“It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.” From Section 1 of the National Labor Relations Act.
In my last post I wrote that the first necessary step after last week’s failed insurrection is to prosecute the perpe-traitors, relentlessly. Arrests are taking place across the country. Prosecutors should find plenty incriminating and illuminating information when they have warrants to search the perps’ phones and computers.
Included in this first step is the immediate impeachment of Trump. That bit of justice is moving forward; I won’t add much to the discussion. Impeachment or even conviction would not preclude criminal prosecution. If the Department of Justice files criminal charges against Trump, prosecutors should be able to obtain warrants to search his cell phone, too. I wonder what they would find in that search.
The second necessary course of action will be longer-term. It must begin now, however. That step is a reorientation of the American economy to benefit working people. Judging by the appointments Joe Biden is making, and what he’s been saying since the election, this will be the primary focus, beyond fixing Covid-19, of the Biden administration. This is not only a matter of justice, but also will be crucial for the Democrats to win the 2022 mid-term elections, the next “most important election” in our lives.
The cretins who stormed the Capitol are the latest iteration of a long history of renegade, often racist, violence in our culture. These malevolent forces have always been present, notwithstanding our “shining city on a hill” self-image. I suspect that the great-grandparents, or even the grandparents, of many of those who stormed the Capitol instigated or joined lynch mobs—and bought the postcards afterwards.
Yet the impact these atavistic forces have waxes and wanes with the amount of oxygen they receive from the broader culture. Today what fuels them comes not only from an amoral president who feasted off their adoration, but also from what has fueled him: the grievances of people who have been left behind by a globalized economy organized for half a century on neoliberal principles that favor capital over labor.
There will always be demagogues who feed on grievances, using them, twisting them, for their own purposes, without any regard for the well-being of the aggrieved. The aggrieved are means to their ends of having power for the sake of power. John Maynard Keynes and others recognized that economic ruin led to totalitarianism. They argued that liberal government had to have the substantive purpose, beyond its own liberal structure, of ensuring that the people were secure in their economic lives.
During the Depression and after World War II, these economists and others (“New Dealers” here in America) were able to shape the economic rules to create a system that was capitalistic, but that had as its primary purpose the raising of the standard of living of, and the creation of a social structure that protected, working people, while also protecting middle-class investors by regulating the world of finance.
Regulated capitalism, joined with public investment in capital projects and social services, was wildly successful in the industrialized democracies and in many other countries around the world. However, although capitalists made money, the controls on capital and the costs of the social benefits rankled the worlds of finance.
When Republicans took control of the economy, with the elections of Nixon in 1968 and Reagan in 1980, they began to dismantle the post-War system, decontrolling movements of goods and capital while weakening the power of labor. Since then, the economic lives of working people have been in decline in both absolute and relative terms. Whole regions of the industrial world, and great cities, were left to fend for themselves. What had been good union jobs in factories became, at best for those who could find them, poorly-paid service jobs, which have now devolved into “gigs.”
While Trump’s base centers itself in the white working class in the “Rust Belt,” and extends into small towns and rural areas also left behind, the damage wasn’t limited to those areas. Here in Los Angeles, for instance, African-American and Latinx workers and communities were hit hard when factories shut down. Cities in the Northeast and Midwest with large African-American populations were devastated.
Fixing the economy, post-neoliberalism, in no way should be considered catering to the Trump base. In fact, Democrats, after the November election, are acutely aware that Trump made inroads in certain Latinx, Black, and immigrant communities using economic fears. Democrats must address the concerns of all victims of neoliberal capitalism, no matter where they live or now they vote.
President-Elect Biden understands this. While job number one will be to stop the pandemic, I expect his administration will meanwhile be the most favorable to labor since the Kennedy and Johnson administrations more than half a century ago.
Last Thursday, in a talk the President-Elect gave introducing his economic team, including his nominee for Labor Secretary, he said something that I don’t recall ever hearing a politician say. Namely, Biden reminded us that federal labor law does not merely provide that workers may form unions, but that the policy of the United States is to encourage collective bargaining. (See the language above from the National Labor Relations Act.)
In his talk, President-Elect Biden spoke about how he intended to work (with the new Secretary of Labor, and with a shout-out to Bernie Sanders) on an “agenda of increasing worker power.” Unfortunately, he won’t get to appoint his own General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (a crucial post) until November, or reestablish a Democratic majority on the NLRB until 2022. In the meantime, though, he will immediately push for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 and we can expect other measures to help workers. (Now that the Democrats control the Senate’s agenda.)
These measures will only be a start on reorienting the economy to benefit working people. But they will be a sign.
Thanks for reading. And stay safe.