Friday April 18th, 2014, 7:33 pm (EDT)

Michael D. Yates

Who Will Lead the U.S. Working Class?

This article is based upon an interrogation of two books: Gregg Shotwell, Autoworkers Under the Gun: A Shop-Floor View of the End of the American Dream; and Jane McAlevey with Bob Ostertag, Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting For the Labor Movement (New York: Verso Books, 2012). Each book is about an iconic union. Gregg Shotwell writes about the United Auto Workers (UAW), and Jane McAlevey the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). What they report gives us reason for both deep concern and hope concerning the future of organized labor.… | more |

The Great Inequality

Growing inequality of income and wealth have characterized the U.S. economy for at least the past thirty years. Today, this inequality has become a central feature of politics, both mainstream and within such radical uprisings as the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon. This essay attempts to uncover the roots of inequality, showing that the source of it is in the nature of the capitalist economy. The magnitude of inequality ebbs and flows with the balance of class forces, but great inequality is built into the system’s fundamental structures.… | more |

The Emperor Has No Clothes But Still He Rules

Moshe Adler, Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science that Makes Life Dismal (New York: The New Press, 2009), 224 pages, $24.95, hardcover; David Orrell, Economyths: Ten Ways That Economics Get It Wrong (Mississauga, Ontario: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd., 2010), 288 pages, $27.95, hardcover; Yanis Varoufakis, Joseph Halevi, and Nicholas J. Theocaratis, Modern Political Economics: Making Sense of the Post-2008 World (New York: Routledge, 2011, forthcoming), 536 pages, $165.00, hardcover, $65.00, paperback.

Science is often thought to proceed from a theory to experiments that test its predictions. If new data are discovered that cannot be explained by the theory, eventually a new theory arises to replace it. If the new theory can explain everything the old one did plus the new phenomena, sooner or later every scientist will adhere to the new paradigm.… Neoclassical economics is taught in every college classroom in the United States and in almost every country in the world. Graduate students learn no other approach to economics. They are taught that neoclassical economics is a science, on a par with physics and the other natural sciences. There is even a joke that when good neoclassical economists die, they are reincarnated as physicists, but bad ones come back as sociologists.… | more |

The Rise and Fall of the United Farm Workers

Miriam Pawel, The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009), 372 pages, $28.00, hardcover.

After reading The Union of Their Dreams, Miriam Pawel’s exceptional account of the rise and fall of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW), I reread an article I wrote for The Nation in November 1977. In “A Union Is Not a Movement,” I leveled some harsh criticism at the UFW and its famous leader, Cesar Chavez. In response, the Union’s chief counsel, Jerry Cohen, one of the major characters in Pawel’s book, threatened suit against the magazine. At the time I was upset, thinking that maybe I should have been more careful in what I had said. However, as The Union of Their Dreams makes clear, I need not have been concerned, since everything I said was true. And then some.… | more |

What Needs To Be Done: A Socialist View

Today the capitalist economies of the world are in deep trouble. Some economists have theorized that the linkages between the United States and the rest of the world had been weakened as other nations gained more economic autonomy. A decoupling thesis was presented claiming that a crisis in one part of the system (say, North America) would not affect other major parts (say, Europe and Asia). We now know this is not true. Toxic assets were sold around the world, and banks in Europe, Asia, and Japan are in trouble too. Housing bubbles have burst in Ireland, Spain, and many other countries. In Eastern Europe, homes were bought with loans from Swiss, Austrian, and other European banks, payable in European currencies. As the economies of Hungary and other nations in the region, which financed their explosive growth with heavy borrowing from Western banks, have gone into recession, their currencies have suffered a sharp deterioration in exchange rates. This means that mortgage payments have risen sharply, as it now takes many more units of local currency to buy the Swiss francs or euros needed to pay the loans. In some cases, mortgage payments have doubled.… | more |

Don’t Pity the Poor Immigrants, Fight Alongside Them

David Bacon, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008), 261 pages, $25.95, hardcover.

In this compelling and useful book, David Bacon lays to rest the anti-immigration arguments of the xenophobes and racists who bombard us every day in the press, on television, and on radio talk shows with the vicious assertion that immigrants, mainly those from Latin America, are the cause of all our economic and social problems.… | more |

Why Unions Still Matter

The first edition of Why Unions Matter was published in 1998. In it I argued that unions mattered because they were the one institution that had dramatically improved the lives of the majority of the people and had the potential to radically transform both the economic and political landscape, making both more democratic and egalitarian. I showed with clear and decisive data that union members enjoyed significant advantages over nonunion workers: higher wages, more and better benefits, better access to many kinds of leaves of absence, a democratic voice in their workplaces, and a better understanding of their political and legal rights. What is more, unions benefitted nonunion workers through their political agitations and through what is called the “spillover” effect—nonunion employers will treat their employees better if only to avoid unionization.… | more |

The Injuries of Class

We live in a complex, divided society. We are divided by wealth, income, education, housing, race, gender, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. These divisions are much discussed; in the last two years, there have been entire series in our major newspapers devoted to the growing income divide. The wealth-flaunting of today’s rich was even the subject of a recent Sunday New York Times Magazine article (“City Life in the New Gilded Age,” October 14, 2007).… | more |

More Unequal: Aspects of Class in the United States

The glaring increase in economic inequality evident in the United States over the past thirty years has finally made it into the pages of the major media. In the past three years, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times have each published a series of articles on the subject of class. The growing economic divide has also caught the attention of a few prominent economists, like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. Even Treasury secretary Henry Paulson has admitted that inequality is on the rise… | more |

The Long Shadow of Race

I have always lived in the long shadow of race. Johnstown, Pittsburgh, Portland, Miami Beach, in every city racist remarks and racist actions were commonplace. You didn’t have to look for them; they were hard to escape. And on our road trips, no matter where we went or for how few days, it was not at all unusual for a white person to offer a racist comment. It is almost as if there is an understanding among whites that they are all fellow conspirators in the race war… | more |

Class: A Personal Story

I was born in 1946 in a small mining village in western Pennsylvania, about forty miles north of Pittsburgh, along a big bend in the Allegheny River. The house in which I lived during my first year of life had neither hot water nor indoor plumbing. It was a company house, and my grandmother had purchased it for $1,000 from the mining company after the town had ceased to be a company town, thanks to the United Mine Workers. A small coal stove in the living room heated the entire house… | more |

Capitalism Is Rotten to the Core

Immanuel Ness, Immigrants, Unions, and the New U. S. Labor Market (Temple University Press, 2005), 230 pages, cloth $59.50, paper $21.95.
Howard Karger, Shortchanged: Life and Debt in the Fringe Economy (Berrett~Koehler Publishing, 2005), 252 pages, cloth $24.95.

The widening and deepening of capitalism, which many economists misname globalization, has had traumatic impacts on workers. Sped up by what has been called neoliberalism (basically, the political program of modern global capital), the growing penetration of capitalist production and consumption relationships around the globe has literally pitched workers from pillar to post. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has forced hundreds of thousands of Mexican peasants and wage workers to abandon their home country and migrate to the United States. Similarly, government austerity and “free market” programs—curbing food and health subsidies to the poor, closing and selling state enterprises, suppression of worker and peasant protests, and the like—in countries like India and China have deprived many workers of what security they had attained and pushed peasants from their land into cities… | more |

Labor Movements: Is There Hope?

For the past thirty years, the class struggle has been a pretty one-sided affair, with capital delivering a severe beating to labor around the globe. When economic stagnation struck most of the world’s advanced capitalist economies, beginning in the mid-1970s, capital went on the offensive, quickly understanding that the best way to maintain and increase profit margins in a period of slow and sporadic economic growth was to cut labor costs. Governments and global lending agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund began to implement policies that made workers increasingly insecure… | more |

A Statistical Portrait of the U.S. Working Class

The biennial State of Working America (hereinafter SWA), written by economists at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., is the best compendium and analysis of U.S. labor market statistics there is.* In one convenient book, there are data on the distribution of income and wealth, all aspects of wages and benefits, employment and unemployment, poverty, regional labor markets, and international labor comparisons. In addition to the data, there are explanations for all of the major labor market trends. Does the stagnating minimum wage contribute to poverty? Is rising wage inequality the result of the growing educational requirements of jobs? Are trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) necessarily good for workers as mainstream economists keep telling us? Why do the wages and incomes of racial and ethnic minorities continue to lag behind those of whites? Does the labor market model of the United States, with its very limited regulation, deliver better results for workers than does the more institutionally-constrained model of most European nations? Mishel, Bernstein, and Allegretto analyze their data using sophisticated statistical techniques to give us answers to these and many other questions. A review of this book, along with some critical commentary, will give readers a good idea of how workers in the United States have been faring and what they can reasonably expect in the future… | more |

The Ghosts of Karl Marx and Edward Abbey

My wife Karen and I were on the road, traveling around the United States, for 150 days. We left Portland, Oregon on April 30, 2004, and over the next five months, we drove about 9,000 miles, through sixteen states. We visited thirteen national parks, seven national monuments, and towns large and small. We walked on streets and hiked on trails; we talked to people; we read local newspapers and watched local television stations; we shopped in local markets; and we observed as much as we could the economics, politics, and ecology in the places we stayed. What follows are some of my impressions… | more |

Inspiration from Behind the Walls

David Gilbert, No Surrender: Writings from an Anti-Imperialist Political Prisoner (Montreal: Abraham Guillen Press, 2004), 283 pages, paper $15.00.

David Gilbert is serving a seventy-five year to life prison sentence for his participation in the 1981 holdup of a Brinks armored truck in which three persons were killed, two police officers and a security guard. The attempted robbery was an effort to raise money for the Black Liberation Army (BLA), an underground offshoot of the Black Panther Party. By the time of the Brinks events, David had been a committed revolutionary for nearly twenty years. In 1965 he founded the Committee Against the War in Vietnam while a student at Columbia University; he was a founding member of the Columbia chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1967; he was a leader of the famous student strike at Columbia in 1968; and he was an early member of the Weathermen faction of SDS in 1969, whose members soon went underground to wage war against U.S. imperialism and racism, renaming themselves the Weather Underground. They hoped to support all those around the world actually fighting against U.S. imperialism and even to ignite a popular uprising in the United States through a series of spectacular bombings of government facilities (including the Pentagon) and corporate offices and banks, as well as by written propaganda and analysis… | more |

On the Road with Michael and Karen

As some of you know, my wife and I retired from the world of regular wage labor in the Spring of 2001. Since then we have lived in many places, the last being Portland, Oregon. We spent fourteen months in Portland, along with our twin sons. We were attracted to this city because we wanted to see the Northwest and because of the publicity it has received as an environmentally conscious urban area with a very liberal politics. While the city is surrounded by a green belt of parks, fine for hiking, and while great trees and beautiful flowers abound, Portland’s reputation for liberal politics is mostly myth. Unemployment is very high, wages are low, and workers are treated poorly. One of my sons, a talented chef, was paid a wage much less than half of what he had earned in Pittsburgh and is now earning in Washington, DC., which included several one-day strikes with mass picketing He seldom worked full-time, and the manager of his last employer routinely went on the company com puter and stole hours from workers, a practice which I have come to learn is commonplace in the United States. Working people are almost never mentioned in the local newspapers or discussed by leading politicians. A valiant struggle by unionized workers at the famous Powell’s bookstore, which featured several one-day strikes and mass picketing, got no publicity at all. The labor movement, such as it is, is all but invisible.… [Parts 1-5]… | more |

Can the Working Class Change the World?

Radicals of every stripe believe that capitalist economies are incompatible with human liberation. That is, while human beings have enormous capacities to think and to do, capitalism prevents the vast majority of people from developing these capacities. Therefore if we want a society in which the full flowering of human competencies can become a reality, we will have to bring capitalism to an end and replace it with something radically different … | more |

Poverty and Inequality in the Global Economy

Capitalism is hundreds of years old and today dominates nearly every part of the globe. Its champions claim that it is the greatest engine of production growth the world has ever seen. They also argue that it is unique in its ability to raise the standard of living of every person on earth. Because of capitalism, we are all “slouching toward utopia,”—the phrase coined by University of California at Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong—slowly but surely heading toward a world in which everyone will have achieved a U.S.-style middle-class life… | more |

A Student-Worker Alliance is Born

Liza Featherstone and United Students Against Sweatshops, Students Against Sweatshops (London and New York: Verso, 2002), 119 pages, paper $15.00.

Not long ago, the conventional wisdom was that capitalism was so completely triumphant that we were at the “end of history.” So strong and seemingly obvious was this view that many progressives embraced it. People’s imaginations shrunk and only the smallest and most local kinds of change appeared possible… | more |