What Do We Do Now III

November 27, 2016 § 4 Comments

The main purpose of this blog item is to encourage people to read an article in the Atlantic brought to my attention by my friend and mentor,  Milton Lower.  Here is link:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/10/how-democrats-killed-their-populist-soul/504710/

This expresses one of my two persistent frustrations with the strategy of the Democratic Party:

 

First:   The Democratic Party’s inattention to the effects of globalization and technology changes that have disempowered the middle-class working class men and women in Middle America.  Yes, I know we have lectured them about going back to school and being “realistic” about accepting inevitable changes.  They have responded the same way as blacks and women responded to:  “Just be patient.  We’re wording on it.”  They learned the same thing ignored groups have always learned:  Power is shared  only when it is demanded in ways that make the powerful sufficiently uncomfortable.  I only hope the lesson does not take as long and cost as much in human misery as the lessons of racial and gender equality did.

Second it’s deliberate abandonment of support for and interest in the American Labor Movement.  [Note I do not write “The AFL/CIO”.  I do not write that because I believe that it is way past time to redesign the American Labor Movement to make it a “Movement”, not a “special interest group”, not a “lobbyist group” and not an ATM machine for financial contributions to candidates’ campaigns.] [ I hasten to add that my professional life  largely consisted 0f representing and working with unions.  I admire and support their efforts because they often furnish the skill and muscle necessary for grassroots organizing.]

I distinguish our present unions from a movement because, with some notable exceptions, their focus seems unchanged from the 1930’s and 40’s:   organizing construction maritime and industrial workers.  I believe we need changes in the law and changes in organizing skills necessary for organizing unskilled workers in retail, health care , residential housing and food service industries.  And, before we can achieve changes in our laws, we must change our political vision and goals.

The SEIU and the United Farmworkers of the 1960’s are models of the kind of organizing needed now.  To organize unskilled workers consumer boycotts are necessary.  It is easy to replace unskilled workers unless they are protected by changes in our labor laws.  But replacing lost customers might attract management’s attention if it was significant and persistent.  This kind of organizing calls for partnerships between unions and nonunion workers and families, exactly the kind of alliances we need.  There are legal risks and barriers preventing unions from using boycotts as a bargaining tool.  But nonunion groups can choose not to patronize  businesses resisting negotiations with unions.  Such informal alliances could be powerful political as well as economic forces.

The bitter irony of the defense of NAFTA and TPP is that they have been defended by supporters, including Barack Obama, by observing that they will reduce prices of retail goods sold in megastores like Walmart.  I could liken this argument to the apocryphal advice of Marie Antoinette :  “Let them eat cake.” but that would be too tacky.  The point is  they are additional threats to the power of unions, the exact opposite from what I think we should be doing.

I should mention that the writer of the Atlantic article barely mentioned the AFL/CIO in his description of the New Deal’s populist policies.  The creation of the CIO and the Wagner Act lent strength to FDR’s efforts and, until Taft-Hartley gutted that legacy, the working class in America was on its way to becoming a model of a labor/politics/partnership capable of protecting America from corporate domination we now confront.  I have a suspicion that he is too young to be aware of FDR”s redesigning of the labor movement and its power-shifting effect.

A Personal Asid

My experience in politics began before working class power waned.  I am an “old fogy” and it frustrates me to realize that two or three generations have come to maturity without knowing about (and, therefore, without caring about) a world in which working people had power, not in the form of grants from government, but real power.  Blacks and women weren’t told, “Here’s some money to keep you satisfied; just don’t demand a share of our power.  We’re busy with other issues.”  No.  The laws were changed to protect their rights to demand and claim power.  That’s the kind of power working class Americans need.

Recently,  anger and frustration ignited the worst  aspects of their nature.  Many of them were charmed by Trump’s promises.  What we better hope now is that the would-be dictator  who courted them isn’t smart enough to give them some of what they want.  If we’re lucky, he will betray them and we may get another chance.  If so, I  hope we don’t blow it – again.

 

 

§ 4 Responses to What Do We Do Now III

  • Thomas Laing says:

    Bob:

    What I like about your posts and Blog is that you tell it like it is. When discussing politics with conservatives, sooner or later I ask the big questions: What do you believe? Why do you believe that? What will happen if you are wrong? I have yet to have someone answer the questions. They mostly quote a plethora of known propagandists or character assassins but do not offer any thought of their own. As I read some of their answers, I visualize thousands of Lemming on their way to – – – – . Have a good Texas day.

    Tommy

    Like

    • Bob Hall says:

      Thanks Tommy. I am feeling sad about what I think is about to happen to our country. I just hope we design the kind of coalition composed of unions, blacks, Chicanos and white liberal men and women that can energize an effort focussed on organizing people rather than gathering money.

      Like

  • Milton Lower says:

    Thanks, Bob. Wish I knew the answer to your title question.

    Like

  • davidsonchan says:

    Fascinating article! Thanks for sending!

    Chandler

    >

    Like

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