[Marxism] Review of Michael Yates's book

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Jul 18 19:40:57 MDT 2004


Friday, July 16, 2004
Labor Lessons
By Seth Sandronsky

Review of Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy 
by Michael D. Yates (Monthly Review Press, 2003, 288 pages).

Working Americans are not alone, though it may seem that way sometimes. 
In fact, they join a mass of about 2.7 billion people worldwide who 
labor for a living. In Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the 
Global Economy, author Michael D. Yates focuses on workers here and 
abroad to show how a lack of equality on the job ultimately affects 
humanity under a social form of organization called capitalism.

No armchair radical, Yates writes in plain language that readers will 
enjoy. He has honed his analysis as an author, editor and professor of 
economics and labor relations at the University of Pittsburgh at 
Johnstown and as a teacher of autoworkers and prisoners.

Crucially, Yates clarifies the official view of work. For instance, his 
book is a resource for working people to understand better the false 
claims about America’s “new economy” during the 1990s. A leading voice 
of that false view is Chairman Alan Greenspan of the Federal Reserve 
Bank. He claimed that human productivity and digital technology would 
bring society a new era of prosperity. In contrast, Yates shows how and 
why the wealth created in that decade did not flow downward to the vast 
majority but upward to a rich few. Readers can refer to his book for 
evidence to refute claims about a “populist” stock market that enriches 
Main Street.

Read and discover how so-called “women’s work” at home—from the rearing 
of kids to the care of elders—goes uncounted in the official measure of 
a nation’s productivity. Yates details the process by which women who 
work for a wage usually suffer double or, if they are nonwhite, triple 
oppression. Learn why women working for wages in U.S. offices and 
Indonesia’s sweatshops have much in common. I liked Yates’ new and 
eye-opening details on women’s entry into paid work during the 20th 
century worldwide.

Regular readers likewise can grasp Yates’ many concrete examples of 
lousy work with low pay and benefits. He makes clear how unemployment 
and underemployment within and between nations depresses wages to boost 
profits. American workers rarely hear, read or see such analysis of this 
topic in mass media or in schools.

Yates’ chapters on mainstream or neoclassical vs. radical economic 
theory cut through much confusion about both. He studied and taught the 
former for years. Then the anti-Vietnam War and civil-rights movements 
made Yates question his teachings. Why? “The neoclassical theory sets up 
a completely abstract model of capitalism, devoid of any connection to 
reality, and then proceeds to trace out the logic of this abstract model 
and make predictions about the real world,” he writes.

Like Karl Marx witnessed 150 years ago as capitalism emerged from 
feudalism in England, Yates sees working people, those who must sell 
themselves by the hour to a boss to earn cash to get by, as the key to 
expanding human freedom. This concept is at the heart of Yates’ radicalism.

On that note, his book is a radical primer on the national and global 
economy that uses real working people’s experiences as its basic text. 
This is an empowering process for readers whose working lives are hard 
to see in media and schools. Accordingly, many lessons for a better 
future are to be found in his study of workers’ past triumphs and 

One recent victory, he notes, is the burgeoning global justice movement 
at many American colleges. Students against sweatshops, together with 
some American unions and foreign workers, are improving international 
equality, Yates writes. In unity, they are heeding his words that, “We 
must ‘name the system’ – capitalism—if we want to build a better world.” 
Yates’ book is a resource for ordinary people struggling to create more 
equality at home and abroad. Read it and get busy, people.


Seth Sandronsky is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action and 
co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He 
can be reached at: ssandron at hotmail.com.

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