Htun Lin’s Workshop Talks column takes up his experience as a refugee from Burma to the U.S. and today’s plight of the Rohingya, who are experiencing ethnic cleansing at the hands of the state and Buddhist nationalists in Burma today.
The lightning move by Republicans in Congress to prepare to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare—before Donald Trump even took office, with only the vaguest idea of what is to replace it, and with full knowledge that a large majority of Americans oppose the repeal of its most important provisions—gave a sign of how far the new single-party government intends to roll the clock back, with dizzying speed.
Review of White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg.
Olga Domanski’s summary of the series on “Women as Thinkers and as Revolutionaries” by Raya Dunayevskaya.
Escalating bankruptcies in the nation’s coal industry paint a grim future for the industry and for coal miners and their families. The bankruptcies, sweeping the coal fields everywhere, have affected the largest and smallest mines. As a result, thousands of coal miners have been laid off.
In the absence of successful social revolution, today’s total crisis is shown in a world capitalist order that is falling apart economically, politically, environmentally, and in thought. That does not mean that we can wait for capitalism to collapse and step aside for a new society. On the contrary. Its desperation makes it that much more vicious, and it threatens to doom all of humanity with it.
We workers see from the inside that capitalism is coming apart. The 1949-50 Coal Miners’ General Strike is significant, not only because it highlights resistance to the early stage of automation, but because the miners’ self-activity signified “The Emergence of a New Movement from Practice That Is Itself a Form of Theory.”
From the News and Letters pamphlet The Coal Miners’ General Strike of 1949-50 and the Birth of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S. we excerpt from Raya Dunayevskaya’s “The Emergence of a New Movement from Practice that Is Itself a Form of Theory,” on miners’ contributions to the philosophic birth of Marxist-Humanism.
Working in healthcare has been transformed in a very alienating way. The workplace is drowning in fancy hi-tech machines. Cadres of bureaucrats spend their working hours promoting the product of healthcare with marketing campaigns. The rank and file hear daily admonitions to smile more and are told, “Just be glad you have a job.” Bureaucrats preach “customers come first,” while cutting service and staffing. Hospital and HMO executives are in a race to eliminate labor as much as possible in their “product.”
The recent wave of strikes at Walmart and fast food restaurants signals the discontent brewing among the growing number of low-wage U.S. workers. They give notice that the far-reaching restructuring of jobs that was accelerated by the Great Recession also has a subjective side of revolt.
A week of strikes and demonstrations at Walmarts across the country peaked with events in 20 cities on June 4 alone. Chants of “Respect! Now!” joined the official demands of “$25,000 per year and enough hours to support our families” and an end to retaliation against workers who strike or speak up.
Reliance on metrics in healthcare has become a new Taylorism, or management by time study. Everything in the hospital workplace is now tracked by sophisticated computer programs, down to every last pill, gauze and penny, and down to every last motion. This vast pool of information becomes Big Data.
Ongoing national strikes and demonstrations by fast food workers demanding a $15 an hour living wage show that workers’ reality is not the media-touted economic “recovery” enjoyed by the super-wealthy finance capitalists. In real life the 2008 depression drags on. In a punitive move, Congressional Republicans wouldn’t even allow a vote for long-term unemployment benefits to continue, in spite of the record 1.7 million, or 37% of the officially unemployed, who have been out of work for six months or longer. Previously, a rate anywhere near this was called an emergency, compelling an automatic extension of benefits.
Robotics development has exploded within the past three years. Under capitalism, robotics has made millions unemployed, and robots have also become a means for employers to intimidate workers who oppose management dictates.
The phenomenon of human beings losing a race with machines is especially pernicious in the healthcare workplace. The computer has become the virtual boss of everyone in the shop, by setting the pace of everyone’s job.
Although we, as a state capitalist tendency, had been saying for years that we live in an age of absolutes, that the task of the theoreticians was the working out materialistically of Hegel’s last chapter on The Absolute Idea, we were unable to relate the daily struggles of the workers to this total conception. The maturity of the age, on the other hand, disclosed itself in the fact that, with automation, the worker began to question the very mode of labor. Thus the workers began to make concrete, and thereby extended, Marx’s profoundest conceptions, for the innermost core of the Marxian dialectic, around which everything turns, is that the transformation of society must begin with the material life of the worker, the producer.
The world today is riven between the creativity of masses in revolt and the violent degeneracy of counter-revolution, whose destructiveness even extends to the revived specter of nuclear war two decades after the collapse of the USSR. Such is the degeneracy of the globalized capitalist system, laden with destructive forces and sunk into structural crisis. The deep crisis is seen in the U.S. and abroad, economically, in unemployment and poverty, homelessness and hunger. It is seen politically, in new laws attacking workers and women, and new outbursts of racism. It is seen environmentally, with the advance of climate disruption and fake capitalistic solutions. It is seen in thought, as the lack of philosophy, of a total view, hampers the development of struggles from the U.S. to the revolutions of the Arab Spring facing counter-revolutions.
From the new March-April 2013 issue of News & Letters:
Some cuts don’t heal
by Htun Lin
As Congress’s latest self-imposed sequestration crisis makes clear, not all cuts are the same. A campaign slogan of California Nurses’ Association (CNA) goes: “Some Cuts Don’t Heal.”
The looming full launch date of Obamacare in 2014 has the HMO industry imposing [=>]
News & Letters, Vol. 57, No. 6
You may view this issue of News & Letters in pdf form here
Obama’s re-election doesn’t end clash of two worlds
The two worlds of the rulers and the ruled shone through the suffocating blanket of propaganda surrounding the election in which Barack Obama won a second term. A pronounced gender gap [=>]
From the new September-October 2012 issue of News & Letters:
Voices from Occupy: West Coast port shutdowns and forms of labor struggle
by Javier, Advance the Struggle
The defeat of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 21 at the highly automated Export Grain Terminal (EGT) in Longview, Wash., shows how capitalism is transforming the workplace. It [=>]
From the July-August 2012 issue of News & Letters:
Readers’ Views, July-August 2012, Part 2
RICH AND DUNAYEVSKAYA: A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP
Thanks for your In Memoriam to Adrienne Rich. It revealed a dimension that many who were appreciative of her poetry and feminism may not have known—Rich’s exploration of Marx’s ideas through her reading of Raya Dunayevskaya. One piece [=>]
From the July-August 2012 issue of News & Letters:
Using robots to attack labor upsurge in China
Workers who created a wave of strikes in China from auto and electronics to steel over the past two years have confronted the power of private capital, the state and the Communist Party. In 2011 alone, China’s State Council acknowledged [=>]
From the new July-August 2012 issue of News & Letters:
Capitalism trashes union democracy
by Htun Lin
The “Great Recession” we’re living in will continue so long as we accept that there is no alternative to capitalism. It is a lie perpetuated by the dominant ideology.
In the past year, the Occupy Movement has given many of us [=>]
From the new January-February 2012 issue of News & Letters:
Making teachers redundant
by Htun Lin
Over a billion dollars has been spent in the last decade to comprehensively computerize the workplace at the nation’s largest HMO, where I work. For the executives, it’s as if the line between the virtual and the real has finally been [=>]
From the new July-August 2011 issue of News & Letters:
by Htun Lin
When the popular game show Jeopardy featured IBM’s “Watson,” a computer, Watson won against the best human players. For capitalists this was not just entertainment, but serious business–a way to replace masses of workers.
As Christopher Caldwell of the Financial Times put it: “If [=>]