Can the Working Class Engage Political Power and Win?
READING ASSIGNMENT – 35 pages of new reading.
1. ZWEIG, Chapter 8. “Power and the Government” (Pp: 157-171)
2. ZWEIG Chapter 9. “Into the Millennium” (Pp: 173-193)
3. FILM GUIDE: “SHIFT CHANGE: Putting Democracy to Work.” (This doc. is attached here & also posted up in the FILM GUIDE Folder on the RESOURCES Tab.)
TWO (2) VIDEO CLIPS
Worker-Owned Cooperatives in the U.S. … A Vision for the future?
1. “SHIFT CHANGE: Putting Democracy to Work” Directed by Melissa Young & Mark Dworkin. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK9SjSpRCcQ (7 mins: 05 secs)
2. News Program about the film, “Shift Change” – “The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK9SjSpRCcQ (9 mins: 25 secs)
QUIZ 8 on the film, “Shift Change.” The QUIZ asks three (3) questions about the film, based on the Film Guide & your screening of the two video clips. (QUIZ 8 is posted up on the ASSIGNMENTS Tab.)
In the final section of his book, our author Michael Zweig discusses what the Working Class Majority has done historically to claim political power, and what can be done in the present/future, especially given the unchecked power currently exercised by global capitalism.
There are two parts to this project of claiming power and making change:
1. Working class efforts to obtain greater power within the American political system (Chap. 7)
2. Working class efforts to obtain greater power within the globalized capitalist economy – one that reaches far beyond the national borders of the United States (Chapters 8 & 9)
ZWEIG: Chapter 8, POWER & THE GOVERNMENT
Three major questions are explored in this chapter of The Working Class Majority:
1. What *role* does the government play in the dynamic relationship between workers (LABOR) and owners of companies and corporations (CAPITAL)?
2. What role should the government play in the U.S. economy, and in the ongoing struggles between workers (labor) and employers/bosses and supervisors (capital)?
3. How can working class people engage the government to gain more power – based on our understanding of what the government does.
Question # 2, above, figures prominently in all the current discussion swirling around the upcoming 2016 presidential election – there are very sharp disagreements between Democrats and Republicans on the question of the government’s role in society.
Zweig’s final chapters invite you to re-evaluate your beliefs about the role the government should play in the economy, especially in relation to working class people.
In the introductory paragraphs of Chapter 8, Zweig discusses some of the prevalent negative attitudes *his* friends have about the government – and these are pro-labor, pro-working class people. This indicates just how deep anti-government sentiments are in our society.
Zweig rejects the idea that government is totally controlled by Big Business and the wealthy. He believes the government has an important role to play in resolving the problems working class people have and their struggles for greater social equality. While some progressive scholars and radical activists believe all electoral politics only works for the wealthy, dominant class, Zweig believes there is “wiggle room.” He believes there are specific moments and issues on which working people – at the job and in their family/community lives – can pressure the government to act in our favor. He does not believe the government *only* works for the rich, the powerful, the 1% — the owners of corporations, the banks and the financial institutions.
WHAT IS – AND WHAT SHOULD BE – THE ROLE OF THE GOVERNMENT IN THE DYNAMICS AND STRUGGLES BETWEEN WORKERS (LABOR) AND BOSSES/OWNERS/MANAGEMENT (CAPITAL)?
In the United States, at this moment in history, there are basically two distinct views about what the role of government should be: YOYO versus WITT
YOYO – “You’re On Your Own”: Individualism, no interventions or help from the government. The strong & the lucky survive and thrive. If you don’t “make it” in America – it is your own fault.
WITT – “We’re in This Together”: This view affirms that government needs to play a role, government is supposed to intervene in the economy and society. WHY? To “even the playing field,” to guarantee access to key resources (jobs, education, healthcare and housing) to *everyone* in U.S. Especially to make sure that the most vulnerable sectors of our population – children, the elderly, those who are sick, the disabled, poor people – are taken care of.
YOYO reflects the dominant values & beliefs about individualism that we are socialized to accept. Multi-national corporations and the super wealthy depend on the government very much: the government builds and maintains the roads, the ports, the utilities and all the other infrastructure projects necessary to build any company or corporation. The government basically takes care of those facets of the economy that the owners of corporations and firms do not want to pay for.
This is especially interesting when we consider that all the money the government must use to pay for these items comes from tax dollars – and the vast majority of taxes are paid by working class and middle class people. The wealthiest members of U.S. society have enjoyed one tax-cut after another since 1980. They also employ lawyers to take advantage of tax loopholes. They put their money in off-shore accounts and find other ways to hide their wealth so that it is not taxed. Meanwhile, the working class and middle class are paying for all the government programs that *serve* the rich through their tax dollars — even as real wages have remained stagnant for the past 30 years. (Real wages refers to the actual buying power of dollars earned, taking into account inflation and other factors.)
As ABC News reported on January 25, 2012 (SeniboyeTienabeso):
In a week when taxes and tax returns have dominated the headlines, billionaire investor Warren Buffett jumped back into the political debate and showed his returns exclusively to ABC News’ BiannaGolodryga, adding, “I have never had it so good. … What has happened in recent years, we were told a rising tide would lift all boats, but the rising tide has lifted all yachts.”
Buffett’s secretary since 1993, Debbie Bosanek, sat next to her boss just hours after being invited by the president to the State of the Union address, where the president made her the face of tax inequality in America.
Bosanek pays a tax rate of 35.8 percent of income, while Buffett pays a rate at 17.4 percent.
“I just feel like an average citizen. I represent the average citizen who needs a voice,” said Bosanek. “Everybody in our office is paying a higher tax rate than Warren.”
It is interesting to note the profound inconsistencies within the YOYO (You’re On Your Own!) belief system!
Now, those people who believe in the “YOYO” framework do not apply it uniformly to all fields of their lives: When it comes to the economy, the role government should play, and how workers should be treated, folks may assert “You’re On Your Own!” YET, they do not accept this way of thinking when it comes to their families & friends.
In the family, it is assumed that *all* will sacrifice and contribute to help each other. It is assumed that young children, the elderly, and those who are sick or disabled will be cared for and respected – even when they are not working or bringing in enough money to support themselves. When family members run into hard times, economically, other family members are expected to help out.
(Now, we may not like every member of our families, and we may resent the pressures put on us sometimes, but most of us accept these duties; heck, we consider our family obligations a point of honor – yes?)
The WITT (We’re In This Together!) Perspective applies a family approach to society as a whole. Advocates of the WITT position argue that Americans aren’t looking for a hand-out, but a “hand up.” To protect the vulnerable is a righteous, decent act. It resonates with all the values expressed in the dominant religious texts in the United States – the Bible (both Old & New Testaments), the Torah, and the Koran.
– What do you think happened between 1960s and 1970s – when WITT was the dominant U.S. shared, cultural belief, and today?
– Why and how has rampant individualism been intensified during the past 40 years?
– Why did the political and cultural emphasis in our country shift from WITT to YOYO?
– What powerful forces or class interests – the so-called “Market”(as if the Market had a mind of its own)
– What impact does racism play in the move away from sharing & taking care of each other?
– What role does anti-immigrant hysteria play in this sea-change of shared values and beliefs in the U.S.?
– How do you feel when you help others in need – through your family, your church, your trade union, your community service organization, or your friends?
– Do you feel “ripped off” and taken advantage of?
– Or, do you feel more noble?
– Do you gain skills when you share with others, or do *you* lose something?
… Who is it that we are being told is “coming to get us” or trying to “get something for nothing”? By this time in our course, you should be able to critically dissect and analyze such fear-mongering. How might you use the contents of the last chapters in Michael Zweig’s book to refute these Preconceived Notions and ideological beliefs… that are simply *not* substantiated by the economic and social facts?
Your task in these chapters is to read and understand the logic behind Zweig’s assessment. You may not agree with his position — BUT, I invite you to ask yourself *WHY* you hold the beliefs you do? Where do *your* beliefs about the role of government come from? How do you benefit from government actions? How do you think you are wounded by government actions? Are you a YOYO or WITT?
CHAPTERS 8 & 9 in Zweig’s book articulate a range of ways that working class people can mobilize to change our conditions of life: the quality of our jobs – (heck, just the existence and availability of jobs!) – the rate of wages & salaries, and the quality of our daily lives.
Zweig examines a wide range of working class mobilizations:
A. Independently, as workers – in trade unions:
1. at the work site, especially through collective bargaining negotiations with management
(the union contract) and through shop-floor activism and processing grievances
2. in political & community affairs, when workers mobilize as “the labor movement.”
B. In coalition with other constituency groups, including:
women, students, African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, native Americans, the LGBT community (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals & Transgender people), immigrants, and environmentalists
In Chapter 9, especially, Zweig stresses the importance of independent organization for working class people – separate from bosses, managers, supervisors or outside “consultants.” Why?
1. Working class people often do not see themselves as a group with common needs, interests and concerns. So, workers need to explore their situation, talk about their shared issues and find their voice– separate from the interests, power and influence of the powerful & wealthy. They need their own forum, their own organization – labor unions, and labor political parties.
2. When working class people unite with the wealthy and with their employers, the power differences too often determine the results. The extra resources, money, and sense of entitlement on the part of employers, managers, owners, and their lobbyists and lawyers shape the outcome. Working class people often fall silent, feel unsure of themselves, become passive, let “the experts” make decisions – in short, give up their power to the representatives of the more dominant sectors of society. (Those people seem to talk with confidence, they seem to “know it all”… and they can be very dismissive and impatient with working class people who try to articulate a different position.
3. Zweig argues that there are fundamental differences between the interests of working people and the interests of company owners, banks, corporations and the wealthy:
A. Working people want steady jobs, under safe working conditions, earning good incomes that will allow them to support themselves and their families.
B. The wealthy [the finance sector (bankers, investors and financial managers) and the owners of business] want to increase profits – by paying lower wages, cutting health care and other benefits, ignoring Occupational Safety & Health (OSHA) guidelines if they cost money to implement, AND *always* having the right to shut down their business in the U.S. and move to another state or another country where wages and environmental protections are cheaper.
Over the last few years, you have heard a lot about the 99% and the top 1% as a result of the Occupy Wall Street movement. This movement was protesting the immense difference in wealth between the top 1% of the population and the bottom 99% of the population. In New York City, tens of thousands of people participated in Occupy Wall Street. The encampment at Zucotti Park lasted for months. It was mainly young people, and mostly white people, but also older people – especially workers, trade unionists, African Americans and Latinos. These community allies – especially the labor unions who mobilized 20,000 strong – stopped police misconduct against the Occupiers on several occasions.
“Occupy Wall Street” became a nationwide movement in 2011 – far beyond the reaches of New York City. The movement set up encampments of tents and rallies and “happenings” in cities all across the country; five different Occupy encampments were set up in the state of Indiana. These lasted various time periods, ranging from a few weeks to several months – in cities like Bloomington, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Lafayette, and Indianapolis – together with large rallies in Gary. In my home city, South Bend, the Occupy Movement held onto their tent encampment for three and half months!
The Occupy Movement made the issue of profound income inequality a national concern. Social inequality became a front-page issue, from September 2011, through the Presidential Elections of November, 2012. The trend of increased income inequality in the United States began more than 30 years ago in 1980; every year since then, the wealthiest sectors of our society have increased their income and wealthy, while the purchasing power, salaries, and wealth of the middle class, working class and poor have diminished. (You read about this in the documents by Martin Wolfson, the economist from Notre Dame.)
Income inequality has been accomplished through various means, including regular tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Zweig reviews this process in detail in Chapter 9.
While the rise in income inequality has been a well-documented trend over the past 30 years, it was silenced or ignored until very recently. In the fall of 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement brought the issue to the Front Page of every newspaper, to the center of attention. It became a major issue in the presidential campaign of 2012. And this concern resonates with the issues Zweig raises in Chapters 8 & 9 – see for example Pg. 177 and the references provide by Zweig for this chapter.
Chapter 9 – Into the Millennium
The final chapter in Zweig’s book is significantly different and updated in the 2012, 2nd edition – this is the version of the book that you *should* be reading. In this chapter (Pp:174-75) , Zweig summarizes some of the major changes in U.S. society since the publication of first edition of his book in 2000, including:
* the emergence of China, India and Brazil as major world economic powers, coupled with diminished economic and political power for the United States.
* The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the related wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are the longest wars in U.S. history, draining billions of dollars from the economy, mobilizing [1.9 million military personnel deployed since 2002 (National Academies Press) http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=12812&page=17; with the total cost of these wars estimated at $1.283 trillion, according to the Congressional Research Service http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf] We are now being convinced that our country will have to fund and deploy troops in “Forever Wars;” NEVER BEFORE WAS SUCH AN IDEA EVEN CONSIDERED – IT WAS JUST PREPOSTEROUS!
* Expansion of the Internet, social networking and the revolution in technology and communications associated with the digital age.
* Transformation of K-12 public education with “No Child Left Behind” legislation which emphasizes standardized tests over critical thinking and more in-depth discussion.
A few pages further, Zweig notes that the U.S poverty rate is the highest it’s been in 20 years, 1 out of 6 workers are unemployed, and millions of people have lost their homes to bank foreclosures (Pg 177).
“Yet, even as evidence of class divisions is stronger than at any time in living memory, the existence of class in the United States continues to be one of the great secrets” (Pg. 175).
Zweig then proceeds to trace the ways corporate and ruling class interests have mobilized to create a “coordinated and well-planned campaign” (Pg. 179). Zweig outlines a political, intellectual, and cultural movement determined to turn back the social advancements won by working class people since the New Deal of the 1940s.
These attacks have been on unemployment insurance, social security for retired people, access to affordable, quality healthcare, and government regulation & quality control over food and medicine production (FDA) .
Zweig considers these attacks to be a continuation of class warfare of the ruling class/elite against the working class majority.
[ATTENTION: I refer you back to the film, Class Dismissed from the beginning of the semester! Remember our author, Barbara Ehrenreich’s story about being accused of class warfare any time she opened her mouth to discuss problems of poverty & unemployment: “Why, you cant talk about that! That’s CLASS WARFARE!”]
Class warfare between striking workers and their bosses and hired guns, used to be bloody and violent in the United States, until the acceptance of unions and protection for collective bargaining by the federal government. This began during the Great Depression of the 1930s and 1940s, with passage of the National Labor Relations Act. This law legalized trade unions.
Today’s class warfare doesn’t take place on the streets outside mines and factories, but in the ideological campaigns and right-wing corporate think tanks like ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council, http://www.alec.org/) the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, Fox cable news, Dick Army and Freedom Works, the Koch brothers (David and Charles), and the Tea Party.
These groups call for massive cuts in social programs and less government regulation, arguing that businesses and Wall Street can regulate themselves. They want to curtail or eliminate the existence of trade unions and occupational safety & health regulations at the workplace. Zweig traces the development of this campaign back to the 1970s (Pp: 178-180).
Conservative, pro-business forces who call for these cuts, also project an intense insistence that *any* response from the left or liberals to increase working peoples’ standard of living is “class warfare.”
In response to all these assaults on the standards of working class people, Zweig reviews the fear campaign mobilized around the national deficit. He takes special note of the profound impact the ongoing U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on U.S. fiscal resources. Zweig notes that there has been little effective response on the part of the majority of U.S. citizens. Why not?
Zweig argues that many people have been convinced that personal liberty is at odds with government programs: “big government = less personal freedom.”
Even when the term “class” is mentioned in the press and by politicians, they only refer to the “middle class” which they say is “hurting” or “disappearing.”
1. The ruling class is not mentioned. Even after the financial meltdown of 2008 caused by bankers, hedge fund and Wall Street investors, the press only talked about a few bad individuals who should be punished (Pg. 175) – not the systematic, institutional structures of banking and investment companies, and the millionaires and billionaires who benefit from them.
2. The working class is not mentioned. Sometimes “the poor” are mentioned, but not the working class. It is assumed that everyone is middle class. And, that to say someone is working class would be an insult. The idea is to be “polite” and respect the aspiration and desires everyone has to become successful and achieve upward mobility, to become middle class. (Remember the point I made early on in the semester about the distinction between our aspirations and desires, and the structural reality of class – Zweig Chapter 3!)
THIS ACTION & ATTITUDE IS A DISTORTION IN SO MANY WAYS!
— It becomes another moment when class frameworks, and the concept of a “working class” become erased and invisible. (This brings us back to the very beginnings of our course & the film, “Class Dismissed.”)
— It reinforces the notion that to be working class is bad, less valuable, something to “get away from,” to move beyond – definitely not an identity to embrace and be proud of.
— In response to these attitudes, who would want to claim a working class identity, in order to fight for working class rights and the need for quality jobs and good, union wages?
— Without organizing as a working class, people do not fight for working class needs.
[ATTENTION STUDENTS: Do you see how the class has come full circle in our investigation of Class, Labor & Society? Everything you first became acquainted with at the beginning of the semester – the film, Class Dismissed and Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Nickel & Dimed should be making more sense to you at this point in the course.]
Zweig argues that, because U.S. people do not *see* the problems in class terms, and do not claim a class identity, they cannot mobilize to defend their interests.
Other distortions of working class reality pointed out by Zweig include the way that African American and Latino votes are identified in racial terms, and never described as working class – for example, when they voted for President Obama (Pg. 176).
Zweig identifies some of the reasons that create this conundrum or contradiction for the working class majority, including the lack of financial resources and access to mainstream communications networks to project al alternative perspective on class.
Zweig is also critical of what he considers to be a lack of vision on the part of the current trade union leadership. He is angry about the concessions or give-backs that trade unions agreed to (this refers to a cut in established rules, including reductions in wages and benefits).
Zweig calls for energy, vision and coalitions to build working class power. He wants to see trade unions link up with other social movements (women, African Americans, Latinos, and other racially oppressed peoples, environmentalists, immigrants and the LGBT community) to build coalitions that can win.
In the 2012 Presidential election, Obama did not win the state of Indiana, but it is interesting to note that he won 60% of all young people’s votes, 55% of women’s votes, and 65% of all votes by union members (http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2012/11/07/after-election-labor-leaders-plan-next-steps/). This is in addition to winning the vast majority of votes cast in the African American, Latino, and Asian communities. Could this coalition of young people, women, union members and communities of color (also referred to as racial/ethnic minorities) be interpreted as one example of a coalition of working class people?
FORUM # 10 – SEVEN (7) QUESTIONS FOR STUDENTS TO ADDRESS
(This FORUM is worth up to TEN (10) Points, for high quality responses)
Don’t forget to post twice, once in response to the questions, and once more in response to a posting by another student, also with a strong references (pg. # citation).
In your 2nd posting in response to another student, be sure to discuss the debate between YOYO & WITT. For full credit, be sure to include references to the text, with page number citations.
From the Lecture Notes:
1. (2 pts.) How do you understand the differences between YOYO and WITT? If you disagree, how would *you* describe the tension between conservatives and liberals over the role the government should play?
2. (1 pt.) What are your thoughts about these two belief systems? Where do you stand on this tension?
3. (1 pt.) Have your opinions changed at all, as a result of taking this class?
… from Chapter 8, “Power and the Government”
4. (2 pts.) What is Privatization:
5. (2 pts.) According to Zweig, how does privatization impact working class people, specifically?
6. (1 pt.) What is the Social Wage?
… from Chapter 9 “Into the Millennium”
7. (1pt.) What is the Labor Party, as conceived of by Michael Zweig?