American labor consciousness

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RussB's picture
RussB
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 9 2008
Posts: 101
American labor consciousness

Today the NYT has an article exploring why American workers are so docile in the face of such abusive treatment as they've recieved from the system.

 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/05/weekinreview/05greenhouse.html?ref=todayspaper

I agree with the basic analysis that it's a combination of top-down suppression and bottom-up character failings endemic to America. Here's a few thoughts on the piece:  

Quote:
But in recent decades, American workers have increasingly steered clear of such militancy, for reasons that range from fear of having their jobs shipped overseas to their self-image as full-fledged members of the middle class, with all its trappings and aspirations.

This sums up the comprehensive carrot/stick social control plan:

1. Seduce the American with get-rich propaganda and visions of materialist hedonism, and actually make alot of this worthless junk "affordable" if you go deep into consumer debt. This is the core of the consumerist ideology.

2. Under globalization (which also is based on and enables the explosion of debt), hold a gun to every worker's head, since almost no one's job isn't offshorable.

3. Now he's afraid to get uppity. He's deeply in debt on account of his SUV, McMansion, and plasma TV, and he trembles for his job.

Certainly no one in such a conformist, self-enslaved position should be called an "individualist". And yet:  

Quote:

David Kennedy, a Stanford historian and author of "Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945," says that America's individualist streak is a major reason for this reluctance to take to the streets. Citing a 1940 study by the social psychologist Mirra Komarovsky, he said her interviews of the Depression-era unemployed found "the psychological reaction was to feel guilty and ashamed, that they had failed personally."

Taken together, guilt, shame and individualism undercut any impulse to collective action, then as now, Professor Kennedy said. Noting that Americans felt stunned and desperately insecure during the Depression's early years, he wrote: "What struck most observers, and mystified them, was the eerie docility of the American people, their stoic passivity as the Depression grindstone rolled over them."

Can we please stop tarnishing the term and concept "individualism" by applying it to conformist louts? An individualist is someone who strikes out on his own path. That he doesn't readily collectivize is on account of his innate divergence from the norm and from material shackles.

But someone who abjectly conforms with every social and materialistic orthodoxy, who is the least self-reliant, most inherently dependent person imaginable, but who is also a jerk who doesn't work well with others and sneers at collective action because that's what pinkos and tree-huggers do, is the radical opposite of an "individualist".  

Quote:
Today, American workers, even those earning $20,000 a year, tend to view themselves as part of an upwardly mobile middle class. In contrast, European workers often still see themselves as proletarians in an enduring class struggle.

Historically, this is the socioeconomic base for fascism - those who are in fact downwardly mobile, but who are indoctrinated into the ideology of middle-class upward mobility and desperately cling to this ideal in the face of reality, and who fear and loathe the notion of "proletarianization". (This class status ideal also contributes to the dynamic I described above, anti-individualist but also anti-collective. Really just confused loutism.) 

Quote:
And American labor leaders, once up-from-the-street rabble-rousers, now often work hand-in-hand with C.E.O.'s to improve corporate competitiveness to protect jobs and pensions, and try to sideline activists who support a hard line.

All too true. We see this in the environmental movement as well. (There have been incidents of it among Peak Oilers too.)

-Russ 

RussB's picture
RussB
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 9 2008
Posts: 101
Re: American labor consciousness

Typo in the above: The paragraph "Taken together....rolled over them." should have been part of the blockquote.

(I don't see how to edit that.)

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