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Labor's Way Forward
Henwood says something in his essay that I find completely puzzling:
The United States would be a very different country had unions—which still have a lot of money and people to work with—spent the last five years agitating for single-payer health insurance.
As someone who spends a lot of time doing union work, in addition to my regular job, I find this assertion laughable. First, if my union were to spend any significant resources on this instead of organizing our workplace and trying to improve our bargaining position, the leadership would likely be voted out in the next union election. It would be awfully hard to convince people to join the union if we couldn't point to concrete things we've done to make their jobs better. Most people, it should be obvious, won't pay union dues for social movement organizing alone.
Second, in my union chapter, there are perhaps two dozen people who can be counted on to do organizing work, and we represent about 500 full-time faculty and more than that many part-time faculty, in addition to several hundred academic staff. You do the math in terms of organizing capacity. We can barely manage to organize our campus on bread-and-butter issues. There is simply no way to do significant social movement organizing (advocating for the working class in general) without first building a significant organizing capacity based on the workplace. The sad truth is that most unions are like mine. There isn't a lot of excess organizing capacity to spend on class mobilization.
Third, such a mobilization would probably have significantly shifted public opinion on the health care issue, but so what? That would not have gotten single-payer. Some Democrats might have been embolded by that popularity, but most don't give a shit what people think. The lobbyists' money matters a whole lot more than public opinion.
If labor had done what Henwood suggests, it would have been a fool's errand. We'd probably be listening to all sorts of folks on the left talk about how irrelevant unions are as a result.
I don't know what the path forward is for labor in these difficult times. But I'm sure that such unrealistic proposals and arguments are doing much good.
The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth. -- IWW
In a democracy it is necessary that people should learn to endure having their sentiments outraged. -- Bertrand Russell
Let us strangle the last king with the entrails of the last priest. -- Denis Diderot
It's not that no one sees the straight line to Doomtown we've been on since Reagan, it's that there's big profits in it. The most superficially Christian and Other-Worldly-Yearning nation in the developed world is the one most likely to kill you for your shoes. -- Doghouse Riley
The true purpose of education is to try to foster in students a kind of critical cosmopolitanism, such that they learn, among other things, to question any notion that one’s nation or tribe is favored by God or destiny. -- Michael Bérubé
It is not enough to decry the existence of the Spectacle. We intend to use both art and theory as a battering ram against Capitalism and its false opposition, tribalism, in all of its mystical forms. We believe it is possible to move beyond the inexcusable savagery of everyday life. -- The Anti-Naturals
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