A panel event on held on Tuesday, 28 January, at Hart House, University of Toronto
Sponsored by the Hart House Social Justice Committee
L. Susan Brown - Author of Does Work Really Work
Dave Bush - Rankandfile.ca
Neil Fischer - Internationalist Perspective
Sam Gindin - Greater Toronto Worker’s Assembly, coauthor of The Making of Global Capitalism
It is generally assumed that Marxists and other Leftists have the political responsibility to support reforms for the improvement of the welfare of workers. Yet, leading figures from the Marxist tradition-- such as Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky-- also understood that such reforms would broaden the crisis of capitalism and potentially intensify contradictions that could adversely impact the immediate conditions of workers. For instance, full employment, while being a natural demand from the standpoint of all workers’ interests, also threatens the conditions of capitalist production (which rely on a surplus of available labor), thereby potentially jeopardizing the system of employment altogether. In light of such apparent paradoxes, this panel seeks to investigate the politics of work from Leftist perspectives. It will attempt to provoke reflection on and discussion of the ambiguities and dilemmas of the politics of work by including speakers from divergent perspectives, some of whom seek after the immediate abolition of labor and others of whom seek to increase the availability of employment opportunities. It is hoped that this conversation will deepen the understanding of the contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics adequate to the self-emancipation of the working class.
The closing plenary of the 2013 Platypus International Convention, held from April 5-7, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Transcripted in Platypus Review #58 (Click below to see):
“Program” and “Utopia” have for well over a century now sat in uneasy tension within the politics of the Left, in tension both with each other and with themselves. Political programs tend to be presented in the sober light of practicability — straightforward, realistic, matter-of-fact. Social utopias, by contrast, appear quite oppositely as the virtue of aspiring ambition — involved, unrealistic, exhilarating. Historically, then, the two would appear to be antithetical. In either case, one usually offers itself up as a corrective to the other: the programmatic as a harsh “reality check” to pipe-dream idealism; utopianism as an alternative to dreary, cynical Realpolitik.
Today, however, it is unavoidable that both program and utopia are in profound crisis. For those Leftists who still hold out some hope for the possibility of extra-electoral politics, an impasse has arisen. Despite the effusive political outbursts of 2011-12 in the Arab Spring and #Occupy — with their emphasis on the identity of means and ends, anti-hierarchical modes of organization, and utopian prefiguration — the Left still seems to have run aground. Traces may remain in the form of various issue-based affinity groups, but the more ambitious projects of achieving sweeping social transformation have been quietly put to rest, consoled with the mere memory of possibility.
Meanwhile, longstanding Left organizations, having temporarily reverted to the usual waiting game of patiently tailing popular discontents with the status quo, until the masses finally come around and decide to “get with the program” (i.e., their program), have experienced a crisis of their own: slowly disintegrating, with occasional spectacular implosions, many of their dedicated cadre call it quits amid demoralization and recriminations. What possibilities might remain for a Left whose goal is no longer utopian, and whose path is no longer programmatically defined?
A panel held on April 6, 2013, at the 2013 Platypus International Convention at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The emergence of modernity was accompanied by the emergence of labour, its discontents, and the expression of these discontents. From the late 18th century to the present, these expressions have assumed many and often opposing forms, and these in turn have been absorbed by many and often opposing interpretations. The transformations of these discontents and of labor conditions throughout this, from the Chartist movement of the early 19th century through the socialist movements under Owen, Proudhon, and Bellamy at the end of the same century, to the mass strikes of the early 20th century, the emergence of the formally recognised and contractualised unionism of the mid to late 20th century, and the later periods of deindustrialization and neoliberalism, have in turn produced manifold interpretations of the role of the working class in society, as well as of the destiny of the labour struggle among other struggles in history. These interpretations differ most critically in their consideration of the relation of the labour struggle to the struggle for an emancipatory politics, that is, the constitution of the Left, and to the struggle for emancipation ultimately, that is, the pursuit of Utopia.
This panel will consider the development of these interpretations throughout history by exploring interpretations of labour on the Left in the present. We seek to interrogate both the relation of labor to other struggles on the Left and its once-Utopian visions of a world fundamentally transformed. We ask our speakers to engage not just with the labor movement, its limitations and prospects as they are today, and with the experience they have of it, but with the labor movement as it once was and as it could be again.
A teach-in with Sam Gindin, Packer Chair in Social Justice, York University, held in Toronto on November 29, 2010.
Austerity measures stemming from the global financial crisis threaten to undermine public sector unions and the services they provide. The unions, however, have failed to politicize the crisis along class lines, and by extension, to the Left. This is leading to situations like the Toronto mayoral election where union activity was stigmatized opportunistically to motivate a rightward populism.
If anything, this crisis reveals that the connection between public sector unionism and the Left has become unclear. This is a problem that cannot be solved by simply reconsidering union strategy pragmatically; its solution depends on working through and clarifying the history, ideology and politics that underlie how public sector unions and the Left have come to relate.
This teach-in with leading Canadian labour analyst Sam Gindin explores the present crisis, its meaning and how we might get beyond it. His recent piece with Michael Hurley, titled “The Public Sector: Search for a Focus” considers how union activity could be changed not only to meet the challenge of austerity but also to reignite the Canadian Left.
Co-hosted with OPIRG York. Thanks to Socialist Project for the video recording.