Happy Labor Day, all y'all!
Like Paul falling off his horse, I've suddenly realized that I can't go on blaming the inability of labor to regain traction in America on our relative affluence as a culture. Sure we have bread and we have circuses, and these things do distract us from more important work. But if that were the sole reason that labor unions' share of the workforce has fallen from around 33% to around 12% over the last 25 years, then Italy's labor movement, which claims some 40% of the workforce, would never have withstood Mr. Berlusconi's rule, let alone help end it, and we would never have seen a million French workers in the streets protesting laws stripping workers of protections American workers don't even have.
No, the problem is two-fold. For one thing, the American government has been openly hostile to labor since President Reagan broke the air traffic controllers' union. Electing Democrats ain't a panacea for that, either -- President Clinton's years weren't that much better, as he and his cronies frequently exhorted labor to "adjust to changing times" and "work as a partner with management" yadda yadda yadda.
For another thing, we Americans are too damn selfish. The Reagan economy "unleashed the power of business" to make money, certainly, though not to make better products or services though that was the line, and the Clinton economy refined and amplified that delusion, so we grew up thinking we could all be rich without doing very much work. Powerful stuff, that. I don't have all the steel of a monk, you know. But before we thought that when we grew up we'd serve our communities in some way -- through becoming doctors or lawyers, or just good families and good neighbors. And now most of us seem to spend our free time plotting to avoid work through other delusions, like managing stocks or becoming famous. Again, I certainly don't exclude myself from this accusation.
Once we identify the problem, though, we can set our minds to solutions. It ain't enough to say "let's elect a Democratic President," so he/she can appoint some human beings to the National Labor Relations Board. We have to demand, of all prospective candidates of all parties, that they'll protect the worker from corporate predators. We have to demand of our media that they'll do better than call French protestors "reactionaries," or we'll create our own damn media. Just today I see Newsweek's international edition taking Mr. Ahmedinejad to task for failing to keep his promise to distribute oil revenues more fairly among his populace. Iran, you may know, has a per capita of something ridiculous like $250 per year, and still has 40% of its people living in poverty. And I must ask: where's Newsweek's outrage every time Rick Santorum calls the Estate Tax "the death tax" though only the richest 1.2% of Americans pay it and it is therefore not now nor will ever be a freakin' death tax?
And, ironically enough, we belong to communities whether we like it or not -- it's just that corporations determine the makeup of those communities more than they have since the early 20th century. So we must oppose corporate power in our purchasing decisions as much as we can. I don't want to get Antonin Scalia all tingly inside by saying that your dollar is your vote. But your dollar is a fairly precise tool for change. Today, buy the organic veggies, or the veggies that were grown locally. Put compact fluourescent bulbs in your light sockets. Unplug the damn TV when you're not watching it. Hell, don't watch the damn TV at all, 'cause there ain't nothing on TV anyway except maybe on HBO. Make the cable company come out and block the Fox News Channel. Don't use any Microsoft products on your home computer. Next week or next month or next year, learn to grow your own food, sew your own clothes, and get your power from the sun and wind. The more independence you have from corporations in just living day-to-day, the less power they'll have over you, and the more you can dictate the terms on which you'll build and nurture communities. And labor unions (thought I'd forgotten, didn't you?) aren't going to regain traction until we take back our ability to create communities -- or, I'll admit, unless we face another economic disaster the size of the Great Depression.
And don't ever worry that you're not pure enough. Right-wingers love to imagine that any crack in our program is evidence of irremediable weakness, as if we're hypocrites because we're not God and we only live in a world that was made before we got here. Just do more today than you did yesterday, and do more tomorrow than you did today. Because even if it's a small act, it'll make a difference, and even if we die and the world is still screwed-up, which I'll admit seems awfully likely, our example will inspire others, and their example will inspire others after them.
As Arundhati Roy says, the corporations need us more than we need them.