It’s that time of year again, the glorious International Workers’ Day, which we invented here in the U.S. but never celebrate anymore. Heck, I even let a little unseasonal rain (and an urgent project building a local food system) get between me and our local May Day demonstration. I think I’m getting old and boring.
Over in Europe, they certainly seem to be having some, uh, spirited commemorations, and even a few rallies in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the US. But it’s not like it once was. And that’s strange, because in a time when the bankers have us over the barrel and layoffs are rampant, we need organized workers like never before.
Huffington Post ran an appropriately scathing commentary. But the media has mostly been quiet beyond the obligatory stories about those cranky Europeans and jolly Angelenos
Furthermore, the latest development on a rather huge related story is somewhere between discouraging and outright bizarre. For a day or two, it seemed that the health fund for the United Auto Workers would become a majority stakeholder in Chrysler. This is not exactly worker ownership, but it is a lot closer than usual. I was intrigued enough to be disappointed by yesterday’s bankruptcy filing, which is not a good sign that this adventure in quasi-pseudo-semi-partial worker ownership will end well.
Unions have good points and bad points, but for better or worse their purpose is to provide a unified voice for the workers, maybe even get a bit of worker control if you are an old radical. So what’s up with the UAW President trying to downplay the union’s control? Yes, technically it isn’t the union that owns most of Chrysler, but it seems to me that the workers having an indirect control over the company can’t hurt (even if the union now faces some very strange conflict of interest). It also can’t be any worse than the bunch of venture capitalists who ran it into the ground.
In any case, today is a good time to reflect on how the capitalist system is set up with workers and investors as enemies. It doesn’t have to be that way, and I look forward to the day that widespread worker ownership (and other cooperative structures) reduce the need for unions. If businesses are run with the interests of workers and their communities in mind, they will hopefully be able to provide a level of internal checks and balances. As messy as it is, Chrysler now provides an interesting case study.
Happy May Day everyone. We’ve got a lot of work to do.