Saturday, December 14, 2013

The confusion

To assume that any policy is by definition pro- or anti-labor is a mistake of knee-jerk liberalism. A policy isn't pro-labor if it throws laborers out of mediciad and food stamps. Wal-mart shows a structural contradiction in our current capitalist economy, driving both wages and prices down. Raising the minimum wage does nothing to resolve that structural contradiction. Expanding food stamps and medicaid, and similar welfare state policies, do.

To be plain, I'm pointing out that labor activism has two directions that are in important respects incompatible: socio-economic transformation (including revolution) and socio-economic entry. Union activism succeeded in bringing labor into the middle class, a material improvement, but not a transformation. It's an expansion of conformity of the individual as commodity and consumer-of-commodities. The New Deal social welfare state was transformative, protecting people as they are, leaning the nation towards a socialized society.

The social safety net seems to me the visionary direction. Why shouldn't food and health care be as much a right as public education, public libraries and public parks? Why not public housing as well? It's not just libertarians who object to the social safety net. Liberals also don't seem to get that expanding the net is liberatory. Maybe they're afraid of it. Liberals seem much happier supporting a unionism that shepherds its people into middle-class consumerism than allow them any measure of real freedom beyond their own horizon. 

I'm much more sympathetic to liberatory transformation. But even if I weren't, in an economy that is increasingly stacked against the 99%, requiring ever more debt, I'd be wary of the entry game. And I think labor ought to take a stand on it in favor of expanding the social safety net. Since Reagan-Thatcher everyone seems afraid of the social safety net. It's the new McCarthyism. 

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