Monday, September 7, 2015

Labor Daze

They don't call us working stiffs for nothing. 

Granted, Labor Day in the USA is pretty much a public relations gimmick designed to make politicians feel better about giving the shaft to labor on the other 364 days of the year. President William McKinley, who only last week finally got his Alaskan mountain deservedly yanked out from under him, needed to placate the Pullman workers whose strike his federal troops had just lethally shut down. So he gave workers an extra day off instead of a raise and benefits and protections from the oligarchic police state.

 But when celebrity New York Times liberal columnist and economist Paul Krugman uses the occasion of Labor Day to totally ignore working people and instead write about Donald Trump's comparatively sane take on the economy, I think it's safe to assume that as far as the political-media complex is concerned,  working stiffs are not only experiencing rigor mortis. They've been entombed without so much as a cheap grave marker.

Call me naive, but I figured that on today of all days, the corporate press would take a break from the relentless Trump coverage.  Of course the day is still young as I write this. Maybe by sundown, Trump will have taken a backseat, and there will be articles on mattress sales and the price of sirloin and the crowds at the beaches.

(Update: Time Magazine broke down and covered Bernie Sanders marching in a picket line in Iowa in solidarity with workers at a corn processing plant. All is not lost!)

 Meanwhile, if you're tired of the labor coverage or lack thereof and if you subscribe to Hulu Plus, they're streaming some classic but forgotten films on working stiffs from the Criterion Collection. Last night, I watched "The Proud Valley" starring Paul Robeson. It's about an African-American sailor who somehow winds up in a Welsh mining town during the Great Depression to work with the locals. Robeson, who suffered more than his share of abuse in his home country based both on his race and his politics, refused with good reason to work for the American film industry, where parts for black people were largely confined to servants, slaves and tap-dancers. The movie, made on the eve of Britain's entry into World War Two, is a weird blend of Marxist musical and nationalistic fervor. The scene of the mine collapse is a classic in cinematography. Of course, "The Proud Valley" is rarely shown in this country. For one thing, there are no racial distinctions or dog-whistling tropes in the film. David Goliath, the character played by Robeson, is immediately assimilated as an equal into the community. For another thing, it celebrates labor and solidarity and communalism. Very un-American, to say the least.*

I, for one. am going to celebrate the rest of this Labor Day by not laboring any further on this blog. I plan to watch more working stiff films on Hulu!

Meanwhile, here is my published comment to Mr. Krugman, in which I refused to mention D.T. at all because the very thought of him on this day of all days gives me such unpleasant tremors:
The GOP candidates are so nuts that when you go to the Democratic (!) National Committee website, you find a whole page outlining the five worst ideas of each and every one of them. As Mr Krugman says, their supply side economics gospel was debunked as pure smoke and mirrors long ago.
  I looked in vain for information on a DNC agenda, but it appears that there isn't one yet, at least on the official site. The party line is more shooting bloated GOP fish in a barrel, and then announcing that there will be only four Democratic debates before the first primaries.
 This doesn't fly, particularly on a day set aside to supposedly honor the American worker. Although the rate of unemployment is indeed down, the labor participation rate is the worst it's been in more than 30 years, and wages, especially for minimum wage workers, have continued to plummet. More than half the teenagers who went looking for a job this summer were unable to find one, yet the New Deal-inspired Job Corps program for youth has been cut in each of the past six years under a Democratic administration.
 Most of the new jobs, for all age groups, have been in the low-wage service sector.
Instead of arguing over which GOP plutocratic candidate can best screw us, let's start making some noise about what really works for the economy.
How about, just for starters, a government jobs program, a guaranteed national income, and true universal health care?
Happy Labor Day, everybody!
 *Update Number Two: Reader Robert Sadin shares more on the true-life enduring relationship between Paul Robeson and the Welsh miners:
Robeson’s association with South Wales dates from 1928 when, whilst performing in ‘Show Boat’ in London’s West End, he met a group of unemployed miners who had walked to London to draw attention to the hardship and suffering endured by thousands of unemployed miners and their families in South Wales.
Robeson visited South Wales many times between 1929 and 1939, singing in various towns including Cardiff, Neath and Swansea. In 1938, he sang to the 7,000 people who attended the Welsh International Brigades Memorial at Mountain Ash to commemorate the 33 Welshmen who had died in Spain. He told the audience “I am here because I know that these fellows fought not only for me but for the whole world. I feel it is my duty to be here."
When Robeson became a victim of McCarthyism in the 50s and his passport was revoked, members of the Welsh chorus portrayed in the film helped exert successful pressure on the Eisenhower administration to reinstate it.

Robeson had also just been the main government target in the Peekskill, New York riots of 1949. It was a wild and scary case of what today we might call Trumpism, or American fascism. Arch-conservative businessmen and politicians ginned up some right-wing populism and rumors about Robeson and his lefty friends, pitting poor unemployed whites against Communists, socialists, Jews, and black people. State police were sent to keep order, and either stood by or participated in the orchestrated mayhem themselves. The mob (dressed in business suits instead of white robes) even lynched Robeson in effigy. You can watch the late folksinger-activist Pete Seeger, another target at the Peekskill concert, reminisce about the riots on Democracy Now! 

This ugliness either runs in cycles, or it never really went away in the first place.


Meredith NYC said...

Karen, just on your krugman comment---

"Instead of arguing over which GOP plutocratic candidate can best screw us, let's start making some noise about what really works for the economy."

Yes, a nobel economist interested in inequality could discuss that instead of the latest from DT and Jeb. He is doing his derp and zombie Gop number yet again, and not discussing constructive proposals. That might bring him too near Sanders' ideas. Don't go there? He'd hate to have to admit that he might agree with Bernie.

If the Dems and Krugman would focus on positive proposals to directly increase employment and reduce economic distress of average people, they would set a standard, and the Gop would have to answer to it. The Gop inadequacies would show up vividly.

Instead the Dems and PK let the Gop set the standard, and then argue against it defensively. This is exactly how the country has turned rightward over decades, pulled by the Gop, even if the Dems didn’t intend it. Let’s outline the advantages of a huge national infrastructure program, and force the Gop to react.

Meredith NYC said...

I did see film The Proud Valley,not often shown, but it was on both TCM and on the City university channel with commentary in a series they call City Cinemateque with a film professor introducing the movies.
Very interesting, with Robeson joining the miners' choir.

Re labor issue coverage,i read since Steven Greenhouse took a buyout from the NYT, the only main media labor columnist is in the WSJ. I haven't looked into this---is that possible?
The Times needs a regular columnist focused on the interests of salaried people--whether you call it 'labor' or not....on the op page, not Business--and with comments.

Anonymous said...

Among my impossible dreams is the wish that we'd stop calling these candidate dog and pony shows "debates". If "dog and pony show" is too cumbersome a phrase, how about "showcase" or "showoff"?

Bob said...

Hulu does its moments.