Democratic Left

Working Fast Food: Can Low-Wage Workers Be Organized?

 

Bill Barclay,

In 1962 I graduated from Raleigh, NC’s, high school for white kids. (African-Americans attended a different high school, although this was eight years after Brown v. Board of Education.) Two years later I dropped out of college and found a job at the Char-Grill, one of Raleigh’s earliest fast food restaurants.   I was paid $60 for a 48-hour week, the then federal minimum wage level. After four months I was promoted to “night manager” at the princely sum of $70/week ($525 in today's dollars).  I was a “front line supervisor” as they are called in official employment statistics. And for all intents and purposes my career ladder was at an end.  I could have stayed at the Char-Grill another ten years and still remained a shift manager, perhaps moving to the day shift but no further.

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Let’s Have a Worker Ownership Stimulus to Create Jobs and a More Democratic Economy

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted to the Democratic Left magazine but for reasons of space only is published as a blog post. Three other articles submitted to the magazine will follow in the next few weeks, as well as articles that also appear in the printed version.

In the 2012 Presidential debates, President Obama expressed admiration for the “free enterprise system.” While I know it’s obligatory for every American president to heap praise on “free enterprise”, the fact is that the system has let American workers down in a major way. Truly speaking, “free enterprise” is the freedom of wealthy business owners, investors, executives, and Wall Street speculators to act as they please regardless of the consequences for working people and society. Their aim is not to create jobs but to make loads of money for themselves, so they create or eliminate jobs as they see fit.

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The Socialists Who Made the March on Washington

 
657px-BayardRustinAug1963-LibraryOfCongress.jpg Rustin, working both with and for the unchallenged leader of the civil-rights movement, the venerable A. Philip Randolph, became the central figure in taking that movement national. For Rustin and Randolph, as for King, Baker, Levison, Harrington, Horowitz, and Kahn, the challenge confronting African Americans was always two-fold: to tear down the legal edifice of segregation that imperiled and degraded Southern blacks, and to remake the American economy into a more egalitarian social democracy under which—and only under which—black Americans could actually prosper.

  This was the genesis of the network of democratic socialists who seven years later were to conceive, organize, and set the themes for the March on Washington.

Read the detailed article. http://prospect.org/article/socialists-who-made-march-washington

See the details of the March this year, and join us.  See blog posts below. 

Join the March on Washington - Aug. 24.

“You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of the slums. . . . There must be a better distribution of wealth . . . and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

 -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speech to the SCLC staff, Frogmore, S.C., November 14, 1966

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Join Us for the 50th Anniversary March on Washington

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Join Us for the 50th Anniversary March on Washington, Saturday, Aug. 24th Washington, D.C.  

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The Politics of Getting a Life - Part 3

This article is adapted from a longer version in Jacobin magazine.

Politics of the Demand

What is the politics of getting a life? It is easier to reject the ideology of work in theory than it is to craft a political strategy that advances an anti-work agenda in practice. Neither side of twentieth century socialism’s reform-or-revolution dialectic is particularly helpful in this regard. Social democracy has managed to partially liberate workers from work, by providing public services and income supports that lessen the dependence on wage labor. Yet this de-commodification of labor has been halting and uneasy, due to a preoccupation with maintaining full employment and conserving jobs. The insurrectionary seizure of state power, meanwhile, if it leaves the structure of capitalist labor relations intact, merely puts the workers in charge of their own exploitation — meet the new boss, same as the old.

Kathi Weeks attempts to transcend these limitations by elaborating a concept of the political demand that merges the reformist and revolutionary impulses. The demand is seen here as a call for a specific reform, but also as something more. The demand, and the way it is articulated, can be a tool for ideological demystification and for what Fredric Jameson calls “cognitive mapping,” charting the relationships between various spheres of production and reproduction. A demand can be something to organize around, a way to build collective capacity. Finally, a demand can set the stage for radical struggles and transformations in the future, even if it does not challenge the foundations of the system immediately.

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The Politics of Getting a Life - Part 2

This article is adapted from a longer version in Jacobin magazine. 

                                Permutations of the Work Ethic

liesure.jpgThe furious passion for work is not a constant of human nature but rather something that must be constantly reinforced, and successive versions of the work ethic have been used to stoke that passion. At the dawn of capitalism, the call to work was a call to salvation, as Kathi Weeks explains in her reading of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in her recent book, The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries.. She recognizes that, far from providing an idealist alternative to Marx’s account of the rise of capitalism, Weber complements historical materialism by describing the construction of a working class ideology. The word is used in Althusser’s sense: “the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.” The Protestant ethic allowed workers to imagine that when they worked for the profit of the boss, they were really working for their salvation, and for the glory of God.

 

By the twentieth century, however, the calling had become a material one: hard work would ensure broad-based prosperity. Each of the century’s twin projects of industrial modernity developed this calling in its own way. Soviet authorities promoted the Stakhanovite movement, which glorified exceptional contributions to the productivity of the socialist economy. In Detroit, meanwhile, the social democratic union leader Walter Reuther denounced advocates of shorter hours for undermining the U.S. economy in the struggle against Communism. In neither case was the quality of industrial work called into question; it was simply a matter of who was in control and who reaped the spoils.

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The Politics of Getting a Life

This article is adapted from a longer version in Jacobin magazine.  Part 1

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Work in a capitalist society is a conflicted and contradictory phenomenon, never more so than in hard times. We simultaneously work not enough and too much; a labor famine for some means feast for others. The United States has allegedly been in economic “recovery” for over two years, and yet 15 million people cannot find work, or cannot find as much work as they say they would like. At the same time, up to two thirds of workers report in surveys that they would like to work fewer hours than they do now, even if doing so would require a loss of income. The pain of unemployment is well-documented, but the pain of the employed only occasionally sees the light, whether it’s Amazon warehouse employees working at a breakneck pace in sweltering heat, or Foxconn workers risking injury and death to build hip electronics for Apple.

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