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PORTSIDELABOR  September 2011, Week 1

PORTSIDELABOR September 2011, Week 1

Subject:

Remembering Those Who Go To Work

From:

Portside Labor <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Mon, 5 Sep 2011 04:06:44 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (138 lines)

Remembering Those Who Go To Work

We may still celebrate Labor Day, writes E.J. Dionne
Jr., but our culture has given up on honoring workers
as the real creators of wealth and their honest toil as
worthy of genuine respect.


E. J. Dionne
Seattle Times

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2016094966_dionne05.html


WASHINGTON — Let's get it over with and rename the
holiday "Capital Day." We may still celebrate Labor
Day, but our culture has given up on honoring workers
as the real creators of wealth and their honest toil —
the phrase itself seems antique — as worthy of genuine
respect.

Imagine a Republican saying this: "Labor is prior to
and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit
of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not
first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and
deserves much the higher consideration."

These heretical thoughts would inspire horror among our
friends at Fox News or in the tea party. They'd likely
label them as Marxist, socialist or Big Labor
propaganda. Too bad for Abraham Lincoln, our first
Republican president, who offered those words in his
annual message to Congress in 1861. Will President
Obama dare say anything like this in his jobs speech
this week?

As for the unions, they are often treated in the media
as advocates of arcane work rules, protectors of
inefficient public employees and obstacles to the
economic growth our bold entrepreneurs would let loose
if only they were free from labor regulations.

So it would take a brave man to point out that unions
"grew up from the struggle of the workers — workers in
general but especially the industrial workers — to
protect their just rights vis-a-vis the entrepreneurs
and the owners of the means of production," or to
insist that "the experience of history teaches that
organizations of this type are an indispensable element
of social life."

That's what Pope John Paul II said (the italics are
his) in the 1981 encyclical Laborem exercens. Like
Lincoln, John Paul repeatedly asserted "the priority of
labor over capital."

That the language of Lincoln and John Paul is so
distant from our experience is a sign of an enormous
cultural shift. In scores of different ways, we paint
investors as the heroes and workers as the sideshow. We
tax the fruits of labor more vigorously than we tax the
gains from capital — resistance to continuing the
payroll tax cut is a case in point — and we hide
workers away while lavishing attention on those who
make their livings by moving money around.

Consider that what the media call economics reporting
is largely finance reporting. Once upon a time, a
lively band of labor reporters covered the world of
work and the unions. If you stipulate that the decline
of unions makes the old labor beat a bit less
compelling, there are still tens of millions of workers
who do their jobs every day. But when the labor beat
withered, it was rarely replaced by a work beat.
Workers have vanished.

But we are now inundated with news (and "news") about
the world of capital. CNBC and the other financial
media are for investors what ESPN is for sports
junkies. We cheer the markets, learn the obscure
language of hedge-fund managers, and get to know some
of the big investors in off-field interviews. Workers
are regarded as factors of production. At best, they're
consumers; at worst, they're "labor costs" cutting into
profits and the sacred stock price.

They have faded away in both high and popular culture,
too. Can you point to someone "who makes art out of
working-class lives by refusing to prettify them"?

The phrase comes from a 2006 essay by the critic
William Deresiewicz who observed that we no longer have
novelists such as John Steinbeck or John Dos Passos who
take the lives of working people seriously. Nor do we
have television shows along the lines of "The
Honeymooners" or even "All in the Family," which were
parodies of an affectionate sort. "First we stopped
noticing members of the working class," Deresiewicz
wrote, "and now we're convinced they don't exist."

In his extraordinary book "Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and
the Last Days of the Working Class," Jefferson Cowie
spoke of how little we identify working-class people
with their labor. "Workers occasionally reappeared in
public discourse as 'Reagan Democrats' — later as
'NASCAR Dads,' " he wrote, "or the victims of another
plant shutdown or as irrational protectionist and
protesters of free trade, but rarely did they appear as
workers."

With the worker disappearing from our media and our
consciousness, isn't it only a matter of time before
Labor Day falls off the calendar? As long as it's
there, it should shame us about our cool indifference
to the heroism of those who go to work every day.

E.J. Dionne Jr.'s column appears regularly on editorial
pages of The Times. His email address
[log in to unmask]

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PortsideLabor aims to provide material of interest to
people on the left that will help them to interpret the
world and to change it.

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