Who Strikes, and Against Whom?

“I have 13 bankers in my office, and they say if you go forward with this you will cause the worst financial crisis since World War II.”

From a phone call from Lawrence H. Summers, deputy secretary in the Clinton Treasury, to Brooksley Born, then running the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, regarding Born’s efforts to regulate derivatives. Referenced in the title of Simon Johnson and James Kwak’s 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown

Summers’s warning to Born was in fact a threat to withdraw the financial sector’s contribution to the proper functioning of the real economy. When workers do this it is rightly called a strike. It is widely assumed that strikes are what workers, and only workers, do. This shortsighted conception obscures the realities of class contestation and distracts from a full appreciation of the political dimension of both economic power and economic powerlessness. As a result, major opportunities for the exercise of political power are occluded, and overt exercises of political power are rendered invisible.

“Would someone please define ‘strike’ for me?”

For decades I’d used the following teaching device to help students come to see for themselves how the best of us -and present company is always among the best of us- can harbor an impoverished conception of the relation between economic and political power and of how and when political-economic power is exercised. In the course of a discussion of labor actions, I’ve suggested that we clarify our terms with a definition of ‘strike’.

Without fail, each and every time, an astute student proffers: “It’s when workers stop working…” Already the jig is up. But it’s not yet time to let on. I offer to help with a more precise elaboration of what the student has in mind. “A strike occurs when labor withholds its contribution to production, namely its willingness to work on the means of production, in order to defend essential interests and achieve goals specific to workers, e.g. a fair share of productivity increases, a living wage, due enforcement of safety standards, government action to the advantage of working people- goals which will not be met without the work stoppage as a form of unfriendly persuasion. (Sometimes the mere threat of a work stoppage will do the trick.)” I ask whether this captures the student’s exact meaning. It always does.

This conception of a strike harbors a suppressed assumption, that it is only workers who strike. It thereby obscures the political significance of a strike. Even the mainstream economics textbook unwittingly gives us reason to regard this definition as only half the story. After all, we are reminded that the production of “output” requires two essential “factors of production” or “inputs”, capital and labor. Why should we think that only one of these can refuse to put in? Cannot each withhold its respective contribution, and for the same reason, to get what it believes it’s entitled to? How come, then, we don’t talk of capital strikes? Not because they don’t happen.

When labor strikes, the appearance and the reality of the strike are identical. Workers’ strikes appear for what they are, and they are called what they are: “The auto workers have gone on strike.” There is no doubt that human agency is at work. Capital strikes are not called strikes, because they are not perceived as strikes. They appear as and are called “recessions” or “a rise in unemployment” or “the possible collapse of the financial system.” They are described the way we describe regrettable facts of nature such as a cloudy day. A recession is perceived as something that happens to “the economy”, and can be predicted, just as rainstorms can be predicted. Human agency is absent from this picture, in which a recession is something that afflicts people, like a virus, not the natural outcome of something that (classes of) people do.

What strikes of labor and strikes of capital have in comon is that each is essentially an exercise of power, an attempt to defend perceived interests by forcing the class antagonist to do what it will not otherwise do. This is a sizeable ambition, and it’s possible only because both capital and labor are in a position to leverage the means of production to their respective ends. Labor and capital strikes hinge on access to and/or use of society’s productive facilities, and these occupy a unique and pivotal position in the human condition. They are the hinges of material life. If workers won’t work, or if capital won’t let them work, nothing works. Nothing happens. No production, no liveable world. That makes the strike an unparalled and maximally effective exercise of political power. When labor exercises this kind of power it is clear that (classes of) people are trying to force other (classes of) people to do what they would otherwise not do. When capital does the same kind of thing, the exercise of power is relatively invisible.

Labor’s Economic Actions, Capital’s Political Response

It’s difficult to imagine a better way for working people to achieve their goals than the strike. The more workers engage in strike actions, the more effective the strike. A coordinated, sustained general strike is the most powerful of all political weapons. That’s why just about every contract today contains a no-strike clause.

Historically, the point has not been lost on labor. Workers initiated general strikes in Seattle in 1919, and, on a much wider scale, in 1934 when San Francisco longshoremen called a West Coast strike in defiance of their union leaders. 14,000 longshoremen and 25,000 maritime workers struck from Seattle to San Francisco. On the East Coast textile workers coordinated a strike all along the Coast. Large scale corporate and State violence defeated the textile workers. But the mere fact of the East Coast work stoppage, and the West Coast strike victories, along with the Toledo Auto-Lite strike and the Minneapolis Teamsters’ strike, worked to labor’s advantage. Sufficient fear of worker radicalization was struck in FDR to motivate the creation of Social Security and the large-scale public spending, employment-generating projects initiated within less than a year, in1935.

While the 1930s labor actions prompted State action on behalf of workers, they were directed not against the State, but in opposition to employer policies. These actions aim to enhance the economic, not the political, power of workers over their employers. Less familiar to US workers are strikes explicitly aimed at achieving political goals, i.e. at achieving a degree of political power by forcing the hand of the State. When successful, strikes so motivated gain for workers some measure of State power. But this requires an exceptional degree of coordination, best achieved with class-conscious leadership. Union leadership in the US has on the whole been class-collaborationist (the 1934 West Coast strikes took place in spite of the union leadership’s resistance to militant action), and the union movement has for this and other familiar reasons declined in numbers and power since the New Deal.

The road to organized labor’s decline was paved with political action by the business community, postwar legislation in response both to the militancy of the 1930s and to the explosion of strikes after the end of the war. 1946 was the most strike-torn year in US history, with general strikes called in Pittsburgh, Rochester and Oakland, on top of labor actions by the United Auto Workers and unions representing steel, rubber, meatpacking, oil refining, and electrical appliance workers.

In immediate response to labor actions typically categorized as economic, business leaders responded politically. They successfully pressured thirty states to pass anti-labor laws, and sixty bills to stifle labor were before a Congress that eventually enacted the Labor-Management Relations (Taft-Hartley) Act of 1947, which created a host of restrictions on labor’s ability to strike effectively. Taft-Hartley also forbade the kind of cross-industrial coordination (“sympathetic” strikes) that can be essential for openly political strikes aimed directly at forcing State action on behalf of labor. This was a deliberate reversal of much of the letter and all of the spirit of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), which limited employers’ ability to suppress workers’ attempts to unionize, bargain collectively and engage in strikes. (The Act had strict limitations built in from the start: it did not cover those workers who are covered by the Railway Labor Act, agricultural employees, domestic employees, supervisors, federal state or local government workers, independent contractors and some close relatives of individual employers.)

That left labor’s class antagonist with predominant State power in the years after the Depression and the war. Predominant, but not absolutely unqualified. For just over a couple of decades, labor retained some of the momentum of its earlier militancy. In fact, the US topped the OECD’s table in strikes per worker in 1954, 1955, 1959, 1960, 1967 and 1970. In the period 1949-1973, during which labor’s real income steadily rose, wage increases were typically led by gains in the unionized industrial sector, and spread thereafter to most other workers.

After 1973 the median real wage began a secular decline which persists to this day. Contributing to this outcome were a number of factors hostile to labor’s interests: the deindustrialization of America with its runaway shops and shrinkage of employment in the most unionized sectors, the rapid movement to the right of the Democratic Party and its now-explicit neoliberal rejection of the legacy of the New Deal and Great Society, the increasing willingness of the State to permit and sometimes encourage union busting, and the emergence for the first time in history of an international market in labor in which higher-paid labor was made to compete for jobs with tens of millions of low-wage workers. And the re-composition of the ruling class from predominantly industrial to predominantly financial membership leaves the country with an elite not only hostile to working people, but conspicuously contemptuous of them. We hear no talk from this element of any postwar “capital-labor accord”.

Considering the current administration’s indifference to popular need and sentiment, and obeisance to corporate-financial power, could anything less than a rebirth of labor-based pressure from below pick Obama and Congress from the pockets of their Wall Street masters? The 2008 workplace occupation of Republic Windows and Doors indicates that labor’s powers of resistance are not quite dead and buried here. What is certain is that the rising bank failures, foreclosures, bankruptcies and unemployment to come, and the ongoing contraction of public services, will generate resistance in the form of unorganized social dislocation and disruption. Is organized resistance, of which the strike is but one form, out of the question? That is not a rhetorical question.

The Capital Strike: Theory and Practice

“… any person who has the legal right to withold any part of the necessary industrial apparatus or materials from current use will be in a position to impose terms and exact obedience, on pain of rendering the community’s joint stock of technology inoperative to that extent.

Ownership of industrial equipment and natural resources confers such a right legally to enforce unemployment, and so to make the community’s workmanship useless to that extent. This is the Natural Right of Investment.

Plainly, ownership would be nothing better than an idle gesture without this legal right of sabotage. Without the power of discretionary idleness, without the right to keep the work out of the hands of the workmen and the product out of the market, investment and business enterprise would cease. This is the larger meaning of the Security of Property.”

Thorstein Veblen, Absentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times: The Case of America (1923), pp. 65, 66-67

Veblen’s insights display the direct link between private property rights in productive facilities and the right -yes, the legal right- to bring investment, production and employment to a halt.

The effectiveness of the strike has been known to capital from the beginning. More recently it is financial capital that has put its savvy on display. We’ll begin at the beginning.

Let’s define a strike of capital. Simply replace, in the above definition of a strike of labor, each term specific to labor with its counterpart specific to capital. “A strike occurs when capital withholds its contribution to production, namely its willingness to grant workers access to the means of production, in order to defend essential interests and achieve goals specific to capital -e.g. a greater share of productivity increases, a reversal of wage increases, a restoration of discipline at the workplace, a higher profit rate more enticeing to shareholders, government action in the interests of property owners- goals which will not be met without the lockout or layoff or relocation of production as a form of unfriendly persuasion. (Sometimes the mere threat of a lockout or layoff or relocation of production will do the trick.)”

The strike of capital is of two kinds, one overt, the other less apparent. Its most overt form takes place in response to a direct challenge, political or economic, to the prevailing settlement of class power, e.g. when the State or organized workers appear to jeopardize the interests of capital to the advantage of labor. A less apparent form of the capital strike is in the dynamics of the business cycle. We’ll start with the former case.

In 1984, French president Francois Mitterand, in response to popular sentiment, defied business interests by mandating an increase in the minimum wage and the nationalization of key profitable industries. Capital’s strike was immediate. The wealthy took their cash out of the country and there was a sharp decrease in capital investment and production, accompanied by a surge of unemployment.

At the first sign of these strikes Mitterand might have called for a counterstrike, a mobilization of workers and students in support of his policies. He didn’t. Unemployment continued to rise and the mainstream press ran headlines that socialists are incapable of managing an economy. Mitterand might have rejoined that unemployment and capital flight are among the ways “the market” -read: capitalists- responds to policies that benefit the working class. Capital fights for its perceived entitlements, so working people must do the same. But Mitterand didn’t have it in him. Within months he reversed his policies. Top-down radicalism doesn’t work. You want results, you organize. No organization, no results.

The direct political strike is unfamiliar in the US. Here strikes are typically understood as something workers do when they want what the boss won’t give. In this economistic way of thinking the political possibilities of the strike are occluded. In Europe, bottom-up strikes as a means of forcing the State’s hand are common. Since the Second World War, general strikes have occurred mostly on a local level, but there have been important exceptions: in 1961 Belgian workers struck nationwide, and successfully, against a government austerity program. In the 1970s the general strike became a routine tactic of Italian trade unions. The best known case is of course the 1968 general strike in France when university students and workers joined together during May and June and shut down major industries and universities. The strike ended with an agreement to provide increases in wages for the workers and stronger representation in factory management. In Europe, there has been an average of two general political strikes per year since the late 1980s. (The partial reversals that have taken place in the meantime are noteworthy, but only a-priori cynicism regards them as inevitable.)

Most recently, when president Jacques Chirac and Parliament approved a bill in June 2004 that would have begun the privatization of the electricity sector, there immediately followed a series of political strikes by Electricite de France workers, led by the powerful CGT union. The electricity supply to the presidential Elysee Palace was cut off. Other prominent leaders were targeted, including prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, whose mother was unfortunate enough to have her electricity meter removed. I was in France at the time, and witnessed a union leader displaying the appropriated meter in a television interview, shedding crocodile tears for the poor woman, who would be “reduced to drinking warm champagne tonight.” At the same time workers began reconnecting 250,000 of the poorest households, which had been disconnected for inability to pay their bills. Since strikes in France generally have considerable public support, the State has a history of backing down, and Chirac announced that there would be no further talk of privatization “for now.”

The Business Cycle: Politics As Unusual

A less apparent form of the capital strike is embedded in the dynamics of the economy’s cyclical ups and downs. The business cycle is inherent in the anatomy of a capitalist economy, its normal inhaling and exhaling. The economy expands for a period, during which unemployment declines, and production, productivity, profits, wages, and prices go up. This process invariably reaches a “peak”, after which the economy begins to contract, with unemployment rising and production, productivity, profits and wages declining. The rate of increase of prices slows down. (Prices are, as the textbooks say, “downwardly sticky”: absent depressions prices always go up, never down.) The decline finally reaches a low point, the “trough”, after which the cycle renews itself. Keep in mind that this describes the historically typical cycle, not the type of economic fluctuation that characterizes the chronically sluggish post-1973 economy. The typical pre-1973 business-cyclical expansion was never characterized as a “jobless recovery”.

In the mid-1970s a number of studies appeared on the subject of the tendency for profits to be squeezed, in the US, the UK and a number of other OECD countries, at the peak of a business-cyclical expansion. In other words, labor’s share of total income tended to rise, and capital’s to decline, in the latter half of cyclical expansions. (1) Business does not take this development sitting down. It initiates a retaliatory strike of capital.

The focus of these inquiries was the three major cycles of the postwar Golden Age, from 1950 to 1973, the longest period of sustained expansion in the history of capitalism. This period antedates the secular decline in wages which began in 1973, the striking decline in union membership, the historic inequality that now scandalizes the US, the financialization of the economy, and the replacement of employment- and income-driven by debt-driven growth. This is to say that compared to post-Reagan neoliberalism the power of labor was relatively greater during the Golden Age.

The studies in question looked at the economy in its healthiest condition, seeking to identify developments normal and predictable in the course of capitalist growth. Specifically, spurred by evidence of a wage-push profit squeeze at the full-employment peak of a cyclical expansion, economists were especially curious about the behavior of “factor shares” in the period leading up to the profit squeeze. Recall that the “factors of production” are the “inputs”, capital and labor. Factor shares are the proportions of national income received by each input, wages for labor, and profit, interest and rent for capital. Since the profit squeeze was the issue, the key question was: What happens to profits and wages over the course of the normal business cycle?

The three expansions studied were: from IIIQ/54 to IIIQ/57, from IIQ/58 to IIQ/60, and from IQ/61 to IVQ/69. Boddy and Crotty’s study was the most detailed and sophisticated. I’ll summarize their findings, which overlap those of other researchers.

Boddy and Crotty show that movements of wages, productivity and prices account for cyclical changes in the income shares of capital and labor. The conclusions to be drawn enable an appreciation of the business cycle quite different from what emerges from the dry and fetishized accounts of mainstream economists. What might otherwise appear as a parade of abstract, disembodied categories reveals itself to be a manifestation of power struggles at the workplace. No special theory or interpretive canons are required to see this. Much of what is most illuminating in political-economic analysis draws on what most people already know, if only implicitly.

Standard economic theory leads us to expect accelerated wage increases as the economy approaches full employment near the peak of a cyclical expansion . It’s simple supply-and-demand. Increasing economic growth reduces the supply of the unemployed as economic growth sustains the increase in the demand for labor. Labor’s competitive position and bargaining power is enhanced, and, as with any commodity in scarce supply during periods of growth, its price goes up.

What matters in this context are the interrelated movements among wages, prices, productivity and profits. These are what both generate the profit squeeze and determine capital’s response.

In each of the longer expansions, wage rates increased dramatically in the latter half (mid-point to peak) of the expansion, for the uncontroversial reasons discussed above. The Old Man argued that this predictable movement of wages would both squeeze profits and reduce the rate of profit. The data indicate he was right.

The relation between costs and output prices is of course the crucial factor in the determination of profits. (profits = revenues minus costs) Input costs are of two kinds, labor and non-labor. The latter are materials costs. In the second phase of the expansions, where wage increases squeezed profits, output prices rose faster than non-labor input prices.

Hence, the profit squeeze was not caused by materials costs increasing faster than prices. It was the rising wages of labor that appropriated what would otherwise have been capital’s larger slice.

The key question at this juncture is: What determines unit labor costs? There are two contributing factors. We have seen one of these, the wage level as set by the supply-and-demand state of the labor market. No less important is the productivity of workers, the output they produce per unit of their input. This is a function not only of the equipment workers handle, but also of labor effort, workers’ level of exertion in a given period of time, how hard workers are willing to work.

All the studies noted a marked slowdown in productivity growth in the mid-point-to-peak stage of the expansion, when the profit squeeze occurs. This is only partially explained by the slowdown in the rate at which new machinery is introduced. At least as important a factor in the declining rate of productivity increase is the unruly behavior of workers when labor markets are tight and labor’s bargaining power and economic security are enhanced. This amounts to a boost to workers’ class power, and should be thought of as the political dimension of the business cycle.

It is well known to employers that when workers feel economically secure and can easily switch jobs, they are far less easily controlled. The rates of strikes, industrial sabotage, quitting, tardiness and absences increased in times of Golden-Age economic security. And why not? The US workplace is the most heavily supervised in the industrialized world. Resistance to this regimen is not anomalous. And it should be expected to affect the rate of profit. It did.

We would expect redistribution from profits to wages to be most pronounced at the peak of the longest expansions. The 1961-1969 upswing was the longest in US history, with 1965-1969 the only consecutive four-year period on record of full employment (around 3% unemployment). It comes then as no surprise that between 1965 and 1973, the profitability of manufacturing and private business as a whole declined dramatically – the profit rate (the rate of return on capital stock) in the former declining by 41 percent and in the latter by 29 percent. At the same time, wage increases were breaking records: 1973 saw the highest real median wage in US history.

Mainstream economics seems designed to make it hard to discern the distributional struggles inherent in the business cycle. The textbook defines the rate of profit as total profits compared to the value of capital goods owned. Workers level of exertion, work effort, is absent from this equation. But every capitalist, and every worker, knows that the boss will try to get workers to put out as much work effort as possible during the hours for which they are hired, because an hour of hard work will generate a higher rate of profit (other things being equal) than an hour of work during which the worker works at her preferred pace, known to bosses as “slacking off”.

Commenting on the causes of the 1970-1971 recession following the long expansion of the 1960s, a front-page Wall Street Journal article (January 26, 1972) noted that:

‘Many manufacturing executives have openly complained in recent years that too much control had passed from management to labor. With sales lagging and competition mounting, they feel safer in attempting to restore what they call “balance”.’

Restoring “balance” amounts to striking back at workers: cutting back on investment, production and employment. This is the retaliatory strike of capital, and it marks the end of the cyclical expansion. Here capital acts rationally. Should the “manufacturing executives” have sat on their asses while their employees appropriated a portion of their booty? The natural response of those who, in Veblen’s words, possess the “Natural Right To Investment… the right legally to enforce unemployment” is to execute the investment strike, to use the power that is theirs to withhold access to the means of production. Thus begins the recession, which, in its de-politicized form, appears to economists as a movement of bloodless categories, the downward trend of the hypostatized abstractions employment, profits, wages, and the rest.

The Uniqueness of the Strike of Finance Capital

The business cycle in periods of economic health reflects, among other things, the struggle of each class to overcome the resistance of its antagonist. During the Golden-Age period when the US was the world’s supreme industrial power, it was the industrial elites who executed the strike of capital when they were in trouble. We now live in different times. The economy has undergone a good measure of de-industrialization and finance capital has displaced industrial capital as the ruling class. And the strike of finance capital has become in these times of protracted crisis Business as usual.

Big industrial capital is segmented into heterogenous industries: auto production, steel, mining, electrical appliances, etc. None of these sectors can bring the entire economy to its knees on command. Finance capital is highly concentrated and deals not with any particular sub-set of use values, but rather with the availability of that ubiquitous and most general of commodities, exchange value in the form of money. The general availability of money is indispensable to the functioning of the real economy. Finance capital controls everyone’s -including the State’s- access to money. Should the rentiers withhold access, the entire economy can be shaved bald. The State managers’ awareness of the bankers’ ability and willingness to strike is at this time perhaps the most formidable constraint on the policy options available to the political leadership.

Times of Crisis and the Coup of Capital

Summers’s “prediction” of a catastrophic financial crisis in response to Brooksley Born’s attempt to regulate derivatives was in fact a threat to strike. When Hank Paulson demanded hundreds of billions for his class comrades in September 2008, with talk of economic consequences so devastating that martial law might be required, he was threatening a strike. All those claims that this or that handout to Moneybags was necessary to avert economic collapse were strike threats. “We would have seen a complete collapse of our financial system,” intoned Paulson, “and unemployment easily could have risen to the 25% level reached in the Great Depression” if AIG were not given the means to allow its counterparty Goldman to recover its losses.

High finance’s titanic power to hold the entire economy hostage to its demands has resulted in its achieving, in these times of severe crisis, direct control of government. In September 2008 Paulson ordered the political leadership to step aside. His demands were not to be subject to Senate or House discussion and debate, no investigative committees were to be formed, no range of expert advice sought, and he must be immune to future prosecution on any grounds in connection with the bailout. Class power would be exercised without the bothersome intermediation of the political lackeys, now mere rubber-stampers. Obama obeyed and went on to hand over to Summers, Geithner and Bernanke complete control of domestic policy.

It appears that when the economic interests of Big Capital are perceived to be severely jeopardized, and/or its political power directly threatened, the ruling class suspends its right to strike and resorts to an explicit seizure of State power. Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, has called the events following September 2008 a literal coup of finance capital, where “..the financial industry has effectively captured our government.” (“The Quiet Coup”, The Atlantic, May, 2009)

We have seen what we might call the Coup of Capital in the response to the two greatest threats to the interests of capital in the last hundred years, the mass labor actions of the 1930s which prompted New Deal programs constituting the greatest State concessions to labor in US history, and the current financial crisis.

In 1934 a special Congressional committee was appointed to conduct an investigation of a possible planned coup intended to topple the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and replace it with a government modelled on the policies of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

The Congressional committee had discovered that some of the foremost members of the economic elite, many of them household names at the time, had indeed hatched a massively funded plot to effect a fascist coup in America. The plotters represented prominent families – Rockefeller, Mellon, Pew, enterprises like Morgan, Dupont, Remington, Anaconda, Bethlehem and Goodyear, along with the owners of Bird’s Eye, Maxwell House and Heinz. Totaling about twenty four major businessmen and Wall Street financiers, they planned to assemble a private army of half a million men, composed largely of unemployed veterans. These troops would both constitute the armed force behind the coup and defeat any resistance this in-house revolution might generate. The economic elite would provide the material resources required to sustain the new government.

While the rentier class had a role in this plan, the principal conspirators were industrialists, who lack the class cohesion to bring about a coordinated transindustrial strike. Brute military force was perceived to be the most effective means to accomplish a class coup. Stupidly, the Barons attempted to enlist the anti-imperialist distinguished Marine Brigadier General Smedley Darlington Butler, author-to-be of the book War Is A Racket, to coordinate the military operation. The appalled Butler spilled the beans to FDR, who was then able to scotch the operation.

The big financiers are in a stronger position. They are smaller in number than were the industrialists and the structural relation of the financial to the real economy makes it possible for the biggest among them, especially if already ensconced in positions of political power such as Fed chief or Treasury Secretary, to effect the functional equivalent of a strike of national finance capital. No need -at this point- for direct military action.

Both the historical labor movement and the political-economic elite have taught us an invaluable lesson: when in trouble, coordinated resistance, most effective in the form of the class strike, is a highly reliable means of protecting and enhancing class interests. The current weakness of the US labor movement constitutes a devastating blow to the political power of working people, tripled in spades in these times of the seemingly unqualified power of the financial elite.

But the raw stuff of which organized political power is made will not disappear. There will be resistance. It will take diverse forms, most of it unorganized, disorganized and sometimes nasty. Bits and pieces of the raw material are evident now: Bill Quigley describes here–local groups organizing around the right to housing. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers initiated last January a grass-roots organizing campaign to form the UR Union of the Unemployed, nicknamed Ucubed, which already has members in more than 300 zip codes and 43 states. Ucubed has experienced unions as allies. The December 2008 Republic Windows and Doors workplace occupation lives in the historical memory of more than a few. NAFTA was a major factor in the virtual rebellion that brought John Sweeney to office and alerted millions to the anti-worker nature of free trade agreements.

And let’s not forget that the way we respond to what is happening around us depends in part but crucially on how we percieve, identify and conceptualize what we encounter. Education can make a difference here. Suppose that (some) business cycles and the events of the last few years were actually seen, described and experienced as strikes in the familiar sense of the term, but aimed to undermine workers. It is hard to imagine that under that circumstance popular response would remain unaffected.

ALAN NASSER is professor emeritus of Political Economy and Philosophy at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He can be reached at nassera@evergreen.edu



Alan Nasser is professor emeritus of Political Economy and Philosophy at The Evergreen State College. His website is: www.alannasser.org.  His latest book is Overripe Economy: American Capitalism and the Crisis of Democracy. He can be reached at: nassera@evergreen.edu