( – promoted by buhdydharma )
Howard Zinn asks why neither candidate wants to talk about the New Deal and offers up a potential speech one of them could give. I would argue that neither of them want to invoke that image because both hope to appeal to those who consider themselves “independents”, people who have voted Republican in the past but are disenchanted for various reasons and appealing to a “New Deal ethos” would be considered “too radical” for such broad based appeal. And invoking the “New Deal” would be a frank admission that we are teetering far too closely to collapse. Americans, above all like to “feel good” about themselves and their country. Never mind the blatant hatred those on the right have for the “New Deal”.
As Zinn notes, the “New Deal” was really an accommodation with capitalism, not rejection.
We might wonder why no Democratic Party contender for the presidency has invoked the memory of the New Deal and its unprecedented series of laws aimed at helping people in need. The New Deal was tentative, cautious, bold enough to shake the pillars of the system but not to replace them. It created many jobs but left 9 million unemployed. It built public housing but not nearly enough. It helped large commercial farmers but not tenant farmers. Excluded from its programs were the poorest of the poor, especially blacks. As farm laborers, migrants or domestic workers, they didn’t qualify for unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, Social Security or farm subsidies
Indeed, what many on the right fail to grasp is the extent to which the “New Deal” sought to save capitalism, not replace it. If one accepts Zinn’s description, the “New Deal” was much better than a band aid, and much less than real structural change.
You can read the whole Zinn article with the speech he wishes somebody would give here.
FDR, as Zinn sees it was largely forced into the “New Deal”.
The innovations of the New Deal were fueled by the militant demands for change that swept the country as FDR began his presidency: the tenants’ groups; the Unemployed Councils; the millions on strike on the West Coast, in the Midwest and the South; the disruptive actions of desperate people seeking food, housing, jobs — the turmoil threatening the foundations of American capitalism. We will need a similar mobilization of citizens today, to unmoor from corporate control whoever becomes President. To match the New Deal, to go beyond it, is an idea whose time has come
Although he asserts, that it needs to be resurrected, he also answers his own question. We might need a mobilizations of assertive citizens pressing and making demands, and that is exactly what we don’t have. Working class and middle class Americans were once able to mobilize and create a collective voice through unions. An NY times editorial notes that 12.1 percent of Americans belong to unions and that in the 1970’s almost one in four workers belonged to one.
The editorial goes on to suggest that
There is little doubt that American workers need unions. Wages today are almost 10 percent lower than they were in 1973, after accounting for inflation. The share of national income devoted to workers’ wages and benefits is at its lowest since the late-1960s, while the share going to profits has surged. The decline in unionization has been a big part of the reason that workers have lost so much ground
Alas, it is easier said that done. Workers are not exactly competing as equals in the market place.
The future of organized labor is not cause for great optimism. Employers have become more aggressive about keeping unions out. Competitive pressures from globalization, deregulation and technological change have resulted in the loss of many union jobs.
Zinn might also want to ask of the two major candidates, why aren’t you raising the issue of unionization? Why aren’t you aggressively supporting the idea of helping workers organize in the face of employer opposition? They both certainly want union endorsements. Unfortunately, they want to both appear friendly to business interests, as well. After all neither want to offend capitalism, suggest the market doesn’t exactly work except for a few. Years ago, many in the middle class landed there precisely because of union membership, or because of policies unions agitated for. Today, many in the middle class enjoy entertaining the fantasy that they “made it on their own”. They fear aligning themselves with the poor and working class because if they do that, it suggests some punishment of their own accomplishments.
I don’t see the working class as being passive so much as silenced. Unions didn’t just allow bargaining for wages, they created a sense that collectivization was the only bulwark against the much stronger hand of capital. The idea of working class identity has largely splintered and disappeared as a recognizable social contruct. In the south, it has become increasingly aligned with culture politics ( The south will rise again, the Confederate Flag ) that has been successfully copted by the right. In the north, it has been shuttled aside in favor of the neighborhood, an idea that was once connected to the larger role of unions and is now an isolated island.
Unionization won’t solve all of our problems in negotiating with capital. Neither candidate wants to discuss either a “New Deal” or the crucial role unions play because they fear pissing off “moderates” and “independents” who are likely hostile to those notions. They fear acknowledging the “schisms” that are readily apparent as evidenced by two presidential elections that were very close.
Ironically enough, Americans are not as enamored of the free market as the Dems fear and the Republicans wish when it comes to discussing unions. A Gallup poll conducted in 2007 found that 60 percent of Americans approve of labor unions.
Ordinary Americans do recognize they are getting screwed in the market place, they are not just consumerist clones with no wish to talk about a new “social contract”. They are waiting to hear the words. Who dares to speak them?