By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
On one level, the Democrats know what to do about some of these problems. They will likely pass (and Bush will surely veto) the Employee Free Choice Act, which would enable workers to join unions again without fear of being fired. And as corporations continue to make ever deeper cuts in health coverage and retirement benefits, the Democrats will, in response to public clamor, eventually come around to supporting state provision of these necessities.
The real conundrum is globalization itself, and the rise of the global corporation. Everywhere throughout the advanced industrialized world, it has weakened labor’s bargaining power and made the task of regulating corporate and financial institutions vastly more difficult. It has enlarged the labor pool, to the point where the percentage of working-age males not even in the job market has doubled since the 1960s in the U.S., Japan and the European Union. Throughout the West, it threatens to negate (and in the U.S., it has already negated) the great achievement of the parties of the center left in the decades after World War II: the creation, for the first time in human history, of widely shared mass prosperity.
Within the Democratic Party, two separate schools of thought are emerging as to how best to mitigate these problems. The Clintonian centrists, led by former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, see education and retraining as a partial answer to the challenge of globalized work — as if the structural changes of capitalism were the individual’s fault, and as if such highly skilled jobs as software writer and radiologist and architect weren’t among those being exported. Among liberals close to the labor movement, there’s a general sense that education is a fine thing as such, but that government-sponsored employment programs such as the Apollo Project, a proposal to employ 3 million Americans to retrofit their nation and make it more energy efficient, are also required. The split between these two groups is likely to replicate the split in the party on trade.
Ultimately, the rise of global laissez faire — a form of capitalism that benefits the few at the expense of the many — will have to be countered globally, just as the rise of national laissez faire had to be countered nationally. The latter was a task that took a good 70 years in this country — from the 1860s, when the railroads became the first national corporations, to the passage of Social Security and the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. It took that long to create (and create support for) a national government with the power to make capitalism more humane. It may take at least that long to create (and create support for) global institutions with the same kind of power, though I’m pleased to report that the world’s first genuinely global unions — of security guards and hotel employees (both occupations that can’t be offshored, and both in industries increasingly dominated by a handful of global conglomerates) — are both on the drawing boards.
The rise of the kind of global mixed economy that the parties of the center left once built at the national level here and in Western Europe, though, will take a painfully long time. In the long meantime, that poses a huge challenge for those parties, whose common raison d’être was the creation of mass prosperity. The politics of prolonged stagnation is sure to be exploited by nationalist, religious and racist demagogues. For their sake, and their nation’s, the Democrats had better develop the will and attain the power to make this long transition as palatable as possible, promoting public jobs when private ones dry up, and building the international institutions needed to restore a balanced economy. Otherwise, the future is going to be goddamn nasty.
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