Oct 20, 2016

Racist Whites, Union Organizing, and Political Coalitions

Some aggro person on twitter reminded me to respond to this from Elias Isquith:
I'll quote so everyone can read clearly:
If we agree that the Southern Strategy was premised on leveraging white racial resentment against economic liberalism — that working class whites were more willing to give up liberal economic policy than whiteness — then how do we imagine a coalition that is racially egalitarian and economically leftist will function if allowing the white working class to go its own way is not an option.
First, let me restate: my point about downscale whites and coalition building applies specifically to union organizing. If we view all Trump voters as irredeemable racists who must be shunned and cut out of any sort of leftist institution (as this person appears to be arguing here), then that leaves a big chunk of the working class able to serve as scabs and a reserve labor supply to hold down wages. Trump is, at least as of a few months ago, winning white people without a college degree by something like 30 points. Such people are likely to be concentrated in certain places and in certain industries, making those workplaces nearly impossible to organize without at least some buy-in from Trump supporters.

The reverse situation — when minorities were left largely unorganized, partly due to racism within unions and partly due to fanatical resistance on the part of southern state governments — was a major factor in why postwar unions were able to be slowly crushed by business. This is a simple point and has been obvious for a century.

Isquith's making a different point about electoral political coalitions. This is a much easier question. Racist whites are small enough in number that they aren't needed to assemble a winning national coalition anymore. You simply win power and steamroll them, as Hillary Clinton is close to doing right now.

Indeed, if the Democratic Party were actually committed to labor, then the immediate future would look pretty promising for unions and the country as a whole. If Clinton wins by a big enough landslide to take Congress, then Dems could put through card check, repeal Taft-Hartley, and dust off the rather outdated structures of the NLRB. That might enable a new wave of organizing, and with a bit of luck, perhaps even draw mass numbers of working class whites into unions with ironclad racial egalitarian protections, thus moderating their prejudice and driving home their common class interest with working class minorities, as Seth Ackerman argues.

The problem, of course, is that the Democratic Party as currently constituted is tolerant at best of labor and not remotely interested in replaying John L. Lewis's mass organizing of the 1930s. Neither is it interested in balls-to-the-wall economic stimulus, nor in cutting the size of Wall Street back to its postwar share of GDP, nor in massive expansions in the welfare state to slash poverty. Instead it's the same old cosmopolitan finance capitalism with moderate restraints and piddling little new benefits here and there, often restricted to the working poor only.

The great danger I see for the currently popular brand of milquetoast liberalism is that some post-Trump Republican will stumble onto the fascist formula of authoritarianism plus Keynesianism I mentioned in my last post, and Dems will be unable to meet the challenge due to excessive reliance on and deference to the ultra-wealthy donor class. If the Republican Party becomes the place for all-out stimulus plus aggressive attack on Wall Street parasitism and corporate monopolies (perhaps tailored for whites and Latinos against blacks, or for whites and blacks against Latinos); as against a Democratic Party of balanced budgets, somewhat more partially-refundable tax credits, and secret speeches to Goldman Sachs, I worry that furious attacks on Republican-sympathetic voters as despicable racists will simply lead people to embrace the label and lead to electoral defeat.

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