As the global economy hurtles toward Great Recession II, the earth hurtles toward climate catastrophe. Both represent the results of a neoliberal deregulation that has left humanity no means to shape our economies to serve human needs — not even the need for economic and environmental survival.
How global movements respond to these intertwined environmental and economic crises will be key to our common survival. The politics will surely be complicated. A case in point is an article in today’s New York Times about the United Steelworkers union’s WTO complaint against China for providing “illegal clean energy subsidies” to domestic solar, wind and other green industries.
To promote international dialogue on these questions, we thought it might be useful to post a recent paper, entitled “Globalization, Neoliberalism and Climate Change”, which was prepared by GLS at the invitation of Professor Liu Cheng of Shanghai Normal University for an international conference this April on “Global Economic Recession vs. Deregulation” jointly organized by the Peking University Law School and the Shanghai Normal University Faculty of Law and Politics and supported by the ILO Beijing Office. The paper stresses the interest of workers around the world in cooperating to create an alternative to neoliberalism based on making the transition to a green economy.
Globalization, Neoliberalism, and Climate Change: Toward a New Regulatory Regime
For thirty years, global and national economies have been guided by policies of neoliberal deregulation, often known as the “Washington Consensus.” Neoliberalism has been disastrous for workers in most countries, pitting workers against each other in a race to the bottom and making it all but impossible to protect working class interests. There is now a growing consensus that the Washington Consensus has been a failure.
There is also a growing global recognition that we are in the midst of an unprecedented climate crisis. Ready or not, that crisis is affecting every nation, every locality, and every worker. Its effects are already serious, and unless decisive global action is taken to counter it, they will soon be catastrophic. Neoliberal deregulation, by dismantling the means for public steering of society to meet social needs, has also made it nearly impossible to correct global climate crisis. Read the rest of this entry »
Economic nationalism is back and that is not a good sign for working people. “Buy American” or “Buy French” or “Buy [add your country here]” campaigns are often presented as a way to protect workers and undo the damage done to workers by 30 years of corporate-dominated globalization." But such efforts are out of touch with today’s realities; they can backfire on the workers they claim to support and could even push the global economy deeper into the abyss. Workers desperately need an alternative to the economic practices, frequently but misleadingly referred to as "free trade," that let corporations promote a worldwide "race to the bottom." But economic nationalism provides only the illusion of such an alternative.
In the US, economic nationalism has recently emerged around the "Buy American" provision requiring that U.S.-made products, in particular steel, be used in projects funded by the recent $790 billion stimulus bill. One of the most vocal corporate supporters of the legislation has been Dan DiMicco, CEO of Nukor, the largest steel producer in the US. He recently told CBS’s 60 Minutes that the goal of the stimulus package “is to stop the bleeding of jobs and to create jobs here in American, not overseas, not in China, not in Europe."
Some Americans who have seen DiMicco's TV interviews may feel reassured that an American businessman is finally willing to act in the interest of American, rather than moving American jobs abroad. What DiMicco forgot to mention is that Nukor has also been partnering with Chinese steel maker Shougang Corporation to build a new steel plant in Australia.
Corporate led globalization has produced a global economy in which goods, services, and capital are like a global ball of yarn which has become so tangled that it can only be untangled with great care. US corporations produce or buy goods in China employing Chinese workers; Chinese money finances the US debt keeping the US economy afloat; complex manufactured goods produced almost anywhere in the world are assembled from parts produced in the global supply chain; and we all now know how toxic financial instruments assembled from loans made to poor and working class Americans spread from the US to infect economies everywhere. If we start untangling the global ball of yarn without considering the consequences for people throughout the world we will accelerate and deepen the crises we find out selves in.
This is not an argument for perpetuating the kind of globalization that just means the right of corporations to roam the world doing anything they want without restraint by democratic governments and institutions. That kind of globalization, fortunately, is currently collapsing. But it needs to be replaced, not by an economic war of all against all, but by democratic decision making that is as decentralized as it can be while still being effective.
The task for the world’s labor movements, global justice activists, progressive political forces, and NGO’s is to demand that a new order be based on mutual consultation and mutual gain and not on beggar-thy-neighbor policies. That means “re-localizing” a great deal of the global economy, but in ways that benefit, rather than harm, the interests and living standards of ordinary people and helps restore a more sustainable environment.
In this post we open a thread on ways to avoid both destructive economic nationalism and failed corporate globalization. We start with a little known history — the reactionary history of Buy America campaigns in the US, which are driven by the same impulses that pushed for Buy American provisions in the stimulus package. This history, as revealed Dana Frank’s book Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism (Beacon Press, 1999), teaches us that steel magnate Dan DiMicco represents a great American tradition: the very business leaders who have demanded that American workers Buy American have often secretly sought foreign assets and played workers around the world off against each other in a never ending race to the bottom.
The Boston Tea Party
Buy American campaigns are as American as the Boston Tea Party. On the night of December 16, 1773, between fifty and a hundred colonists, with faces blackened, climbed onboard three ships moored in Boston harbor to dump 90,000 pounds of tea into the ocean. The nation’s first Buy American protest was attended by an audience of 2,000 or 3,000, watching silently from the harbor docks.
[This article first appeared in the TheNation.com, available here.]
At the first Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference, held in Pittsburgh a year
ago, advocates of green energy bemoaned their inability to get a modest
renewable-energy tax credit through Congress over the opposition of the
Bush administration. The idea of addressing the economic, energy and
environmental crises through green jobs seemed a distant
vision. So did the idea that a labor-environment coalition around
green jobs could reach beyond the fringes of the two movements. But this
year, things were different. Meeting in Washington, DC,
February 4-6, speakers were reporting in from their BlackBerries on
Congressional negotiations of the yet-to-be-approved stimulus package
estimated by the Center for American Progress to include $80 billion
for green jobs.
The Blue-Green Alliance, which sponsored this year's conference, grew out
of a coalition formed in 2006 by the Sierra Club and the United
Steelworkers Union. A year ago, the Steelworkers stood alone; today the
alliance includes the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the
Laborers International Union of America (LIUNA), the Service Employees
International Union (SEIU) and the Teamsters (IBT), all of which
have active programs on green jobs.
It's a challenging time for the labor movement. Union leaders appear
genuinely thrilled about the election of President Obama; early in the
conference Steelworkers' president Leo Girard proudly quoted Obama's
statement, "I see labor as the solution," not the problem. The blind,
neoliberal faith in markets and globalization has come crashing down
along with the global financial system, vindicating the lonely labor
voices who have long been calling for government guidance of the
economy. But the Great Recession is decimating labor's thinning
ranks, and unions face budget cuts and layoffs not only by employers but
also within their organizations. Two major unions, SEIU and UNITE
HERE, are engaged in very public internecine battles, while
representatives of the Obama administration are trying to nudge the two
national labor federations to reunite.
In this context, the chance to grow membership through green jobs
represents a rare opportunity, one that the labor movement is taking
up with alacrity. "Global warming is a working families
issue," said AFL-CIO president John Sweeney at a press conference to
announce a $1 million Green Jobs Center at the National Labor College.
Part of labor's involvement reflects the concern that has grown
among many constituencies as melting ice caps, burgeoning wildfires and
devastating floods demonstrate the immediate threat of climate change.
At Sweeney's press conference, Mark Ayres, head of the union's
building trades department, endorsed green jobs as good policy and good
for labor. "But there is a more important reason" to fight global
warming, he said, showing the audience a photograph his granddaughters.