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Welcome, Reasoners

Since my article on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Walmart, and alt-labor is appearing this morning at Reason.com, a fair number of y’all passing by may be readers who are more or less new to the blog.

Shared Article from Reason.com

Free-Market Labor Wins Wage-Boost Victory

Economic liberty shouldn’t simply assume a pro-business stance, or discuss only the privileges government extends to unions.

Charles W. Johnson @ reason.com

So–welcome! I’m Charles W. Johnson; often, I write online under the handle Rad Geek. (Not because I’m trying to hide who I am, but because it suits me, and because sometimes it helps me avoid being confused with some folks I am not.) I’m an individualist anarchist, living in Alabama. I write this blog, I co-edited (together with Gary Chartier) the left-wing market anarchist anthology, Markets Not Capitalism (Minor Compositions/Autonomedia: 2011). I write occasional columns for libertarian and anarchist outlets including The Freeman, Reason.com, Free Voices, and The Industrial Radical. I publish a lot of small-press anarchist and left-libertarian literature through the Distro of the Libertarian Left. If you’re new to the blog here, and trying to get oriented, here’s some things you might find interesting to read, which will give you some broad idea of where I’m coming from, and what I care about.

I’ve written a lot over the years about the C.I.W., both basic event coverage of some of their main campaigns, and also a fair amount of my own commentary on what I take to be the significance of their use of social protest and state-free, market-based methods in their activism.[1] If you’ve come here from the article and you want to read more about the C.I.W. or the context of its campaigns, I have some links, both to my own writing and also to a number of other sources that I consulted while preparing the column on the recent Walmart victory. Those are at the bottom of the post, though, so feel free to scroll right down past the following, which is mostly just orientation on me and where I’m coming from.

Speaking generally, I am a market anarchist: I am radically opposed to any invasion of economic liberty and to the state as such, and I am in favor of freed markets, free exchange, voluntary association, open competition and individual ownership of property. But, unlike many pro-capitalist libertarians, I argue that one of the likely and important features of freed markets is their tendency to cut against socioeconomic inequalities, to provide a space for economic alternatives to status-quo corporate capitalism, and to undermine and replace traditional top-down firms or employer-employee relationships. The kind of things I believe are often called free market anticapitalism or left-wing market anarchism. For more on what I mean by all that, and why I believe it:

I also think that rambunctious nonviolent social activism, worker-owned enterprises and radical labor unions, based on voluntary association without government privilege, and an anti-authoritarian culture of worker solidarity, are all an important part of a flourishing free market.

Since Walmart is at the center of the story, I should say that, while I am immensely pleased to see Walmart signing an agreement for the Fair Food Program, I think that many of the common criticisms of Walmart’s business model, exploitative labor practices, and economic dominance are justified, and that I would be quite happy in general to see Walmart constantly confronted and challenged with some really vigorous and uncompromising competition, social criticism and alt-labor organizing and activism. I say this not because I object to business, or to low prices, or whatever, but because I object to highly centralized state-capitalist business models that depend on, and heavily exploit, corporate welfare, eminent domain, and other favors from corporatist local governments.

More broadly, much of my writing on economic questions aims to focus attention on the relationship between the economic privileges granted by the State, class, poverty, and corporate power.

I am an Anarchist. I don’t care about smaller government, or limited government, or about Constitutions, or about electing libertarian candidates to political office. I am the farthest thing possible from a conservative. I believe in abolishing the State as such, and in doing so through the practice of education, solidarity, and direct action.

As an Anarchist, and as a human being, I am utterly and irreconcilably opposed to all forms of government warfare.

I believe that the nationalistic violence of the warfare State is closely linked with the paramilitary patrols, police state, and nationalistic violence of government border controls — which are nothing other than international apartheid. See for example:

I also believe that the violence of the U.S. government’s imperial military abroad is closely linked with the repressive violence of (increasingly militarized) paramilitary police forces within the U.S. See for example:

And as a feminist I think that the violence of men’s wars and of men’s law enforcement are closely linked with the violent ideals of masculinity and patriarchy that men are brought up with in our society. For more, see:

I’m against all forms of Intellectual Property restrictions, which represent not genuine forms of property, but a grant of monopoly privileges over the minds of other people — which I view both as tyrannical in themselves and also as immensely, lethally destructive in the effects of the coercive monopolies that they grant:

Thanks for coming on down; I hope you stay a while, do some reading, and enjoy the blog. So, come, let us Reason together . . . .

Further reading on C.I.W., the Fair Food Program and Alt-Labor

As I mentioned, I’ve been following the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Fair Food Program for over a decade now. Here are some other articles that I’ve written on C.I.W.:

And here are a bunch of things that other people have written, which I consulted at some point or another recently while preparing my column, and which you might find useful as elaboration, context or backdrop about C.I.W., the Fair Food campaign and the creative activism used to win it, or the development and direction of alt-labor groups in general.

  1. [1]Full disclosure: besides having written frequently about the C.I.W., many years ago I was also indirectly involved in setting up an organizing workshop for C.I.W. that led to an impromptu radical cheerleading picket at our local Taco Bell in Auburn.

Tertium Non Dant

From Tim Cavanaugh, Steven Chu, Oh Where Are You? (Solyndra Roundup), at Reason.com:

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that a new poll indicates few Americans are paying attention to the Solyndra scandal, and most still support so-called clean energy initiatives . . . . More surprising than the continued support for solar power is the apparent support for spending taxpayer dollars on it, which the report from Public Opinion Strategies has at 62 percent, versus 31 percent opposed. However, I’m a little skeptical of the strongly leading questions:

There are thousands of successful and profitable clean energy and clean technology companies all across America; the failure of one California company should not stop us from continuing to make targeted public investments to help create American clean energy jobs. 62%
The collapse of Solyndra shows that investing taxpayer dollars in so-called green jobs is a waste of money; these businesses cannot compete or succeed on their own without government assistance, and we cannot afford to prop them up with government funding. 31%

I hope the remaining 7 percent answered, as I would have, Both of these options are stupid. I don’t want my taxes subsidizing private companies of any kind, and I’m aware that the amount of energy conventional solar power generates is modest. But how the hell should I know whether solar businesses can compete or succeed without government assistance?

The only way to find out whether these companies can work in the marketplace is to let them compete without government assistance.

— Tim Cavanaugh, Steven Chu, Oh Where Are You? (Solyndra Roundup), at Reason.com, 29 September 2011

See also.

Left flank

I saw this on SNL (yeah, I know) a couple weeks ago while I was visiting my folks in Alabama.

This is a truly awful impression, but if you can get around that, I think that the sketch is one of the few things SNL has done in a long time that’s both genuinely funny and politically insightful.

Thanks to a mention by Matt Welch, here’s Chris Hedges, in truthdig last month, writing Stop Begging Obama and Get Mad:

The right-wing accusations against Barack Obama are true. He is a socialist, although he practices socialism for corporations. He is squandering the country’s future with deficits that can never be repaid. He has retained and even bolstered our surveillance state to spy on Americans. He is forcing us to buy into a health care system that will enrich corporations and expand the abuse of our for-profit medical care. He will not stanch unemployment. He will not end our wars. He will not rebuild the nation. He is a tool of the corporate state.

The right wing is not wrong. It is not the problem. We are the problem. If we do not tap into the justifiable anger sweeping across the nation, if we do not militantly push back against corporate fraud and imperial wars that we cannot win or afford, the political vacuum we have created will be filled with right-wing lunatics and proto-fascists. The goons will inherit power not because they are astute, but because we are weak and inept.

— Chris Hedges, truthdig (2009-09-14): Stop Begging Obama and Get Mad

And here’s Robert Scheer on the Changeling’s first year of rule:

A president has only so much capital to expend, both in tax dollars and public tolerance, and Barack Obama is dangerously overdrawn. He has tried to have it all on three fronts, and his administration is in serious danger of going bankrupt. . . . Yes, Obama was presented with a series of crises not of his making but for which he is now being held accountable. He is not a “socialist” who grew the federal budget to astronomical proportions. That is the legacy of George W. Bush, who raised the military budget to its highest level since World War II despite the end of the Cold War and the lack of a formidable military opponent— a legacy of debt compounded by Bush’s decision to first ignore the banking meltdown and then to engage in a welfare-for-Wall-Street bailout. And it was Bush who gave the pharmaceutical companies the gift of a very expensive government subsidy for seniors’ drugs.

But what is nerve-racking about Obama is that even though he campaigned against Bush’s follies he has now embraced them. He hasn’t yet managed to significantly reduce the U.S. obligation in Iraq and has committed to making a potentially costlier error by ratcheting up America’s “nation-building” role in Afghanistan.

Just as he was burdened with the Afghanistan situation, Obama was saddled with a banking crisis he didn’t cause, and the worst that can be said of his attempted solutions to the financial mess is that they were inherited from Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. But Obama, who raised questions before his election about the propriety of a plan that would rescue the banks but ignore the plight of ordinary folks, has adopted that very approach as president. He elevated Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner, the two Democrats most closely aligned with Paulson’s policy, to top positions in his government.

. . . Without a government program as a check on medical costs, Obama will end up with a variant of the Massachusetts program, one that forces consumers to sign up with private insurers and costs 33 percent more than the national average. He will have furthered the Bush legacy of cultivating an ever more expensive big government without improving how the people are served.

— Robert Scheer, truthdig (2009-09-15): Obama’s Presidency Isn’t Too Big to Fail

Here’s Jesse Walker, in an article from a couple weeks ago for reason.com, Obama Is No Radical: But maybe we’d be better off if he were.

Thus far, the president’s domestic agenda has been many things, but radical it isn’t. Radicals make sudden turns. Obama sometimes slams his foot on the accelerator—just look at projected spending for the next few years—but he hardly ever tries to change direction. Radicals tear down centers of power. When Obama is faced with a crumbling institution, his first instinct is to prop it up.

That was most obviously true with the bailouts, a series of corporate preservation programs that began before he took office and have only increased since then. Candidate Obama voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the 2008 bailout for failing financial institutions, and he personally intervened to urge skeptical liberals to support it. After Congress refused to authorize a bailout of the car companies, Obama followed George W. Bush in ignoring the plain language of the law and funneling funds to them anyway. Like Bush before him, Obama took advantage of such moments to adjust the institutional relationship between these nominally private businesses and the state: firing the head of General Motors, urging the company to consolidate brands, pushing for new controls on Wall Street pay. But the institutions themselves were preserved, in some cases enriched. The radical thing to do would have been to let them collapse.

And no, I’m not using “radical” as a euphemism for “free-market libertarian.” A radical Obama still might have extended assistance to the people displaced by the corporate failures, perhaps even setting up a generous guaranteed income scheme. He might have broken up the big banks. He might have done all sorts of things, some wiser than others. But he would not have strengthened the corporate-state partnerships bequeathed to him by Bush.

. . . Now we have health care reform. Here you might actually expect the president to veer in a new direction and let a powerful institution die. After all, it’s been only six years since he described himself as “a proponent of a single-payer, universal health care plan,” and if he were serious about that it would mean the end of the private health insurance industry. . . .

First, it’s increasingly unlikely that a public option will be a part of the bill that emerges, in which case we’ll be left with an enormous boondoggle for the industry: a law requiring every American to buy health insurance or else face legal sanctions. . . . Second, and more important, a system with more government-provided insurance, even one with only government-provided insurance, would still accept the institutional premises of the present medical system. Consider the typical American health care transaction. On one side of the exchange you’ll have one of an artificially limited number of providers, many of them concentrated in those enormous, faceless institutions called hospitals. On the other side, making the purchase, is not a patient but one of those enormous, faceless institutions called insurers. The insurers, some of which are actual arms of the government and some of which merely owe their customers to the government’s tax incentives and shape their coverage to fit the government’s mandates, are expected to pay all or a share of even routine medical expenses. The result is higher costs, less competition, less transparency, and, in general, a system where the consumer gets about as much autonomy and respect as the stethoscope. Radical reform would restore power to the patient. Instead, the issue on the table is whether the behemoths we answer to will be purely public or public-private partnerships.

So I can’t agree with Horowitz, Hannity, or Andy Williams. The president could pal around with militiamen, hook a money hose from the Treasury to ACORN HQ, and sleep each night with a Zapatista plush doll, but as long as his chief concern is preserving and protecting the country’s largest corporate enterprises, the biggest beneficiaries of his reign will be at the core of the American establishment.

— Jesse Walker, reason (2009-09-30): Obama Is No Radical: But maybe we’d be better off if he were.

If you want a recipe for real disgust with the prevailing political establishment, and a real opening for radical critique, one of the things that has to happen is that dissidents need to begin to see that even the longed-for best-case scenario can’t possibly deliver what they want, because what they were promised just won’t fit through the political channels that they had put their hope in. An obvious tool like George W. Bush inspires a lot of fear and loathing; but he also inspires a lot of faith in the myth that if only someone who wasn’t such an obvious tool were in power, these problems would all get sorted out right quick. But when you have a ballyhooed reformer holding the reins of power, over-promising and under-delivering — and when it becomes increasingly clear that politics as usual will keep on keeping on — that’s often when you begin to see a real chance for a crack-up. If the organizers and the dissidents know what to make of the situation, knows how to connect with that kind of disappointment and anger, and can offer a real alternative to the failure of within-the-system political reforms. (Which is part of the reason why I take out-Lefting the Left, and introducing people-powered, direct-action alternatives to electoral politics, to be really essential for left-libertarians right now.)

Perhaps it’s appropriate that we’re watching this go down as we pass through the 20th anniversary of Fall 1989. I can only HopeTM that we might yet see Barack Obama end up playing the Gorbachev of American imperial politics.

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