It’s Chaos on the Shop Floor!

26 11 2012

For all but the smallest or most specialized of employers, a single employee’s refusal to work has a minimal effect. For all but a comparatively small portion of the workforce, an employer’s dismissal of an employee is devastating. These baldly true propositions underlie the basic, original organization of modern American labor policy.

I use the phrase “labor policy” because there isn’t a good term in popular use for what I’m trying to talk about. That belies a phenomenon we’ve noticed particularly over the last handful of years: increasing (visible) fissures on the political left between “neoliberals” or “left-neoliberals” and traditional progressives. That is, when labor or class issues crop up–Occupy, collective bargaining in Wisconsin, the Chicago teachers’ strike, the Hostess strike and bankruptcy, the Wal-Mart job actions–the former tend to be reflexively skeptical, the latter reflexively supportive, of the “labor position.”
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A Long Time Comin’: Chicago Teachers Strike Authorization Vote Begins Today

6 06 2012

cross-posted from Gapers Block

Beginning today, over 20,000 Chicago teachers will vote on whether or not to authorize their bargaining committee to call for a strike should negotiations with the Board of Education over new contract terms fail. For authorization, 75% of non-retiree union members would need to approve. This high threshold is the result of legislation passed last year. As state public employees, teachers’ collective bargaining rights and terms are governed by state, rather than federal, law.

The legislation in question, known as SB7, was passed after intense and stealth lobbying efforts by Stand for Children, a well-funded non-profit that operates at the state level to encourage entrepreneurial changes to public education that incrementally privatize school systems. Stand for Children co-founder Jonah Edelman famously bragged at a conference that they used access to important and influential political figures like Rahm Emanuel and Michael Madigan, and insiders like Jo Anderson to tighten restrictions on the Chicago Teachers Union. Part of the strategy was to take away one of the union’s more potent tools, the strike threat. Unable to take away the right to a work stoppage, Stand settled for a 75% approval threshold.

Now, it is looking like Stand’s strategy might backfire, if teachers ultimately vote to authorize a strike. After all, the question teachers will vote on is whether to authorize a strike, not whether to go on strike. Arguably, winning an authorization vote by 50%+1 would not be a real show of strength. A significant portion of teachers would have expressed their opposition to a strike, and maintaining the strike, once called, would be exceedingly difficult. The organizational capacity teachers build by being forced to get over 75% means a resilient strike, should things come to that, and a battle-tempered organization prepared to push hard during negotiations.

Besides the mechanics of it, there are the underlying social conditions that are bringing this to a head.
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Do We Need Property Rights Over Our Jobs?

17 11 2011

In my various doings, toss-abouts, and private follies, I’ve known many socialists or quasi-socialists. I don’t know how common that is, to know a lot of socialists; nor do I know if I actually do know “a lot,” since there are probably many people who know lots more. Seems like a lot to me. I guess any would seem like a lot.

Anyway, my point is to say that I always profoundly disagreed with them on a lot of things, but the big one—and the reason I could never be a socialist, or even a proper Marxist—is that I’m big on property. I think reasonably strong property rights are not just important, but fundamental to a working democracy and liberty generally. I think it’s so plainly obvious that it’s not even worth arguing about. Property rights are a funny thing though; libertarians—hard libertarian, not the vague Ron Paul-ish ones—take the extreme view that property rights precede all civil society. In other words, they are inviolably ours, to the degree that the state can have no powers that conflict with that right.

This isn’t a very common view; the Constitution itself gives the government the power of eminent domain in its 5th Amendment “takings clause.” The takings clause allows the government to take any property for a “public use” so long as it is done via due process and pays a “just compensation.” So our starting point, as a society, is that the right to and dominion over your property is not 100% absolute. The debate then settles in on what is an appropriate framework, or the optimal limits, for our property rights.

Consider two examples:

In the first, you are you. You work for a firm as, say, a designer of some kind. You lead a team, but don’t have any management authority. You’re there for five years. You get incremental raises every six months. You’re five years in, and you make $65,000 a year now, and pay about $18,000 in taxes. Now, a management position just under the executives, say, two levels above you, opens up. You interview and you get the job. Now you make $174,000 a year, and pay $55,000 in taxes, or a 5% greater rate. Is that fair?
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