concerned with what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your
Working-class Americans have long fought to recover and re-appropriate
the real meaning of the US flag. During the Spanish Civil War,
volunteers in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, which sided with the
Republican cause against the fascist forces, wore American flags on
their uniforms as symbols of their internationalism and their
willingness to shed blood for liberty.
Union members demanding better wages or working conditions, or a shift
in power away from the bosses and capitalists, march with American flags
in their demonstrations. Civil right activists demanding equality and
democracy carried US flags, as if to proclaim how "un-American"
inequality is. For them, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s invocation of an
American dream that makes "justice a reality for all of God's children"
was more than simply words.
In 2005, I had the honor of marching with hundreds of US youth in
Caracas, Venezuela during the opening ceremonies of the World Festival
of Youth and Students. We carried the American flag as a symbol of our
rejection of US intervention around the world and our refusal to bend to
capitalist and right-wing dominance in our own country, and as a symbol
to the youth of the rest of the world, who had also gathered there,
that people like us still existed in the biggest capitalist superpower.
They looked at our US flag pins and knew a working-class movement
working-class values of faith, family, responsibility, integrity, and
the value of work and unity, to advance their own far-right agenda.
Capitalists have learned over the years that stealing our ideas and
values and twisting them to serve the status quo they dominate can be
very effective. This capitalist-manufactured ideological hodgepodge aims
to preserve capitalist rule by turning social problems and their causes
into private matters for individuals to solve on their own.
Take, for example, the question of responsibility. Working-class people
strongly believe in the personal responsibility they have for taking
care of their families, and making sure they have enough to eat, a roof
over their heads, education, safety and quality of life.
Right-wing, pro-capitalist ideologues have turned this virtue into a
vice. If you lose your home because a bank, freed from government
oversight by right-wing anti-regulation efforts, engaged in corrupt
banking practices and preyed on your vulnerabilities, you are
responsible. This is exactly what right-wing media pundits blurted when
the home foreclosure crisis erupted. It wasn't the banks or Wall Street
who were responsible, and certainly not the right-wing politicians who
dismantled the financial regulatory system or blocked efforts to stop
banks from using such methods.
responsible for providing for your survival, right politicians and media
pundits intoned as they railed against extensions of unemployment
benefits, or voted to a person against the economic recovery package.
If you are sick and have no insurance or have bad coverage, you're on
your own. You are responsible for yourself.
For too long too many working-class people have believed these
distortions of their own class ideas. But the crisis of capitalism
revealed by the current recession has exposed the emptiness and
destructiveness of the capitalist distortion of those ideas.
Obama's soaring rhetoric, and his advocacy of policies that link
personal responsibility to a shared community responsibility to provide
for basic needs, prevailed during the 2008 election campaign. A virtual
overthrow of the right-wing ideological domination of the public debate
Not just words
In the summer of 2007, during the Democratic primary, the AFL-CIO
organized a Democratic candidates debate. At that event, union members
got to ask the candidates questions on live TV. The entire debate
revealed the momentum the working class and the labor movement had been
gaining in the struggle to delegitimize the right-wing's dominance of
ideological questions and to counter right-wing hegemony.
One question of note during that debate serves as a highlight of that
struggle. Retired steelworker Steve Skvara stood up and spoke about
working-class families values in a way that presented an authentic,
independent working-class point of view. He said,
After 34 years with LTV Steel, I was forced to retire because of a
disability. Two years later, LTV filed bankruptcy. I lost a third of my
pension, and my family lost their health care. Every day of my life, I
sit at the kitchen table across from the woman who devoted 36 years of
her life to my family, and I can't afford to pay for her health care.
What's wrong with America and what will you do to change it?"
A person in Skvara's position who had been overly influenced by
right-wing capitalist ideology might have blamed him or herself for this
situation. That person might have believed that he or she was solely
responsible for the problem and its solution. Certainly, that's what
they would have heard on right-wing talk radio, Fox News, or Republican
Party politicians and Republican Party-tied television evangelists.