More on the responsibility of the left.
MR, I wanted to add a few thoughs I have had on the subject. Like
Posner, I am a supporter of MR's position on full employment. I like the distinction she makes between anticapitalist and anticorporatist theory leading respectively either to full-emplyment-type movements or democracy-in-workplace-type movements. I think that one additional point that could be made is that these two kinds of movements also differ in that full employment promises to build a large movement that could bridge economic, racial, sexual, and other divisions that exist among North American working people today. Certainly it would take a massive rainbow-type coalition to force the federal government to enact a true full-employment program. On the other hand, workplace democracy movements appear to me to lead pretty quickly to small groups of working people seeking and (maybe) obtaining good situations for themselves without being able to build the kind of mass base that could defend even those small gains. I've thought of a few things a Full Employment Movement (FEM) might lead to that generally come under the heading of unintended consequences, or "Oh God! We didn't mean for that to happen." I'd like to share them with you.
(1) An FEM could become a left flanking force for workfare and other forced labor schemes. This would be a real problem if a mass movement was not strong enough to determine what a "fair wage" is.
(2) A corollary of the above would be that an FEM would be perceived by many in the labor movement (especially its economist right wing) as being generally antiunion. Conversely, I should add at this point that it looks to me like employed members of industrial trade unions would be among the strongest supporters of an FEM.
(3) An FEM could degenerate into one more ineffectual federal bureaucracy. It might end up fighting only for its own jobs, leaving everybody else out in the cold and out of work.
(4) The issue of immigration would be an extremely difficult one. An FEM for North Americans could lead to broadening a consensus for Simpson-Mazzoli type (and worse) laws. It seems to me that the left has to stand for the right to a job for all who choose to live here. Helping the federal government to issue identity cards or build broken-glass fences on the southern border could be particularly ugly consequences of an FEM.
As I see it, the left could get around these and other unforeseen difficulties by successfully advocating that an FEM be controlled in a mass and democratic way from the bottom up. This may sound simple, and even trite, but I think that an open-eyes approach to the movements now existing in North America requires a person to admit that there is very little of either mass or democratic content in many of these movements. This is a real shame, since in my experience around the El Salvador solidarity movement, it has been the brief periods when mass democracy has had a bit of a hold that we have had the most help from average people, and the group has been at its most lively and creative. The limiting factor here, it seems to me, is the left, which seems to be in an anti-mass-movement phase, probably corresponding to the general rightward drift in the political culture these days.
Un/underemployment appears to be on the rise for the long-term future. A mass movement that forced the federal government to employ everybody willing and able to work, who needs a job, at a decent living wage could make a wonderful difference in the North America we'll all be living in 30 years from now. It could also be an enormous help to people struggling in other parts of the world for a decent life. An FEM could help redirect the energies of the United States away from its present course of attempted domination and eventual destruction of the planet.
There's pleny of work to do in which private business apparently has little or no interest. Government workers could clean up the environment; build, maintain, and operate public transportation systems; expand educational and public (preventive) health systems. The wonderful cultural/recreational legacy begun in the 1930s by the WPA could be multiplied a hundredfold.
It looks to me as though talk of an FEM should be seen as having a rather close relationship to the growing interest in a joining of Marxism and liberation theology. If the melding of the left and the progressive church led to a resurgent revolutionary movement in this country, I would think that an FEM would be pretty high on the agenda. Witness the current Catholic bishops' commission on the economy.
Why don't we have a conference to discuss these issues? MR could call for it. I don't mean to give the impression that any of this would be easy, but let's test the waters and see if we can get the ball rolling!
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|Title Annotation:||letter; consequences of a Full Employment Movement|
|Article Type:||Letter to the Editor|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1984|
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