From October 5th-7th, over 3,000 scholars, activists, union representatives, and leaders from progressive private and public sector organizations, representing 85 countries, attended the Global Forum on Democratizing Work—a worldwide virtual conference sponsored by the Economic Democracy Initiative (EDI) at Bard College, a project of the Open Society University Network (OSUN).
Bard College Economics Professor and NJFAC Board member Pavlina R. Tcherneva directs OSUN’s collaborative program focusing on economic democracy and basic economic rights as preconditions for economic stability, security, and opportunity in a global economy that works for all. The Urgency of Democratizing, Decommodifying, and Decarbonizing Work is the focus of this Global Forum.
Democratizing, Decommodifying, and Decarbonizing Work
This first-ever forum to focus on democratizing work took place one year after EDI’s Democratizing Work op-ed turned manifesto was published in over 40 newspapers, in 27 languages, and 36 countries. According to the EDI Manifesto, the central lesson of the COVID crisis is that working people are much more than resources destined to feed rapacious markets:
Human health and the care of the most vulnerable cannot be governed by
market forces alone. If we leave these things solely to the market, we run the risk of exacerbating inequalities to the point of forfeiting the very lives of the least advantaged. How to avoid this unacceptable situation?
The Global Forum provided the answer: by democratizing, decommodifying and decarbonizing work—by involving employees in workplace decision-making, by guaranteeing useful employment to all, and by marshaling our collective strength and efforts to preserve life on the planet.
The Global Forum, organized by eight prominent women scholars, featured such leading economists, as: Jayati Ghosh, Thomas Piketty, Dani Rodrick, Jean Dréze, and OSUN EDI’s Director Pavlina R. Tcherneva.
Proposals for a Job Guarantee were a central theme throughout all three days of the event.
“I think there’s a great opportunity now. Because judging from the discussions in this Forum there’s an enormous interest now in employment guarantees across the world that didn’t exist ten years — maybe even five years — ago, except in specialized circles. So I think that there is an opportunity now.”
— Jean Dréze, Economist and Social Activist
“Tying the security of a Job Guarantee to the action that leads to hope amongst young people in tackling the climate and biodiversity crisis: we know this is excellent policy.” — Cassy O’Connor MP, Australia
The Global Forum featured a conversation between Pavlina Tcherneva and Thomas Piketty, Professor of Economics at the University of Paris. Piketty, who, according to Tcherneva, “perhaps single-handedly changed the global conversation on inequality,” considers the Job Guarantee “one of the key steps in reducing inequality.” Listen to the full interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKeNUZ37qmk
NJFAN Panel at The Global Forum on the Democratization of Work: What Is Full Employment and Why Does It Matter?
On the third day of the Global Forum, Philip Harvey, Professor of Law and Economics, Rutgers Law and Board Member of NJFAN, summarized his paper, “What Is Full Employment — and Why the Definition Matters.”
According to Professor Harvey, an unemployment rate of 3.5% or 4%–the definition of “full employment” proposed in recent years by a growing number of progressive economists–constitutes a rejection of the conventionally understood meaning of full employment. Such a definition, he contends, is also at odds with the right to remunerative work promoted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt; the authoritatively recognized aspirational human right under international law; and the legal obligation under both international and domestic U.S. law. The definition of full employment that coincides with these conventional and legal conceptions of full employment is not a rate of unemployment but rather a guarantee of a job for everyone who wants to work.
Panelists, Professor Trudy Goldberg, NJFAN Chair; Logan Martinez, NJFAN’s Outreach Coordinator; Historian Professor Frank Stricker; and Social Welfare Professor Stephen Monroe Tomczak discussed the definition of full employment or Jobs for All that guides our organization’s advocacy and our Network’s rejection of a rate of unemployment as a definition of full employment or a Job Guarantee. For this international audience, the NJFAN panel also provided a brief overview of NJFAN’s program and goals (Article in this Newsletter)
Panelists emphasized that NJFAN’s signature, monthly “Full Count” of Unemployment demonstrates the wide disparity between 3.5% unemployment—and full employment. For example, in December 2019, before the Pandemic hit, the US unemployment rate was 3.5%, an unusually low rate. At 3.5% unemployment, there were 5.8 million Americans deemed officially unemployed by the US Department of Labor—in itself a very large number of people. Further, 8.9 million more persons were either employed part-time but wanted full-time work or were jobless but not officially looking because they were discouraged, lacked child care, transportation—in total, 14.7 million people. In short, 3.5% unemployment is very far from “full employment.”
Each month, when the US Department of Labor announces the nation’s unemployment rate, NJFAN counters with the “Full Count,” and Professor Stricker highlights aspects of the full count and then adds a short essay on job topics in the news. Archived and available on the NJFAN website (www.njfac.org) are each monthly “Full Count” since 2009.
Panelists pointed out that NJFAN, in addition to its Full Count, has an expanded conception of full employment, one that emphasizes living-wage work. The most recent estimate available in December 2019 was that 17.1 million year-round, full-time workers earned less than the four-person U.S. poverty standard, one that is low compared to poverty standards for other wealthy democratic nations.
To this international audience the NJFAN panel presented a brief history of our Network, emphasizing its commitment to the definition of full employment illuminated by Professor Harvey, one consonant with both aspirational international law and common perceptions.
In accord with the Global Forum’s theme of democratization and decommodification of work, the NJFAN panel concluded with the following statement by progressive economists who advocated full employment in the 1940s:
Our experience with periods of labor shortage indicates that its first effect is greatly to increase the bargaining power of labor, both individually and collectively. This results in steady improvement of wages and working conditions, which means that employers must seek to make employment attractive, since the workers are no longer motivated by the fear of losing their jobs. A shift of workers from the less pleasant and remunerative occupations occurs, so that standards are raised at the lower levels. The status of labor will improve, since employers can no longer rely upon the discipline of discharge to enforce authority. The tendency will be for labor to have some participation in industrial and economic policy.
—H. Eulau, M. Ezekiel, A. Hansen, A.H.Loeb, Jr., & R. Soule. (1945), The road to freedom: Full employment. New Republic, Special Section, September 24, 395-415.
Thanks to EDI Research Associate for facilitating NJFAN’s participation in the Forum. Videos from Global Forum will be available soon at https://democratizingwork.org/global-forum