Important legal victories for workers against platform corporations remain partial and limited in the absence of legislative and institutional change.
The decision of the UK Supreme Court in the case of Uber v Aslam has caused a great deal of excitement, understandably so. The question before the court was whether Yaseen Aslam and others, for some time drivers with Uber, had been self-employed or, alternatively, ‘workers’ with statutory rights to a minimum wage and paid holidays. (…)
Whatever else you may think about Angela Merkel, one thing you must allow her: she knows a hot potato when she sees one, and she can pass it on to someone else in no time. In the summer of 2020, Germany having just taken over the presidency of the EU27, it appeared that by the end of the year there might be a vaccine or two, to end the lockdowns once and for all. To Merkel this must have smelled like an approaching pack of rats: delays in research, delays in production, extortionist prices, conflicts over national shares and distribution – and above all the nightmare of nightmares: Germany, rich from monetary union, getting the vaccine first and vaccinating its citizens faster than the others, thereby undermining the ‘ever closer union among the peoples of Europe’. What to do? Move it to Brussels, and fast. (…)
Nunca se sabe con seguridad quién hace qué y por qué en Bruselas y en torno a Bruselas, el sociotipo político más impenetrable desde la desaparición de la Unión Soviética.
Con independencia de lo que podamos pensar de Angela Merkel, hay una cosa que debemos concederle: identifica una patata caliente nada más verla y es capaz de pasársela a un tercero en un abrir y cerrar de ojos. En el verano de 2020, apenas habiendo asumido Alemania la presidencia de la UE27, pareció que a finales de año podría haber una o dos vacunas disponibles, lo cual permitiría poner punto final a los confinamientos de una vez por todas. (…)
Interview by Noémi Lehoczki, LeftEast, February 11, 2021.
NL: For many Hungarians Germany is a socioeconomic and political model to aspire to. In the current structure of the European Union, however, could the German model even be transposed into the context of the European periphery?
WS: Generally speaking, one should be highly suspicious of the idea that national systems can be transplanted to other countries. Each country has to find its own way to peace and prosperity. This applies in particular in the present case. Germany, highly industrialized and export-dependent, can be and is the growth and prosperity pole of the EU because its currency, the euro, is heavily undervalued, due to it being not just the German currency but also that of the entire Eurozone. While Germany has a huge export surplus, the Eurozone as a whole has an even trade balance. This is an ideal situation for a national economy whose prosperity depends on exports and therefore on a favorable exchange rate. Consider also that the European monetary union makes the markets of the other member countries effectively captive to the German economy: however high the German export surplus with, say, Italy may be, Italy cannot devalue against the German currency as it is also the Italian currency, foreclosing this path towards improving the competitiveness of Italian economy and its firms. (…)
In: New Left Review 123, May-June 2020, pp. 75-88.
Friedrich Engels famously spent his working life in the shadow of Karl Marx, a position he now occupies for posterity, and one in which he willingly placed himself. Born in 1820 in the Rhineland town of Barmen, he left school a year before his Abitur on the say-so of his father and, as the eldest son, entered the family business. An autodidact, then, his encounter with Marx left him profoundly impressed by the systematic-philosophical brilliance of the young Hegelian, whom he hailed as a world thinker. By comparison, he himself was no more than, perhaps, a talent. Among the German philosophizing classes of the time, the type of speculative thinking at which Marx excelled was considered the highest form of scientific endeavour; Engels, who shared this outlook, may have seen his own contribution, grounded in positivism, as pedestrian by comparison. In the collaboration with Marx, he understood his role to be that of editor, reader, publisher, translator, publicist and hence also popularizer of Marxian (not Marxist-Engelsian) theory, making it comprehensible to the socialist movement for which it was intended. That the act of translation resulted at times in simplifications and reductive formulations was not only unavoidable but desirable, though the price to be paid for it was the still-lingering suspicion that Engels was incapable of greater complexity. […]
Friedrich Engels ha sempre vissuto nell’ombra di Karl Marx. Oggi, nel bicentenario della sua nascita, vale la pena riscoprire l’originalità di un pensiero che alla concezione materialistica della storia ha dato un contributo determinante sottolineando come i mezzi di distruzione esistano accanto ai mezzi di produzione e mettendo l’accento sulla formazione dello Stato, che si inquadra e si sovrappone a quella della classe. Ripercorriamo qui gli approfonditi e rigorosi studi sulla guerra e la tecnologia di colui che può essere definito come uno dei primi sociologi empirici.
Abstract: This paper considers the interaction of legal norms and social norms in the regulation of work and working relations, observing that, with the contraction of collective bargaining, this is a matter that no longer attracts the attention that it deserves. Drawing upon two concepts from sociology – Max Weber’s ‘labour constitution’ and Seymour Martin Lipset’s ‘occupational community’ – it focuses on possibilities for the emergence, within groups of workers, of shared normative beliefs concerning ‘industrial justice’ (Selznick); for collective solidarity and agency; for the transformation of shared beliefs into legally binding norms; and for the enforcement of those norms. If labour law is currently in ‘crisis’, then a promising route out of the crisis, we argue, is for the law to recover its procedural focus, facilitating and encouraging these processes.
Wolfgang Streeck and Ruth Dukes. MPIfG Discussion Paper 20/13, Köln: Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung, 2020.
Abstract: This paper revisits the notions of contract and status found in classical sociology, legal theory, and labour law. Adopting an historical perspective, it explores the fragmentation of the status of industrial citizenship during the neoliberal period and discusses the enduring usefulness of the status/contract distinction in analyzing current trends in the regulation of working relations, including the spread of “gig” or platform-mediated work. Elements of status, it is argued, must always be present if work is to be performed and paid for as the parties require it. Claims to the contrary – for example, that the gig economy creates a labour market without search frictions and only minimal transaction costs: contracts without status – assume an undersocialized model of (monadic) social action that has no basis in the reality of social life (Durkheim, Weber). Still, status may come in a variety of forms that are more or less desirable from the perspective of workers, businesses, and society at large. The paper traces what it conceives as the privatization of status via contracts between employers and workers under the pressure of marketization and dominated by corporate hierarchies. Towards the end of the twentieth century, sociologists observed the division of workers into two groups or classes – core (with relatively well-paid and secure employment) and peripheral (low-paid and insecure). Thirty years later, gross inequalities of wealth and conceptions of the neoliberal self as ever-improving, everperfectible, are combining to create novel forms of status not fully anticipated by the literature.
We are joined by leading German public intellectual Wolfgang Streeck to discuss the role of Germany at the end of the End of History. How is it and the EU faring under the assault of Covid-19? We cover Germany’s economic miracles – postwar and post-2008 -, Merkel’s tactical brilliance and strategic ignorance, and how France retains more of a sense of history. (…)
In: Chu, Yun-han and Yongnian Zheng, eds., The Decline of the Western-Centric World and the Emerging New Global Order: Contending Views. Routledge 2020, 37-57.
More than a quarter century after the end of the Cold War, the international state system is in turmoil, both within and between states. The fundamental cause of the growing disorder is the rapid progress of capitalist “globalization”, outpacing the capacity of national societies and international organizations to build effective institutions of political-economic governance. Increasing debt, rising inequality and unstable growth, especially but not exclusively in capitalism’s core countries, indicate a general crisis of governability. As states have become embedded in markets, rather than the other way around, they are governed more by politically unaccountable “market forces” than by their citizens and governments. Global markets and corporations, on their part, are governed only weekly if at all by improvised and often non-governmental institutions of so-called “global governance”. New problems – political conflicts over interests, values and identities, as well as technocratic puzzles and dilemmas, in national and international politics – are appearing almost by the day. Systemic disarray gives rise to a widespread sense of uncertainty. What may be in store for the capitalist world is a period of extreme unpredictability in which structures that had been taken for granted are dissolving without new structures taking their place. (…)