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economy

Book Review:

Windham, Lane, “Knocking on Labor’s Door. Union Organizing in the 1970s and the Roots of a New Economic Divide.” University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2017

Capitalism is said to have begun in the middle of the 17th century in England. Workers and bosses have been fighting since then. Any period in that great long battle for democracy, dignity and a living wage would be an interesting period.

picketing

This author chose the 1970s in the United States. Certain underlying economic and social developments made it a period of interesting class warfare.

  • The civil rights movement and the women’s movement had created a more diversified, and more militant bunch of activists into organizable workplaces
  • The “American Century” of economic domination over the war-weary victims of World War II was noticeably beginning to end
  • America’s most devoted and seasoned labor activists had been driven away by the great witch hunt that began in 1946. Union militancy had turned into “business unionism.”

Union density peaked at about 35% of the workforce earlier, but unions still had about 20% of the workforce in the early 1970s. Union members had far better wages, better benefits, better pensions, and better jobs than the workforce at large. Part of the consequence of getting more for union members while ignoring other workers was increasing isolation for the unions.

Nevertheless, young people wanted to unionize. They fought hard. For the most part in the 1970s, they lost. One could argue that the events from 1947’s Taft Hartley law to 1970 had foreordained that labor would lose, but that isn’t Mr. Lane’s argument. It’s mine.

Lane argues that companies simply worked harder at union busting. They increasingly won government over to their side. By the end of the 1970s, when Ronald Reagan was elected, the downhill slide was evident to everyone. In 1995, maybe a little late, the AFL-CIO started trying to adjust to the new situation.

One shining light in Lane’s book is the early success of an organization called “9 to 5.” They organized women to fight for the workplace rights that the larger women’s movement had won through federal legislation. The idea of organizing outside the control of government authorities like the National Labor Relations Board was a good one, and they had some early successes. However, it didn’t last.

In fact, most of the hopes that young activists may have had for union organizing in the 1970s were crushed. This is not a happy book to read. I wish he had chosen the 1990s, when American labor began to show some real promise.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. We podcast it and “Workers Beat Extra” dialogue on Wednesdays on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my old personal site.

The rich rulers of America have not chosen fascism at this time. That’s the only reason we don’t have it yet.

Today’s endless stream of denunciations of the January 6th fascist riots in Washington are excellent as far as they go. All of them blame Donald Trump. Some of them call for his removal. Some call for the removal of Senator Cruz and the other Republicans within Congress who provided the “legitimate” cover for the rioters and looters. One of those Republicans made videos of himself breaking into the Capitol with the rioters!

But every outraged denunciation I have read so far misses the point. The January 6th fascist uprising is just one of many such outrageous political acts around the world. There is a universal fascist movement, and it is gaining power.

Like any political development, there are reasons for the burgeoning fascism. Those who lay the blame on individual demagogues, even truly disgusting opportunists like Donald Trump, haven’t made a proper analysis. Without a proper analysis, a practical remedy is impossible.

The root of the crisis is unbounded inequality. The prevailing economic system is making the rich obscenely richer and the poor even poorer. Logic infers that the remedy is a different system, but there has been inadequate leadership in that direction. Instead, the world’s discontented are being channeled toward racism and supernationalism.

Instead of understanding that the system we live in can only make inequality worse and does not have the capacity to do otherwise, we are told to blame peoples of other nations, ethnicities or skin coloring.

Racists rioted and attacked their capitol in Germany last August. They rioted and attacked their capitol in Washington in January.

As we live in the U.S., we must primarily concern ourselves with the fascists here at home. They are not so hard to understand, because their political tendency has always existed and was made most clear during the American Civil War. They lost that war but won the peace and continued to dominate people of color.

Their political home was the Democratic Party until the civil rights movement became victorious (1965). After that, the Dixiecrats re-aligned with the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan announced his run for the presidency in a notorious racist town, Philadelphia, Mississippi. Powerful Senator Phil Graham of Texas quickly changed from Democrat to Republican, as did many other reactionaries.

But the Republican alliance of rulers and racists was always unstable. It only needed the pinch of a worsening crisis and an unstable demagogue like Donald Trump to split the coalition with violence. The racists ransacked the Capitol, the rulers piously tried to pull their skirts up out of the muck they had created. In the immediate future, they will likely emphasize their other political party.

That is what happened on January 6th, and it is far from over.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s ‘Workers Beat’ program at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. We also podcast “Workers Beat Extra” on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, take a look at my personal web site

Tomorrow, October 26, reaction will likely firm its grip over one of the three branches of American government. Assuming that the votes reported from November 3 favor Mr Biden but are sufficiently close, Mr Trump will begin maneuvers to have democracy set aside. The people will respond.

Democracy is growing less and less convenient for the people in power.

When it first began to spread to the working masses, around 1651, it worked out great for the rich. The new kind of workers, prematurely named “free labor,” was far superior to the slaves, serfs, and peons of before. The new merchants and manufacturers could employ “free labor” to run their complicated machinery. Slaves, serfs, or peons had been okay as long as plows and wheelbarrows were their highest technology, but intercontinental travel and high-level manufacturing needed workers who could be highly trained and organized.

If we wanted to talk “isms,” we would say that capitalism created “free labor” and increased democracy. But “isms” are a distraction. We are just talking about groups of people bound together by their common economic interests. The big group was “free labor,” but the smaller group of bosses was running things.

The “free labor” group believed, as all exploited people must believe, that they were part of an ageless and unchangeable system, for better or for worse. Through the generations, they studied and they toiled, they believed, for their own benefit and for the benefit of their children. Actually, the main beneficiaries were in the other group.

Democracy was a blessing to the working people and not entirely inconvenient for the bosses, as long as they still controlled the major economic levers. Workers could be allowed to vote for some of their representatives in government, but they were allowed very little say-so about major economic decisions or government policy. Decisions about war, in particular, had to be reserved for the elite.

Here in America, partial democracy had barely begun before it began to be challenged. Slavery became intolerable, not only to the slaves but to a significant part of the population. Landless workers wanted democracy. Women wanted to vote. People “of color” wanted freedom. Younger people insisted on a fair share. Everybody wanted more education for their children and independent news agencies sprang up everywhere.

The elite rulers found themselves with the Frankenstein dilemma. They had created and nurtured both “free labor” and its concomitant democracy, but both were getting out of control.

The changes were gradual over time. Ordinary people became better educated, more information sources became available, communications improved, organization opportunities grew. Democracy was ascending, and the tight grip of the ever-smaller group of big bosses was threatened.

Even though change is gradual, it is highlighted in certain events and periods. The Vietnam War was one of them. From the bosses’ point of view, the decision was a simple one: they were going to destroy their enemies and perpetuate their control, just as they were accustomed to doing. But democracy and the people began to interfere. When the civil rights movement joined hands with the anti-war demonstrators, even the bosses could see that change was coming.

Since then, education has exploded, information sources have multiplied, communication has headed for the stratosphere, and organizing opportunities are going through the roof. The people see democracy as more than a comfort. It is a necessity and must be extended!

Many of the bosses no longer see democracy as tolerable. It has to be fought. It has to die.

What Will Happen

What will happen, sooner or later, is what must happen. The immovable object and the irresistible force must confront one another. Progress and reaction cannot reconcile. A small group of secret rulers will not willingly cede control. Ascendant democracy for all cannot tolerate a small group of secret rulers. Progress and the people will prevail.

TV Review: “One Dollar” Ten chapters of a TV series on CBS All Access.

“One Dollar” is a modern film noir. It’s also a lot of other things that make it really worthwhile.

It’s social commentary about life in America’s Rust Belt as the jobs disappear and the people sink into despondency. It’s uplifting vignettes about people caring for one another during hard times. Its an exploration of the lives of working families in crisis. It’s a tribute. It’s one damn fine piece of artistry.

In a small town near Pittsburg, the first men to come to work at the town’s steel mill discover pools of blood. There are no bodies, and apparently no one is missing. Competence is not one of the characteristics of the local police force. Only one tired and cynical ex-police detective has the interest and the ability to figure out what happened. He can’t sleep. He can’t express himself. He’s a perfectly jaded film noir detective. He can’t stop inquiring.

Not all of the excellently portrayed characters in the small town have anything at all to do with the blood crime. Some of them just briefly carry around the one dollar bill that circulates around town and gives the series its name and motif. But they all explain the town and the times.

It’s a darned good story well told. But that’s not why I raised my opinion several notches before I got to Chapter 10. It was when I realized that Robert Altman, the great American film director who died in 2006, was still alive through the works of present-day directors. I have always thought that Altman’s “Nashville” represented the highest order of film technique, and I saw a lot of it in “One Dollar.”

Remember Altman’s great transitions from one vaguely related part of the story to another? Remember how he could juggle a dozen different stories and keep them all interesting even though they seemed unrelated? “One Dollar” does that. It works and I am grateful.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. They podcast the program and “Workers Beat Extra” on Soundcloud. If you are curious about what I actually think, check out my personal web site

Labor needs an advanced program to meet today’s extreme challenges:

  • Six-hour day!
  • No corporate bailouts!
  • Democracy first!
  • Infrastructure!
  • Organize Everybody!

Nobody is prouder than I of the improvements in the AFL-CIO since the leadership change of 1995. We have reached new peaks this year with our May 1 celebrations and our taking sides with the movement for racial justice.

But the situation is changing so quickly and so dramatically that I believe the American labor movement needs very advanced thinking if we expect to be able to say that we truly represent the needs of all working families. There is little danger, in this extreme situation, of overreaching.

Six Hour Day!

Because of the ongoing unemployment crisis, now is the time to re-implement our old demand for shorter working hours. A six-hour day would help with unemployment and, most likely, increase labor productivity just as it did when the Fair Labor Standards Act came.

During the heyday of the CIO and for a while afterward, American unions demanded “30 for 40 with no cut in pay!” We wanted a 30-hour work week with the same pay we were making in 40 hours. I once checked the resolutions at conventions of the UAW and found that “30 for 40” was there every convention until 1957. That same year was also the peak of U.S. labor organizing. We had 37% of the workforce organized in America!

After 1957, shorter working hours was forgotten and it’s hard to find a union leader today that even knows about it. One exception is a former officer of a local of the United Transportation Union. The UTU is a railroad union. Tom Berry actually negotiated a contract with a 6 hour work day in it, and he will still talk to you about it any Saturday evening when his free speech forum takes place in Dallas. I’m proud he’s my friend.

Somewhere in my moldy pile of old books, I have one about the struggle for shorter working hours. I think it might be named “It’s About Time.” Just as one could make a case for the age old class struggle being a fight for democracy, one could also say it was about time.

Prior to the industrial revolution, most people worked from dawn to dusk. They were outdoors, varying their tasks, and doing their own pacing, so it may not have been nearly as hard for them as it was for factory workers after the industrial revolution. From the industrial revolution forward, working families have fought their bosses over working hours.

In 1886, we had worldwide strikes to try to win an 8-hour day. The main leaders of that movement in Chicago were rounded up and hanged, so we didn’t hear a lot more about it until the Great Depression. When unemployment soared, the Roosevelt Administration pushed for the Fair Labor Standards Act. It was finally passed on June 25, 1938.

The FLSA doesn’t guarantee an 8-hour day. It just mandates overtime pay for working over 40 hours in a given workweek. Bosses don’t like to pay overtime, so 40 hours became something of a norm on many worksites.

America’s overtime problem today rivals that of 1938, so everybody should be able to understand and get behind the demand for shorter working hours now.

Jobs and Infrastructure

Now is the time to demand trillions of dollars for infrastructure repair and advancement. Truly terrible unemployment may be with us for a long time if strong progressive action is not taken. Among the many pressing infrastructure problems is the need for fast internet everywhere.

Democracy Comes First!

Our political demands must be improved in the direction of defending and strengthening democracy, because working families need it most and the wealthy employers of today are not going to provide it. Our usual demands for fair wages, benefits and the right to organize, of course, must be pursued.

No More Corporate Bailouts!

Since 2007, most of the economic action of the government has been directed toward propping up employers with little regard for working families. It needs to stop. If a corporation can only survive by getting a government bailout, it doesn’t need to survive. If workers are displaced by corporate failure, they should be employed directly by government. Their efforts should go toward meeting human needs, not profits.

Corporations have shown and are showing that they cannot be trusted “middle men” to distribute corporate welfare as wages to their suffering employees. In the last crisis and the current one, corporations hid their windfalls from the public and, as soon as they could, redistributed the money to themselves!

They are in that same process with pandemic bailout money right now!

Organize Everybody!

American labor has done is doing a valiant job, especially considering our dwindling resources. In order to bring forward a truly progressive agenda, we are going to have to redouble our efforts to win over the general American population. Our on-line arm, Working America, is perfectly suited to doing this work, especially during the pandemic.

With a progressive program and a digital approach, American labor can organize everybody!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk who every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. We podcast it, and some of my other talks, on Soundcloud. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Are today’s protests really going to change America? Will racism come to an end?

One thing I have really liked about the last 11 days of international protest is that it seems to be evolving from unfocused outrage toward serious demands. One recent local demand I’m hearing is to fire the Dallas mayor, city administrator, and police chief. I’m pretty sure there’s no real change in that one because we’d just end up with 3 new faces, just as likely worse as better.

The police themselves are coming up with some reforms. Dallas police, for example, say they will no longer use choke-holds against us and that they will announce their intentions before they shoot us. Individual police will be asked to restrain other police who are doing things illegally. The Democrats have a bill in Congress that would theoretically change police from “warriors” to “protectors.” All non-transitional reforms are welcome, but they don’t change the fundamental relationship between police and the population.

Most recently, I hear the demand “defund the police” and re-allocate the money to developing poor communities. According to today’s Dallas newspaper, some City Councilpersons seem to be in favor! That demand might actually be transitional.

When I was a Trotskyite, we argued that transitional demands were those that could not be met while capitalism remained intact. We used to say that our Vietnam anti-war demand “Out Now!”, a very powerful and successful demand, was transitional. The argument was that capitalism could not exist without successful imperialism. With hindsight, we have to say that we were wrong, because America withdrew from Vietnam and went right on with imperialism.

In the 1960s we had a similar youth movement. Possibly bigger, although it’s hard to tell because there are literally hundreds of smaller demonstrations every day. But that was during a time of prosperity. Those student activists had very little chance of actually connecting with the working class, and in truth we didn’t.

Today, we probably have at least fifty million American families in dire economic straits. Most of the world is even worse off. The young activists won’t find it very hard, if they try, to connect with the rest of the working class. Nobody, except the affluent, like what is happening and is about to happen in America.

As the American labor federation, AFL-CIO, has already called for a “Day of Action” on June 17, which will include a demand for racial justice, we are likely to find out sooner rather than later about this worker/youth connection.

Today’s young activists, if they try, will not find it difficult to connect with the rest of the world working class, either. The most impressive thing about today’s demonstrations is their worldwide reach!

Could local governments “defund the police” and still maintain capitalist control over our giant working class? That’s the question that makes it all so interesting!

I don’t think we’re going to find out because I don’t think that police are likely to be defunded anytime soon, even though the demand will not disappear. It’s more likely that this demand will be added to future consciousness-raising economic demands that, considered together, will truly change the world!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. The program is podcast along with “Workers Beat Extra” podcasts every Wednesday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

It is difficult to absorb the true gravity of today’s situation or the meaning of the protests in the cities of the world. Even though they have captured all the headlines and are undeniably important, I think they are only skirmishes in a battle that has yet to come.

From Wikipedia: “A skirmish is a term first used in the 14th century.[2] It meant a small-scale fight between two opposing forces or a preliminary battle involving troops in front of the main force.”

The main forces of the antagonists have not yet engaged. Only the advanced forces have begun the combat. The skirmishers on our side are the youth. They are more willing to fight, and they have more to fight for. On the other side, the skirmishers are police forces. They are the first line of administration for the people who run our society.

The main forces have yet to be committed. So far, the military has not been employed, at least not completely. Mr. Trump threatens to use them, and he certainly would, but he hasn’t yet. Organized labor, always defensive, is not likely to respond until there is no other choice. There is some hope that workers may organize outside the restrictions set up to cripple traditional unions. A general strike may not be so far in the future.

The economic situation makes the war inevitable. As American economic power decreased relatively, beginning in the early 1970s, the employers demanded more and more from the working class. For the workers, the situation has become intolerable. It is fight or die.

Class war is not new, but the circumstances have changed drastically. Workers are far better educated and far better networked than ever before. Employers not only have their traditional rifles and bayonets, but they also have nuclear weapons.

New strategies will come into play. It is unlikely that major working class forces will commit until the situation gets more desperate, but insightful people may be ready to fight now. The trick is to find each other and organize.

-Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s ‘Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. The radio show and several “Workers Beat Extra” presentations are podcast every Wednesday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site..

Around the world, more people are in motion today than at any time since the early 1970s. The flash point was the police murder of Mr George Floyd in Minneapolis. There are demonstrations all over the planet, and some of them are quite militant. But do they have a plan?

Police brutality is hardly the only issue. Planet-wide, we are in an economic downturn that looks to become worse than the Great Depression. Any chance of saving Earth from environmental disaster is ticking away. The fascists among us are overwhelming our democracy. We are dying everywhere of a pandemic that is not, whatever the politicians might say, under control. All hope of international cooperation seems destroyed by President Trump. World war may be imminent. To put it succinctly, the system is breaking down.

Answers, Anyone?

I seek answers. As a talk radio host, I get to listen to a lot of heartfelt complaints. I ask them, “What should we do? What is the solution?” But they don’t know.

Social media is full of the same. Unending complaints about the world we live in; almost no positive suggestions. To be sure, the electoral enthusiasts among us continue to ask people to vote. I certainly agree with them, but I wouldn’t want to stand in front of the angry throngs of America today and say that my sole answer to their swollen anger is “vote Democrat in 2020.” They have heard that many times before, and they aren’t buying it.

The radicals among us, on both sides of the spectrum, aren’t connecting. One gentleman called our talk show and said that we need to re-institute segregation. What an awful person, but at least he had a plan! The so-called leftists call in and say that we have to “fight imperialism” or “smash the state.”  They’re probably right, but those are long-term goals, not prescriptions for the here and now.

Labor Turns Away

Just about the best of the down-to-Earth solutions being posed has just slipped away from us. The AFL-CIO national labor federation had called for a “Day of Action” June 3 to win passage of the HEROES Act in Congress. The Act would greatly ameliorate the economic crisis. It would also help with the political crisis by providing more money for electoral reform. But, alas, just today, the national leadership postponed the Day of Action.

They sent out a statement that was very good, but didn’t really explain why they postponed their actions for June 3. It may well have been a result of last night’s attack on National AFL-CIO Headquarters in Washington DC. Windows were broken and a fire was set! We might assume that they believed that the June 3 Day of Action would invite more thuggery.

I absolutely loved the Tweet sent out by the President of the Central Labor Council in Sioux Falls, South Dakota: “It hurts to see damage being done to the @AFLCIO headquarters. But I believe it brings to light two facts: 1) The people did not recognize the building as the headquarters of a movement that fights for them 2) That is our fault.

In my opinion, the labor leadership made a major mistake. If labor is truly in solidarity with the anti-racists on the street, we should be on the street with them. Others are marching without condoning violence and looting, why shouldn’t we?

Another possibility is that the AFL-CIO does not want to risk being seen as anti-police because they generally welcome organized police associations into labor’s organizations. Some of us think that, too, is a mistake.

By calling off the Day of Action, our labor federation turns down the opportunity to lead the progressive movement in a positive direction. Our demand to pass the HEROES Act might not solve all of America’s problems, but it certainly goes in the right direction. Further, our demand had the distinction of being just about the only reasonable positive demand being proposed!

OUR FAILURE

Vandals vandalize, looters loot, and America’s great and powerful progressive movement continues milling around leaderless! That’s our failure.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. The podcasts are on Soundcloud. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Serious groups and individuals are trying to find a way forward during this crisis, but many of us come up with different answers. The reason is that we don’t really understand the problem. That’s our biggest mistake.

It’s popular now to blame President Trump for everything. Since Bernie Sanders cancelled his campaign, some of my friends are blaming Joe Biden. In a more general sense, some blame the Republicans. Some still blame the Democrats. Some blame the people who vote wrong, some blame the people who don’t vote at all. Some blame the Chinese and others say we should be more like the Chinese.

All of them are only partially right.

The economic/ecological/financial/medical/political crisis is not the fault of the Chinese, not the fault of the pandemic, not Trump’s fault, not Obama’s, and not Adam Smith’s. If we were going to blame one of them, we should probably single out Adam Smith. He’s the one who promoted our big mistake by spreading the horse-hockey theory that capitalism was a rational system.

Keynes explains capitalism
Keynes explains capitalism

Capitalism is not a rational system. Never was, still isn’t, never will be. Capitalism really isn’t even a system. The best way to define capitalism is to say that capitalists are running things. The capitalists replaced the aristocrats mostly in the 17th and 18th centuries. The aristocrats had replaced the slave owners in a long process before that. Aristocrats were more productive than the slave owners. Capitalists were more productive than aristocrats, but they still hadn’t evolved up to a rational system.

Even Adam Smith didn’t actually claim that capitalism was guided by rational thinking. He said it was guided by an “invisible hand” that made it good for everyone. He didn’t say that the invisible hand was rational, so that’s to his credit. He should have said, though, that it’s a crazy hand. A psychopathic hand. That would have been more honest.

Capitalists work from a national framework. They take over other, less efficient, economies. They don’t prefer to use their national armies, but they will. When there are no more territories or peoples to take over, they have to face off against one another. That was the situation in 1914 when the big capitalists made us go to war.

If the capitalists were in control of a rational system, they might have found some other kind of solution. I don’t think that individual capitalists, for the most part, really wanted to go to war. Well, maybe Winston Churchill, but not a lot of the capitalists.

After the War to End All Wars and a brief period of prosperity to replace everything they had broken and to grow some new cannon fodder, the capitalists extended their crisis into the Great Depression. Another World War and another prosperous period of replacing broken things brought them into their present crisis.

During and since the Great Depression, the capitalists have been using their power over the government to bail out their failed businesses. In 2007, armored trucks full of money scurried from government agencies to banks and big business. They are doing it again now, and they will have to do it again in future if they are going to stay in power.

What If We Had a Rational System?

Let me change the direction of the argument slightly. Let us suppose for a moment that we actually were living under a rational system. One aspect of a rational system would be to avoid overpopulating our planet. The basic reason for overpopulation is government policies to encourage high birth rates. Presently, nations need high birthrates in order to compete with one another in an irrational world. In a rational world, they wouldn’t.

Pandemics would be less of a threat. Famine would be less of a problem. If an epidemic threatened in some part of the world, the rest of the world could mobilize to isolate and stop it. In a rational world.

Our biggest mistake is blaming individuals, nations, ideologies, or circumstances for our problems. We should blame the capitalists who run our irrational system, and we should democratically replace them with rational leaders. That simple!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9AM central time. They podcast the weekly program and “Workers Beat Extra” on Wednesdays. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.