Economics/Class Relations

Labor’s Lost

By Michael Lind, Tablet

What was called “the Labor Question” a century ago has returned to the forefront of public debate, thanks to highly publicized attempts to unionize companies as varied as Amazon and The New York Times, and in spite of the efforts of the flacks of the neoliberal left and libertarian right (and the billionaires and corporations who fund them) to keep public attention focused on the culture war instead of the class war.

According to Gallup, 71% of the public approves of labor unions—the highest percentage since 1965—with 90% support among Democrats, 66% among independents, and 47% among Republicans. But because of partisanship and class interests, these views are not translated by the Democratic and Republican parties into support for organized labor. This is largely a result of the increasingly elitist nature of American politics. Both parties have superrich donors who are more or less libertarian—socially liberal and economically libertarian. The Silicon Valley and Hollywood elites who fund the Democrats are as hostile to organized labor as Republican-leaning agribusiness and logistics industries.

The social base of the Democrats now consists of upscale, mostly white, college-educated voters for whom abortion, subsidized solar and wind power, and the imposition of race and gender quotas in all areas of American society are more urgent priorities than organizing warehouse workers or raising the minimum wage, even if cultural progressives pay lip service to organized labor. Meanwhile, even though most Republican voters of all races are working class, the most influential group within the GOP is the mostly affluent minority of the population—fewer than 10% of Americans—who are self-employed owners of small businesses that hire workers. Portraying themselves as victims squeezed between big business above and the working class below, most small business owners are and always have been ferociously hostile to any reform that increases the ability of their employees to bargain for higher wages, benefits, or better working conditions.

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