My "big fundamental" is that being _left_ means working for a more egalitarian, democratic society, but also for fairness, not ethnic or other kinds of favoritism. Because the left has turned away from fairness it is lost and unpopular. I'm a small voice hoping to push the left back toward its basics and its natural popularity.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Labor Power vs Property Power, Not Rights

The following is a comment on a free trade and intellectual property rights versus labor rights discussion on TPM Cafe:

No one questions a right to intellectual property, the entire matter is the strength of the right. A United States dominated by its big businesses argues for international rules in their favor, and so for 'excessive' intellectual property rights that will funnel greater profits back to US international corporations. It's just a matter of power and who benefits. This matter of degree is not a fundamental philosophical/theoretical dispute.

Again, I hope no one questions basic rights for labor (let's say, for example, a right not to be a slave, or the right of a child not to work full-time), so the idea of labor rights is not the question. Once again the strength and number of the rights protected is what matters (for the United States, by not importing or by applying a large tariff to goods from places with weak labor rights). Those in favor of expanded benefits and incomes for the working and middle classes in the US argue for restrictions on imports from nations not allowing a certain amount/degree of labor rights. In this way, it is argued, US jobs are protected.

Making this matter an argument over rights avoids the obvious: power over the US political system is what matters. The majority of the population needs to take that away from the wealthy and big business. The left needs to get clear-headed about this: we don't need to argue _against_ any group's rights: we need simply to argue for reshaping domestic rules in favor of those of us here with incomes in the bottom 80%.

I admit that even the photo above is misleading: the central concern for leftist US advocates of import regulation should be the protection of US workers from unfair competition, not the plight of poor child laborers in other countries. Of course, like anybody I'd be very happy if such regulation benefited children overseas. But those side benefits are a strategic loser when engaging the American electorate nowadays, in our selfish right-wing political culture.