[Marxism] pollin commentary!

MICHAEL YATES mikedjyates at msn.com
Mon Nov 24 16:44:12 MST 2003

I think that it is important to grasp the context in which steel and auto jobs came to be unionized.  Both were unionized in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  In the US there was a real left movement, and this was very helpful in terms of organizing and helping workers to grasp the truth of their situations.  Today there is no such thing.  Once the workers were organized, employers could be forced to pay higher wages without workers fearing that firms would move abroad. US firms faced very little competition; they produced most of the world's steel and cars for many years after WW2.  Keynesian economic ideas were embraced in part because the workers were relatively strong and because there was the Soviet Union as a real threat to capitalism.  Money couldn't be moved about the world so easily then.  However, it should be noted that steel and auto companies continuously reorganized their capital to make the products more efficiently, so that by say 1975, they could make a ton of steel or a car with much less labor than in 1950.  So union gains went to fewer and fewer workers.  We should note too that organized labor was deeply complicit in attacking the left wing unions and unionists and so lost whatever cutting edges they had.  

Today the context is entirely different, as I am sure we all know.  So to say that Wal Mart type jobs can be made into better jobs begs the questions posed by the different context.  Capital has been smelling blood for a long time now and won't rest until the entire Keynesian edifice is destroyed.  The genie has been let out of the bottle, and it is a lot smarter now that it was 70 or even 30 years ago.  Even the left has fallen into the trap of believing that what has been happening is somehow inevitable and therefore ought to be left to unfold, albeit with some regulation and a revived labor movement.  I mean we have leftist arguing that it is not important for a nation to maintain some sort of food independence.  Let's import all our food if we can't produce "efficiently."  The poor Korean farmer who killed himself just didn't understand the modern world.  Let's all eat at Chi Chi's and if we get hepatitis from contaminated imported onions, well at least trade has been good for the Mexican farmers.  As if Mexican agriculture isn't increasingly comprised of corporate farms.

Until working class leaders grasp all of this (and a lot more) fully, and begins to act radically, it is foolish to talk about a lot of "what ifs." Capitalism has long lost whatever progressive character it once had.  Why can't radical just say this, on Bill Moyers or wherever they speak?  God, too many people on the left worry that they will sound like radicals and be dismissed out of hand.  So what?  

And let me say finally that we have to at least broach the subject of the nature of work and the division of labor we all seem to take for granted.  Yes, the person who cleans Pollin's office should have a good job.  But why should so few people get to be teachers and why should any person have to spend his or her working lives cleaning offices?  So that in ten or twenty generations the bounties of "free trade" allow some descendant to become a professor?

Michael Yates  

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