Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Fri 13 May 11 12:51
Mark, thanks for alerting me to that.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 13 May 11 14:32
Hey, I test software and do usability studies for a living. Don't mention it. ;-)
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
. (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 14 May 11 10:30
You can post my words, but I'd prefer anonymous or initials also.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Sat 14 May 11 12:28
you can post mine too.
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>
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.
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
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.
Lena M. Diethelm (lendie) Sun 15 May 11 02:09
Sasha, what unions have you belonged to and what were your experiences?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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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