by David Bensman
A great cultural transformation is driving demands for workers’ control of job schedules.
Though it would be hard to see it in the midterm election results, we live in the opening phase of a great countermovement against neoliberalism. The evidence is everywhere you look, and not only in the United States and Latin America. The stunning success of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century can only be understood in this context.
Throughout America, there are campaigns for raising the minimum wage and for setting a $15 floor. (On November 4, four red states approved ballot initiatives to up the minimum wage, and San Franciscans voted to follow Seattle’s lead by setting the floor at $15 per hour.) There are also accelerating campaigns for fair workweeks, a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, and for granting home-care attendants the employment protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Fast Food workers, taxi drivers, port truckers, Wal-Mart employees, car washers, Fed Ex freight truck drivers and many health-care workers are all organizing unions.
The campaigns by worker centers to combat wage theft and end misclassification of so-called independent contractors has been joined by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service
The slow-growing international effort to govern global supply chains has produced a comprehensive Rana Plaza Accord, binding leading apparel retailers (though not Wal-Mart or The Gap) to enforceable commitments to pay professional engineers to inspect factory buildings in Bangladesh for structural integrity and fire safety. The campaigns by worker centers to combat wage theft and end misclassification of so-called independent contractors has been joined by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as 15 state governments. Fast food workers’ uprisings have prompted the National Labor Relations Board to consider making franchisors share responsibility for the working conditions of the employees of their franchisees. The midterm elections also advanced the movement for paid sick leave, which won approval by 60 percent of Massachusetts voters, and was approved by voters in two New Jersey municipalities (bringing the total to six), as well as by Oakland residents.
Nurses are among the many workers who suffer from unpredictable schedules that often lead to working double shifts.
It’s a global phenomenon. In France, it was expressed by the sans papiersmovement, which brought progressives into alliance with immigrant groups in a struggle for civil rights. In Greece, Spain, Belgium, and Slovenia, protests against austerity, deregulation and privatization are challenging the E.U.’s turn from social democracy into neoliberalism. In India, female agricultural workers are organizing to assert rights denied by governments and male heads of households. In Brazil, there is the landless people’s movement. Elsewhere in Latin America, the emergence of indigenous people’s movements against deforestation, dam construction and environmentally devastating mining projects reflects signal a thoroughgoing rejection of neoliberalism. In China, workers’ protests against low pay and excessive overtime, which are beginning to develop into campaigns for free association and collective bargaining, are emblematic not only of growing anger at Communist Party rule, but also at the soulless capitalist road the party has embarked on. On the world stage, the effort of the BRICs nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) to organize a development bank to serve as an alternative to the World Bank demonstrates the determination of nations outside the sphere of Western domination to build institutions supporting a different path to development.
In addition to these progressive tendencies, right-wing populist movements also contain elements that reject neoliberalism in the name of individual freedom and/or communitarian values, as Ralph Nader has recently pointed out in Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance for Dismantling the Corporate State. Although there are many facets of the Tea Party, the anti-immigration movement, the French National Party and Golden Dawn that are poisonous, there are also tendencies calling for reining in Wall Street banks and opposing trade deals that weaken national sovereignty in favor of corporate domination. Whether or not progressive forces can find common ground with these elements in right-wing populism will help determine our future.