Disability Issues, An arrow in the new economy

Doyle Saylor djsaylor at SPAMprimenet.com
Sun May 21 23:22:48 MDT 2000

Title: Disability Issues, An arrow in the new economy
Greetings Comrades,
In the local press I noticed two different kinds of disability influenced
analyses.   I wanted to bring out some of the implications.  I am looking at
class structure in relation to disabled people and how disability is portrayed
in the press.
The first article is in a local free weekly, The East Bay Express, May 12th vol.
,# 31, "Working Without A Net--Could It Be That Welfare Reform Is Actually a
Success?" By Timothy Beneke, interviewing Jill Duerr Berrick at UC Berkeley
School of Social Welfare.  To summarize the article and then give a few quotes,
since the U.S. economy has produced more low paying jobs, those people forced
off welfare now participate directly in the workforce.  The question posed by
the author of this article is 'the end of welfare' working as social policy.   This
phrasing refers to a shift going on in the lives of seven million people where
there are jobs affected by these work for welfare rules.  The point of the
researcher Berrick is that the destruction of the welfare system hasn't been
tested yet, since people can find low paying jobs.  But here are parts that has
disability contribution to working class structure which Berrick does not seem
to consider,
page 14, Berrick speaking,
..."The evidence is fairly clear that the U.S. has the worst record among the
industrialized democracies in its treatment of children.  The terrible irony is
that no one doing research on children denies that poverty has a pernicious
effect.  We know that the deeper and longer the poverty, the more severe the
effect.  And the earlier the child experiences poverty, the more severe the
"The negative effects include a myriad of things.  First, there are negative
implications for children's cognitive functioning--poverty affects children's
brain development.  The actual number of synapses that develop inside your head
is affected by how much cash your mother brings home!  It's remarkable how the
experience of poverty negatively affects the brain.
"We have known for a long time that there is a strong correlation between
poverty and negative social outcomes, such as children landing in the juvenile
justice system, young women getting pregnant early, dropping out of high school,
and so on.  But the new evidence on poverty and its relationship with brain
development is especially sobering.  When you think of relegating whole classes
of humanity to having fewer opportunities in life because of that deprivation in
the early years, the implications are remarkably painful." page 15...
It is not clear from the above statement this researcher grasps that they are
talking about disabilities and what that implies about a capitalist social
system.  Aside from the fact that the children being depicted don't deserve to
be thrown into a living hell, suppose we instead became aware of what could
happen to class structure if disability became a part of the perspective on
organizing workers.  
On the one hand, the researcher above ignoring that disability (as a means of
creating class structure) has something to do with welfare rolls possibly
because disabled people conceptually are always outside the system of work
processes.   Where people who grow up in a mal-nourished environment develop
problems with various kinds of "able bodied" activity due to ingesting for
example lead paint this seems to mean to most people that that person is an
outcast from work itself, rather than question the structure of work itself that
creates such issues.   (It is a different issue that some disabled people can't
work.)   For which then others who are not at risk and can meet the multiple
demands upon their ability to work under schedules, lists of things to do, etc
function as part of the system and define an able bodiedness that impedes how we
might go in other directions.   But if people are to work anyway, then being
disabled has to become central to how work itself is organized, or the end
result is that disabled people will end up homeless and begging on the streets
as the easiest elements to discard in a work life that is strictly defined by "able
bodied" standards.  Furthermore since being disabled usually considered
invisible and outside the work force as in a natural part of welfare life, and
by ending welfare as we know it, this forces the issue of what to do with
millions of people affected by a lack of safety net.
However suppose we didn't take it as a given that the only way to do things is
according to able bodied standards.  What Marxism has always focused upon was an
understanding of the working class as a whole, as opposed to historical
divisions of working people based upon kinds of work, racism, sexism.  An effort
by business to employ people outside the able bodied norms does happen in this
economy, because of economic pressures to find more workers in a given
profitable market place.  We see some disabled people all the time in small
roles (tokens) while the bulk of people with disabilities remain locked out
(aggregate of major disabled categories is 70% unemployment rate).   In order to
structure a workers movement to disabled elements we have to look more closely
at the many different ways the social systems denies disabled people being part
of the whole.   Welfare concepts of who is a worker and isn't makes it
convenient for business to not pay for a system of work that counts disabled
people as human beings.  In a system where welfare safety nets don't exists, the
choice for disabled people is complete loss of all resources of support or
having the work system restructured to meet access needs.  There is no way for
disabled workers to fight effectively for those needs without social
organization linked to wider movements.  Social organization of workers cannot
address working class needs without making disability a serious part of the
whole structure of the working class.
Here is a typical specific one sees in disabled lives, a second example from the
capitalist press to give us a sense why we might understand wholeness about
class structure and class organizing of working class people has an important
disability component.
San Francisco Chronicle, page A10, Thursday May 11, 2000,
Stroke Victims Found to Be Good Lie Detectors,
With Speech Skills Damaged, They Learn to Read Facial Expressions,
by Richard A. Knox, Boston Globe,
"Boston, How do you tell when someone's lying? Don't listen to the words.  Watch
the face.
"Researchers are reporting that people who have suffered brain damage that wipes
out their ability to decipher speech are much sharper than almost everybody else
at spotting lies.
"Not that most people are very good lie detectors.  In fact, study after study
has shown that the vast majority are no better than a coin-toss at
discriminating truth from falsehood--and that includes police officers,
psychiatrists, judges and customs inspectors.
"In sharp contrast, stroke victims who suffer from a disorder called receptive
aphasia - the inability to comprehend speech - can detect nearly three lies out
of every four.
"The reason is that, at least for some kinds of lies, words apparently get in
the way of other telling clues to perception.  When the brain's left hemisphere
speech comprehension area is damaged, that removes the distraction of words.  The
researchers believe that other parts of the brain gradually sharpen, especially
right-hemisphere areas attuned to tiny, fleeting facial expressions that betray
true feeling...."
First we ought to keep in mind the caveat of Carrol Cox's recent remarks about
the popular presses frequent reprints of research claims.   Research results
often fluctuate from study to study, and we ourselves must keep a critical eye
upon the meaning of such things, being honest amongst ourselves about the
subject matter.
Through the lens of a disability we see how difficult it is to know how other
people feel from directly talking to them since these individuals who had a
stroke were now better equipped to understand how another person felt.  Thinking
strikes us as so apart from feelings because words (in the form of writing
systems) do not directly transmit what feelings really produce in human
consciousness, which is a sensation of our part in social structure.   As Marx
says of alienation of labor power in a broader context of the whole class, this
particular disability shows us that in a labor process of producing words we
encounter in normal communication, an emphasis upon words impedes the tools of
face to face human communication accomplishes.  The whole human being is
acknowledged by looking at the disability component to the whole.  It gives us a
sense of what we might construct toward in a great new social movement.
Similar processes of a need for understanding happen to people having to learn
any of the core languages in developed economies of Capitalism as a second
language in a new immigrant community, so we could understand many connections
outside of disabilities to a larger community of social forces in the whole
system which structure working class people.
Pre-literate societies depend upon face to face social organization (therefore
see/understand feelings more clearly than someone used to dismissing feelings as
meaningless through the influence of writing systems).  The material form of
producing information in a pre-literate society through speech acts can't
compare with the versatility and precision of writing thoughts down, but the
question is to understand how important it is to feeling the right thing about
what we do, compared to making sound "rational" judgement as we assume writing
produces as a labor process.  There is a tie to the process of production of
knowledge here (I am referring to a labor process), of writing words that
distorts human reality in the sense that oppression that makes itself known
through emotions cannot be adequately expressed through writing systems.  Necessary
as writing is to our level of culture and production, writing also reflects a
vast repression of the disabled through cognitive barriers to participation in
global culture.  Where we might demand that the work process be disabled
accessible, we see that we have to have a whole to the class structure.  This is
an extension of the original movement in labor organization to bind together
different industries into combinations that reflected the whole class of workers
in industries.
To summarize, the wide range of disabled experience, which is an out growth of
the unifying efforts of the activists who start the disabled movement thirty
years ago, we see many new ways of understanding what class does to the system.
 If we let go that someone disabled is invisible, and instead make them central
to the base of the movement we are given a unexplored terrain of organizing.  As
the above example shows with insights about what stroke sometimes does, we have
the materialist sources to understand much deeper what is going on in the system
that oppresses workers, we need to bring that in to our movement.
Doyle Saylor

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