Politics

Carrier: Workers as ‘Theatrical Props’

With the number of circus acts and sideshows associated with the incoming presidential administration, it’s easy for even significant events to slip through the cracks. But the Real Estate Tycoon’s silly spectacle  of cutting a corporate welfare deal with the Carrier company to relocate only 1000 jobs instead of 2000 has titillated the New York Times and also generated a slew of criticism (of varying levels of coherence) from free marketers. Bernie Sanders’s analysis is far more useful–he rightly points out that these kinds of deals incentivize bad behavior by corporations–but I’m even more interested in how the workers themselves are empowered or disempowered by bourgeois political posturing.

So it was refreshing to see the Institute for Public Accuracy digging deeper and finding critical voices speaking about the way workers are always used as props in the framing of these stunts and stories.

“Firms like Carrier in effect use jobs as a hostage to get a ransom payment from the government,” Morton Marcus, a retired Indiana University economist, told IPA. Marcus goes on to explain that this framework is what allows corporations to offer public goods to policymakers that can have negative long-term consequences.

It happens all the time. A firm says they’re interested in building a new factory, in expanding. They ask: what can you do for us? So, the local government gives them tax relief, gives them other incentives — building roads, sewers, water system for the firm. Governments used to ease the tax burden on their own citizens by taxing firms, but this tax ‘relief’ for firms is being done in the name of jobs. So, a firm leaves a polluting residue, contaminates the water supply, with the locals, decades from now, forced to deal with the consequences.

Tim Lewandowski of Workers’ Project, Inc. in Fort Wayne, Indiana, says workers are never actually involved in these discussions, guaranteeing that their interests (which correspond to most community members’ interests) are never truly represented.

Here in Indiana, Mike Pence made a living attacking workers. But doesn’t matter if it’s a big ‘trade deal’ or a local tax abatement — any kind of economic development involves a government entity and corporation, supposedly working to save jobs. That’s going on all the time. Yet, workers are always excluded from those discussions, at best they’re theatrical props. But if workers aren’t involved in really making the deal, it ends up being more show than go. A big part of the problem is that deals like this are all self-reporting — something Donald Trump is familiar with. They can say they’re going to have X number of jobs at such-and-such a wage, but who’s checking? We almost have a Soviet system, where it’s a handshake and a fantasy economy, simply for photo-ops.

In politically bargaining these particular jobs, both the corporations and the strongman-showman-president-elect are benefitting from the work the workers already did in winning the benefits associated with the jobs. Lewandowski explains: “The jobs Carrier has been threatening to move are good jobs and they’re good jobs because the workers bargained for those jobs for years and made them good. We’re actually drowning in jobs — if you want to work lousy hours, for lousy pay and be disrespected.”

Imagine a world where elected officials had to bargain with the workers themselves.

By the way, the Institute for Public Accuracy is amazing for the depth they open up in their press releases. Support them here–it’s tax-deductable.

The 2016 Elections: 6 Takeaways for the Economic Cooperation Movement

by Matt Stannard

1. Because capitalism. The election of America’s most prominently parasitic and malicious real estate capitalist to Chief Executive says “this is what happens, Larry.” An economic system based on predatory finance, making money through exploitation of labor, extraction of the planet, and the financial leverage of money itself, gets us mass immiseration, deep cultural divisions, irrationality-as-ideology, fake populism, incipient fascism. The 2016 election was an indictment of extract-and-exploit capitalism, not a vindication of it. Breathe deeply knowing that. Keep talking about it. More and more people will want to talk about it.

2. These Herberts won’t solve anything. The new (deeply incompetent and crony-driven) administration will push poorly-planned, graft-heavy infrastructure and other mega projects. It will continue to promise to bring back coal jobs and manufacturing jobs. All of the administration’s economic initiatives will likely be ecologically indefensible and not truly beneficial to the local economies they’ll purport to target. We have to keep emphasizing public and community finance, local protection of the commons, and the economic viability of cooperative communities.

3. Local politics matters now more than ever. We already know how fossil fuel giants manifest their politics via controlling state legislatures, and pro-carbon state-level politicians came out ahead in the 2016 elections. ALEC-like entities will continue to influence state and local governments. But this is also where we have the greatest chance of resisting bad policies and carving out exceptional, even revolutionary, communities. We must run for local offices and support legal efforts to increase municipal autonomy.

4. We are transpartisan. Democrats are demoralized, but many are eager to build a tycoon-proof society. Some Republicans are bright enough to see the reality of what they have created, ready to reject hate politics, and amenable to the localist component of our vision. Greens, Socialists, and others are still struggling for national relevance but have always had valuable knowledge of and commitment to cooperative economics (and those groups have run some great local campaigns that align with our values). A hell of a lot of people are unaffiliated and/or didn’t vote. Economic cooperation must be politically ecumenical in precisely the ways that bourgeois, corporate media-driven politics can never be.

5. Materiality intersects. We need to work on class, race, gender, sexuality, disability, indigenous rights, and other oppression points in our unique way: emphasizing the material components of identity-based oppression where activists inhabiting the conventional political economy cannot. While others are arguing about whether poor whites are more white than poor or more poor than white, let us create spaces where economic insecurity no longer sparks, exacerbates, or obfuscates identity-based prejudices. There will still be bigotry, but we can make it easier to fight it.

6. We are building the alternative. We have to keep building, building, building. Keep creating and converting worker-owned cooperatives. Keep creating and strengthening eco-villages, income-sharing communities, and community land trusts. Keep reminding cities and states that public banks offer independence from a federal government owned by Wall Street. Keep fighting every attempt to privatize the commons. Keep building cooperative culture, local currencies and time exchanges, strong social service networks and resource-sharing programs. Every time we demonstrate that cooperation works, the forces that gave us President-elect Trump lose. A cooperative economy is a material base against exploitation and fascism. Whatever the importance of other activism, this is the importance of ours.

Image: Union Cab workers in Portland, Oregon. Photo credit: NW Labor Press