Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Capital is Vulnerable to Labor

“On New Terrain – How Capital is Reshaping the Battleground of Class War,” by Kim Moody, 2017

What is interesting about the flood of books from leftists is how they continue to analyze the actual conditions of society right now, not nostalgia from 150 or 100 or 80 or 50 years ago.  This is the heart of the Marxist method and necessary if the labor left is to make ANY headway.  Moody is an editor for Labor Notes and now a professor in England.  This book takes a look at changes in the U.S. in the geographic, economic, class and political terrain since neo-liberal capitalist methods were implemented in the late 1970s under Carter.  Some of his insights are actually new or more detailed, which makes this a useful book.

The Past Is Past
Moody tracks the shift in a factual style, upending old clichés or ideas about U.S. proletarian reality, some of which are familiar to anyone who studies this issue.  But his updates actually clarify the situation.  I’ll bullet point them:

1.          1.  Moody’s most contentious point is that only 25% of the jobs lost in the U.S. over the past  40 years are due to ‘outsourcing’ work to Mexico, China, Bangladesh, India, etc. This is not the position of most analyses of job losses in the U.S.

2.          2.  The culprits for the other 75% are not imperialist globalism or even domestic ‘outsourcing’ but two things that any worker will find familiar – speed-up and over-work, which lead to higher productivity or profits. Or better technology and machinery, which lead to higher productivity or profits.  Both led to the rest of the job losses over the last 40 years according to Moody.

3.         The weakness in this argument is that Moody does not understand the anti-union and cheap labor economic role of the geographic U.S. south.  A case of 'combined and uneven' development. It has absorbed factories and jobs from the U.S. north, as well as imported factories from overseas.  The case of car and machinery production is the most obvious.  If Moody included the ‘South” as a separate ‘nation’ in his statistics, it would move the 25% number significantly upwards.

            4.   Moody understands Marx’s theory of the background effects of the ‘falling rate of profit,’ agreeing with Michael Roberts and others. (See review of the The Long Depression, below.)  Neo-liberalism has essentially turbo-charged profiteering since 1977.  That was the point. This vulnerability discovered by Marx basically says that upgrading production methods with more machinery or computers or buildings (fixed capital) will ultimately stall out in another profit crisis as other firms do the same thing.  Since only labor creates surplus value, profits will drop as less human labor is used.  This will make corporations again come for workers blood and increase class conflict.

5.          Capital has created smaller, more efficient plants, dispersing workers.  Moody uses the example of steel-making mini-mills.  But it has also concentrated workers in large industrial parks and areas in urban cities. This is a big vulnerability for capital.  Moody uses the example of the Chicago area, where tens of thousands of truckers and warehouse workers handle the majority of shipping in the country.  This mass of workers doing similar jobs in industrial parks is an example of new concentrations of labor. (BTW, I pointed this out in the 1980s in a Global Class War bulletin.)

6.          The lie that this is a ‘post- industrial’ society is just that, an obvious dodge.  The working class, according to Moody's look at U.S. government statistics, is still the clear majority - industrial, transport, service and white collar.  One flaw in his analysis will actually increase the numbers. Moody considers teachers and nurses to be ‘proletarianizing professionals’ (i.e. middle class).  I would consider them already members of the upper levels of the white-collar or ‘pink’ collar working class.   Teachers and nurses might replace the older 'aristocracy of labor' that was the province of the 'trades,' but that still puts them in the working class.  This would also increase the numbers of workers he cites.

7.          Another vulnerability for capital is ‘just-in-time’ production methods.  These have resulted in fewer vendors, very little inventory in stock or warehouse and thin supply chains that stretch across the country, even from the ports.  This leaves capital more vulnerable to industrial action.  He calls this new terrain part of the ‘logistics’ revolution in production.

8.          A third vulnerability is that the big cities concentrate millions of low-paid workers, who are unemployed, work part time or work several jobs or fill in full-time on others.   The ‘reserve army of labor.’ Now they are mostly African-American or Latino or immigrants, but in greater numbers than in the past.  These are ethnic and color castes of the population that capital has super-oppressed since the beginning of the country. As a result they have no love for the bosses.

9.          Capital, as Marx pointed out, tends to monopoly or oligopoly.  Presently in the U.S. through constant mergers and acquisitions, a few big firms control nearly every industry, some hiding behind many brands or names.  This means that companies are connecting many more workers together, which can lead to the success of strike action or any kind of rebellion against the remaining companies.  The decline of the corporate conglomerate also has concentrated companies in single more vulnerable industries, not across industries.  These are part of a 4th vulnerability for capital.

10.        Moody is not a syndicalist like some who only advocate labor strikes.  He understands that politics plays a role in labor’s overall power.  As a result, he looks at the changes in the Democratic Party, which have made it a more tightly controlled, powerful ‘conglomerate’ than in the 1970s when McGovern's activists overwhelmed the DP structure.  The present construction of the DP absolutely mitigates against labor or any other movement EVER taking over the party.  This means the destructive lure of the DP as a place were ‘movements go to die’ is weakening – though still operative.  The Republican Party is transparently a party of some big and most small capital, and as such, merely an obvious liar when it comes to fealty to 'the working man.'

11.        Most cities are now one-party states controlled by the Democrats.  Republicans play almost no role.  As a result, the DP hacks are open to an electoral challenge from the left, as the ‘spoiler’ allegation doesn’t work in these locales.  This is another vulnerability to the DP's wing of capital.

12.        Republicans have used state-level and local-level political arenas to shape gerrymandered districts, thus controlling the national agenda. This is why so much money now flows into even city counsel races. Moody sees the states and cities as key areas of left political and social struggle, building  blocks to a national approach.  He ultimately supports a mass-based, activist labor party on a national level which combines separate struggles like BLM, Fight for $15, NoDAPL, MeToo, Dreamers, etc.

13.        Moody carefully looks at Democrats in cities, even the ‘Progressive Caucus’ in New York, and shows how they are basically nearly all tied to the real estate and building industries in those cities.  There is never a ‘public-private’ partnership or development project they don’t like.  Moody looks at how public money flows to the real estate industries through these politicians, not for the needs of the mass of proletarians.

The basic thrust of Moody’s book is optimistic, especially the first third.  Because of the recent reorganization of capital, openings are beginning to appear that a labor movement inspired by a ‘militant minority’ could take advantage of.  Public approval of unions has increased, especially among young millenials.

His dissection of the Democratic Party seems familiar, but he goes into a level of detail on its rigid and monied structure that few on the left have done before.  Essentially he is addressing the post-Sanders “Our Revolution” crowd, the DSA and the union bureaucrat/leaders who still think a takeover of the DP in a social-democratic direction is possible. It is not. He says a strategy of attempting to 'split' the Democrats without having something to split 'to' will not work either.  These groups will end up as tolerated ‘pressure’ groups that gain lip-service as their prime reward.  

Moody dates the day that the DP basically rejected union power to 1977, when the majority of a new, young wave of Democratic politicians no longer voted for union proposals.  This has continued to this day, even when in ‘power’ – from Carter to Clinton to Obama – as corporations and the rich gained a stranglehold over the party. 

This abandonment of union or working class demands is no secret, but it never seems to occur to those who insist on revitalizing the graveyard.

Other reviews on labor issues:  Class Against Class; Reviving the Strike; Save Our Unions; Embedded With Organized Labor.

And I bought it at May Day Books!

Red Frog

May 9, 2018

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