Posts Tagged ‘Indiana’

H-Fire-Station-4

Robert Venturi, Fire Station No. 4

I often invoke Columbus, Indiana in my lectures.

One reason is to suggest to my students that they might shed their prejudices about Indiana and explore some of what the state has to offer—instead of staying on campus and complaining there’s nothing to do except attend football games.

The other reason is to encourage them to question what it is that capitalists actually do. When I ask them, the usual response—consistent with the neoclassical theory that has been presented to them as the only economic theory worth considering—is: “capitalists maximize profits.” (That’s equivalent to the neoclassical rule concerning consumers, that they “maximize utility.”)*

Well, no: capitalists do lots of different things. They do make profits (at least sometimes, but over what timeframe are they supposedly maximizing those profits?). But they don’t follow any single rule. They also seek to grow their enterprises and destroy the competition and maintain good public relations and buy government officials and reward their CEOs and squeeze workers and lower costs and build factories that collapse and. . .well, you get the idea. In other words, they appropriate and distribute surplus-value in all kinds of ways depending on the particular conditions and struggles that take place over the shape and direction of their enterprises.

And Cummins Engine Company is a good example, since it has distributed a good chunk of the surplus it’s managed to appropriate over the years to subsidize the design of gems by a litany of important American architects: I. M. Pei, Harry Weese, Robert A. M. Stern, Richard Meier, Kevin Roche, Robert Venturi, Cesar Pelli and others. In Columbus, Indiana of all places!

My point to the students is not that Cummins is an example of a “good capitalist” as against other “bad capitalists.” No, the idea is that capitalists—whether in the United States or Bangladesh—do lots of different things, and presuming they follow a simple rule means missing out on the complex, contradictory dynamics of capitalist enterprises and therefore of capitalism itself.

 

*It’s also equivalent to what one hears from many so-called radical economists, that “capitalists accumulate capital.” Again, no. Accumulating capital (that is, purchasing new elements of constant and variable capital) is only one of the many possible forms in which capitalists distribute the surplus-value they appropriate from their workers. Sometimes they accumulate capital, and other times they don’t. The presumption that they always seek to accumulate capital is the heroic story proffered by classical economists (so that, in their view, capitalist growth would take place), much as neoclassical economists today presume that capitalists maximize profits (so that, in their view, an efficient allocation of resources will result). Marxists presume neither that capitalists maximize profits nor that they always and everywhere accumulate capital.

KochBrothersSnyder

Mainstream economists, to judge by the blogs and columns I’ve been looking at in recent days, don’t seem to have much to say about the recent decision to make Michigan a Right to Work state.

But it’s a momentous decision, at this particular economic and political juncture—in the midst of the Second Great Depression and after Obama’s re-election.

Reuters explains how the decision had been in the works since March 2011 and how the unions were outmaneuvered by right-wing forces at both the national and state level.

From outside Michigan Republican circles, it appeared that the Republican drive to weaken unions came out of the blue – proposed, passed and signed in a mere six days.

But the transformation had been in the making since March 2011 when [Republican State Senator Patrick] Colbeck and a fellow freshman, state Representative Mike Shirkey, first seriously considered legislation to ban mandatory collection of union dues as a condition of employment in Michigan. Such was their zeal, they even went to union halls to make their pitch and were treated “respectfully,” Colbeck said.

The upstarts were flirting with the once unthinkable, limiting union rights in a state that is the home of the heavily unionized U.S. auto industry and the birthplace of the nation’s richest union, the United Auto Workers. For many Americans, Michigan is the state that defines organized labor.

But in a convergence of methodical planning and patient alliance building – the “systematic approach” – the reformers were on a roll, one that establishment Michigan Republicans came to embrace and promised to bankroll.

Republicans executed a plan – the timing, the language of the bills, the media strategy, and perhaps most importantly, the behind-the-scenes lobbying of top Republicans including Snyder. . .

From outside Michigan Republican circles, it appeared that the Republican drive to weaken unions came out of the blue – proposed, passed and signed in a mere six days.

But the transformation had been in the making since March 2011 when [Republican State Senator Patrick] Colbeck and a fellow freshman, state Representative Mike Shirkey, first seriously considered legislation to ban mandatory collection of union dues as a condition of employment in Michigan. Such was their zeal, they even went to union halls to make their pitch and were treated “respectfully,” Colbeck said.

The upstarts were flirting with the once unthinkable, limiting union rights in a state that is the home of the heavily unionized U.S. auto industry and the birthplace of the nation’s richest union, the United Auto Workers. For many Americans, Michigan is the state that defines organized labor.

But in a convergence of methodical planning and patient alliance building – the “systematic approach” – the reformers were on a roll, one that establishment Michigan Republicans came to embrace and promised to bankroll.

Republicans executed a plan – the timing, the language of the bills, the media strategy, and perhaps most importantly, the behind-the-scenes lobbying of top Republicans including Snyder.

One of the big questions, in Michigan as well as in Wisconsin and Indiana, is: did the union movement get outmaneuvered or were they simply defeated by overwelling financial and political forces?

Another significant question is, what does this mean in terms of both the history and future of unionism in the United States?

Nelson Lichtenstein explains, in an interview with Brad Plumer, that the history of Right to Work legislation goes back to the nineteenth century.

Brad Plumer: Where did these “right-to-work” laws come from? And when did conservatives start using them in order to weaken labor unions? Walk me through the history here.

Nelson Lichtenstein: Go back to the 1930s, when the Wagner Act was created to allow the government to certify voluntary unions as the exclusive bargaining agent for a workplace. There was one thing the Wagner Act didn’t say anything about. If you’re the exclusive representation in a workplace, what about workers who don’t want to join? And employers could be quite clever in winning workers away from the union.

So John L. Lewis and other unionists said we need to have a union shop. The employer hires the worker, and after they get the job, they have to join the union. (This was different from the closed shop, where if you want a job, you go to the union first.) Companies resisted this idea bitterly. But then World War II comes along. Unions are going to be patriotic, accept a no-strike pledge, let the government set wage levels. And in return, the government said, okay, we’ll give you the union shop. And union membership went up by millions of workers.

But at this very moment, conservatives were already mobilizing against the New Deal and unions. They were saying, we want to pass laws that will make a collective bargaining contract illegal if joining a union becomes a condition of employment.

BP: So already in the 1940s you’re seeing a right-to-work movement form—conservatives want rules that forbid employers and unions from agreeing to a union shop arrangement. 

NL: Right, the language on this goes all the way back to the 19th century. The guy who invented the term “right-to-work,” I think that was invented in the Progressive Era. What’s remarkable is that anti-union discourse hasn’t changed over the years. It doesn’t matter whether unions are weak or strong. The talk is always about union bosses, about coercion, about how there should be freedom in the workplace.

Clearly, unions and their supporters need to fight back but they’re not getting a lot of support from their political allies.

BP: So unions don’t really have a good response to this state-level opposition?

NL: Unions will have to defend themselves. But here’s a question. There have been hundreds of thousands of people flocking to Madison, Wisconsin, or Lansing to fight over this. The meaning of solidarity’s what’s at stake here. It approaches the sacred. But we don’t hear that. The language of union leaders is that they’re defending the middle class. But it’s more than that. Workers are defending a concept, a sentiment, and a fundamental moral value. . .

BP: And it doesn’t look like very many national Democrats are willing to fight hard for unions anymore.

NL: No, and here I’d add a criticism of Obama. The Obama campaign made a strategic decision that it wanted to win in non-union North Carolina, in non-union Virginia. So Obama didn’t fly into Madison, Wisconsin during the recall of [Gov. Scott] Walker. Obama’s campaign was not a referendum of unionism.

And I’d add a larger meta-historical point. This is the experiment America’s now having. Obama has just won re-election. A liberal president is popular. But juxtapose that with what just happened in Michigan. So the question is, can you have a liberal, progressive America without unions? History says no.

It’s the middle of the summer, and not yet the hottest month, but the heat and drought are already taking their toll.

The living and working are clearly not easy, according to Frank Bill, either in a warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky or on the farms of southern Indiana.

It’s July and the temperatures throughout southern Indiana and northern Kentucky are an inferno, in some cases scorching to over 100 degrees, and we know it’s not even August yet; it’s only going to get hotter. Several days in a row I get a mind-splitter headache; it’s so bad, it hurts to blink.

At my job, it’s the huff of chemical fumes and the smell of dirt from truck tires cranking up and down 13th Street and into the Southern Clay warehouse in Louisville, Ky. I sit on a forklift from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., loading inner-city semis and overseas shipping containers with paint additives. Sweat coats my body like moist insulation.

In the evening, on the drive home, the heat beats down on the traffic. Crossing over the Sherman Minton Bridge to Indiana, I can see the Ohio River has receded, revealing stair-stepping stone formations below the former banks. On Interstate 64 West, cars and trucks are stalling, breaking down, not built for the high temperatures. Exit onto Crandall Lanesville Road, past shrunken feed corn crops. Windows down, a sticky breeze whirls in as I speed past corn and soybean crops into Harrison County. Past homes where yards are dead foliage and scabs of dirt.

Protest of the day

Posted: 5 February 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Race to the bottom

Posted: 2 February 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

The Indiana legislature has passed, and Gov. Mitch Daniels has signed, a new “right to work” law. This makes Indiana the twenty-third state (the first since Oklahoma did so just over a decade ago, and the first outside the South and West) to pass this kind of anti-union legislation.

The race to the bottom continues.

Indiana will break away from the rest of the industrial heartland of the United States, if it becomes the first state in that region to approve a Republican-sponsored Right to Work law.

Gordon Lafer disputes all the major arguments that have been made in favor of such laws. His conclusion:

Indiana faces real challenges, but the answers to those challenges have nothing to do with weakening labor unions. Indiana already outperforms a majority of RTW states on a number of critical measures, including higher pension and health insurance coverage and superior educational scores. . .To trade away this record based on the arguments presented by RTW advocates would mark a step backward for the state’s economic future.

Fortunately, Indiana is breaking away in a much more positive vein, as new pro-worker alliances are being formed. The latest occurred when the participants of Occupy Bloomington rallied in favor of the 50 striking millworkers at the Indiana Limestone Company. As Joseph Varga explains,

Indiana is drenched in anti-unionism: A new Republican majority was elected to the Statehouse in 2010 and a “right-to-work” law is likely to pass the legislature in January (unless Democrats repeat their 2011 tactic and leave the state). Many local papers and a portion of public opinion reflect local hostility to organized labor in a region where some people blame unions for job loss.

So it came as a surprise to see the wholehearted support the strikers have garnered from the community, in particular from the small but vocal Occupy movement in Bloomington, about 20 miles north. Both sides have found common ground as the 99%, and both have identified a common enemy in the local face of the 1%—Resilience Capital Partners, which owns Indiana Limestone.

The challenges faced by 99 percent of Hoosiers will not be solved by adopting Right to Work laws, from which only the 1 percent will benefit.

* “Breaking Away” is the title of a 1979 film (starring a young Dennis Quaid) that features “cutters,” a  derogatory term stemming from the local Indiana Limestone industry and the stonecutters who worked the quarries.

The latest stage in the campaign to make Indiana a Right-to-Work state has been completed: the 2011 Interim Study Committee on Employment Issues met for the fourth and final time on 26 October 2011. It issued its final report [pdf] and, by a 5-4 vote, recommended that the legislature consider right-to-work legislation.

The Committee gave five reasons for its recommendation. Four of the five reasons assert, in one form or another, that a Right-to-Work law would attract businesses to Indiana.* The Committee stated that businesses often “exclude Indiana and other non-RTW states from consideration because of a perceived lack of flexibility and higher costs in their potential dealings with organized labor.” However, the Committee did not identify any specific employers that chose not to locate in Indiana because of the absence of Right-to-Work laws.

The fifth reason reduces freedom to one issue: the idea that “individuals should be able to choose whether or not to associate with unions.” The fact is, there is no requirement under current labor law for any worker to join a union. The “fair share” clauses that Right-to-Work laws would ban do not require workers to become members of a union; they only require workers who benefit from the results of a collective bargaining agreement to contribute to the costs of negotiating and administering that agreement.

If Indiana becomes a Right-to-Work state in a future legislative session, 1 percent of Hoosiers will gain at the expense of the 99 percent who currently benefit, directly and indirectly, from the existence of union representation.

Hoosier history

Posted: 23 June 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Indiana is NOT cautious or risk averse—no matter what the New York Times or Indiana University history professor James H. Madison want us to believe.

The Times fails to mention that one of the first executive orders issued by current governor Mitch Daniels in 2005 was to end collective bargaining for state workers. There’s nothing cautious about that. And destroying public unions was just the beginning of a long series of moves to sell off state assets, limit property taxes, and create a “business-friendly” environment in Indiana.

As for history, Madison should know better.

Indiana is risk averse; it’s in the soil and the air. You add that to a moderate political orientation, and liberal welfare legislation is not highly regarded.

What was in the Hoosier soil and air in the 1920s was not a “moderate political orientation” but the KKK. Indiana had the most powerful Ku Klux Klan in the nation, and in 1924 managed to elect Edward Jackson governor of the state. Only after D. C. Stephenson, Grand Dragon of the Indiana Klan, was convicted of murdering a young white schoolteacher in 1925, was the Klan, which claimed to be upholders of law and order, discredited.

Perhaps Madison forgot to mention that part of Hoosier history.

Ezra Klein reminds us not only did Evan Bayh have an undistinguished career as a Governor of Indiana and U.S. senator; his so-called retirement is just as sad and hypocritical as was his political career.

For a United States senator to explain his retirement by saying, “I want to be engaged in an honorable line of work,” was the single most persuasive and devastating critique I’d ever seen of the Senate as an institution.

But Bayh did not return to Indiana to teach. He did not, as he said he was thinking of doing, join a foundation. Rather, he went to the massive law firm McGuire Woods. And who does McGuire Woods work for? “Principal clients served from our Washington office include national energy companies, foreign countries, international manufacturing companies, trade associations and local and national businesses,” reads the company’s Web site. He followed that up by signing on as a senior adviser to Apollo Management Group, a giant public-equity firm. And, finally, this week, he joined Fox News as a contributor. It’s as if he’s systematically ticking off every poison he identified in the body politic and rushing to dump more of it into the water supply.

The “corrosive system of campaign financing” that Bayh considered such a threat? He’s being paid by both McGuire Woods and Apollo Global Management to act as a corroding agent on their behalf. The “strident partisanship” and “unyielding ideology” he complained was ruining the Senate? At Fox News, he’ll be right there on set while it gets cooked up. His warning that “what is required from members of Congress and the public alike is a new spirit of devotion to the national welfare beyond party or self-interest” sounds, in retrospect, like a joke. Evan Bayh doing performance art as Evan Bayh. Exactly which of these new positions would Bayh say is against his self-interest, or in promotion of the general welfare?

So, why would anyone think Bayh had anything significant or meaningful to say on the topic of government and the common good?

Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine” is still one of the most useful concepts for understanding a wide range of attempts to fundamentally change the existing order.

It fits Katrina vanden Heuvel’s analysis of the conservative zealotry, in both London and Washington D.C., to portray budget deficits as the cause—not the consequence—of the Second Great Depression.

A recent stop in London revealed that this isn’t just a Tea Party phenomenon. There, the new Tory-dominated coalition led by David Cameron looks and sounds like a sprightlier offshoot of House Speaker John Boehner’s troops. Cameron has set out on a forced march for fiscal retrenchment, imposing deep and immediate spending cuts (and tax increases) to bring deficits down in Britain. This plan is sold with a jaunty recital of conservative gospel: The economy has begun to recover, and action on deficit reduction will boost the confidence of business and consumers. The resulting revival, it is argued, will generate more than enough private-sector jobs to make up for those lost in the public sector. . .

In Washington, Boehner’s caucus exhibits the same zealotry. “The American people want us to cut spending,” the GOP Speaker repeats, ignoring the vast majority of polls that show Americans care far more about jobs and the economy. We will “cut and grow,” is the new conservative message. Get government out of the way and the economy will blossom.

As with other cases of the doctrine, the strategies come from the Right, while mainstream liberals are apparently shocked into submission by the continued onslaught, hoping only to limit the damage.

Klein herself uses the idea to understand what is going on in Wisconsin and 15 other states—”I mean, it’s impossible to keep track of it. It’s happening on such a huge scale.”

the core argument of and the thesis of the book, is not that there’s something wrong with responding to a crisis decisively. Crises demand decisive responses. The issue is this backhanded attempt to use a crisis to centralize power, to subvert democracy, to avoid public debate, to say, “We have no time for democracy. It’s just too messy. It doesn’t matter what you want. We have no choice. We just have to ram it through.

That’s the whole point of a “shock and awe” strategy: to create a sense of panic and helplessness, whereby the victims will accept any and all remedies, no matter how regressive. However, the protest movements in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio demonstrate that the strategy is not always successful and the crisis measures imposed by the Right can in fact be resisted.

Perhaps people across the country have finally decided it’s not their crisis and they’re not going to pay for it anymore.