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On November 5, 2013, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a conversation on the Politics of Work at the School of Art Institute of Chicago between Bill Barclay of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Chicago Political Economy Group, Lenny Brody of the Justice Party and the Network for Revolutionary Change, and Leon Fink, a professor of labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The panel was moderated by Ed Remus.

A panel event held on November 5th, 2013, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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 the 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 contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics adequate to the self-emancipation of the working class.

Speakers:

Bill Barclay
Democratic Socialists of America/Chicago Political Economy Group

Lenny Brody
Justice Party/Network for Revolutionary Change

Leon Fink
Professor of labor history, University of Illinois at Chicago

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.

Speakers:

Steven Ashby (University of Illinois Chicago)
Sam Gindin (Socialist Project)
Andreas Karitzis (SYRIZA)

Panel held on March 31st, 2012 at the Fourth Annual Platypus International Convention, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 2009 President Obama's auto bailouts became a major flashpoint between the left and the mainstream of the labor movement. The majority of the left, including UAW dissidents, felt the auto bailouts were a missed opportunity to retool our manufacturing base, and a miserable half-measure.

On the other hand, mainstream labor leaders, and a consistent majority of polled union members, endorsed Obama's plan and explanation that the bailouts were an extraordinary measure and that government support for union ownership of firms was generally inappropriate. In 2009 an absolute majority of Americans opposed the auto bailouts altogether by an average 3 to 2 margin.

What does #Occupy's demand for "more democracy" in the labor movement mean in this context, where the majority of members did not support a comprehensive intervention into the affairs of GM and Chrysler?

Panelists:
John Peterson (International Marxist Tendency)
David Moberg (In These Times)
James Manos (Occupy Chicago Labor Committee)

ONE HAS TO ADMIRE THEIR PERSISTENCE. Labor Notes, the flagship journal of the domestic labor Left, professes itself to be “the voice of union activists who want to put the movement back into the labor movement.” Though stylistically about as riveting as the phonebook, for more than three difficult decades Labor Notes has critically observed and recorded organized labor’s endemic corruption, democratic shortcomings, and gross ineptitude in organizing workers in the private sector, where today only 7.2 percent of Americans are unionized.