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November 14, 2012 5:48 AM   Subscribe

Europe is on general strike against austerity today.
posted by eviemath (126 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by eviemath at 5:49 AM on November 14, 2012


I have been getting the most interesting txts from Spain today.
posted by The Whelk at 5:57 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


What the hell is "austerity" anyway?

Is that like when the rich people have enough to eat and safe places to sleep because they always do, but the poor people do not because the government has decided the best way to rebuild the economy is to cut off benefits to the poor?

Usually that doesn't lead to an economic recovery until after the civil war, though.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:01 AM on November 14, 2012 [48 favorites]


Man do I wish that American unions had the size and balls to see through these "austerity" smoke screens like Europe does.
posted by DU at 6:04 AM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wish that American unions had the size and balls to see through these "austerity" smoke screens like Europe does.

Given the Union pensions are tied to the Stock Market and a non-trivial share of that is tied to "debt" - telling the debtors to "take a haircut" like Iceland did isn't gonna happen.

May the bloodshed be minor.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:10 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The US chose to spend, and they have growth. Europe chose to cut, and we have shrinking. I would say that it's an open and shut case.

Good on the strikers.
posted by Jehan at 6:10 AM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


Meanwhile the Germans work. Just saying.
posted by Damienmce at 6:13 AM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Europe chose to cut, and we have shrinking.

Well not all of Europe.

In Northern Europe, the story is rather quite different. Today is an ordinary work day for the working class here in socialist Sweden. My colleagues in the Netherlands and Germany seem also hard at work today: exporting goods and services, paying taxes, keeping current accounts balanced. Stuff like what it takes to support a modern welfare state.

The residents of Spain and Portugal and Greece and Italy might take notice.
posted by three blind mice at 6:16 AM on November 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Le Monde is calling this a "day of anger." Not sure how that plays out in France; the U.S. media would probably refer to those on strike as "enraged mobs."

Let's not blame the American unions, folks, since they represent so small a percentage of the American workforce. If Wisconsin is any indicator, non-unionized Americans tend to resent union workers' benefits, so that makes a mass movement harder to come by. Seeming "class" divisions among American workers are a problem too: ask your average multi-degreed, employed cube monkey if they think of themselves as "labor." Never mind that those jobs are some of the most outsourceable ones!

Europe has us licked on organization and mobilization, but, sadly, not to the point where austerity regimes have been a political non-starter.
posted by Currer Belfry at 6:19 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


German industrial production has been shrinking.
posted by JPD at 6:21 AM on November 14, 2012


Meanwhile the Germans work. Just saying.

That may have appeared overly snarky. What I really meant to say was Germany and much of Northern Europe aren't any sort of Atlas Shurgged right wing paradise, unions and workers rights are strong but it's less of the 'let's get as much goodies for ourselves as we can' and more of a sensible collaborative approach. Keeping their local banks under the cosh also helped. Also I note very little is happening in equally debt ravaged Ireland, who appear to be keeping their heads down and getting back to the bond market.
posted by Damienmce at 6:22 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


What is the alternative proposed by the strikers? Could someone point me to some program or proposal they have?

Do they want their governments to continue to borrow more and more at worse and worse interest rates? Cuts to other parts of the government budgets? More government revenue from even higher marginal tax rates?
posted by Area Man at 6:22 AM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Area Man: that's actually in on of the links I think... I'll try to dig it up.
posted by eviemath at 6:24 AM on November 14, 2012


And German business confidence is at very low levels.

Lets not pretend like austerity hasn't had a negative impact across all of Europe. It will only get worse for the export focused Northern European countries - who buy the way take a lot of the blame for the condition of the Spanish economy. The internal devaluation that need to occur is the end result of bad pegs (too low in the north, too high in the south$ at the time of the creation of the monetary union.

And Munich will be Detroit in 20 years if that happens.
posted by JPD at 6:26 AM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yes, it's in the Guardian link; can't link directly, but it's the "12:00pm GMT What Europe's unions want" entry.
posted by eviemath at 6:27 AM on November 14, 2012


Stuff like this seems to bolster the conservative argument against the welfare state. Once the public teat dries up, you've got a riot on your hands.
posted by dr_dank at 6:28 AM on November 14, 2012


unions and workers rights are strong but it's less of the 'let's get as much goodies for ourselves as we can' and more of a sensible collaborative approach.

And the US Unions screwed themselves and the working class by taking the attitude of 'you want the nice healthcare package, join the union' rather than using the bargaining power to get such benefits across all of the working class.

This "protectionism" attitude shows itself here: Amid Sandy’s devastation, Long Island union sent written demand to Florida utilities: Pay dues or stay home and perhaps here: A utility worker from Lakeland, Fla., was punched in the face while walking outside a restaurant on New York's Long Island.

A whole lotta gristle to chew on when skilled workers are using their skills and tools to try to help (ok and get paid) and "union reps" act as has been claimed.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:30 AM on November 14, 2012


We need to stop blaming individuals, as they didn't cause the economic problems that Europe faces. The story is not "lazy Spaniard living on welfare", but "mismanaged banks and financial institutions causing havoc".
posted by Jehan at 6:30 AM on November 14, 2012 [35 favorites]


Okay, sorry about that, I've now seen the list in the Guardian Live Blog. I only skimmed through it before.

Here is the list of demands:

• Economic governance at the service of sustainable growth
and quality jobs,
• Economic and social justice through redistribution policies, taxation
and social protection,
• Employment guarantees for young people,
• An ambitious European industrial policy steered towards a green,
low-carbon economy and forward-looking sectors with employment
opportunities and growth,
• A more intense fight against social and wage dumping,
• Pooling of debt through Euro-bonds,
• Effective implementation of a financial transaction tax to tackle
speculation and enable investment policies,
• Harmonisation of the tax base with a minimum rate for companies
across Europe,
• A determined effort to fight tax evasion and fraud,
• Respect for collective bargaining and social dialogue,
• Respect for fundamental social and trade union rights.

So, it looks like the idea is to continue to fund social services, etc. by finding new tax revenue and also reduce borrowing costs through pooling of debt. Is the pooling something like having Germany co-sign their loans?

I feel okay blaming individuals who avoid paying taxes. Long-term you do need to fund a welfare state with actual income, and some of the countries facing problems have horrible problems with tax evasion. If someone is out there protesting cuts but hasn't actually been paying into the system, shame on them.
posted by Area Man at 6:37 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait - I thought I was coming to a metafilter thread, not LGF...
posted by symbioid at 6:38 AM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Once the public teat dries up, you've got a riot on your hands.

"When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic." —Benjamin Franklin.

Plenty of public teats. The now dead Chalmers Johnson in his Blowback series noted how the stopping of the military spending would lead to a depression, so not all teats are for "the poor".
posted by rough ashlar at 6:38 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are some solidarity actions in Germany and Northern countries: a map of all strike and related actions.
posted by eviemath at 6:39 AM on November 14, 2012


A lot of crazy rightwing victim-blaming in this thread already.

Switzerland, where I live, goes in more for hard-nosed "let's do what works" approach economically, whether the policy is traditionally right or left wing. It's notable that they're doing an enormous amount of public infrastructure stuff at the minute, mostly relaying tramlines and resurfacing motorways.

Also worth mentioning that they have their own currency, unlike the Southern European nations which cannot devalue and inflate their way out of debt.
posted by Isn't in each artist (7) at 6:41 AM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


The worst tax-evaders are corporations and wealthy individuals, not the little person.
posted by Jehan at 6:41 AM on November 14, 2012 [25 favorites]


"When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic." —Benjamin Franklin.

That is a misattributed quote. Franklin never said any such thing.
posted by enn at 6:41 AM on November 14, 2012 [13 favorites]


Iceland is awesome because they saw the results of the "Too Big To Fail" mindset (which protects the investors - ie, primarily the rich - at the expense of the taxpayer - ie, the middle class) and said "Not here. Not in this country." I applaud.

If Wisconsin is any indicator, non-unionized Americans tend to resent union workers' benefits, so that makes a mass movement harder to come by. Seeming "class" divisions among American workers are a problem too: ask your average multi-degreed, employed cube monkey if they think of themselves as "labor." Never mind that those jobs are some of the most outsourceable ones!

I'm a cube monkey, and I totally think of myself as "labor." The reason I loathe government unions isn't because of any "class division" - we're all just working folks. I loathe them because - thanks to my non-union status - unionized workers get benefits that I don't have, which are subsidized through my taxes (it's a fact - most taxes come from the middle class) and then these same unions have the nerve to act like they're getting a raw deal. The only way this could be more like robbery would be if they were taking the money directly out of my pocket.

Furthermore, this antagonism is the unions fault - they had the choice to declare war on the rich or the middle class, and they chose to attack the middle class (primarily because most high-level union representatives are very well off, and in fact when they leave the union many of them get hired at very good salaries by the same companies that they used to organize against - after all, who's better at breaking a strike than somebody who used to organize them?). If the unions were really on the side of the common man, they would advocate for the rich to pay more in taxes, so that the average taxpayers - the "cube monkeys" like me - wouldn't be too impacted by their demands. But do they do this? Is taxing the rich a fundamental part of the union platform? Hell no! In all their demands, they just want more money from the government, and don't give a crap where that money comes from. When unions are negotiating, it's never about ensuring equality, it's just about making sure that They Get Theirs. So yes, I fully believe any "solidarity" the unions try to draw between themselves and the common man is a smokescreen of lies and BS. If they want empathy from the average American, maybe they should start showing us a little empathy first.

This is not to say that I think the rich are "job-creators," or any nonsense like that. I simply recognize that the unions attack the middle-class every bit as viciously as the wealthy do.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:46 AM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


The US chose to spend, and they have growth. Europe chose to cut, and we have shrinking. I would say that it's an open and shut case

Yeah, this. From a purely empirical standpoint, even if you ignore the historical precedent (Great Depression, anyone?) it's obvious that austerity doesn't work and isn't working.

In the UK, the Office for Budget Responsibility (an organisation set up by our current Tory government) recently pointed out the obvious - that austerity is not a route to growth.

You might have expected this to cause red faces in government, but since austerity is an ideological program, rather than one with any evidential backing, I'm sure they didn't give a monkey's.
posted by Isn't in each artist (7) at 6:46 AM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh Internet and missattributed quotes.
freedom of printing?

Anybody know whether this attributed quote belongs to Franklin? "If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed." Thanks, --85.181.59.74 21:06, 25 September 2006 (UTC)
Possible quote?

When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.

I have seen this attributed to him elsewhere, but not sure of its provenance. Anyone can confirm or deny it? -- 86.145.222.229 00:40, 9 February 2007 (UTC)

Checking Google news, Google scholar and Google Books for "they can vote themselves money", I could find no attributions to Franklin earlier than 1988. By contrast, "time is money" is attributed to Franklin as early as 1850.[3]--Nowa123 04:46, 24 February 2007 (UTC)

Wikiquote has a similar quote attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler: 'A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury.' -- Traal 18:22, 8 December 2009 (UTC)

And further to de Tocqueville via Tytler:
The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money.

This is a variant expression of a sentiment which is often attributed to Tocqueville or Alexander Fraser Tytler, but the earliest known occurrence is as an unsourced attribution to Tytler in "This is the Hard Core of Freedom" by Elmer T. Peterson in The Daily Oklahoman (9 December 1951): "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy."
Variant: The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.
posted by symbioid at 6:47 AM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Franklin never said any such thing

I guess than Forbes fact checkers blew it - http://www.forbes.com/sites/richardsalsman/2012/04/18/representation-without-taxation-so-wheres-the-outrage/

Way to go symboid!
posted by rough ashlar at 6:52 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is getting interesting.
posted by infini at 6:56 AM on November 14, 2012


I guess than Forbes fact checkers blew it

If Forbes only published verifiable facts instead of opinions and propaganda, they'd be a pamphlet, not a magazine.
posted by hippybear at 6:57 AM on November 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


You know, I am tired of the "teat" metaphor altogether. The people getting government benefits of whatever stripe are by and large also taxpayers. A great many of them work and pay taxes; those that aren't working still pay taxes through whatever they buy.

It's insulting to infantilize any citizens receiving benefits, which is what this metaphor does. The government would not exist without the work done by the citizens. Requiring the government to spend tax money on citizens who have provided at least some of that money through their work is neither unfair nor illogical, and should be discussed without a metaphor designed to shame them for it.
posted by emjaybee at 6:59 AM on November 14, 2012 [35 favorites]


That may have appeared overly snarky. What I really meant to say was Germany and much of Northern Europe aren't any sort of Atlas Shurgged right wing paradise, unions and workers rights are strong but it's less of the 'let's get as much goodies for ourselves as we can' and more of a sensible collaborative approach. Keeping their local banks under the cosh also helped. Also I note very little is happening in equally debt ravaged Ireland, who appear to be keeping their heads down and getting back to the bond market.

Germany was Europe's Wall Street and they have fantastic PR painting them as saints of hard work when in reality they loaded up Europe with debt in order to subsidize their manufacturing and now they are lecturing the EU on the morality of debt repayment and imposing austerity while actively blocking measures that would be good for the EU but bad for German creditors. Win-win for German banks. Lose-lose for the rest of the people in the EU.

Germany is the very heart of Europe's troubles. It is not the answer ( Though I do like their union-management setup ).
posted by srboisvert at 7:00 AM on November 14, 2012 [23 favorites]


Can you recommend some links to read up on this angle, srboisvert? I'd be grateful.
posted by muckster at 7:04 AM on November 14, 2012


In Northern Europe, the story is rather quite different. Today is an ordinary work day for the working class here in socialist Sweden. My colleagues in the Netherlands and Germany seem also hard at work today: exporting goods and services, paying taxes, keeping current accounts balanced. Stuff like what it takes to support a modern welfare state.

Take a long hard look at the U.S. This is what the U.S. skilled manufacturing unions said while the paper mills were being closed 40 years ago. Wait 10 years and your working class will be trading the standard of living of young workers for the pensions of the old, which is exactly what's already happening towards the periphery of Europe.

The captains of industry in Germany are no less greedy nor short-sighted than their counterparts in the U.S. were. Seriously, there's nothing that's happened in U.S. political economy over the last 40 years that couldn't be replicated in Europe.

Also I note very little is happening in equally debt ravaged Ireland, who appear to be keeping their heads down and getting back to the bond market.

including economic growth and investment...
posted by ennui.bz at 7:09 AM on November 14, 2012


You can just look at the data. The Spanish housing bubble was essentially funded by German Landesbanks, Germany is a massive exporter to peripheral Europe. Literally every single bank in Germany is going to fail if Spain leaves the Euro and defaults. But the German government has figured out that politically it makes much more sense for them to then bail out their banks if that does happen rather than doing the right thing to prevent default in the first place - even though that is probably cheaper. Then the politicians figure they'll be retired before the longer term issues that a Spanish (or Italian) devaluation will bring about.
posted by JPD at 7:10 AM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah... Just coming back after stewing on this for a bit.

I lived in Spain for a while and the "lazy Spaniards" trope always puts my teeth on edge.

My friends there are either 1) unemployed, desperate and forced to live at home with family or 2) working every hour sent so that they can live independently - despite having to pay huge amounts of extra taxes if they work more than one job.

Two examples that spring to mind are a qualified teacher that spent the last four years working days as a receptionist to a science museum and simultaneously working nights doing guided tours in an observatory, because there weren't any teaching jobs available.

And another teacher in a private school, who last week did sixty hours of contact time in four days (if you're not a teacher, imagine doing sixty presentations at work in that time - a full time teaching job is normally about five contact hours per day).

Two of the hardest working people I've met and both on strike today.

In case that's all a bit public sector-y, a young advertising executive I met while there at the beginning of the crisis was doing her job and her boss's job for no pay rise, after they fired her boss.

Sorry for the anecdata but the stuff I read in Northern Europe does not match up to the reality as I experienced it in Southern Europe.
posted by Isn't in each artist (7) at 7:13 AM on November 14, 2012 [14 favorites]


emjaybee: "You know, I am tired of the "teat" metaphor altogether. The people getting government benefits of whatever stripe are by and large also taxpayers. A great many of them work and pay taxes; those that aren't working still pay taxes through whatever they buy.

It's insulting to infantilize any citizens receiving benefits, which is what this metaphor does. The government would not exist without the work done by the citizens. Requiring the government to spend tax money on citizens who have provided at least some of that money through their work is neither unfair nor illogical, and should be discussed without a metaphor designed to shame them for it.
"

----------

Oh man - now I'm picturing an old white man laying down with chest exposed, and "welfare recipients" sucking at his teat as some weird political cartoon.
posted by symbioid at 7:32 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


while he's zuzeln down a weisswurst.
posted by JPD at 7:36 AM on November 14, 2012


All that needs is a masturbating Boss Tweed and you got a Pulitzer, symboid.
posted by dr_dank at 7:40 AM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]



That may have appeared overly snarky. What I really meant to say was Germany and much of Northern Europe aren't any sort of Atlas Shurgged right wing paradise, unions and workers rights are strong but it's less of the 'let's get as much goodies for ourselves as we can' and more of a sensible collaborative approach. Keeping their local banks under the cosh also helped. Also I note very little is happening in equally debt ravaged Ireland, who appear to be keeping their heads down and getting back to the bond market.
posted by Damienmce at 6:22 AM on November 14


My experience with collective bargaining has been that collaboration is incredibly hard. Last couple times I sat at a bargaining table management came in asking for brutal cuts, and spent the entire time looking for places to make the work force bleed. When you're faced with that, it's hard to do anything but dig in your heels and push back.


To double up the trouble, we're talking public sector here. The government decides how much money flows into the institution, and management decides how to spend it. The workforce is expected to live with those terms. Money flows in as targeted capital to fund projects, contractors and one time things, but there's no operational funding for the work force. Austerity is declared, but workers are expected to continue to do the same (or more) work for less compensation.

Collaboration needs to come out of an environment where responsibility and authority are shared, and where everyone at the table can discuss things like equals.

As long as government and management are in charge of income and spending, workers are going to have to push back to make sure that they keep what they have. If you want "collaborative economic management" then make it collaborative. If we're going to share in the blood shed, we need to share in the decision making.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:47 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Danke, dr_dank. ;)

While we're speaking of Iceland, here's what Canada's Revolutionary Communist Party has to say about the matter basically - it's not nearly as radical as it seems and banks are already being privatized again.
posted by symbioid at 7:51 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


As long as government and management are in charge of income and spending, workers are going to have to push back to make sure that they keep what they have.

If the people's elected representatives and the folks they hire aren't in charge of government income (taxation) and spending, who would be? Are your suggesting that unions should get to set the tax rates and decide how the money is spent? I'm really not down with that idea.
posted by Area Man at 7:53 AM on November 14, 2012


And the US Unions screwed themselves and the working class by taking the attitude of 'you want the nice healthcare package, join the union' rather than using the bargaining power to get such benefits across all of the working class.

The Union movement I am in definitely lobbies for changes to legislation that impacts all workers - stuff like increased health and safety obligations on employers, parental and family leave, as well as reducing the attacks on collective bargaining that make it much harder to get a fair deal. When you speak of "bargaining power" you ARE aware that the unions have much less power than employers, yeah? And that workers cannot just randomly go on strike ("let's turn off all electricity today in favour of un-unionized workers at 7/11 getting free healthcare!"); strikes are legislated quite heavily. That being said, can you imagine what the labour force in the US would have had to deal with now WITHOUT the historical role of Unions? You do know that employers didn't willingly create weekends or overtime pay, let alone pensions or sick pay?
posted by saucysault at 7:54 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


The captains of industry in Germany are no less greedy nor short-sighted than their counterparts in the U.S. were.

Meanwhile humans are being replaced by machines. So how do you reorganise society where goods are produced and few humans are needed to produce these goods?

(Technocracy in the 1930's tried thinking of a way as a reference point.)
posted by rough ashlar at 7:56 AM on November 14, 2012


The reason I loathe government unions isn't because of any "class division" - we're all just working folks.

But you keep talking about your ire towards "government unions" which makes no sense because the majority of union labor is in the private sector. Unless you are really really upset about Federal and State employees specifically? I mean, you get that UAW and and UBC and SEIU and the Longshoremen and the Transit Workers aren't actually part of the US Govt, right?
posted by elizardbits at 7:57 AM on November 14, 2012



If the people's elected representatives and the folks they hire aren't in charge of government income (taxation) and spending, who would be? Are your suggesting that unions should get to set the tax rates and decide how the money is spent? I'm really not down with that idea.
posted by Area Man at 7:53 AM on November 14 [+] [!]



Not necessarily. (That's a whole other kettle of fish.)

But there's a lot of talk in these discussions about collaboration and shared burdens of responsibility.

It's hardly a collaborative process when person number one has a carrot in one hand and a stick in the other, and person number two is hitched to a cart.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:58 AM on November 14, 2012


you ARE aware that the unions have much less power than employers, yeah? And that workers cannot just randomly go on strike ("let's turn off all electricity today in favour of un-unionized workers at 7/11 getting free healthcare!"); strikes are legislated quite heavily. That being said, can you imagine what the labour force in the US would have had to deal with now WITHOUT the historical role of Unions? You do know that employers didn't willingly create weekends or overtime pay, let alone pensions or sick pay?

You know...whenever these things come up, there are inevitably people who I'm pretty sure AREN'T aware of these things, and seem to honestly think that weekends and vacation time are just an inevitable result of a free association and exchange of value between equals. luulz
posted by adamdschneider at 8:02 AM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


When you speak of "bargaining power" you ARE aware that the unions have much less power than employers, yeah?

And you understand that unions of today are not in the same position as the unions of the past, yeah?

Today's unions are going to have to try and figure out how to exist in the foxconn-robot style world I provided a link to above. Labor didn't do well when the machine looms came to town, nor when the 1st welding robots came into service.

What happens when all but service jobs are robots, and even they are being automated with pad devices at your table to place your food order - so now someone comes to your table when summoned following the instructions from the computer.

A brave new world, no?
posted by rough ashlar at 8:03 AM on November 14, 2012


The reason I loathe government unions isn't because of any "class division" - we're all just working folks. I loathe them because - thanks to my non-union status - unionized workers get benefits that I don't have, which are subsidized through my taxes (it's a fact - most taxes come from the middle class) and then these same unions have the nerve to act like they're getting a raw deal. The only way this could be more like robbery would be if they were taking the money directly out of my pocket.

You do understand that, not too long ago, all workers, unionized and not, enjoyed similar benefits, right? This was within my lifetime. It wasn't until "labor" started transitioning to office work that business saw fit to start stripping workers of those benefits. Unions today are merely holding-on to what was once near-universal benefits for all workers.

You're speaking like someone who really drank deep of all that 80's trickle-down theory koolaid.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:07 AM on November 14, 2012 [11 favorites]



A brave new world, no?
posted by rough ashlar at 8:03 AM on November 14 [+] [!]


I'm not sure it is. All changing tech threatens is the old union strongholds. Skilled work moves around. There's by no means less skilled work than there was a hundred years ago, although which sectors employ it has changed.

Instead of worrying about technological changes destroying skilled labour, I'd worry about representation and collective organization in these new industries. Someone has to build and maintain all the new machines.

New technology doesn't change our relationship to capital, but labour unions can be sluggish and there are huge sectors of the economy that they've utterly failed to represent. It's the same struggle that we've been having for a hundred years, how to represent the sectors that really need it.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:11 AM on November 14, 2012


That being said, can you imagine what the labour force in the US would have had to deal with now WITHOUT the historical role of Unions?

Don't have to imagine.

Upton Sinclair's The Jungle -> Union Meat Cutters -> Pink Slime
(yea, yea there are government regulations in that mix also but lets just for the sake of argument say its all rise and fall of the meatpackers Union mkay?)

What I don't have is the framing of what was going on in the European Labor at that time to compare/contrast to what was happening in the US. (this brings it back 'round to Europe where we started). There are PhD papers in tracking the people/ideas that bounced from one side of the pond to the other - so lets see some of those links metafilterites!

The business of business didn't happen in a vacuum back then - neither did what Labor was doing and reacting to.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:13 AM on November 14, 2012





That being said, can you imagine what the labour force in the US would have had to deal with now WITHOUT the historical role of Unions?

Don't have to imagine.


Better yet, go read about Chicago in the last decades of the 19th century. You can watch the rise of the American labour movement as we know it, and get a really good look at what America looked like before and after.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:16 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Someone has to build and maintain all the new machines.

There will be less overall people needed. (Robots building robots seems to be the endpoint)

Look at the old fulfilment warehouse of the 1980's for mail order and the newest ones. The newest ones don't have lights because the machines in them don't need light. Far fewer workers to keep the robots up and running and robots don't have a paid retirement plan nor healthcare needs.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:19 AM on November 14, 2012


rough ashlar: "... and robots don't have a paid retirement plan nor healthcare needs."

Yet.
posted by symbioid at 8:22 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]




There will be less overall people needed. (Robots building robots seems to be the endpoint)

Look at the old fulfilment warehouse of the 1980's for mail order and the newest ones. The newest ones don't have lights because the machines in them don't need light. Far fewer workers to keep the robots up and running and robots don't have a paid retirement plan nor healthcare needs.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:19 AM on November 14 [+] [!]



Maybe that should scare me more, but I like the idea of eliminating work, and then finding a new way of distributing wealth. Hopefully this imagined future doesn't involve battling robots and storming the cathedrals of their technocrat masters.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:23 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Too many people with too little education and/or skills, and too few jobs that can't be done with robots. Eternal economic growth is not sustainable.

Massive rethinking needed.
posted by Windopaene at 8:25 AM on November 14, 2012


paid retirement plan nor healthcare needs."
Yet.


I'm Wilford Brimley's Robotic Scooter and when I started to rust I contacted RPM International Mach-ical and now they send me FIre Engine Red in discrete packaging with no cost to me.

Again - Brave New World, no?
posted by rough ashlar at 8:26 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not going to enter into this fray. I do recall though, the IWW--International Workers of the World--and what they stood for. Workers EVERYWHERE had common goals and needs. Nowq, apply that notion to our recently globalized world.
posted by Postroad at 8:29 AM on November 14, 2012




Not going to enter into this fray. I do recall though, the IWW--International Workers of the World--and what they stood for. Workers EVERYWHERE had common goals and needs. Nowq, apply that notion to our recently globalized world.
posted by Postroad at 8:29 AM on November 14 [+] [!]


You mean Industrial Workers of the World.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:31 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the unions were really on the side of the common man, they would advocate for the rich to pay more in taxes, so that the average taxpayers - the "cube monkeys" like me - wouldn't be too impacted by their demands. But do they do this? Is taxing the rich a fundamental part of the union platform? Hell no! In all their demands, they just want more money from the government, and don't give a crap where that money comes from. When unions are negotiating, it's never about ensuring equality, it's just about making sure that They Get Theirs.

This is deeply incongruent with my experience of unions. It's true that there are some bad organizers or some bad unions, just like there are some bad companies or schools or priests. However, all unions with which I have personally come in contact have an explicit commitment to wage equality for all and progressive taxation, and throw their money and worker volunteer hours--and yes, union workers often volunteer for causes the union supports, expecting no remuneration. Many union workers don't work for the government (??), and as someone pointed out upthread: it's hard to not want to Get Yours when management is trying to ensure you Get Nothing.

Anyway, off to my non-union job that I wish was union.
posted by verbyournouns at 8:36 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


You do understand that, not too long ago, all workers, unionized and not, enjoyed similar benefits, right? This was within my lifetime. It wasn't until "labor" started transitioning to office work that business saw fit to start stripping workers of those benefits. Unions today are merely holding-on to what was once near-universal benefits for all workers.

So? What's your point? I don't get those benefits now, and the people who do are getting those benefits at my expense, taking money out of my pocket. Who cares if in some distant past office workers and the unions were one big happy family? What I care about is that the unions are screwing us here and now, because they chose to declare war on the middle class to line their pockets instead of going after the rich.

You're speaking like someone who really drank deep of all that 80's trickle-down theory koolaid.

You obviously didn't read my comment thoroughly, especially the last statement , where I specifically made clear my distaste for trickle-down theory. Reading Comprehension! It's a Good Thing.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:36 AM on November 14, 2012


robots don't have a paid retirement plan

Not until 2019 or so, anyway. Granted, it is a somewhat inexpensive retirement plan...
posted by entropicamericana at 8:46 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I care about is that the unions are screwing us here and now, because they chose to declare war on the middle class to line their pockets instead of going after the rich.

Where are you getting this from?
posted by adamdschneider at 8:49 AM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


International Workers of the World

And here I had deleted a part where I cited Marx, Luddites and Anarchists in one of my replies. Because I thought citing Anarchists was over the top.

Turns out International Workers of the World does exist and are part of this thread topic: The fight against the unenlightened plutarchy world wide - European Day of Action 15.12.2010 and 14.11.2012
posted by rough ashlar at 8:50 AM on November 14, 2012


What I care about is that the unions are screwing us here and now, because they chose to declare war on the middle class to line their pockets instead of going after the rich.

Are these those bizarro "CEO Unions" I keep hearing about? Because otherwise this don't make no damn sense.
posted by Big_B at 8:51 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]



Turns out International Workers of the World does exist and are part of this thread topic: The fight against the unenlightened plutarchy world wide - European Day of Action 15.12.2010 and 14.11.2012
posted by rough ashlar at 8:50 AM on November 14 [+] [!]



Yeah, they're anarcho-syndicalist... given the context I still suspect that Postroad meant Industrial though, it's a pretty common mistake.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:55 AM on November 14, 2012


Meanwhile humans are being replaced by machines. So how do you reorganise society where goods are produced and few humans are needed to produce these goods?

Actually, it's more like German humans are being replaced with Slovak, Polish humans... etc. Meanwhile employment in Germany has been propped up by direct government intervention, artificially suppressed wages and leveraged consumption in the southern tier of the EU.

Actually "roboticizing" the manufacturing workforce of Germany would take an investment which would make the reunification of Germany look like a car loan (and comparable to the industrialization of Russia after the revolution) and correspondingly boost the economy far in excess of the jobs lost (assuming it were possible to get that kind of capital either through the markets or otherwise: again see Russia)
posted by ennui.bz at 8:58 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, Wolfsdream, you're saying you resent the public unions because your taxes go to fund them yet you don't enjoy their benefits. That sounds more like a problem with your end than theirs. Why don't you try organizing your fellow cubicle drones? Just because they collectively have their shit together and you (and your fellow employees at the cubicle farm) don't is no reason to disparage them. As a matter of fact, that is EXACTLY what Capital want you do-- create division among Labor. They pull your strings and make you dance to their tune yet you resent the people who were smart enough to get a pair of scissors.

Unions have never been about "Fuck The Rich!" They are about making sure their members get a slice of the pie commensurate with what they did in making it. Perhaps if the wealthy paid more in taxes, than the middle class tax bite would be smaller. The unions wouldnt have to go on strike, the middle class would pay less in taxes amd the rich ...would still be fucking rich.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:03 AM on November 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Where are you getting this from?

An email in bright red allcaps comic sans with a lot of FWD: FWD: FWD: in the subject line?
posted by elizardbits at 9:04 AM on November 14, 2012 [13 favorites]


But it does neatly illustrate the American relationship with unions, which is "Hey, they've got great benefits and I don't! Take that away right now!" rather than "Hey, they've got great benefits and I don't! Better join up so I too can get rad benefits!" We're like crabs in a bucket here.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:13 AM on November 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


But it does neatly illustrate the American relationship with unions, which is "Hey, they've got great benefits and I don't! Take that away right now!" rather than "Hey, they've got great benefits and I don't! Better join up so I too can get rad benefits!" We're like crabs in a bucket here.

If only it were that simple. You can't just join up. In fact, I get to pay union dues without the benefits of being in the bargaining unit or the prospect of joining the bargaining unit.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:17 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why don't you have the prospect of joining, OMDTLP? (Not being snarky, genuinely curious)
posted by saucysault at 9:21 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a temp position, so I get paid only for hours worked (no benefits). But union dues are still deducted. I could (and should!) apply for a position that would actually make me a union member, but my point is that not everyone who works in a union shop is automatically part of the union, even if everyone pays dues.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:26 AM on November 14, 2012


Instead of complaining about the benefits that unions get that you don't why not start unionizing yourself? You complain that the unions are lazy and want handouts but you are too lazy to even get up off the couch and join / start a union to ask.
posted by mary8nne at 9:26 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Krugman has done a pretty good job describing what happened in the Euro area. No-one denies that Greece specifically has some structural problems with tax collection and elsewhere, but the broad thrust of what has happened lies in Germany and northern Europe. Here's my basic understanding. I'm sure it could be more accurate, but I think it's close.

It's mostly a balance of payments crisis. All these countries formed the Euro. In doing so, they effectively averaged their currencies. This effectively was a currency devaluation for Germany and others, and a revaluation for Southern Europe, and created an export boom in Germany and an import one in southern Europe. That was covered over because the German banks used all the lovely capital they now had to directly or indirectly purchase property in Spain and Greece (see capital flows during the good years). The Germans however also instituted some labor reforms around the same time and their internal narrative is that they boomed by virtue of their own reforms. In fact they were pursuing a Chinese-style mercantilist policy.

These kinds of captial flows happen between states in the U.S., but there are federal redistribution mechanisms that cover the cracks (those red states that are net "takers"). Florida is to the federal government as Greece is to the Euro.

When the banks collapsed, the German and French banks in particular were completely on the hook. Their governments know this, but instead of admitting fault for making terrible loans and letting them fail (which would be a nightmare for their internal politics), they are insisting that southern Europe makes good on their debts come hell or high water. Iceland btw, at this point, told the banks that it was their risk and their problem (see also underwater mortgages and walking away for some of the same technical issues and same moralizing), and devalued their currency.

If southern European countries had their own currencies they could devalue them, effectively making them cheaper places for foreigners to invest and come visit, reducing the price of exports, and increasing the prices of imports. They don't though, so they can only internally devalue by reducing wages.

Another solution would be mild inflation across the Euro in order to reduce the value of debts and make the cost of holding capital more expensive thereby inducing savers to spend and increase demand. At this point, German psychology with regard to inflation kicks in and their terrible history with hyper-inflation. They are adamant about holding inflation at the historically low levels it is. It's also worth nothing that the European Central Bank has mostly refused to act as lender of last resort or do anything to loosen monetary policy in the way the Fed has. The Fed has had to be inventive in the face of inaction from Congress. The ECB hasn't even tried (until perhaps recently).

Austerity compounds the problem, because the underlying cause of all the problems is private debt deleveraging leading to a shortfall in demand. Reducing demand further through government cuts reduces aggregate demand reducing growth reducing government income (see the laughable UK approach). Government deficits are a result of the downturn, not the cause, but the media has got the correlation-causation backwards. The paradoxical answer is more short-term public debt (see the failure of the household debt metaphor and the role of virtue in these discussions) in order to pick up the slack and give the private sector a kick in the pants. As of right now, the bond markets are begging the government to take their money (effective interest rates are more or less zero in the U.S. and low in the UK, which you'll note does have its own currency). It's a no-brainer to take that money, invest in infrastructure, etc in order to raise aggregate demand. Creating more debt will not increase interest rates against the lower bound. Note also that most (U.S.) debt is internal, i.e. it's owned by other Americans. Any talk of China or grandchildren or the throwing around of big numbers is a distraction.

I think of the general solution as "People with jobs pay taxes and buy stuff, which will get the engine going again".

There are some very mild structural problems with the US deficit which would be mostly resolved by not fighting unfunded wars, eliminating the Bush tax cuts, removing the social security cap and controlling health spending. Reducing inequality would probably help too, but that's another discussion.

I'd expect Greece to leave the Euro, default and devalue (see Argentina), and in fairly short shrift get back on track. If the political pressure to stay with the Euro project is too much, then the continuing rise of fascism in Greece will be very scary, and at some point it will all "break". Is "irony" even the right term now that Germany is fostering the resurgence of fascism (see also Hungary)?

In the US, growth will eventually get back on track (the signs are there now) and the politicians will take credit for accomplishing what would have happened anyway (see Romney's 12 million jobs promise).

Way more than I planned to write and I'm sure inaccurate in many places, but hope it helps.
posted by idb at 9:27 AM on November 14, 2012 [19 favorites]


if austerity doesn't lead to growth does that mean it's carbon-neutral
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:33 AM on November 14, 2012


Huh, interesting OMDTLAP. In my Local, the temp/contract workers do get union protection under the CA (such as representation during disciplinary meetings and protection from workplace bullying and harrassment) and benefits if they opt in, as well as accuring seniority to help gain a permanent position. Have you talked to the Union Executive and suggested they modify the CA in the next round of bargaining to improve the conditions of the temp workers, or put limits on how many temp positions can exist before they are made permanent?
posted by saucysault at 9:35 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Talking about the (many) flaws of American-style business unionism is not really very relevant to what is going on in Spain and Portugal right now. A general strike is not about defending the narrow interests of a bargaining unit or enforcing a union contract. It is very explicitly about "using the bargaining power to get such benefits across all of the working class." So I assume that the people in this thread who are criticizing US unions for not doing that support these broader strikes in Europe.
posted by enn at 9:38 AM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


So, Wolfsdream, you're saying you resent the public unions because your taxes go to fund them yet you don't enjoy their benefits. That sounds more like a problem with your end than theirs.

How is it a problem on my end? The problem is that the unions are taking my money while simultaneously telling me we should be on the same side of the class struggle, that it's "us against the rich". Well, if that's the case, why don't the unions take THEIR money? I smell bullshit here.

Unions have never been about "Fuck The Rich!"

Well, that's precisely my point. Maybe they should be. When they make demands for more taxpayer money, somebody's getting fucked, and since it's not the rich, that burden inevitably winds up on the middle class.

Instead of complaining about the benefits that unions get that you don't why not start unionizing yourself? You complain that the unions are lazy and want handouts but you are too lazy to even get up off the couch and join / start a union to ask.

So you're basically saying that instead of complaining about the union reps being thieving liars who exploit their members, I should become a thieving liar myself? Okay, suppose hypothetically I buy into that philosophy - why create a union? If I'm going to embrace that kind of selfishness, it makes more sense to do so in the corporate world. At least corporations are honest about their greed and selfishness, instead of being hypocrites who rob you and then try to explain how you're "all on the same team."
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:42 AM on November 14, 2012


The problem is that the unions are taking my money while simultaneously telling me we should be on the same side of the class struggle

So your problem is that there are people working for the government and getting paid.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:51 AM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Have you talked to the Union Executive and suggested they modify the CA in the next round of bargaining to improve the conditions of the temp workers, or put limits on how many temp positions can exist before they are made permanent?

Judging from a poster I saw a few months ago, casual employees languishing indefinitely is a problem that goes back quite a long way. And I'm not terribly optimistic about what might happen when the contract's up.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:55 AM on November 14, 2012


Thanks idb, that's a good rundown of the problems.

Tell me, what are your thoughts on increasing federalism in the EU? It seems like an interesting solution: cap state budgets, but use federal money to redistribute from north to south. As you say, it works in the US, but it would be a hard sell in the EU.
posted by Jehan at 9:56 AM on November 14, 2012


Reading Comprehension! It's a Good Thing.

wolfdreams01, this is a specific thing you do a lot and that you really need to stop doing. If you cannot argue your point in a conversation without reflexively using insulting or condescending framing, you need to walk away from that argument immediately, because this sort of shit just makes threads worse.
posted by cortex at 10:02 AM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Statements on The Guardian: "Why We are striking" statements from various people on why they feel a national day of action is necessary.
posted by mary8nne at 10:03 AM on November 14, 2012


At this point, German psychology with regard to inflation kicks in and their terrible history with hyper-inflation.

I"m beginning to doubt this often quoted story. Even heard this German Chap at the LSE talk about how this is a complete lie. There is a certain segment (the rich) who have the most to lose by inflation and they perpetuate this belief to make Anti-Inflation stances seem more legitmate and less selfish. The lie: "its not just us, its the German mindset".
posted by mary8nne at 10:07 AM on November 14, 2012


In Northern Europe, the story is rather quite different. Today is an ordinary work day for the working class here in socialist Sweden. My colleagues in the Netherlands and Germany seem also hard at work today: exporting goods and services, paying taxes, keeping current accounts balanced. Stuff like what it takes to support a modern welfare state.

The residents of Spain and Portugal and Greece and Italy might take notice.

Do you still believe this fairy tale after five years of crisis? First you mention that these people are hard at work implying the old lie about lazy S. Europeans. The problem of S. Europe is productivity (which is tied to capital, making the most out of educated people who move to N. Europe or the US etc.) because Greece, Italy and Portugal are in the Top 10 of hours worked (Greece is #1) and all the countries in the Bottom 10 are in N. Europe including Netherlands, Germany and Sweden, according to OECD.

Tax evasion is way more widespread than it should be especially in Greece and Italy although tax avoidance, which is a privilege of richer countries, often goes relatively unexamined. The north is great at exports, but if you look at the exporting data a big chunk of these exports went to S. Europe. What do you think will happen if there's a meltdown in the south?

After three years we have seen austerity packages that don't work in part because politicians in the well-run countries you mention try to play politics and force nonviable terms. If you look around, you can find stories about corruption in S. Europe by N. European businessmen and politicians. You can see how the voting public wouldn't like to have to bail out their own banks a second time, so the countries of the south are "bailed out" with money that goes to said banks without staying in the countries that get the loans. If the bond haircut for Greece took place the first time Greece asked for help, this mess would have been significantly better. Moral hazard does not apply just to the south since the 2008 crisis is connected to the European debt crisis.

Europe is interconnected. Both sets of countries took advantage of free capital; the north was exporting and the south was importing. If you can't see the cracks with Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UK being drawn to austerity, it's not for lack of signs. Europe flourished after a debt jubilee post-WW2. There will either be a common solution or each state will be sucked in one by one.
posted by ersatz at 10:10 AM on November 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


There is a certain segment (the rich) who have the most to lose by inflation and they perpetuate this belief to make Anti-Inflation stances seem more legitmate and less selfish. The lie: "its not just us, its the German mindset".

Inflation is easy to compensate for, if you're rich -- you just don't hold your wealth in currency. (What's supremely destructive to an economy is high inflation, plus price controls.... that's a truly toxic combination.)

Monetary disorder always hurts the poor first. Always. Deflation or inflation, the poor suffer much more than the rich.
posted by Malor at 10:16 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are different flavors of corruption in Northern and Southern Europe :

In Germany, Siemens AG buys larger subsidies from politicians while cutting corners on the ICE trains they make. All the corruption gets hidden behind fairly deep rhetoric, complex financial products, engineering issues, etc.

In Italy, Berlusconi passed a one month tax amnesty so that he could bring in billions he'd hidden abroad without paying anything. Jobs are commonly awarded based upon family connections. etc. In Greece, tax avoidance is rampant not only amongst the rich but even amongst the upper middle class.

I'm confident that ordinary people would not support either flavor of corruption, outside the limited scenarios it benefited them personally. Yet, we recognize the southern european flavor much more easily, which makes us resent it more.

Austerity happens when politicians and business interests from both the north and south come together to preserve all their entangled corrupt gains while confronting the fact that southern corruption hasn't fooled anyone.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:56 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


On the inflation story, yes, I'm quite ready to believe that the hyperinflation thing is a red herring invoked by the creditor class in order to protect their wealth.

As to European federalism, those who want it see this as their opening. The cynical might argue that they are exploiting and creating the problem in order to push that agenda. I don't personally see it happening since it doesn't by itself make the problem go away, and the peripheral states are sick and tired of being dictated to as it is. Federalism just makes it worse.
posted by idb at 10:56 AM on November 14, 2012


Furthermore, this antagonism is the unions fault - they had the choice to declare war on the rich or the middle class, and they chose to attack the middle class (primarily because most high-level union representatives are very well off, and in fact when they leave the union many of them get hired at very good salaries by the same companies that they used to organize against - after all, who's better at breaking a strike than somebody who used to organize them?). If the unions were really on the side of the common man, they would advocate for the rich to pay more in taxes, so that the average taxpayers - the "cube monkeys" like me - wouldn't be too impacted by their demands. But do they do this? Is taxing the rich a fundamental part of the union platform? Hell no! In all their demands, they just want more money from the government, and don't give a crap where that money comes from. When unions are negotiating, it's never about ensuring equality, it's just about making sure that They Get Theirs. So yes, I fully believe any "solidarity" the unions try to draw between themselves and the common man is a smokescreen of lies and BS. If they want empathy from the average American, maybe they should start showing us a little empathy first.

With all due respect, unions are ALL ABOUT "getting theirs". Where, or how, the money comes isn't really their concern; this isn't some morality play. (Although, you're wrong, unions do agitate for changes in legislation.) That is society's concern. And the fact that unions need to exist at all is because society isn't doing its job. Sour grapes.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:36 AM on November 14, 2012


idb: " It's also worth nothing that the European Central Bank has mostly refused to act as lender of last resort or do anything to loosen monetary policy in the way the Fed has. The Fed has had to be inventive in the face of inaction from Congress. The ECB hasn't even tried (until perhaps recently)."
As I understand it, it isn't so much the ECB who has chosen to do nothing, but rather that it has been forced into inaction by the ongoing power struggle between Germany and the new Socialist government in France over whether the ECB should be allowed to sell bonds.

Conveniently, the German government claims that it would be unconstitutional for Germany to be a member of a monetary union with the power to sell bonds. I don't think France is convinced yet.
posted by brokkr at 11:47 AM on November 14, 2012


I don't think Hollande has much to do with that. The Germans have been against allowing the ECB to issue debt since the beginning, and of course the german central bank has always been insanely inflation hawkish.

The French have always been a bit more pragmatic than that. Although look for them to become more aggressive in promoting a longer-term solution as their own economy is starting to get sucked under by weakness in Italy and Spain.
posted by JPD at 11:57 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


With all due respect, unions are ALL ABOUT "getting theirs". Where, or how, the money comes isn't really their concern; this isn't some morality play. (Although, you're wrong, unions do agitate for changes in legislation.) That is society's concern. And the fact that unions need to exist at all is because society isn't doing its job. Sour grapes.

It's not sour grapes. Sour grapes would imply that I was on the losing side. It's actually "happy grapes" because we're finally gaining ground in terms of crushing the unions.

I'm just really confused by your logic here. You admit openly that the unions are all about "getting theirs" and don't care about anybody else. Further more, nobody has challenged the fact that the money that unions use to "get theirs" comes from taxes, most of which are funded by the middle class. So in other words, unions are hurting the middle class and simply don't care.

The part I don't understand is that - even though we seem to be in agreement on those two points - you don't seem to understand why I and other middle-class Americans would want to retaliate against the unions. I mean, when somebody hurts you for their own benefit, it's natural to want to hurt them back, right? This is just human nature.

I fully understand that from a rational perspective, it makes more sense for the unions and the middle class office workers to ally together to raise taxes on the rich. That makes perfect sense. The thing that confuses me is that you seem to think that it is the middle class that should be the one to initiate these overtures of alliance. We - the middle class - have far more power than the unions, and through our political power we can hurt them until they come crawling to us for an alliance (which will naturally result in a more advantageous deal). So it seems to me that in the long term (from the perspective of what's most advantageous to the middle class), it's far better tactically to squeeze the unions until they regret ever crossing us, and then ally with them to take on the top 1% (with the middle class as senior partner in this "redistribution arrangement"). Instilling fear into the unions will result in a much stronger long-term alliance since they'll remember the consequences of acting against the middle class.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:03 PM on November 14, 2012


wolfdreams01: "we're finally gaining ground in terms of crushing the unions"
I respectfully posit to you that you are in the wrong fucking thread.
posted by brokkr at 12:12 PM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


Further more, nobody has challenged the fact that the money that unions use to "get theirs" comes from taxes, most of which are funded by the middle class.

I think in part that's because unions aren't a monolith and many have nothing to do with taxpayer money. Many are in place at private companies. So no, I don't think your point is valid. And you know what? I'm okay with my (middle class) money going towards decent employee benefits, whether it's directly, in buying goods and services from union companies, or indirectly, through state and federal taxes. Do I agree with all union platforms? No, not at all. I think that much like many larger organizations, there's bungling and ill-chosen hills to die on. But even less do I agree with companies that chose to provide no benefits, bad work environments, and no flexibility.

Perhaps it's time to turn this back to European unions of various sizes, though, since most European countries legislate a far higher standard of benefits for all workers than what America does.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:17 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's actually "happy grapes" because we're finally gaining ground in terms of crushing the unions.

I'm not sure I'd use "happy" to describe the ability to get paid less for the same work. Most of us don't want to get paid less, but if you do, you're free to withdraw some of each paycheck in small bills and set it on fire if that would satisfy you.

nobody has challenged the fact that the money that unions use to "get theirs" comes from taxes
unions are hurting the middle class

[citations needed]
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:17 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


if austerity doesn't lead to growth does that mean it's carbon-neutral

A report linked in the last global warming thread points out that in the past 60 years the only worldwide decreases in carbon output have coincided with recessions, though the rate of decrease in the most recent downturn, if sustained indefinitely, still wasn't nearly enough to avert catastrophic warming.

Which makes threads like this where the focus is on how to return to "growth" even more depressing.
posted by junco at 12:22 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


To paraphrase what I've said in a less abstract way, it boils down to this:

The middle class can't take on the rich by themselves - it's just too big a task. We need the support of the unions to do so. And it's already been acknowledged several times, by multiple commentors, that the unions don't care at all about the middle class - the unions are just out to get theirs. As long as the unions get paid, they don't care whether the money is coming out of the pockets of the rich or the middle class. So the most efficient way for the middle class to achieve a better deal is to force the unions to care by tying their prosperity to our interests - by hurting them when they disregard our financial well-being (as they are doing now) and by rewarding them when they support our goals (ie, taxing the top 1% more). This is called incentivizing.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:25 PM on November 14, 2012


The middle class can't take on the rich by themselves - it's just too big a task. We need the support of the unions to do so. And it's already been acknowledged several times that the unions don't care about the middle class - they are just out to get theirs.

There is little in your "argument" that I don't find ridiculous, but this is a pretty egregious failure of logic. You appear to be positing two groups, "unions" and "the middle class". Um, many if not most union members are part of the middle class. You also appear to be saying that "the middle class" is just too weak to "take on the rich" by themselves. They need the unions! This is just so completely absurd. You seem to have fallen for the classic right-wing "unions are too powerful!!!!" line. The fact is, union membership is small, relative to the rest of the middle class, and those unions that remain are getting weaker all the time, thanks in part to people like you. Your argument just makes no sense at all.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:31 PM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Um, many if not most union members are part of the middle class.

Most union members who aren't part of the middle class are probably professional athletes.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:33 PM on November 14, 2012


wolfdreams01, I'm not sure why you are viewing unions through this lens. The point of unions is to organize workers together so that they can bargain with their employers such that the balance of power in negotiations is not so one-sided as it is in the absence of unions (i.e., one guy complains about his hours, fire him; everyone complains in the same way with the same demands, now you have to come to an agreement). It really has nothing to do with the rich or class warfare. The only money from your taxes that goes to unions is the money that gets paid to union members who work for the government, who in turn pay dues to their unions. But that's their money to do whatever they want with. It's their wages.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:36 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Germany: Europe's Hidden Banking Crisis
posted by JPD at 12:46 PM on November 14, 2012


Sorry Shakespeherian, I should have clarified my terminology better. In my examples above, when I say the "middle class" what I actually meant by that term was "non-unionized office workers." In other words, the majority of the middle class. My apologies! If you reread my comments, please keep that definition in mind.

What I'm trying to demonstrate relates specifically back to the point at which I interjected myself into this discussion, where a commentor expressed amazement that office workers didn't support union interests. My point is that this shouldn't be amazing at all: after all, unions don't care at all about the interests of office workers. Several of you have already acknowledged that. So why should office workers care about union interests? Empathy is a two-way street - if somebody doesn't care about me, I don't see why I should care about them either.

And yes, it's absolutely true that this POV makes unions and non-unionized office workers "like crabs in a bucket", and ultimately the only people who benefit are the top 1%. That's actually a very insightful metaphor. However, what the unions fail to recognize is that we (the non-unionized middle class) -are the much bigger crabs, which means that they need to start caring about our interests pretty damn soon or they're going to get eaten.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:54 PM on November 14, 2012


Instilling fear into the unions will result in a much stronger long-term alliance since they'll remember the consequences of acting against the middle class.

I hope you realize your logic is identical to the logic used by domestic abusers.
posted by srboisvert at 1:01 PM on November 14, 2012


There's an argument to be made that unions need to market themselves better, or something. But their need to market or advertise themselves to the general public is a symptom of a deeper structural problem affecting unions under neoliberalism. They're been rapidly dismantled for many reasons, of which the apathy of the white-collar middle-class is but a small part.

But this rhetoric that unions are sucking away at government coffers, harming the economy and keeping the middle class down, is total fucking nonsense. I mean, remember that disaster that was America 1945-1975? Damn unions ruined everything for everyone! But then Saint Reagan came and made it all better.
posted by mek at 1:02 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's weird there was like this kind of interesting thread about Europeans protesting against forced Austerity and then BAM outta nowhere, thread about the value of Unions in the US.
posted by JPD at 1:04 PM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


The OP put a May Day reference in the title, that's the RSS bat signal for anti-labor trolls.
posted by mek at 1:08 PM on November 14, 2012


The derail is a good example though of how USA citizens are really closed minded and self-centered. There are massive strikes going on today Europe and all the time in China, and USA workers still buy the line that they should keep their heads down and work hard and look out for #1 because its a global economy now and if we don't beat the low wage economies of the world in the race to the bottom we're all doomed.
posted by Gregamell at 1:21 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


A couple of years ago - during the height of the recession - it seemed like hardly a week went by when I didn't open the paper and see something like "Teacher's union refuses cuts," "Police union demands higher wages," or, best of all "Firemen's union demands concessions in exchange for mandatory drug testing." (And this was after two firemen died in a restaurant fire because they were loaded to the gills on cocaine at the time.) Then unions wonder why most of the rest of the middle class isn't sympathetic to them? Seriously?

Imagine how awesome it would be if you opened the paper to read "Firemen's union supports higher taxes on top 1% of earners" or "Teacher's union supports tax hike on earners making $250k or more." Do you really want to know how to get more of the public to support unions, instead of being resentful towards them? Well, there's your answer right here - just show the public that union interests can align with their own! It's not such a revolutionary idea and it would be a real PR coup. But the reason that will never happen because most of the high level union reps fall into the high income bracket themselves and it would require union leaders to make genuine sacrifices on behalf of their membership, instead of just mouthing platitudes and collecting the union dues.

Speaking for myself personally, if government unions ever start advocating in a very public way to raise taxes on the top 1%, I will immediately stop hating on them and become their biggest supporter.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:46 PM on November 14, 2012


It's weird there was like this kind of interesting thread about Europeans protesting against forced Austerity and then BAM outta nowhere, thread about the value of Unions in the US.
All non-US threads are like this. If it isn't about the US, it damn well should be! It's really annoying, but what's to do?

By the way, thanks for the link about Germany's banking.
posted by Jehan at 1:48 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's weird there was like this kind of interesting thread about Europeans protesting against forced Austerity and then BAM outta nowhere, thread about the value of Unions in the US.

People want to participate. Most people do this through their own experiences. Most people here are americans, so most posts are brought to whatever personal experience people have. Unions in the US is a popular and touchy subject, and who doesn't love heated discussions. Also, it's late in Europe.

So it goes.

I'd also love it if the american unions derail magically disappeared, but c'est la vie.
posted by palbo at 1:49 PM on November 14, 2012


I'd also love it if the american unions derail magically disappeared, but c'est la vie.

Sorry, you're right - it was a bit of a sidetrack. I apologize and will stop commenting on this specific thread now.

Anybody who wants to continue the derailed part of the discussion can MeMail me.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:59 PM on November 14, 2012


I was in Berlin last summer, and had the chance to try and ask some young German academics about the situation in Greece. I'm not sure what I was expecting but what I got seemed very familiar from the U.S., a sort of apolitical indifference, not a lot of information and no sense of crisis. The young Germans that I've known seemed relatively apolitical and imagined careers for themselves in a EU, rather than German context.
All of that is to say, that as far as leftist politcs goes, it felt like Germany was moving in a much more American direction if it was moving anywhere.

The discussion of unions in the U.S. is pathological, but I'm not sure the political consequence of "general strikes" don't break down along similar divides both within Portugal/ / /Greece/Spain and along the North/South divide. It seems like the failure of general strikes in Greece to bring down the government only emboldened the government to continue along the trail of austerity and left common political opinion desperately polarized and energized the extreme right. Will the same dynamic play out in Spain now?

More ominously the failure to achieve solidarity across the North/South divide for the strike reinforces the nationalist angle to the revolt against austerity... something which historically hasn't worked very well for leftist movements

As an American, this strike seems very much in the tradition of current day american protests: big affairs which suck up all of the energy on the left, but the lack of any concrete achievements leaves everyone despirited in a polarized politcal context.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:04 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tell me, what are your thoughts on increasing federalism in the EU? It seems like an interesting solution: cap state budgets, but use federal money to redistribute from north to south. As you say, it works in the US, but it would be a hard sell in the EU.

I'm a Brit and I've always been pro-Euro, always regretted that we didn't join, but this crisis has made it clear that the deep flaw in the Euro project was fiscal union without political union first.

I reckon that the unspoken assumption was always that political union would follow naturally from a shared currency. I've read conspiracy theories that suggest that this was a sinister plot by European federalists and that the crisis was an anticipated and necessary step to the New World Order (I'm paraphrasing, and I'm on a phone and can't find links).

But some people saw it coming. Wynne Godley, who was a very interesting character (see his piece on being taken for a ride by the cream of British psychiatry) basically called the Eurocrisis in 1992, following the Maatricht treaty.

Oh... and I know that all this 'whose fault is it really' stuff is a derail from the subject of austerity and general strikes, but for anyone wanting a mildly contrarian 7 page article in Foreign Policy that makes a fair job of summarising what's going on from a US perspective, you could do worse than this.
posted by Isn't in each artist (7) at 2:20 PM on November 14, 2012


Not being able to print/somewhat control your own currency certainly cuts down on wiggle room when things get bad.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:25 PM on November 14, 2012


Imagine how awesome it would be if you opened the paper to read "Teacher's union supports tax hike on earners making $250k or more."

Well, then be happy:

California Teacher's Union supported Prop 30, which raised income taxes on everyone making $250,000 and above in California.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:30 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Many other unions supported Prop 30 as well (scroll down).

Just because news media may or may not (I have no data either way) put it on the front page doesn't mean they're not doing it, and the unions here in CA spent a lot of time and money helping to pass Prop 30 (which I supported).
posted by wildcrdj at 2:33 PM on November 14, 2012


I'm a Brit and I've always been pro-Euro, always regretted that we didn't join, but this crisis has made it clear that the deep flaw in the Euro project was fiscal union without political union first.

I reckon that the unspoken assumption was always that political union would follow naturally from a shared currency. I've read conspiracy theories that suggest that this was a sinister plot by European federalists and that the crisis was an anticipated and necessary step to the New World Order (I'm paraphrasing, and I'm on a phone and can't find links).

But some people saw it coming. Wynne Godley, who was a very interesting character (see his piece on being taken for a ride by the cream of British psychiatry) basically called the Eurocrisis in 1992, following the Maatricht treaty.
Thanks for the article.

At the moment the strongest tool the EU has to redistributed wealth are structural funds. But they're far to slow and blunt to work on a crisis like this.

I see that as the crisis has worn on, the worst-hit countries--and many of the protesters/opposition in those countries--are still so much in favor of the European project. There doesn't seem to be the kind of forces present that would make a country choose to leave the euro. I figure that however bad the problems get, we're either looking at limping along for the rest of the decade, or some real movement toward political union. It's an interesting time to be alive, I guess.
posted by Jehan at 3:20 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Quite a lot of economists called the eurocrisis in advance, as a necessary consequence of economic theory... Krugman included. But there was a huge group of them.
posted by mek at 3:31 PM on November 14, 2012


In Northern Europe, the story is rather quite different. Today is an ordinary work day for the working class here in socialist Sweden. My colleagues in the Netherlands and Germany seem also hard at work today: exporting goods and services, paying taxes, keeping current accounts balanced. Stuff like what it takes to support a modern welfare state.

The residents of Spain and Portugal and Greece and Italy might take notice.


Ah, N.European cultural supremacy. That old chestnut!
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 3:35 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's an argument to be made that unions need to market themselves better, or something. But their need to market or advertise themselves to the general public is a symptom of a deeper structural problem affecting unions under neoliberalism. They're been rapidly dismantled for many reasons, of which the apathy of the white-collar middle-class is but a small part.

But this rhetoric that unions are sucking away at government coffers, harming the economy and keeping the middle class down, is total fucking nonsense. I mean, remember that disaster that was America 1945-1975? Damn unions ruined everything for everyone! But then Saint Reagan came and made it all better.


This, this, this!

My guess is that better structure (i.e. more grassroots control) in some N. American unions would result in much more productive experience for those in unions who find them frustrating. Can't speak for the EU but in North America, some of the unions are very top down and hierarchical, while some of the most successful have lots of control at the grassroots.

I'd be interested to know if anyone here can speak to the union involvement in organizing of the EU "indignatos" and anti-austerity movements--do they have lots of grass roots connections? is it the bottom up unions doing the organizing, or is this a top down model at work?
posted by chapps at 4:51 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]






My colleagues in the Netherlands and Germany seem also hard at work today: exporting goods and services, paying taxes, keeping current accounts balanced. Stuff like what it takes to support a modern welfare state.

The residents of Spain and Portugal and Greece and Italy might take notice.


Part 2... Just in case this patronising argument needed another punch in the gut, the Netherlands today posted an abysmal 1.1% decline in GDP for Q3 (quarter-on-quarter).

By contrast, Spain and Italian GDP contracted 0.3% and 0.2% in the same quarter, respectively. Not great, but maybe your Dutch friends need to work a bit harder?
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 4:03 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]




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