(Pt. 1 – The Crushing of Organized Labor)
Beginning with the statement that “Technological change has been reshaping human life and work for centuries”, The MIT report goes on to present a cogent analysis of the state of the American working class from the multifaceted perspectives of race, gender, educational levels, demographics and geography. However, however true its initial assumption, or valid its facts, or thorough its analysis, it is a procapitalist piece, and that means that it is inherently flawed. Acknowledging both the stagnation of wages and the degradation of labor, as well the inequalities existing both within society as a whole and within the working class itself, it searches for solutions to these conditions in terms of policies and programs aimed at rectifying and reforming the current economic system rather than positing an alternative to it. Therein lies its bias.
Working from the perspective of the recent technological revolution which has given us Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, the authors seek to answer the question question of how technology will ultimately impact the condition of the working class in America, which is, as they admit themselves acknowledge, one of economic impoverishment, educational underachievement, the authors of the piece, as and seek to answer the question of whether technology will contribute to this human degradation or ameliorate it.
They pinpoint the decline in the state of the working class in terms of wages, and the quantity and quality of work, as beginning in the 1980s:
“A firm foundation: In the postwar decades between 1940 and 1980, rapid technological advances and well-functioning institutions in the United States delivered rising productivity and rapid, relatively evenly distributed wage gains to the vast majority of workers. This virtuous dynamic broke down in the decades from 1980 to the present.”
The MIT report concludes: “ As compared to the earlier period, earnings growth in the past forty years has been slow, sporadic, and unequal. “
However, while acknowledging when state of workers in America began, it offers no analysis of why it began. To do so, would mean they would have to engage in a critique of the internal logic of capitalism itself, a logic which places profits before people, and demands an ever greater exploitation of labor. Thus, their analysis is flawed not in what it says, but it what it never says.
If we pause to examine what happened in 1980 and immediately before that which might have precipitated the decline and degradation of the American worker, we are able to identify several factors all of which were motivated by the desire of companies to increase profits without regard for the consequences of their actions on The United States of America as a whole.
Beginning in about the mid-seventies, in an effort to escape the demands of organized labor and thus increase profits, companies began sending American jobs to cheaper places to operate. In so doing the capitalists had been successful in breaking the back of organized labor, and when that happened and workers had to deal with their employers as individuals, they found themselves powerless and so out of necessity, accepted lower wages and more degrading labor It should be noted that this process was not replicated to the same extent in many European countries. According to the most recent edition of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Economic Outlook, in the Scandinavian countries—Sweden, Denmark, and Finland union density hovers around 65 percent. When you compare us to France or Germany, there wasn’t really a region of one of those countries where unions were just totally frozen out.
According to Joseph McCartin, the executive director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, the decline of unions in America can be traced back to two events, supported by the capitalistate: the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act and the failure of a coordinated campaign to unionize the South. The passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 was directly aimed at restricting union power and growth. It placed significant restrictions on unions, most of which still exist. It prohibited secondary boycotts and “sympathy” boycotts and opened the door to the right-to-work laws—which prohibit employers from hiring only union employees—that now exist in 27 states around the country. MOST SIGNIFICANTLY IT REQUIRED THAT UNION LEADERS SIGN AFFIDAVITS SWEARING THAT THEY WERE NOT COMMUNISTS. The Taft-Hartley Act coincided with the time when unions were in the middle of “Operation Dixie,” a campaign to organize the non-unionized textile industry in the South. Anti-union business leaders in the region used the accusation that the leadership of some of the industrial unions were Communists to whip up opposition to Operation Dixie.”
Nor does organized labor in the U.S. have the type of tight relationship with pro labor political parties that labor unions in other countries enjoy with certain political parties. Democrats, one the ostensible party of labor have,proven themselves to be unreliable allies. In the 1970s, Democratic mayors won praise for various “strike-breaking” initiatives with respect to municipal initiatives.
Against this backdrop of vulnerability, the larger economic forces of the 1970s and ’80s were devastating. The high inflation of the 1970s prompted Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker to pursue a course of aggressive interest rate increases that increased the value of the dollar and decreased U.S. exports, decimating the manufacturing sector. Unemployment skyrocketed, reaching 10.8 percent in 1982. Layoffs were common—21.2 percent of blue-collar workers experienced an involuntary job loss between 1981 and 1983.https://psmag.com/economics/what-caused-the-decline-of-unions-in-america
If labor unions had a stronger presence in the workplace, all workers would see bigger paychecks and better employee benefits, according to new research. Many studies have suggested the decline of unions is directly related to an increase in wage inequality. According to Tom VanHeuvelen, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois, nonunion workers would have seen 3% to 7% higher wage growth during their careers if U.S. labor unions were still strong.https://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-is-how-much-the-decline-in-labor-unions-has-cut-the-pay-for-all-workers-2018-08-23
Thus,we can see that even prior to the 1980s the capitalistate had already implemented anti-labor and pro-capitalist policies aimed at controlling and eliminating the growth of organized labor. Once implemented, these policies greatly weakened organized labor, which was finally decimated by the shipping of jobs overseas. The degradation of labor in America was thus the result of the coordinated effort of the capitalist class and capitalist state to break its organized power. By the early 1980’s the Chinese and Indian economies started to expand.
Mary Metzger is a 74 year old semi retired teacher. She did her undergraduate work at S.U.N.Y. Old Westbury and her graduate work In Dialectics under Bertell Ollman at New York University. She has taught numerous subjects, from Public Sector Labor Relations to Philosophy of Science, to many different levels of students from the very young to Ph.D. candidates, in many different institutions and countries from Afghanistan to Russia. She has been living in Russia for the past 12 years where she focuses on research in the Philosophy of Science and History of the Dialectic, and writes primarily for Countercurrents. She is the mother of three, the grandmother of five, and the great grandmother of two.