A few weeks ago George McGovern, former US senator for South Dakota & 1972 Democratic Presidential candidate, made use of the opinion pages of the Los Angeles Times to display his liberal orthodoxy. His message, in a piece (May 22) called “The End of More”? U.S. workers and working class communities should quit struggling against the tide of “a new competitive reality.” But whose reality is it? Telling workers that they are asking for too much without a corresponding analysis of the increasing inequity of wealth division in this country further debunks the myth that the U.S. doesn’t operate on a class system.
As someone who in 1972 co-chaired a state labor committee for McGovern’s presidential candidacy (while the AFL-CIO’s George Meany withheld support) and, in the late 1970’s called on him in his Senate office to affirm support for key labor and social issues, I can think of many public figures more worthy of criticism than George McGovern, but the distorted conclusions of that Los Angeles times piece leave little choice.
It’s too bad a man of McGovern’s acknowledged compassion and history of dissent against reckless imperialism and championship of worker rights, feels obligated to help hoist American liberalism’s flag of surrender to global capital. It has become the typical response of liberal Democrats and most U.S. Labor leaders, when they come up against corporate America’s definition of ‘reality,’ not to challenge it but to adjust to it.
Victims of today’s relentless corporate assault at Delphi will find it hard to forgive the former Senator his misrepresentation of the historical definition of “more.” That call for “more” actually used by AFL President Samuel Gompers, not John L. Lewis, not only spoke to ‘more’ wages, but also ‘more’ education, healthcare, access to leisure and culture. It was about the quality of life for workers, something today’s robber-barons of industry and capital clearly view as a removable obstacle on their path to unfettered wealth accumulation.
For workers the dog-eat-dog, race to the bottom economic model now being touted as the new competitive reality has all the social validity of a epidemic for which only the elite have access to a vaccine. The shake-outs in the domestic auto industry are only the latest in a continuous pattern of corporate restructuring which now features refashioned bankruptcy laws to aid an ongoing, neo-liberal attack on workers and gains won through collective bargaining.
For a generation now, workers have been asked to make sacrifices to gain security in a future that never comes. Corporations on the other hand have gotten pretty much everything they’ve asked. Isn’t is about time that we have a national discussion on the amazing disconnect between the remarkable economic success of the American economy we hear so much about and the argument-most recently from McGovern-that workers must lower their expectations? The corporations have gotten what they asked for and haven’t delivered. Isn’t it their credibility that we should be focusing on, not workers trying to hang on to what they have? What is it about how our society is structured-how power is allocated and priorities set-that has led to technology being another threat to our well-being instead of a liberating force?
Liberals have long since abandoned their claimed “core principle” of justice and equality as they continue to ignore rising economic injustice and inequality. Guided by what Wall Street wants, not the real needs of a majority of working Americans, they are left to shill for the companies and the system by appealing to workers to be “more realistic”.
The new “realism” leaves out the fact that US companies have increased their share of the economic pie at a faster rate over the past five years than at any time since the Second World War. Recent government figures show that profits from current production as a share of national income have risen from 7 per cent in mid-2001 to 12.2 per cent at the start of this year. This rate of growth is unprecedented since collection of these figures began in 1947 (Financial Times, 6-4-06). To the millions of workers being asked to sacrifice to accommodate this new realism it seems that compassionate conservatism and conservative liberalism are increasingly offering the same fake medicine.
And, while the former Senator restates his support for a universal health care plan, he offers it in the context of supplementing the wages of workers he has already characterized as too high and more as a way of relieving the stress on hard-pressed businesses than ameliorating the catastrophic burden on the millions of uninsured and underinsured in and out of U.S. workplaces.
Labelling union leaders, who agree with the conclusions of the commentary, “progressive” is also contested territory. The opinion that carries the most weight on the conduct and effectiveness of politically insulated national union leaders belongs to the dues paying members in their unions. By a wide margin workers faced with incessant concession demands want a labor movement that aggregates its power to repel attacks on their hard won gains and fights for greater social distribution of those gains. Labor leaders calling for partnership with a corporate elite presiding over a new era of ‘wealth accumulation by dispossession’ are by those workers not as progressives but as accomplices.
It’s the workers, Senator, not union leaders, who have come to see business as an enemy, and with good cause. Workers also see the evidence of corporate control of government and expropriation of rights under that domination which is supported by both national political parties, including the liberal wing of the Democrats.
American liberalism’s about-face on social equity matters and capitulation to the class war mechanics of global neo-liberalism is further exposed by how reckless corporate bankruptcy filings have been turned into Damoclesian Swords over workers and communities. Equally ironic is the gentle defense Wal Mart-ism, if not the company itself, gets in this plea for worker realism and consignment of ‘less.’ Essentially, McGovern is telling us that the Democratic Party, on their best day, has nothing to offer.
Despite what the corporate, and political elite, and much of the labor leadership are telling us about not struggling against the “new competitive reality,” acceptance of their role for the U.S. working class is acceptance of a downward economic spiral from which there is no recovery.
The reality for workers, union and non-union, immigrants and native-born alike, is resistance and the renewal of those collective institutions delegated by history to outfit the struggle for social and economic justice-a class-struggle based labor movement and a political party representing the interests of workers, not the interest of the bosses.
But then, if to any extent McGovern is right, his logic suggests a quite different conclusion than asking for ‘less.’ If this is the best American capitalism has to offer, maybe it’s the system and not workers’ hopes that have to be changed?
JERRY TUCKER is a former Intl UAW Executive Board Member and is an Initiating Co-convenor of the new national Center for Labor Renewal.