The Communist Manifesto, the United States and Labor Unions
Almost exactly a month ago, the Wisconsin State Assembly passed a bill that placed severe restrictions on public sector workers’ unions. Before and especially after the passing of the bill, thousands of protesters, many public sector workers themselves, gathered in the state capital of Madison (also home to an inferior Big Ten School). Newly elected Republican Governor Scott Walker argues that these restrictions are needed in order to reduce pensions and benefits that raise the states’ substantial deficit. Restrictions unions has been a growing trend recently in the United States. Columnist James Kelleher reports, “What began a month ago as a Republican effort in one small U.S. state to balance the budget has now turned into a national confrontation with unions” (Reuters.com). In America then, it appears that the power of workers unions is under attack.
Perhaps the most important tenant expressed in The Communist Manifesto is the idea that workers–the proletariat–must band together in order to rebel against bourgeoisie power. The Manifesto claims that “The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association” (Ch. 1). In the modern era, workers all over the world have certainly become associated. The most prevalent form of this association comes in labor unions. These unions lobby for the rights of workers against bourgeoisie dominance, one could say. And they certainly have strength in numbers. THe AFl-CIO, a conglomeration of numerous unions in the US, has over eleven million members (afl-cio.org). With many organizations like this, Marx and Engels might wonder why, at least in the US, we have still have a free market system dominated by upper-middle class capitalists.
There must exist a strong opposition to unions, especially in light of recent developments in American politics. So where does this come from? What obstacles lie in the way of proletariat ascendance? One, the actions of unions are often criticized for disrupting the economy and lives of ordinary citizens. Strikes, for instance, are a main tool by which workers gain power. But strikes cause a backlash amongst the population, even some who one might think would be sympathetic to the workers’ cause. If the workers of an oil company go on strike in order to gain decent wages, or becuase their working conditions are extremely dangerous, one might think they ought to gain the sympathy of those who believe their grievances to be just. But the average citizen does not tend to focus on the justness of the workers’ cause when the price of oil and gasoline has skyrocketed. Now the ordinary citizen has trouble driving their car or heating their home. Most, even other workers, oppose such tactics if they disrupt their daily lives, even if they agree with the strikers.
More profoundly, why do we in the US tend to treat Socialism as a normative weird for evil or tyrranical? Socialist governments and movements have sprung up across the world, from Central and South America to Europe. Why, when workers band together, do they face such opposition here? Is it the idea of American rugged individualism? Do we associate all forms of socialism, even moderate forms, with the tyrannical communism exemplified by Stalin or Mao? I believe this to be one of the most interesting questions of American history and political thought. I do not want to drone on and on, so I would truly love if you, my classmates, would post some comments with your thoughts on the issue. After all, debate is the essence of political theory.
Here is a link to an article on the Wisconsin bill and the restriction of unionshttp://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/10/us-wisconsin-idUSTRE72909420110310