Labor Day Links

Paul Krugman:

In 1894 Pullman workers, facing wage cuts in the wake of a financial crisis, went on strike — and Grover Cleveland deployed 12,000 soldiers to break the union. He succeeded, but using armed force to protect the interests of property was so blatant that even the Gilded Age was shocked. So Congress, in a lame attempt at appeasement, unanimously passed legislation symbolically honoring the nation’s workers.

It’s all hard to imagine now. Not the bit about financial crisis and wage cuts — that’s going on all around us. Not the bit about the state serving the interests of the wealthy — look at who got bailed out, and who didn’t, after our latter-day version of the Panic of 1893. No, what’s unimaginable now is that Congress would unanimously offer even an empty gesture of support for workers’ dignity. For the fact is that many of today’s politicians can’t even bring themselves to fake respect for ordinary working Americans.

Ed Kilgore:

Some pundits and pols, unfortunately, keep seeking to turn Labor Day into something entirely alien to its tradition. You may recall (as Paul Krugman did today) Eric Cantor’s tribute to business owners in his Labor Day message last year. On Friday we were treated to a Peggy Noonan column about Labor Day that wound up being about the “romance of the marketplace” and the deep insights of Ronald Reagan—who, whatever else you think about him, did not exactly exemplify the Work Ethic—into the connection between hard work and the American character.

Please: on this one day a year, can we be spared the contempt of the wealthy and the powerful for the “losers” who still work for wages and can’t seem to save and invest? Can Republican pols perhaps re-learn the lip service for the necessity of collective bargaining rights and the utility of unions they used to employ on occasions like this? And can conservative “thinkers” express some understanding that workers are not mere raw materials to be burned up in the creative forges of heroic capitalists? Can we please stipulate that the wildly unequal wealth and income levels in this country that are getting more unequal every day are not the pure product of natural or marketplace selection or—more laughable yet—the results of employers and individual workers freely contracting as equals?

Probably not.

Shawn Gude (on the Washington, DC, living wage bill):

The vituperation with which Walmart has attacked the living wage bill is perhaps most striking because capital’s threats, typically tacit, have actually been openly made. The City Council dared question the untrammeled control of capital, and now they’re seeing the result of such temerity. Even marginally shifting the locus of power from capital to labor— even if it’s done by a state that usually does the bidding of business—is enough to occasion outcry from the business community. DC’s deputy mayor, for instance, has said,“People have no idea how damaging this is,” and argued that even a veto wouldn’t be enough to restore business confidence.

The controversy throws into sharp relief one of our era’s great unspoken truths: Capitalist democracy, if not an oxymoron, is less a placid pairing than an acrimonious amalgamation. The marriage that Francis Fukuyama famously pronounced eternal is in fact a union of opposites. Inherent to capitalism is inequality, fundamental to democracy is equality. Class stratification, the lifeblood of capitalism, leaves democracy comatose. The economic “base,” to put it in classical Marxian terms, actively undermines the purported values of the political superstructure.

Capitalist democracy is a domesticated democracy. Even before it makes its existence visible in the political arena—via campaign donations and high-powered lobbyists—capital markedly narrows the range of policies available to citizens and their elected officials.

See also:

Krugman, “How the Other 47 Percent Lives

David Sirota, “How Labor Day Was Hijacked

Sarah Kliff, “Happy Labor Day, in Eight Charts

Benjamin Sachs, “A New Kind of Union

16 thoughts on “Labor Day Links

  1. As time goes by, I become more and more convinced that the worst thing that ever happened to this country, was the fall of the USSR.

    At least back when it was still around the powers-that-be in this country not only gave some lip-service to workers (which they no longer do), but actually let people have a small share of the nation’s prosperity, and didn’t try to keep it all for themselves.

    They did that, because they wanted there to be a clear difference which people could see, that proved to them that the way we live over here is far superior to the way the people in Communist countries lived over there.
    The powers-that-be (PTB) gave up some, so that people here wouldn’t get so p-o’d they’d want a revolution over here, even if all it accomplished was rivers of blood – of both the rich, and the poor. A truly irate crowd, is an irrational one. And the last thing the PTB wanted to face, were irrational crowds.

    It also helped, that after WWII, the PTB had seen the results of the deprivation during Great Depression – some had only recently recovered, themselves.
    And they had lived through 4+ years of war, when all sorts of things were rationed. And sure, if you were rich enough, you could still get whatever you wanted. But with a very high tax rate on top income, you had to spend a lot of what was left over, after taxes, to get it.

    Now, with the USSR long dead, and the threat of Communism with it, the PTB just plain-old don’t give a Hershey-squire shit about the people here who aren’t rich and powerful, like they are.
    We can all die from hunger, or sickness, homeless and living on the streets, for all they care.

    What they need to keep in mind is, that as things get worse and worse for the majority of Americans, that we may not try to emulate The Russian Revolution, but instead, choose the French one.
    Since horses and mules are more rare than back then, but to still be environmentally conscious, maybe someone can develop solar-powered tumbrel’s.
    I’d be more than happy to drive one.

    But trust me when I tell you this, rich folks – while you surely won’t enjoy the “green” ride, the destination, soaked in red, is far, far worse.

  2. I hope DC tells Walmart to take a flying leap. It’s not inconceivable that the departure of Walmart could create an opening for other, less evil retailers–basically it could be an opportunity for the kinds of businesses that Walmart crowds out to reemerge. Maybe the city could even help.

    • “I hope DC tells Walmart to take a flying leap.”

      We may find out tomorrow, or at least this week. The city council approved the living wage bill and sent it to the mayor, but the mayor might veto it.

  3. This is not off-topic…last night I watched “Gasland Part II,” a documentary about fracking which was released last April:

    It differs significantly from the original Gasland filmed in 2010. You can really see in this film how even the white middle class Republican loyalists are steamrolled and driven out of their homes, and how this is destroying the economy of small towns and suburbs. One of the interviewees makes it clear that this sort of thing has been going on for a long time in Third World countries, but now it’s the USA (which, by implication, is becoming a Third World country).

    Everyone should see this film.

    • Paraquat — Of course, it’s not just fracking. Big areas of West Virginia and Kentucky, and some other places, have been badly impacted by strip mining for years.

      I should do a long post about this some day, but one of the terrible ironies of today’s Right is that they are killing the small town and rural communities they claim are the “real Merrikans.”

      For example, they’re trying to destroy public schools. Anyone who grew up in a genuine midwestern or southern small town can tell you that the public schools are the center of the community. The high school football and basketball seasons, Homecoming parades, and other school events make up most of the glue holding communities together. Take that away, and there’s no community.

      Add to that the rise of factory farming over family farming; the Walmart-ization of the commercial districts, and the fast food chains that wipe out the little family restaurants serving the local cuisine, and it all gets downright depressing. Most of what was actually nice about small-town life is being destroyed.

  4. For a long time I wondered about the motivation of the Confederate Army. They were conscripts (mostly) but passionately loyal to the cause of slavery, though slaveowners were exempted from the draft. What motivated non-slaveowners to fight and die to preserve slavery?

    It dawned on me when I was watching 1776 and an aristocrat from NC talking to John Hancock declared (paraphrased) that the people would follow the aristocrats rather than John Adams because most people prefer the dream of becoming wealthy to the reality of dealing with poverty. IMO, the Confederate Army was motivated by the dream that they could all someday become rich plantation owners if they could get some slaves (and work them hard enough) and the abolition of slavery would demolish their (empty) aspirations.

    Up until the Great Depression, the capitalist became filthy rich by exploiting labor, as in the Pullman strike in the first paragraph. AFTER the Great Depression and for about 20 years, the US had strong unions, worker protection, the rise of benefits like paid vacation and sick leave. Workers had more than a bare survival wage and they spent – which created demand for products and growing opportunities for new businesses and well-paying jobs.

    I will go to my grave believing that it is NO coincidence that the best decades in the US for economic growth happened because of the rise in wages and employee protection. This belief has gone out of fashion with conservatives and moderates despite a mountain of supporting evidence. Among conservatives there is a fundamental, unspoken, almost subconscious understanding that decent wages and working conditions for employees at the lowest rungs of the ladder are an impediment to starting or growing a business.

    Thus we go full circle. The declaration by a slaveowning aristocrat from NC in the movie 1776 remains the prime mover of conservatism today. White trash will support slavery or its equivalent as long as they see it as the means to fulfilling their foolish dreams for becoming wealthy themselves – dreams which can never come true but can be dangled in front of lazy peasants to entice them to embrace policies which will only benefit the existing aristocracy.

    • What motivated non-slaveowners to fight and die to preserve slavery?

      There are social historians who have looked into this in depth and written scholarly papers about it, some of which I have read. And it was all about racism. Even a white man who had nothing but a cabin and some dirt to farm, with no education and no prospects for bettering himself, had one bit of dignity to cling to — he was white. And that gave him some honorary privilege, such as serving in volunteer militia units with wealthier men and being able to hang out just about anywhere he wanted in public places. There were also other cultural factors at work making many of them inclined to accept the leadership of a privileged class without questioning it too much.

  5. Doug,
    I agree that what you say regarding the Confederate soldiers is a strong consideration, but I’d be more inclined to put weight to the concept of tribalism as being the predominant motivator in drawing men to the Confederate cause.
    Dostoyevsky once said that we are born to the land which I interpret to mean that we have a natural allegiance to whatever particular piece of geography or tribe we were born and raised.
    This past July I went to the sesquicentennial observations of the Battle of Gettysburg. In the museum there they had one large wall where a collage of photographs were displayed. Beneath the photographs, running the length of the wall, was a graph/index listing all the states engaged in the war, and directly beneath the names of the states was listed two rows( Union and Confederate) of numbers telling how many men from each state fought and what side they fought on. Every state except one had men that fought on both sides of the cause Virginia was the only state where no men were enlisted to the Union cause.. Which made me think that there is something deeper than reasoning to account for that fact.

  6. Swami – I’m guilty of making a sweeping generalization. There were not just two sides to that coin and people, even soldiers, are not borgs. The theme of my post was that conservatism tends to see the exploitation of those at the bottom (slaves or Walmart employees) as a necessary virtue of capitalism – and a lot of conservatives are convinced they should be rich and will get rich – unless liberals take away the tools of inequality.

  7. maha,
    Back in the late 70’s and early-mid 80’s, when I was in my late teens and 20’s, and I travelled around different parts of the country either for business or pleasure, one of the most enjoyable experiences was going to a small restaurant in a town, and sampling the local food specialties.
    And it was tough to make a choice, because the local’s would point you to 3 or 4 places, as having “THE BEST!”

    Fast-forward to the 00’s. I got to do quite a bit of travelling, for business. And in town after town, I had to search long and hard for a local place.
    And most of the travelling I was doing, was in Red States, like SC, GA, and FL.
    When I got to a sea-side town, and asked which place had the best seafood, people would point me to either the local Long John Silver, or Olive Garden. Or, some all-you-can-eat buffet.

    It used to be, if you were blindfolded, and dropped of in the middle of some town somewhere, you’d realize pretty shortly where you were, but what food the local restaurants would be advertising.
    Now, you can’t tell where you are if you’re dropped off, because it seems like EVERY town, even the littlest one, has a couple of fast food chains – and it’s the usual suspects, not some quality, higher-end chains, like Bonefish.
    And if a the town is lucky, some little place that still caters to local tastes. But in more and more towns, those places are hard to find, because they can’t compete with the mass-marketed, cheap, assembly-line, fast food places.

    I had a co-worker from NC go to NY City one time for a week, and I asked him where he and his family had eaten. And he said to me, “You know. The burgers at McDonalds and Burger King, and the Pizza Hut pizza’s, are a buck more expensive! And the dinners at TGIF and Applebees cost at least a couple of bucks more!!!”
    I looked at him, and said, “You mean you went to NY City, arguably a place with the most variety of quality food, from the most countries in the world, and all you went to, were fast food joints and chain restaurants?!?!?!?!”
    I’ll give him credit. He went back again. I gave him a 3-page list of different great places that specialized in a variety of foods from different countries, and he apparently used it.

    “Fast Food Nation,” indeed!

  8. Doug: When 1776 was first released they deleted the sequence around Cool Cool Considerate Men because President Nixon did not like the song. Later it was restored to the film. Many, many people still believe that they will wake up tomorrow and be rich.

  9. Paraquat: “Everyone should see this film”

    I’ll take your advice. What has bothered me for a long time is how big oil, big gas has bought the silence of our “news media” particularly troubling is the blatant silence of so called “progressive” MSNBC. The oil /gas lobby advertises heavily on this channel, and progressive hero’s Maddow, Shultz, Hayes and even O’Donnell keep quiet, not a word about the environmental damage, the corporate strong-arming, not a peep, it is really infuriating to me that so called progressives will look the other way for simple employment, how are they any credible than FAUX?

  10. maha,
    In all fairness, during most of my life, all of the TS restaurants, from Mama Leone’s to Lindy’s, were tourist traps.
    I do miss the Automat, though. When I was a kid, there was nothing better than to go there with my Mom or Dad, and get a small sandwich, a cup of soup, and a slice of pie!

  11. maha,
    Only someone you TRULY hate, I hope.
    I can’t speak for their cheesecake anymore – but even when I once had it in the late 70’s, when some out of town relatives wanted to go there, it REALLY sucked! – but even a 3rd generation formerly-great-cheesecake-knock-off, has to be better than anything that Chuck E. Cheese has to offer!!!
    That crap is an intentional assault on the taste-buds, and other 4 senses of of adult humans – to the amusement of their offspring.

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