Some American presidents become famous due to specific economic policies they managed to formulate, get approved and implemented them. Reaganomics, of previous U.S. president Ronald Reagan, was coined in connection with an open market doctrine, favouring monetary policy instead of fiscal stimuli. Bidenomics, of incumbent president Joe Biden, is characterised by his “produce in America”, Inflation Reduction Act, and fiscal stimulus provided for green and social investments.
Whereas Reagon sat more with bankers and central bankers, Biden is keen to stand with unionised workers even on the picket line. Investments that favour good jobs, jobs that apply pay scales agreed upon through collective bargaining are part of the Bidenomics that seems to work to raise the wages of the middle-class people. In the medium-term there might even be effects to lift the lower wages in other sectors of the economy as well. However, this is the tricky part of the equation to support the middle-classes and somehow the median voter.
American elections are won in so-called swing states that have voted democrats or republicans by narrow margins. Many of these states are in the “Rust-belt” states that have or had a strong manufacturing base. Bidenomics works hard to make the economy work for those people in these states, who have felt threatened by declassification, job loss and undercutting of wages due to migration. Substantial wage gains from $32/h to $40/h over 4 years is a landmark achievement in the U.S (see New York Times below). Non-unionised firms like Tesla, Hyundai or BMW and Mercedes in the U.S. will be isolated if they do not follow General Motors, Ford and Stellantis in the coming months or years.
It is not just about cars and trucks and wages, but about the chances of Biden and the Democrats to stem the renewed populist tide in the U.S. German car makers appear to be in the camp with the Tesla X-Man avoiding to negotiate with trade unions in the U.S. If Biden stays on as president after the next election, Bidenomics will gain further support and production of batteries and cars will be favoured locally with good paying, unionised jobs. Despite the high interest rates currently it is astonishing to many economist that the U.S. has not fallen into recession like for example Germany in at least 2 quarters of 2023. (Image: extract of Ney York Times 2023-11-2)

Work Subordination

One of the defining principles besides the job description, working time, working place, remuneration of a work contract is the subordination to a superior. The employment contract entails some more or less strictly executed form of direction, but a right of direction nevertheless. This element of subordination has become a major issue in the definition of whether you are effectively an employee or a self-employed person. The digital revolution had enlarged the kinds of subordination. Platforms and algorithms, that distribute work among several employees (but named platform workers) disguised the subordination to a superior level of management to the platform and its seemingly anonymous algorithm. Many young riders were saying, I don’t like bosses, but I am willing to accept a “technical” platform that distributes work tasks only seemingly in a non-discriminatory way. Due to a failure of labour legislation to regulate early enough a thriving model of fake self-employment developed throughout Europe and beyond. Labour Courts have contributed a lot to correct the disguised subordination. Even Uber is advertising that they only operate as a broker of tasks, but have no subordinated employees. The related issue of subordination remains largely the same. Subordination to an algorithm of the distribution of tasks is the end result.
Many start-up enterprises use Kanban boards to facilitate project and team management. Shifting tasks between employees, introducing new tasks and self-selection of tasks are potentially subordination-free allocation of tasks (example software). Flat hierarchies seem more manageable through the use of such tools. The number of tools that integrate other office functions is impressive. When testing such tools, that become more popular also in the distribution of household tasks, beware of the data-hungry nature of such tools. For example, warns correctly in the small print that for its full functionality it would need to have permission to use “your” camera, microphone, contacts, photo library, calendar etc.
This demonstrates that subordination, nowadays, is complemented by the algorithmic use of a lot of privacy, we would never have agreed to a boss in person should even ask for. The new and old subordinators have powerful tools at hand, the subordinated will have to get their act together and limit the amount of subordination they are willing to accept.
Again, this is a generational topic. The low threshold to accept technical subordination in younger generations, your autonomous level-5 car is breaking earlier than you even perceive a risk, is confronted with the higher threshold to accept personal subordination for youth. Interestingly, for older generations the obverse is true. All in all, we have ample reason to rethink and re-define also in legal terms the manifold, disguised and new forms of subordination related to work.

Work Remote

Since the COVID-19 crisis we witness a steep increase in the interest to working from home or from remote places. Originally during the pandemic spread of the virus, remote work was the only way to stay in contact with employers and fellow employees for all those not considered as essential workers. Many employees and employers, for the first, experienced that working remotely can have multiple positive effects. First of all, saving time and stress as well as CO2 reduction due to less commuting is beneficial not only for individual employees, but also for society at large. These benefits are substantial.
In my opinion the most substantial consequence is the rethinking of several fundamentals related to work that have gone unquestioned for decades or even centuries, which is: Work happened predominantly at the work place. Digitalisation had changed this partially already, but the willingness to implement far reaching reforms related to work for millions of employees remained rather limited before the Covid-19 pandemic. Nobody had to go on strike to force employers to accept remote work. Suddenly employers, in some instances, were begging employees to please do your work from home or anywhere else. Now we are in the historically rather unique situation that both employers as well as employees try to reap the benefits of the unexpected revolution of remote work potentials including new digital tools to organise remote work (example “scoopforwork”). Employers found out they can do with much less office space than they previously thought they would need to accommodate all employees. Employees found out that saving on commuting time saves energy and frees time resources for other, potentially more healthy ways of life. A new balance of work and private life could be arranged at home. So much for the theoretical expectations.
In practice many women realised that they suddenly found themselves thrown back into working at home and in the home all the time again, with men still less willing to share household work equally. Unsuitable work spaces at home, arranged rather ad hoc, became a health and safety issue usually considered to be part of the employers’ responsibilities.
The results of the real-life experiment of forced remote work are still under scrutiny. To turn them into beneficial arrangements of voluntary remote work which is empowering, emancipating, increasing degrees of freedom for employees would be a huge step ahead. The full spectrum of negotiations is involved. Legislation, collective agreements and 1-on-1 solutions are needed to reap the benefits on all levels. Comparable to the industrial revolution during the 19th century, drawing millions of workers into factories and coal mines, we are at the beginning of a new era of digital and remote work that governs solar and wind farms for energy provision as well as 3D printing of industrial components.
It seems that we shift from the blue collar to the white collar to the no collar world of work. Working remotely in my t-shirt under the cherry tree is not the worst of a revolution (guard against cherry picking by employers and new layers of inequality). It might take a generation or two to accomplish this. With threatening, pervasive climate change we probably have to make it happen sooner rather than later.

Frau, Leben, Freiheit

Seit der brutalen Tötung einer Frau im Iran gehen viele Iranerinnen und Iraner auf die Straße. Als Zeichen ihres Protests rufen sie: Frau, Leben, Freiheit! Das ist und bleibt eine kurze Zusammenfassung für die Forderungen der Frauen, die trotz massiver Unterdrückung unablässig demonstrieren. Viele Hinrichtungen und Misshandlungen von Frauen werden wir weiter anprangern und fordern den internationalen Druck auf das Regime im Iran zu erhöhen. Wir dürfen nicht wegschauen, sondern werden weiterhin die Öffentlichkeit wachhalten. Diese aktiv für Menschenrechte eintretende Stellungnahme wurde von Yasmin Fahimi (DGB-Vorsitzende) eindrücklich auf dem EGB-Kongress vorgetragen. Mit überwältigender Mehrheit wurde diese Resolution vom Kongress befürwortet. Die italienischen Gewerkschaften stimmten gleich ein in den Ruf: Donna, Vita, Liberta!
Bravi! So rufen viele sonst eher in den Opernsälen. Hier passt es zu der Stimmung auf dem EGB-Kongress. Mit großer Einigkeit und ausgeprägter Solidarität wurde eindrücklich Stärke bewiesen, die auch über Europa hinweg Strahlkraft besitzt. Bravi! Kurzvideo EGB-Iran-Resolution Yasmin Fahimi  und italienischer Support. EGB-Iran-Akklamation-IT.

Democracy is key

The ETUC congress in Berlin 2023 prepares the working agenda for the next 4 years. A lot of support across political parties is voiced in favour of the important role the ETUC plays in coordinating the European Trade Union Movement. The democratic forum of all delegates works before and during the congress on a comprehensive list of essentials for the movement. It is much more than about wages, as most people might believe. Of course, minimum wages and fair wages are always high on the agenda. The strength of the 2023 Berlin congress for me consists in the widespread and loud call to intensify democratic structures and broaden participation of workers at all levels. The power of the unions to fight for democracy is dearly needed in all European nations with the threat from far-right populist movements. Strengthening workers is the best way to foster democracy. Throughout the congress several support facilities have been mentioned like the SURE instrument as a step into a European labour market policy.
Public services have also enjoyed more popular support, since essential services were the jobs that kept our countries running during the COVID crisis.
A just transition to a green economy in a democratic spirit means taking everybody with us on this journey. Fighting poverty, inequality is still high on the agenda and most people are convinced that democratic societies are highly sensitive to injustices caused by education systems, remuneration systems, retirement systems and tax systems. Even industrial policy, to guarantee our independence and values, is also linked to essential workers cooperation.
Weak social policies erode the trust in our societies to handle crises. The engagement of trade unions is felt far beyond Europe. Gilbert F Houngbo (ILO), hopes that due diligence is rapidly implemented in Europe, because it will benefit workers well beyond Europe across the world.
Union leaders were arrested in Belarus and in many other countries where they stand for democratic values. Trade Unionist from Europe have shown their own commitment to fight for democracy and mobilize to convince more people and youth to join the movement. “Donner l’envie de s’engager …” (LeMonde 26-5-2023 p.28) “Raise the urge to get involved” – that is the democratic challenge.