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MayDay again

April 30th, 2005

Another year, another May Day, reminding me that I still haven’t got round to my long-planned posts on the erosion of workers’ rights under the present (and for that matter the preceding) government.

In the short term, though, the most important historical fact about May 1 is that it’s the anniversary of Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech on Iraq in 2003. When I wrote about this anniversary last year, I observed

the anniversary of Bush declaration of victory looks as good a time as any to date what seems increasingly certain to be a defeat [at least for the policies that have been pursued for the last year] … The Administration seems to be inching towards the position I’ve been advocating for some time – dumping the policies of Bremer and Chalabi (though not, unfortunately Bremer and Chalabi themselves), and handing over real military power to Iraqis. If the interim (still inchoate) government has substantial real power, manages to hold early elections and can get enough support to permit a rapid US withdrawal, the outcome might not be too bad. But there’s very little time left, and this scenario assumes exceptionally skilful management of the situation from now on.

How do things look a year later? Bremer is gone, thankfully, and I doubt that there’s anyone left who would suggest that the Coalition Provisional Administration he ran was anything better than a set of incompetent bunglers who achieved less than nothing[1]. Chalabi, by contrast, seems to be the eternal survivor, . The Americans dumped him after all, but he promptly switched sides and has popped up as some sort of Deputy Prime Minister in the new Iraqi government and looks set to get the lucrative oil ministry he’s been after for so long..

The last year has been a series of disasters, the only bright spot being the elections. If these had been held in 2003, as was perfectly feasible, the insurgency might never have got properly off the ground, and a US withdrawal might already be under way. But Bremer and Bush, with the almost unanimous support of the pro-war commentariat and blogosphere, killed this proposal, trying to push an absurd plan for rigged regional caucuses designed to set up a Chalabi government. When Chalabi fell from favour they turned over power to Saddam’s former secret agent, Allawi, whose interim government was a waste of space, little better than the CPA it replaced.

Now, three months after the elections, Iraq finally has an elected government (almost). The good news is that Allawi has been kept out. The bad news is that PM Jaafari has reneged on his campaign commitment to demand a timetable for US withdrawal. This is understandable, given that the insurgents are trying their best to kill him and his supporters. But it ought to be obvious by now that the US occupation is providing more fresh recruits for the insurgents than the Americans can kill or incapacitate. They’ll pull out sooner or later[2], and the situation will be even worse than it is now. The best chance is a clear commitment that the occupation will end in a defined period of time.

PS: Rereading the comments on last year’s post, I note that Bush has declared May 1 as Loyalty Day. Readers based in the US might want to consider their position before making comments that might be construed by the Administration as ‘disloyal’ (Hat tip Richard Jones).

PPS (this is getting like Kausfiles): It turns out that Loyalty Day has been around for many years, but the President has to announce it every year.

fn1. On reflection, my doubts are ill-founded. A substantial number of supporters of the war still believe (or did until recently) that the US discovered weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and numerous right-wing bloggers were making claims along these lines up to and beyond the publication of the Duelfer report. So of course there will be plenty to claim that the CPA inaugurated an era of peace and prosperity, a fact concealed from general view only because of the MSM conspiracy to publish only bad news about Iraq.

fn2. Bush may well want to ‘stay the course’. But, on current indications, he’ll be out of office before the insurgency is defeated, and a lame duck well before that.

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  1. May 1st, 2005 at 08:27 | #1

    I haven’t really been following US Politics anymore because the only thing of note in their foreign policy was the Iraq invasion and that has now been going on for so long, the masses – myself included – are now immune to any news coming out of Iraq unless it directly affects Australians.

    As far as I can tell, even Bush is pursuing a more domestic agenda.

  2. May 1st, 2005 at 09:55 | #2

    I don’t like the idea of “worker’s rights”, because it detracts from “people’s rights”.

  3. May 1st, 2005 at 10:11 | #3

    Workers are people. Worker’s rights are human rights. They are inseperable.

  4. May 1st, 2005 at 12:17 | #4

    But not all people are workers. I know all businessmen are criminals who should be summarily executed, but let’s not forget that they are people too.

  5. illiterate ones
    May 1st, 2005 at 14:10 | #5

    this is a lovely example of the wide range of May Day celebrations throughout different cultures. you guys started a semantic debate about the difference between a worker and a human; we made a Maypole.
    -=io=-

  6. May 1st, 2005 at 18:04 | #6

    I support the right of businessmen to fair remuneration, protection from unfair dismissal, a safe working environment, and reasonable time off for leisure. Since they rarely have a problem with any of these things, I focus my attention on those whose rights are under attack.

  7. May 1st, 2005 at 19:39 | #7

    I know workers are people, but making rights act through identities as workers detracts from the primacy of people. It easily lead to poor policies, too. For instance, you obviously improve workers’ conditions if you downsize; look how the median wage goes up (it’s called “survivor bias”).

  8. May 1st, 2005 at 20:20 | #8

    To quote Tom Clancy from executive orders when asked about white collar people, his character President Ryan said “that’s work too”.

    I must say regretfully I agree.

  9. May 1st, 2005 at 23:01 | #9

    John, I for one, am looking forward to your post on the erosion of employment rights, and if necessary, the restoration of reciprocal duties.

  10. May 2nd, 2005 at 01:27 | #10

    What must one do on “Loyalty Day”? Dress in Stars and Stripes, drive around in pickups chating “USA, USA!” while noisily reloading shotguns?

    Seems like a good day for an overseas holiday.

  11. Nick Sebrell
    May 2nd, 2005 at 09:34 | #11

    Oh how I laughed when I read your comment calling the provisional administration “a set of incompetent bunglers who achieved less than nothing”. I wonder how many competent Iraqi administrators (I’m not even asking for leaders, just basic administrators) capable of handling anything half so complex and disorganized as the Iraqi government following the defeat of the previous dictatorship. My guess is none. Maybe they should’ve imported some from Jordan or whatever country passes for “adequately” administrated in the Arab world. I’ve read that Egyptian president Hosny Mubarak is doing pretty well.

  12. Andrew Reynolds
    May 2nd, 2005 at 13:34 | #12

    Robert, Alex,
    What about the situation where worker’s ‘rights’ conflict with the ‘rights’ of the unemployed to a job?
    If, for example, I was unemployed and wanted a job, found an employer who would be willing to employ me at a wage, and under conditions, I was willing to accept but the existing workers had agreed on wages and conditions that were higher than the wages and conditions that made it economic for the employer to employ me, what then?
    Agreements of this type impose an additional burden on the unemployed and it is no coincidence that the countries with the lowest unemployment rates also have the least labour market regulation.
    You may argue that these are typically not a ‘living wage’, but if someone is unemployed I would argue that it is better to have them in a job and hopefully advancing than lying on the ‘labour force reserve’ lists.

  13. May 2nd, 2005 at 15:23 | #13

    Pr Q argues that the probable failure of Iraqi democracy is a consequence of Bush admin bungling and iniquity rather than a constituent
    feature of the Iraqi political structure:

    The last year has been a series of disasters, the only bright spot being the elections. If these had been held in 2003, as was perfectly feasible, the insurgency might never have got properly off the ground, and a US withdrawal might already be under way.

    I think that PrQ is overly optimistic about the prospects of Iraqi democracy, even allowing for the bad methods and executors of this project. Even with the wisest rulers, and best will in the world, Iraq would always struggle to be a democratic nation state (defined as majority rule with minority rights). This is because it is endowed with an incoherent individual, municipal, provincial, national, regional and global political structures which make it an unpromising prospect for democracy promotion.
    At the individual level: Iraq has a single commodity economy – oil – which provides an overwhelming temptation for Alpha-male war lords and conmen to concentrate on getting control of the oil for themselves and their kind rather than build up civil administration. This is clear from the skill with which Chalabis managed to promote a WMD hoax and take over the control of the nations oil distribution.
    At the municipal level: many Iraqis, due to the practice of consanguinuity, owe their allegiance to local kinsman rather than the national governments. This means that national loyalty, a precondition for a nation state, is always going to be a big ask.
    At the provincial level: Iraq is a monstrous multicultural jurisdiction comprised of fairly irreconcilable ethnic confessions. As Mill presciently put it, “Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities.” (It would be nice if our home-grown batch of multicultural ideologists would learn from this mistaken idea, instead of wantonly inflicting other jurisdictions political disasters onto this nation.)
    Also, Iraq’s oil fields are unequally distributed accross Iraq’s ethnic provinces. The minority Suunis feel that they will be the economic losers in any representative parliament. The division of the oil spoils is proving to be the key factor holding up a fair and reasonable national political settlement.
    At the national level: Iraq has been a Baathist totatlitarian government for decades. The legacy of totalitarianism will take decades to erase. Regime change has destroyed the old system but no credible civil institutions have emerged from within Iraq. Baathist fascism is anchored deep within the political community. This is not a good soil from which to grow democracy.
    At the regional level: Iraq is beset by competing Shiite and Suuni jihadists streaming in accross its borders. They are linking up to Iraqi clerics, inflaming Islamist sentiment and pushing the nation towards theocracy.
    At the global level: the Bush admin is the main agency supervising regime change. That lot could not run a school tuck shop.

    Any one of these problems with political economy or political culture would disable the nation building of most states. The sum of these woes make the prospect of more or less prolonged Iraq civil war, under a state of martial law, the most probable outcome irrespective of the nominal form of political process. A stable Iraqi national democracy is likely to be a dream that will not come true.

  14. May 2nd, 2005 at 19:57 | #14

    AR, that’s the area I was hinting at in my last reply. The conflict arises because of the unemployment externalities I describe at my publications page. The externalities mean it may very well be better to have unemployed on the dole than in undercutting jobs; it all depends, but anyway neither is optimal – they are both poor responses to the externalities and the fact that competing wages are set in countries where there are still some subsistence resources. That means that they do not have to hold out for a living wage but only a top up wage, and in this brave new world that sets the pace for our own wage structures.

    But back to May Day issues. You can find a lot more on the history of May Day here.

    What is more, I always find sites like that mutualism one with the May Day material stimulating, not least from their different perspective. They are usually better on diagnosis than prescription (surprise!) but at least checking out a range of such sites beats self imposed tunnel vision. As it happens, I largely agree with this mutualist’s condemnation of both government and corporate structures as threats. But where do we go from here?

  15. Paul Norton
    May 3rd, 2005 at 10:39 | #15

    Just a note in passing.

    Andrew Reynolds writes:

    “it is no coincidence that the countries with the lowest unemployment rates also have the least labour market regulation.”

    This is disputed by the document and the references at this link:

    http://www.tuac.org/News/OECD%20Employment%20Outlook%2020031.pdf

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