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Obama could unite nation by investing in labor movement – American scholar

Published time: October 31, 2010 10:14
Edited time: October 31, 2010 10:14

Trade union protests in the US do not even come close to those in Europe, because America does not have a welfare state, believes professor and historian Norman Markowitz.

Recent polls say nearly half of Americans believe the federal government poses some kind of threat to freedoms and civil rights. Markowitz said the US media is another reason why many just sit on the couch to see what happens, rather than take to the streets.

“Americans are the most media saturated society on Earth. They are bombarded with counterfeit opinions that come from the mass media to them. And they are encouraged to believe that these are their opinions, their ideas,” said Markowitz. “They have become consumers, against actors and producers of political culture.”

He said the ideas reflected in the media belong to the right, far right, and center of politics that “would be considered conservative in the European context.” The left does not exist in the media and “labor leaders are almost never taken seriously in media – unless they go on strike.”

Today the labor movement in the US is roughly one third of what it was at the end of World War II. It does exist, but “its history has been deformed by Cold War anti-communism and by some of the worst labor laws in the developed world,” explained the historian.

“The labor movement has aligned itself with the Democratic Party since the 1930s,” said Markowitz. Despite the trade union national leadership being much better in terms of its commitment to workers’ rights, at the same time “the relationship with the Democratic – it’s been called by some a ‘bad marriage’, they know it is bad – but they are afraid to get out.”


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The gap between rich and poor in the US keeps expanding. The peculiarity of the situation is “the people who are called the middle class are the working class.”

“What happens if the working class is not working? Than they become what in Marxist terms would be open proletarian, the marginalized poor,” warned Markowitz.

He recalled Ridley Scott’s anti-utopian movie Bladerunner, making parallels between the modern America and the world of Bladerunner. In the film there is a group of enormously powerful corporations belonging to the elite that colonizes outer space, and huge numbers of people living in endless slums.

“The US is the richest country in human history in terms of its general wealth and it has more poor people than any other rich country in human history,” he said.

Tens of millions of Americans are disadvantaged after the recent economic collapse and they could potentially support forces which would proclaim to solve the economic problems at the expense of immigrants, minorities and ordinary workers – making “the possibilities potentially catastrophic.”

The need for a third party to change the political establishment is obvious, but a potential creation of mass labor party stumbles over the fact that “the people most committed to progressive political action happen to be the most loyal to the Democratic Party,” Markowitz revealed.

He expressed hope that, “The working people will fight off the reactionary and quasi-fascist forces who call themselves the Tea Party and other absurd names which have nothing to do with what they really are. Hopefully the Obama administration will begin to ally itself with labor and progressive forces.”

The Obama administration, if it wants to make a real change, should start to create a real public sector, bail out people and “begin to invest in the masses, begin to invest in labor.”

Professor Markowitz once said and still believes that Barack Obama could become a unifying leader for the working class in the US because there is no other alternative in the short run or in the medium term.

“The defeat of the Obama administration can only mean the strengthening of not only reactionary but racist forces, and set back peoples’ struggle in the US” concluded Markowitz.