.So, I am currently reading Stanley Aronowitz‘s Taking It Big – C. Wright Mills and The Making of Political Intellectuals, which, so far, reads like an intellectual biography of Mills, in the context of the post-War New York intellectual / radical scene.
In the context of the strike of the Chicago teachers and the whole NFL thing last night, I could not help but wonder whether unions were sorta making a comeback, at least in public discourse, in a slightly different way than what have been the common tropes on unions in the past, oh, 20 years. And this, of course, in the context of the upcoming US presidential election with regards to whether unions should support one party over the other.
Then, I read this in Aronowitz’s book (Kindle edition):
“By 1948, buoyed by American capitalism’s unparalleled global dominance, a powerful conservative force, comprising corporations and their ideological mouthpieces, right-wing intellectuals and conservative politicians, was arrayed against labor’s recently acquired power and, according to Mills, had no intention of yielding more ground without an all-out industrial and political war. Yet he found union leaders curiously unprepared for the struggle. Even as their cause was being abandoned by liberal allies, union leaders remained faithful to the Democratic Party and the New Deal, which was rapidly fading into history. Mills found that the concept that working people needed a party to represent truly their political interests had disappeared from the perspective of most labor leaders, though a decade earlier, at the apex of industrial unionism, a majority favored the formation of such a party, despite their expedient support of the Democrats.” (Loc. 244)
And then this:
‘Mills admonishes labor’s leadership to attend to the postwar shift that endangers their and their members’ power. Arguing that the “main drift” is away from the collaboration between business and labor arguably made necessary and viable by the war, he suggests that labor leaders of “great stature” must come to the fore before labor is reduced. “Now there is no war,” but there is a powerful war machine and conservative reaction against labor’s power at the bargaining table.” (Loc. 254)
“Ironically, New Men of Power is far more accurate in its central prediction of labor’s decline for the years since 1973. Labor has paid a steep price for its refusal to heed Mills’s admonition to forge its own power bloc. In the face of economic globalization, corporate mergers, the deindustrialization of vast areas of the American Northeast and Midwest, and the growth of the largely nonunion South as the industrial investment of choice, many unions have despaired of making new gains and are hanging on to their declining memberships for dear life. Labor is, perhaps irreversibly, on the defensive.” (Loc. 265)
The man has been dead for fifty years. Plus ça change…