President Joe Biden broke the record for the longest presidential press conference ever – going nearly two hours fielding question after question. He stood that long to prove his stamina and dispel bigoted charges of ageism.
How did he do by his own standards? First, his opening remarks naturally touted the bright spots in the economy and the administration’s efforts to control Covid-19 during his first year in office. However, he missed an important opportunity to connect with the public and focus the tunnel-vision media on the serious legislation he wants to advance.
For example, early on Biden proposed reversing some of the tax cuts for giant corporations and the super-wealthy that Trump rammed through Congress in 2017. Biden did not say why it is urgent for Congress to act on this matter or explain that these taxes are necessary not just for fairness, but to pay for the major proposals he has on Capitol Hill. Therefore, the media will not pay attention and assume he has given up.
Calling himself a “union guy” for decades, Biden inexplicably did not give a shout-out for a higher federal minimum wage, now frozen at $7.25 an hour. The House Democrats passed a bill increasing the minimum wage in stages to $15 but the bill is stuck in the Senate and threatened by an anti-worker GOP filibuster. He also could have brought national attention to the House-passed “Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act” that makes it less difficult to form unions. This legislation is also mired in the Senate. The President’s failure to mention these proposals signals to the press that these bills are off the table for this election year. Consequently, reporters don’t write about these important measures.
Biden portrayed his Republican enemies in the Senate with weak language, asking thrice whether there was anything the GOP was for. That criticism could have been far more penetrating had he enumerated ten proposals, passed in the House, that the corporate-indentured Republicans in both the House and Senate were against big time. Imagine the impact, for example, of noting the GOP blocking the renewal of $300 or $250 monthly checks to over 65 million children (both liberal and conservative families in need) in a mid-winter pandemic. Why not mention expanding Medicare for the elderly, or rebuilding America in every community—the latter desired by just about every local chamber of commerce, union, and small business? Such concise contrasts by Biden would have sent the cruel duo, Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy reeling.
Biden spoke of infrastructure, to be sure, but didn’t highlight the appeal to specific local interests and the overwhelming public support. He should have also warned big business to stop grabbing and corrupting the safety net assistance for deprived small business, under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). He could have referred to the Inspector General’s exposés at the Small Business Administration (SBA), which have gone almost unnoticed.
Biden marveled at the fact that not one Republican senator has dissented from draconian do-nothing Republican leaders. Unfortunately, the Democrats assured the Republican lock-step by not trying months ago to intensely spin-off some GOP Senators starting with the five not running for re-election and Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT). Romney says he hasn’t received one call from the White House.
Presidential remarks at press conferences needn’t devote more than two or three sentences to alert the country and the media to an administration’s priorities. Biden’s omissions were puzzling indeed by comparison to his own previous policy stands.
As a long-time corporate Democrat, it was not surprising that Biden did not mention law and order for the corporate crooks that have hugely ripped off government programs, as well as exploiting consumers and workers. But then he doesn’t exactly have the strong support from the Democratic Party or the Democratic National Committee (DNC) down to the state committees whose hands are out 24/7 for corporate campaign contributions.
Equally disappointing were the reporters’ questions narrowly ranging over a small number of issues – voting rights, the votes in Congress, his declining poll numbers, and Ukraine. The White House Press Corps, as the legendary pioneer Helen Thomas would politely point out, censors itself when it isn’t fearful of its bosses or being sycophantic. There were no questions on what Biden wants, but omitted. There were no questions on the corporate domination of just about every sector of our government and its political economy. And there were no questions about the bloated, unauditable, draining military budget to which was added $24 billion more than Biden and the Pentagon requested.
Consumers are hurt by gouging prices, deceptive practices, and blocked remedies. Many workers have widespread occupational hazards, low pay, and few benefits, yet they are taking more opportunities in a period of temporary labor shortages to form unions among some big-box chains and retailers (Starbucks, Amazon). The White House Press Corps repeatedly fails to ask questions that ordinary people would want answered about their conditions.
When Biden signals his acceptance of only pieces of his proposals being passed, he pre-signals defeat and weakens his negotiating leverage in advance. Presidents who appear weak diminish per se their influence with Congress.
Perhaps the media’s worst performance last Wednesday was their war-inciting, history-forgetting questions about Ukraine – goading a properly cautious Biden. After all, President Putin knows how deep Russian memories are of losing about 50 million people from western frontier invasions in World War I and World War II. They know that any Russian leader would oppose NATO, a military alliance against the Soviet Union – bringing weapons and membership to adjacent Ukraine. Nonetheless, the reporters chose war inciting, not peace inciting (diplomacy), questions, other than asking about what happened to his campaign promise to end the war in Yemen.
Biden, his advisers, and the Press Corps need to review their performances to avoid future ditto heading. We need to make them care enough to engage in such introspections.
Capitalists—qua owners of capital—are dispensable, but laborers are not.
This thesis flows from a neglected asymmetry between capitalists and laborers. The capitalist does not stand in the same relation to capital and the services of capital as a laborer does with respect to his laboring capacities and the services of these capacities. This distinction goes unacknowledged by neoclassical economists as well as economists of other persuasions. If this is because they have concluded that this is of no consequence, we offer some arguments to the contrary.
There is irony in this thesis even as capitalism threatens to render laborers ‘useless,’ that is, replace them with intelligent machines faster than it creates new jobs. But this is not the place to address this irony.
1. Why are capitalists dispensable?
Consider a series of relations moving from a capitalist to his capital, and from capital to the services of capital. Next examine another series moving from a laborer to his laboring capacities, and from these capacities to the diverse services of these capacities, also known as the services of labor. There exist important differences between the two series.
There exists no integral—or, if you prefer, visceral—connection between the capitalist and his capital or between the capitalist and the services of capital. Capital and the services of capital are wholly external to the capitalist qua owner of capital; their relationship to the capitalist is merely legal so that a capitalist can be physically separated from his capital and the services of his capital. If the capitalist prefers leisure to work or lacks the requisite managerial skills, he can delegate the task of running his enterprise to hired managers. Once the capitalist appoints a manager to run his enterprise, he could be soaking the sun inside one of the many craters on the moon while his enterprise continues to produce goods or services somewhere in Agawam, Massachusetts. All this notwithstanding, at the end of every year or every quarter, this capitalist will receive the profits or carry the losses of his enterprise. This is his return for risking his funds to organize production.
Now consider an economy whose capital has been transferred to the workers in each enterprise. The workers in each enterprise form a worker-cooperative (WC); they collectively own its capital, vote to elect a workers’ council who then appoint managers, or elect the managers directly. In addition, each WC is free to borrow funds from deposit banks or tax-funded investment banks. Each WC is also free to sell some fraction of its fixed capital should this not be needed; the proceeds from this sale may be used to pay off loans, deposited in a bank as a reserve fund against rainy days, or allocated to research and development.
Each worker cooperative may choose its modus vivendi and its goals. At first, therefore, a variety of worker cooperatives may emerge, with different goals and structures; they may be more or less egalitarian; some may work primarily with fixed wages, others with a combination of fixed wages and shares in the coop’s residual. Some may give greater weight to steady employment, others to higher wages. It is difficult to say, which types of cooperatives may emerge as winners. Collectively, the cooperatives may set some limits to the goals, and the governance and the reward structures of the coops to ensure the viability of the system as a whole.
In one stroke then, we have created a market economy without any capitalists as the term is understood in a capitalist economy. Production in this economy is organized by worker cooperatives, whose policies are formulated by a management periodically elected by workers. The workers in each enterprise are free to set the rules under which they work; they are also free to leave one WC and join another. However, the capital of any enterprise is not traded, nor does it move when any worker leaves the enterprise.
In a splendid piece of circular reasoning, neoclassical economists justify private ownership of capital on the ground that it is the capitalist who organizes production. This is a non sequitur. The capitalist organizes production precisely because he is a capitalist: he commands his own or borrowed funds that allow him to do so. In an economy consisting of worker cooperatives, teams of workers could organize production with funds borrowed from deposit banks or tax-funded investment banks.
It may be argued that the co-ops cannot match the performance of corporations because they have no skin in the game. This is not true. Unlike workers who receive fixed wages, the members of WCs may receive all or some fraction of their income that is tied to their co-op’s residual. Since they share in the coop’s decision-making, co-op members are more likely than wage-workers to identify with their enterprise. In themselves, these factors may help to reduce shirking. In addition, shirkers in co-ops are likely to come under moral censure from non-shirkers. If free-riding is seen as a problem, the WCs can empower the management to monitor the performance of members and work out rules for dismissing habitual shirkers. Collectively, co-ops may discourage shirking by discounting the earnings of new members who have a record of shirking. Shirkers may also be given the chance to expunge their record by improving their performance.
Since the capitalist is physically separable from his capital, this creates the possibility of separating ownership of capital in an enterprise from control over it. In medieval times, we observe trade partnerships in the Middle East—known as qirad in Arabic—where some partners advanced capital to traders who managed the task of conducting the trade. In 1932, Adolph Berle and Gardiner Means showed that ownership and control of most large-scale enterprises in the United States had ceased to reside in the same hands.
In activities without significant economies of scale and high costs of supervision, the capitalist may lend and/or rent his capital to workers and let them organize production. In agriculture, we find landlords who rent their lands to peasants instead of hiring wage-workers to organize production. During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, capitalists in Britain set up textile factories with work benches that workers could rent to produce yarn and cloth on their own account. It is also common for laborers lacking capital to rent cars, trucks and rickshaws to produce transport services. Others rent space in commercial buildings to organize retail businesses.
2. A laborer cannot be physically separated from his working capacities or the services of his working capacities.
A laborer’s working capacities include his body, the metabolism that converts food into energy, his cognitive powers, memory, will, emotions, skills, intuition, and his powers of reasoning, sight, speech, hearing, taste and touch. The execution of any task by a worker in real time—whether this entails digging a trench, a sitar recital, performing surgery, crafting a violin, or time spent solving a yet unsolved mathematical conundrum—is the joint product of various manifestations or services of his working capacities.
Under a wage-contract, however, a laborer may sell the services of his working capacities to an employer. In addition, a self-employed person with access to some capital may employ his working capacities to produce services (such as haircuts) that he sells directly to buyers. Alternatively, as a carpenter, he may employ his working capacities to saw, bend, carve, plane, sand, screw together, and polish timber into chairs, and then sell the chairs for a profit. In both cases, the laborer, will likely receive the market wage for his labor and a similar return on the capital he employs in his enterprise.
Some exceptions to the inseparability of a laborer from his laboring capacities may also be noted. If medical technology permits, he may sell or donate his organs or tissues for transplantation to another person. However, a person is unlikely to consent to such transplantations, except when this promises to save the life of a loved one. Of course, without the living person’s consent, or after he dies or is killed, the possibilities become endless.
3. The first asymmetry we have just described leads to another.
The separability of the capitalist from his capital nudges us to explore egalitarian re-arrangements of the ownership of capital. Should such rearrangements occur, the capitalists will only lose their claim to the surplus of capitalist enterprises, but they will retain all their rights as citizens and as members of WCs in the new economy. Should they also possess some valuable skills, the WCs will recognize and reward these skills without any prejudice arising from their past history as capitalists.
On the other hand, a laborer cannot be separated from his laboring capacities without also losing his freedom. The capitalist can take ownership of the laboring capacities of legally free laborers only after he takes ownership of their persons for some part of a day, that is, by turning them into wage-slaves.
Importantly, the absence of any integral or visceral connection between the capitalist and his capital points to the potential for reorganizing the ownership of capital on an egalitarian basis. It would be disingenuous to think that the capitalists themselves are not aware of this potential for egalitarian rearrangements of the ownership of capital. In addition, we may surmise that the capitalists know that the workers too—perhaps, with help from their protagonists in the intellectual classes—are aware of this vulnerability.
Given all of the above, we may surmise that capitalists have always been at work—no doubt with help from self-serving economists—to obfuscate this vulnerability and, simultaneously, to harness the coercive powers of the state to protect their pivotal position in the capitalist system. Since the actual use of coercion is costly, the capitalists employ all the forces at their command to convince the workers of the superiority of an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production. However, should the workers start questioning this ‘natural order,’ the capitalists are prepared to call on the machinery of the state—especially the courts, police and prisons—to knock the workers until they back the capitalist narrative.
4. Which of the two classes—capitalists or workers—is likely to organize production in a capitalist economy?
In the 1950s, after nearly a century of mathematical ‘modling,’ neoclassical economists concluded that they had worked out the contours of an imaginary economy that would serve as the ideological fortress of capitalism. Markets in this economy instantaneously reach an equilibrium that is unique, stable and efficient in the sense that no person can be made better off without making at least one person worse off. Capital and labor in this economy receive their just deserts: that is to say, there is no exploitation of labor. In the words of Paul Samuelson, in this economy “it really did not matter who hires whom; so have labor hire ‘capital.’”
The message of the neoclassicals to the capitalists is: Don’t let your hard work as bosses give you a bad conscience. It gives you no advantage. The message to the workers is: Why bother with organizing production; let the capitalists worry about this. Enjoy your hassle-free life as workers; you have nothing to gain from losing your chains. These charming results hold only in perfectly competitive markets in which capitalists can costlessly write and enforce complete employment contracts.
In the real world, however, production is nearly always organized by capitalist bosses. Hurling what he thinks is a challenge to Karl Marx, David Landes asks “if [capitalist] bosses make (cream off) so much money, why shouldn’t boss-free enterprises (cooperatives, collectives, small self-employed workers, and the like) be able to outdo those capitalistic units that pay so heavy a toll to owners and managers?” Landes imagines that he is setting up a test of the feasibility of workers organizing production. He is challenging boss-free enterprises to organize production in capitalist economies under property rights, institutions and rules established by capitalists. Now, since worker co-ops do not—with rare exceptions—organize production in capitalist economies, this supposedly ‘proves’ that they cannot compete with capitalists in organizing production.
Landes forgets that workers cannot organize production because they have been stripped of the means of production. Since they cannot offer any collateral, they also cannot borrow money or rent capital. Moreover, financing the establishment of WCs is not only a financial issue. The economic and political power of capitalists is built around their class monopoly over production. Why would they dilute this class monopoly by lending capital to workers? It is unlikely that capitalist guilt over exploitation of workers ever reaches the point at which they become willing to commit hara-kiri.
5. Is the separation of capitalists from capital unjust?
Can any economic system be considered just that has a tendency to place—and often ends up placing—the means of production in the hands of a tiny minority of capitalists, thereby endowing them with the power to organize production not in the interests of the workers or society but exclusively in the interests of the capitalists. Depending on conditions in the labor market, and driven by the profit imperative, the capitalist may hire and fire workers at will. In addition, he may demand that his hired hands put in long hours of work, six days a week, quicken their pace of work to keep up with the machines, and take no breaks in the workplace, even if they have to piss in a bottle or wear diapers.
In a capitalist economy, moreover, workers are disposable, unless they have acquired skills specific to the enterprise in which they work; they may be laid off or fired whenever they are not needed. Can an economic system be just that nearly always fails to provide some workers with employment, and during a depression may fail to provide employment to as much as a third of the workers; when it does provide employment, many of these jobs may not offer the workers a living wage. Can an economic system be humane whose commitment to profit-making demands that workers be fired when they fall sick or are injured even when the sickness and injury are caused by hazards of the work and the workplace? It is ironic that while wage-workers in capitalist economies are legally free and wage-work is considered to be superior to slavery, the capitalists do not have any intrinsic interest in the livelihood and health of their workers that slave-owners have in their slaves and their families.
Similarly, while wage-workers are legally free, they lose their freedom the moment they enter the workplace. The neoclassical economist will predictably protest that a wage-worker remains free even at work since he is free to leave his present job whenever he wishes; if he does not quit that is because he chooses to stay. Sorry: this is a flawed inference. The neoclassical economist is always liberal in making assumptions; when he needs a can opener he just assumes that he has one. Hence, neoclassical economics assumes that workers face no costs in moving to another job that he prefers over his current job.
However, the ability to switch jobs at will does not overcome the lack of freedom at the workplace. A worker cannot escape the lack of freedom at the workplace because this is an unavoidable condition of capitalist employment, unless the nature of a job makes monitoring of work very costly. The lack of freedom at work cannot be blamed on technology; the capitalists have been choosing technology, layout of factories and offices, and work organization that truncate worker autonomy. Bosses can monitor their employees’ pace of work, even when they work remotely.
6. Conservatives and liberals are likely to view with alarm any talk about the rearrangement of capitalist property rights in the means of production.
Although such alarm is to be expected from the historical beneficiaries of capital accumulation over the last half a millennium, this shows societal amnesia about the horrendous crimes against humanity that attended, and still attend, the expropriation of great masses of humans—men, women, children and the unborn—to finance and support the creation of capitalists and capitalist power in Western Europe and North America. Karl Marx applied the moniker of ‘primitive accumulation’ to the “historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production.”
The capitalist organization of British agriculture, which began in the late fifteenth century, was accomplished over the next three centuries through successive expropriations of the peasantry either by force or through laws passed by the largest landowners—formerly feudal lords—in the British parliament. The free peasantry that had emerged in England by the late fourteenth century earned a living from cultivating strips of arable land, but they also depended crucially on access to commons for firewood, pasturing their cattle, gathering berries and mushrooms, and catching game and fish. Once the growth of woolen manufactures in Flanders raised the price of wool, English landowners began to privatize the commons, either by force or passing enclosure acts that denied peasants access to the commons, and converted them into sheep pastures; this forced some peasants to seek wage-work in agriculture, while others abandoned their lands to seek wage-work in the towns. In addition, the large landowners also began to enforce gaming laws to ride roughshod over the farms of peasants resulting in losses to their crops.
Next consider a historical rearrangement of property rights during the nineteenth century that is more germane to the subject of this essay. I am referring to the large-scale separation—in the Americas during the nineteenth century—of a very important class of capitalists from their capital invested in slaves. In August 1791, the black slaves in Saint-Domingue—a French colony that was a source of immense profits to France—began a successful rebellion against slave-owning capitalists—who after defeating two massive invasions ordered by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1801 and 1802, declared the establishment in 1804 of the Republic of Haiti ruled by former black slaves. Do we object to this transfer of property rights in slaves from plantations owners to the slaves themselves?
In the nineteenth century, we encounter several more examples of the separation of capitalists from their capital invested in slaves. In 1833, Britain transferred the ownership rights of capitalists in humans to the humans themselves in nearly all its colonial possessions. Some of the northern states in the USA, following the War of Independence in 1776, began passing laws that effected similar transfers of ownership rights in slaves. In 1861, in the midst of the American Civil War, slavery was also abolished in the Southern States. Brazil, perhaps the largest slave-based economy in history, abolished slavery in 1888. In general, where slavery was abolished under law, the cash compensation was less than the market value of the slaves.
7. The principal results of this essay are easily summarized.
The capitalist is physically separable from the capital that he owns, but the laborer cannot be parted from his laboring capacities.
The first part of the previous statement establishes the feasibility of separating the capitalist from his capital. Indeed, the capitalist (qua capitalist) is a rentier since he does not contribute the services of any of his present working capacities to the enterprise in which he owns capital. The capitalist’s claim to profits is rooted in a legal relationship, not an economic relationship.
Au contraire, the services of a laborer are inseparable from his person. This means that in order to maximize his profits, the capitalist who hires labor must gain control over the laborer’s person and his working capacities in the workplace and—if necessary and feasible—off the workplace. In other words, the capitalist logic demands that the laborer be stripped of his autonomy once he enters the workplace. Although the worker is free in theory to choose his employer, this freedom does not restore the autonomy that he enjoyed in his work and workplace as a self-employed peasant, artisan, peddler or shopkeeper.
A clear-eyed focus on the asymmetry in the two binaries—the separability of the capitalist from capital and inseparability of the laborer from his working capacities—suggests significant gains that are likely to flow from an alternative organization of production that transfers ownership and control over capital from capitalist enterprises to worker cooperatives.
A detailed discussion of these gains is a subject for another essay. However, broadly speaking, these gains are likely to flow from two forms of democratization that will attend the transfer of capital from the capitalists to the workers. First, there is the political democratization that will flow from the transformation of the capitalist enterprises to worker cooperatives. A political system that grows out of the interests and actions of workers and worker co-ops is unlikely to be hijacked by sectional interests.
Secondly, there is the democratization in the workplace. A variety of benefits are likely to flow to workers from the establishment of co-ops. These may include sharing by members in policy-making, creation of a culture of egalitarianism, improvements in working conditions, equal access of all members and their families to education, health and social services, less hierarchy in the organization of work, sharing and phasing out of tedious work, and greater income inequality. An economy consisting of worker co-ops will nurture cooperation, in the workplace and outside it. Once profits are dethroned as the only or chief objective driving production and technological change, the economy will have a chance to redirect its focus from endless capital accumulation towards a thousand improvements in the quality of life for everyone.
In Morton N. Cohen, The Selected Letters of Lewis Carroll (London: Palgrave, 1982): 28.
Fifty years ago, global capitalism came to a crossroads. The enormous costs of the US’s long, costly Asian war produced great debt and pressure on the gold-backed US dollar. The imperialist alliance with Israel brought a disruptive, unprecedented boycott on the part of the oil-producing nations resisting Israel’s occupation of Arab territories. Intense competition between the dominant US economy and the resurgent Euro-Asian economies was shrinking profit margins. Traditional macroeconomic tools failed to meet the challenges of this new situation. The ensuing crisis came to be called the era of stagflation – stagnant economic growth coupled with persistent, intractable inflation.
Stagflation persisted through most of the decade and ended with shock therapy – a radical dose of deregulation, privatization, and market fetishism, a regimen of austerity now prescribed by all mainstream parties.
The crisis of the 1970s bears some similarities with today’s turmoil.
The pandemic, like the oil crisis, has shocked the global economy. The US economy and subordinate economies have been running on the fumes of fiat money and central bank stimulation, exposing remedies that are losing their effectiveness. Despite the lack of even phantom existential threats, the US has conjured costly foreign adventures and an extraordinarily wasteful and large military budget and “security” spending, crowding out social spending and amplifying national indebtedness. Commodity scarcity generates rising prices. And both slow growth and inflation are now reappearing and promise to continue.
Does this mean that we are bound to relive the crisis of the 1970s? Are we seeing a replay?
Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell. But we would be foolish not to study the 1970s to distill the lessons that might apply to today.
Despite the admonitions of the central bankers and financial gurus, inflation seldom self-corrects. It rarely runs its course. Instead, inflation tends to gather momentum because all the economic actors attempt to catch up and get ahead of it.
In the 1970s, it was popular with the capitalist media to blame workers who were demanding cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) to ward off inflation. “Greedy” unions, welfare, senior, and disability advocacy organizations were claimed as the causes of inflation’s persistence and deepening.
Cynically, all were asked to sacrifice equally, while it was monopoly corporations that were raising the prices that constituted the core of inflation. They were using “catching up” as an opportunity to “profit up.” Under the guise of responding to inflation, dominant corporations raised prices beyond their growing costs to expand their profit margins.
Unlike monopoly corporations, small businesses were limited in their ability to raise prices because of intense competition. They were caught in a profit squeeze between their need to remain competitive and the grinding increases in their costs of doing business. They are especially victimized by inflation.
At the same time, inflation cheapened the value of debt, especially corporate debt, while choking new consumer debt with high interest rates.
Today, rising prices are eating up workers’ gains just as they did in the 1970s. Let the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) explain it: “From April 2020 to March 2021, the 12-month changes in real average earnings were all increases, between 4.0 percent to 7.4 percent. Prior to that, from January 2017 until March 2020, the over-the-year change in real average weekly earnings ranged from −0.5 percent to 2.0 percent.” But: “Real average weekly earnings of employees on private nonfarm payrolls decreased 1.6 percent from October 2020 to October 2021. In every month from April 2021 to October 2021, the 12-month changes in real average weekly earnings have been decreases, ranging from −0.8 percent to −2.6 percent” [my emphasis].
In other words, real average weekly earnings exploded with the labor shortages induced by the pandemic, but they were wiped out by the five months of over 5% inflation culminating in the 6.2% rise in October, a 31-year high.
It is not workers’ wages that are driving inflation, but something else.
In a revealing article, the Wall Street Journal exposes the real cause of escalating inflation. Inflation Helps Boost Profit Margins: Companies seize rare opportunity to increase prices and outrun their own rising costs [print edition] tells that “[n]early two out of three of the biggest U.S. publicly traded companies have reported fatter profit margins so far this year than they did over the same stretch of 2019… Nearly 100 of these giants have booked profit margins– the share of each dollar of sales a company can pocket– that are at least 50% above 2019 levels” [my emphasis]. The authors note: “Executives are seizing a once in a generation opportunity to raise prices…”
It is apparent from this candid article that monopoly capitalism is leading this profiteering. And it is important to recognize that this profit-taking has and will continue to fuel inflation. Once again, the commanding heights of the US economy– the monopoly corporations– are using the excuse of catching-up to profit-up.
If history’s repeat is not to be farcical, the workers’ movement must avoid the mistakes of the 1970s. It must fight against monopoly price increases and not join the purveyors of common sacrifice, like the silly WIN (Whip Inflation Now) campaign of that period.
The workers’ movement must not follow its false partner, the Democratic Party, down the road of wage and benefit restraint. The inflation-directed restraint of the 1970s gave way to the give-backs of the 1980s and 1990s.
Workers must understand that inflation is not a self-inflicted wound, but a feature of the capitalist system, especially in its finance-dominated, monopoly stage. And it must be contained by attacking the profit-taking that spurs the inflationary spiral.
Further, the working class must bring this understanding to the frightened petty bourgeoisie who feel threatened and are threatened by the scourge of inflation, a stratum that otherwise turns in great numbers to the extreme right for answers.
Of course, this task would be made easier if we had a robust Communist movement in all of the capitalist countries.
A farmer at the protest encampment at Delhi’s Singhu Border carries the flag of the All India Kisan Sabha, 21 November 2021. Subin Dennis / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research
On 19 November 2021, a week before the first anniversary of the farmers’ revolt, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi surrendered. He accepted that the three laws on agricultural markets that had been pushed through the parliament in 2020 would be repealed. The farmers of India had won. The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), one of the organisers of the protest movement, celebrated the triumph and declared that ‘this victory gives more confidence for future struggles’.
Many pressing struggles remain, including the fight for a law to guarantee a minimum support price that is one and a half times the cost of production for all crops of all farmers. The failure to address this, the AIKS notes, ‘aggravated the agrarian crisis and led to the suicide of over [400,000] farmers in the last 25 years’. A quarter of these deaths have taken place under Modi’s leadership over the past seven years.
A tractor contingent on GT Karnal Road breaks through barricades and enters Delhi, beginning a confrontation between protestors and the police, 26 January 2021. Vikas Thakur / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research
What the media can never openly admit is that the largest peaceful democratic protest the world has seen in years – certainly the greatest organised at the height of the pandemic – has won a mighty victory.
A victory that carries forward a legacy. Farmers of all kinds, men and women – including from Adivasi [tribal] and Dalit [oppressed caste] communities – played a crucial role in [India’s] struggle for freedom. And in the 75th year of [Indian] Independence, the farmers at Delhi’s gates reiterated the spirit of that great struggle.
Prime Minister Modi has announced he is backing off and repealing the farm laws in the upcoming winter session of Parliament starting on the 29th of [November]. He says he is doing so after failing to persuade ‘a section of farmers despite best efforts’. Just a section, mind you, that he could not convince to accept that the three discredited farm laws were really good for them. Not a word on, or for, the over 600 farmers who have died in the course of this historic struggle. His failure, he makes it clear, is only in his skills of persuasion, in not getting that ‘section of farmers’ to see the light. … What was the manner and method of persuasion? By denying them entry to the capital city to explain their grievances? By blocking them with trenches and barbed wire? By hitting them with water cannons? … By having crony media vilify the farmers every day? By running them over with vehicles – allegedly owned by a union minister or his son? That’s this government’s idea of persuasion? If those were its ‘best efforts’ we’d hate to see its worst ones.
The Prime Minister made at least seven visits overseas this year alone (like the latest one for COP26). But never once found the time to just drive down a few kilometres from his residence to visit tens of thousands of farmers at Delhi’s gates, whose agony touched so many people everywhere in the country. Would that not have been a genuine effort at persuasion?
… This is not at all the end of the agrarian crisis. It is the beginning of a new phase of the battle on the larger issues of that crisis. Farmer protests have been on for a long time now. And particularly strongly since 2018, when the Adivasi farmers of Maharashtra electrified the nation with their astonishing 182-km march on foot from Nashik to Mumbai. Then too, it began with their being dismissed as ‘urban Maoists’, as not real farmers, and the rest of the blah. Their march routed their vilifiers.
… The hundreds of thousands of people in that state who have participated in that struggle know whose victory it is. The hearts of the people of Punjab are with those in the protest camps who have endured one of Delhi’s worst winters in decades, a scorching summer, rains thereafter, and miserable treatment from Mr. Modi and his captive media.
And perhaps the most important thing the protestors have achieved is this: to inspire resistance in other spheres as well, to a government that simply throws its detractors into prison or otherwise hounds and harasses them. That freely arrests citizens, including journalists, under the [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act], and cracks down on independent media for ‘economic offences’. This day isn’t just a win for the farmers. It’s a win for the battle for civil liberties and human rights. A win for Indian democracy.
A farmer participates in the protests in his truck at the Singhu border in Delhi, 5 December 2020. Vikas Thakur / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research
It is a win not only for Indian democracy but for peasants around the world.
During the past five decades, these peasants have experienced a combination of impoverishment, dispossession, and demoralisation on a global level. Two processes have accelerated their crisis: first, a trade and development model pushed by the advanced capitalist states through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO); second, the climate catastrophe. The IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme and the WTO’s liberalised trade regime have eroded price supports and food subsidies in the Global South and have prevented governments from intervening to assist farmers and to build robust national food markets. Countries of the Global North, meanwhile, have continued to subsidise farming and dump their cheapened food in the markets of the Global South. This policy structure – alongside devastating climate events – has been fatal for agriculturalists in the Global South.
A farmer from Punjab protests during a tractor march on Republic Day on GT Karnal Bypass Road in Delhi, 26 January 2021. Vikas Thakur / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research
During the credit crisis of 2007–08, the World Bank intervened to promote the entry of the private sector (largely big agriculture) into the ‘value chains’ from farms to stores. ‘The private sector drives the organisation of value chains that bring the market to smallholders and commercial farms’, wrote the World Bank in a key report from 2008. In June of that year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s High-Level Conference on World Food Security opened the door for the World Bank to shape agricultural policy to benefit big agriculture. The next year, the World Bank’s World Development Reportargued for integrating agriculture in the ‘poor countries with world markets’, which meant delivering the peasants into an uberised relationship with big agriculture. Interestingly, the World Bank’s own International Agricultural Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology disagreed in 2008, arguing that industrial agriculture degraded nature and impoverished peasants.
In September 2021, the UN held a Food Systems Summit in New York, which was designed not by farmers’ unions but by the World Economic Forum (WEF), a private body that represents big business rather than the big hearts of the agriculturalists. Acknowledging the crisis imposed by capitalism, the WEF now says that it has learned from civil action and would like to promote ‘stakeholder capitalism’. This new kind of capitalism, which looks like the old capitalism, is about promoting corporations as ‘trustees of society’; it entrusts corporations with our well-being rather than the workers who produce the value in our society.
The farmers’ revolt in India fought against Modi’s three laws, which will now be repealed. But it continues to struggle against the transfer of policy making from democratic, multilateral, and national projects to corporations in the name of ‘public-private partnerships’ and ‘trustees of society’. The repeal of Modi’s laws is one victory. It has lifted the confidence of the people. But there are other battles ahead.
A farmer who joined in the initial protest reads work by the revolutionary Punjabi poet, Pash, in his trolly at the Singhu border in Delhi, 10 December 2021. Vikas Thakur / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research
At the protest sites, farmers set up entire villages, including community kitchens and libraries. Reading and musical performance were regular activities. Revolutionary Punjabi poetry from figures such as Pash (1950–1988) and Sant Ram Udasi (1939–1986) lifted their spirits. Navsharan Singh and Vikas Rawal offered us these stanzas from Sant Ram Udasi to close out this newsletter:
You must shine your light
in the courtyards of workers
who wither when there is a drought,
and drown when there is a flood,
ones who face devastation in every disaster,
and who find liberation only in death.
You must show what goes on
in the courtyards of the workers
for whom the bread is scarce,
who live in darkness,
who are robbed of
and who lose, with their crops,
all their desires.
Why do you burn to shine your light only on yourself?
Why do you stay away from the workers?
These deprivations and oppression will not last forever.
O sun, you must shine your light on
the courtyards of the workers.
Residency training often claims to focus on training effective physicians. In reality, it’s an intricately designed conditioning process to train physicians to be tools for profit maximization. In order to be truly “effective” physicians, residents, in solidarity with other healthcare workers, must organize to challenge the systems that lead to suffering and illness both in health care and around the globe.
The end of medical school is a moment that, for many medical school graduates, is several years — sometimes several generations — in the making. After four grueling years the graduate is ready to officially get that “MD” behind their name. But what else has the four years of medical school done for the soon-to-be physician? As previously discussed, medical school is not an apolitical environment in which “medical knowledge” is simply passed on to each student. Mechanisms are put in place to condition students to be less likely to question systems of power. Overall, the medical school structure serves as an indoctrination system. By the time they graduate, medical students are forced to take on massive amounts of student loans — the average medical school graduate has around $250,000 in student loan debt — which serves as a form of economic control and coercion. By conditioning thought and using economic coercion, the medical education system helps make the physician more likely to participate in and help maintain a capitalist healthcare system whose focus is extracting monetary value from people’s bodies damaged by capitalism and colonialism.
This indoctrination starts even before medical school as the educational system filters for a medical school candidate from a particular class and racial background. Folks from working-class backgrounds are systematically excluded from medical school education — from premedical courses designed to “weed out” students, few opportunities for mentorship, and unsupportive career counselors to hard-to-meet shadowing or extracurricular requirements to the highly prohibitive costs of standardized testing, applications, and interviews. To be clear, these dynamics are nothing new. In his book Rockefeller Medicine Men: Medicine and Capitalism in America, E. Richard Brown cites concerns raised by education leaders as far back as 1908, when the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) was criticized for changing attendance requirements for medical school. As Brown states, the proposed requirement for a college education before attending medical school would “exclude poorer classes from their [medical school] ranks.”
This trend continues today. According to an analysis from the AAMC, the median family income of matriculating medical students has only increased over the years, and it will likely further systemically skew upward in the coming years. These filtering mechanisms also serve to limit the political perspectives of incoming medical students, making it even easier to structure the collective thought of students once they are in medical school.
After all this, what comes next for the new doctor? Medical residency. Medical residency lasts anywhere from three to seven years depending on the medical specialty. It is considered the place where physicians learn to “practice” the “art of medicine.” But what actually happens in residency? Residents work long hours for large corporations while being told that their work conditions are beneficial to their “learning.” In reality, though, residents work as cheap labor for the medical industrial complex. During residency, trainees learn to respect the corporate hierarchy, keep their heads down, be subservient to authority, and, most importantly for the capitalist medical system, how to more efficiently funnel patients through medical factories for profit.
A Brief History of Modern Medical Education
To discuss medical residency, we must understand how residency serves as a training program to produce physicians who function within and perpetuate the capitalist medical system. The field of medicine supporting the foundational structures of capitalism in a settler-colonial society is nothing new. For example, as E. Richard Brown cites, in Walter Fisher’s study of medicine’s role in the antebellum South, Fisher concluded that enslaved people were given medical care mainly because of “the tremendous economic investment they represented to slave owners.” Additionally, medicine was weaponized to justify the racial hierarchy that serves capitalism. As medicine became more modernized and education more formalized, it was important to ensure physicians were trained to practice medicine in a particular way. A document crucial in setting this path for modern American medical education was the Flexner Report.
As educators of the Health Justice Commons (HJC) discuss, the Flexner Report, a landmark document written by Abraham Flexner and commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation, helped set the standards for modern medical education. The report was critical in helping shift modern American medical education to a strictly biomedical focus. As the HJC discusses, the report alienated traditional healers, criminalized alternative forms of care, and deemed women and people of color unfit to participate in medical education. In Rockefeller Medicine Men, Brown cites Flexner’s views that the practice of Black doctors be “limited to his own race.” Flexner perpetuated racist views about disease transmission by advocating for “improved training for Black physicians” largely because whites lived near Black people. These prejudices translated to medical school reforms and closures. Post-report, Black medical schools were disproportionately affected by closure, with 71 percent of Black medical schools closing compared to 55 percent of white institutions. Of the seven Black medical schools in existence at the time, only Meharry and Howard survived.
The report also helped solidify a medical education system that systematically excludes applicants of working-class backgrounds, arguably institutionalizing the elitism of the medical education system. Flexner believed the previous requirement of just four years of high school before medical school attracted “a mass of unprepared youth drawn out of industrial occupations into the study of medicine.” As Brown notes, “Neither the ‘crude boy’ nor ‘the jaded clerk’ were suitable material for a career in medicine.” Flexner’s prescription was to require college before medical school. Brown emphasizes that this occurred at a time when “only 15 percent of the high school age population was enrolled in high school and only 5 percent of the college age population was enrolled in a college or university.”
In the early 20th century large monopoly families were constantly exploring how to increase their wealth and power by controlling societal institutions. The Rockefellers, for example — a family headed by J.D. Rockefeller, an American capitalist and oil baron who profited off the Holocaust — founded the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in 1901 to privately fund medical research. Families such as the Morgans (of JP Morgan) were also active in the research-focused Carnegie Foundation, which they used to exert greater control over legislative and governmental bodies.
The Rockefeller Foundation was headed by Dr. Simon Flexner and notably did not support research investigating the connection between social factors, health, and disease. The ruling elites had no interest in changing society for the general health and well-being of the populace as an end in itself. Instead, research was explored in order to make the public healthy enough to labor, to be further exploited by capitalists. These ruling-class families also hoped to integrate these changes in medical education with contemporary reforms in education more generally to further expand their influence.
In 1907, in the context of these larger reforms, the head of the newly reformatted American Medical Association (AMA), surgeon and professor at Rush Medical College, Arthur Dean Bevan, invited the head of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Henry Pritchett, to discuss the possibility of a Carnegie-sponsored study on medical education. Eventually Simon Flexner’s brother, Abraham Flexner, was appointed director of this study, even though he had no experience in medicine. And thus, Abraham Flexner’s “Flexner Report” was born.
While there can be arguments made around potential benefits of “standardizing” quality in medical education, as HJC notes, medical education’s shift to pure biomedicine has created captive markets of communities seen as disease vectors to be controlled through “healthcare.” In doing so, these reforms helped create vertical, high-profit industries in which patients become dependent consumers. The focus on biomedicine also served the financial interest of the medical industrial complex by not treating the root causes of illness, for self-preservation of the medical industrial complex itself. Additionally, it absolves the other interconnected industrial complexes (military, pharmaceutical, fossil fuel, manufacturing, farming) and allows their catastrophic effects on the well-being of the environment and communities to continue. As Brown notes, “The Flexner report united the interests of the elite practitioners, scientific medical faculty, and the wealthy capitalist class.”
Medical Residency as a Tool for Indoctrination and Labor Extraction
In their book Social Medicine and the Coming Transformation, physicians and activists Howard Waitzkin, Alina Pérez, and Matthew Anderson discuss how the training and education of healthcare workers can serve the interests of the capitalist system. They cite the work of Vincent Navarro, Spanish physician, sociologist, and political scientist who maintained there is a minimum level of health for the working class if it is to work. As a result an alliance must arise between the capitalist class and medical profession, as healthcare workers are needed to perpetuate the belief that the main causes of ill health are personal and biogenetic rather than social and commonly caused by the very occupations in which people work. Changes made to medical education as a result of the Flexner report, which continue to this day, helped to bolster this alliance. It is the job of healthcare workers who want to destabilize these oppressive systems to grapple with and struggle against this system of education. Today an elaborate array of conditioning mechanisms and structures are now in place to uphold these dynamics. Let’s discuss how some of these mechanisms function.
Throughout medical school and residency training, students and trainees are subject to a series of licensing and board certification examinations. Studies have demonstrated that there is little to no correlation between United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE) scores and clinical performance in residency. Instead of ensuring the production of competent, compassionate physicians prepared to address the structural factors that cause illness and suffering, these examinations function to promote conformity and the status quo. Studying for these examinations can be all consuming, thereby diverting time from questioning and challenging harmful systems to test preparation.
Additionally, these tests ensure a constant source of revenue for test preparation companies, testing companies, and organizations, such as the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) and the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), the licensing and testing bodies, respectively. In fiscal year 2019, the NBME reported a revenue of $180 million, with $177 million operating costs and a profit of $3 million. The FSMB reported a profit of $4.7 million in 2019, and in 2020, their CEO was compensated $726,518. This tax data, available on ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer, is an example of how nonprofit organizations function like corporations within the nonprofit industrial complex. Test preparation for USMLE licensing exams and specialty boards is also highly profitable, forming part of the billion-dollar test prep industry. Preparation courses and practice-question banks all come at a cost, which can be prohibitive to first-generation or low-income students and trainees, which serves to further exclude people of color and working-class people from becoming physicians. In summary, standardized testing with an emphasis on physician competence disguises the real goal of producing physicians for the extraction of profit from bodies damaged by capitalism and is also profitable in and of itself.
Medical residency is also profitable to hospital systems. Let’s look at the data on Medicare Graduate Medical Education (GME) payments, which has been compiled here. Payments consist of direct and indirect costs of resident education, that is, the salary and benefits of residents and their attending preceptors and program operating costs, respectively. The Per Resident Amount (PRA) paid for each resident significantly exceeds the resident salary. For example, in 2018, Howard University Hospital was paid a PRA of $169,206 for primary care specialties, while the salary for a first-year resident was $50,628.36. The 2017 paper “Eliminating Residents Increases the Cost of Care” calculated the cost of replacing residents. Residents are paid less and work more than their replacements (they are not to work more than 80 hours weekly averaged across four weeks, as established by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education or ACGME, a body further discussed below). By the author’s calculations, the cost of replacing 1.0 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) internal medicine resident with 1.8 FTE Nurse Practitioner would be $168,104. The cost of replacing 1.0 FTE anesthesiology resident with 1.5 FTE Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist would be $218,111. They conclude that “GME programs are a positive factor in hospital finances and should not be considered a financial risk.” Though hospital leadership pretends they are doing a service by “training the next generation of doctors,” the financial incentive is clear. Hospital CEOs do not care about training competent physicians; they care about improving their bottom line with cheap, overworked resident physicians.
In addition to being inherently profitable, medical residency serves as an indoctrination process for the production of physicians who will be complicit with the medical industrial complex. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) is the accrediting body for residency and fellowship programs, whose stated purpose is “improving the patient care delivered by resident and fellow physicians today, and in their future independent practice.” How does the ACGME determine when a resident physician has become “competent”? For one, through dictating the number of patients that should be seen during residency, with an emphasis on clinical efficiency during a 15–20 minute “patient encounter.” This number is 1,650 for family medicine residents, with the implication being that volume equals learning.
Does it? Do residents learn to be compassionate listeners? Do they understand their patient’s illness experience and the oppressive systems that cause suffering? Do they have time to fight these systems outside the hospital or examination room? Do they have time to adequately precept and learn from their attending physicians? Do they have the option to slow down to learn if they need more time or support without fear of being placed on academic observation or probation?
No, they learn to see human beings as a “single problem for today’s visit,” interrupt them midsentence, and further traumatize, police, and perpetuate harms of medical racism and the like. This practice is particularly damaging and exploitative given that residency programs commonly provide medical care in oppressed communities. Education about the systems that produce illness would cause the resident to conclude that the healthcare system, which commodifies illness and maximizes financial extraction from bodies damaged by capitalism and colonialism, must be dismantled entirely. Additionally, the ACGME says they value resident “well-being” and “patient safety,” which is why the 80-hour workweek was standardized. Eighty hours a week, however, is the equivalent of two full-time jobs, which leads to exhausted residents attempting to care for patients and increased risk of medical errors. Yet this comical “work limit” is maintained to give the perception of caring about well-being (of both resident and patient) while solidifying the place of the resident as a cog in the wheel of the medical industrial complex.
Residency programs themselves take a crucial role in conditioning physicians. One way programs do this is by co-opting “woke” terminology in discussing the training of physicians without implementing policies that would change the actions of physicians practicing. For example, take implicit bias training, lauded in “social justice”–oriented residencies around the country. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2019 titled “A Meta-analysis of Procedures to Change Implicit Measures” brought together 492 studies on procedures used to change the implicit biases that influence behavior. The study “found little evidence that changes in implicit measures translated into changes in explicit measures and behavior.” Yet despite data showing these trainings are ineffective, they continue because they allow residency programs to appear as if they are teaching physicians to address systemic problems.
This sets up a dynamic, which MD/PhD student Ariel Hart references in their piece on Medium titled “what i know to be true:” where “Talking about implicit bias, structural competency, health inequities and even anti-racism can take up a lot of time and energy and most of the times is a checkbox, to make people feel good about doing next to nothing to actually uproot structural violence in our society.” Programs use these checkboxes to pretend they are “doing the work,” but as Hart explains “we will not ‘implicit bias,’ ‘structural competence’ or ‘health inequity’ training ourselves out of this. We need to explicitly name and target colonialism, capitalism, racism, sexism, and other oppressions.”
In residency programs around the country there also is a focus on “wellness” to address higher rates of “depressive disorders, depressed mood, burnout, and suicidal ideation” among medical residents when compared to their nonmedical peers. Studies demonstrate that “male doctors have suicide rates as much as 40 percent higher than the general population, and female doctors up to 130 percent higher.” While the causes of depression and suicide are multifactorial, the continual alienation of physicians inside the medical industrial complex and its factory-like commodification of patients takes its toll on physician well-being.
Yet combating this exploitative system is rarely discussed as a solution to resident issues. Instead, individual solutions are proposed, such as “finding better balance” or “improved time management” or “meditation.” Ultimately, residency programs emphasize individual solutions because combating the factory processes of medicine would threaten their existence, and this process of individualizing systemic issues then extends to a physician’s practice after residency. Residency programs deflect responsibility for exhausting 80-hour resident workweeks, citing the ACGME, when programs could institute hour limit restrictions unilaterally, yet fail to do so. Programs rarely feel threatened to make tangible changes as time in residency is limited (typically three to five years); by the time residents start to organize, they will already be graduating. Therefore, less effort is put into changing exploitative dynamics. Residency programs help create and maintain exploitative conditions for residents.
Prospects for a New Approach
There is a commonly held assumption that it is possible to practice technically “good care” in the current medical setting despite its goal of maximizing profit at the expense of all else, with medical training systematically designed to depoliticize healthcare workers and uphold the current medical structure. It needs to be explicitly stated — it is not possible. The current medical system does not allow for adequate patient care and the medical education system conditions healthcare workers to either mentally suppress that known reality or perform mental gymnastics to convince themselves that they are providing “good care.” The first step in addressing this system is understanding that adequate healthcare under capitalism is not possible. A medical education that trains physicians to recognize, address, and destabilize destructive systems will be attainable only when healthcare workers, both in training and independent practice, politicize themselves to the degree they recognize the need to build new systems of medical education and healthcare.
Current residents must mobilize to help create these new systems. One way residents can begin doing this is to participate in the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR), a union. If the residency does not have a union, the residents should fight to win one. But in the process of fighting for a union or fighting with a union, residents cannot settle there. Once politicized, residents must demand militant, fighting unions that do not campaign for capitalist politicians and do not sign comfortable contracts for the boss that include “no-strike” clauses. Residents must demand that “their union,” CIR, stop trying to play nice with exploitative hospital systems, “asking” for moderately better working conditions, or “seats at” a table of executives who care about profit maximization above all else. Unions should not be fighting for seats at the table of the medical industrial complex — they should be fighting to cut the legs off the table and destroy it all together. Healthcare workers can collectively run these institutions themselves and do not need bosses who only make their jobs more difficult and obstruct patient care. As we have highlighted, residents keep hospital systems running, and they and their union must use all the tools possible, including work stoppages and strikes, to fight employers that ultimately do not care about workplace conditions or patient health. Healthcare workers must resist and reject the boss’s myth that organizing for better working conditions will harm patients.
While residents fight for combative unions, there is a danger that the focus can become solely on obtaining a union, which misdirects energy from building militant organization between workers in a workplace. Residents can become siloed and lose the view of the exploitation of workers occurring all around them. This must be avoided. At the Institute for Family Health (IFH) in New York City, for example, residents worked to organize across staff lines, combining the struggles among residents, attending physicians, nurses, medical assistants, and all other staff, focusing on the exploitation all workers experienced because of the boss. This fight was ultimately betrayed by workers pursuing their own self-interest instead of maintaining a collective struggle — this serves as another example of the result of the lack of political education among healthcare workers — but fights like these can serve as schools of war for workers organizing together. Another example of the power of resident organizing is advocating for protest as didactics, as done by residents at the Swedish Cherry Hill Family Medicine Residency in Seattle, which now gives didactic credit for participation in political actions within the community.
In this process, it is important to recognize and accept the interconnectedness of all systems of oppression that harm the working class, and ultimately harm all life systems on this earth. Medical students, residents, and physicians who truly care about health — whether that means the health of the patient, the health of the community, or the health of humans and living beings on the earth more generally — must participate in political organizing outside the hospital to challenge the medical industrial complex, capitalism, colonialism, and U.S. imperialism. You cannot #decolonize medicine at historically racist institutions on stolen land, and the changes needed will not come from within those institutions.
Workers both within and outside medicine must participate in political organizations focused on not just challenging the medical industrial complex but the capitalist system as a whole. Ultimately, the fight against the system of medical education comes as part of a fight against the medical industrial complex, which cannot be adequately waged unless it also fights other systems of oppression.
As the world prepares to depart 2021 and head into 2022, it is clear that the United States is a declining economic power and that China continues its rapid upward trajectory. While homelessness and poverty sully the debt-laden US, China has eliminated extreme poverty. What is the American response to economic disparities domestically? Institute a guaranteed minimum income? Andrew Wang who trumpeted such an income was rejected as a candidate by the Democratic Party. The Dems also pulled the rug out from under the social-democratic candidate Bernie Sanders who had promised medical care for all and to alleviate student debt. Instead the party apparatchiks anointed Joe Biden from the haggard old guard. So terrified was the business-led faction of the Dems to any progressivism seeping into the party, that they turned to a controllable candidate despite his appearing brain addled and often veering off script into rambling, incoherent speech. Biden campaigned on raising the minimum wage to $15 nationwide. He failed to follow through; but he managed to bump the minimum wage of federal contractors to $15.
To fund a $2 trillion economic-stimulus plan, Biden had counted on an increase in the corporate tax rate, which now seems off the table. Instead an asset tax was proposed for the very richest of the billionaire class. But as the Grayzone‘s Ben Norton tweeted, it appears to have fallen through the political cracks, and it is back to the White House as the reverse Robin Hood.
So the Biden admin will likely cut taxes on the rich, while boosting the already outrageous military budget more than the Pentagon even asked for
There are no significant differences between Democrats and Republicans. They're two factions of the same Capitalist Imperialist Party https://t.co/SnicQ0OLxK
And while rank-and-file workers have been saddled with lockdowns and layoffs because of COVID-19, the 1%-ers have been siphoning up an ever increasing slice of the economic pie.
This is how capitalism continues doggedly apace in the US. Meanwhile the economically fast-developing Socialism with Chinese Characteristics sails onwards and upwards; the envious US oligarchy, in puerile response, sails its warships through the South China Sea. Dismally so. On one passage, its nuclear submarine smacked into an underwater mountain.
The specter of being supplanted as the number one economy has caused the top-dog capitalist to become ever more petulant and ever more roguish at being deposed from its position; and to rub salt into wound, by a communist nation.
Capitalism is not a complete failure. It works plenty fine for the billionaire class and its coordinator class. However, capitalism is unkind to the masses.
People of conscience know what they are against: capitalism, its warring, its racism, its inequity, and its callousness to humans outside the capitalist class. They also know what they are for — at least in general terms — a fairer economic model.
However, an economic model that aims to achieve core values such as solidarity, diversity, equity, and self-management requires a vision and a plan for how it would work. Michael Albert, in particular, has been writing many years about a vision for such a humanistic economy. The vision is called participatory economics — parecon for short.
Albert’s latest book on parecon is titled No Bosses: A New Economy for a Better World. The title might lead one to assume that the book would focus more on dismantling permanent, unjustifiable hierarchies that disempower the workers. While No Bosses does discuss the situation of workers under capitalism and how empowering work under parecon would be, most of the text lays out how a parecon reality would look like.
Empowerment for workers requires their participation in decision-making. The decision-making is weighted according to how impactful a decision is individually and collectively within a workplace.
A consensus is sought in amiable negotiations. “As much as possible economic interactions should not be antagonistic. They should not be a rat race. They should not be a zero-sum game. I should not benefit more only if you benefit less.” (p 27)
Parecon will mean no private ownership of productive assets and no authoritarian control. Albert envisions a collective self-management which seeks, as closely as possible, to achieve balanced job complexes where …
all able to work would have responsibility for some sensible sequence of tasks for which they would be well trained, but also such that no one would enjoy excessive elevation by the empowerment effects of their work. (p 54)
Remuneration will be equitable — based on effort and sacrifice. Markets and central planning are replaced with “participatory planning.” This “participatory planning must include individual workers and consumers, and also workers and consumers councils and federations of councils as both self-managing conceivers and enactors of plans.” (p 115-116)
How to allocate goods in a parecon can appear quite dry and complex. This section of No Bosses becomes quite dense with many examples and reasoned responses to possible objections, but it is necessary to get at the nitty-gritty of what is entailed in a parecon society.
How to Achieve a Parecon?
There is a need to have a vision of a better world, a morally based society for all peoples. But to achieve that vision, there must also be a plan for implementing such a vision. No Bosses does not go deeply into this.
One possible solution: take immediate small possible steps and work towards serially implementing such steps until the vision is realized. Albert sees such a strategy as doomed. A wage increase obtained, for example, will lead to battle fatigue and enjoying a battle won while the war continues. (p 188)
A second solution is to only fight for the big prize: implementation of the parecon, and accept no partial victories on the way. Albert does not foresee an overnight, outright victory. Without tangible signs of success, hope diminishes. “We build nothing lasting. We win nothing lasting,” writes Albert. (p 189)
A third solution, the one favored by Albert, is to take whatever successes are achieved, keep up the pressure, and maintain solidarity until parecon is realized. “We build ties, connections, and means to exercise pressure that can win now. We also foreshadow, prepare for, and facilitate winning more later.” (p 189-190) Does it really differ from the first approach, besides a commitment to continue the good fight?
Of course, a movement to establish a better economic model requires committed organizing and solidarizing. But a question lingers: once a tipping point is achieved, then how best to proceed to win a victory for the masses?
This writer envisions a revolution in the form of a sustained general strike. To succeed, it cannot be limited to a one-day strike or a two-week strike or a one-year strike. The general strike must endure until victory is grasped. There will be immense hardships for the masses because the capitalists will not concede their power. They will dig in for the long haul, and they have their immense wealth to sustain this. Nonetheless, spread among the multitude of the masses are the skills and the means that, in totality, surpass that of the oligarchs. Solidarity requires that the masses must share and care for each other. In a parecon, everyone will be remunerated equitably, and there is no more meaningful place to begin the sharing than during a revolution. It is expected that strike-breaking Pinkertons cannot operate as ruthlessly today for their bosses, but assuredly, the oligarchs will seek to enact new laws as needed and to mobilize the police, military, and other security branches to try and crush a general strike. Therefore, the revolution calls for a steadfastness of purpose by the strikers.
Where to start?
Education is a must. Sadly, in societies where the monopoly media denigrates socialism, communism, and anarchism, it is difficult to bring such visions before the wider public. Also, few schools and universities entertain curricula discussing such “radical” models, often derided as “utopian,” asserting that they are unobtainable.
Workers must also be at the forefront of promulgating a vision of betterment for workers, families, and the wider society. Unions and worker organizations need to inform and hold discussions with the workers and other interested groups.
The parecon vision is not claimed to be perfect. And neither is that a compelling criticism since it is obvious that capitalism is far from perfect. Anyway, parecon is not set in stone; it is flexible; changes and tweaks are expected along the way and would be implemented as needed.
Well well, some of us try-try. We end up having to take pittance jobs, with pitiful nonprofits, where the bottom line is, well, poverty pimping.
So in a time of Covid Capitalism, in a time of quick silver circling the drain, quitting after 5 weeks on the job may appear rash, or self-defeating.
But here is the rub — working in Oregon, on the coast, in areas that are tourist-centric, rural, redneck, we have to juggle our principles and our ethics with the prevailing job market. Social services in USA are feces factories, and in Oregon, we as a state hit rock bottom. Not to take anything away from the rock bottom that Georgia claims, as we see in the Intercept, an article, “Judge, Lawyer, Help, Case Dismissed — Atlanta’s Mental Health Problem — and Ours” by George Chidi:
About 62 percent of Georgians believe they may be foreclosed on or evicted in the next two months for being behind on payments, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey conducted last month. It is by far the highest percentage in the United States.
There aren’t actually enough marshals to process all of the evictions that are coming. People will be forced from their homes in fits and spurts. Many residents will look for relief from Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs, which has a $1 billion allocation for emergency rental assistance from the federal government.
After eight months with cash in hand, the department had spent about 9 percent of its money. The federal government is probably going to claw some of the remaining cash back.
Chidi’s piece follows one woman, who lives in her feces, half naked, in Atlanta. His perspective is on mental illness, generational trauma, inept systems of oppression, and the disgusting nature of Americans. One super user person — her name is Harmony — has been to court, has been busted, has been ambulanced to the ER multiple times, has been forcefully evaluated and drugged. Tens of thousands a year just for one person. Some super users, as they are called, are costing taxpayers a million bucks or more a year in the penury-ripoff medical-mental health-nonprofit-policing systems of oppression. The housing-first model can’t work in capitalism, and the attendant mental illnesses, outright and brewing, in the tens of millions of Americans will be dealt with (sic) through fines, tolls, penalties, surcharges, fees, taxes, imprisonment, probation, handcuffs, rough sleeping on America’s streets, slow death, traumatic death.
Pretty hardboiled this country, these systems are! And, after five weeks, I had to quit a job where my requirement was supposedly to help people living in poverty, living with mental illnesses, with traumatic brain injuries, with developmental disabilities, get job ready, get their job profiles and interview skills up to speed, and to get them jobs that are in most cases, Customized. That term is a double-edged sword, really, since in Oregon, the job of employment specialists like myself is to to find competitive, integrated employment. That sounds grand, but the reality is most of the clients I have served here at this new ex-company and for years elsewhere need bridges: guys like me speaking with employers, the business’ other employees, with the client, and with an eye to part-time work with accommodations requested, i.e. some tasks removed from the job, some coaching and supervision by the social services’ agency, and a lot of check ins with the employer, as well as natural supports and the client and his or her team of service coordinators, housing support staff, parents, guardians, state brokerages, and state vocational rehabilitation, as well as mental health teams when applicable, supporting him or her.
This shit-show company (the identify and identifying characteristics have been changed herein) has headquarters two hours south of my county, and they have money making services that employ people with DD and ID, and, well, they are run by broken people, the services and the company in general. I’ve written about this before — Social services is populated with people living with a boat-load of chronic illnesses, complex PTSD, even mental illness. There are many in this field with physical disabilities. Unfortunately, these people on the coast, where I live and work, are loud, obnoxious, jealous of people with graduate degrees. They are racist, ageist, plain crude, rude and ugly in the way they talk out of the sides of their mouths. They are American, as American as this new putrid governor of Virginia, Youngkin, another racist, backward, millionaire of the private equity kind (inequity for us, the 80 percent). As American as Hunter Biden. As American as David Duke. Just on a poor scale. Trump and Jerry Springer. So many examples of the sickness of Americans, from academics, to FDA props, to your local gas station attendant.
In my case, the supervisor unloaded on me — on day one — her personal life, her own prejudices, demonstrating all sorts of sad non-supervisorial ticks and attitudes. Unprofessional seems to be her middle name. She had to unload on me about her own broken family background, her own personal struggles, and all of the bad stuff. She’d say, “Well, this is between you and me … and if you try to throw me under the bus, watch out.”
Funny how this field attracts broken people, and when you put these people into a supervisorial role, they take it seriously — boss, man. Broken bosses!
Seriously, a fifty-something single mother of four boys expected the “yes, boss” crap from me. She is seriously flawed, and on day one she trashed the state workers, the counselors I had to work with since they are the people who refer clients to this nonprofit, which profits off of the homelessness, the intellectual disabilities, the mental and psychiatric disabilities, the trauma, the life circumstances of their clients.
Having a supervisor, or manager, telling me “I’m a beaner,” and then laughing that she has “Mexican roots,” and then thinking and saying, “Yes, it may be crude and racist, but I am okay with it.”
A boss who is confused about LGBTQA+, about transgenderism and transitioning, and yet, she has a military-based (Navy) son who is marrying another man, and that is how this redneck, broken world is — still calling people faggot, as an enduring term. She laughed about it.
Again, this messed up, crude, disgusting country (yes, you can call anyone anything you want to in the privacy of your home, in the open air of your backyard and amongst your sick family and friends) is broken from top to down. But this is day one, day two, and on and on, of a low paying job.
I quit yesterday, and my tendered resignation was about all sorts of terrible things this supervisor was doing. You are left out there in the middle of the muck when the boss ma’am is racist, sexist, loud, cussing, and yakking about her dating life, yakking to me, a man disinterested in this crap, and, me, someone who just wanted to get down to brass tacks with clients and their support network.
The company is run by a guy who is ex-military, Army, and the entire organization is full of broken, sick and troubled people. There you have it, no, troubled, sick, broken people working with adults with broken lives, troubled minds, sicknesses from developmental disabilities and beat down emotionally and physically by weathering and the trauma of foster care and group homes and bad-bad families and schools.
At the heart of it all, read Patrick Lawrence, “The Manufacture of Decline — Americans suffer the same disabilities as the Europeans of 1919: They cannot think. They cannot speak plainly among themselves.”
It is sobering, to put the point mildly, to sit in America in 2021 and read the reflections of a writer sitting in Paris 102 years ago. The world America made in the post–1945 years has ended just as the Great War ended the world Paul Valéry, born in 1871, knew as his own.
And Americans suffer the same disabilities as the Europeans of 1919: They cannot think. They cannot speak plainly among themselves.
They are, in a phrase, manufacturing their own decline as they flinch from the world as it is in this, our post–American century.
It makes sense that I would unfold this catharsis from my life in this attempt at closure, at DV, a newsletter, “a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice.” It makes sense that I tell the world — a few readers — that is — things stink in Denmark, or Detroit, or Oregon. This is called ground-truthing, and as I age out of this society (aging out means that this society gives shit about you, gives shit about your background, gives shit about your great licks and qualities, your travel and depth of life), the micro/macro aggressions heaped up on the feces pile that these people, low or high, rich or poor, broken or semi-fixed, closeted tyrants or semi-narcissists, just grows.
Failure after failure, I have weathered, leaving these trauma-inducing places behind. I have a thousand stories, or more. Maybe the nonfiction book or anti-memoir memoir, about all the people I have worked with, taught, reported on, been with throughout my walkabout. Again, who buys, who reads, who cares?
How the Salvation Army Lives Off (and thrives with) a Special Brand of Poverty Pimping Part-One: The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Salvation Army’s Faith-based ‘One Treatment Fits All’
Death by a Thousand Cuts: When the Cures of Big Pharma are Worse than the Diseases; The more chemicals, drugs, vaccines, additives, toxins they make, the more difficult it is to escape from big business’ straight-jacket
In this eco-porn world now, where all we hear is about COP26, again, again, and again, Deja vu, the same rotting messages. Climate capitalism has always been the agenda, and so in Glasgow, we expect something different?
Jesus. This is fossil fuel financing, fossil fuel usury, the tipping point of their multiple disruptive economies, pitchman of all pitchmen: Bill Gates.
Gates set off on his environmental crusade aboard a superyacht, which environmentalists say are among the world’s worst ecological offenders. According to Turkish news reports, he sailed the azure waters of the Aegean on LANA, a 354-foot yacht described as “one of the most luxurious superyachts in the world.” The boat includes eight staterooms, a golf range, a cinema room, a pool and massage rooms. It accommodates 12 guests and 31 crew members, and rents for more than $2 million a week, according to a Monaco-based yacht rental service.
LANA was followed by the Wayfinder — a 223-foot luxury “supply boat” that is believed to be owned by the billionaire and was used to house his 30 bodyguards for the weeklong trip, according to Turkish news reports.
[Superyachts like LANA (top) and the Wayfinder are some of the most exclusive in the world and dump 7,020 tons of CO2 a year, making them the worst asset to own from an environmental standpoint. Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]
Really, that is the contrast today, folks — finishing up my time with this poverty pimping outfit at 5 PM PST, Nov. 3, and the kicker is that according to service coordinators in my county, the supervisor for whom I argued failed to do her due diligence around mandatory reporting. Clients who have paychecks shorted, and who have bosses abusing them verbally. Each person in the developmental disability world who claims this to be happening, well, it is called financial exploitation, and as mandatory reporters we have to report it to an investigatory agency. I pushed this anti-Mexican, anti-transgender boss to do something, but her words stuck: “It’s not your job to get into the middle of that.”
Yet, it is our job to report it, alas, and not analyze or parse the words of a person living with developmental disabilities when she or he reports financial abuse/exploitation.
That is a good evening, November 3, to quit this shit job, and leave these bullshit people.
But the fight is on, not just in DD Services. Oregon, the masked-up, blue state, retrograde and defiantly backward place, has these health care outcomes:
The white paper explores the impact consolidation has on patients and communities and highlights current trends in Oregon. Key findings from the report include:
The number of independent hospitals and physicians in Oregon is dwindling. The number of independent hospitals in Oregon has declined by 43 percent since 2000. The share of physicians affiliated with health systems in the Portland metro area grew from 39 percent in 2016 to 71 percent in 2018.
Oregon’s most competitive healthcare market is not only highly concentrated, but also one of the priciest in the nation. In 2017, Portland had the 14th highest healthcare prices out of 124 large metro areas across the nation. In addition, the amount Oregonians paid for their healthcare increased nearly 29 percent in four years, outpacing the rate of inflation.
Consolidation could exacerbate health disparities in Oregon. Experts argue that when hospitals raise prices, resources are redirected to facilities that cater to privately insured individuals (who are disproportionately white and high-income) as opposed to those that care for Medicaid patients (who are disproportionately Black, brown, and people of color).
Following affiliation, rural hospitals are more likely to lose access to services, such as onsite imaging, outpatient nonemergency care, and obstetric and primary care.
Reproductive, gender-affirming, and compassionate end-of-life care are at risk. Several large, religiously-affiliated healthcare entities are governed by ethical religious directives that prohibit or impose barriers that reduce access to these services. Past mergers have put reproductive, gender-affirming and compassionate end-of-life-care at risk, as could future ones.
And, just in the Portland area, the mental health outcomes, coming to, or already in your neighborhood/city/state:
Typical caseload: 100+ clients
Care provider turnover rate: 40%
Wait time for appointments: 4-6 weeks
It’s no wonder Oregon ranks 51st in the country for mental health outcomes—behind every other state and Washington DC. (source)
Fitting, and so I quit, left, tendered my resignation: This is a crisis beyond crisis,
Clients feel abandoned by staff who leave due to low pay and poor conditions.
— Community Behavioral Health Survey, 2016
Ending with the Intercept story, this is the emblematic one issue tied to a thousand issues of our time. I just do not know how any sane person can look at these judges, cops, DAs, governors, senators, representatives, White House officials, administration armies without the thought of taking an old trusted Louisville Slugger to their blanks _____(fill in the blank).
Harmony lay in a 6-foot-wide stream of her own waste, swaddled in a blanket infused with feces. She propped up her matted head on her right arm, looking up at two downtown ambassadors from the community improvement district who had come out to ask her to move for the fourth time in a week. They needed to pressure wash the sidewalk.
Harmony is not her real name. Atlanta’s powers that be know who she is.
Phillip Spillane, a good friend of mine among the ambassadors, had called 911 to get paramedics to take her to Grady Hospital that Friday. He has made this call about once every two weeks, when the state of Harmony’s squalor becomes too much to bear for an observer with a soul.
I came upon them as paramedics were piling back into a Grady ambulance. I watched them drive away, an impassive expression on the face of the paramedic in the passenger seat as she watched Harmony, who remained on the sidewalk.
It was the same expression on the faces of most of the people walking by. I’ve seen it every time I’ve come downtown to Atlanta to talk with her. It’s not that passersby don’t notice her, but people make an immediate mental calculation about their ability to help someone in this kind of distress. The social reaction — the human reaction — left over is a carefully deliberate nonchalance meant to provide some dignity to a person in a state of public humiliation and to retain some dignity of their own on the scene of a moral catastrophe.
Of course, some people realize that they’re about to step in her shit and can’t keep from scowling.
This story starts with Harmony. It does not end with her. (George Chidi)
Junaina Muhammed (India) / Young Socialist Artists, A woman working in the korai fields, where women often work from a young age to earn a living.
Reminder: Indian peasants and agricultural workers remain in the midst of a country-wide agitation sparked by the proposal of three farm bills that were then signed into law by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party government in September 2020. In June 2021, our dossier summarised the situation plainly:
It is clear that the problem in Indian agriculture is not too much institutional support, but inadequate and uneven deployment of institutions as well as the unwillingness of these institutions to address the inherent inequalities of village society. There is no evidence that agribusiness firms will develop infrastructure, enhance agricultural markets, or provide technical support to farmers. All this is clear to the farmers.
The farmers’ protests, which began in October 2020, are a sign of the clarity with which farmers have reacted to the agrarian crisis and to the three laws that will only deepen the crisis. No attempt by the government – including trying to incite farmers along religious lines – has succeeded in breaking the farmers’ unity. There is a new generation that has learned to resist, and they are prepared to take their fight across India.
In January 2021, the Supreme Court of India heard a series of petitions about the farmers’ protests. Chief Justice S. A. Bobde reacted to them with the following startling observation: ‘We don’t understand either why old people and women are kept in the protests’. The word ‘kept’ rankles. Did the Chief Justice believe that women are not farmers and that women farmers do not come to the protests of their own volition? That is the implication behind his remark.
A quick look at a recent labour force survey shows that 73.2% of women workers who live in rural areas work in agriculture; they are peasants, agricultural workers, and artisans. Meanwhile, only 55% of male workers who live in rural areas are engaged in agriculture. It is telling that only 12.8% of women farmers own land, which is an illustration of the gender inequality in India and is what likely provoked the Chief Justice’s sexist remark.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation pointed out a decade ago that ‘Closing the gender gap in agricultural inputs alone could lift 100-150 million people out of hunger’. Given the immense problem of hunger in our time – as highlighted in last week’s newsletter – women in agriculture must be, as the FAO notes, ‘heard as equal partners’.
Karuna Pious P (India) / Young Socialist Artists, Brick work, locally known as pakka me kaam.
From Tricontinental Research Services (Delhi) comes a superb new dossier on the status of women in India, Indian Women on an Arduous Road to Equality (no. 45, October 2021). The text opens with an image of five women working at a brick kiln. When I saw that drawing, I was transported to a calculation made by Brinda Karat, a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), about the labour of women construction workers. Bina, a young woman working in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, carries between 1,500 and 2,000 bricks to masons in a multi-story building. Bina carries at least 3,000kgs of bricks every day, each weighing 2.5kgs, yet she earns a pittance of under ₹150 ($2) per day and suffers from severe body aches. ‘The pain has become an intrinsic part of my life. I don’t remember a single day without it’, Bina told Karat.
Daniela Ruggeri (Argentina) / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, Childcare workers protest the Modi government’s unfair treatment of women and workers.
Reminder: Women in India have been an integral part of the farmers’ movement, the workers’ movement, and the movement to widen democracy. Does this need to be said? It seems that something so evident requires constant repetition.
During this pandemic, women public health workers and women childcare workers have played a central role in holding together society, all while being disparaged and having their work trivialised. On 24 September 2021, ten million scheme workers – those who work for government schemes such as public health (Accredited Social Health Activist or ASHA workers) and crèches (anganwadi workers) – went on strike to demand formal employment and better protection for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Tax the super-rich’, they said, repeal the farm bills, stop the privatisation of the public sector, and defend women workers.
Over the past few years, ASHA workers have complained about routine harassment, including sexual harassment. In 2013, the Indian government enacted the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act to protect both formal and informal workers. No rules have been framed for ASHA and other scheme workers, nor are these workers able to lift up their experiences of harassment to the front pages of corporate media.
Our dossier carefully dissects the prevalence of patriarchal harassment and violence, making sure to identify the different ways that such toxic behaviours strike at women of different classes. Working-class women in unions and in left organisations have built a kind of mass sensibility; as a result, their struggles now incorporate demands against patriarchy that had otherwise been distant from their lives. For instance, it is now clear amongst many working-class women that they must win maternity leave, equal wages for equal work, guaranteed crèches, and redressal and prevention mechanisms against sexual harassment in workplaces. Such demands cascade back into the family and community, where other struggles – such as against patriarchal violence in the home – expand the horizon of democratic movements in India.
Vikas Thakur (India) / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, A cycling training camp in Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu.
The dossier closes with wise words about the importance of the farmers’ movement for the women’s movement:
Though the Indian women’s movement has seen many ups and downs over the decades, it has remained resilient, adapted to changing socioeconomic conditions, and even expanded. The current situation might present an opportunity to strengthen mass movements and to steer the focus towards the rights and livelihoods of women and workers. The ongoing Indian farmers’ movement, which started before the pandemic and continues to stay strong, offers the opportunity to steer the national discourse towards such an agenda. The tremendous participation of rural women, who travelled from different states to take turns sitting at the borders of the national capital for days, is a historic phenomenon. Their presence in the farmers’ movement provides hope for the women’s movement in a post-pandemic future.
Reminder: Nothing in the slogans coming from the farmers’ encampments is unique. Most of these are long-standing claims. The demands made by women farmers at the protest sites and amplified by the farmers’ unions echo the Draft National Policy for Women in Agriculture put forward by the National Commission for Women in April 2008. This policy included the following key demands, each one applicable today:
Ensure that women have access to and control over resources, including land rights, water, and pasture/forest/biodiversity resources.
Guarantee equal wages for equal work.
Pay minimum support prices to primary producers and ensure that sufficient food grains are available at affordable prices.
Encourage women to enter agriculture-related industries (including fisheries and artisanal work).
Provide training programmes for women including agricultural practices and technologies that are sensitive to the knowledge that women possess as well as the practices they carry out.
Provide adequate and equal availability of services such as irrigation, credit, and insurance.
Encourage primary producers to produce and market seeds, forest and dairy products, and livestock.
Prevent women’s livelihoods from being displaced without providing viable alternatives.
The left women’s movement has put these demands back on the table. The right-wing government will not hear them.
Ingrid Neves (Brazil) / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, A seaweed harvester facing the rough seas.
Once more, our dossier comes to you designed with great care and love. This time, our team has worked closely with the Young Socialist Artists (India). Together, we found powerful photographs from the history of the Indian women’s movement and from the farmers’ protests and used these as references for the illustrations in the dossier. We look forward to inviting you to an online exhibition of this art, our small gesture towards expanding a possible pathway to a socialist future.
Larry Spencer, UMWA District 20 Vice President, represents the 1,100 coal miners in three UMWA locals which on strike against Warrior Met in Alabama since April 1, 2021. He will give an update on the strike in a September 28 webinar. The strikers are fighting to reverse concessions that were foisted on them in 2016 when BlackRock and other billionaire creditors set up Warrior Met Coal and took over mine operations with the aid of a bankruptcy court.
To keep their jobs, Warrior Met made the miners work up to seven days a week and take a $6-an-hour pay cut, accept reduced health insurance, and give up most of their overtime pay and paid holidays.
BlackRock’s net income was $1.55 billion in the second quarter of 2021, with a record $9.5 trillion in assets. Warrior Met makes up just a tiny fraction of its portfolio.
UMWA President Cecil Roberts pointed out, “The workers gave up more than $1.1 billion in wages, health care benefits, pensions, and more to allow Warrior Met to emerge from bankruptcy five years ago. The company has enjoyed revenue in excess of $3.4 billion in that time. But it does not want to recognize the sacrifices these workers made to allow it to exist in the first place. All those billions came up to New York to fatten the bank accounts of the already-rich.”
Invoking shared sacrifice, Warrior Met had promised lots of improvements once the company attained financial solvency. When contract negotiations began last spring, however, Warrior Met reneged on its promise, refusing to bargain in good faith.
“They’re making us work seven days a week, up to 16 hours,” says Brian Kelly, president of United Mine Workers of America Local 2245, who’s worked in the mine for 25 years. “Now we’re forced to work every holiday except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas.”
Excessive overtime is a key issue in the strike. Miners have been forced into 12-hour shifts stretching into weekends—without the double pay on Saturday and triple pay on Sunday that they used to get.
Health insurance went from $12 for seeing any doctor in the world to $1,500 family deductible and co-pays up to $250. Given work conditions in a coal mine, health care is vital. Miners face silicosis, black lung, diesel, smoke.” Black lung is caused by breathing in coal dust, which silts up the lungs, scarring and destroying them.
Another main dispute is that management is demanding the power to fire strikers and to give strikebreakers and new hires seniority priority.
Strikers blocked scabs from entering the mines—until the company obtained an injunction to stop them. Strikers have been arrested and run into by vehicles driven by company employees.
On July 28, 1,000 miners and supporters rallied in New York City to protest outside the offices of BlackRock Fund Advisors. There, South Dakota Federation of Labor president Kooper Caraway told Wednesday’s demonstrators that “workers all over the world are going to stand with you and support you, and there’s nothing BlackRock or any other rich asshole can do about it.”
Hamilton Nolan wrote an excellent report on one of their biggest rallies a week later, August 4:
There were more than a dozen CWA members from Atlanta who worked for AT&T, decked out in red shirts. There was a gaggle of UAW members. There were Teamsters, and teachers, and government workers, all proudly in their union t‑shirts. There were union officials from Georgia and Kentucky and Tennessee and South Carolina. There were presidents of locals from other states, climbing the stage to present $500 checks to the strike fund. There was an entire tent full of longshoremen wearing custom-made white t‑shirts that said “Port workers in solidarity with mine workers.” They had come from Charleston, Jacksonville, and Mobile, Alabama, on a single bus that stopped in each city, collecting the comrades.
I spoke to many of these attendees and, to a person, the question of why they had gone to all the trouble to show up was answered as if it didn’t require any explanation at all. “Solidarity,” they said. “They supported us, so we’re supporting them.” “This is what the union’s about.” To take a 30-hour round trip on a bus was, for them, a no-brainer. This is what the union’s about. For one day, this was just common sense. But in the context of the United States of America in 2021, this was a rare sight to behold.
The UMWA declared: “The people who manage the Wall Street hedge funds that own Warrior Met don’t know us, they don’t know our families, they don’t know our communities. And they don’t care. All they care about is sucking as much money as they can, every day that they can, from central Alabama.”