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A few more moves ahead


Podur

There

is too much at stake for social change to be a game. But if it were a game, the

side that had the ability to think many moves ahead, anticipate its opponents

moves, know what its goal was and move toward it relentlessly, would have huge

advantages over the side that didn’t.

I

just read ‘Globalization from Below’ by Jeremy Brecher, Tim Costello, and

Brendan Smith. They have put together a ‘Draft of a Global Program’. This is a

positive program that all the groups in the movement against corporate

globalization can look at, debate, and move forward with. The 7 point plan is:

1)

Level labor, environmental, social, and human rights conditions upward 2)

Democratize institutions at every level from local to global 3) Make decisions

as close as possible to those they affect 4) Equalize global wealth and power 5)

Convert the global economy to environmental sustainability 6) Create prosperity

by meeting human and environmental needs 7) Protect against global boom and bust

They

go into detail on each point. Under ‘equalizing wealth and power’, for example,

they talk about canceling international debts, about making global markets work

for developing countries, and providing developing countries access to technical

knowledge.

There

are some left economists (Arthur McEwen, Patrick Bond, Walden Bello, Robin

Hahnel) who have made plans for replacing the ‘global financial architecture’ we

have now with one that would give the third world a chance to develop and get

the first world on a trajectory to environmental sustainability and full

employment. Their proposals include capital controls, taxes on financial

speculation, and social investment and spending by governments.

Between ‘globalization from below’, and these economists, it seems to me that

the anti-globalization forces have plenty of plans to take them forward, for

quite a while. Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t know what we want. We want

full employment at living wages with job security. We want air we can breathe,

water we can drink, food we can eat, and some confidence we’re not all going to

fry tomorrow because of global warming. Fewer prisons, more education, more

health care. A lot of friends in the third world would be thrilled to not have

to worry about being displaced or killed for a hydroelectric project, oil well,

or piece of land.

Each

and every one of these things, and many more of the things we are for, can be

won. And then lost again, because holding on to them while markets, racism,

colonialism, and sexism persist is as hard a fight as winning them in the first

place. Brecher, Costello, and Smith’s wonderful, humane program takes us to a

much better world. But could we keep that world, and those gains? Or would they

be rolled back by the system we’re fighting?

Where’s the harm in thinking a few more moves ahead? How much further than that

would we have to go so that holding on to the gains we’ve won against all the

pressures of the system isn’t something we have to worry about? If we’re strong

enough to get that far, are we strong enough to replace the system with one

whose pressures are in positive directions? Would it be unrealistic to think so

far ahead? Divisive? Would we be accused of being silly dreamers if we did? Is

there anyone who has bothered to read this far who hasn’t been called a silly

dreamer?

It’s

not easy to turn a participatory economy into a sound bite, but when someone

asks me what I’d replace capitalism with, I say an economy where people are paid

according to effort, where everyone is skilled and works a fair share of the

skilled and unskilled work, and where prices for things are set by a system that

takes into account their social (how much sweat and pain and danger went into

them) and environmental (how much pollution did they make and what will it take

to clean it up) costs.

Economists (Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel) have worked this economy out in

some detail too, but like all the other proposals, it’s not going anywhere until

it gets taken up and taken over by many, many working people who like it and see

it as one of the moves we’re going to make, together, down the road.

Albert and Hahnel talk mostly about a domestic economy in their participatory

economics books. Their principles of international trade between pareconomies

are that the terms should benefit the poorer economy more than the richer. In

other words, participatory economies would make sure their international trading

decreased global inequality. It’s not surprising that this fits nicely with

Brecher, Costello, and Smith’s program.

Fair

enough. But keep dreaming with me for a few more minutes.

Globalization isn’t going anywhere. The kind of globalization we’re seeing now

is, hopefully, going to the trash, but people are going to travel, communicate,

exchange information and ideas, more and more. That’s not going to change (and

why should it?). And in the world today, there are corporate economies that are

bigger than some countries.

So

(remember you’re still dreaming) imagine we’re quite a few moves ahead. Brecher,

Costello and Smith’s global program has been largely implemented. Amnesty

International is bored for a lack of work, eager human rights workers are

sitting on their heels. Left governments have been elected in a number of

countries, with movements to keep them honest. Corporations are seen as

illegitimate everywhere.

The

only people still locked up are violent offenders like Henry Kissinger, and even

they are being rehabilitated. Workers at a Bridgestone/Firestone plant in

Argentina, who are secure with universal health care, free education for their

children supported by the highly leftist police union (you promised you’d keep

dreaming!), with plenty of bargaining power in a full-employment situation, are

now highly knowledgeable about the intricacies of the business and budgets

because their democratic union has made progress breaking managers’ monopoly

over this knowledge, realizes that competition in the international market could

erode all the gains they have made until now. They are competing with

Bridgestone/Firestone plants in Brazil and the US. What are they to do?

Management would like to cut some of their benefits or move the plant, but

doesn’t dare say so, or threaten to close up shop. But these workers are experts

in international solidarity. They already have contacts with their co-workers in

Brazil and the US. They struck long ago to help their co-workers in the US to

retain their jobs. They see no choice but to take over the plant and coordinate

their production with the workers in the same industry in other countries. Cut

out the market altogether and start negotiating inputs and outputs with the

consumer and worker councils that have arisen in other industries.

Afterwards, in the process of planning with workers in the global industry and

consumers of the products, prices would come into line with social and

environmental costs-and the workers might end up retooling and retraining to

produce bicycle tires for domestic consumption.

A

worker at this plant, instead of doing her taxes at the end of the year, would

figure out how much she wanted to consume and how much she wanted to work. This

information would be put together with everyone else’s preferences and combined

to create a plan for what the economy would produce. She would take part in

decisions on how much to spend on a community center or swimming pool in her

community in a community council where she lived, and decisions on how to invest

and plan for the plant and industry’s future at her workplace. It’s true, she

would have to think carefully about her preferences, her community’s best

interests, and her workplace. She wouldn’t have to worry about market

competition, capital flight, or miserable working conditions.

The

tens or hundreds of thousands who have already signed up for this project know

that winning reforms in this system is an uphill, but not impossible, battle. To

convince millions more, we will need to demonstrate not only that we can win

changes, but that we can go beyond stalemate and uphill battles to a system

where the pressures are towards freedom, equality, and solidarity and not

against them.

A

friend of mine compared social change to building sandcastles near the surf. You

can build something nice, but the tides are going to wash it away eventually.

I’ve met many people who think of social change, and its advocates, that way:

‘You people sure have a nice castle in mind, too bad it’s made of sand.’ Can we

build something more solid? If we can, we should say so.

 If

you don’t have a plan, chances are you’re part of someone else’s. If you don’t

dream, you’re probably living out someone else’s dream. As silly as it feels

sometimes, maybe it’s worth dreaming a little further.

 

 

 

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