Friday, February 28, 2014

Three From The Trotskyist Press

Chattanooga Shoo-Shoo is the wonderful headline on top of an excellent article by Bill Onasch in the recent Socialist Action. It concerns the surprising loss in the UAW's efforts to unionize the VW plant. Mr. Onasch recites the events clearly, concisely, and (as far as I can tell) completely accurately. If you want a short intro to the saga, this is the best place to start.

So everybody expected the union to win. Indeed, almost everybody wanted the union to win. Obviously the UAW needs the dues-payers, local Democrats want the organizational capital, and even VW was rooting for the union.

VW? They wanted a "works council," similar to what they have in Germany. I can certainly see why--workers on the floor know a lot more about many details of production than anybody in management. They know more about safety, working conditions, ergonomics, and myriad small inefficiencies. A works council captures that information in a way that empowers workers to fix things and gives them an incentive to participate. It's much better than a suggestion box.

As US labor law prohibits a firm from setting up a "company union," VW invited the UAW to do this for them. The union heartily agreed, and not just because of the dues money. This could represent a value-added service they can provide. In effect, VW was asking the union to come in and help manage the plant.

So what could go wrong? Two things--first, workers rightly questioned why they should be paying union dues to improve management at the plant. The service may be important, but VW should be paying for it themselves--not the employees. I think that's why the union lost--the vote was 626-712.

And second, those evil Republicans weighed in. Tennessee is a major auto producer precisely because it is non-union. And however innocuous, a union beachhead in Chattanooga will scare away future investment in the state. As Shikha Dalmia writes,
This incensed the state’s Republican legislature, which threatened to withdraw an “incentive package” meant to keep this $1 billion facility in Tennessee if workers voted for unionization. What’s more, on the eve of the election, GOP Senator Bob Corker declared that company executives had assured him that failure to unionize would not affect their plans for SUV production, a statement they subsequently denied.
The union is suing for a new election, claiming the Republicans illegitimately influenced the vote. This, of course, assumes that the workers are a bunch of stupid dolts who vote against their own interest just because of a few Republican billboards. Actually, I think the workers voted for their best interest, and if there is a new election, the union will lose by a larger margin.

In January (somehow I missed it) The Militant published an article by Brian Williams on the administrative state. Mr. Williams makes a strong case for the Tea Party program, arguing forcefully that government (especially the federal government) has gotten to big. He cites the five-fold growth in the number of federal employees since 1939, despite only a 2.5-fold increase in population. Further evidence is the increase in the size of the federal register, and the rise in the number of executive orders. If only he'd used the words unconstitutional governance, I'd have mistaken him for a Tea Party spokesman.

Well, maybe not quite--there are a few red flags (pun intended). First, he implies that the meritocracy is a fraud. "Hand in hand with the growth of the administrative state bureaucracy and particularly its various appendages has been a social layer of self-styled 'meritocrats' to run them." Quoting Jack Barnes, he continues “Its members truly believe that their ‘brightness,’ their ‘quickness,’ their ‘contributions to public life,’ … give them the right to make decisions, to administer society on behalf of the bourgeoisie — what they claim to be on behalf of the interests of ‘the people.’"

This is standard, Trotskyist boilerplate. People are completely interchangeable. Only luck differentiates Harvard professor Larry Summers from Joe Schmoe at the corner tavern. But nobody else can believe this--Larry Summers really is a very smart guy. So are most of the other people holding top positions in government or elite institutions. I also don't believe the elites are generally dishonest or slavishly working for the bourgeoisie. But the larger point is correct--and the Tea Party will completely agree. No matter how smart they are, the elites have no right to make decisions for a people endowed by their Creator with the right to Liberty.

And finally comes Mr. Williams' astonishing claim:
Contrary to popular misconception, the revolutionary communist movement is not for “big government,” whether it’s a government representing the state power of the capitalist exploiters or a revolutionary government of workers and farmers. 
The false view has developed as a result of the massive, repressive state that was put in place in the Soviet Union following the counterrevolutionary usurpation of power by a privileged bureaucratic layer led by Josef Stalin in the 1920s.
Mr. Williams seems to suggest that big government can be made to vanish simply by getting rid of the military and law enforcement. Though how a centralized economy is supposed to work without a huge bureaucracy is beyond me.

Still, this is a very novel thesis for a Trotskyist. We've been promised a Party convention in March--somehow I don't think that's going to happen. But if this is the political direction, then Trotskyism is going off in some strange and wondrous directions.

Finally, Solidarity publishes a plea to save the job of Dr. Anthony Monteiro. Never heard of him? Me neither, but he comes well recommended from the Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Dr. Monteiro is an associate professor of African-American Studies at Temple University. Contrary to what his title implies, apparently he does not have tenure. The university has chosen not to renew his contract after 10 years of service.

The article is obviously only one side of the story, and I find it completely unconvincing. It claims that the dean of liberal arts, Theresa Soufas, fired him because she's a racist. This is completely unbelievable--she has been dean at Temple since 2007, and before that served for more than 20 years on the faculty at Tulane University. This is a distinguished career in politically-correct academe, and not one achieved by a racist. As evidence, the article reports "Dean Soufas has said publicly to the Department, 'I do not see a Black Community.'" This sounds like a quote taken totally out of context. It is revealing that the department chair has not come out in support of his colleague. Is he a racist, too?

Two things bother. First, they ding the dean for offering no reason for her action. Absent tenure, the university has a right to terminate contracts for any reason. Further, she is prohibited from discussing it in public. So she's just doing her job.

Second, the article says that not having his contract renewed is a violation of academic freedom. Nonsense--there is nothing in academic freedom that guarantees one a job at Temple University.

And finally, I'm always astonished by the hypocrisy of these groups. Untenured faculty get dismissed all the time. But none of these people ever come to the defense of chemistry or nursing or business faculty. They only speak up for the politically-correct departments, and then only for the trouble-makers.

I'm with the dean on this one.

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