Evictions and the (Re) Occupy Movement

15 November 2011

Police are forcibly evicting protestors from numerous Occupy Movement protest encampments throughout North America.

This morning, here in Toronto, police delivered an eviction notice to protestors encamped in a downtown park that will become effective at midnight. Before heading out to join the thousands of people who will fill the streets tonight to support the smaller core group of protestors who have been living 24/7 in St. James Park, I want to share a few reflections on the Occupy Movement.

“Why don’t the protestors get a job?” That’s a comment I hear repeatedly from opponents of the Occupy Movement.

Well let’s look at the facts. First many protestors do work, but for those who cannot find work, there are fewer jobs than ever.

Historically, when a recession has ended and GDP has returned to its prerecession peak, there has always been a time lag before employment also returns to its prerecession level.

Following the seven recessions that occurred from 1948 to 1981, the time lag between the return to prerecession GDP levels and prerecession employment levels averaged 6 months. It never took more than 8 months for employment to recover and in 1973 employment returned to its prerecession level only 3 months after GDP had recovered.

This gap between GDP recovery and employment recovery drastically widened during the next three recessions. In 1990, the recovery gap was 15 months, in 2001, it was 39 months.

These statistics were not invented by a “leftie” organisation. They were published in June by a pro-business research publication McKinsey Quarterly.

Employment still has not recovered since the 2008 recession. The authors of the McKinsey Quarterly report expect the current recovery gap will not close until 60 months after the GDP recovery. So, based on the 2008 recession and subsequent recovery we could have expected employment would not return to prerecession levels for several years yet. But, unemployment levels were already too high before the recession.

Worse yet, it is becoming more clear by the day that we are now in a double-dip recession heading for a depression. So things look far more bleak for those seeking employment than it was when McKinsey published its dire outlook for employment earlier this year.

Here in Canada, 72,000 full-time jobs were lost in the last month alone.

Revealing the recovery gap of the last three recessions not only illustrates that many people are without jobs, it also shows that during the period of this gap those at the top gain wealth and power while those at the bottom lose.

“Why don’t the unions mind their own business and stay out of the Occupy Movement?” Yet another comment I hear often from opponents of the movement.

Well let’s look at the facts again. During the same period, since 1980, when we see the recovery gap lengthen, we also see workers’ wages and compensation flatten, even though their productivity continues to increase.

From 1947 to 1979, US productivity rose by 119 percent. This increase was almost matched by a rise in average total hourly compensation of 100 percent, which included wage raises of 72 percent.

During that time, all lower classes gained at a greater rate than the top 20 percent.

However, from 1980 to now, while productivity rose 80 percent, total compensation increased by only 8 percent, which includes wage increases of 7 percent.

At the same time, the bottom 20 percent, who earn $26,934 or less, have lost 4 percent of their share of compensation. The second lowest 20 percent, who earn between $26,935 to $47,914, have gained by only 7 percent. Meanwhile, the top 20 percent, who earn $112,541 or more, received gains of 55 percent, since 1980.

Americans have not seen such a level of inequity since before the Great Depression. The level of inequity is no different here in Canada, but our more comprehensive social welfare system does mitigate the worst symptoms of inequity, which are so visible in the US.

In the 1920s, the top one percent accumulated 23.9 percent of the national wealth in the US. Thanks to the activism of the workers who achieved the redistributive policies of the post-war social contract, the share of the top one percent had dropped to 8.9 percent by 1979.  Since neoliberal governments began reversing these redistributive policies in the 1980s, the share of the top one percent has again climbed back to 23.5 percent.

The average annual income for a member of the one percent is $713,000.

Once again these statistical findings were not invented by a “leftie” organisation. They are the results of research by former US Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich published in the New York Times on 3 September 2011.

http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/09/04/opinion/04reich-graphic.html?ref=sunday

Playing an active role in shaping the macro-economy really is the business of unions.

Union leaders can no longer focus exclusively on the day-to-day needs of their individual members. Their concessionary bargaining of the past decades is now proven to be a losing strategy.

We can see the losses of labour in the huge growing gap as productivity and profits rise, but the compensation and wages for workers remain stagnant.

All workers – the more fortunate ones who have organised unions as well as the many more who remain unorganised – are losing their fair share of productivity gains, while the one percent profit.

“Why don’t the protestors have a unified demand that fits into a sound-bite?” Because real life is not that simple.

The growing gap between the one percent and the rest is only the tip of the iceberg of current problems. The Occupy Movement protestors confront a diverse range of economic, social, and environmental problems at domestic and global scales.

Furthermore, there is little consensus about how to fix the problems.

Some nostalgically seek a return to the postwar Keynesian system that in some aspects was a kinder-gentler form of capitalism until 1979. Many blame the implementation of regressive neoliberal economic policies, since the 1980s, as the primary reason for the current crisis.

However, that popular analysis fails to address the material economic failures that had doomed the Keynesian system to failure by the end of the 1970s.

It does not address the problems of an authoritarian system of labour relations where democracy stops at the workplace door and workers continue to be exploited for profit.

It does not address the problems of an imperialistic system of international relations where powerful owners of the means of production in the global north offshore the real costs of accumulating their wealth and power so the greatest costs are born by billions of people in other countries who are hyper-exploited for their cheap labour and unprotected resources.

It does not address the problems of an imperialistic system of domestic relations where powerful owners of the means of production in the urban economic centres offload  the real costs of accumulating their wealth and power  onto the poorest people of society, particularly the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island.

It does not address the environmental problems created by a capitalist economic system where wealth and power, regardless of how inequitably or equitably it might be divided between labour and capital, is built upon ecologically unsustainable exponential growth.

These are complex problems that require radical transformation of the current capitalist system into an economic system that serves the real needs of all people, not just shareholders lusting for profit.

If there is an overarching demand that unifies Occupy Movement protestors, it is the demand for free discussion of these issues in public spaces.

The protestors have certainly made a few more people think about and discuss the primary problems of our time. We can’t let that be suppressed.

© Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Skinner and Michael Skinner Research with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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