What is this blog about?

What is this blog about?

I am a political philosopher. My 'political philosophy' is a form of 'liberal egalitarianism.' So in this blog I reflect on various issues in political philosophy and politics (especially Canadian and American politics) from a liberal egalitarian perspective.

If you are curious about what I mean by 'liberal egalitarianism,' my views are strongly influenced by the conception of justice advanced by John Rawls. (So I sometimes refer to myself as a 'Rawlsian,' even though I disagree with Rawls on some matters.)

Astonishingly, I am paid to write and teach moral and political philosophy. I somehow manage to do this despite my akratic nature. Here is my faculty profile.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Happy Labour/Labor Day

I’m back in Wisconsin now, where in recent years the Koch-puppet governor of this declining state, the college dropout and life-long politician Scott Walker, has implemented ALEC-written legislation to eviscerate the collective bargaining rights of Wisconsinites.  (Walker seems to enjoy championing Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson in his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, including riding a Harley motorcycle around Iowa and New Hampshire.  Unsurprisingly, he seems oblivious to the fact that Harley-Davidson is a government-supported union shop, and ‘union made’ is proudly stamped on their products.)

Of course, Walker merely is one loyal pawn within the larger force assaulting working people within the United States.  In this piece from two years ago, Zaid Jilani notes five kinds of hard-fought benefits – namely, pensions, the right to organize, income equality, access to healthcare, and fair working hours – that presently are under attack from plutocrat-funded right-wing operatives like Walker.

Perhaps surprisingly, Labour Day has a Canadian origin.  In the United States, its emergence as a holiday was rather violent.  Very roughly, recognition of Labour – er, ‘Labor’ – Day as a federal holiday was pushed for by President Grover Cleveland in the immediate aftermath of the violent suppression of the Pullman strike in 1894.  Cleveland hoped that this move would mitigate any political backlash against him and his actions.  (A brief explanation of the origins of the holiday within the U.S. by Prof. Ben Railton can be found at Talking Points Memo.)

In a just society – something like what John Rawls (drawing upon the work of the British economist James Meade) calls a ‘property-owning democracy’ – wealth and political power would be widely and roughly equally dispersed amongst citizens.  There would be little or no need for unions in such a society (though as voluntary organizations they certainly would be legal). 

However, we do not live in anything like a just liberal egalitarian society.  There is no property-owning democracy anywhere within the world today (though, of course, some existing capitalist welfare-states fare far better in terms of justice, equality, and freedom than others; for instance, the Scandinavian countries are considerably less unjust than the United States).

Given the overwhelming political power of the extremely wealthy within capitalist societies, unions have played a necessary role in promoting the interests, rights, and wellbeing of workers of all kinds since their emergence in the 19th Century.  The existence of weekends and 8-hour workdays were not granted to citizens out of the kindness of capitalists’ hearts!  It is no coincidence that that the re-emergence of the political power of the plutocratic class, and the parallel stagnation of most citizens’ income and wealth, within the United States has coincided with the decline of union membership in recent decades.

Societies in which union membership is common and widespread enjoy higher levels of wellbeing than societies in which union membership is minimal.  It is hard to see how the United Stated might become a more equal and just society without a reinvigorated labour movement.  And the prospects for such a movement, sadly, seem quite bleak today.  But perhaps ‘millennials’ might be a source of optimism on this front?  (The hope strikes me as a rather faint one, alas.)

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