FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why Inequality Matters and What We Can Do About It

by

Radical economist and Monthly Review associate editor Michael Yates grew up in a western Pennsylvania manufacturing town. He spent more than three decades working as a college professor. Yet, despite his own academic career, Yates never lost touch with the life experience of high school classmates, friends, neighbors, and relatives who toiled in blue collar jobs.

That background has always informed his work as one of the nation’s leading labor educators. Yates has played that role both in the classroom and as the author of previous books like Why Unions Matter. Originally published by Monthly Review Press in 1998, Why Unions Matter has become a multi-edition bestseller in labor circles. Tens of thousands of copies have been used in working class studies programs, union leadership courses, and shop steward training, giving Yates a far greater union member audience than most campus-based experts on labor issues and trends.41r3ck03o4l-_sx331_bo1204203200_

Yates’ newest book, The Great Inequality (Routledge, 2016), might have been titled “why inequality matters” since it describes the social and economic conditions, steadily worsening in the U.S., that unions are supposed to ameliorate. Why Unions Matter was both a guide to the basic structure, functioning, and history of American labor, and a critique of the ways in which union agitation, education, and organization has fallen short. The many societal and workplace manifestations of union weakness and decline are further documented and indicted in The Great Inequality.

As Yates sees it, the first step toward reducing inequality “is to grasp its magnitude.” Much of his new book usefully distills data on recent trends in income distribution and wealth accumulation and related unequal access to jobs, housing, health care, education, and retirement security. He also devotes particular attention to the resulting impact on people of color, in areas ranging from infant mortality and life expectancy rates to unemployment and disproportionate involvement in the criminal justice system and “prison-industrial complex.”

Using clear and convincing examples, Yates demonstrates how capitalist economies work to perpetuate many of these problems, across generations. He rebuts the claims of mainstream economists that “markets are the cure for whatever ills we face” and shows how “inequality has its roots in unequal power.” Just as he did in his 2009 essay collection, In and Out of the Working, Yates also weaves his own personal and social movement experiences into the narrative.

In a painful account of his past service with the United Farm Workers (UFW), for example, the author describes how that union “crashed and burned, in part because of employer violence and government hostility, but also because of internal failures.” Summoning up “the ghosts of Karl Marx and Edward Abbey,” a much-admired author and activist who inspired “a generation of militant environmentalists,” Yates argues for a “radical politics of the future that makes inequality and environmental destruction its centerpiece.”

The Great Inequality is classic Yates. It combines a critique of national and global economic trends that’s highly readable and accessible for non-experts, with a call to action by the latter. He encourages labor and community activists to raise, not lower, their sights in a period of daunting political challenges. The book makes a valuable contribution to the public debate about wealth and income disparity that was briefly elevated by Senator Bernie Sanders during his presidential primary campaign challenge to Hillary Clinton last year.

After Sanders’ defeat, of course, the ensuing general election exchanges between Clinton and Donald Trump were far less illuminating on these and other topics. And now, with Trump about to enter the White House, grassroots movement building to counter the weight of what Sanders called “the billionaire class” is a higher priority than ever. Without an increase in working class power, exercised through unions and other forms of organization, Yates predicts that those “who must work for wages to live” will continue to lose ground.

“Isn’t it time,” he asks his readers, “for us to become protagonists, go on the offensive, attack our enemies head on, study and learn from both successes and failures, always look for how things are connected, and see what happens. We don’t have that much to lose.”

Trump regime resisters in search of relevant reading material need look no further than The Great Inequality. The corporate dominated politics, culture, and economy that spawned our president-elect are brilliantly dissected there.

Steve Early is a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area currently working on a book about progressive municipal policy making there and elsewhere. He is the author, most recently, of Save Our Unions (Monthly Review Press, 2013). He can be reached at Lsupport@aol.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious madness in Ulster
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
Dave Lindorff
Right a Terrible Wrong: Why Obama Should Reverse Himself and Pardon Leonard Peltier
Laura Carlsen
Bringing Mexico to Its Knees Will Not “Make America Great Again”
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey: the Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail