Thursday, September 06, 2012
Jerry Brown, Barack Obama and Labor DayCalifornia Gov. Jerry Brown's Labor Day proclamation from this year, 09/03/2012, offers yet another contrast between his basic Democratic, pro-labor vision and Obama's neoliberal one:
When government and business recognize the intrinsic right of workers to organize and bargain collectively, it is possible to maintain an orderly system of industrial relations, avoiding the chaos and bloodshed that often marked labor disputes in the past. The industrial growth that our nation enjoyed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries came at a great human cost. While men, women and children suffered under brutal working conditions, their attempts to improve their situation were often met with violence by employers and the government. In response, many workers became radical or violent themselves, leading to a seemingly unbreakable cycle of destruction and terror.Obama commemorated the day in a campaign speech at Scott High School in Toledo OJ 09/12/2012. His message was more, unions achieved some nice goody-two-shoes stuff, now vote for me:
Now, we're on our way to our convention in Charlotte this week. (Applause.) But I wanted to stop here in Toledo to spend this day with you -- (applause) -- a day that belongs to the working men and women of America -- teachers and factory workers, construction workers and students and families and small business owners. And I know we’ve got some proud autoworkers in the house helping to bring Toledo back. (Applause.)I must admit I'm tired of moralistic formulations from Obama like, "It’s a bargain that says if you work hard, if you're responsible, then your work should be rewarded. (Applause.) That if you put in enough effort, you should be able to find a job that pays the bills."
The President is in a position to actually do something about jobs. And to support union rights. We need to hear what he's doing in those areas, not platitudes barely distinguishable from spoiled frat boys shouting at beggars, "Get a job!" Ann O'Leary wrote two years ago in The Power to Act The American Prospect 09/01/2010 about various ways that the President can use his authority over federal contract to increase wages and promote unionizing. In fact, that issue of The American Prospect carried a number of articles on ways the President can act on behalf of workers even with an obstructionist Republicans Congress. But this Democratic President has shown little interest in pursuing them.
It's not part of the neoliberal prescription to strengthen unions or the labor movement for the long term. To be clear, one of the most substantial and clear accomplishments of the Obama Administration was the saving of General Motors, which the Republicans would have cheerfully allowed to do under and disappear. This was very important to organized labor because of the number of jobs involved, because the United Auto Workers (UAW) is still one of the most powerful unions but would have been severely weakened by the Republican alternative, and because it preserved an important part of the US manufacturing base. It was a defensive rather than offensive move on behalf of labor, but the Obama Administration does deserve credit for this very important achievement.
I'm also getting pretty tired of the neoliberal pablum about "provide your children with an education to make sure that they do even better than you did." Education is critically important, but education is no magic bullet guaranteeing individual or collective prosperity. As Lawrence Mishel puts it, "To hear leaders of the financial sector talk, the underlying problem with the economy has not been a runaway financial sector but an unqualified workforce." (The Overselling of Education The American Prospect 02/07/2011) We also need trade agreements that don't fit the neoliberal model that Obama has followed on international trade that seeks more and more agreements designed to let American and international capital take maximum advantage of poor wages and working conditions abroad and in the US. The idea that education is ultimately the solution to all economic problems is, in Mishel's words, "very comfortable reasoning for the very comfortable class."
It's no substitution for substantive action to create jobs and reduce inequality - and yes, that means limiting the ability of the One Percent to dominate democratic elections with money and distort the results through lobbying and various forms of legal and illegal bribery.
Tags: 2012 election, barack obama, jerry brown, labor movement
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No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."
-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?
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