wages of non-union workers --
the examples are endless).  They also need to fight for those who
don't have union protections (the vast majority of workers), the
unemployed, and those who rely on the services union workers provide,
and make it clear that that's what they're doing. 

Some of that is happening.  Here in California, alliances have been
forged between education workers, staff, and students, who have seen
their tuition skyrocket and classes disappear.  Wisconsin, of course,
epitomized that spirit.  A clear majority of Americans support
collective bargaining rights and polls show most US workers would
prefer to be in a union if given the choice.  So despite the
demonization, much of the public gets it.  But those in unions need to
extend their work and solidarity outward.

And unions, as I've said earlier, need to find ways to reinvent
themselves and jettison the old ways of doing things, which ultimately
must come from inside unions themselves.  One example of such reform
efforts, for a union which is more bottom up, not interested in making
sweetheart deals, and oriented to the wider community -- can be seen
with the small but feisty National Union of Healthcare Workers. 
Another is the reform caucus -- Academic Workers for a Democratic Union
-- which just swept the leadership of the UAW local that represents
graduate students in the UC system.

http://counterpunch.org/winslow05132011.html

http://www.awdu.org/with-votes-counted-a-changed-union
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #68 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Sun 15 May 11 00:15
    
How appallingly cynical the health insurance industry is, Angie.  But
it's not too surprising.  That sort of thing is happening everywhere.

One of the themes of my book is how economic crises can be beneficial
for the business class (at least those who manage not to go bankrupt). 
Aside from wiping out competitors, businesses can take advantage of
workers who are desperate to hold onto their jobs (or to not spend
money on high deductibles and co-payments in this case). 

What we've seen, following the collapse of corporate profits at the
start of the crisis, is that profits have gone through the roof in the
last several years.  They're as high as they've ever been.  (In the 3rd
quarter of last year, US corporate profits were the highest measured
since the government starting keeping records -- over 60 years ago:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/24/business/economy/24econ.html). 
Workers are working harder and faster -- labor productivity is soaring
-- but no one feels secure enough to demand higher wages.  Since 2008,
the cost of labor in the US has had its sharpest cumulative decline
since the 1950s.

One can analyze the resulting vast upward transfer of wealth by any
number of measures, but one way is to look at the luxury goods sector. 
Its sales are skyrocketing.  In 2010, the world's largest luxury goods
group had sales jump by an unprecedented 19%.  Someone's doing well,
but it's not most of us.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #69 of 131: Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Sun 15 May 11 02:09
    

Sasha, what unions have you belonged to and what were your experiences?
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #70 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Sun 15 May 11 13:46
    
My personal experiences with unions have been very positive, Lena. 
I'm a member of the Communications Workers of America Local 9415, where
I'm an elected shop steward for our bargaining unit (which is my
second stint as union steward for CWA).  My workplace, KPFA Radio, is
famously dysfunctional, to say the least.  While we're a small
bargaining unit within CWA, the larger union has consistently come out
for us, through all our trials and tribulations -- which I'm afraid
have been many at this point. 

And we've received tremendous support from workers in other unions,
from people walking our picket lines to taking up our cause in myriad
other ways.  I recently went to a meeting of the Alameda County Central
Labor Council to talk about the challenges that workers at KPFA are
facing, and rank and file workers from a wide variety of unions jumped
up to make donations to KPFA, in order to help us during our fund
drive. Unions are one of the few places where the notion of solidarity
is a fundamental value (whether or not its effectively practiced) and
during a time like this they're needed more than ever.  But, as has
been mentioned before, for their own survival they need to reorient
themselves. 
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #71 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Tue 17 May 11 17:37
    
I just realized, Ted, that I didn't answer your question a little
while back about whether the outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries
has made American elites less concerned about the wellbeing of people
in the US.

I'm not so sure that the location of production is the main problem. 
I think there is a basic divide between the interests of those in the
business class and the rest of us, whether manufacturing is going on
overseas, or whether we're producing services domestically (which most
of us are doing).
 
I think you zeroed in on the problem when you wrote that "corporations
survive by returning a profit to their shareholders."  That involves
squeezing both folks abroad and those of us here (as I alluded to
earlier when I wrote about how the rate of profit in the US is as high
as it's been in 60 odd years, while workers in the US are working at an
incredibly fast rate).  

At the level of national politics, those in both parties are following
policies that favor those corporations and businesses (which shouldn't
be surprising, since both parties are funded by those corporations and
are enmeshed in their world).  In the case of the Republicans, they're
somewhat more forthright about their goals.  In the case of the
Democrats, they talk about how much they don't want to do these things
-- tax breaks for the wealthy, cuts to essential social welfare
programs, etc -- and then they go along with them anyhow. 
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #72 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 17 May 11 18:37
    
Thanks for that....Alvin Toffler warned us back in the 80's in his
book Third Wave,(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_Wave_(book))
that America would become a service sector economy...amazing to see
that occur. It sort of works, but how do you educate high school and
college people for service sector jobs...why would you? It's one of the
reasons so many high schools look more like vocational tech training
facilities, and that's ok, it's where the work actually is for the
great majority of kids coming up...BUT, there's no economic future in
that - no benefits, no american dream, just a comfortable rut and a
daily grind. Is that the kind of culture, country and future we want
for ourselves? I think not. So, part of progressive political strategy
should be to encourage entrepreneurial skills while kids are still in
high school....in this capitalist society the only future is in
starting your own business built around who you are, your own dreams
and hopes for creating your own future.

In those terms, it isn't any different than the sub-text of the
message sent out by Ronald Reagan back in the day: "You're on your own,
your government is not here to help you." And actually, I like that
message when it is not tempered by fear, and fundamentalism.

We have to start where we are and address the problems as we identigy
them, and more importantly, let those in need speak to us, rather than
imposing our ideologies on them.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #73 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 17 May 11 19:03
    
"At the level of politics" I'm disheartened, disgusted and
disillusioned. I have just about lost all of my 60's idealism (probably
should have lost it in the 60's!!) and have had to read and reread the
Zinn Reader countless times to balance out the tripe I was handed in
high school.

I was active at the beginning of Move On and Democracy for America and
now am currently looking at No Labels...but don't hold out much hope
for any changes in Washington, which can only be called and seen as a
poisonous well of political disfunction in this country. If our
founding fathers and mothers were here today I have no doubt that they
would burn the place down. And I am not advocating that. It is a
cesspool and truly the home of the chief enemies of our Constitution
and Bill of Rights.

We should all be required to apply for citizenship and take our
classes and rediscover the values upon which our country was built.
Perhaps we might arrive at a national consensus of what we are about as
a country. We have all sat home on our sofas and let Washington lead
us off course for far too long. And then we should all get a seat on
the Endeavor, to look back at this 'big blue marble' and meditate on
the fact that we are all on the same "e-ticket" ride and have to pay
the piper for global warming, climate change, fundamentalism and
fanaticism, and all the rest of the dynamics destroying our planet.

(Cue all of the 60's music, especially Bob Dylan, Donovan, Cat
Stevens, Steve Miller, and on and on).

I'm not naive enough not to know that we all envision different
courses for our Ship of State. Right now, I think we can agree, She is
seriously off her moorings and as the old phrase we used to use when we
learned to type has it, "Now is the time for all good people to come
to the aid of their country." I'ld extend that now to "and to the aid
of their planet."

So much for platitudes, there is a lot of work to be done.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #74 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 17 May 11 19:08
    
One last shot over the bow, before I go:

This just in!:
Republican Tom Coburn, one of the Senate's leading fiscal
conservatives, told reporters he was dropping out of the bipartisan
"Gang of Six" after months of meetings.

"We can't bridge the gap between what actually needs to happen and
what people will allow to happen," Coburn said.
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/18/us-usa-debt-idUSTRE74E1HD20110518

He could have said that as the operating dynamic for just about
everything right now, not just the deficit. As Walter Cronkite used to
end his news show, "And that's the way it is."
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #75 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 17 May 11 19:38
    
I miswrote, just one more link:

Global Party for Systems Theoretic Government
Where else but on Facebook, which is actually becoming a rather
interesting site for links these days. Who'ld have guessed?

http://www.facebook.com/GPSTG
  

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