Why is there a sudden increase in labour action against the establishment?
The “Labour Vs. Capital” debate is not new, it has existed since capital has tried to control labour. The rise of America was seen as a clear sign that the world was better when it shunned monarchy and distributed power and wealth to all those who were willing to work for it.
Even till the beginning of the 20th century labour was considered just as important as capital…
It is essential that there should be organization of labour. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize.
~ Theodore Roosevelt
He was a Republican.
For Capital, the rise of the USSR was a godsend. They were able to manipulate the fact that the USSR was a communist state into breaking the backs of all unionisation. This has been beautifully highlighted in the movie Oppenheimer. When Oppenheimer himself wished to organise faculty into a union, he was branded a ‘commie’ and threatened with being sidelined from the Manhattan Project.
After the Second World War, the Cold War followed and anybody who tried to organise in a meaningful way ended with the FBI on their doorstep. They were “commies”.
As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts the Actors unionised under SAG and the airline workers had always been unionised. The Auto Workers’ unions were significantly weakened during these years.
SAG was created by Ronald Reagan. So it is ironic that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher on either side of the Atlantic broke the back of the labour movement in the 1980s. Both deregulated businesses and gave them a free run to treat the labour how they pleased.
In the 1970s Nixon opened up China and China also the possibility of economic growth by fuelling its manufacturing industry. This led to a wide shift in manufacturing which started to move out of America and by the 1990s several industries were actively working towards moving their production to China.
At the same time, Clinton signed NAFTA, which resulted in the moving of a lot of the auto manufacturing out to Mexico.
The millennials were just dealt a very poor hand.
In an environment where fewer industrial jobs were being created and the Internet and software industry was transforming what work meant, there was no time to organise. Labour was just too busy finding laborious tasks.
Why are those jobs moving back?
That all changed beginning in 2008.
China had been playing nice with the US since the 1970s while harbouring designs for world hegemony. Based on Deng Xiaoping’s maxim of “Tao Huang Yang Hui”, (building strength, silently) China forged its path for growth. In the early 1990s, the country was given a rude awakening by a trifecta of incidents.
The collapse of the Soviet Union
The Gulf War
The Tiananmen Square Incident
For China, the presence of the USSR created the need to align with the US since they could expect a land attack from the USSR. The fall of the USSR meant that the only hegemon to guard against was the USA.
The Gulf War showed how quickly the US could rain down missiles on a foreign country.
The Tiananmen Incident showed them that America could use its media and hinder the internal matters of China.
China needed to cultivate greater US dependence on itself and opening the door to manufacturing anything in China was the best way to do that.
In 2008, as the US economy seemed to be in free fall China decided that it needed to quit the stance dictated by Tao Huang Yang Hui and take a more aggressive stance first as a regional hegemon and secondly as a counter-balance to the US.
This all came to a head in 2020.
With China's shutdown, the degree of dependence became obvious. When the rose-tinted glasses of a well-oiled supply chain were taken off, the American politicians could see how much they stood to lose if China became openly belligerent.
They started a process of moving production back to the US in a hurried manner
2016 was the year, the steps taken by Reagan and Thatcher came to a head. People wanted the systems established by them broken and thus came Brexit and Donald Trump.
In the US, Donald Trump’s election did a few things. It proved to the people that right or left, the entire political system was completely rotten. If Trump was one extreme Biden’s election should have unleashed the other extreme, but it did not; it was business as usual. They were all cut out of the same cloth. Trump also made clear how fragile the powerful really were thanks to January 6th.
The rich had the money because they were allowed to not because they were capable or earned it in any way.
It is not like Labour was not seeking to organise ever, but companies like Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, etc. coerced and threatened Labour into disbanding the idea. 2020 put these companies on the back foot.
They started paying the workers a whole $2 more than minimum wage!!
How much shareholder wealth was wasted! If only the workers would agree to work for free… Some morons call this slavery. It is just character development.
Biden passed a bill at the beginning of his presidency which put Trillions out for the construction of energy plants, and infrastructure. To add to that, many companies were told to move their production out of China and if possible back to the US.
This created a huge demand for labour and joblessness declined. Jerome Powell is still trying to break the back of the workers with his interest rate hikes.
Thus we arrive at the current movement to organise labour and seek better deals for themselves.
There is a colossal demand for labour, which makes temp workers hard to find. The Internet has created transparency and provided the tools to organise. Most importantly COVID has made the public realise that these people who work behind the scenes are very important. They were the only ones showing up to work even when the pandemic was keeping everyone at home. Public sympathies are on their side.
Over the last year, store employees at Starbucks, Apple and others have tried hard to unionise. There is a greater push amongst many workers to create unions and shift the power back towards labour.
UPS, UAW, South Californian Hotel Workers, and perhaps many more to come are taking advantage of their unions and asking for what they deserve. The thing that would probably make industry leaders fear is the possibility that non-unionised workplaces might unionise seeing the effectiveness of this action.
The question they are asking is simple
If a company grows 40% and the CEO gets a 40% hike. Why should the workers not get a 40% hike? Why should all the gains be reserved for the capital (shareholders)?