workers freedom

economics as if workers mattered

Monthly Archives: September 2016

A rigged system

In “The Labor Party Illusion,” Sam Dolgoff notes the enormous practical difficulties facing any effort to reshape the government in the interests of the majority through electoral action. The system is quite literally rigged, through artful drawing of electoral districts, restrictions on the franchise (even today, millions of Americans are denied the “right” to vote based on lack of a drivers’ license, legal status, lack of a fixed address, or past criminal convictions), a governmental structure deliberately designed to restrain the majority (the Federalist Papers are quite clear about this), and of course the role of money. (He also points out that even were it practical to place workers’ “representatives” in charge, this would neither bring about a democratic society nor result in fundamental social transformation — the state is an organ for controlling the majority, and as long as a few control society’s wealth, the politicians will do their bidding.)

Lest anyone think this is a historical problem, the Sept. 26 Business Week notes that were presidents elected the same way Congressional representatives are, Mitt Romney would have won the White House in a landslide in 2012 (instead of losing by 3.5 million votes). Congressional districts have been carefully drawn to minimize the influence of workers and racial minorities. Although both houses of Congress are firmly in Republican hands, Democrats (not that they’re much better) routinely receive far more votes for their candidates.

Although it seems she’s doing her level best to lose (like Al Gore before her), it still seems likely that Hillary Clinton will be elected president. This will mean a larger military budget, more bombs dropped on the heads of our fellow workers around the world, more people in prison, and a continuation of the all-out assault on the tattered remains of our social safety net. (Trump offers a more reckless version of the same, flavored with lightly veiled promises to reinforce white supremacy.) But there is practically no chance of the Democrats taking over the House, and so the political struggles of the next four years will be between Hillary’s ruthless conservatism and the even-more-violent reactionaries in Congress.

Unless, of course, we organize a real movement in our workplaces and communities, and use direct action to get the goods.

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New ASR Available

ASR 68 (Fall 2016)

Forced into the “gig economy”

Last year, one of my daughter’s teachers worked as a waitress on the side, in order to keep up with the bills and student loan payments. When the administrators pushed her around one time too many (they closed our neighborhood school so the state could sell the building, so we’re in a charter and the teachers aren’t in the union, which has gone years working under an expired contract with no pay raises), she quit, figuring she could make as much waiting tables as teaching, and with a lot less aggravation.

This week’s Nation has an interesting article about teachers spending their evenings and weekends driving for Uber and Lyft, so they can make their rent and car payments. (Alissa Quart, “Driven to Extremes,” Sept. 26, pp. 22-25) Many are veteran teachers unable to make ends meet in some of the country’s wealthiest cities. They grade papers and prep classes while waiting for calls.

Uber has a division focused on reaching out to underpaid teachers, allegedly as an act of “civic altruism.” Teachers can’t make ends meet, and so Uber offers them a chance to work longer hours at even less pay! A teacher on Uber’s website puts it this way:

Every day teachers are asked to do more with less, constantly faced with new challenges and limited resources. Uber opens the door for more possibilities and delivers a meaningful impact to the communities we serve.

And as Uber cuts payments to drivers, they can always give up the apartment, move their stuff into the car trunk, and keep taking fares all night long. For the bosses, it’s a win-win situation. For the rest of us, it’s a sign of the times…

Economy Booming – For the Top 5%

U.S. Census data released in mid-September shows that 2015 wages rose significantly for the well-off; a result newspapers heralded as strong wage increases that were pulling millions out of poverty. Although wages for the top 5 percent are up 3 percent since the onset of the Great Recession in 2007, those in the bottom fifth are still down 5.2 percent in inflation-adjusted income. (Workers in the bottom 80 percent have lost ground across the board, but the poorest workers were hit the hardest.) And while women workers are now making more than they were in 1973, though still significantly less than their male counterparts, men’s wages are $2,152 less, after inflation, than in 1973. (The Economic Policy Institute has an unduly optimistic take here.)

The growth in 2015 income is mostly attributed to workers taking on more hours, often in the form of second jobs, and partly to what the government claims was 0% inflation (though those having to pay rent, go to the hospital, or buy groceries will likely have had a different experience).