Roots of Insecurity: Why American Workers and Others Are Losing Out

Source: Horst Brand, Dissent, Winter 2007

In 2004 the International Labor Office (ILO) published a voluminous though mistitled report called “Economic Security for a Better World.” This is in face a treatise about the economic insecurity that has been affecting the world’s working people for the past several decades. It is also an argument criticizing the “liberalization context” of insecurity and the policies that have deliberately fostered it. Liberalization, says the ILO, is the objective of policies formulated by international financial institutions in concert with the U.S. treasury – policies that are based on the “Washington Consensus.”

The ILO defines liberalization in terms of certain “key policy commitments,” all of which affect the situation of the workers, though at times only indirectly. One of the crucial commitments is a reduction in the size and role of the public sector of given countries, which usually results in cutbacks in public employment and productive public assets and the elimination of much of the state’s regulatory capacity. Other key commitments include unobstructed capital mobility, regardless of the effects in the value of a country’s exchange rate and ability to finance domestic business (hence to sustain employment levels), and labor market “flexibility,” a euphemism for removing (or restricting) such labor market “distortions” as trade unions and minimum wage laws and, in brief, subjecting workers to the dictates of supply and demand.

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