MIT Report on Work of the Future: A Decided Capitalist Bias

MIT Report on Work of the Future

(Pt. 2:  The Repercussions of the Destruction of Organized Labor in America)

Like the aftereffects of a nuclear bomb, repercussions from the decimation of organized labor in The United States, would spread across the land.  While undeniably, the development of technology defines the conditions of the working class and revolutionizes society as a whole, equally undeniable is the fact that the condition of the working class, in particular its ability to organize and struggle as a class, is a revolutionary force and a key factor in shaping all dimensions of society. There is no question but that the deliberate destruction of organized labor was THE contributing factor to the profound inequality which today defines not only American Capitalism, but World Capitalism.  It has been responsible not only for the decline in the American standard of living, but for the destruction of America’s great industrial heartland, for the elimination of the “middle class”, for the rise of a low paid “servant” class, for the prolonged impoverishment of the average service worker, for the death of their hopes and dreams, and so for the hopelessness and despair which defines their lives.  The destruction of organized labor in America cannot be separated from the destruction  of America and Americans.

American service workers, without unions to protect them, find themselves in the same position as industrial workers at the turn of the century:  hopeless, broken on the rack of  poverty, poorly educated in inferior schools,   plagued by the exhaustion resulting from over work, devoid of any benefits such as health or dental care, and denied even the shortest paid vacation because the American government does not, as does almost every other industrial nation, mandate it. Workers in the service industries, because they are not unionized,  are a class of working poor lacking class conscious and thus forced to see themselves as  (inadequate and flawed ) individuals.  Impoverished and without a sense of unity, of belonging, of pride, they are driven to seek escape from the conditions of their existence in alcohol, drugs of the most destructive kind, in false worlds of sordid imagination – pornography and violent fantasy.  Unable to identify or revolt against those who control the conditions of their existence, they turn against one another, or undertake rituals of self-destruction.  As Noam Chomsky stagnation puts it, workers in America die “deaths of despair”.

Considering the sad state of the American working class, should we be shocked that Depression is prevalent and that the suicide rate continues to rise every year?  Should we be surprised that the promise to “Make America Great Again” should be the clarion call that brought Donald Trump to power, or that his promise to drive out immigrants and bring jobs home to America, should resonate with the American people?  However, Trump is no Roosevelt. Roosevelt gave to the American workers what they had, through open class warfare in the years before him,demanded: the right to organize.  Trump does not promise to do this and neither, when all is said and done, do the liberal or socialist politicians today who are running for President of the United States.  Instead, they are promising workers socialist programs within the Capitalist State:  Medicare for all and free education, but not, not now and not ever, labor laws which protect workers and their right to organize.   Such laws would allowworkers themselves to demand these benefits from their employers and not the Capitalistate which, after all, draws its funds by taxing the working class.

A. The Destruction of Great Cities and the Rise of the Supercities of the Elite

Never acknowledging that the conditions they describe are the result of the destruction of organized labor, the MIT report lays out the geographic and demographic effects of that destruction.  Thus, while it elucidates the current conditions of once great American industrial cities stating that they are today places where: “We see economic stagnation, declining employment of adults in their prime working years, and high rates of physical disability.  In these places, opioid abuse and declining life expectancy are but two indicators of communities in acute economic and social distress”, it draws no correlation between the status quo and the destruction of the once great and powerful unions such as The United Auto Workers, The Steel Workers Union, The United Mine Workers, etc. whose members lived and worked in cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Cleveland.

As those cities declined, other cities, such as New York, which historically once housed the immigrants, particularly Irish and Jewish, who would form the bedrock of great American Unions: The International Garment Workers Union, The Longshoreman’s Union, The Maritime Union, The Teamsters and the various construction unions, etc.”   would transform itself, through the controlled destruction of low-income housing,  and gentrification, into “superstar” cities in which highly educated workers earn good salaries, live in good housing, and enjoy the good life.  The MIT Report goes on to say, again, without explaining why, that :

“Even as these and similar cities have boomed, the robust urban wage premium that non-college-educated workers enjoyed in these locations has sharply diminished. U.S. cities used to offer an economic escalator to workers of all backgrounds. For less-educated workers, it is no longer clear that this escalator still works. Even in the wealthiest U.S. cities, the workforce is increasingly bifurcated. On one hand, high-wage professionals enjoy the amenities that thriving urban areas can offer. On the other hand, an underclass of less educated service workers gets by with diminishing purchasing power while attending to the care, comfort, and convenience of the more affluent. ”

  1. The Bifurcation of the Working Class

Furthermore, the bifurcation of the working class, into a prosperous elite and a poor servant class (service class)  is made to appear not as the result of the war on labor, but rather as the natural product of differences in educational attainment:  “ In the U.S. and throughout the industrialized world, employment is polarizing. At the top end, high-education, high-wage occupations offer strong career prospects and rising lifetime earnings. At the other end, low-education, low-wage occupations provide little economic security and limited career earnings growth.19 As a result, the pathways to economically stable and secure careers for workers without college degrees are becoming narrower and more precarious.  According to the MIT Report, when this educational was overlaid by certain types of technological innovation, the result was the elimination of middle salary jobs, and with them, the middle class.   Thus, inequality itself was exacerbated.

The MIT report tells us that modern digital technology differs from previous waves of automation in that “it has spurred growth of high- and low-wage jobs at the expense of the middle (labor market polarization); it has concentrated earnings growth among the most educated and highest-ranked workers, while earnings growth for the majority of workers has lagged (rising inequality); and it has delivered only modest productivity growth in the recent decade, even while displacing many categories of work….cashiers, fast food cooks, machine operators, legal secretaries, and administrative assistants among them.”

Thus it is that since the early 1980s, that period in which unions were actively being destroyed, primarily by shipping jobs union jobs overseas, the total share of income claimed by the bottom 90 percent of Americans has steadily decreased, with the majority of income gains going to the top 1 percent.  Moreover, , the fraction of children who earn more than their parents (absolute mobility) has fallen from approximately 90 percent for children born in 1940 to 50 percent for children born in the 1980s.  It is for this reason that many liberals consider this extreme and ever rising inequality to be the most pressing social issue of the day.

In the eyes and minds of the scholars who wrote this report on labor, both the cause and the solution for the deep inequalities that exist in American today, is to be found in education.  It is a lack of education which creates the division between the haves and the have nots, between the elite and their servants; and it is by offering educational opportunities to the downtrodden, and thus opening up their opportunities, that they too can gain access to the good life, lived in good places and paid for by good wages.

MIT argues in its conclusion, that the education system could compensate  for these inequities by helping level the playing field and enabling children to rise above their birth circumstances.

In doing so they not only bet all their money on one horse so to speak, they also put that poor horse before the cart and hope that it will push the cart to victory. In so doing, they either fail to realize or fail to acknowledge that it is not inequality in education that produces social inequality, but social inequality that is responsible for unequal educational achievement.  Study after study has shown us that the links between economic inequalities and gaps in achievements go hand in hand, and so cast doubt on the existence of  the alleged “equal opportunity” that promotes upward mobility and gives to each citizen the hope of living the “Great American Dream.”

In the next segment I shall discuss how  inequality, written into the capitalist system, congeals in its educational system; or put another way, how inequality reproduces itself.

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.




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