I’ve been up and down the east coast of the United States a couple times in the past month. From Asheville, NC up to southern Vermont via Interstates 26, 81 and 88, my first trip traversed the lands soon to be submerged in the floods that came with tropical storms named Irene and Lee. Indeed, a couple friends of mine saw their small motel in southern Vermont move off its foundation not long after the road and bridges connecting their spot to the greater world washed away. I myself was in Laurel, MD during the storm named Irene. There were lots of downed trees and power lines, but very little flooding in that burg. A couple hours drive south, however, brought waters on to main streets and put people into canoes and rowboats. The ongoing rains continue to render previously firm ground unstable.
After my stay in Maryland, I returned to Vermont, where I am currently engaged in trying to find a place to live and work. Neither of these endeavors is proving to be a lark. However, perseverance does further.
One of the first days I was in Vermont was Labor Day. Seeking shelter from the rain I found myself in Burlington’s Memorial Auditorium at a Labor Day rally. After a number of speakers representing different union locals, workers’ right organizations and a universal healthcare organizer, his honor Senator Bernie Sanders came to the podium. Like always, he received a fair amount of applause. His continual failure to live up to his progressive rhetoric and socialist moniker has yet to change the minds of those voters tho believe their man can make a difference. It’s not that they are naive as much as their addiction to politics as it is played in the US blinds them as to what Sanders and others like him can actually do. Naturally, this observation assumes that Sanders and the so-called progressive bloc in Congress do want the changes their supporters continually call for. I am not as certain as those who applaud.
Sanders’ speech was his template talk about the honor and integrity of the “American worker.” It also included the requisite acknowledgements politicians, newscasters, and preachers all make to firefighters, police and other law enforcement; acknowledgements that always reach a fever pitch around the anniversary of 9-11.
Left unsaid in Sanders’ speech was the role police played in harassing the picket lines set up by Verizon workers during their recent strike. Also left unmentioned was the historical role played by law enforcement in defeating strikes and supporting the holders of capital. In a capitalist society, the fundamental job of law enforcement is to protect and serve those that have the money and the property, even from their own employees.
Sanders did not talk about improving the lot of working people around the world. He spoke only of the US worker as part of a mythical middle class. This is a major shortcoming in the progressives’ battle cry. As anyone with an anti-imperialist understanding of the world knows (something which Sanders has never been accused of), when the dominant nation of an imperial system improves the lot of its workers, it does so on the backs of workers in other nations. This means workers in other nations suffer even more as a result of the improvement in the lot of those laboring in the core countries. As capitalism becomes ever more global, its ability to keep workers in different countries in competition with each other for less and less become ever more complete. When national politicians demand benefits for the laborers in their country while encouraging legislation that hurts workers in other nations, they are not doing any workers a favor.
After living in the US South for the past six and a half years, it was refreshing to see union workers proudly touting their union membership and demanding a healthy and hopeful future. After all, there are many places in the United States–not just its southern portion-where working people have little hope beyond the hope that they will not lose their job the next time the financiers and their cohorts institute a market correction. It is in the same places where the work we do every day is undervalued and workers that believe they deserve not only a fair wage but health care and a certain amount of security are labeled greedy by the very same folks that are greed’s essence. After Sanders left the room to go back to DC, the rest of us in the room were left to do the fighting the current situation demands.
Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org