Why the Capitalist Class Got Caught Off Guard by The Current Wave of Labor Strikes

by Keaton Weiss

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

Ursula K. Le Guin

You may not have been familiar with that quote until now, but it’s more likely that you’ve seen this viral image of a striking Nebraska Kellogg’s worker holding down the picket line in the pouring rain:

Though arguably the most determined, he’s hardly the only American worker emboldened and enraged enough to finally assert the value of his labor against an increasingly petulant capitalist class whose refrain these past six months has been “No one wants to work.”

Of course, recent and ongoing strikes like those at Kellogg’s, Nabisco, and John Deere (just to name a few), aren’t organized simply because employees no longer “want to work,” but because they no longer care to work in lousy conditions for lousy wages.

Their newfound defiance has taken employers by surprise, as many business owners expected that a “return to normalcy” was upon us as vaccines found their way into the arms of millions of Americans, and businesses began to reopen after a year of lockdowns and quarantines.

During such time, as was pointed out quite often in conservative circles, many workers were indeed making more on unemployment than they had been at their jobs. The additional UE benefits allowed millions of working class people to put food on their tables, pay their bills, and maybe even have a few bucks leftover, without having to toil at exhausting dead-end jobs for most of their waking hours.

Once padded unemployment checks and eviction moratoriums could no longer be taken for granted, owners and managers across the country assumed that their employees would have no choice but to return to work, and that over these next few months, things would start to look just as they did in February of 2020.

But what the capitalist class didn’t realize is that while they were itching to get back in business during the still and silent period of the coronavirus shutdowns, many of their employees were finally getting a taste of what life is like without the physical strain and psychological stress of working 60 hours a week for $11.50 an hour and still having barely enough in the bank to make rent at the beginning of the month.

Having been afforded some time away from the daily grind, the working class was finally given the opportunity reflect on whether such a seemingly endless and inescapable struggle ought to be their destiny.

This period of introspection, combined with headlines reporting “labor shortages” and “supply chain issues,” has led workers to realize that they do in fact deserve better, and that circumstances have aligned such that better work in better conditions for better wages are all demands that they are better positioned to leverage than ever before in their lifetimes. And they’re seizing the opportunity.

The virtues of capitalism once seen as virtually “divine” are now being exposed for the lies they’ve always been, as this supposedly unimpeachable economic system is unable to dig itself out of the hole its found itself in.

After all, the obvious market-based solution to a labor shortage can be summed up using simple supply and demand logic: the higher the demand for a product or service, the higher its price. But rather than satisfy such a demand by increasing wages, the ownership class is choosing instead to cry foul at the very system they’ve exploited their entire lives, and falsely complain that “no one wants to work anymore.”

And so while their bosses throw their tantrums, laborers are learning firsthand that despite the dominance of capitalist hegemony, as Le Guin said, “any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings,” and they’re mobilizing to make these changes happen.

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Podcast: Kamala Goes to Guatemala, TYT Goes Full Russiagate, Lab Leak Theory Goes Mainstream

We discuss the news of the week, including Kamala Harris’ message to Guatemalan refugees, TYT jumping the shark, and the increasingly probable “lab leak” coronavirus theory.

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Will Democratic Voters Make Harris Pay for Caving on the Minimum Wage? Don’t Count On It

by Keaton Weiss

When Barack Obama took the lead in the 2008 primaries, many of us who supported him at the time were surprised to learn of people called superdelegates: party big-whigs who got to cast their own heavily weighted votes in the Democratic primaries. At the beginning of that race, a great majority of them had pledged their support to Hillary Clinton, and it seemed possible that if they remained committed to her, she might prevail over Obama in the end, despite losing the pledged delegate count. Chris Rock famously joked that “nobody had ever heard of a superdelegate until it looked like a black man was about to win the nomination,” a humorous nod to the idea that whenever it seems something good might be on the horizon, some unexpected obstacle presents itself and threatens to thwart progress.

Fast forward to this week, when Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, ruled that Democrats could not make a $15 minimum wage part of the coronavirus relief package that they are attempting to pass through budget reconciliation. It’s difficult not to be reminded of Chris Rock’s joke, because just as many of us hadn’t heard of superdelegates until they became an issue in 2008, almost none of us had any idea what a “Senate parliamentarian” was, until this recent ruling of hers against the minimum wage provision. Once again, it seems that just as we’re about to achieve something meaningful, some annoying little thing materializes out of nowhere to stop us.

Of course, this “ruling” by the “parliamentarian” is no ruling at all, but rather, a recommendation. Kamala Harris, as Vice President, has the power to overrule her. Several progressive organizations like RootsAction, Our Revolution, and the Sunrise Movement, are urging her to do just that. However, word from the White House is that she isn’t going to:

Should she “weigh in” and overrule the parliamentarian, it would require a 60-vote majority to rebuke her. Since there’s no possibility of 10 Senate Democrats breaking ranks, this would mean the minimum wage increase would be included in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. In this scenario, Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who both oppose a $15 minimum wage, would have to vote against the entire upcoming stimulus in order to vote against the minimum wage hike.

If the $15 minimum wage is not included in the relief package, it will likely fail as a standalone measure, since in that case, it wouldn’t be tied to any other important initiatives like a crucial relief package, meaning that Manchin and Sinema could cast a No vote without the added pressure of having to reject a stimulus package – one that includes direct cash payments – in the process.

This is why the aforementioned progressive groups, along with writers at outlets like Jacobin and Common Dreams, are demanding that Harris overrule the parliamentarian, who David Sirota rightly points out is effectively an advisor to the vice president in this case. Robert Reich put it especially pointedly:

Good question. Of course, in his mind, he knows the answer – after all, he was among the most prominent progressives who made the case for voting Biden to oust Trump in 2020.

Progressives like Reich, Sirota, the Sunrise Movement, RootsAction, and Our Revolution, have three things in common as it pertains to this issue:

First, they all supported the Democratic ticket in 2020.

Second, they all will support the Democratic ticket in 2024, no matter who’s on it.

Third, and most importantly, they all seem to be under the illusion that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris can be goaded into doing the right thing, and be made to understand that they will suffer political consequences if they don’t.

Emma Vigeland, Sam Seder, and Alex Pareene predicted on The Majority Report last Friday that Kamala Harris will pay a political price if and when she seeks the Democratic nomination in 2024 should she not go all-in on the minimum wage. This is consistent with what many others in progressive media are insisting, which is that pressure can be exerted on Harris and that she will be held accountable if she fails to deliver.

As much as I would love to agree with them, the idea that Democratic voters will hold moderate Democrats responsible for their terrible decisions flies in the face of the recent history of Democratic politics. Progressives have been prosecuting the case against corporate Democrats’ abysmal records for the past six years, and yet the last two Democratic presidential nominees have been Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. To believe that rank and file Democratic voters will turn on Harris in the 2024 primaries over her failure to fight for a $15 minimum wage is to believe that Lucy will finally hold still when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football.

In addition to recent examples, there is a decades-long history in the Democratic Party of voters giving their leaders a pass for one betrayal after another. What reason do Joe and Kamala have to believe this time will be any different? The progressives who are currently “pressuring” and “pushing” them, have proven to be reliable Democratic voters come general election season, and the liberal base of the party can be counted on to either defend, excuse, or altogether ignore these policy-based critiques. On issue after issue of material consequence to ordinary Americans, from the Iraq War, to the Bankruptcy bill, to mass incarceration, to corporate trade deals, the Democratic base has demonstrated their willingness, if not eagerness, to forgive and forget every policy transgression committed by their beloved party leaders.

So if past is prologue – and there’s still no reason to believe it isn’t – then neither Biden nor Harris will pay any political price for abandoning the $15 minimum wage fight. Sure, the Democrats will lose the midterms, and Harris could lose the general election in 2024 due to low base turnout. But losing to Republicans is a risk the Democratic Party has always been willing to take if it means stopping leftward momentum within the party.

Claire McCaskill, moderate Democrat from Missouri, lost her Senate re-election race due to low black turnout in St. Louis, and had a job as an MSNBC contributor waiting for her, where it’s safe to assume she earns a higher salary than she did as a Senator. This is one of many examples to signify that in a corrupt system of revolving doors and neoliberal hegemony, loyalty to the system itself will always be rewarded, one way or another.

The system offers no incentives for politicians to commit procedural faux pas like “overruling the parliamentarian” in order to pass a living wage. What we must now realize is that Democratic primary voters are as much a part of this system as anyone else. Liberals have become such useful idiots that they may as well be co-conspirators. No matter what, they can be relied upon to flood the voting booths and pull the lever for whichever party favorite the media tells them deserves their support. They are the true gatekeepers of the status quo, the foot soldiers for the elites. They ensure that establishment politicians are protected from negative consequences that, in any healthy democracy, would result from reneging on core campaign promises and selling out core constituencies.

Will this time be any different? I’ll believe it when I see it. In the meantime, I have a few predictions to make:

First, progressive champion Nina Turner will lose her primary to party loyalist Shontel Brown, who will go on to become the next Congresswoman from Ohio’s 11th District. Second, John Fetterman, the only statewide office holder in Pennsylvania to endorse Bernie Sanders in 2016, will lose his Senate primary to the Biden-backing Malcolm Kenyatta, who will then lose the general election to the eventual Republican nominee. Third, Kamala Harris will cruise to the Democratic nomination in 2024, and lose in November of that year to whoever the Republicans put forward.

I very much hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am. I don’t say this to depress you, but rather to save you the time and effort you might be thinking of expending in the hopes that Democratic voters might finally be on the verge of waking up. Because they’re not.

The best we can do as progressives now would be to back as many efforts as we can whose successes don’t depend on convincing Democratic voters to vote the right way. The current union vote by Amazon workers in Alabama is one great example. Such a victory, if it’s replicated throughout the country, could politicize enough working class people that a viable threat to the Democratic establishment can be levied from the Left.

Unless and until that happens, we’re just pissing in the wind, because the bottom line is this: there’s no persuading the liberals of anything – they’re too stupid, selfish, and superficial to absorb any substantive arguments about why they ought to turn on the party bosses. They can be outnumbered, eventually, if we organize effectively. But progressives who still, after the past six years, invest in any project to convince the Democratic primary electorate, as it’s currently constituted, to hold Joe Biden and Kamala Harris accountable, are wasting their time.

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Photo: Jessica McGowan, Getty Images