Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Organizing against the austerity agenda

By Bill Kellogg
August 17, 2011

A little word with a big footprint – “austerity” has now become normalized as part of the political discourse. Governments everywhere are positioning themselves to transfer billions of dollars from pensions, social services and public sector wages, to pay off debt built up in part during the Great Recession of 2008-2009. A resource in the fight against austerity is the just published special issue of Socialist Studies, containing contemporary analyses and historical reflections on both the economics of the austerity agenda, and strategies by which it can be resisted.

Sketching the economics of the austerity agenda is done in several places, including a wide-ranging interview with activist and scholar David McNally. 

He argues that properly understanding the effects of the crisis of 2008-2009 requires seing that it was preceded, not by a generation of capitalist crisis, but a generation of capitalist restabilization, “that since the early 1980s, there had been a twenty year long expansionary wave, which I’m calling the neoliberal expansion, which really did restore corporate profitability, which massively restructured labour processes, which squeezed workers, very dramatically increased their level of exploitation, and also kickstarted a huge geographic expansion of capitalism, particularly in China and East Asia.”

Resisting the austerity agenda is covered in various articles, including an examination of Canadian public sector unions by David Camfield, and an historical look at the origins of the “Days of Action” against Mike Harris, written by this author. 

The research for the latter reminded me of the important role played by social movement actors outside the organized labour movement in laying the groundwork for resistance in 1995 and 1996. The study of working class resistance cannot be confined to the union movement and the organized working class.

In addition, the journal continues its tradition of using its reviews section to introduce readers to new and important literature. A quick review of the books featured this issue, indicates an important revival of political economic writing in Canada. In particular, Susanne Soederberg’s Corporate Power and Ownership in Contemporary Capitalism: The Politics of Resistance and Domination (reviewed by Stephen McBride) and Todd Gordon’s Imperialist Canada (reviewed by this author), are important historical materialist additions to our understanding of contemporary capitalism.

There are many other articles and reviews in the collection – well worth the read.

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