Thursday, August 7, 2014

WSJ/NBC Poll finds deep anger and anxiety in US society

AFL-CIO head Trumka and Obama.  With friends like these....
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I was talking with a neighbor the other night about politics and the situation in society in general.  Her husband is a teacher and she is trying to become one.  Like many people under the age of 40 these days she said she considers herself a socialist and that she feels she should be more involved in trying to change things but she felt that people are afraid of the S word.  She was very supportive of the Occupy Movement like so many people were when it was at its height.

The thing is that just a few years ago there was a survey that found some 36% of the population believed in some form of socialism.  It’s hard to figure out exactly what people mean by that but I think it is fair to say they mean a more fair and equitable society.  The US is a very brutal society and the worst of all the industrialized countries to be poor in. As I pointed out in a previous blog, the US is the only industrialized country that doesn’t provide paid maternity leave.  I also think that people who have not been active in politics or have been out of it for a long time do not feel confident defending themselves if attacked as socialists.

The capitalist class is definitely concerned about the mood in society.  There are so many protests and isolated struggles taking place, one cannot predict when open class conflict might become more generalized and more unified nationally.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll published this week gives us some indication of the mood in society reporting that there is “widespread economic anxiety” . The 1% is concerned that this anxiety about the economic situation could turn in to open anger, finding expression in the streets and in the political sphere.  This is an election year when the two parties of Wall Street vie for which section of the capitalist class will get to plunder the economy for the next four years.

Why would people not be anxious? In the US if you have no money you die. You can sell your Purple Heart and sleep under the freeway, that’s freedom; it’s all your fault anyway.  76% of adults are not, “….confident that their children’s generation will have a better life than they do.”, the poll found.  This is an all-time high.  It get’s worse, “Some 71% of adults think the country is on the wrong track, a leap of 8 points from a June survey, and 60% believe the U.S. is in a state of decline.” (My added emphasis).  Objective reality can be undermined but it can’t be eradicated altogether.  “Fifty-seven percent of those polled said that something upset them enough to carry a protest sign for one day.”, the poll revealed.

Almost 80% of the population “expressed some dissatisfaction” with the American political system the survey states.  Well, that comes as no surprise at all. In fact, that is putting it mildly. Most Americans despise politicians and avoid politics if they can.  They draw the incorrect conclusion that politics in itself is the problem.  But it is the class nature of the politics that is the issue.

Telling us what we already know, the survey announces that Americans blame the politicians for the problem, "The American public is telling its elected representatives that the economic distress that a significant proportion of them are feeling is directly their fault,", says Fred Yang, a Democrat and one of the conductors of the poll. “If ever there was a hold-our-nose election, this certainly would be it.” Mr. Yang adds. But we hear this every election time.  Workers are so disgusted with the political system that they have withdrawn from it in the millions.

While there is considerable discontent and finger pointing, there is also tremendous confusion. "I don't think they're working for the middle class," says one 22 year-old NC worker who works in an auto shop, "They're trying to help themselves more than anyone else."  It is common here for workers to refer to ourselves as “middle class”. A 50 year-old unemployed worker has a slightly different view, "Both sides need to get their act together," he said. "They're not working with each other.", he says. 

The young worker has no doubt about what the politicians are doing in Congress and it’s not working for him.  The older guy is a little less clear and blames it on what they call “gridlock” over here, it’s just a matter of them not working together.    

And as I pointed out above, most workers blame politics in general. Politics is inherently bad, corrupt. 

There’s never any talk of the “system”, of capitalism not working for us.  The US mass media rarely uses the term “system”.  The ruling class does not want us to think of society as a system, more accurately, a system of production. They encourage us to think of systems when they are pointing out that socialism or communism doesn’t work, then they refer to them as systems.

Of course, the main reason such confusions exist, as to why things happen to us, is the 1%’s ownership of the means of communication, the mass media, TV etc. They also own the education system. The universities after all are capitalist institutions there to turn out pro-market policies and the people that will carry them out and make capitalist society function.

But there is another reason for the confusion that exists and that is the role of the trade union leaders.  The poll we are discussing here reveals what so many of us already know; there is a real crisis in US society.  People have concrete reasons to be anxious.  But the heads of organized Labor, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win Coalition, will spend hundreds of millions of dollars helping get politicians in to office that will continue the assault on workers and our living standards. They will encourage their members to vote for candidates of one of the two capitalist parties, (the Democrats), that are behind the assault. They will encourage their members and the working class in general, to vote for a party that the vast majority of workers have abandoned.

My former union, Afscme, had about 4000 locals or did.  There are somewhere around 1000 Central Labor Councils in the US.  These are the county bodies of the national AFL-CIO.  Then there are the State Federations of Labor.  Apart from money, the Labor hierarchy will provide thousands of members to walk precincts, do mailings and staff phone banks on behalf of politicians and a political party that will savage our standard of living even further.  Why would workers not be anxious, afraid, angry, at the politicians?

By refusing to provide a serious explanation as to why society is in crisis, or why things happen, the ideology and influence of the ruling class goes unchallenged.  But it’s not that the labor leadership does nothing, just the opposite, they echo the views of the bosses.

We read nothing on the web pages of the major unions about Gaza or US foreign policy in general which is a disaster for Americans and its direct victims..  We hear nothing from them about it on TV either.  The UMWA leadership can turn out their members with placards reading: “Our kids matter too” as they did in Pittsburgh last week but the reason was to support big business in its opposition to regulation of the coal industry.

Because they are ideologically wed to capitalism and the capitalist mode of production they cannot challenge it.  Bringing their members out, even on a harmless protest, around the children of Gaza who “matter” also, or to support the low waged and the poor and their children, or for jobs for all, would mean confronting the bosses. This can lead to chaos from their point of view.

A fellow leftist once accused myself and my co-thinkers of having a principle of attacking the labor bureaucracy. This is not the case.  If the heads of a local or a national union begin to confront capital rather than cower to it then that is positive. But there is no doubt that to a great extent, a national movement against the capitalist offensive is delayed and so much confusion exists because the union leaders with access to tremendous resources both financial and human, plays the role they do.

By socialists, anti-capitalists or activists in general ignoring their role, (often explained by the excuse that they’re too busy building a revolutionary party) means not openly confronting the officialdom’s failed policies and waging a battle for the consciousness of the member and the working class as a whole..

By their silence on so many issues and refusing to mobilize resistance, the labor leadership contributes to the present mood of helplessness and confusion.  It is nothing less than criminal that given the mood that exists in society as revealed by the WSJ/NBC poll they continue with the same disastrous policies.

It is not that myself and people like me have an obsession or principle about making an issue of the role the labor leaders play.  We simply refuse to ignore it.

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