[WARNING: the “pep talk” part of this takes a while to get to…and it’s probably not all that peppy, but headed in the right direction I think…]
Hard to watch or read any news for the last few weeks and not feel a growing sense of doom for those of us who strongly support labor–not just “working people” or “the middle class” (which are categories so diffuse that they don’t capture much anymore), but Labor, as a movement.
Yesterday we took hits in Wisconsin, which most of us know about, and Michigan, which took me by surprise. The day before, PA’s new Republican Governor, Tom Corbett, offered up a budget proposal that slashes state funding for public universities (already hovering just over 30% of our operating budgets) in half; demanding salary and benefits givebacks from public unions (at least he said it directly); and so on. We know about the passage of SB5 in Ohio, which will likely pass the House and be signed into law soon. Idaho legislators have voted to strip K-12 teachers of collective bargaining rights.
And this is, as we all know, just the beginning. Actually, no it isn’t. The effort to kill labor has been growing, steadily, for a long time now. Ronald Reagan’s breaking of the Air Traffic Controllers’ union is a more (but still not entirely accurate) marker of the onset of this strategy. We can leave it to the labor historians to duke out dates, but the point is that what we’re seeing right now isn’t new; it’s more frontal and more public than we’ve seen–as far as I know, we haven’t seen this level of attack on organized labor since about the 1940s)–but it hasn’t popped up from nowhere.
A lot of my liberal friends will disagree with me here (although a lot will agree, too), but one of the major enablers of the current attacks on labor is the national Democratic Party, which has taken Labor for granted for a very long time now. And that’s partly Labor’s fault, too, for living in an “At least they’re not Republicans” paradigm. Dems know Labor won’t desert them, so they vacuum up campaign contributions and organizing/mobilizing energy during elections and then do nothing to support Labor in between. The Dems could have passed EFCA quite easily had they wanted to, instead of just sweeping it under the rug. The Dems could have told the Republicans to shove the Bush tax cuts up their bums because we need that money to pay things that actual human beings need. But they haven’t, and there’s little reason to believe that will change in any future I can imagine.
So where does that leave the actual working people, the people on whose labor this country depends, to turn for support? All that’s really left, it seems, is each other. There are millions of us. We don’t have the cash that Waltons and Kochs and Gateses and Soroses have on hand. We don’t have the weapons that wingnut militias have lying around. We don’t have legislatures in our pockets like our self-appointed neo-liberal corporate masters have.
And you know what? I’m finding myself less and less troubled about those problems as every minute goes by. Why? Because the institutions they ru[i]n only continue to work as long as we the people continue to support them.
Whose money are the rich stealing? Ours! How do we stop that from happening? Don’t spend money on stupid crap; buy from union shops; tell the bad guys that you’re boycotting them; make a stink in every setting where people are giving money to culprits of exploitation.
Why do corrupt quasi-representative government institutions continue to sell us down the river? Because we let them–by voting, or not voting, and then pretending like we’ve discharged our duty as citizens until the next Election Day. We have to make demands and fight for them. We have to confront lawmakers and executives face-to-face. We have to demand that the self-annointed answer hard questions in public, and lambaste their empty answers.
On Facebook yesterday, two of my friends started calling for a General Strike, and quite honestly I think we have to start thinking about that. If Labor, as a movement, is going to mean anything in this country, it’s time for its proponents to think really hard about throwing down the gauntlet. For too long, our culture has subscribed to the “What’s good for _____ [fill in the blank with corporate quasi-capitalist behemoth] is good for America” logic, and it’s proven time and again to be a lie. Why not, “What’s good for American workers is good for America?”
What’s so damn hard about that?
Or put another way: We’ve allowed ourselves to be pigeon-holed as a “special interest” for too long. What could be less “special interest” than the basic economic security of the huge majority of the population? There is only a small cabal (the real “special interests”) to whom our basic economic security doesn’t matter. We can no longer wait around for those very elite, wealthy, selfish, solipsistic, inhumane people to come to their senses, to wake up, to have an epiphany, to see the Lord (or Karl Marx, or Lech Walesa, or whoever). We can do this without them.