Posts Tagged ‘working class’

The People Against America

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This documentary traces the rise of the “white rights” movement that elected Donald Trump. This movement, of mainly white blue collar males, promotes the distorted image of white people as a disenfranchised minority. According to the filmmakers, it has its roots in Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. By heavily emphasizing “states rights,” Goldwater successfully exploited the anxieties of Southerners over forced integration by the federal government. It would be the first time Southern states had voted Republican since the Civil War.

Nixon’s Southern Strategy

In 1968, the Nixon campaign built on Goldwater’s success by implementing a formal “southern strategy.” By reaching out to the “silent majority,” and emphasizing law and order in the face of race riots and anti-war protests, his campaign sought to win the votes of northern blue collar voters. In subsequent elections, Democratic Party strategists would seek to win back blue collar voters by recruiting two conservative governors to run for president (Carter and Clinton).

As the Watergate scandal undermined all Americans’ confidence in government, corporate oligarchs would build on growing anti-government sentiment by massively funding right wing think tanks, lobbying and conservative talk radio. This, in turn would lay the groundwork for Reagan’s 1980 massive deregulation and tax and public service cuts.

Corporate Giveaways By Clinton and Obama

When Clinton was elected in 1992, he quickly surpassed Reagan’s record of corporate giveaways, with his total deregulation of Wall Street, his Three Strikes and Omnibus Crime Bill (leading to mass incarceration of minorities) and his creation of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These free trade treaties resulted in the wholesale export of rust belt industries to Mexico and China, effectively ending any incentive for working class males to vote Democratic.

Obama, elected on the back of the 2008 financial collapse, would prove even more pro-corporate than Clinton or Bush. Instead of prosecuting the banks who caused the 2008 economic crash, he granted them massive bailouts, while ignoring the plight of millions of homeowners who lost their homes when these banks foreclosed on them. He also significantly increasing mass surveillance and aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers. He also effectively repealed posse comitatus* and habeus corpus.**

The Rise of Occupy and the Tea Party

Obama’s pro-corporate policies led to the rise of both left wing (Occupy Wall Street) and right wing (Tea Party) popular movements. The latter received major corporate backing (largely from the Koch brothers), enabling Tea Party Republicans to shift the blame for the loss of good paying industrial jobs from Wall Street to minorities, immigrants and women.

Is the US Moving to the Right?

For me, the highlight of the documentary is  commentary by former Black Panther Party president Elaine Brown, the only activist featured. Brown, who is highly critical of the left’s failure to acknowledge the problems of poor white people, is the only commentator to dispute that the US is “moving to the right.” She points out that prior Republican campaigns used coded language (such as “state rights,” “law and order”) to target racist fears of blue collar whites. Trump, in contrast, openly caters to these sentiments. Brown reports that some blacks welcome the end of political hypocrisy and greater openness about the pervasiveness of white racism.

She believes this new openness offers a good opportunity to build a genuine multiracial working class movement. She gives the example of successful collaboration in Chicago between black activists and the Young Patriots (a white separatist group) against corrupt landlords.


*The Posse Comitatus Act, enacted in 1878, prohibited the use of federal troops to enforce domestic policies within the US.

**The right of Habeus Corpus, guaranteed under Article I of the Constitution and the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, prevents government from illegal detaining US citizens without charging them.

 

The Chinese Economic Bubble

(2011)

Film Review

The Chinese Economic Bubble offers a unique perspective from two low income Chinese – a taxi driver and a construction worker – on China’s so-called economic miracle. Their commentary is interspersed with that of two Chinese economists. The latter discuss the growing Chinese real estate bubble, empty high rise buildings, rent-seeking and corruption, as well as the thousands of government officials who go to jail every year. These vignettes are interspersed with scenes of lavish media events celebrating Chinese millionaires and billionaires.

There is repeated emphasis on the immense sacrifice made by ordinary Chinese workers to create such phenomenal wealth. When the film was made in 2011, the construction worker early only slightly more ($4,200) than the national average ($4,000) for highly dangerous scaffolding work. At the time average global per capita income was $9,000. In 2014 the average Chinese wage had risen to $8,655, compared to an average global wage of $18,000.

the-people

The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910-2010

By Selina Todd

John Murray Publishers (2015)

Book Review

The People is about the rise of the British working class during World War I and its systematic erosion during the seventies as the Thatcher government systematically dismantled Britain’s manufacturing base.

British workers first began to see themselves as a cohesive force during 1914-18 as hundreds of thousands left domestic service (where most were employed) for the war industry. Working class consciousness reached its zenith during World War II, in part due to discriminatory treatment by the Churchill government. Working class women were often forced to leave well-paying jobs to be conscripted into the munitions industry. In contrast, middle and upper class women were exempted from conscription because they did “voluntary” work. Middle and upper class families also found it easier to be exempted from the mandatory evacuation scheme. The latter required rural families were required to accept child evacuees from urban centers without compensation.

The Churchill government provided virtually no funding for the mandatory evacuation scheme (which was organized mainly by schools and charitable groups), nor for benefits for families who lost housing, jobs and breadwinners due to German bombing, nor for proper air raid shelters. Government provided shelters were so wet and filthy, Londoners spontaneously seized and occupied the subway system, and there was nothing the government could do to stop them.

According to Todd, the austerity cuts that have turned Britain into a low wage economy actually started in 1976 (three years before Thatcher was elected prime minister) with public spending cuts imposed on the UK as a condition of an IMF loan. For the most part, this “free market” attitude continued under Blair and New Labour.

In her Afterward, Todd sees evidence of a growing popular discontent over inequality in the rise of UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party) and the Scottish independence referendum. The latter, she maintains, was actually more about inequality. More recently, this discontent has manifested in the election of left wing Jeremy Corbyn to run the Labour Party and the successful Brexit referendum.

The following is an eye-opening presentation for Martin Luther King Unity Day. In it, long time political activist Angela Davis explores the roots of the electoral college and the death penalty in slavery. Unlike more mainstream liberals, she doesn’t catastrophize about Trump’s recent electoral victory. Instead she faults both Trump and Clinton for failing to mention even once during the campaign the working class, inequality or climate change.

She goes on to emphasize that it isn’t Martin Luther King as an individual we celebrate, but the thousands of people in the civil rights movement who did the real work. She then highlights the myriad of movements Americans have formed to resist the oppression experienced by the working class Americans. She devotes special focus to the movement to abolish prisons in a country that incarcerates more people (in absolute numbers) than any other country in the world. In her view, the majority of inmates in US prisons have been deeply traumatized in childhood. All incarcerating them accomplishes is to irreparably re-traumatize them.

The goal of the prison abolition movement is to replace prisons with a system of restorative justice,* starting with youth prisons.

Davis starts speaking at 1:09.


*Restorative justice is a system of criminal justice which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large. New Zealand, which has no youth prisons, relies on a restorative justice process to deal with juvenile offenders.

The Cost of Racism to White America

University of Massachusetts Professor John H Bracey (2011)

Film Review

In his lecture, Professor Bracey blames racism and white privilege for US having the most poorly organized working class in the industrialized world. From the start of Jim Crow after the Civil War to the late sixties, Africa Americans were deliberately excluded from trade unions, a perfect set-up for white bosses to use non-unions black workers to bust strikes and unions. This absence of working class solidarity meant it took American workers until the 1930s to win basic rights and benefits (eg Social Security, unemployment compensation and welfare) that European workers won in the 1880s.

Racism also keeps white people ignorant of their own history. For example they are unaware (I sure was) that the Battle of the Alamo was fought to extend slavery to Texas (slavery was illegal when Mexico owned Texas).

The refusal of northern whites to confront their own racism would ultimately culminate in the Civil War, which would result in more deaths (1 million) than all other US wars combined.

Bracey also blames racist attitudes for the absence of public education in the South until after the Civil War. It would be black Reconstruction governments that established free public education in the South – for all children (black and white). They would also establish the first state universities in Georgia and Mississippi.”

Ironically it was African Americans who founded Ole Miss (University of Mississippi), though they were later excluded when the Ku Klux Kan violently overthrew the southern Reconstruction governments.

It was also black women who organized the southern textile mills and not Norma Ray, as portrayed in the popular film starring Sally Fields.

Continuing racism forces white people to sacrifice education, health, housing and social service programs to cover the phenomenal cost of mass incarceration (of mainly black and Hispanic Americans. At an annual cost of $40,000 per inmate, the cost of incarcerating 2.4 million Americans adds up to $960 billion annually.

The presentation starts at 7 min.

 

my booky wook

My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs and Standup

By Russell Brand (2007 Hodder and Stoughton)

Book Review

I have a particular interest in the background influences that radicalize people. In my view, this is the main value of Russell Brand’s 2007 autobiography. I had never heard of Brand, a 38 year- old British stand-up comedian and TV personality, until his interview with talk show host Jeremy Packman went viral on YouTube. Brand had just been selected to guest edit an issue of The New Statesman, an edition that featured his essay advocating revolution to overthrow the current political system.

The inspiration for the autobiography grew out of Brand’s treatment for drug, alcohol and sexual addiction. Making an uncompromising moral inventory of family and friends we have wronged in the course of our addiction is a major feature of all 12 step programs. Despite the tendency of most Step 4 confessions to be maudlin and self absorbed, Brand’s timing and zany self-deprecating humor carries over into his writing. My Booky Wook is well constructed and fast paced and any dull bits have been edited out.

Predictably Brand’s early history shares many common features with behavior disordered kids who go on to become revolutionaries. Like many gifted children whose intelligence is stifled, rather than encouraged, Brand used his cleverness to seek act attention and approval from his classmates. The more his teachers punished him for his disruptive behavior, the more he sought out the company of neighborhood drop outs, eventually getting caught up in their drug and alcohol use and petty criminal behavior.

Like many generation Xers, Brand had no working class allegiance as a child. Neither of his parents identified as working class. As a single mom, his mother was limited to low paid short term jobs with flexible hours, in order to accommodate her parenting obligations. Though most single mothers find themselves limited to similar dead end jobs, neither society nor their society nor the women themselves are inclined to view them as blue collar work. A perennial salesman (e.g. double glazing, water filters, market stalls), Brand’s father swallowed the myth that he was capable, if he worked hard enough, of creating his own future. Ironically his income was never sufficient to stretch to child support.

Brand himself only began to identify with his working class origins through his drug use. Establishing himself as a stand-up comedian required him to tour, and his heroin addiction required him to seek out the disadvantaged section of any new cities he visited. Impressed by the marked divide between the intense squalor he encountered and the lifestyles of the corporate elite, he began to educated himself politically by visiting Cuba and reading dissident writers like Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein.

Link to Brand’s New Statesman essay:  Is Utopian Revolution Possible?

Below Brand calls for revolution in Parliament Square:

 

Maori protest

(The last of 8 posts describing my new life in New Zealand)

For me personally, the advantages of living in New Zealand far outweigh the negatives. One of the major positives is the greater willingness of Kiwis to get involved in grassroots campaigns for political change. Give my 30+ year history of activism, this is obviously a high priority.

Overall, I find Kiwis to be less alienated and apathetic than their American cousins, less likely to be taken in by the corporate hype they see on TV, and more confident about their ability to bring about change through collective action. I believe this relates, in large part, to a well-organized, militant indigenous (Maori) movement. Their highly visible activism models the importance of collective struggle for other New Zealanders, in much the same way the American civil rights struggle provided a role model for the US antiwar movement, and the women’s, gay and disability rights movement.

There are also a number of institutional and social features about New Zealand society that make political organizing somewhat easier.

Institutional features:

  • New Zealand has a parliamentary democracy coupled with elections conducted via proportional representation (which Kiwis won through strenuous grassroots organizing). The New Zealand Green Party (which I joined in 2002) presently has 14 MPs in Parliament.
  • New Zealand has no illusions about being a great military empire. In my experience, it’s only after they leave that Americans fully realize how much US militarism overshadows every aspect of their life.
  • New Zealand is 100% anti-nuclear (both nuclear power and weapons), and US naval ships are banned in our ports because the US government refuses to indicate whether specific vessels are nuclear powered or carry nuclear arms. This, too, was won by sustained grassroots organizing.
  • New Zealand has no death penalty.
  • At presented, genetically engineered crops and farm animals aren’t legally permitted in New Zealand (except in the laboratory). That being said, keeping New Zealand GE-free requires constant vigilance and sustained organizing.
  • The cattle supplying New Zealand’s world famous dairy and beef export industry are grass fed (except during drought years), and no Kiwi farmer would dream of injecting them with hormones or feeding them antibiotics to stimulate growth.

Social Features:

  • New Zealand has a predominantly working class culture, owing to a misguided student loan policy which has led about one million college graduates to emigrate (mainly to Australia and the UK. Given my own working ckass background, I fit in really quickly. Americans from more middle class backgrounds seem to have more difficulty.
  • While much of the New Zealand media is foreign-owned and blatantly pro-corporate, there are still vestiges of an independent media that routinely challenges and embarrasses the government in power.
  • Kiwis are much more likely to have a civic life than their American counterparts. Here in New Plymouth (population 55,000), most of my friends belong to the Green Party or the sustainability movement. However I also have friends who belong to Lions, Rotary or one of the many sports clubs (lawn bowling, cricket, soccer, rugby) or hobby groups (stamp club, little theater, orchid society, tramping club, canoe club and four cycling groups).
  • New Zealand has a much stronger sustainability movement than the US. The late arrival of both TV and cheap Asian imports in means most Kiwis are only one generation away from growing vegetables, raising their own chickens and “making do” with jerry-rigged plumbing and home repairs and homemade cleaning and beauty products. The majority of my female friends still hang their laundry on the line, and community currencies introduced during the last recession still survive in several local communities.

photo credit: lancea via photopin cc