The return of the Gilded Age
There have been a couple of important articles discussing the New Plutocracy, first the seminal piece by Chrystia Freeland who describes the rise of a new global elite who have achieved an Anti-Marxian class consciousness and have transcended the nation state, leaving workers increasingly in the dust about the planet, and another by Kevin Drum in Mother Jones about how the current battle in Wisconsin over public employees’ colleective bargaining rights is the Waterloo of class warfare (in which, I am interpreting, Drum is suggesting the workers are playing the part of Napolean’s forces).
I really need to see if I can dragoon the busy (and now possibly mythical) Fubar into helping me restore our posts between ’04 and ’08 – I had been musing along these lines for some time.
Neither article cited outlines any possible solutions to this dilemma, they are both along the lines of “woe is us, with unions in their death throes, there is no significant funding of a liberal agenda on Capitol hill, and any progessive agenda without funding is dead on arrival.”
In the archived posts, I had posited some thoughts. First, that the future of American labor lies in the sweat shops of Asia. If American Unions continue in the grand American tradition of navel-gazing, they’ll quickly starve to death and leave a shriveled husk. Labor needs to take a page from the turbulent years of the end of the 1800s and early 1900s, and start organizing the overseas sweatshops.
Dangerous? Hell yes, “Communist” China is every bit as nasty and anti-labor as America during the guilded age, except they are perhaps a bit more prone to just shooting outside agitators. Necessary? Of course. As long as there is a pool of desperate workers willing to take any work at any wage under any conditions, in a world of ‘free trade,’ then how can American Labor hope to compete? Kinda reminds me of the mess in Afghanistan – porous border with a nuclear nation we can’t invade that harbors insurgents and has an unlimited, opium-fueled cash source…unwinnable.
But speaking of free trade, that’s the thing we can influence. While we are helping the sweatshop workers of Asia to unite, why not agitate at home to weaken the various ‘free trade’ treaties here at home? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to restore the other 1800s bad tradition of industry protectionism, with all that entails. Rather, I would like to see the ability of a country to restrict and/or tariff goods on the basis of environmental and labor standards. Sure, it’s easy for Chinese goods created in the midst of massive pools of toxic filth and clouds of noxious air and greenhouse gases to compete against American-made goods – but would they do so well if their price included a carbon tax or a pollutions ‘uplift?’ Ditto goods slapped with a ‘Fair Labor’ tax based on level of compliance with some basic labor standards. I would imagine that would make U.S. manufacture of many goods quite competitive.
But in the face of Roberts V. Common Sense, which completed the final stages of Corporate takeover of the U.S. Government, how might we get any such laws passed? By the only tool that remains to us, sadly, the power of the Boycott. It’s folly to attack the Congressional Whores directly. It doesn’t matter how many hundreds of thousands of folks show up to big peaceful rallies with their quaint, hand-lettered signs, they will just do what their Corporate bosses tell them – it’s how they will get elected, or failing that, where their next job/paycheck will come from in the revolving door of Plutocracy.
Nope, we need to bring pressure on the global elites themselves, in the only way they care about – their revenues. Where to start? How about sending a message to Koch Industries. As Robert Reich points out, they are doing an exceptional job of trying to divide and conquer the other 99% of us. About the only power we have right now, as (for a brief remaining period anyway) the world’s richest group of consumers, is the power of our pocketbooks.
In the meantime, we also need to update those old class conflict theories to the 21st Century to get something we can use to raise our own class conciousness and work to raise awareness both here and abroad.
Tags: afghanistan, boycott, China, Chrystia Freeland, class consciousness, class warfare, collective bargaining, environmental protection, free trade, global elites, Kevin Drum, Koch Industries, labor laws, Mother Jones, organized labor, plutocracy, Robert Reich, SCOTUS, sweatshops, Union-busting, unions, Wisconsin