Women on strike in the US and Poland

For International Women’s Day, two interviews on women’s protests and strikes, in the USA and in Poland.

My first guest is Barbara Smith. Barbara is an icon of the US women’s movement, particularly it’s Black radical wing. She helped establish Black women’s studies as a discipline, was a founding member of the Combahee River Collective in the 1970s, helped establish Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press and went on to run and win an insurgent campaign against the Democrats for a seat on Albany city council. She is presently on the National Planning Committee of the International Women’s Strike USA, which is bringing a much-needed radicalism to this year’s International Women’s Day in the US.

My second guest is Joanna Grzymala-Moszczynska. Joanna is completing her PhD in psychology in Krakow and is a leading member of Razem, the new left-wing party in Poland that narrowly missed out on parliamentary representation in the 2015 elections that brought the reactionary PiS (or Law and Justice) party to power. She was among the organizers of last October’s women’s strike in Poland that brought a reinvigorated women’s movement out onto the streets and stopped a tightening of Poland’s already-barbaric anti-abortion law.

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Don’t mourn, organize! Sarah Jaffe on organizing before and after Trump

You could almost hear the whole world hold its breath as the night of November 8th dragged on and Donald Trump’s march towards the presidency became clearer. While it may be trite, Joe Hill’s famous dictum “Don’t mourn; organize!” rings true today. My guest, journalist and author Sarah Jaffe, is very well placed to help us start thinking about how to do this in the age of Trump.

Her book Necessary Trouble, released just a few months ago, catalogues in great journalistic detail the post-crisis rise of oppositional movements in the US from Occupy Wall Street to the Fight for 15 to Black Lives Matter. The necessary trouble she writes about just took on a new urgency. Sarah gives her account of the present and possible future for nascent left movements and organizations in the US.

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When the left takes the city

This week, the focus is on experience of left parties and organizations at the municipal level. Although the left has still exercised only limited political power in many places since the financial crisis, some cities have seen left projects come to power or build new institutions in interesting ways. My two guests shed light on two examples of municipal socialism in Europe and North America.

First, Yusef Quadura describes the experience of Barcelona en Comu. In 2015, this new left coalition took control of the municipal government in Barcelona. Led by the housing activist Ada Colau, the party did what Podemos couldn’t do nationally and garnered enough support to govern with the intention of implementing a left program, at least at the municipal level. To get a sense of the plans, accomplishments and challenges faced by Barcelona en Comu just over a year into its mandate, I spoke with Yusef, a member Barcelona en Comu’s international group. Yusuf is also part of the party’s co-ordinating committee in the Gracia district, where we met and talked over coffee (excuse the ambient noise), and a substitute counsellor for the Gracia district council.

My second guest is Kali Akuno, a leader within Cooperation Jackson, a municipal organization far beyond just a political party in Jackson, Mississippi. Although the group elected the radical Chokwe Lumumba as mayor of Jackson in 2014 (before he died tragically only a year into his term), electoral politics is only a small, supporting part of Cooperation Jackson’s mission. Kali describes what this network of worker-run cooperatives, party and movement congealed into one is up to and some of challenges it faces.

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Beltway Bullshit, my interview with JW Mason on Bernie’s economics

My interview with JW Mason on how wonk critics of Sanders’ economic ideas reinforce low expectations was transcribed for Jacobin under the great title, “Beltway Bullshit.”

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Michal Rozworski: There’s been a big debate recently around Bernie Sanders’s economic ideas. It was precipitated by Gerald Friedman’s claim that Sanders’s plans would lead to 5 percent nominal economic growth over a certain period, substantial working- and middle-class income growth, and massive job creation. Pretty quickly, liberal economists like Paul Krugman or former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisors attacked this paper as unrealistic. What is your argument here?

JW Mason: So far, until now I think in the campaign the core questions of macroeconomic policy — whether we can or should want to see a higher level of GDP and employment or faster growth going forward — haven’t really been central on the Democratic side and Jerry’s paper really raised those issues.

Now I don’t think we want to get caught up in the specific strengths or weaknesses of that paper or the plausibility of particular numbers. I think that there are some problems with the paper. If you were to do the same exercise more carefully you would probably come up with lower numbers.

I think it would be foolish to defend the specific estimates that Friedman put out there, but I also don’t think that there is any real need to do so because the fundamental issue, as you say, is not this number or that number. Obviously things evolve under the pressure of events.

Economic forecasting is a very imprecise science in the best case. The question is whether there is good reason to think there is space for a substantially more expansionary policy. Is there good reason to think that a big expansion of public spending could substantially boost GDP and employment?

And I think that there the answers are clearly yes. This paper and the debate that it has sparked has actually been very productive in getting people to engage that question and getting a number of more mainstream Democratic-associated economists to agree that there is actually space for substantial additional expansionary policy.

What does this debate say about the diminished expectations about the economy that we have? Is this what you’re saying that it’s fundamentally about?

That is what it’s about. The position on the other side, the CEA chairs and various other people who’ve been the most vocal critics of these estimates, has been implicitly or explicitly: “This is as good as we can do.” (more…)

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Defending Bernie-nomics and debunking the housing market

This week, I interview two guests on fairly different topics linked by the fact that they both give very effective debunkings of some mainstream economic thinking. First, I speak with JW Mason, economics professor at John Jay College in New York City, about the debate that has erupted around Bernie Sanders’ economic program. JW argues convincingly that the criticism of Sanders from mainstream liberal economists is about managing and keeping a lid on regular people’s expectations for the economy. The critics are effectively saying “this is the best we can do” even when millions are condemnded to poverty and shitty jobs. Be sure to check out his posts (1, 2 and 3), which are among the best on this debate.

Second, I speak with Nathan Tankus, a writer also based in New York City, on why housing is so unaffordable in large cities even amidst massive condo building booms. Nathan goes through the history of his Chelsea neighbourhood in NYC and its long process of gentrification as a way of drawing some conclusions about why the housing market is so screwed up. It turns out this market doesn’t work like the model described in Economics 101 textbooks. For further reading on the topic, Nathan suggests Bob Fitch (especially The Assassination of New York), Doug Henwood and Michael Hudson.

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Will Sanders’ rise be felt in Canada?

Co-written with Derrick O’Keefe and originally published at Ricochet.

Even if he’s really only offering a pragmatic form of social democracy, Sanders has created a political space in the mainstream left that’s sorely missing in Canada. His insurgent campaign for the Democratic Party nomination has put inequality and systemic injustice front and centre in the United States.

Policy proposals aside, merely having the word “socialism” back on the agenda in the United States signals a massive shift. Compare Sanders’ unabashed use of the term to recent NDP history.

Canada’s traditional social democratic party has spent recent years downplaying and scrubbing away the last vestiges of socialism from its public presentation. Under pressure from party leaders and bureaucrats, the NDP removed all but one reference to it from its constitution in 2013. The s-word is now only mentioned in passing in the party preamble.

It’s useful to take a broader view than just the recent botched campaign and the party itself. For years, the NDP’s leadership and top advisors have taken their cues from their counterparts in control of the Democratic Party — an electoral machine that has been effectively captured by a small coterie of the rich and powerful. (more…)

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The challenge of Sanders and Corbyn to the extreme centre

Over the past year, unlikely challengers have emerged to the dominant politics of the center-left in both the US and the UK. Jeremy Corbyn is looking increasingly poised to win the leadership of the UK Labour Party next month. Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, Bernie Sanders keeps rising in the polls, drawing large crowds and making Hillary Clinton’s coronation as Democratic presidential candidate a bit uncertain. Both Sanders and Corbyn are silver-haired, decades-long parliamentarians identified with a marginalized left and would have been at home in pre-1970s social democracy. After years of rightward drift from both Labour and the Democrats towards the “extreme centre”, social democracy is making one more stand. Both Sanders and Corbyn have set their sights on economic inequality and economic stagnation for the majority as defining issues. Sanders, in particular, has also made talked widely about reclaiming the political system from under the influence of big money.

This week’s guests joined me to talk about what the Sanders and Corbyn campaigns: where they’re coming from, what they mean and what we an expect from them. First, I speak with Bhaskar Sunkara about Bernie Sanders and his qualified support for Bernie’s campaign. Bhaskar is the editor of the excellent Jacobin Magazine from the New York, which has quickly become an important venue on the US left. My second guest is James Meadway, an economist and activist from the UK. James recently signed a letter in support of Corbyn and has been following his campaign closely.

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Climate deals and pipeline steals

Today’s episode is focused on the economics and politics of climate change: my two guests look at climate negotiations in light of the recent US-China climate deal and the corporate history and dodgy tax practices of Kinder Morgan, looking to expand its tar sands pipeline into Vancouver.

To get a global perspective on the state of climate negotiations and the recent US-China climate deal, I speak with Leigh Phillips, a science writer and journalist who has written for Nature, the EU Observer and many other publications. His article on the China-US climate deal is here and he also has a book coming out early in 2015 so be on the lookout for that.

My second guest is economist and former head of ICBC Robyn Allan who updates us on oil pipelines here in Canada. She describes the cost-benefit analysis that somehow always comes out in favour of the interests of large oil companies as well as her investigative work into the corporate structure of Kinder Morgan. Kinder Morgan, of course, is looking to greatly expand the existing Transmountain pipeline from the tar sands to Vancouver and its work site on Burnaby Mountain is currently subject to daily protest and civil disobedience.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, following this link.

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Doug Henwood on US economics and politics

 

This week, it’s my great pleasure to present a feature interview with Doug Henwood — economic analyst, author of books including Wall Street and host of the wonderful Behind the News radio show and podcast that inspired this show. Doug always introduces his show by saying his guests will be “taking a look at worlds of economics and politics.” Today, I’ve turned the tables and asked him to take up this very task for the present-day US. The result is a wide-ranging interview on everything from the sluggish economic recovery to Obamacare, the changing character of elites, why Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be president all the way to prospects for a renewed American left.

Remember that you can now subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, just follow this link.

And finally, I’ve started to standardize my segments into roughly 30-minute lengths, so if you’re interested in syndicating the show on local, community or campus radio, get in touch.

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Kshama Sawant talks socialism in Seattle and beyond

Last year, Kshama Sawant shocked the continent by winning a seat on Seattle’s City Council. She defeated an incumbent Democrat to become the first openly socialist city councillor in Seattle in a century. Sawant, an immigrant from India with a background as a software engineer and an economics professor, is a militant socialist activist who played a major role in the 2011 Occupy protests. Not your typical politician to say the least.

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Sawant’s surprise electoral win in Seattle has sparked discussion across North America. Last week, she made her first speaking appearance in Canada, addressing a fundraising event organized by the Coalition of Progressive Electors in Vancouver. I sat down with her before the event for a wide-ranging discussion touching on everything from her background in economics to the minimum wage compromise in Seattle and the role of transitional demands in fighting climate change to the history of sectarianism and building today’s left.

Side note: you can now subscribe to Political Eh-conomy Radio on iTunes. Follow this link.

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