Labor

Tomorrow I will board a plane in Oakland and decant into Burbank with hundreds of fellow delegates to the UC AFT State Council Meeting. I am psyched. We have a really hard row to hoe. But I am happy with our statewide delegates and with our leadership.

Image result for labor art
“Vineyard March” by Richard Correll, 1970

So, why do I feel so uneasy?

Obviously, much of my disease is related to November 2016. My job would have been somewhat easier were a Democrat nominating the next Supreme Court justice. With a Republican in the White House, the odds of us winning local, regional, and state battles diminished, dramatically.

But I am also diseased because of the weight and composition of our opposition. Our opposition is, predominantly, composed of working families; of women and men who should be joining with us, but who, for a variety of reasons are arrayed against us. They, in turn, are backed by capital that — unlike the capital of Soros or Buffet — is focused like a laser on political candidates and issues; the Kochs finance a vast network of “think-tanks” (I use the term loosely) whose sole purpose is to promote private capital, i.e., whose interests are anti-republican.

What can we say that is new, original, inspiring? What can we do in the face of this corporate-nationalist anti-democratic, anti-republican seizure of power?

I have long argued for a realignment of labor and capital. I think that we are barking up the wrong tree. And I believe we are pursuing the wrong strategies. There is more than enough wealth on the left to completely bury the De Voses and the Kochs. Their wealth, though substantial, is a mere drop in the bucket when compared to the wealth of those survey research places on the left.

What we lack is not wealth, but a coherent vision. What do I mean?

I am not a Leninist. Not by anyone’s measure. Nevertheless I appreciate how the Leninist message captured the imagination of a generation of workers in the 1920s and 1930s who then coalesced around what was essentially a Fordist ideology. Vladimir Ilyich idolized Henry Ford. He dreamed of reproducing the Ford factory all across Russia. In part, he succeeded. Whatever improvement in social conditions Russians enjoyed, they owe to Henry Ford, and to V.I. Lenin.

But that can no longer be — should never have been — the message of labor. The fact is, we have too many workers. Employment is way too high. We need to vastly expand unemployment.

Here is what has happened. Labor in the US — as in the industrialized world more generally — has been hugely efficient. Under normal conditions, these efficiencies would have been shared between labor and investors. This, in fact, is how things have worked (more or less) in Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, and beyond. Working families have been rewarded for their efficiencies with health care, housing, education, end of life security. In the US, by contrast, these efficiencies have been transferred up the income hierarchy to families that have no need for them. Their children are already attending the best schools. Their health plans are the best that private wealth can afford. And so they invest their windfalls in ever more speculative assets in hope of achieving even higher returns on their investment.

But, what if we were to send these efficiencies down the income hierarchy to families that could genuinely use them? In that case, working families would suddenly find themselves with a well-earned windfall. Their daughters and sons would attend universities funded by the efficiencies their hard labor had earned. They would enjoy well-earned retirements. Their investments would blossom.

I am not naive. I do not think that such transfers happen on their own. They happen because of political organization. Yet, I could wish — I do wish — that George and Warren would begin to think more broadly about the future. They are supporting the wrong side. Come over to the bright side.

(Special thanks to Lincoln Cushing for putting a name, title, and date to the woodcut reproduced above.)

3 thoughts on “Labor”

  1. Labor deserves dignity. So does the artist who created the graphic used in this blog post. It’s “Vineyard March” by Richard Correll, 1970. Originallyn a linocut, it was also reproduced in offset; I included it in my 2009 book Agitate! Educate! Organize! American Labor Posters.

    [I left this reply the other day via phone, but it apparently didn’t “take,” surely for technical reasons)

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