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.

More articles by:

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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail