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:
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.