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The Evolutionary Perspective
Daily Archives: November 23, 2019
Posted: November 23, 2019 at 12:41 pm
Lauryn Hill Guarding the Gates
Everybody wants to know, what youre gonna do, where you going to. Yes, Lauryn, probably because theyre making a seven-part Netflix biopic about you - or more specificially, the whole sad cavalcade that has dogged the biggest talent of 1998. It is jarring to hear her as she is now singing with the weathered drawl of a woman with a Wikipedia subhead for Further Activities and Imprisonment. However, this lost soul howling into the storm still sounds as though she never let the fire die. After all, as she sings: You can laugh at me. But Im in love. Dont you wish you had been in love?
It is now evident that Beck achieved his final form on Sea Change. Peel back the onion of weird-folk, slack-rock, sex-funk, alt-hop, and underneath is just a gelatinous cube of singer-songwriter. Who knows why it happened, but somewhere along the line we have come to expect the same from him as we do from a late-period Springsteen: 1,700 warm words in Uncut that equate to perfectly serviceable modern rock songs.
Featuring Bernard Butler, it says here, but as Bernard seems to be doing nothing more than strumming open chords, thats a bit like getting Andr the Giant to open your pickle jars. One of those plangent, world-weary shuffling ones Tennant and Lowe seem to think we all expect from them, and more autumnal than seasonal affective disorder.
KSI has recruited Rick Ross and its not immediately clear who is doing whom a favour. In 2019, what do big-time rappers think when they get the call to guest on YouTubers tracks? Now that the game is Fifa on Twitch and some kind of food challenge, is Rick simply grateful for the exposure? I mean, theres everyday hustlin and then there is being the icing on someone elses vanity-rap career.
The Pixie Enya Chillout Room is open. When reports of the musicians new daily routine began filtering through this summer flotation tanks, sword fighting, an alphabet soup of nootropics it sounded as though she was having a creative breakdown. Turns out she was just becoming bulletproof. Heavy is the size of it: all this ethereal nonnying would sound trite if it werent welded to such a dense, sleek groove.
Read the original here:
Posted: at 12:40 pm
No one should ever work.
Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil youd care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.
That doesnt mean we have to stop doing things. It does mean creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a ludic conviviality, commensality, and maybe even art. There is more to play than childs play, as worthy as that is. I call for a collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance. Play isnt passive. Doubtless we all need a lot more time for sheer sloth and slack than we ever enjoy now, regardless of income or occupation, but once recovered from employment-induced exhaustion nearly all of us want to act. Oblomovism and Stakhanovism are two sides of the same debased coin.
The ludic life is totally incompatible with existing reality. So much the worse for reality, the gravity hole that sucks the vitality from the little in life that still distinguishes it from mere survival. Curiously or maybe not all the old ideologies are conservative because they believe in work. Some of them, like Marxism and most brands of anarchism, believe in work all the more fiercely because they believe in so little else.
Liberals say we should end employment discrimination. I say we should end employment. Conservatives support right-to-work laws. Following Karl Marxs wayward son-in-law Paul Lafargue I support the right to be lazy. Leftists favor full employment. Like the surrealists except that Im not kidding I favor full unemployment. Trotskyists agitate for permanent revolution. I agitate for permanent revelry. But if all the ideologues (as they do) advocate work and not only because they plan to make other people do theirs they are strangely reluctant to say so. They will carry on endlessly about wages, hours, working conditions, exploitation, productivity, profitability. Theyll gladly talk about anything but work itself. These experts who offer to do our thinking for us rarely share their conclusions about work, for all its saliency in the lives of all of us. Among themselves they quibble over the details. Unions and management agree that we ought to sell the time of our lives in exchange for survival, although they haggle over the price. Marxists think we should be bossed by bureaucrats. Libertarians think we should be bossed by businessmen. Feminists dont care which form bossing takes so long as the bosses are women. Clearly these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working.
You may be wondering if Im joking or serious. Im joking and serious. To be ludic is not to be ludicrous. Play doesnt have to be frivolous, although frivolity isnt triviality: very often we ought to take frivolity seriously. Id like life to be a game but a game with high stakes. I want to play for keeps.
The alternative to work isnt just idleness. To be ludic is not to be quaaludic. As much as I treasure the pleasure of torpor, its never more rewarding than when it punctuates other pleasures and pastimes. Nor am I promoting the managed time-disciplined safety-valve called leisure; far from it. Leisure is nonwork for the sake of work. Leisure is the time spent recovering from work and in the frenzied but hopeless attempt to forget about work. Many people return from vacation so beat that they look forward to returning to work so they can rest up. The main difference between work and leisure is that work at least you get paid for your alienation and enervation.
I am not playing definitional games with anybody. When I say I want to abolish work, I mean just what I say, but I want to say what I mean by defining my terms in non-idiosyncratic ways. My minimum definition of work is forced labor, that is, compulsory production. Both elements are essential. Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot is just the stick by other means.) But not all creation is work. Work is never done for its own sake, its done on account of some product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else) gets out of it. This is what work necessarily is. To define it is to despise it. But work is usually even worse than its definition decrees. The dynamic of domination intrinsic to work tends over time toward elaboration. In advanced work-riddled societies, including all industrial societies whether capitalist or Communist, work invariably acquires other attributes which accentuate its obnoxiousness.
Usually and this is even more true in Communist than capitalist countries, where the state is almost the only employer and everyone is an employee work is employment, i. e., wage-labor, which means selling yourself on the installment plan. Thus 95% of Americans who work, work for somebody (or something) else. In the USSR or Cuba or Yugoslavia or any other alternative model which might be adduced, the corresponding figure approaches 100%. Only the embattled Third World peasant bastions Mexico, India, Brazil, Turkey temporarily shelter significant concentrations of agriculturists who perpetuate the traditional arrangement of most laborers in the last several millenia, the payment of taxes (= ransom) to the state or rent to parasitic landlords in return for being otherwise left alone. Even this raw deal is beginning to look good. All industrial (and office) workers are employees and under the sort of surveillance which ensures servility.
But modern work has worse implications. People dont just work, they have jobs. One person does one productive task all the time on an or-else basis. Even if the task has a quantum of intrinsic interest (as increasingly many jobs dont) the monotony of its obligatory exclusivity drains its ludic potential. A job that might engage the energies of some people, for a reasonably limited time, for the fun of it, is just a burden on those who have to do it for forty hours a week with no say in how it should be done, for the profit of owners who contribute nothing to the project, and with no opportunity for sharing tasks or spreading the work among those who actually have to do it. This is the real world of work: a world of bureaucratic blundering, of sexual harassment and discrimination, of bonehead bosses exploiting and scapegoating their subordinates who by any rational-technical criteria should be calling the shots. But capitalism in the real world subordinates the rational maximization of productivity and profit to the exigencies of organizational control.
The degradation which most workers experience on the job is the sum of assorted indignities which can be denominated as discipline. Foucault has complexified this phenomenon but it is simple enough. Discipline consists of the totality of totalitarian controls at the workplace surveillance, rotework, imposed work tempos, production quotas, punching -in and -out, etc. Discipline is what the factory and the office and the store share with the prison and the school and the mental hospital. It is something historically original and horrible. It was beyond the capacities of such demonic dictators of yore as Nero and Genghis Khan and Ivan the Terrible. For all their bad intentions they just didnt have the machinery to control their subjects as thoroughly as modern despots do. Discipline is the distinctively diabolical modern mode of control, it is an innovative intrusion which must be interdicted at the earliest opportunity.
Such is work. Play is just the opposite. Play is always voluntary. What might otherwise be play is work if its forced. This is axiomatic. Bernie de Koven has defined play as the suspension of consequences. This is unacceptable if it implies that play is inconsequential. The point is not that play is without consequences. This is to demean play. The point is that the consequences, if any, are gratuitous. Playing and giving are closely related, they are the behavioral and transactional facets of the same impulse, the play-instinct. They share an aristocratic disdain for results. The player gets something out of playing; thats why he plays. But the core reward is the experience of the activity itself (whatever it is). Some otherwise attentive students of play, like Johan Huizinga (Homo Ludens), define it as game-playing or following rules. I respect Huizingas erudition but emphatically reject his constraints. There are many good games (chess, baseball, Monopoly, bridge) which are rule-governed but there is much more to play than game-playing. Conversation, sex, dancing, travel these practices arent rule-governed but they are surely play if anything is. And rules can be played with at least as readily as anything else.
Work makes a mockery of freedom. The official line is that we all have rights and live in a democracy. Other unfortunates who arent free like we are have to live in police states. These victims obey orders or-else, no matter how arbitrary. The authorities keep them under regular surveillance. State bureaucrats control even the smaller details of everyday life. The officials who push them around are answerable only to higher-ups, public or private. Either way, dissent and disobedience are punished. Informers report regularly to the authorities. All this is supposed to be a very bad thing.
And so it is, although it is nothing but a description of the modern workplace. The liberals and conservatives and libertarians who lament totalitarianism are phonies and hypocrites. There is more freedom in any moderately deStalinized dictatorship than there is in the ordinary American workplace. You find the same sort of hierarchy and discipline in an office or factory as you do in a prison or monastery. In fact, as Foucault and others have shown, prisons and factories came in at about the same time, and their operators consciously borrowed from each others control techniques. A worker is a part time slave. The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime. He tells you how much work to do and how fast. He is free to carry his control to humiliating extremes, regulating, if he feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you go to the bathroom. With a few exceptions he can fire you for any reason, or no reason. He has you spied on by snitches and supervisors, he amasses a dossier on every employee. Talking back is called insubordination, just as if a worker is a naughty child, and it not only gets you fired, it disqualifies you for unemployment compensation. Without necessarily endorsing it for them either, it is noteworthy that children at home and in school receive much the same treatment, justified in their case by their supposed immaturity. What does this say about their parents and teachers who work?
The demeaning system of domination Ive described rules over half the waking hours of a majority of women and the vast majority of men for decades, for most of their lifespans. For certain purposes its not too misleading to call our system democracy or capitalism or better still industrialism, but its real names are factory fascism and office oligarchy. Anybody who says these people are free is lying or stupid. You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid monotonous work, chances are youll end up boring, stupid and monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping cretinization all around us than even such significant moronizing mechanisms as television and education. People who are regimented all their lives, handed off to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home at the end, are habituated to heirarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias. Their obedience training at work carries over into the families they start, thus reproducing the system in more ways than one, and into politics, culture and everything else. Once you drain the vitality from people at work, theyll likely submit to heirarchy and expertise in everything. Theyre used to it.
We are so close to the world of work that we cant see what it does to us. We have to rely on outside observers from other times or other cultures to appreciate the extremity and the pathology of our present position. There was a time in our own past when the work ethic would have been incomprehensible, and perhaps Weber was on to something when he tied its appearance to a religion, Calvinism, which if it emerged today instead of four centuries ago would immediately and appropriately be labeled a cult. Be that as it may, we have only to draw upon the wisdom of antiquity to put work in perspective. The ancients saw work for what it is, and their view prevailed, the Calvinist cranks notwithstanding, until overthrown by industrialism but not before receiving the endorsement of its prophets.
Lets pretend for a moment that work doesnt turn people into stultified submissives. Lets pretend, in defiance of any plausible psychology and the ideology of its boosters, that it has no effect on the formation of character. And lets pretend that work isnt as boring and tiring and humiliating as we all know it really is. Even then, work would still make a mockery of all humanistic and democratic aspirations, just because it usurps so much of our time. Socrates said that manual laborers make bad friends and bad citizens because they have no time to fulfill the responsibilities of friendship and citizenship. He was right. Because of work, no matter what we do we keep looking at our watches. The only thing free about so-called free time is that it doesnt cost the boss anything. Free time is mostly devoted to getting ready for work, going to work, returning from work, and recovering from work. Free time is a euphemism for the peculiar way labor as a factor of production not only transports itself at its own expense to and from the workplace but assumes primary responsibility for its own maintenance and repair. Coal and steel dont do that. Lathes and typewriters dont do that. But workers do. No wonder Edward G. Robinson in one of his gangster movies exclaimed, Work is for saps!
Both Plato and Xenophon attribute to Socrates and obviously share with him an awareness of the destructive effects of work on the worker as a citizen and a human being. Herodotus identified contempt for work as an attribute of the classical Greeks at the zenith of their culture. To take only one Roman example, Cicero said that whoever gives his labor for money sells himself and puts himself in the rank of slaves. His candor is now rare, but contemporary primitive societies which we are wont to look down upon have provided spokesmen who have enlightened Western anthropologists. The Kapauku of West Irian, according to Posposil, have a conception of balance in life and accordingly work only every other day, the day of rest designed to regain the lost power and health. Our ancestors, even as late as the eighteenth century when they were far along the path to our present predicament, at least were aware of what we have forgotten, the underside of industrialization. Their religious devotion to St. Monday thus establishing a de facto five-day week 150200 years before its legal consecration was the despair of the earliest factory owners. They took a long time in submitting to the tyranny of the bell, predecessor of the time clock. In fact it was necessary for a generation or two to replace adult males with women accustomed to obedience and children who could be molded to fit industrial needs. Even the exploited peasants of the ancient regime wrested substantial time back from their landlords work. According to Lafargue, a fourth of the French peasants calendar was devoted to Sundays and holidays, and Chayanovs figures from villages in Czarist Russia hardly a progressive society likewise show a fourth or fifth of peasants days devoted to repose. Controlling for productivity, we are obviously far behind these backward societies. The exploited muzhiks would wonder why any of us are working at all. So should we.
To grasp the full enormity of our deterioration, however, consider the earliest condition of humanity, without government or property, when we wandered as hunter-gatherers. Hobbes surmised that life was then nasty, brutish and short. Others assume that life was a desperate unremitting struggle for subsistence, a war waged against a harsh Nature with death and disaster awaiting the unlucky or anyone who was unequal to the challenge of the struggle for existence. Actually, that was all a projection of fears for the collapse of government authority over communities unaccustomed to doing without it, like the England of Hobbes during the Civil War. Hobbes compatriots had already encountered alternative forms of society which illustrated other ways of life in North America, particularly but already these were too remote from their experience to be understandable. (The lower orders, closer to the condition of the Indians, understood it better and often found it attractive. Throughout the seventeenth century, English settlers defected to Indian tribes or, captured in war, refused to return. But the Indians no more defected to white settlements than Germans climb the Berlin Wall from the west.) The survival of the fittest version the Thomas Huxley version of Darwinism was a better account of economic conditions in Victorian England than it was of natural selection, as the anarchist Kropotkin showed in his book Mutual Aid, A Factor of Evolution. (Kropotkin was a scientist a geographer whod had ample involuntary opportunity for fieldwork whilst exiled in Siberia: he knew what he was talking about.) Like most social and political theory, the story Hobbes and his successors told was really unacknowledged autobiography.
The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, surveying the data on contemporary hunter-gatherers, exploded the Hobbesian myth in an article entitled The Original Affluent Society. They work a lot less than we do, and their work is hard to distinguish from what we regard as play. Sahlins concluded that hunters and gatherers work less than we do; and rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in any other condition of society. They worked an average of four hours a day, assuming they were working at all. Their labor, as it appears to us, was skilled labor which exercised their physical and intellectual capacities; unskilled labor on any large scale, as Sahlins says, is impossible except under industrialism. Thus it satisfied Friedrich Schillers definition of play, the only occasion on which man realizes his complete humanity by giving full play to both sides of his twofold nature, thinking and feeling. As he put it: The animal works when deprivation is the mainspring of its activity, and it plays when the fullness of its strength is this mainspring, when superabundant life is its own stimulus to activity. (A modern version dubiously developmental is Abraham Maslows counterposition of deficiency and growth motivation.) Play and freedom are, as regards production, coextensive. Even Marx, who belongs (for all his good intentions) in the productivist pantheon, observed that the realm of freedom does not commence until the point is passed where labor under the compulsion of necessity and external utility is required. He never could quite bring himself to identify this happy circumstance as what it is, the abolition of work its rather anomalous, after all, to be pro-worker and anti-work but we can.
The aspiration to go backwards or forwards to a life without work is evident in every serious social or cultural history of pre-industrial Europe, among them M. Dorothy Georges England In Transition and Peter Burkes Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe. Also pertinent is Daniel Bells essay, Work and its Discontents, the first text, I believe, to refer to the revolt against work in so many words and, had it been understood, an important correction to the complacency ordinarily associated with the volume in which it was collected, The End of Ideology. Neither critics nor celebrants have noticed that Bells end-of-ideology thesis signaled not the end of social unrest but the beginning of a new, uncharted phase unconstrained and uninformed by ideology. It was Seymour Lipset (in Political Man), not Bell, who announced at the same time that the fundamental problems of the Industrial Revolution have been solved, only a few years before the post- or meta-industrial discontents of college students drove Lipset from UC Berkeley to the relative (and temporary) tranquility of Harvard.
As Bell notes, Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, for all his enthusiasm for the market and the division of labor, was more alert to (and more honest about) the seamy side of work than Ayn Rand or the Chicago economists or any of Smiths modern epigones. As Smith observed: The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations... has no occasion to exert his understanding... He generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. Here, in a few blunt words, is my critique of work. Bell, writing in 1956, the Golden Age of Eisenhower imbecility and American self-satisfaction, identified the unorganized, unorganizable malaise of the 1970s and since, the one no political tendency is able to harness, the one identified in HEWs report Work in America, the one which cannot be exploited and so is ignored. That problem is the revolt against work. It does not figure in any text by any laissez-faire economist Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard, Richard Posner because, in their terms, as they used to say on Star Trek, it does not compute.
If these objections, informed by the love of liberty, fail to persuade humanists of a utilitarian or even paternalist turn, there are others which they cannot disregard. Work is hazardous to your health, to borrow a book title. In fact, work is mass murder or genocide. Directly or indirectly, work will kill most of the people who read these words. Between 14,000 and 25,000 workers are killed annually in this country on the job. Over two million are disabled. Twenty to twenty-five million are injured every year. And these figures are based on a very conservative estimation of what constitutes a work-related injury. Thus they dont count the half million cases of occupational disease every year. I looked at one medical textbook on occupational diseases which was 1,200 pages long. Even this barely scratches the surface. The available statistics count the obvious cases like the 100,000 miners who have black lung disease, of whom 4,000 die every year, a much higher fatality rate than for AIDS, for instance, which gets so much media attention. This reflects the unvoiced assumption that AIDS afflicts perverts who could control their depravity whereas coal-mining is a sacrosanct activity beyond question. What the statistics dont show is that tens of millions of people have heir lifespans shortened by work which is all that homicide means, after all. Consider the doctors who work themselves to death in their 50s. Consider all the other workaholics.
Even if you arent killed or crippled while actually working, you very well might be while going to work, coming from work, looking for work, or trying to forget about work. The vast majority of victims of the automobile are either doing one of these work-obligatory activities or else fall afoul of those who do them. To this augmented body-count must be added the victims of auto-industrial pollution and work-induced alcoholism and drug addiction. Both cancer and heart disease are modern afflictions normally traceable, directly, or indirectly, to work.
Work, then, institutionalizes homicide as a way of life. People think the Cambodians were crazy for exterminating themselves, but are we any different? The Pol Pot regime at least had a vision, however blurred, of an egalitarian society. We kill people in the six-figure range (at least) in order to sell Big Macs and Cadillacs to the survivors. Our forty or fifty thousand annual highway fatalities are victims, not martyrs. They died for nothing or rather, they died for work. But work is nothing to die for.
Bad news for liberals: regulatory tinkering is useless in this life-and-death context. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration was designed to police the core part of the problem, workplace safety. Even before Reagan and the Supreme Court stifled it, OSHA was a farce. At previous and (by current standards) generous Carter-era funding levels, a workplace could expect a random visit from an OSHA inspector once every 46 years.
State control of the economy is no solution. Work is, if anything, more dangerous in the state-socialist countries than it is here. Thousands of Russian workers were killed or injured building the Moscow subway. Stories reverberate about covered-up Soviet nuclear disasters which make Times Beach and Three-Mile Island look like elementary-school air-raid drills. On the other hand, deregulation, currently fashionable, wont help and will probably hurt. From a health and safety standpoint, among others, work was at its worst in the days when the economy most closely approximated laissez-faire.
Historians like Eugene Genovese have argued persuasively that as antebellum slavery apologists insisted factory wage-workers in the Northern American states and in Europe were worse off than Southern plantation slaves. No rearrangement of relations among bureaucrats and businessmen seems to make much difference at the point of production. Serious enforcement of even the rather vague standards enforceable in theory by OSHA would probably bring the economy to a standstill. The enforcers apparently appreciate this, since they dont even try to crack down on most malefactors.
What Ive said so far ought not to be controversial. Many workers are fed up with work. There are high and rising rates of absenteeism, turnover, employee theft and sabotage, wildcat strikes, and overall goldbricking on the job. There may be some movement toward a conscious and not just visceral rejection of work. And yet the prevalent feeling, universal among bosses and their agents and also widespread among workers themselves is that work itself is inevitable and necessary.
I disagree. It is now possible to abolish work and replace it, insofar as it serves useful purposes, with a multitude of new kinds of free activities. To abolish work requires going at it from two directions, quantitative and qualitative. On the one hand, on the quantitative side, we have to cut down massively on the amount of work being done. At present most work is useless or worse and we should simply get rid of it. On the other hand and I think this is the crux of the matter and the revolutionary new departure we have to take what useful work remains and transform it into a pleasing variety of game-like and craft-like pastimes, indistinguishable from other pleasurable pastimes, except that they happen to yield useful end-products. Surely that shouldnt make them less enticing to do. Then all the artificial barriers of power and property could come down. Creation could become recreation. And we could all stop being afraid of each other.
I dont suggest that most work is salvageable in this way. But then most work isnt worth trying to save. Only a small and diminishing fraction of work serves any useful purpose independent of the defense and reproduction of the work-system and its political and legal appendages. Twenty years ago, Paul and Percival Goodman estimated that just five percent of the work then being done presumably the figure, if accurate, is lower now would satisfy our minimal needs for food, clothing, and shelter. Theirs was only an educated guess but the main point is quite clear: directly or indirectly, most work serves the unproductive purposes of commerce or social control. Right off the bat we can liberate tens of millions of salesmen, soldiers, managers, cops, stockbrokers, clergymen, bankers, lawyers, teachers, landlords, security guards, ad-men and everyone who works for them. There is a snowball effect since every time you idle some bigshot you liberate his flunkeys and underlings also. Thus the economy implodes.
Forty percent of the workforce are white-collar workers, most of whom have some of the most tedious and idiotic jobs ever concocted. Entire industries, insurance and banking and real estate for instance, consist of nothing but useless paper-shuffling. It is no accident that the tertiary sector, the service sector, is growing while the secondary sector (industry) stagnates and the primary sector (agriculture) nearly disappears. Because work is unnecessary except to those whose power it secures, workers are shifted from relatively useful to relatively useless occupations as a measure to assure public order. Anything is better than nothing. Thats why you cant go home just because you finish early. They want your time, enough of it to make you theirs, even if they have no use for most of it. Otherwise why hasnt the average work week gone down by more than a few minutes in the past fifty years?
Next we can take a meat-cleaver to production work itself. No more war production, nuclear power, junk food, feminine hygiene deodorant and above all, no more auto industry to speak of. An occasional Stanley Steamer or Model-T might be all right, but the auto-eroticism on which such pestholes as Detroit and Los Angeles depend on is out of the question. Already, without even trying, weve virtually solved the energy crisis, the environmental crisis and assorted other insoluble social problems.
Finally, we must do away with far and away the largest occupation, the one with the longest hours, the lowest pay and some of the most tedious tasks around. I refer to housewives doing housework and child-rearing. By abolishing wage-labor and achieving full unemployment we undermine the sexual division of labor. The nuclear family as we know it is an inevitable adaptation to the division of labor imposed by modern wage-work. Like it or not, as things have been for the last century or two it is economically rational for the man to bring home the bacon, for the woman to do the shitwork to provide him with a haven in a heartless world, and for the children to be marched off to youth concentration camps called schools, primarily to keep them out of Moms hair but still under control, but incidentally to acquire the habits of obedience and punctuality so necessary for workers. If you would be rid of patriarchy, get rid of the nuclear family whose unpaid shadow work, as Ivan Illich says, makes possible the work-system that makes it necessary. Bound up with this no-nukes strategy is the abolition of childhood and the closing of the schools. There are more full-time students than full-time workers in this country. We need children as teachers, not students. They have a lot to contribute to the ludic revolution because theyre better at playing than grown-ups are. Adults and children are not identical but they will become equal through interdependence. Only play can bridge the generation gap.
I havent as yet even mentioned the possibility of cutting way down on the little work that remains by automating and cybernizing it. All the scientists and engineers and technicians freed from bothering with war research and planned obsolescence would have a good time devising means to eliminate fatigue and tedium and danger from activities like mining. Undoubtedly theyll find other projects to amuse themselves with. Perhaps theyll set up world-wide all-inclusive multi-media communications systems or found space colonies. Perhaps. I myself am no gadget freak. I wouldnt care to live in a pushbutton paradise. I dont want robot slaves to do everything; I want to do things myself. There is, I think, a place for labor-saving technology, but a modest place. The historical and pre-historical record is not encouraging. When productive technology went from hunting-gathering to agriculture and on to industry, work increased while skills and self-determination diminished. The further evolution of industrialism has accentuated what Harry Braverman called the degradation of work. Intelligent observers have always been aware of this. John Stuart Mill wrote that all the labor-saving inventions ever devised havent saved a moments labor. Karl Marx wrote that it would be possible to write a history of the inventions, made since 1830, for the sole purpose of supplying capital with weapons against the revolts of the working class. The enthusiastic technophiles Saint-Simon, Comte, Lenin, B. F. Skinner have always been unabashed authoritarians also; which is to say, technocrats. We should be more than sceptical about the promises of the computer mystics. They work like dogs; chances are, if they have their way, so will the rest of us. But if they have any particularized contributions more readily subordinated to human purposes than the run of high tech, lets give them a hearing.
What I really want to see is work turned into play. A first step is to discard the notions of a job and an occupation. Even activities that already have some ludic content lose most of it by being reduced to jobs which certain people, and only those people are forced to do to the exclusion of all else. Is it not odd that farm workers toil painfully in the fields while their air-conditioned masters go home every weekend and putter about in their gardens? Under a system of permanent revelry, we will witness the Golden Age of the dilettante which will put the Renaissance to shame. There wont be any more jobs, just things to do and people to do them.
The secret of turning work into play, as Charles Fourier demonstrated, is to arrange useful activities to take advantage of whatever it is that various people at various times in fact enjoy doing. To make it possible for some people to do the things they could enjoy it will be enough just to eradicate the irrationalities and distortions which afflict these activities when they are reduced to work. I, for instance, would enjoy doing some (not too much) teaching, but I dont want coerced students and I dont care to suck up to pathetic pedants for tenure.
Second, there are some things that people like to do from time to time, but not for too long, and certainly not all the time. You might enjoy baby-sitting for a few hours in order to share the company of kids, but not as much as their parents do. The parents meanwhile, profoundly appreciate the time to themselves that you free up for them, although theyd get fretful if parted from their progeny for too long. These differences among individuals are what make a life of free play possible. The same principle applies to many other areas of activity, especially the primal ones. Thus many people enjoy cooking when they can practice it seriously at their leisure, but not when theyre just fueling up human bodies for work.
Third other things being equal some things that are unsatisfying if done by yourself or in unpleasant surroundings or at the orders of an overlord are enjoyable, at least for a while, if these circumstances are changed. This is probably true, to some extent, of all work. People deploy their otherwise wasted ingenuity to make a game of the least inviting drudge-jobs as best they can. Activities that appeal to some people dont always appeal to all others, but everyone at least potentially has a variety of interests and an interest in variety. As the saying goes, anything once. Fourier was the master at speculating how aberrant and perverse penchants could be put to use in post-civilized society, what he called Harmony. He thought the Emperor Nero would have turned out all right if as a child he could have indulged his taste for bloodshed by working in a slaughterhouse. Small children who notoriously relish wallowing in filth could be organized in Little Hordes to clean toilets and empty the garbage, with medals awarded to the outstanding. I am not arguing for these precise examples but for the underlying principle, which I think makes perfect sense as one dimension of an overall revolutionary transformation. Bear in mind that we dont have to take todays work just as we find it and match it up with the proper people, some of whom would have to be perverse indeed. If technology has a role in all this it is less to automate work out of existence than to open up new realms for re/creation. To some extent we may want to return to handicrafts, which William Morris considered a probable and desirable upshot of communist revolution. Art would be taken back from the snobs and collectors, abolished as a specialized department catering to an elite audience, and its qualities of beauty and creation restored to integral life from which they were stolen by work. Its a sobering thought that the grecian urns we write odes about and showcase in museums were used in their own time to store olive oil. I doubt our everyday artifacts will fare as well in the future, if there is one. The point is that theres no such thing as progress in the world of work; if anything its just the opposite. We shouldnt hesitate to pilfer the past for what it has to offer, the ancients lose nothing yet we are enriched.
The reinvention of daily life means marching off the edge of our maps. There is, it is true, more suggestive speculation than most people suspect. Besides Fourier and Morris and even a hint, here and there, in Marx there are the writings of Kropotkin, the syndicalists Pataud and Pouget, anarcho-communists old (Berkman) and new (Bookchin). The Goodman brothers Communitas is exemplary for illustrating what forms follow from given functions (purposes), and there is something to be gleaned from the often hazy heralds of alternative/appropriate/intermediate/convivial technology, like Schumacher and especially Illich, once you disconnect their fog machines. The situationists as represented by Vaneigems Revolution of Daily Life and in the Situationist International Anthology are so ruthlessly lucid as to be exhilarating, even if they never did quite square the endorsement of the rule of the workers councils with the abolition of work. Better their incongruity, though than any extant version of leftism, whose devotees look to be the last champions of work, for if there were no work there would be no workers, and without workers, who would the left have to organize?
So the abolitionists would be largely on their own. No one can say what would result from unleashing the creative power stultified by work. Anything can happen. The tiresome debaters problem of freedom vs. necessity, with its theological overtones, resolves itself practically once the production of use-values is coextensive with the consumption of delightful play-activity.
Life will become a game, or rather many games, but not as it is now a zero/sum game. An optimal sexual encounter is the paradigm of productive play, The participants potentiate each others pleasures, nobody keeps score, and everybody wins. The more you give, the more you get. In the ludic life, the best of sex will diffuse into the better part of daily life. Generalized play leads to the libidinization of life. Sex, in turn, can become less urgent and desperate, more playful. If we play our cards right, we can all get more out of life than we put into it; but only if we play for keeps.
No one should ever work. Workers of the world... relax!
Posted: at 12:40 pm
Labours big policy is a promise to increase spending on the NHS by an average 4.3% a year.
The partys base will be hugely cheered by a pledge to end and reverse privatisation in the NHS in the next parliament and reinstate the responsibilities of the health secretary to provide a comprehensive and universal healthcare system.
A milkshake tax would come into force on top of the existing levy on sugary drinks, as well as a ban on fast-food restaurants near schools and stricter rules around the advertising of junk food and the levels of salt in food.
Free annual NHS dental checkups would be available to all.
A new National Care Service to tackle the social care crisis, with a lifetime cap of 100,000 on the costs of personal care.
Labours pledge on NHS funding an average 4.3% increase in health spending every year of the next parliament is more generous than those of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says its plans amount to only a 3.8% annual rise.
The plans to tackle understaffing, the NHSs biggest problem, are not bold enough. Its best idea is restoring bursaries for nurses and others. Plans for generic drugs would mean setting aside patents, enraging pharma companies. Meanwhile, the promise to end and reverse privatisation in the NHS in the next parliament would be impossible to deliver.
Ending 10-year contracts with private firms would be legally messy. And the NHS would have to be ready and able to do all the diagnostic tests, treatments and inpatient care done by private firms. Its chronic workforce shortages make that unlikely. Denis Campbell
Labour would rip up Boris Johnsons Brexit deal, negotiate a new one with the EU within three months, and then put the deal to a referendum within six months of coming to power. The referendum would not be advisory but legally binding.
A deal would involve a comprehensive UK-wide customs arrangement with the EU; close alignment with the single market, and dynamic alignment on workers rights and the environment which guarantees keeping pace with any future EU protections as a minimum.
Under Labour, the UK would also continue to participate in the EU funding programmes on science and environment and scrap Operation Yellowhammer contingency planning.
There are no surprises in Labours Brexit policy because it was announced by Jeremy Corbyn before party conference and approved by members.
The plan for a new Labour-negotiated deal and a second referendum is supposed to offer something for everyone, but some in the party worry that dedicated remainers and leavers alike will not be satisfied.
It also leaves open the question of how the party and Corbyn himself would campaign leave or remain which will be decided at a later date. Rowena Mason
Labour has come up with a compromise on immigration. It would continue with free movement of people within the EU if the UK votes to remain in a second referendum. If it chooses to leave, immigration rights would be negotiable under a deal, but the party recognises the benefits that free movement has brought.
It pledges to end indefinite detention and close two detention centres Yarls Wood and Brook House which falls short of the partys conference motion in favour of shutting all detention centres.
There would be an improvement in the rights of people to bring family members to the UK, an end to minimum income requirements, and changes to the work visa system to make sure shortages in certain sectors are filled.
The absence of anything remotely radical on freedom of movement will disappoint those who backed a motion at the partys recent conference overwhelmingly supported by delegates to maintain and extend free movement. However, it will satisfy the likes of influential union leader Len McCluskey, who called on Labour to take a cautious stance.
The manifesto firmly puts to bed the spurious claims disseminated by the Conservative party last week that Corbyn, as prime minister, would oversee an open borders policy that would push net migration as high as 840,000 people a year. Jamie Grierson
Labour is sticking with its pledge to scrap tuition fees, the flagship policy from its 2017 manifesto.
Free schools and academies would be brought back under the control of local authorities and communities.
Up to six years of adult learning and training would be free.
The party is promising to close the tax loopholes enjoyed by private schools and would ask its new social justice commission to advise on integrating private schools into the state system. This stops short of the motion passed by conference which called for the assets of private schools to be seized.
All two-, three- and four-years-olds would get 30 hours of free nursery care a week and paid maternity leave would be extended to 12 months.
No mention of measures to address existing student debt, which many graduates might have hoped for. The proposal to remove private schools tax benefits will please the pressure group Labour Against Private Schools (also known as Abolish Eton), but stops well short of plans endorsed by activists at party conference to close them.
Many of the measures will be warmly welcomed by schools and teachers, particularly promises to get rid of Ofsted and high-stakes testing in primary schools.
Scrapping tuition fees is also a clear vote-winner among students, though the Institute for Fiscal Studies and others were quick to point out that the highest-earning graduates stand to benefit most. Sally Weale
A new 400bn national transformation fund, paid for through borrowing, would invest in infrastructure and low-carbon technology. There would be a mandate to lend in line with climate goals and productivity.
The railways, broadband infrastructure, postal services, energy utilities and water would be put in public ownership, paid for by issuing government bonds.
Free full-fibre broadband would be available for all by 2030.
Labour wants to increase spending, change who spends the money and what the money is spent on. There is no doubt it is a tall order.
To end Whitehalls dominance, much of the spending will be devolved to the major cities and local councils. A 10-year green transformation fund costing 250bn will be used to upgrade energy, transport and other networks.
More borrowing will support a broad sweep of nationalisations covering areas of the economy considered to be natural monopolies, with free broadband being the biggest giveaway, funded by a capital investment of about 40bn, and 5bn a year to provide the services for free, says BT. Phillip Inman
Labour would bring in a windfall tax on oil and gas companies raising 11bn, based on their contribution to climate change since 1996.
An increase in income tax for those earning more than 80,000 would also be introduced.
Corporation tax cuts made since 2010 would be reversed.
The party guarantees that VAT will not be increased.
A 5% increase in pay would be awarded for public sector workers.
A living wage of 10 an hour for all workers over the age of 15 would be introduced.
Capital gains and dividends tax would be brought into line with income tax rates.
Inheritance tax cuts introduced by George Osborne would be reversed.
Tax rises worth more than 80bn a year by 2023-24 were widely attacked by business groups, which said the burden fell heavily on companies, shareholders and their employees.
An 11bn windfall tax on oil and gas companies is a response to years of excessive carbon emissions, but many of the companies that owned North Sea gas and oil fields 20 years ago have long since moved on.
A rise in corporation tax from 19% to 26% heaps further pain on the corporate sector, but is probably less toxic for business leaders than a rise in income tax to 45p in the 1 on people earning over 80,000 a year, which roughly correlates with the top 20% of earners. Phillip Inman
Labour is launching a new green deal under which it would aim to achieve the substantial majority of the UKs emissions reductions by 2030. This is a watering down of the partys conference motion that targeted net-zero emissions by 2030.
A new clean air act to improve pollution levels would be introduced, including a vehicle scrapping scheme.
The party would give an extra 5.6bn for flood defences.
Producers would have to pay for the waste they create and new bottle return schemes would be introduced.
The layout of the manifesto says it all: eye-catching plans for a green industrial revolution come first. This is the first time one of the UKs two major parties has placed so much importance on the environment, and Labour has carefully positioned its low-carbon plans as a support for industry, not a burden as the Conservatives have termed green measures for years.
The removal of the 2030 net-zero target came after union pressure, but Labours ambition is still much greater than the Conservatives. Missing is any commitment to curb emissions from aviation, with no frequent-flyer levy and a hedge on airport expansion. Fiona Harvey
Labour would introduce a right to food to end foodbank Britain. It would aim to halve food bank usage within a year and remove the need for them altogether within three years.
Create a new national care service.
The party would scrap universal credit the controversial welfare system brought in by the Tories, which has caused benefit delays and hardship.
The benefit cap and the two-child limit would be scrapped.
Dehumanising work capability and personal independence payment assessments for those with a disability would end.
Labour also promises an end to raising the retirement age beyond 66, and maintaining the triple lock on pensions.
Bringing back universal free TV licences for the over-75s.
Although the manifesto promises more allotments, the rescue of pubs from closure and an end to rising retirement ages, the biggest social reforms would be Labours abolition of the flagship universal credit and the creation of a new national care service.
That would mean free personal care, beginning with the elderly, an end to 15-minute care visits, paid travel time for care workers and a 6.95 weekly benefit increase for full-time carers. Robert Booth
Labour would recruit 2,000 more police officers than the Conservatives and restore prison officer numbers, reversing cuts since 2010.
The party would work to eliminate institutional biases against black and minority ethnic communities, making sure stop-and-search was proportionate.
A royal commission would be set up to develop a public health approach to drugs, focusing on harm reduction rather than criminalisation.
A review of the controversial Prevent programme, which aims to reduce radicalisation, would be carried out.
Prisons built under private-finance initiatives would be brought in-house and no more private prisons built.
Labours attacks on the Conservatives cuts to police were so successful that their opponents braked hard and performed a dramatic U-turn.
With Boris Johnson promising to hire 20,000 officers to replace the ones lost to cuts Labour seeks to outbid them and promises to recruit 2,000 more frontline officers than have been planned for by the Conservatives.
Promises for a review of drug policy will also be heralded by campaigners as the first step towards radical reform. Vikram Dodd
A war powers act would be introduced to prevent a prime minister bypassing parliament when trying to take the country to war.
An audit of the impact of Britains colonial legacy would be carried out.
Also promised are a judge-led inquiry into alleged complicity in rendition and torture; a formal apology for Britains role in the Amritsar massacre; allowing the people of the Chagos Islands and their descendants the right to return to their lands; upholding the human rights of the people of West Papua; and recognising the rights of the people of Western Sahara.
Labour would commit to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence and initiate a strategic defence and security review.
Full commitment to a standalone Department for International Development (DfID) with an aid budget of at least 0.7% of gross national income.
Labour wants to understand our contribution to the dynamics of violence and insecurity in its review of the legacy of the British empire a commitment designed to more broadly inform foreign policy thinking under a Labour government.
The policy is set against what Corbyn views as a bomb first, talk later approach to global security, and is intended to amplify the party leaders long-established distinctive positioning on foreign policy, which has seen him consistently oppose military intervention abroad, most notably in Iraq in 2003. Dan Sabbagh
Labour would embark on a massive housebuilding programme of social housing, creating more than 1m homes in a decade.
A new national levy on second homes used as holiday homes would be used to help deal with the homelessness crisis.
Cities would get the power to impose rent caps and other controls.
With its focus on renters, Labour is gambling on a housing policy for the few, not the many. Private renters make up 20% of British households, according to ONS figures, with owner-occupiers at 62% and social housing renters at 17%.
Labour would cap private rent increases at inflation levels, strip landlords of some powers to evict tenants and spend 1bn a year so welfare claimants can rent in pricier areas.
Plus it promises 75bn for an historically ambitious social housing programme. It may be an electoral risk because while 9.5m households rent in England 15m are owner-occupiers and have less to gain from the manifesto. But regardless of their circumstances, many voters will welcome these moves as social imperatives. Robert Booth
Labour would work to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with a senate.
The party would scrap the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, which keeps a government in power for five years as standard.
Tighter rules on lobbying and stopping MPs from having second jobs, with limited exceptions, would be introduced.
Labour would reduce the voting age to 16 and give full voting rightsto all UK residents. There would also be automatic voter registration.
Sweeping changes to the electoral franchise would probably result in the biggest boost to voting in a century, as Labour is proposing automatic registration and giving a vote to all 16- and 17-year-olds, plus all UK residents, not just UK nationals.
Abolishing the Lords sounds more like an ambition than a concrete plan but scrapping the Fixed-term Parliaments Act would be likely to command support across the Commons given it played a role in the deadlock parliament found itself in this autumn. Rowena Mason
10 per hour minimum wage for all workers would be introduced. Zero-hours contracts would be banned. A 32-hour full-time working week would be introduced over a decade with no loss of pay.
New inclusive ownership funds would force large companies to set aside 10% of their shares, over 10 years, to be owned collectively by employees. Staff would get dividends of up to 500 a year.
Companies that failed to deal with their carbon emissions could be forcibly delisted from the London Stock Exchange.
Sectoral collective bargaining would be brought in across the economy to stop good employers being undercut by bad employers.
One-third of board seats would be reserved for elected worker-directors.
A public interest test would be required for hostile takeovers.
Major accounting firms would have to separate audit and non-audit activities.
Eradicating in-work poverty is a first-term priority for an incoming Labour government and the increase in the minimum wage to 10 per hour, including for 16-year-olds, is the main vehicle. Critics will argue the measure risks increasing youth unemployment.
The most radical proposal is inclusive ownership funds, regarded by City critics as expropriation of assets. The manifesto does not explain how the policy would apply to foreign-owned companies. Worker-directors are promoted as ways to reverse corporate short-termism. Nils Pratley
Labour would give all councils powers and resources to control bus services with under 25s travelling for free.
The rail network would be renationalised with a safety-trained crew member as well as a driver on every train.
HS2 and fast northern rail links would be built and high-speed rail to Scotland extended.
The party would aim to phase out new diesel and petrol cars by 2030.
Originally posted here:
Posted: at 12:40 pm
Andrew Yang is being championed for breathing new life into an unlikely economic model: The idea of universal basic income (UBI) or, per his campaign, the Freedom Dividend, has been at the forefront of his presidential campaign.
Just this past weekend, fellow Democratic presidential candidate senator Elizabeth Warren also indicated that shes open to UBI as an option to consider to raise wages and strengthen the social safety net.
The idea of a universal basic income system is simple: Give everyone in a country a small allotment of cash each year to hopefully prevent them from falling under a certain level of living.
Those who support UBI say that people are being left behind, displaced by technology, and need a basic level of sustenance. As a technology entrepreneur and someone who has long been involved in the artificial intelligence field, I do understand these concerns. I also understand them as someone who knew material scarcity in my youth.
But UBI is a lazy solution that fails to solve the real problem: how to give people an opportunity to create wealth. We need to get more people invested in our country as owners of real things that create this wealththings like real estate, businesses, cars. Otherwise, like in the days of sharecropping, we risk continuing to have a whole class of people who are merely being sustained, but not given the chance for real economic advancement.
After the Civil War, the southern region of the US was left destitute to a degree barely imaginable by todays standards. Since the economic model of the south was heavily reliant on slave labor, the regions economy was struggling to survive after the abolition of slavery.
The answer? Sharecropping.
The practice of giving people a modicum of economic incentives, where they could subsist at a low-income level, but where it was impossible for them to rise permanently, defined American poverty for decades.
My fear is that rather than helping, solutions like UBI will create a permanent class of people on the margins.
In the sharecropping system, a person would rent land from an owner and farm that plot. A share of the profits was also provided to the landlord/owner. Rents were set to make economic profit impossible. So, sharecroppers survived through very hard work, but they could not statistically rise as a group. As a result, people never became owners, which is a basic tenet of economic advancement. From an economic vantage point, sharecropping resembled a form of slavery, except that it also enveloped poor white people.
Not surprisingly, following the Civil War, the South was locked into a cycle of poverty lasting into the 20th century with income down 36% from where it was prior to the war.
Todays proposal for UBI is similarly flawed, specifically since it will not result in more ownership. My fear is that, rather than helping, solutions like this will create a permanent class of people on the margins. Without owning assets of significance, people will remain bystanders.
There are better ways to attack the problems of poverty:
Early and broad education around financial literacy and wealth building, for example, costs taxpayers less and creates more results. I got an MBA and never took a course in simple personal financial management. Poor people are forced into bad financial practices by their circumstances and lack of knowledge.
Another option is tax credits for people who invest in tech companies that produce anti-poverty or wealth-building products that benefit the poor. So, you invest $1 and get a $1 deduction against your income. We have to get tech companies working for the poor rather than indirectly against them. A company can get certified with a B Corporation designation, which indicates that it is a social enterprise. Why cant we create the same type of designation for companies working on anti-poverty technologies and initiatives?
The USs Small Business Administration (SBA) costs taxpayers about $715 million a year. It seems to me that this is a case where increasing a spend can move the dial for everyones benefit, including by aggressively expanding the SBA, but where it partners with private sector non-profit organizations that emphasize helping people start businesses.
If you look at the history of disenfranchised people, the pattern is that they got themselves out of poverty either by getting educated or by starting their own businesses. This is especially crucial because, despite the popularity of entrepreneurship, the rate of ownership in private companies continues to fall dangerously low over the past 50 years. Lower ownership in private businesses is a national risk.
Having an opportunity to participate and own is integral to human dignity. It is true that the problem of poverty is immensely complicated and encompasses many socioeconomic factors.
But, if solutions are well thought through and not slapped together under a false premise, such as sharecropping and UBI, we can significantly reduce poverty in this country with the resources and economic power that we already have.
Read the rest here:
In Three Touchstone Speeches, Elizabeth Warren Grounds Her Campaign in a History of American Protest and Movement Building – The Intercept
Posted: at 12:40 pm
To launch her campaign, back in January, Sen. Elizabeth Warren had a number of locations to choose from. She could have started in Norman, Oklahoma, the setting of her ragged-edge-of-the-middle-class origin story, where her prairie populism could have been brought to the fore. She spent years in Houston, Philadelphia, and Boston, too, all chock full of their own useful imagery for a campaign. Instead, she chose Lawrence, Massachusetts, for her opening salvo, linking her campaign to the Bread and Roses strike, led in 1912 largely by radical immigrant seamstresses and other garment workers.
It would be the first of three speeches setting up what Warren sees as the driving force of her campaign: the labor movement more precisely, the women- and immigrant-led labor movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries. She continued this narrative arc in September in New York Citys Washington Square Park, chosen for its proximity to the 1911 Triangle shirtwaist factoryfire, and finished on Thursday night before a crowd of roughly 2,000 at Clark Atlanta University.
Ive learned that no matter what fight youre in today, no matter how steep the climb feels, thereare fighters who were here before you. Fighters we can learn from, she said, summoning the history of the 1881 washerwomen strike in Atlanta. Like much of the history of black resistance outside the 1960s, this moment has mostly been obscured by popular history, which favors narratives focused on black victims and white heroes.
Ive learned that no matter what fight youre in today, no matter how steep the climb feels, thereare fighters who were here before you. Fighters we can learn from.
Instead, the speeches tell a different history, and situate her campaignin 150 years of conflict between the working class and the dominant power structure, inextricably tied up with issues of race and gender exploitation. The stories serve as guideposts for the Massachusetts senators approach to politics, grounding her in a radical tradition of multiracial union organizing that pressures, and gives ammunition to, allies working from inside the political system. Warren is not a subtle storyteller.
This heritage is not one that would obviously be associated with a crusading Harvard bankruptcy professor and author who is famously enthralled with capital markets and its probably not always legible, even to her supporters. But linking with women-led labor struggles is a way of addressing a question that has vexed her politics from the beginning of her rise, as the patriarchal forces of American discourse worked to push her, as a rising female political figure, away from fighting for economic justice and into a womens issues box. While she has consistently sided with womens rights groups, she has just as consistently refused to be a leading voice in the area.
Her one nod to that energy came about accidentally, when, on the Senate floor in early 2017, she was reading off a litany of Sen.Jeff Sessionss racist transgressions over the years, arguing in opposition to his confirmation asattorney general. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned her against such criticism of a fellow senator, but Warren went ahead with her speech. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted, McConnell declared when he moved to silence her delivering to her a feminist slogan shes happily adopted since.
By identifying her heroes as women who persisted in the face of powerful opposition Frances Perkins, Clara Lemlich, and the women of Lawrence and Atlanta she is able to root herself in the fight for womens liberation without taking her focus off of the battle between the haves and the have-nots. Its a timely pivot, as women, beginning with the 5-million-strong Womens March the day after Donald Trumps inauguration, flowing through into the #MeToo movement, and accelerating into the 2018 midterms, have fueled the Democratic resurgence and realignment, and are seen as the key to winning the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. In an era where identity politics is routinely used to divorce progressive efforts from class conflict, Warren is going the opposite direction, arguing that gender identity, race, immigration status, and class consciousness are inseparable.
After the Atlanta event, in between her shots with hours of selfie-seekers, she paused for a brief interview. I told Warren that I suspected the three speeches were her way to square the class and gender circles, while still responding to the pressure to be a woman running on womens issues.
I know exactly where youre going with that. This is about the power of women, she said. All three of those speeches. The Lawrence speech is about how a lot of women got together and said, Enough, we are going to make change. The speech in New York, which was about the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire, was not only about the women who burned to death, the women who led the protest movement, but also the woman, Frances Perkins, who was the one who fought it from the inside and made real change. And here, today, to be able to celebrate black women and how much black women have contributed to organizing to power and to making real change.
Warren is not just glomming onto a movement, but hoping to reorient it from a broad force of resistance to Trumpinto a fighting force for economic justice. Our history is a piece of the message of how to go forward, she told me. Indeed, shes betting her campaign on it, while her chief rival for the votes of white, college-educated women, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, is betting just the opposite. We will fight when we must fight, but I will never allow us to get so wrapped up in the fighting that we start to think fighting is the point, Buttigiegsaid in October at the fourthDemocratic presidential primarydebate, taking his fight to Warren shortly before he began his climb in the polls.
An attendee at Elizabeth Warrens campaign event in Atlanta on Nov. 21, 2019.
Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images
The Civil War ended in 1865 and, within a year, free black women were on strike. At the time, one of the leading occupations for newly freed women involved laundry. Cotton had filled peoples closets with clothes, those clothes got dirty quickly, and the main way in the South to clean them was by hand: work done predominantly by black womens hands. In 1881, in the fast-growing city of Atlanta, the capital of the so-called New South, 20 black women came together to organize the Washing Society. Their first order? Strike, said Warren. Their demands? Higher wages and to be treated with a little dignity.
The washerwomen had a plan, she added, deploying her trademark line in a way that appeared to respond to criticism from the left that trumpeting plans signals a top-down technocratic lack of interest in producing change from the bottom-up. Warrens rejoinder, that the washerwomen had a plan, argues that having a plan and building a movement can indeed, must go hand in hand.
Escaped slaves working as washerwomen at a union generals headquarters in 1864.
Photo: Matthew Brady/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Not more than a few minutes into Warrens speech, just as she was getting to the story of the citys washerwomen, a protest erupted from a back corner of the auditorium. Roughly 100 demonstrators began chanting pro-charter school slogans. (Warren wants to end for-profit charter schoolsand rein in nonprofit charters.) Warren initially tried to plow through, but then paused as the chanting continued, likely considering the optics of shutting down a protest by mostly black women in order to give a speech about the power of black womens protest. As they showed no signs of slowing down, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., the lone member of the so-called Squad to endorse Warren, came to the mic to try to regain control of the situation. Security guards ushered the groups leader, Sarah Carpenter, into the hallway, quieting the scene.
Carpenter told reporters in the hallway the group had come together organically over the past few weeks, in the wake of Warrens education plan. But the group, calling themselves the Powerful Parent Network, has a handful of billionaire patrons. Carpenter is the founder of a pro-charter group in Memphis that is wholly funded by the Walton Family Foundation (Walton as in Walmart), which invests in and makes loans to charter schools. PPN is also backed by the California Charter Association, which is significantly funded by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, a major donor to Buttigieg.
Back inside, Warren returned to her narrative, describing how the washerwomen began to form a multiracial coalition. White city leaders brought the law down on strikers, but were unable to break it, eventually conceding to higher pay and a more dignified work environment.
By identifying her heroes,Warrenis able to root herself in the fight for womens liberation without taking her focus off of the battle between the haves and the have-nots.
Black women led, but soon, the handful of white washerwomen whod stood on the sidelines realized that the only way to better wages was to follow the lead of the black women, she said. Working women standing together.
After the rally, Warren met with the protesters, but told me she didnt know they were funded by the Waltons. (We had a good conversation, but, you know, mostly I just wanted to be able to talk to everybody here, and we got a chance to do that, she said.)
Thirty years after the washerwomen victory, in the wake of a citywide general strike led in 1909 by 23-year-old immigrant Clara Lemlich, garment workers had secured recognition and improved wages and safety conditions in New York. The unionization effort was organized by the radical Industrial Workers of the World, known as the Wobblies and led by women and girls in Manhattans sprawling garment industry, most of them immigrants.
Left/Top: Garment Workers Picketing, circa 1909. Right/Bottom: Wobblies marching in New York, N.Y. in 1913.Photos: Universal History Archive/Getty Images; Bettmann/Getty Images.
But the TriangleWaist Companys factorynear Washington Square Park in New York City remained an anti-union stronghold. Legislators in Albany, along with local city leaders, had remained resistant to the union movement, rebuffing efforts to use legislation and regulation to extend the protections won for some workers in the strikes. It was a reflection of the limitations faced by even the most successful strikes, when they are not complemented by political gains at the state level. This is a truism in labor movement politics, though its often overlooked by organizers uninterested in electoral or legislative politics; as the saying goes, you may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you. Two years later, in 1911, the non-union Triangle factory, still employing barbaric and wildly unsafe practices, burst into flames, trapping and killing 146 people in a gruesome fashion.
The next year, garment workers in Lawrence, again organized by the Wobblies, went on strike after a unilateral pay cut, demanding both better wages (bread) and dignity (roses). Street battles pitted young girls and women against company-run militias, including even students from ironically for Warren Harvard, who eagerly armed themselves to do their duty and put down the worker uprising. The schools dean allowed the students to retake missed final exams for the good of the class cause.
The women of Lawrence won the Bread and Roses strike. Those workers did more than improve their own lives. They changed America. Within weeks, more than a quarter of a million textile workers throughout New England got raises. Within months, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to pass a minimum wage law. And today, there are no children working in factories. We have a national minimum wage. And worker safety laws. Workers get paid overtime and we have a 40-hour work week, Warren said in Lawrence during her campaign launch.
The story of Lawrence is a story about how real change happens in America. Its a story about power our power when we fight together. In Washington Square Park, she reiterated this theme of worker power: The tragic story of the Triangle factory fire is a story about power.
In Atlanta, the theme emerged once more, this time focused on the way race is deployed by the powerful to divide workers who otherwise would find solidarity in their fights against bosses.
Divide and conquer is an old political tactic and it comes in all sorts of ugly flavors: racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, Warren said. The rich and powerful want us to be afraid of each other. Why? Because theyre afraid of us. Afraid of our numbers. Afraid of seeing us stand together. Afraid that we will take up each others fights as our own. Afraid that they will lose their power.
Elizabeth Warren takes the stage at a campaign event in Atlanta on Nov. 21, 2019.
Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images
All three, indeed, are stories about power not only because they are landmark achievements, but because they also demonstrate the power that the left is up against. Within two years of the Bread and Roses strike, once national attention had faded, the Lawrence unions were effectively smashed, returning power to the bosses, and minimum wage laws and other job protections, absent worker power to enforce them, were widely ignored. In New York, the legislative victories that came in the wake of the fire would be more enduring, but capital would fight back over the following decades by fleeing New York for cheaper nonunion labor elsewhere in the country. Once those workers were organized, production fled overseas. That offshoring was abetted by politicians bought off by the bosses, and Warren wants to link that corruption within the system to the exploitation outside of it. Shes selling herself as someone who can both galvanize a movement for change, then use the power that movement built to restructure the system in an enduring way.
One of the women who witnessed the fire also became central to the success of legislative advances first in New York, and then through the New Deal and is the most explicit model for Warren. That woman, Frances Perkins, took center stage in Washington Square Park literally: The podium on the stage was constructed from barn boards the Warren campaign got from the Perkins family. A 30-year-old Perkins had been a witness to the shirtwaist factory fire. which Warren described in all its gory detail:
The flames leapt higher, and women climbed out onto the ledges.
And as people on the ground stood in shocked silence, a woman jumped. Then another, then another. They hit the ground with a sickening thud. They died on impact. So many, so fast that the womens bodies piled up on the sidewalk. Their blood ran into the gutters.
Dozens more were trapped inside. Trapped because the door to the staircase was locked locked by bosses afraid the workers might steal scraps of cloth. Firefighters would later find a pile of burned bodies next to that very door.
It took 18 minutes for 146 people to die. Mostly women. Mostly immigrants Jewish and Italian. Mostly people who made as little as $5 a week to get their shot at the American dream.
In the wake of the fire, the movement Lemlich had led exploded in size. A week later, the womens trade unions organized a funeral march, and half a million people showed up to march down Fifth Avenue, right behind me. Half a million people in 1911.
Demonstrators mourn the victims of the Triangleshirtwaist factory fire in New York, N.Y., in 1911.
Photo: PhotoQuest/Getty Images
The element of the story that Warren tells next is critical to understanding her view of social and political change: While the women of the trade unions kept pushing from the outside, Frances pushed from the inside.
On the one hand, Warrens nod to the successes of the movement a minimum wage, improved safety, shorter hours and a weekend are part of the labor canon. At the same time, there are elements of the left that are skeptical of insider tacticians, believing that true power lies with organizing broad-based movements, and that insiders, concerned about their own careers and interests, fundamentally compromise a movements integrity.
Were going to need all of that pressure, all of that energy, to hold Congress accountable, to hold our state governments accountable, to hold this country accountable.
Her opponent on the left, Sen. Bernie Sanders, is not an explicit advocate of that view; after all, hes been inside Congress since 1990, and is running to be president. But, with a campaign mantra of Not me, us, and a promise to be the organizer-in-chief, he leans in that direction. Warren, meanwhile, focuses on ending lobbying as we know it, confronting corruption, and rewriting the rules of the legislative and administrative rule-making process. Where Sanders wants to out-organize the system, Warren wants to reorganize it.
Their different approaches to labor reform are instructive on that front: Sanders emphasizes his plan to empower workers on the shop floor and make it easier to join a union. Warrens emphasis tends to be on her plan to put workers directly on corporate boards, empowering them inside the highest echelons of the system. (Sanders has since done one better, coupling it with significant employee ownership of firms.)
Crucially, though, both Sanders and Warren argue that their agendas cant be accomplished without sustained outside pressure. Sanders calls it a political revolution, and is working to build a movement to see it through. Warren, with her nods to labor movement history, is making the case that she, too, understands the necessity of people power to drive change. I asked her if she agreed with Sanders that President Barack Obama had made a mistake by demobilizing his grassroots army in the wake of his election.
Ive already been telling people, Im building a grassroots movement thats going to be our comparative advantage in November of 2020, but then when we win, nobody gets to go home, she said, because its really about making change starting in January 2021, and were going to need all of that pressure, all of that energy, to hold Congress accountable, to hold our state governments accountable, to hold this country accountable, to make the kind of change we need to make. We got a lot of fights to fight and we need to pick up each others fights as our own, whether its on climate or gun violence or health care, or a two-cent wealth tax so that we can invest in an entire generation. We embrace each others fights. Thats how were going to make real change.
Indeed, one of the crippling handicaps of the Obama administration was that it did not have a Frances Perkins fighting from the inside, leaving operatives like Rahm Emanuel to play on Obamas worst instincts. Perkins moved with Franklin D. Roosevelt from New York state politics to the federal level when he named her his secretary of labor, where she was a driving force. Frances Perkins became the first woman in history to serve in the cabinet, Warren noted at Washington Square Park, quickly moving from the breaking of that ceiling to what she did with the power once she had it. She used the same model that she and her friends had used after the Triangle fire. She worked the political system relentlessly from the inside, while a sustained movement applied pressure from the outside. As Francis Perkins put it, the Triangle Fire was the day the New Deal was born.
Left/Top: Firefighters try to put out the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York, N.Y. in 1911. Right/Bottom: Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins testifies before the House Naval Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C. in 1942.Photos: George Rinhart/Corbis/Getty Images; Bettman Archive/Getty Images
Warren, went the strong implication, is todays Perkins, ready to lead from the inside, with the backing of millions on the outside. She referred to Perkins as one very persistent woman a call back to her famous run-in with Mitch McConnell and credited her with producing big, structural change, her campaigns wonky mantra since day one:
So, what did one woman one very persistent woman backed up by millions of people across this country get done? Social Security. Unemployment insurance. Abolition of child labor. Minimum wage. The right to join a union. Even the very existence of the weekend. Big, structural change. One woman, and millions of people to back her up.
In New York, before Warren even appeared onstage, Maurice Mitchell, the national director of the Working Families Party, promised that, with its endorsement earlier that day, WFP intended to add the kind of movement-building to her campaign that Warren has not, previously, been associated with.
[Radical social movements] arise when institutions arent responsive to the needs of society, Mitchell said.
Elizabeth Warren hosts a rally in Washington Square Park in New York, N.Y., on Sept. 16, 2019.
Photo: Todd Heisler/The New York Times/Redux
Warren, in Atlanta, finished with one last linkage or intersection, so to speak between racial, gender, and class struggles. Dorothy Bolden, she noted, was born in 1924, within living memory of the washerwomen strike. By the time she was nine, she had joined the trade herself. After having six kids of her own, she became active in the civil rights movement, encouraged along by one of her neighbors: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King encouraged Dorothy to continue this fight, so she mapped out a plan, Warren said.
That plan was to follow the Washing Society with a new union, called the National Domestic Workers of America. It was, said Warren, the first union with real power for domestic workers in American history, noting that it evolved into the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which remains a force.
From the boldness of Atlantas washerwomen to the courage of Dorothy Bolden, black history teaches us that the only way to win is to get in the fight, Warren concluded. Dorothy Bolden showed that one very determined woman backed up by many people across this country can deliver big structural change.
Ryan Grim is the author of the new book Weve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement.
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Posted: at 12:40 pm
The Brexit party has eschewed a traditional manifesto in place of a brief, 21-page contract with the people. These are the main points:
The party says its priority is a clean-break Brexit. While this has been long seen as a synonym for no deal, at the launch event Farage said it means any Brexit that removes the UK from EU regulations and legal jurisdiction.
Long a priority for Ukip as well, the Brexit party wants changes to the voting system and postal voting, and abolition of the House of Lords. It also proposes citizens initiatives guaranteeing a referendum on any subject if 5 million voters sign up to the idea.
The policy document details what it calls a 200bn Brexit dividend from no longer having to make EU budget contributions, scrapping HS2 and other ideas. This would be spent on public services in infrastructure, including the NHS, help for high streets, money for roads and rail, and more widespread broadband. It also pledges to abolish inheritance tax, eliminate corporation tax for smaller companies, and provide transitional relief to industries affected by Brexit, such as car firms.
The policy document calls for a focus on planting trees to absorb emissions. At the launch, Farage said the hope would be to plant billions around the world.
The Brexit party would abolish VAT on domestic fuel bills, and cut tariffs on food imports.
The policy would be to seek annual net migration of no more than 50,000 people, although Farage said this could vary. More people could enter to fill jobs, but on time-limited work visas. The party says it will always provide a humane welcome for genuine refugees, but Farage said anyone who entered the UK unofficially, such as by small boat or in a truck, would be removed.
While there is a pledge to back more parental choice on schools, this mentions only academies and free schools. Grammars were a fixture in Ukip manifestos, but do not get a mention.
The party aims to increase the number of homes built through market mechanisms, such as easier planning for brownfield sites, and allowing flexibility on other planning areas and the number of affordable homes. But the policy also states it should be made easier for councils to borrow to build social housing.
Posted: at 12:40 pm
For user-centered design, metaphors are not enough. Successful products often give people what theyve wanted all along without realizing it, rather than what they say they want. The authors invoke the phrase industrialized empathy to describe the patient fieldwork required to understand how people use objects and software, and the rounds of prototype testing frequently needed for successful product development. Such industrialized empathy led to the discovery that DVR viewers often wanted dialogue clarified and thus the two-second rewind was born.
Empathy creates social dividends. Subway station elevators and cuts in sidewalk curbs benefit not only people with special needs but almost everybody examples of whats called universal design. Kuang and Fabricant cite the thick-handled OXO peeler, designed to ease the pain of arthritis, which became a best seller among unaffected people. They also observe a Microsoft researcher as he discusses the limitations of the companys Xbox console with a deaf gamer and concludes that the design could be tweaked in a way that would benefit hearing players as well.
User-experience designers have explored other social dimensions of technology: how electronic assistants should interact with owners, for instance, and how hybrid and electric automobiles can encourage energy-efficient driving through gentle feedback. A display in the Ford Fusion depicted multiplying leaves on a vine when drivers optimized behavior, turning energy conservation into a game of greening the dashboard.
Kuang and Fabricant also consider design in the context of the now-familiar debates over screen addiction and social medias effect on politics, but another topic they address may be even more important. The better technology is at automating tasks and anticipating our behavior, they argue, the greater the threat to our own skills, and to the serendipity that can result from delay and deliberation. One of their most intriguing observations involves the contrast they draw from an argument between Douglas Engelbart and Marvin Minsky, a pioneer in artificial intelligence. The former regarded information technology as a tool for extending and augmenting our intelligence, the latter as a system for replacing and improving on human beings. The authors favor Engelbart, but the Minskians, they point out, are still with us, in the form of self-driving car manufacturers, for example, who have recently begun lobbying for the abolition of steering wheels and pedals.
On balance, User Friendly is a tour de force, an engrossing fusion of scholarly research, professional experience and revelations from intrepid firsthand reporting.
The books single weakness may be that it shortchanges the history of user-friendly design in this country. Already in the late 18th century, members of the Shaker religious sect used special vises to craft the forerunners of our current flat straight-edged brooms in the interest of godly cleanliness. Shakers also helped spread another early American folk favorite, the rocking chair, a masterpiece of empathetic design. The superbly balanced American felling ax, celebrated in Walt Whitmans immortal Song of the Broad-Axe, was a favorite of the British prime minister and gentleman woodcutter William Ewart Gladstone. User friendliness is as American as five-minute microwaved apple pie.
The greatest challenge for designers may be the unintended consequences of promising ideas. The founders of the e-cigarette company JUUL graduates of Stanfords celebrated graduate program in product design originally aimed to make a safer nicotine alternative for adult smokers. Now theyre confronting a firestorm over the health risks of their product. JUULs ease of use, proclaimed in a winning entry to an international design award, paradoxically has become part of the case against it.
Finally, new research suggests that user-friendly design can sometimes be too convenient. Harder-to-read fonts promote better learning, according to psychologists who call this paradox disfluency. Other studies have shown that the difficult work of taking lecture notes in longhand instead of with laptops forces paraphrase, leading to deeper understanding. Will user tough love become the new user friendliness?
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American Slavery and ‘the Relentless Unforeseen’ | by Sean Wilentz | NYR Daily – The New York Review of Books
Posted: at 12:40 pm
Bettmann via Getty ImagesFormer enslaved people in a Southern town shortly after the end of the Civil War, circa 1865
This essay is an adaptation of the fourth annual Philip Roth Lecture, delivered at the Newark Public Library on November 4, 2019. The lecture began with an appreciation of Roths merging of fiction and history. An admirer of great historical writing, Roth understood that, to be truly great, it had to grapple with what he called, in The Plot Against America, the relentless unfolding of the unforeseen. Flipped on its head, he wrote, the relentless unforeseen was what we schoolchildren studied as History, harmless history, where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable. The task of intelligibly describing the past, let alone interpreting it, risks slighting how unexpected and largely unintelligible the past was to those who made it. As Roth put it in the mind of the novels young protagonist, named Philip Roth, the terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides, turning a disaster into an epic. He might have added, turning triumph into an epic as well. That insight cuts to the heart of our most difficult and enduring historical issues, including the lectures main topic, the centrality of slavery to American history.
Although they diverge sharply, the most common accounts of American slavery have an air of inevitability about them. This is especially true regarding the abolition of slavery in 1865. Whether celebrated as a monument to freedom or diminished as a transition from one form of racial oppression to another, the course of Emancipation can seem almost preordained, the product of essential features of American life. If anything, we wonder why it didnt happen sooner, and condemn past generations for their hypocrisy, mendacity, and cruelty. Yet few things if any in modern history were more unexpected than the eradication of human bondage in the Atlantic world.
A fixture and force in Western culture, time out of mind, slavery, and more specifically racial slavery, had been essential to the European settlement of the New World ever since the Portuguese pioneered the plantation system with enslaved African labor in the sixteenth century. Apart from sporadic protests, the spread of slavery went virtually unchallenged by European and British settlers let alone their governments; periodic slave revolts and insurrectionary plots did not appreciably slow the rise of the plantation complex that at its height stretched from Brazil to the Caribbean to British North America. There is evidence inside the Anglo-American world, dating back to the seventeenth century, of popular repugnance at slavery and, especially, at the brutal Atlantic slave trade, but that sentiment slumbered for many decades, sufficient to raise moral doubts but too feeble to produce political action.
Suddenly, in the late 1740s and early 1750s, Western culture reached a turning point, producing what the great modern scholar of slavery and the antislavery movement David Brion Davis called an almost explosive consciousness of mans freedom to shape the world in accordance with his own will and reason. The causes of this moral revolution were manifold and remain much debated, but need not detain us here; what is important is that it brought, in Daviss words, a heightened concern for discovering laws and principles that would enable human society to be something more than an endless contest of greed and power. That concern made slavery appear for the first timeto the un-enslavedas a barbaric offense to God, reason, and natural rights.
Rejecting the dogmas of the past meant scrutinizing inequality, personal sovereignty, national sovereignty, and servitude of every kind. In France, Montesquieus The Spirit of the Laws destroyed ancient justifications for slavery, which inspired and emboldened antislavery religious sectarians and budding philosophes across the Atlantic world. In Philadelphia, the pioneering Quaker abolitionist John Woolman, a major figure in the antislavery awakening, published his first antislavery tract in 1754. A few years later, his friend and fellow Quaker Anthony Benezet began recruiting a network of intellectuals and political leaders to the cause. By the mid-1770s, in the American colonies as well as in Britain and France, a significant number of reformers and intellectuals had come to regard American slavery as pure evil. Over the next fifteen years, they set in motion political movements dedicated to eradicating the degradation of persons into property.
Against slaverys millennia, the struggle to abolish it came abruptly. By the end of the succeeding century, against slaverys immense and unyielding power, it had largely succeeded. As a spiritual as well as political endeavor, it is one of the most, if not the most astonishing unfolding of the unforeseen in all of recorded human history. Yet it is too often at best consigned to the inevitable, as something that was bound to happen as if in the natural unfolding of progress. At worst, it is pushed to the margins, as if slaverys abolition came about without abolitionists, without politics, let alone without rebellious slavesthe byproduct, as some accounts say, of impersonal, amoral economic forces, or the unintended outcome of white peoples selfish squabbles over policy and profits, or even as an accident.
The neglect of historical understanding of the antislavery impulse, especially in its early decades, alters how we view not just our nations history but the nation itself. More and more in these pessimistic times, we are learning once again, and with a sense of justice, that the United States and its past are rooted in vicious racial slavery and the lasting inequities that are slaverys legacy. We learn too little or not at all that the United States and its past are also rooted in the struggle against slavery, and in the larger revolutionary transformation of moral perception that produced that strugglea transformation that, with all of the contradictions, helped give the New World its symbolic meaning of rebirth.
Effacing this essential tensionthat the United States was defined, from the start, neither by American slavery alone nor by American antislavery but in their conflictcan lead to a strange complacency. Because the ideals that propelled the American Revolution shared crucial origins with the ideals that propelled antislavery, it can be tempting to treat slavery as a terrible appendage to American history, an important but also doomed institution at the nations founding.
The historian Bernard Bailyn has offered one influential version of this view in his description of how the Revolution unleashed a contagion of liberty. Slavery, although a central part of American society, hardly encapsulated the ideals of the Declaration of Independence; it contradicted them, for reasons later explained by no less of an authority than Abraham Lincoln. The American Revolution may not have overthrown the institution of slavery but its egalitarian principles were at least implicitly antislavery. The anomaly became more glaring over the succeeding two generations when, in yet another unfolding of the unforeseen, American slavery did not die out as most expected but expanded, turning the American South into the most dynamic and ambitious slavery regime in the world. Still, when Emancipation arrived, it did so as a vindication and affirmation of Americas founding principles, the new birth of freedom that Lincoln pronounced at Gettysburg in 1863. It confounded the claims of those reactionary pro-slavery apologists who belittled Thomas Jefferson as a cunning dissembler and who regarded the Declarations assertion of self-evident equality as, in the words of one Indiana senator from 1854, nothing more than a self-evident lie.
One problem with this familiar view is that it obscures how new, how radical, antislavery politics were during the revolutionary era, and how, for many patriots, American slavery and American freedom were perfectly compatible. Im referring here not to those slaveholders with troubled consciences like Jefferson and James Madison, Virginians who perceived slavery as an intolerable offense yet who (at least after the 1780s, in Jeffersons case) lifted not a finger toward ending itcritics of slavery who continued owning, buying, and selling human beings until the day they died. Im referring instead to stridently proslavery figures like that young South Carolina grandee and signer of the Constitution, Charles Pinckneya patriot who served as an officer in the revolutionary militia and who, as a delegate at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, asserted if slavery be wrong, it is justified by the example of all the world. I am also referring to those white Northerners, as well as most white Southerners, who believed that the Declarations egalitarian principles were perfectly sound but that they categorically did not apply to blacks, slave or free. Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney attempted finally to enshrine this racist egalitarianism in American national law in his notorious ruling on the Dred Scott case in 1857.
These proslavery Americans and apologists for slavery and their progeny were no less products of the American founding than the early abolitionists inspired by Woolman and Benezet or the conflicted enlightened Virginians like Jefferson. Plantation slavery grew stupendously in the United States after the Revolution, generating a well-organized slave power that long dominated national politics. Slaverys defeat was not inevitable. Nor, obviously, did white supremacy die with slavery. Over the century and a half since slaverys abolition, the racist Americanism of Charles Pinckney and Roger Brooke Taney has survived and flourished in new forms, along with dominating social and political structures that uphold it. Far from vanquished, it has morphed and resurged in ways expected and unexpected, from the bloody overthrow of Reconstruction to the menacing rise of Donald J. Trump.
There is another view that challenges the familiar one, hailed by its supporters for forcing an honest reckoning with slavery and its unending consequences. This account asks profound and unsettling questions about the nations origins and bids us to regard the experience of the slaves as the true test of Americas professed ideals. Slavery, in this view, wasnt simply an important part of American society at the founding and after; it defined a nation born in oppression and bad faith. While this view acknowledges the ideals of equality proclaimed by Jefferson and others, it regards them as hollow. Even after slavery ended, the racism that justified slavery persisted, not just as an aspect of American life but at its very core.
If the familiar view courts complacency, this one is vulnerable to an easy cynicism. Once slaverys enormity is understood, as it should be, not as a temporary flaw but as an essential fact of American history, it can make the birth of the American republic and the subsequent rise of American democracy look as nothing more than the vindication of glittering generalities about freedom and equality founded on the oppression of blacks, enslaved and free, as well as the expropriation and slaughter of Native Americans. It can resemble, ironically, the reactionary proslavery insistence that the egalitarian self-evident truths of the Declaration were self-evident lies. It can leave our understanding of American history susceptible to moralizing distortions that seem compelling simply because they defy reassuring versions of the past.
Some of that cynicism is on display in The New York Times Magazines recently launched 1619 Project, enough to give ammunition to hostile critics who would discredit or minimize the entire enterprise of understanding Americas history of slavery and antislavery. The projects lead essay, for example, by Nikole Hannah-Jones berates our national mythology for conveniently omitting that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery. Supposedly, Britain, by 1776, had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution that had reshaped the Western Hemisphere. There were, the essay says, growing calls in London to abolish the slave trade, which would have upended the economy of the colonies, in both the North and the South. Americans, in short, may never have revolted against Britain had the founders not believed that independence was required in order to ensure that slavery would continue. The American Revolution, in effect, anticipated the slaveholders rebellion eighty-odd years later: the American patriots allegedly declared their independence of Britain in 1776 for the same reason that the Southern states seceded in 18601861, to guarantee that slavery would endure. American independence, in this view, was a precursor of Southern secession.
It is worth noting that Jefferson Davis and the rebellious slaveholders also depicted secession as a glorious replay of the American Revolution, although they did not go so far as to claim that the patriots of 1776 fought to protect slavery. Not for the first time, modern critics have concluded that the Confederates were basically correct about American history, whereas Lincoln as well as most abolitionists, above all Frederick Douglass, were wrongas when Douglass, in his most famous speech, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?, excoriated American hypocrisy and white racism but also praised the US Constitution as a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT.
Coincidence aside, though, this portion of the 1619 Project is simply untrue. Neither the British government nor the British people were deeply conflicted over slavery in 1776. To be sure, controversy did arise in the 1760s and 1770s over the legality of owning slaves on British soil proper, where wealthy merchants and gentlemen held thousands of slaves chiefly as house servants; and in 1772, a small group of abolitionists succeeded in getting Britain declared free soil in the landmark Somerset decision. But these efforts affected roughly the same number of enslaved persons as lived in the single colony of New York; more important, they affected Britains entrenched involvement in colonial slavery and in the slave trade not at all. Apart from the appeals of a tiny handful of abolitionists like Granville Sharp, there were no growing calls in London to halt the Atlantic slave trade; on the contrary, it had been American colonists who attempted to end involvement in the Atlantic slave trade only to be overruled by the Crown and its colonial officials.
Had the Americans not won their independence in 1783, it is almost inconceivable that the British government would have ended slavery in any of its colonies thereafter. Although Lower South slaveholders and their Northern allies succeeded in removing from the Declaration Jeffersons language describing the slave trade as a cruel War against human Nature itself, violating its most sacred Rights of Life and Liberty, and although Jefferson blamed the introduction of slavery on the monarchy, this hardly turned the fight for independence into a fight to sustain slavery.
Cynicism about the Revolution gives way to cynicism about the Civil War and, in particular, about Abraham Lincolnrendered as a white supremacist who, whatever his qualms about human bondage, supposedly had no interest in ending slavery, but only in preserving the Union. One is left to wonder how Lincolns first Inaugural Address, delivered weeks before the fighting began, affirmed to one admittedly unfriendly Northern editor that anti-slavery is the corpus, the strength, the visible life of the party which has now assumed the reins of government. One is bidden to forget that the war was a Southern counterrevolution against the victorious Republicans explicit intention to place slavery, in Lincolns words, in the course of ultimate extinctionand much else that Lincoln said against slaverya counterrevolution that Lincoln was determined to crush. It took a year and a halfjust a year and a halfbefore the Emancipation Proclamation officially turned the struggle against secession into a struggle for liberation under force of arms, fought in part by African-American Union troops who included more than one hundred thousand former slaves. That, too, was part of the Emancipation Proclamation. From the very start, however, the war for the Union was inherently antislavery.
The antislavery impulse, of course, has not disappeared utterly from our accounts of American slavery. Historians rarely fail to credit the radical abolitionist movement that arose in the 1830s under the leadership of, among others, William Lloyd Garrison, for courageously calling to moral account not just the slaveholders but their Northern accomplices and apologists. Hannah-Joness essay cites the Pennsylvania Anti-Federalist and abolitionist Samuel Bryan attacking the US Constitution in 1787, as well as the later abolitionist William Goodell.
Our current interpretations, though, fail to appreciate both the magnitude of the unforeseen antislavery rupture with the past and Americas crucial role in that rupture. They overlook how organized antislavery politics originated not in the Old World but in the rebellious British North American colonies. One line of argument finds it hard to explain how most slaveholders and some antislavery advocates reasonably regarded the nations founding in 1787 as a blow for slavery. The other cannot explain why leading abolitionist and antislavery voices just as reasonably believed exactly the opposite, that the Constitution advanced the promise proclaimed by an anticipatory ode published in Philadelphia: May servitude abolishd be / as well as negro-slavery / To make one LAND OF LIBERTY.
Placing antislavery along with slavery at the center of American history produces an unfamiliar alternative history that tracks the unfolding of the unforeseen. Lacking a novelists genius for invention, a historian can only record it. This alternative account illuminates the fragility of history not by telling what might have happened and didnt, as in The Plot Against America, but by relating things that did happen, disrupting all that seemed settled and foreclosed back then, as well as what might now seem settled fact about American history. Above all, it shows that Revolutionary America, far from a proslavery bulwark against the supposedly enlightened British Empire, was a hotbed of antislavery politics, arguably the hottest and most successful of its kind in the Atlantic world prior to 1783.
The history begins in the 1680s, at more or less the same time that plantation slavery was established in the Chesapeake. The year 1619 has become symbolic of slaverys commencement in our history, when a Dutch man-of-war consigned twenty Africans and creoles to John Rolfe in Jamestown, to be sold to wealthy local planters. Only in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, however, did the slave plantation economy in tobacco take root in Virginia and Maryland, followed immediately by the spread of plantation slavery in the rice, cotton, and indigo producing low country regions to the South. Slavery and slave trading likewise took hold in all of the colonies to the North, particularly in the infant seaport cities, where as much as one-fifth of the population consisted of enslaved laborers, as well as in the proximate hinterlands.
What 1619 has become to the history of American slavery, 1688 is to the history of American antislavery, the year that four German speaking Quakers in the settlement of Germantown, Pennsylvania, raised what is generally regarded as the first written public protest against African-American slavery in the British colonies. Denouncing slavery as a violation of the Golden Rule, they initially directed their petition to the local Quaker monthly meeting, but it had no effect and was forgotten until its accidental rediscovery in 1844.
Antislavery sentiment persisted in Pennsylvania, as part of what became a dissenting tradition inside the Society of Friends aimed by a minority of pious Quakers against the more extravagant slaveholding and slave-trading majority. Finally, in the 1750s, a full-scale reformation of American Quakerism produced a revulsion against what was still very much a fundamental institution in the Quakers world, but the reformation did not expand much beyond the Friends. As late as 1763, only a small minority of British or European colonists anywhere in North America thought involvement in slaveholding or the slave trade, direct or indirect, deserved the slightest ethical questioning.
Yet the moral revolution of the 1740s and 1750s, advanced on these shores by prophets like John Woolman, exploded after the French and Indian War, the American front of the European Seven Years War, amid the rising colonial revolt against imperial rule. Couching political complaints not as assertions of customary English rights and liberties but as tests of universal principles and natural rights rapidly dishonored holding Africans and their children in permanent slavery. As the historian Christopher Leslie Brown writes:
More than a decade before the development of abolitionism in Britain, the middle and northern colonies in North America presented the unusual spectacle of societies with slaves turning against the practice of human bondage, in part, to abide by the dictates of professed values, or to liberate themselves from moral corruption.
Although that spectacle was most striking in the colonies where slavery was less uniformly central to the economy, the contradictions for a time became felt even where plantation slavery was strongest and enslaved persons the most numerous. Remarking on the period of the 1770s, the leading South Carolina politician Henry Laurens, a major slaveholder and possibly the countrys premier slave trader, recalled how he and his fellow planters became solemnly engaged against further importations under a pretence of working by gradual steps a total abolition. Over the succeeding decade, Low Country South Carolina planters would manumit more slaves than they had during the previous thirty years.
Between 1767 and 1775, a wave of antislavery petitions, sermons, pamphlets, and private missives swelled across the colonies, from New England as far south as Virginiaa political outburst unprecedented in the Atlantic world. At least half a dozen Massachusetts towns, and several others elsewhere in New England, instructed their representatives to propose antislavery legislation at the colonial assemblies. In the city of New Yorkhome to the largest number of slaves in any American city other than Charleston, South Carolinalocal distillers voted in 1774 not to distill molasses or syrup intended for the slave trade. In April 1775, five days before the battles of Lexington and Concord, a group of ten Philadelphians, seven of them Quakers, formed the first antislavery organization in history, the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. Two months later, a group of local leaders met in Worcester, Massachusetts, to announce their determination to achieve the abolition of slavery.
The upsurge achieved some rapid results. In 1777, fractious Vermonters adopted the first written constitution in history to outlaw adult slavery. That same year, when drafting a new state constitution, the New York State legislature stopped short of approving emancipation but endorsed the principle that their state should be free soil and exhorted future legislatures to take the most effective and prudent steps toward abolishing domestic slavery. Three years later, the Pennsylvania assembly approved the first legislatively enacted emancipation law in modern history; four years after that, Rhode Island and Connecticut passed similar measures. Petitions and freedom suits initiated by slaves and pressed by antislavery legislators and lawyers undermined slaverys legitimacy in Massachusetts, leading to the landmark rulings in cases involving the slaves Quock Walker and Mum Bett, which in 1783 outlawed slavery under the terms of the commonwealths constitution of 1780.
The Atlantic slave trade came in for similar attack. Between 1769 and 1774, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland either passed highly restrictive duties on slave imports or banned the imports outright. Measures abolishing the trade also won approval in Massachusetts, New York, and Delaware, only to be thwarted by royal governors. The Virginia General Assembly, calling the commerce an inhumanity, passed high duties on the slave trade in 1767, 1769, and 1772, rejected on each occasion by the Kings Privy Council. Finally, the Continental Congress, acting in 1774 and 1776, halted the trade until the end of the Revolutionary War.
In all, by 1787, five Northern states had either abolished slavery or put it in the course of abolition; New York, the largest slaveholding state north of Maryland, had passionately debated abolition and come close to enacting an emancipation law in 1785, finally achieved in 1799; public debates in New Jersey, which would hold out the longest, until 1804, had been roiled by talk of abolition from neighboring states. In Virginia, where the legislature liberalized manumission laws in 1782, lawmakers three years later seriously debated a gradual emancipation proposal initiated by a statewide petition campaign.
It needs emphasizing that outside of northern New England, where slavery was crumbling already, success was hard-won, even if the overall number of slaves, compared to the South, was very small. In some portions of lower New England and the Middle States, notably New Yorks Hudson Valley, slavery and slave trading were important to the local economy, and resistance to antislavery efforts there was especially strong; but slaveholders everywhere ferociously fought any proposal for emancipation. The heart of the matter, for them, was property rights, an issue that won over to their side many non-slaveholders.
No state was prepared to offer direct monetary compensation for freeing the slaves (as Britain would grant its colonial slaveholders in 1833); slaveholders, who wielded outsized political power, charged that anything short of such compensation, paid in full, would be, as one proslavery New Jerseyan put it, a solemn act of publick ROBBERY, or FRAUD. Some slaveholders opposed even compensated emancipation, insisting that legislators had no authority whatsoever to interfere with vested property rights. Beginning in Pennsylvania, abolitionist advocates and lawmakers in most states had to settle for compromises that freed only the children of slaves and kept them in indentured servitude for a period that in some placesat the slaveholders insistanceran four to seven years beyond the age of majority.
To the most fervent abolitionists, the compromises amounted to a bogus emancipation that still left slaves, as one of them put it, groaning under the rod of a cruel unfeeling tyrant. Most historians today appear to agree, describing Northern emancipation, with a touch of cynicism, not as the product of intense political struggle between insurgent abolitionists and politically powerful slaveholders but as a grudging, half-hearted enterprise that rewarded slaveholders with a kind of indirect compensation.
Their accounts relate important truths about the limitations of Northern emancipation. But they ignore how, with unprecedented force and against the immense weight of the past, abolitionists and their political allies abolished outright or initiated the abolition of an entire category of propertyby any measure, a radical act in a world dedicated to the guarantee of property as a vested right. They slight how even the most gradual emancipation laws immediately broke the chattel principle regarding the children of slaves, which was a cornerstone of American slavery. They overlook how resistant slaveholders forever considered the measures repugnant and oppressive, unjustly depriving slaveholders, one Massachusetts jurist wrote, of property formerly acquired under the protection of law. They suppress how the legislation formally branded slaveholding, an institution almost universally deemed perfectly valid among whites less than twenty years earlier, as an abominationone that, according to the 1780 Pennsylvania law, robbed slaves of the common blessings of nature while casting them into the deepest afflictions.
As its victories piled up, the haphazard antislavery movement began to cohere and push for still larger reforms, regarding its previous successes, according to the Pennsylvania law, as just one more step to universal civilization. In 1784, the Philadelphia antislavery group, having suspended operations during the Revolutionary War, reorganized as the Pennsylvania Society for the Promotion of the Abolition of Slavery. A year later, New Yorkers formed their own manumission society. By the end of 1790, at least six more self-styled abolitionist societies had appeared, from Rhode Island to Virginia.
These groups, restricted to white members, were not paragons of racial egalitarianism, as some historians are quick to point out. Some of the societies even admitted slaveholders to their ranks. Yet the revolutionary-era abolitionists envisaged black equality as well as black freedom in a biracial society, and they collaborated closely with African Americans, enslaved and free. The societies in time struck alliances with intrepid black abolitionists; individual members worked tirelessly with untold thousands of enslaved men, women, and children, pursuing claims of freedom with extraordinary success. Stopping short of extra-legal action, the abolitionists agitated to protect and expand the civil rights of free blacks respecting everything from access to the courts and securing marriages to preventing kidnapping into bondage. For the abolition societies, one leading New York African-American abolitionist later remarked, ending slavery was a prelude to eliminating racial distinctions and assuring that equal justice is distributed to the black and the white.
The American movement in turn became the antislavery beacon to the rest of the Atlantic world and especially to beleaguered British abolitionists like Granville Sharp. Having formerly berated the colonials en masse as slaveholders, Sharp would credit the American abolitionists, with whom he built close connections, for moving him to trace the evil to its source. His broadcasting of American antislavery and anti-slave trade tracts became the foundation for the great upsurge of British agitation against the slave trade that began in the late 1780s. For Sharp, as for other British abolitionists friendly to the patriot cause, the American Revolution loomed as the instigator of a civil war within the Empire that promised to eradicate slavery and servitude of every kind.
Sharp and the others were wrong: the American Revolution was also a slaveholders revolution, and in its aftermath, slaveholders stiffened their resolve to affirm their property rights in human beings. In the Lower South, where the humanitarian ripples from the 1770s died, slaveholders deemed slavery not simply as a necessity for their economic survival but as a scripturally sound and even noble institution, ratified by the example of the entire world. In Virginia, enlightened slaveholders like Jefferson faced the reality that proslavery planters ruled the roost in their own state and, in any case, that they possessed neither the strategy nor the will to pick up on the example of Northern emancipation.
When delegates assembled in Philadelphia in 1787 to design a stronger federal union, there was never a question about their granting the new national government authority over slavery in the states where it already existed. Southern slaveholding states were not about to give the new government the power to abrogate their property laws, including those enshrining slavery, any more than Northern states would surrender power over their property laws, including those advancing emancipation. Still, antislavery delegates to the Constitutional Convention, urged on by organized abolitionists outside the conventions closed doors, aimed at the very least to insure that the government had the authority to abolish the Atlantic slave tradeto that point, the vital first step in every blueprint yet devised for ending American slavery.
Lower South slaveholders violently refused, declaring the matter non-negotiable. Either leave the slave trade untouched and in the hands of the individual states, the rebarbative South Carolinian John Rutledge announced, or the Lower South shall not be parties to the Union. Yet, while they managed to salvage a significant twenty-year delay, and came away with enough to tell their constituents back home that they had secured a proslavery triumph, the slaveholders lost the main issue. The Constitution conceded to the slaveholding states a measure of extra representation in Congress and the Electoral College, although it was far from determinative; and it gave them a weakly worded clause on returning their fugitive slaves. The convention majority refused, however, to acknowledge slaverys legitimacy in national law, which gave the new national government authority over slavery wherever it exercised jurisdiction, as in the national territories. Above all, as the abolitionists had dearly hoped and the slaveholders deeply feared, the convention specifically authorized the national government not simply to regulate the Atlantic slave trade but to abolish it.
The proslavery Southerners, wary of their constituents, declared victory, proclaiming the concessions they gained in Philadelphia were sufficient to secure slavery permanently under the new Constitution. As with gradual emancipation, some of the most ardent antislavery advocates, especially in New England, denounced the conventions work as a sellout to tyranny. Many, if not most, prominent abolitionists, however, including the renowned physician, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and secretary of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society Benjamin Rush, hailed the Constitution, and in particular its provisions on the slave trade, as auguring the commencement of slaverys eradication. Some could not suppress self-congratulation. How honorable to America, one widely-reprinted Pennsylvania Gazette essay observed, to have been the first Christian power that has borne a testimony against so repugnant a practice as the Atlantic slave trade. How extraordinary, another writer remarked, that in this new country, we should, in less than 150 years, possess a degree of liberality and humanity, which has been unknown during so many centuries, and which is yet unattained in so many parts of the globe. In Providence, Rhode Island, an assembly of free people of color more straightforwardly celebrated the Constitution and its Prospect of a Stop being put to the Trade to Africa in our Fellow-Creatures.
The struggle, barely imaginable to the previous generation, had only just begun. For most of the ensuing seventy years, the slaveholders would secure the initiative in national politics, not because of the three-fifths clause in the Constitution or any other concession from the framers but because of the support they received from northern conservatives. Beginning in the 1790s, the renaissance of American plantation slavery bolstered by a revolution in cotton production turned early visions of a yeomans republic into the reality of an American slaveholders regime beyond anything slaverys early champions could have imagined.
Yet the struggle never ceased. As early as the very first Congress, abolitionists shook the House of Representatives with petitions demanding members press to the very limits of their powers to abolish promptly not just the Atlantic slave trade but slavery itself. Here and there, antislavery advocates won some unlikely victories, passing measures (eventually discarded) to choke off slaverys advance into the newly-acquired Louisiana Territory, fending off proslavery efforts to undermine the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade (achieved at the earliest possible date in 1808), and forcing a major crisis in 1819 and 1820 over the expansion of slavery, concerning Missouris admission to the Union. Thirty-five years later, the rise of the Republican Party, devoted to the single object of halting slaverys expansion in order to hasten its doom, commenced what soon enough became the final conflict.
That history was not harmless. It was not peripheral. Nothing about it was inevitable. It began with perhaps the greatest unforeseen transformation in modern history, the rise of antislavery ideas and arguments.Americans, earlier than anywhere else, turned that transformation into the politics that would seek to bring slavery to its ultimate extinction. In reaction, Americans also produced the mightiest proslavery resistance to those politics the world had ever seen and, through the Confederacy, came perilously close to establishing an American empire of slavery, if not for what Lincoln called the terrible war that rendered a result which was fundamental and astounding. Cynicism about this history defeats understanding as surely as complacency does. We are left to contemplate, as both Philip Roth the writer and Philip Roth the character he created tried to do, the terror and the triumph of the relentless unforeseen.
Posted: at 12:40 pm
While the salaries of a teams highest-paid players are discussed ad nauseam between fans, media members and players themselves, many may not the ins and outs of how a salary works. Players unions across all sports are often brought up when it comes to collective bargaining agreements and grievances on behalf of players, but people dont know the extent of how they work.
In the NBA, the National Basketball Players Association has given players power in a way that few unions, sports or not, have ever been able to accomplish, and as a result, it has become the highest-paid union in the world.
According to the NBPAs website, the NBPA was established in 1954 with legendary Boston Celtic Bob Cousy at the forefront of the unionization. He wrote a letter to a representative of every team to gauge their interests and what they would want in a players union. The other players got on board, and the NBPA was born. Cousy, as the one who spearheaded the union, became the first President of the union.
The new NBA union demanded payment of back salaries for the defunct Baltimore Bullets club, the abolition of a $15 whispering foul that referees placed on players throughout the game in secret, and a 20-game limit on exhibition games, appearance payments for public events, and moving expenses for players who are traded.
The league initially refused to recognize the union, but followers of basketball will know that this did not last. In 1957, the league and the players agreed on the requests.
From pension for retired players to free agency, all of this went through the NBPA. The players have used a variety of tactics to let their voices be heard, from the 1964 season, when the players reportedly refused to take the court if they werent heard on a variety of issues, to the now common threat of lockout seasons if terms arent met.
65 years later after starting, now the players union has helped the NBAs players get their nine-figure contracts and made sure that players are getting their proper cut of the revenue.
The NBPA has never been afraid to stretch its power. They have fought for fair pay, fighting racism, and of course, fair pay. In a world where pay across racial lines is wildly inconsistent, the NBA has provided its largely-black member base with an avenue for fair pay and treatment of employees in a world where giants like Wal-Mart and Amazon refuse to allow unions to arrive.
Breaking from wages across the country at large companies such as these, the NBA players continue to get pay raises and more rights in the league. The average NBA salary is $7M, and while some of the players make less than a million dollars, a vast majority of NBA players who find a standard place in the league do. The highest-paid players in the NBA can make upwards of $40M a year.
While this is a large disparity, the union has ensured that all 450 members can live comfortably and stretch their rights as employees.
Players dont often speak out about the NBA salaries, but severalNBA players have spoken out about salaries in a different way. The WNBA, which likes to pride itself as the equivalent of the NBA for women, still pays its players peanuts when compared to NBA players.
Instead of staying silent, several NBA players have taken a stand and talked about how the WNBA players should get a similar CBA to them (relative to the WNBAs revenue, of course).
From LeBron James to Isaiah Thomas, several NBA players have spoken about how WNBA players deserve similar rights to NBA players. Kevin Garnett has used his platform on TNT to speak about it. Phoenix Suns big man DeAndre Ayton did not mince words when talking about it.
We should support it more and give the women a lot of credit because theyre doing the same thing us men do, Ayton said. They work on their game every day, as much as we do. They compete at the top level. I just think they deserve more attention and they should be paid more as well.
The NBA may continue to grow, but if they can start working with the WNBA and other unions, other players and employees across industries could begin to find themselves with more rights as workers and better pay in the process.
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Harriet a significant character in the road to abolition (UK and Irish cinemas from Friday 22 November) – Alan in Belfast
Posted: at 12:40 pm
Bringing historical characters well known, or overlooked to life has always been an important facet of cinema. A big personality can light up the screen. Their role in an already well understood moment of history can reveal new insights. Resonance with contemporary issues can be established. And filmmakers can sometimes even resist the temptation to make the film into a love-story.
Harriet explores the life of a Maryland slave, Mindy, who leaves behind her free husband and escapes north in 1949, travelling 100 miles to cross the state boundary into the more liberal Pennsylvania. Taking Harriet Tubman as her free name, the titular character insists on returning to rescue relatives, eventually joining the resistance movement and becoming one of the most prolific slave liberators of her time. Later federal legislative changes that allow slave-hunters to cross state boundaries, extend the dangerous journey of those fleeing Maryland, requiring travel to safety in Canada.
Cynthia Erivo plays Mindy/Harriet, capturing the tenacity and resilience of a woman who stands up to men who even after she finds freedom continue to tell her what she cant do. Shes a passionate and no-nonsense leader, never wavering from her goal. Faith and premonitions are well integrated into Harriets story. The spiritual songs of the underground railroad (the network of safe houses and antislavery activists) are used to good effect, and inject some much-needed emotion into Kasi Lemmons film that quickly establishes itself as something of a docudrama rather than a gripping expos of slavery and abolition.
The brutal treatment of slaves is mostly implicit. The legend of Moses leading slaves to the promised land is established, with rampant sexism leading men to believe it was a white abolitionist in blackface rather than a black woman. The roadblocks placed in the way of those who supported the abolition of slavery are laid out. However, the explanation of Harriets role in the American Civil War is disappointingly muddy, and the film relies on captions to establish the longer-lasting import of this figures work.
Harriet marks a significant character in the road to abolition. The film is an important history lesson. But its emotional grip on the audience is minimal. While Lemmons may have wanted to avoid making an action film that relied on sensational brutality for impact, his tale of slavery is somewhat underwhelming and oddly humdrum given the seriousness of the topic.
Harriet is released in UK and Irish cinemas including Movie House from 22 November.