FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Jobs is a Four Letter Word

“The left is amorphous. I despair over the left. Left parties may be small in number in Europe but they are a coherent organization that keeps going. Here, … we don’t have that. We have a few voices here, a magazine there, and that’s about it. It goes nowhere.”

–Sheldon S. Wolin, 2/4/09

For many decades now, the American experiment has been focused on convincing the working class that it no longer exists. People who rent themselves to capital for wages have been urged to see themselves as “middle class.” The Collins Essential English Dictionary defines that term thusly: “the social class between the working and upper classes. It consists of business and professional people.”

In the republic’s early years there was a (now forgotten) hostility to waged labor. Jefferson warned that such dependence on an employer, “begets subservience and venality, (and) suffocates the germ of virtue…” One wonders how the author of the Declaration of Independence, and proponent of public schooling would view the present national educational regime with its industrial processing, testing and grading rituals, and its mission of churning out “employable” units, individually capable of “getting a job.”

Prior to the Civil War, historian Eric Foner notes that working for wages had been “widely viewed as disreputable.” Many northerners who soldiered against the Confederacy saw the battle as opposing both chattel and wage slavery. Many poor southern whites fought to protect slavery out of fear that if the “peculiar institution” were abolished, they would soon be swept into a new, regimented labor pool. Slavery “elevated white labor and protected it from degrading competition with free Negroes.” Johnny Reb did not aspire to “menial tasks” and the uncertainties of the job “market.” (Battle Cry of Freedom, J.M. McPherson)

But time passes and people forget, in America anyway. The middle years of the twentieth century saw some broadening redistribution of wealth. Farmer/labor coalitions, mobilized politically and directly, dragged the bossocratic state toward civilization. That struggle was based on some limited understanding that the interests of the “lower” working or peasant classes were different and usually opposed to the interests of capital.

Yet despite their (now-eroding) economic gains, American workers were never able to achieve the kinds of economic and political rights that are common elsewhere in the so-called developed world. Here, there are few economic rights worth mentioning.

In civilized countries, where left parties still exist, people have collectively won universal rights to housing, public transport, healthcare, post-secondary education, free child-care, leisure time, and the other fruits of industrial life where machines do much of the work. Their well-being is no longer tied exclusively to employment.

Here, individuals have the “opportunity” to apply for one or more jobs, and then maybe purchase or negotiate for First World essentials with those above them in the pecking order. It’s a very inefficient and cruel system, and it’s currently coming notoriously apart amid moans and wimpers.

Since there’s much talk lately of liberal government response to the 30s-era depression, it’s perhaps worth looking back. As Alex Cockburn has repeatedly pointed out over the years, many of the New Deal work programs were modeled on Italian and German fascist examples. These regimes were at first seen as “moderate” by the US administration. They were relentlessly pro-business and represented what Mussolini called “the corporatization of the state.” Under such a mindset, there is dignity in stoop-labor and “service” to the boss and the state. It’s all about “job-creation.” That leads to make-work. It gets people off the street, but it puts them on a road gang.

Maine labor historian Charles Scontras recently recalled WPA programs in this state as “a powerful ‘stimulus’… in the troubled ‘30s.” Depression brought calls for “the ‘re-employment of children in industry’” as well as “efforts to permit convicts to work on highways.” In a world turned upside down, there were even “demands that paupers be given the right to vote.” Remember that, in
Maine, until the “excesses of the ‘60s” eliminated them, there were property requirements (poll taxes) for voting.
Interestingly, in its quest to utilize the working class further, the State Highway Commission declared that “’public interest may be served’ by using hand labor on state-aid road construction projects.”

In my hometown, such thinking actually became policy. The Biddeford Daily Journal of July 15, 1935, reported Mayor Arthur Remillard’s decision to use only hand labor in the creation of a three-runway airport, where well-timbered forest land had stood.

Answering his critics, Mayor Remillard stated that, “Work would have progressed more rapidly if we had acceded to the wishes of engineers who wanted a steam shovel to hasten the work so a plane could land here by the end of the summer, but as the cost of operating a steam shovel would have put out of employment about 40 men, their request was denied so that all the work at the airport is hand labor.”

The project involved the physical removal of $1,600 worth of timber, 1,000 cords of firewood, as well as stumping, stoning, and the manual spreading of tens of thousands of cubic yards of gravel. Anyone who has ever tried to yank even one tree stump with hand tools has some small idea of the sweat and toil involved in such a venture.

Through social and political mobilization, and the adoption of modern constitutional systems, majoritarian parties of the left have raised living standards in Europe and much of the world. There, the economic benefits of productivity-enhancing technological advances are shared broadly. As a Maine academic pointed out several years ago, in Europe, the average unemployed person lives better than many/most Americans with jobs.

Elsewhere, working class culture, based on struggle and solidarity, has led not to make-work, but to make-better. However, such examples apparently mean little to “middle class” people.

RICHARD RHAMES is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine.

 

More articles by:

RICHARD RHAMES is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: rrhames@xpressamerica.net

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Wim Laven
The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr.
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail