Solutions and possibilities for pandemic times and beyond
LHA1148: Introduction to Workplace, Organizational, and Economic Democracy ("the COVID-19 edition")
An OISE/University of Toronto graduate seminar
Week 1 (May 4-8, 2020) - Setting the Stage and Key Concepts (Modules 1 and 2)
“Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage
Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage
Suddenly it’s repression, moratorium on rights
What did they think the politics of panic would invite?
Person in the street shrugs 'Security comes first'
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse”
~ Bruce Cockburn, “The Trouble with Normal” (cited by Max Haiven
in his essay “No Return to Normal,” 2020)
Module 1 of Week 1 introduces the course and casts advanced neoliberal capitalism against the varieties of "other" economies, settling on “economic democracy” as the alternative we will be delving into in the rest of the course. Module 2 of Week 1 concretizes the need for economic democracy today and defines our key terms and concepts for the course: work, organization, economy, and participation and democracy. The rest of the course filters the notion of economic democracy through these terms.
Throughout Week 1, we consider some of the reasons why we need “economic democracy” today, given the crises of work, inequality, and the environment due to the “neoliberal impasse,” and now in light of our current COVID-19 moment. We also explore what we have assumed to be the “normal” economy up to the first weeks of 2020, whether we should go back to that normal post-pandemic reality, and why we should think of new ways of doing and articulating economic life today.
During Week 1 and resonating throughout the course, we contemplate how crises are always two-fold: moments of dramatic rupture and openings for new possibilities for living. Indeed, our struggles against any crises are always two-fold: to ease the pain of the status-quo or of change and to think of new ways of living so we minimize or don’t return to the pain – so we reduce “toil, aggressiveness, misery, and injustice,” as critical philosopher Herbert Marcuse wrote in his opus One-Dimensional Man.
As many progressive and critical thinkers that we will be reading agree, we have needed economic democracy for some time now. This is because our current neoliberal version of capitalism is wrought with inequities and injustices of all kinds. These include discriminations based on differences related to gender, race, class, and other intersectionalities; rising environmental degradation; and the entrenchment of jobs devoid of meaning. Moreover, capitalist ways of organizing work (the foundation of all economic activity) are heightening these crises and inequities. Our contemporary condition of crisis is linked to several factors, including: the long-held common-sense idea that “progress” means economic “growth;” the autocratic rule and hierarchical structures of most workplaces; the continued invisibilization of domestic and “unwaged” work; the rise of precarious jobs and the marginalization of “service” and “care work” (now deemed “essential” to keep the privileged quarantined and the economy running during COVID-19); the challenges of flexible forms of work in the so called “information” and “gig economy;” and the “global division of labour,” at the heart of just-in-time production and globalization. In sum, the complex realities of contemporary work and economic activity and their negative effects on everyday life and the environment—now compounded exponentially by COVID-19—force us to question our neoliberal economic system and call for urgent re-thinking on the possibilities for economic democracy today.
Module 1 - Course Introduction: Another Economy, Crises as Closures and Openings
Parker, Martin, George Cheney, Valerie Fournier, & Chris Land. (2014). Ch. 1, Advanced Capitalism: Its Promises and Failings; Ch. 2, Alternatives: Past, Present, and Prospective. In M. Parker et al. (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization. London: Routledge (pp. 3-30).
Required COVID-19 Reading
Giroux, Henry. (2020). The COVID-19 Pandemic is Exposing the Plague of Neoliberalism. The Bullet. (Apr. 18).
Inman, Phillip. (2020). Half of the World’s Workers “At Immediate Risk of Losing Livelihood Due to Coronavirus.” The Guardian. (Apr. 29).
Moody, Kim. (2020). How “Just-In-Time" Capitalism Spread COVID-19. Spectre. (Apr. 8).
Monbiot, George. (2020). The Horror Films Got It Wrong. This Virus Turned Us into Caring Neighbours. The Guardian. (Mar. 31).
Themes Covered in the Stanford Text
Stanford, Jim. (2008/2015). Introduction, Why Study Economics?; Part 1, Preliminaries. In Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism. Halifax & Winnipeg: Fernwood.
Baker, Peter C. (2020). “We Can’t Go Back to Normal”: How Will Coronavirus Change the World. The Guardian. (Mar. 31).
Gindin, Sam. (2020). The Coronavirus and the Crisis This Time. The Bullet. (Apr. 10).
Vieta, Marcelo. (2017). Inklings of the Great Refusal: Echoes of Marcuse’s Post-technological Rationality Today. In A.T. Lamas, T. Wolfson, & P. Funke (Eds.),The Great Refusal: Herbert Marcuse and Contemporary Social Movements. Philadelphia: Temple University Press (pp. 258-280).
Vieta, Marcelo. (2020). Marx, Alienation, and Capital 101. Unpublished essay (pp. 1-27).
Introduce the course
Go over syllabus and readings
Map the class, assignments and discussions
On posting your 50-100-word bio and video intro
Watch Movement Building in the Time of the Coronavirus: A Rising Majority Teach-In. With Naomi Klein and Prof. Angela Davis (Apr. 6, 2020)
Module 2 - The Need for Economic Democracy (in “Normal” Pre-COVID, COVID, and Post-COVID Times) and Defining Our Terms
Schweickart, David. (2016). Economic Democracy. The Next System Project.
Cumbers, Andrew. (2019). Economic Democracy: Why Handing Power Back to the People Will Fix Our Broken System. The Conversation UK. (Dec. 5).
Required COVID-19 Reading
Prashad, Vijay. (2020). We Won’t Go Back to Normal, Because Normal Was the Problem. Tricontinental. (Mar. 26).
Walcott, Rinaldo, Beverley Bain, & OmiSoore Dryden. (2020). Coronavirus Discriminates Against Black Lives through Surveillance, Policing and the Absence of Health Data. OISE News. (Apr. 20).
Onyenacho, Tracey. (2020). Power to the People: 40+ Grassroots Activists Step Up During the COVID-19 Crisis (Updated). Colorlines. (Mar. 30).
Marks, Raissa. (2020). COVID-19—This Is a Test. The Canadian CED Network. (Apr. 2).
Themes Covered in the Stanford Text
Stanford, Jim. (2008/2015). Part 2, The Basics of Capitalism: Work, Tools, and Profit. In Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism. Halifax & Winnipeg: Fernwood (pp. 65-128).
Harvey, David. (2005). Introduction; Ch. 1, Freedom’s Just Another Word. In A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press (pp. 1-38).
Streeck, Wolfgang. (2016). Introduction. In How Will Capitalism End? London: Verso (pp. 1-46).
Harvey, David. (2020). We Need a Collective Response to the Collective Dilemma of Coronavirus [on what Marx can still teach us]. Jacobin. (Apr. 24).
Creese, Gillian. (2007). Ch. 7, Racializing Work/Reproducing White Privilege. In V. Shalla & W. Clement (Eds.), Work in Tumultuous Times: Critical Perspectives. Montreal/Kingston: McGill/Queen’s University Press (pp. 192-226).
Wright, E.O. (2010). Ch. 3, What is So Bad About Capitalism? In Envisioning Real Utopias. London: Verso (pp. 33-85).
Mason, Paul. (2015). The End of Capitalism Has Begun. The Guardian. (Jul. 17).
Tarnoff, Ben. (2016). Neoliberalism Turned Our World Into a Business: And There Are Two Big Winners. The Guardian. (Dec. 13).
Bakan, Joel. (2004). The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. London: Constable & Robinson.
Activities: On how the old normal was never "normal"
Listen to Noam Chomsky being interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! (Apr.10, 2020).
Watch The Corporation (by Joel Bakan, 2003).
Watch Capitalism: A Love Story (by Michael Moore, 2009).
Li-Zhong - All hands on deck (2020)