It's extremely heartening to see Americans' fascination with the popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as speculation across the blogosphere about the potential to replicate them in the US. Massive turnouts in Madison and other state capitals is very promising, as American workers realize that they are being punished for the Wall Street greed and criminality that caused the 2008 economic collapse. Many are beginning to believe, as I do, that Wall Street and their friends in government are deliberately using the "economic crisis" to justify a massive attack on the working class.
It seems a logical conclusion, given the soaring profits and stock prices of Wall Street banks and corporations, especially as they result from major cost cutting in the form of mass lay-offs and wage and benefit cuts. American workers would have to be pretty gullible not to question why they are being told to tighten their belts, while the banksters responsible for the collapse are rewarded with a $12.5 trillion secret bailout (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/02/13/bernie-sanders-filibuster-and-the-secret-12-5-trillion-bailout/), billions of dollars of CEO bonuses and tax cuts. In addition to facing the likelihood that some of us (including many young people under 24) are now permanently unemployed and/or homeless, the rest of us face another round of lay-offs and home foreclosures, wage freezes/cuts, longer work hours, increased workloads, Social Security and Medicare cuts, a likely increase in the retirement age to 70 - and even more cuts in critical public services - including school, library and clinic closures; police and teacher lay-offs; and cutbacks in street lighting and road and bridge repairs.
To top it off, the way the US Department of Labor and the mainstream report unemployment is extremely misleading. As usual, the figures they released for January 2010 (13.9 million or 9.0% of the workforce) only reflect Americans unemployed for six months or less. Once you are unemployed longer than six months, you cease to be counted.
According to UCubed (http://www.unionofunemployed.com/), the unemployed union started by the Machinists union last January, the true unemployment figure is 18.5%. This includes the 10 million Americans who have been jobless longer than six months and 8.4 million "involuntary" part timers. The latter are Americans wishing to work full time but unable to find full time jobs. In the18 to 24 age group the "official" (less than six months out of work) jobless rate is 18% (21.5% for males). Numbers for long term unemployed and involuntary part timers aren't counted for youth. Some analysts estimate true US youth unemployment at 24 - 25%.
The Need for Powerful Union/Unemployed Coalitions
implications of a true unemployment rate of 18.5% and a youth jobless rate of
24-25% are staggering. As we have seen overseas, the only effective way to
challenge attacks against the rights of working people is by banding together
to fight them through industrial action and mass mobilization. With nearly one
out of five Americans out of work, there is enormous potential for the rebirth
of a union/unemployed workers coalition similar to the one that forced Franklin
Roosevelt to enact far reaching New Deal reforms in the 1930s - the first major
federal reforms that benefited working people, rather than business interests.
The Social Security Act is the most prominent New Deal program. However
sustained militant collaboration between unions and unemployed workers -
including major wildcat and sit-down strikes and the historic 1932 (unemployed)
veterans march on Washington - also resulted in other important
reforms. These included Aid for Dependent Children (welfare rights for children - which Clinton repealed in 1996) and the National Labor
Relations Act (guaranteeing workers the right to join unions and bargain
collectively over wages and working conditions).
Americans Aren't Joiners
Over the past three decades, such collective action has been rare in the US. Americans from all walks of life seem much more reluctant than their foreign counterparts to join any community groups or organizations, much less unions or political causes. I believe this relates partly to our extremely pro-corporate educational system and partly to constant bombardment (mainly via the media) with highly sophisticated political messaging prompting Americans to see themselves as "consumers" rather than engaged citizens in a participatory democracy.
Americans students aren't taught labor history in public schools. The ruling elite wants us to believe that Roosevelt enacted Social Security, AFDC and minimum wage legislation because he was a kind man. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Confronted with a well organized, militant union/unemployed worker union, Roosevelt faced the hard choice of enacting major reform or confronting the chaos of an Egyptian-style revolution in American streets and factories.
The US government has never granted reforms benefiting ordinary Americans simply because it was the right thing to do. Even abolishing slavery in the US required a lengthy, militant struggle against the business interests who profited from it.
The Anti-Organizing Role of the Public Relations Industry
Wall Street has created an entire industry - the public relations industry - which discourages Americans from engaging in collective action by persuading them that they are passive, isolated consumers. Ironically, as the late Alex Carey describes in Taking the Risk Out of Democracy (http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/25/006.html), the original purpose of "pubic relations" was to discredit union organizing and strikes and simultaneously undermine strong pro-worker sentiment among the American public.
Below are five of the most paralyzing anti-organizing messages Americans are bombarded with on a daily basis:
1. Being labeled or associated with "workers," "working class," or "unions" equates with low social status. In the US , everyone with a full time job is automatically "middle class." Because class differences have been abolished in the US , there is no need to join or form unions or to protest and/or strike.