politics is to want something

tirsdag, februar 27, 2007

The Democratic Party | Help the Democratic Majority Pass the Employee Free Choice Act

The Democratic Party | Help the Democratic Majority Pass the Employee Free Choice Act

And, it's on. Write in now to show your support for a democratic workplace!

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tirsdag, februar 20, 2007

...F a MAC

Apple boss slams US teachers' unions - Education - Macworld UK: "Associated Press reports that Jobs was sharing the stage with Dell CEO Michael Dell. Both men were discussing their vision of how digital technologies can boost educational achievement."

This just in from my esteemed colleague Erik Love over at The Most Important Blog...Ever. I hate to sound like a broken record, constantly harping on the anti-union attitudes of the tech class and their intellectual heroes. However, it's just so bad up there in Silicon Valley and Seattle that I just can't help it.

Here we have Steve Jobs being his usual heroic, giant-slaying self, taking a break from fighting for market share against Microsoft by attacking the greedy and shiftless teachers unions. They impede technological development and protect "bad teachers", according to educational and industrial relations expert Jobs. Michael Dell demurred, saying that the only reason there are unions is because of bad employers. These two statements encapsulate the thinking about unions and the labor movement dominant in the technoclass: at worse they are anachronistic and get in the way of progress, at best they are an understandable but unfortunate reaction to bad employer behavior. Of course, in the utopian world of the new economy, employers are nice and generous. They even let you wear sneakers to work.

There is a lot of interesting work being done around organizing high-tech and freelance labor, a move that will require some creativity and flexiblity on the part of existing unions. Barbara Ehrenreich has been an outspoken advocate of opening the labor movement up to skilled, contingent and high tech workers even when traditional collective bargaining agreements are not on the short term agenda. The Freelancer's Union, the UAW's National Writers Union, and even the AFL-CIO's Working America are all related to this effort. The Communication Workers have been organizing computer programmers around health care and job security. Unions are necessary wherever there are employees. Period. This is especially true in the insecure and volatile world of the old "new economy".

However, the assumption that employers and employees in the tech industry have some kind of special relationship that differs from the traditional manufacturing or service sector is dangerous and wide-spread. I'm skeptical of this notion: the tech sector is undergirded by brutal working conditions and environmental insanity in the "hardware" industry, the cult of flexibility has burned up thousands of worker's benefits, capital speculation caused a crash that took the whole economy with it, and programmers are increasingly "proletarianized" through outsourcing and insane work speedups. Bosses in jeans are bosses. They may be nicer in some ways than the Wal-Mart CEO, but they operate in the same market under the same logic.

The Center for American Progress recently underwrote a study by consultants Celinda Lake and Jim Grossfeld on attitudes toward work and unions among high tech workers. They found that the insecurity of the industry has created a wide opening for labor organizing, but that Silcon Valley employees want unions which, among other tings, are geared toward cooperation with management. An article based on their findings appeared online at TAP. It's quite interesting. There is an old debate within both academia and the labor movement about "white collar" workers and their attitudes toward and "identification" with management. Many have argued there are huge differences between such workers and agricultural, service or industrial employees. This may or may not be empericaly true, and it's an open question as to whether this is a convenient mythology or describes some actual difference of conditions.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that the engineers at Boeing don't see themselves as having a special relationship with the company that tried to gut their health care and wages a few years back. At one point in time, Henry Ford was seen as the scion of a new, generous paternalistic capitalism that didn't need unions. Thank god that his employees had the bravery to strongly disagree. We all benefited from the prosperity they helped wrest from the coffers of American business. Even Steve Jobs.


fredag, februar 16, 2007

ucsb represents....

Student activists pulled off a major victory here at UCSB, mobilizing 1000+ students to skip class and march against the Iraq war. Erik Love has a rundown over on the Most Important Blog...Ever. Included in his report are pictures of the "counter demonstration" semi-organized by the College Republicans. Their statement? Drinking beer and eating hamburgers, as well as hoisting three flags in "opposition" to the march: The United States. The POW-MIA flag. A Bud Light flag.

I am always amazed when people play right into our lazy stereotypes. The CR's paid for the beer and hamburgers. That was their political act: an affirmation of both political and cultural nationalism. Support the war. Eat meat. Drink Bud Light.

Collegate conservatism is, at it's core, a cultural movement- an explicit rejection of all things "radical" or "countercultural". While there is an organized campus right that is at least as ideologically sophisticated as the campus left (for better or worse), what dominates is a high-school style reaction by the "jocks" against the "freaks". I am reminded of scenes in the Strawberry Statement, a flawed but well-written account of the Columbia University uprising in the late 1960's. While radical students occupied buildings, jocks and frat boys surrounded them in phalanxes, and attacked those trying to ferry food and water to the protesters. These guys with their patriotic bar-b-q are replaying those roles, just as yesterday's protesters perpetuated 60's cultural trappings, slogans and tactics.

The campus right is xenophobic, homophobic, mysoginistic, classist and racist. It is also, however, somewhat populist, playing into a generalized alienation by average students from outlandish, cliquish, "activist" culture. That's the point behind a counter demonstration that features beer and a grill. It says: "Regular people like America, beer and beef. Those freaks out there are just being freaky for its own sake."

It's not surprising that such a tactic doesn't fly so well here at UCSB, where hyper patriotism is generally uncool. However, in general, it has been an effective strategy by the right in exoticizing and marginalizing the left on campus and off.

I don't want to overplay the cultural to the exclusion of the political. College Republicans and their audience have dangerous politics, and are being trained to bring those politics into the corporate institutions they aspire to join. However, the trick for the campus left is always to insure that it doesn't also fixate on cultural differences on campus. What was great about these scenes from yesterday's marches are how goddamned normal so many of the protesters look. I'm all for free expression, but the left doesn't get anywhere if it simply plays into its own marginalization. So, by all means, let your freak flag fly, but create a safe space for the 'normals' as well. You shouldn't have to make a lifestyle choice in order to be on the right side. Successfully doing that is what makes the frat boy right, at school and in the broader political culture, look so stupid.


EFCA Introduced


This week the Employee Free Choice Act was passed through committee and on to the full House for deliberation and hearings. Here's a fairly comprehensive article about it.

Opposition from business groups and their buddies in Congress will be fierce, no doubt. Already last year the Center for Union Facts began a "grassroots" campaign against the reform, including taking out full page ads in major newspapers comparing union leaders to Kim Il Sung and Joseph Stalin. Nice.

The hearings should be exciting, and a great opportunity to highlight the authoritarian nature of the modern American workplace.


tirsdag, februar 06, 2007

news briefs

Gavin Newsom, Playboy

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is in trouble. He has admitted that, while in the middle of a divorce, he had an affair with a staffer. As if that wasn't enough of a jerk move, the staffer in question was the wife of his campaign manager. All of this is hot on the heels of a mini scandal last fall in which Newsom was dating a 20-year-old Paris Hilton look alike who he probably bought alcohol for. Now, in what seems like a new tradition for celebrities caught with the cookies, Newsom is claiming to have a drinking problem. Apparently, alcoholism causes everything from infidelity to homosexuality to making racist comments. Who knew.
Personally, I don't care that much that Newsom is clearly a jerk who can't keep his dick in his pants. Just as I didn't care that Bill Clinton was playing around with Monica, I worry that we've gone too far as a society in scruitinizing the private lives of public figures. I don't vote for people to be moral symbols.
However, I think it is a lot easier for me to shrug off these sorts of things as a man. I would think twice about voting for someone who made racist or sexist comments off the cuff, as Governor Schwarzenegger has on numerous occasions. Such things are, in a way, a window into their view of the world. Why should I be any less bothered by Newsom's behavior? It seems possible that Newsom's view of women is something less than solidaristic. I'm not implying that infidelity is an exclusively male or sexist event, it's just that in Newsom's case there seems to be a pattern of viewing women as conquests and arm candy.
What is clear, however, is that Newsom should have known better. There were (are) a lot of hopes riding on him. Personally, I've been impressed with his creativity when it comes to social policy, as well as his loyalty to the party at the state level. While legislative leaders lined up to stab Phil Angelides in the back, Newsom held the line. This might have been a function of his own palace strategies vis a vis rival (and admitted adulterer) Antonio Villaraigosa, but that's to be expected. The point is that he has been a good mayor and was a rising star in the California Democratic Party. To the extent that this weakens him as a leader, it was wildly irresponsible.
You don't see female leaders doing such stupid things, and that's the point here. When women get to positions of power, it is generally through a hell of a lot of hard work, and they seem to take seriously how much is riding on them in terms of resources and hopes. Men seem to take power for granted, willing to squander it on stupid things like laying their camaign manager's wife. Women can be just as stupid, blinkered and self centered as men, but they do seem less likely to be quite so arrogant.

Health Care Blindspot

John Edwards released his health care reform plan today. It claims to be a universal plan, and, like the Governor's will require health insurance just as most states require car insurance. What's screwy about both Edwards' and Arnolds' schemes, however, is that they are built around a complex system of subsidies to insurance companies, outlays from citizens and employer mandates. It remains a gigantic mystery to me that we keep debating these arcane and piecemeal proposals in an age in which the US auto industry is paying more for health care than steel, in which a majority of the population favors universal coverage, and in which everyone seems to be begging for a "bold" policy iniative on the part of the Democrats. All of this, but real universal health care is still off the table.

The only mainstream voice I hear speaking the sensible truth about health care is Al Gore. At press time, however, Gore isn't running for office.

Speaking of Arnold's plan, I found it amusing that so much was made of the Governor's Austrian background as a reason for his commitment to universal health care. "I guess it's a cultural thing", the Governor said. He was just "used" to having health care coverage in Austria.

This is hilarious coming from the guy who said that leaving gray, "socialistic" Austria to come to the freedom of Richard Nixon's America was inspiring.

It's not a cultural thing, Arnold. Your friends in the Republican Party have been fighting universal health care since the 1930's. Like you, they've attacked it and everything they don't like as anti-freedom and pro-socialist.

It's all just so Alanis Morissett-style "ironic".


...more on the "libertarian democrat"

So, here's "Kos" in an essay on the CATO institute website bolstering his "case for the libertarian democrat". He makes four major points:

1. That he is personally motivated by a belief in individual liberty.
2. That unregulated corporations are threats to individual liberty.
3. That people who consider themselves libertarians can be won over to the argument that government is necessary to patrol and underpin a free market.
4. That silicon valley is his utopia because it combines a truly free market with government provided education and infrustructure.

I'll leave aside the bizarre notion that the high tech economy is a utopia (his description of silicon valley is hilariously naive), and focus on the first three assertions.

There used to be a name for the politics built on the notion that freedom and opportunity are inherently linked, and that government must play a role in insuring fair play and a level playing field for entry into the market. It was called liberalism. In tension with this assertion was a politics that argued that there are fundamental imbalances of power within capitalism that the state must either mitigate or abolish. This was called, among other things, democratic socialism. On the opposing side were various stripes of anti-government conservatives.

In today's politics, as we know, any kind of socialism is well off the table. But more importantly, the case for liberalism itself has been vilified. These are bad, bad times. Moulitsas makes a strong case for reviving liberalism, and for why the goal of human freedom is not served by corporate deregulation. What he argues for under the banner of "libertarian Democrat" politics is just liberalism. Nothing more, nothing less.

However, when Moulitsas implies that what he is promoting is new, that it is somehow more "libertarian" than traditional liberalism, he is handing the right a key victory. This rhetorical move reinforces the idea that traditional liberalism was about something other than individual freedom: in essense, conceeding the argument of libertarians and conservatives. Kos, along with many other bloggers, hold themselves up as something different from all those "old fashioned" liberals who somehow were out to destroy the free market or support a big government that is a threat to personal freedom. That's not true. We should say so.

In short, Kos is right that the market needs government. He is right that Silicon Valley is a "success" because of government intervention. The fact is, however, that the only people who disagree with this are libertarians. I can understand that we need to hone our arguments against them, making the case to voters that freedom doesn't come from deregulating the oil industry. What I don't understand is why we would seek to bring these folks into our party. The central problem in American politics today, from any social justice oriented perspective, is how constrained we are in our abilities to use the government as a tool. This needs to be pushed back against, not reinforced.

Joining the chorus for liberarian-friendliness is Campus Progress, the student activist project launched by the centrist Center For American Progress. In a think piece on their website, Julian Sanchez argues for campus coalition work with libertarian students. Included in his piece are the observations that the typical motly campus left culture is alienating to most students (true) and that a majority of young people are vaguely libertarian in mindset (also true). He then says that libertarians might piss leftists off, but we should remember that they are all decent, good people who are not bigoted even if their policies are.

Not so fast. Sanchez misses the point that campus libertarianism is, in fact, rife with both subtle and unsubtle racism and classism, and that on most issues of real import, progressives and libertarians are going to be opposed to one another. So we agree about wiretapping and marijuana. If there's a campaign to mount on those issues, we should be in the same room. But the day to day work of progressives on campus and off should be to push back against the libertarian mindset. All students today grew up after the Reagan revolution, which has had a profound affect on their world view. We need to work hard at undoing that damage, not give in to it.

Basing our arguments in a defense of freedom is important, especially in the United States. As I often femind my friends and colleagues in Europe, all politics in the United States is liberal politics, even social democratic politics. By all means, let's out freedom the libertarians. Let's not let them act as if they have a monopoly on freedom as a value, just as we work on taking religion back from the bigots and the flag back from the militarist right. However, we don't need to become bigots, militarists or libertarians to do that.

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