Thursday, February 28, 2013

Wage-Slavery, Republican Liberty, and Reining in Corporate Power

So I caught Wage-Slavery and Republican Liberty over at Jacobin Magazine and it got me to thinking about wage-slavery and what my coworkers might think of questions of liberty, freedom, and potentials to undermine the feudal nature of the modern workplace.

But as I pondered I thought more about the framing I use when talking to them about what our union is trying to do in the public/political arena--today was our lobby day at the state Capitol after all--which I normally frame as efforts to reign in corporate power. 
Rather than a framing of "reigning in corporate power" that I often use/see talked about within left and progressive circles, I have to wonder something.  Are we not better served with a re-frame of that? Should we not be better served by rebuilding the autonomy and capacities of working people to build and harness collective power to better leverage and counter balance corporate power? Efforts to undermine the wealth disparities that have crippled the economy could come in the form of top-down liberal do-gooder solutions which put a band-aid over the problems.  Obamacare is a great example.  The efforts to expand Mediciad going on right now in Republican states like Georgia.

We can focus on top down reforms and get people to send emails to their Representatives in Congress. Or we can work to empower working people with the tools/tactics they need to organize and agitate for their own interests.  Everyday at work I see working class people who lack the skill sets and background knowledge to meaningfully engage the political realm.  There is a lot of time needed, a lot of conversations and social uplift, a lot of motivation and maybe a few more anti-depressants and drug and alcohol treatment program enrolees.  I look at the fact that the "most powerful union in Georgia" as many of my labor/Democratic friends call UFCW Local 1996--has 96 "likes" on Facebook ; or the small number of followers the Georgia AFL-CIO currently has on twitter speaks to the need to network and build leverage and power within working class ranks.  The capacities for workers to build collective power, to communicate and engage the public and politicians in a new media age are there---the time and commitment it takes to start coalescing that collective power and directing it towards the seats of power as one voice is what is lacking.  There are positive signs all around me--so I'm not trying to knock those currently working to do just those things.  This post is more about a reframe in my own mind/way of talking about things that are going on around me in some circles.

This reframe won't be popular with many if not most of my friends in politics as they are placed within the political infrastructure that does and works along the agenda and priority lines of the first; their paychecks as campaigners, strategists, lobbyists and such place them outside the realm of most of the work that I would argue is most needed--and in many ways are a path towards putting them out of work altogether.  Full-time activists aren't "activists" they are doing a job.

Having run for State Senate, having run campaigns for State House and Senate seats, having worked as a Legislative Aide for two sessions of the Georgia General Assembly I've been more the knee deep in those efforts myself.  I've seen the upclose and personal the potential reforms and changes that can and should be implemented via policy.  So I'm not negating the positive work and efforts going on.  Its just, I don't feel thats the solution.

While I support the efforts of those trying to work through the current institutional mechanisms for a kinder gentler capitalism; I'm not looking to join their ranks any time soon as a paid organizer/operative/politico in some shape or fashion.  I'll keep loading trucks and working to educate and empower my coworkers as a union steward because I really feel that is where the action is.

Real sustainable reform is going to have to happen in the workplaces across this country--or it isn't going to happen at all.  The fact that increasing the minimum wage isn't a political slam dunk--since, if you didn't notice, there is is an army of workers who in theory have the power to bombard DC with emails, phone calls, and letters; who can take to the streets in communities and cities all over this nation gumming up the wheels of commerce and raising a ruckus loud enough that even the most right wing Tea Party Republican in congress fears grandstanding in opposition to their efforts.  But these workers aren't even paying attention--I asked my nephew what his coworkers thought of Obama's State of the Union proposal to which he shrugged and said  "nobody is talking about it," people really don't talk about "stuff like that," he said. "People stick to their own little groups and just hang out on break time talking about things that interest them."  

We are a nation of foodstamp workers and middle class managers;  tuned in to TV, video games, and every other distraction known throughout human history. Blaming one another and fearing our neighbors while the 1% take all of the fruits of our labor and live in opulence    Top down reforms aren't going to fix the fundamental impasse we are now facing---just some good old fashioned organizing.

For the Republic to sustain itself (are we still a Republic?) and head down a sustainable path economically the wage slaves themselves have to be the ones to do the heavy lifting in the political realm.  No amount of reform from on high will change that.

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