United Auto Workers Outsmarted the Bosses, Amid Widespread Popular Support

As my American readers are no doubt aware, the “big three” auto companies have been refusing to negotiate with United Auto Workers (UAW) in good faith, and so UAW declared a strike. The important backstory here is that until the 2008 crash, auto workers were guaranteed an annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their pay. This was a hard-won victory, and it meant that the workers could expect a consistent standard of living for their work, despite inflation. In 2008, the big auto companies were in danger of going out of business, and so in addition to the government bailout, the workers agreed to a temporary suspension of their COLA – making a sacrifice for the good of everyone. Since then, the auto companies have refused to restore the adjustment, and have created a new “employment track” in which new workers will never get the same benefits or pensions as older workers. All this, despite making record profits, and spending billions on stock buy-backs, which are basically direct transfers of cash to shareholders. The 40% raise that the UAW is asking for (and that the CEOs are saying is so unreasonable) would move workers’ wages to where they would have been had COLA been in place since 2008. The money is absolutely there, and anyone claiming this would bankrupt the companies is lying.

And so, the union decided to strike, and they have made a couple brilliant tactical moves.

The first, which I initially didn’t understand, was to only strike at some factories, at first. I think when I first heard about this, it was framed as being a bit feeble, when the goal is to force auto makers to realize how much they need their workers to choose to work for them. The reality is that this was a strategic move to conserve resources. As I’ve said before, a strike is a siege. It’s the workers trying to “starve out” the bosses, by hurting production and thus profit, while the bosses try to literally starve out the workers, and force them to give up their demands to avoid homelessness and starvation. In any siege, it’s a question of who can make their resources last longer, and strike funds exist to help workers pay their bills while on strike. Only striking at select factories allows them to extend their strike fund, and gives them room to increase the pressure as time goes on.

The second move – and I love this one – was to mislead the companies as to which locations would be striking. The UAW didn’t say which plants would be striking, and the companies tried to guess, and to preemptively shut down those plants by having their parts shipped elsewhere, and shifting the production schedule. Basically, they tried to dodge the strike. What happened instead, was that they inadvertently shut down several of their own plants, because the workers know more about car production than the bosses. Not only did the UAW extend their strike fund, they managed to trick the companies into effectively striking against themselves:

Brandon Mancilla, a director for the UAW’s Region 9A, which spans New England and the Northeast, told The Intercept that the auto manufacturers are creating more problems for themselves than they would have faced had they come to an agreement with the union before the contracts for its 150,000 workers expired last week. “Instead of bargaining in good faith and understanding our demands and meeting us at the table,” Mancilla said, “these companies are conducting strikes on themselves.”

The UAW did not announce the plants where it intended to hold work stoppages until just before the strike deadline last Thursday night. The targeted facilities — GM’s Wentzville Assembly Center outside St. Louis, Stellantis’s Toledo Assembly Complex in Ohio, and two divisions of Ford’s Michigan plant — were not among those that workers reported companies making preparations at. So far, some 13,000 workers are on the picket line, affecting the production of classic American cars like the Jeep Wrangler and the Ford Bronco, with more to follow if the union’s contract negotiations are not concluded by week’s end.

In the run up to the strike, UAW members at auto plants from Georgia to Tennessee to Ohio took to Facebook and Twitter to share accounts of partial plant closures and faulty information from plant managers leading to chaos on shop floors across the country.

Scott Houldieson, a worker at the Ford assembly plant in Chicago, told The Intercept that company bosses seemed to have no idea where planned strikes were going to take place. “Our local plant management started emptying out vehicles from paint ovens and dip tanks. If they leave cars in there, they get ruined so they start emptying those out and preparing to shut the ovens down. So that’s what was happening here because they thought that our plant was going to be one that was called out,” Houldieson said. “The plant chairman was telling me that ours was the one they were going to strike.”

Houldieson said that other automakers had transferred parts from plants elsewhere in the country, including one in Tennessee. “At GM in Spring Hill, they loaded engines to send to Wentzville because they thought Spring Hill would be the target. Turns out Wentzville was where they struck, so there was a lot of disinformation out there that really put the company on their heels,” he added.

In other words, the company had moved product from a plant that was not striking and to one that did. (The GM spokesperson said that “there’s been no work interruption at Spring Hill as a result of the Wentzville strike.”)

Stellantis admitted that it was caught off guard and took preparations at plants that were not ultimately affected by the strike actions.

There are a number of ways in which the class war can be seen as a literal war. It’s also a very one-sided war. I’ve talked before about how lives are taken to further the interests of the capitalist class, but it doesn’t go the other way. The working class are the only ones whose lives are at risk, almost entirely because workers are allowed to keep so little of the wealth they generate. That means that every move that extends limited resources is a very real victory. Everything I hear from UAW president Shawn Fain indicates that he has a similar view on the nature of this conflict, and so he’s going to use any trick or stratagem that will bring the union closer to victory.

For all my talk of “the class war”, I want to be clear that this strike is not a revolution. The UAW is not trying to take over ownership and management of auto companies, nor do they have the power to do so. It is, however, an important moment in the current labor movement. Support for unions and strikes is incredibly high right now, and if the UAW, and SAG-AFTRA, and the WGA manage to win their strikes, it will be proof of the effectiveness and usefulness of organizing. It will be proof that putting time, money, and effort into unions, is a worthwhile investment.

Throughout my childhood and young adulthood, while I always knew pro-union people, and grew up listening to old labor songs, I also was aware of a general hatred of unions, both among conservatives, and in mass media. They were portrayed as corrupt, and largely ineffective – a burden on workers and bosses alike. I think it’s fair to say that every institution has the potential for corruption, and it should be obvious that the corporations tend to be entirely corrupt, pretty much by design. That’s also why I think the “time and effort” part of investing in unions is important. From what I can tell, democracy is something that requires constant maintenance and improvement, especially in the presence of massive wealth inequality. Unions are not, and never will be perfect – no institution or system can be – but how good they are seems to be far more under workers’ control than are the companies for which they work.

The current support for unions and for these three big strikes is something of a victory all by itself, and I’m hopeful that winning these strikes will solidify that support, and show Americans the good that can come from collective action. Political participation in the US tends to be pretty low. There are a number of reasons for that, but I think one big one is the belief that there’s not really any point in participating. It’s just a waste of limited free time, all to elect someone who’s just going to keep serving the rich. I think when people say that politics don’t matter, it’s less that they don’t think the things done by politicians matter, and more that they don’t believe anything they do can actually affect what the government does. It’s a very understandable reaction to the world as it has been throughout my life.

Obviously, I also think that it’s a misguided reaction. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. My big hope from these strikes, in addition to the ways in which they stand to make life better for millions of people, is that they will convince more people that the problem isn’t with political participation. It’s with the kinds of participation that were offered to them as the only options. There are other ways to fight for change that have nothing to do with elections and political parties, and that are much harder for the rich and powerful to corrupt, and turn to their own ends. Collective action isn’t a panacea, but I think it offers a real chance at a better world.

Cody’s Showdy Takes On Planned Obscolescence

I hate planned obsolescence. I hate it with the kind of burning passion that can only come from personal grievance, but I also hate it for its role in the destruction of a habitable planet, and the way it contributes to the ever-rising cost of living. As the video below discusses, it’s a problem that’s more or less built into our system as it exists, despite being universally unpopular outside of corporate boardrooms. It’s draining all of our bank accounts, making life more difficult, and filling the world (especially where poor people live) with toxic waste. It is one of many reasons why we cannot afford to have an economic system that revolves around endless growth. I will probably write more about this on my own at some point, but for today, here’s Some More News with a good overview. Isn’t it fun when I share videos that make me angry?

Pressure Grows for Biden To Create Civilian Climate Corps

One of the biggest failures of capitalism, particularly the neoliberal version, is the simple fact that there is a lot of work that needs to be done in any society, but that doesn’t generate any profit by itself. Housework is the example with which everyone is at least somewhat familiar. It’s work that absolutely needs doing in every home, but with the exception of paid housekeepers, nobody expects to be compensated for it. Outside of the home, the world is filled with such work, some of which is done, and some of which is not. Infrastructure and its maintenance, pollution cleanup, and ecosystem management also don’t have much to offer in terms of built-in profit making.

People do make a profit off of these things, but it’s generally through government contracts, grants, and donations. Our system is so dedicated to the notion that private, for-profit corporations are the best way to do everything, that we take public resources, and give them to private corporations, so that they can do the work, cut as many corners as possible, and make a profit. The highway system, the power grid, sewage and water systems – all put together with public resources, because there wasn’t a direct profit to be made in setting that stuff up. Likewise the billions that private corporations have made from NASA’s innovations, and from publicly funded medical research.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t get the funding it needs, and the environment is probably at the top of that list. That said, this is something that can be changed, at least in theory. All those public projects have been undertaken within this system, and while I think they were made worse by the fixation on putting everything into the hands of capitalists whenever possible, they still make everyone’s lives better. Public investment is a thing that can be done in the United States, and there’s now an effort to create a “civilian climate corps” to deal with the ever-increasing amount of work that has to be done in response to global warming:

Dozens of Democratic U.S. lawmakers joined more than 50 civil society groups who on Monday implored President Joe Biden to sign an executive order establishing a Civilian Climate Corps that would “put young Americans to work serving their communities” and tackling the planetary emergency.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)—who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety—and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) led at least 50 House and Senate Democrats plus independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in a letter urging Biden to act in the face of the worsening climate crisis. They noted that the president’s January 2021 executive order on tackling the emergency mandated a strategy for creating a Civilian Climate Corps within 90 days.

“With deadly heat, dangerous floods, rising seas, and devastating wildfires—including those that ravaged Maui last month—the climate crisis demands a whole-of-government response at an unprecedented scale,” the lawmakers wrote. “Following up on your earlier commitments, existing legislation, and the demands from young people across the nation, we urge you to issue an executive order formally establishing a Civilian Climate Corps initiative to work on key conservation and climate priorities.”

“By leveraging the historic climate funding secured during your administration, using existing authorities, and coordinating across AmeriCorps and other relevant federal agencies, your administration can create a federal Civilian Climate Corps that unites its members in an effort to fight climate change, build community resilience, support environmental justice, and develop career pathways to good-paying union jobs focused on climate resilience and a clean economy,” the letter adds.

Inspired by the best aspects of the New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps—which despite the nostalgia it often evokes among progressives, was for men only, racially segregated, and paid just $1 a day—the Civilian Climate Corps has long enjoyed the support of many congressional Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who wanted it included in previous legislation.

Climate, environmental, and social justice groups also support the proposal. On Monday, more than 50 of them sent their own letter to the White House urging Biden to “be as ambitious as possible in tackling the great crisis of our time,” in part by establishing a Civilian Climate Corps “through existing authorities, with existing climate funding, that can coordinate across relevant federal agencies.”

I keep saying that we’re in the age of endless recovery now. Disasters fueled by global warming are getting so big and so frequent that we can’t keep up. Recovery takes years, people get abandoned, and all of that reduces the resources available to actually tackle climate change directly. It’s a destructive spiral, but it doesn’t have to be as bad as it is, and we might even be able to pull out of it, if we actually make it a priority.

A civilian climate corps would be helpful in two big ways. First, it would be a jobs program, which would reduce poverty (a good thing in itself), and strengthen workers’ bargaining power. The second is that if used right, it could dramatically increase our ability to recover from disasters, and to directly address the causes of global warming. I’m sure a lot of the money from this would end up flowing through corporations, which is inefficient in some ways, but it’s also probably the most direct way to convert taxpayer money into new renewable and nuclear power. Beyond that, the corps could be put to work on sea walls, or even on things like getting people out of places, like Miami, that cannot practically be protected for sea level rise.

Obviously, this kind of ambitious project will have both ideological and self-interested opposition, from the right wing and from corporate interests that benefit from the status quo, and that don’t want people to see public spending as a real option. I think there are also a number of Democrats, even discounting Manchin and Sinema, who wouldn’t support this. Even so, the Democrats are currently our best bet for making progress here, because with Republicans in charge, there’s zero chance of this going anywhere. To me, that reads like the odds are still against the civilian climate corps going anywhere, but this is one of those situations where an organized working class could put pressure on the people in power.

Looking at responses to the WGA/SAG-AFTRA strikes and the UAW strike, I think that while we’re not at a point where we can get an actual general strike for climate action, we’re closer to that than we have been at any point in my lifetime. There’s much more support for unions and strikes than I’ve ever seen, and support for climate action keeps rising. A climate corps also has room for the patriotism that infects so much of American society, and I think it’s an easier, clearer goal for non-activists to latch onto, than “end fossil fuel use”. The notion of giving back society isn’t a new one, and it’s well past time that the US stopped treated the armed forces as the only way to “serve your country”.

We’ll see where this goes, but I like the idea, and I hope I hear more about it going forward.

Huge Study Shows Importance of Diversity in Ecosystem Restoration

Over the last few years, it has seemed like the idea of planting trees to fight climate change has been gaining in popularity, particularly among those who want to avoid any real systemic change. I also have a sneaking suspicion that if they do get around to any tree-planting, their goal will be to plant large numbers of whatever is cheapest. Unfortunately, if you’re trying to actually help an ecosystem recover, that’s very slow, inefficient way to go about it. It’s depressingly clear that some people will never accept this message, but diversity really is better:

One of the world’s biggest ecological experiments, co-led by the University of Oxford on the island of Borneo, has revealed that replanting logged tropical forests with diverse mixtures of seedlings can significantly accelerate their recovery. The findings, published today in the journal Science Advances, emphasise the importance of preserving biodiversity in pristine forests and restoring it in recovering logged forest.

The experiment was set up by the University of Oxford’s Professor Andy Hector and colleagues over 20 years ago, as part of the SE Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP). This assessed the recovery of 125 different plots in an area of logged tropical forest that were sown with different combinations of tree species. The results revealed plots replanted with a mixture of 16 native tree species showed faster recovery of canopy area and total tree biomass, compared to plots replanted with four or just one species. However, even plots that had been replanted with one tree species, were recovering more quickly than those left to restore naturally.

Professor Hector, the lead scientist of the study, said, ‘Our new study demonstrates that replanting logged tropical forests with diverse mixtures of native tree species achieves multiple wins, accelerating the restoration of tree cover, biodiversity, and important ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration.’

According to the researchers, a likely reason behind the result is that different tree species occupy different positions, or ‘niches’, within an ecosystem. This includes both the physical and environmental conditions to which the species is adapted, and how it interacts with other organisms. As a result, diverse mixtures complement each other to increase overall functioning and stability of the ecosystem. For instance, some tropical tree species are more tolerant of drought because they produce a greater amount of protective chemicals, giving the forest resilience to periodic times of low rainfall. Professor Hector added, ‘Having diversity in a tropical forest can be likened to an insurance effect, similar to having a financial strategy of diverse investment portfolios.’

Well, putting it in financial terms does seem like one way to get them to see the value of diversity. Well played, Professor Hector.

Beyond reinforcing what ecologists have long known about the importance of biodiversity, this study shows that we absolutely can intervene to help ecosystems recover more quickly. Doing so is not going to be enough by itself – we need to end fossil fuel use or it’s pointless – but in addition to having the tools to do that, we also have the tools to make real progress on repairing the damage we’ve done to the world’s ecosystems. Unfortunately, we can’t really get to work on that until we stop doing that damage in the first place. No amount of forest restoration work will help us, if old forests are still being destroyed to make way for oil palm plantations.

Things like this are why I think systemic change is necessary – because our system is set up in such a way that it can’t really promote or protect things that don’t have a monetary value. We know that we need healthy forests, for our own sake, but we keep destroying them anyway, and restoration is generally more of an afterthought. I suppose if I’m keeping to the theme of this post, then I would say that we need to “diversify” our political and economic systems, so that they can allow for healthy ecosystems, human flourishing, and progress, without all the destructive overproduction.

Fables, Wage Theft, and Asymmetrical Class Warfare

I feel like I should probably talk about media monopolies more. The way corporations have managed to gain control of ever-larger portions of our entertainment media has caused all manner of problems, most of them for the very people who create the products those same corporations sell. In many ways, that’s traditional, right? Every capitalist company is in the business of exploiting its workers – extracting as much work as possible, for as little pay as possible. Part of that process, in publication, is control over intellectual property, and the use and abuse of legal teams to get and maintain that control. I’m writing about this now, because a good example has come up, along with a solution that I absolutely love.

Fables is a comic series published by DC Comics, and written by one Bill Willingham. I have never read any of them, but they’re apparently very good, so maybe I’ll have to change that. Since the original run, which ended in 2015, DC has apparently been doing spinoffs and games, with no regard for Willingham’s ownership of the intellectual property. Willingham himself is not a fan of current intellectual property law, but that doesn’t mean just letting corporations have their way when they abuse said law. The problem is, as I mentioned above, those corporations tend to have legal teams for just this purpose, which makes fighting them a daunting task. How much of your money, and how many years of your life are you willing to sacrifice, to just to stop corporate abuse of your work? For a lot of people, a fight like that isn’t worth it, and corporations count on that, knowing that the personal cost of a legal battle would never affect them. So, what? Does that mean we just have to let the corporations win?

Well, no. The long term solution, I think, is for the people in these industries to continue the organizing work they’ve already been doing, but Willingham has found a much easier and more immediate solution. Fables is no longer his intellectual property, and it doesn’t belong to DC Comics (owned by Warner Bros. Discovery), either. As of today, Fables, in its entirety, belongs to all of us:

As of now, 15 September 2023, the comic book property called Fables, including all related Fables spin-offs and characters, is now in the public domain. What was once wholly owned by Bill Willingham is now owned by everyone, for all time. It’s done, and as most experts will tell you, once done it cannot be undone. Take-backs are neither contemplated nor possible.

Willingham cites the potential cost, in years of his life, of trying to force DC to live up to its legal obligations (he’s 67), and I really appreciate his reasoning for this tactic:

Since I can’t afford to sue DC, to force them to live up to the letter and the spirit of our long-time agreements; since even winning such a suit would take ridiculous amounts of money out of my pocket and years out of my life (I’m 67 years old, and don’t have the years to spare), I’ve decided to take a different approach, and fight them in a different arena, inspired by the principles of asymmetric warfare. The one thing in our contract the DC lawyers can’t contest, or reinterpret to their own benefit, is that I am the sole owner of the intellectual property. I can sell it or give it away to whomever I want.

I chose to give it away to everyone. If I couldn’t prevent Fables from falling into bad hands, at least this is a way I can arrange that it also falls into many good hands. Since I truly believe there are still more good people in the world than bad ones, I count it as a form of victory.

This won’t stop DC from making Fables comics, shows, or anything else, but it does mean that they will never have exclusive ownership of them again, because literally anyone has the exact same right. Did you read these, get inspired, and write fanfiction? It’s now just as canon as anything under the DC label. Congratulations! Willingham’s press release, linked above, goes into greater detail on his own opinions about intellectual property law as it is, and as it should be, but I want to focus on his “what did DC do to deserve this?” section:

Q: What Exactly Has DC Comics Done to Provoke This?

Too many things to list exhaustively, but here are some highlights: Throughout the years of my business relationship with DC, with Fables and with other intellectual properties, DC has always been in violation of their agreements with me. Usually it’s in smaller matters, like forgetting to seek my opinion on artists for new stories, or for covers, or formats of new collections and such. In those times, when called on it, they automatically said, “Sorry, we overlooked you again. It just fell through the cracks.” They use the “fell through the cracks” line so often, and so reflexively, that I eventually had to bar them from using it ever again. They are often late reporting royalties, and often under-report said royalties, forcing me to go after them to pay the rest of what’s owed.

You recognize what this is, right? It’s wage theft. This is part of the tens of billions of dollars stolen from workers, by capitalists. This is how that theft is most often committed. They use deliberate incompetence to hold on to the money for a little bit longer, and to make it hard to keep track of what’s owed. When I lived in Somerville, I saw my landlord do this to his workers constantly. He’d forget to pay them, and then plead poverty and delay the payment (he owned about 75 other people’s homes), and then underpay, and when the worker objected, he’d argue about how much was owed. This is the same damned thing, done by a massive corporation, and you’d better believe they do it at a massive scale. Hell, it’s the same as Trump’s reputation for never paying people – this is a big part of how capitalists get so rich, and prevent those below them from improving their own lot in life.

More than that, DC tried to trick Willingham into giving them ownership over Fables, and when he called them out on it, they claimed they hadn’t read the contract. More weaponized incompetence, to disguise attempted theft. Putting it squarely in the hands of the public was a brilliant move.

At the same time, I can see why it was less than ideal for for Willingham. First, because it doesn’t prevent DC from doing more with Fables, and second because much as I dislike the fact, we live in a capitalist world, and we all need money to survive. That means that while it would be nice to be able to just create art and share it with the world, those who like doing so are forced to consider the hours put into that work, which could have been spent working for a wage. The system sucks, but opting out of it isn’t really an option. Willingham no longer has exclusive ownership either, and that’s not without its costs. In this case, however, it may not have been that difficult of a decision. He himself is still bound by contract not to do anything with that property, except through DC. They own his ability to use the intellectual property he technically owned, they just haven’t been paying him for its use. Remember that Frank Wilhoit quote?

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

Capitalism has a very similar principle, where the “in-group” is the ruling class – capitalists – and the “out-group” is everyone else. It’s probably a big part of why conservatives like capitalism so much.

This isn’t a clear win for Willingham, but it is a strategic victory, and not just for him. His mention of asymmetrical warfare is one that I think we’d all do well to consider, because the class war is very far from symmetrical. The amount of power concentrated in the hands of the ruling class is probably greater than it ever has been, and failing to account for that would be, well, like negotiating your pay without the support of a union. Capitalists need workers, but the don’t need you, and one-on-one, they will destroy you.

So we don’t fight them one-on-one, and we don’t meet them on a battle field for “honorable combat”. This has never been a fair fight, and so we are under no obligation to fight fairly. Use the strengths we have, take advantage of opportunities as the arise, and if you can’t win a battle, maybe you can force a draw.

Floating Sea Farm Design Passes Proof of Concept

This was from Tuesday, while Freethoughtblogs was still down and I was posting on my patreon instead. I could use a bit of a cheat day for various reasons, so I’m taking advantage of the technical difficulties to use this post twice. This is very much in the vein of “sounds too good to be true, but it’s an interesting concept. A while back, I saw articles about a clever design for a desert greenhouse that used the evaporation of seawater to both maintain a cool enough temperature for crops, and to provide the water those crops needed. Now, a team at the University of South Australia has designed a floating version, that uses wicking and an evaporator to irrigate the crops:

Professor Haolan Xu and Dr Gary Owens from UniSA’s Future Industries Institute have developed the vertical floating sea farm which is made up of two  chambers: an upper layer similar to a glasshouse and a lower water  harvest chamber.
“The system works much like a wicking bed that household gardeners might be familiar with,” Dr Owen says.
“However, in this case, clean water is supplied by an array of solar  evaporators that soak up the seawater, trap the salts in the evaporator  body and, under the sun’s rays, release clean water vapour into the air  which is then condensed on water belts and transferred to the upper  plant growth chamber.”
In a field test, the researchers grew three common vegetable crops –  broccoli, lettuce, and pak choi – on seawater surfaces without  maintenance or additional clean water irrigation.
The system, which is powered only by solar light, has several  advantages over other solar sea farm designs currently being trialled,  according to Professor Xu.
“Other designs have installed evaporators inside the growth chamber  which takes up valuable space that could otherwise be used for plant  growth. Also, these systems are prone to overheating and crop death,”  Professor Xu says.
Floating farms, where traditional photovoltaic panels harvest  electricity to power conventional desalination units, have also been  proposed but these are energy intensive and costly to maintain.
“In our design, the vertical distribution of evaporator and growth  chambers decreases the device’s overall footprint, maximising the area  for food production. It is fully automated, low cost, and extremely easy  to operate, using only solar energy and seawater to produce clean water  and grow crops.”
Dr Owens says their design is only proof-of-concept at this stage,  but the next step is to scale it up, using a small array of individual  devices to increase plant production. Meeting larger food supply needs  will mean increasing both the size and number of devices.

I very much want to see this scaled up. When they say “fully automated”, I’m assuming that’s something of an exaggeration, since the crops will probably need at least some attention, beyond planting and harvesting, and the machinery will need maintenance, and to be cleaned of salt buildup and sea life.

In the paper itself, the authors say the field trials were done in pools with “artificial seawater”, which is great as a proof-of-concept, but it completely sidesteps the fact that sea life tends to glue itself to every possible surface. It would honestly surprise me if the water intakes didn’t start getting plugged or covered a lot faster than expected. On the plus side, the tests generated more fresh water than the plants could use, so operating at reduced efficiency may still provide enough water, especially if there’s a system for storing excess water at the beginning, and using it to supplement a shortage. If they have that, then they can also have the same sensors send out an automated maintenance request.

The other big concern, which I’m sure has occurred to you, is that the sea surface is a rather boisterous place. Even on a nice day, you get choppy water, knocking things around, and as we all know, there are days that are not nice!

The planet’s warming fast, and hot seas tend to produce big storms. I don’t know if farms like this are more vulnerable to a hurricane or typhoon than crops in coastal areas hit by those storms, but it sure seems like a problem that’ll need to be accounted for. The researchers say this is best suited for places with mild weather conditions, but I have to ask: Do such places exist, anymore?

Despite my concerns, I think this is really neat, and I feel like there’s likely to be at least some application for it, even if that consists of creating sheltered lagoons or something. In the meantime, the only way to find out what problems lie in wait for this technology, is to start using it, and seeing what it takes.

Capitalist Demands That Governments Kill Poor People To Discipline Workers

This past February, I gave an overview of how the government uses poverty to kill people, knowing that that’s what they are doing, in order to benefit the capitalist class. Using inflation caused by capitalist greed as an excuse, the government increases interest rates, with the intention of “cooling inflation” by increasing unemployment. That means more people without housing. It means more people rationing medicine, or doing without it altogether. It means lives destroyed, and futures stolen.

And it is just one way in which the government puts its hand on the scale to keep all of us submissive, obedient, and grateful to our superiors. Think I’m exaggerating? Here’s one of those “superiors” – Tim Gurney of “millennials and their avocado toast” fame – just openly making my case for me, about how he thinks the peasants need to be reminded of their place:

“People have decided they really didn’t want to work so much anymore through COVID and that has had a massive issue on productivity,” Gurner, donning slicked back hair and an unbuttoned white shirt, says in the video. “They have been paid a lot to do not too much.”

“We need to see unemployment rise,” Gurner said. “Unemployment needs to jump 40-50 percent in my view. We need to see pain in the economy. We need to remind people that they work for the employer [emphasis mine], not the other way around. There’s been a systematic change where employees feel the employer is extremely lucky to have them, as opposed to the other way around.” He then says that “hurting the economy” is what the whole world is trying to do.

Sam’s comments at the very beginning of that clip touch on the presidency of Salvadore Allende, a Chilean socialist politician who was elected to the presidency in 1970, and overthrown with the help of the United States 50 years and two days ago, on September 11th, 1973. Allende’s overthrow, and the wave of terror and murder that followed, were tragic and criminal for many reasons, but one that I wish more people knew about was Project Cybersyn, so I’m taking a moment to link to that here. Those decades of murder, which in many ways still continue, were very much a matter of reminding people of their place. True democracy, economic and political, could not be tolerated. Who do those workers think they are? The nobles still send in the guards to brutalize rebellious subjects.

This is one of those times in which, once you start to see it everywhere. In the US, the way police are allowed to steal from people based on vibes, the way employers are allowed to get away with just refusing to pay billions in wages every year, the way student debt is explicitly used to funnel poor people into the US war machine – so much of  our society is designed, from the bottom up, to maintain the class divides that advocates of capitalism pretend no longer exist. They like to pretend they’re just like us, right up until the second anyone asks for a raise, or for a safe workplace. The power maintained within the US itself allows for the projection of power around the globe, and the methods of “disciplining” the former colonies that we saw in Chile.

This is why the working class needs to organize, and to stay organized. I think Americans in the 20th century allowed themselves to be persuaded that society had just moved beyond the abuses of the robber barons. Part of that, I think, was that during the Cold War, capitalist countries, and the US in particular, were investing a lot more into the wellbeing of their citizens. This wasn’t some natural function of capitalism, but I think they tried hard to make it look that way, because it was really just another branch of the war against communism. In the midst of a Red Scare, nobody had any problem spending taxpayer money to fight the commies, and that included investing in the happiness of the general public, so they could convince the working class that capitalism was better. My favorite example of this is the town in West Virginia that only got their bridge fixed after they wrote to the USSR asking for aid. There’s no USSR for them to worry about anymore, and while China may take on that role, it’s not doing so currently. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there’s been no alternative, and so there’s less pressure to make the common people happy.

Under feudalism, and under early capitalism, if the under-class got too uppity, the nobles would generally use violence to maintain their authority. In modern liberal democracies, the ruling class is better at hiding its hand, but they haven’t actually changed. The law is mostly designed around the protection and management of property, such that it defaults to the benefit of property owners. The whole system is set up so that you need money to survive, and unless you are a capitalist, your only way to get money is by selling your labor. At the bottom end, the police work to ensure that surviving without money is impossible. The land is all enclosed – either privately owned, or owned and protected by the government, such that nobody can actually just live off it. Being too poor to afford your own home in this system is treated as a criminal act all by itself. Unhoused people are subject to every abuse the police can devise, including having their belongings stolen and destroyed on a regular basis. If you try to protect them from that, you get reactions like multimillionaire “everyman” Joe Rogan being shocked that anyone would even consider letting them own stuff.

The violence used to suppress the under-class is now mostly disguised as policing, but that violence is still there. It’s more individualized, too. Beyond the routine abuse of unhoused people, it takes place when someone’s evicted, or when police target left-wing activists, or when police and private “security” forces attack pipeline protesters. It never went anywhere, it just got disguised, and given a whole bunch of spin to make people accept it, and even cheer it on.

Over the last two centuries, real advances have been made in quality of living, in some parts of the world, but those advances came from working people fighting back against the capitalist rush to oligarchy, and against white supremacy designed to destroy class solidarity. I hope it is clear by now that those advances are also not permanent. If anything, they are an aberration – a statistical outlier against centuries of concentration of power in the hands of a tiny ruling class. That said, I think the advances that have been made demonstrate that we can go further. Many people view the socialist and communist revolutions of the 20th century as total failures, and while I think there are arguments to be had about that, we don’t need to have them here. We know, that in every country in the world, the working class has been able to improve its own situation through collective power, despite violent opposition from the ruling class.

What we need, going forward, is to aim higher than things like a living wage. We need to aim for revolutionary change. While the ruling class will doubtless continue to use violence to maintain their power, “revolution” does not mean war, necessarily. My preferred tactic would be a general strike – collectively bringing a country to a halt, and refusing to continue accepting the system as it is. What classifies change as “revolutionary”, in this context, is that it changes not just who is in power, but how power is distributed in the first place. I think that going from monarchy to capitalist republic was an upgrade, in many ways, but I think we can do better. Things like worker cooperatives, for example, demonstrate that it’s possible to have democratically run corporations, even in a world that is set up in every way to privilege the more traditional, authoritarian model. Reshape the law to actively support such organizations, and I think they’d do quite well, especially if it comes with a deliberate phase-out of capitalist corporations.

Nothing like that will happen easily, and while it might appear quick when it happens, it will be the result of years of hard work, and probably bloodshed on the part of those organizing the political power to make it happen. The upside is that that work is starting, and I think that’s part of why ghouls like Gurner and Larry Summers are so freaked out that they’re openly calling for higher unemployment and everything that comes with it. In many ways, the class war is a real war. It’s a power struggle, and one side is not just accustomed to killing to keep their power, it’s routine for them. It’s nice to see the people at the top getting worried, and I think it’s very helpful of Gurner to just come out and say how they see the world. Hopefully it will help more people realize that this is why life is so hard, when we have so much abundance.

Video: Roblox and Digital Child Labor

One of the projects I was on, when I worked at TERC, was called Building Systems from Scratch. From my perspective, it was an experiment in teaching climate science indirectly.  Kids in the participating schools built simple games using MIT’s Scratch program, all relating to climate change and climate action. Part of the idea was to use something fun and rewarding – learning how to build a simple game – to make it easier to learn about climate science. It turns out that Roblox Corporation looked at the way children like playing and building video games, and saw an opportunity to profit off of child labor. .

I honestly know next to nothing about Roblox. Hbomberguy taught me the history of the “oof” noise in it, and that it was yet another exploitative capitalist corporation, but I didn’t realize just how bad it really was.

The video game industry has come under the spotlight for bad working conditions a number of times in recent years. Companies over-rely on contractors and forced overtime, repeatedly pushing their workers to the breaking point, and justifying all of it because people who go into the industry tend to like developing video games. The work is rewarding, and therefor it’s OK to underpay and over-work people. I think it’s reasonable to pay more for unpleasant work, but that’s never a justification to underpay for the pleasant stuff. Work is work, and people have a right to the products of their labor.

I’ve believed for a while now that capitalists view happiness in workers as a version of the notion of “time theft”. If a worker isn’t grinding every second that they’re being paid for, that means that they’re “stealing” from the company. Likewise, if workers are feeling happy and fulfilled, that’s proof that they could be more exploited. They could be generating more profit for the company, and they’re not, which is just like stealing from the company!

This reasoning seems to be why Roblox has felt justified in  their use of child labor and scrip to become a multi-billion dollar corporation. More Perfect Union has more:

This honestly reminds me a lot of the college football scam, where corporations and colleges make millions off of “student athletes” without paying them, all because it’s supposedly just a fun school activity, and if they’re very lucky, they’ll have a chance to go pro and make some actual money before their bodies give out. Roblox isn’t as brutal as football, but the dynamic seems much the same. The workers aren’t taken seriously, and so their labor doesn’t “count”, even as it’s making a small number of evil adults obscenely wealthy. It’s fucked up to have to say it, but the video is right: Children need labor protections.

Biden Did Another Good Thing

I don’t like saying nice things about Joe Biden. I don’t particularly like the man, and his politics are counter to mine in many important ways. When it comes to a politician, that goes beyond a difference of opinion, his opinion comes with political power. That said, I do like having pessimistic expectations undermined, and while Biden has been far from perfect, he’s done a few things that are unequivocally good, and better than I would have expected from him. His NLRB is one, as I mentioned recently, and now he has revoked a number of oil drilling licenses and protected a large portion of Alaska (equivalent to 1.33 Belgiums) from oil drilling, with a larger area that’s partially protected. Apparently, this is being done in a way that it will be hard to undo, next time the GOP takes power. I wouldn’t say this makes up for things like the Willow Project, but this is a good thing, without question. Beau gives a good summary, and a prediction of outrage and lawsuits from Republicans: