Category Archives: Politics

Richard Wolff on Immigration

The following is a transcription of Richard Wolff’s remarks on immigration from the August 16th installment of Wolff’s Economic Update (audio here).  The view he is expressing, that immigration and “immigration reform” serves the interests of economic elites by creating increased competition for available employment, while often ignored, is neither new or original. What needs to be better understood is his observation that the charge of “racism” against workers concerned about the threat which immigration poses to their livelihoods is often cynically exploited by the same elites who benefit from an increased labor surplus. Worse is when self-described leftists parrot the same charge thereby doing the work of the ownership class though much more effectively as it is delivered in good faith from supposed friends of the working class rather than its enemies.

The issue I want to discuss now is the economics of immigration. And I’m going to use the United States as an example although what I’m going to say applies to many other countries that are experiencing an immigration process in their society.

The vast bulk of immigration into the United States for most of its history has been working people. People who leave a country because the economic conditions for them are difficult, getting a job is difficult, working on a farm is difficult, the income you earn is really not enough the prospects for you are very poor, you can’t support a family or you can’t support them the way you wish you could, you would like to offer a better life for your children than is available.

And so you hear about economic conditions in the United States and you make a wrenching decision to yank yourself out of the family you’re part of, the community you’re part of, the church that you’re part of, the friendships you’re developed, the neighborhood, and go to another country often whose language you don’t speak, whose customs you’re not familiar with, whose religion may be different from your own, and so on. A very difficult, a very painful, a very frightening decision, mostly made for a better economic chance.

Yes, there are some people who come because they’re politically persecuted, or persecuted because of their ideas, and that’s important but the bulk of people who have come to the United States are coming because they want something very unsurprising: they want a better economic deal-a chance to work, a chance to earn an income, a chance to live a reasonable life.

That tells you why they leave where they come from. Why do they come here?

Those folks would not come to the United States, or any other country, unless they were told by somebody, and told repeatedly-you don’t make this kind of wrenching decision based on one idea that somebody tells you over a drink some night-they only come if they are told and retold that there is an employer waiting for them. That there’s a job waiting for them. That they can earn a living; that their labor is desired.

Or if they’re a child of someone, that they’re the child of somebody whose labor is desired.

This gives us a clue to one of the key causes of immigration: the desire of employers to have either more workers that are available in their own country or workers whom they can pay less money to than the ones they have in their own country. One or the other or both things have to be true if employers are going to send out repeated messages directly and indirectly to countries from which people are leaving that you ought to think about coming here to the United States for example, or to Britain or to Canada or to Sweden or to wherever we’re talking about.

That means that one of the economic drivers of immigration, is the employer, corporations, those who want to see the workers come because they need more workers or they need cheaper workers or they need both. They’re not very interested in whether or how these workers get along with other people, whether they can find good or mediocre or awful housing, good or mediocre or awful education for their children, safe or not so safe neighborhoods-that’s really secondary.

They want to know whether they can get these workers to come here to work, preferably for less than they’ve had to pay workers who’ve been here a while or who were born in the United States.

So the more the merrier you might say is the attitude of the employer class toward immigration.

Now let’s look at it from the point of view of the workers already here-either born in the United States or been here for a while although having come as immigrants at some earlier point.

They look upon immigrants very differently. And that’s not because they’re different people, but because their situation in the economy is different. So for them, they say to themselves, first, oh my goodness! all these immigrants are coming and they’re going to compete with me for my job.

Number two: these folks are poor. They are coming from a place where they’ve gotten by with much less than we expect here in the United States so I’m afraid they will be willing to work for less than I’m willing to work for. And that they’re going to therefore be the choice of my employer at my expense.

Number three: if these are poor folk and they crowd in as poor folk usually do into the housing they can barely afford, we’re going to get a number of folks like this who may become dependent on government assistance of one kind or another and that’s going to come out of taxes on me because that’s the way our American tax system works: the rich get out of their share, the corporations who want these people won’t pay the extra taxes but I will be required to pay the extra taxes to support the public services for a person who may threaten my job. Plus i don’t want crowded neighborhoods near me, it makes life hard in the schools.

You can see where the arguments go: the point here is not whether these arguments are accurate or not. In some case they are, in some cases they aren’t.

But the point is that workers are in a fundamentally different structural position than are employers when it comes to the immigration of adult people who come looking for the job that the employer would prefer to give at a lower wage than whoever it is he is employing now.

And so we have here set up an ugly and unattractive struggle. And it gets more ugly and unattractive because there are groups in our society-and I don’t want to justify them or excuse them in any way-who are hateful towards immigrants-not for reasons of economics, they don’t like the religion of the people coming in; they don’t like the skin color. That is, they’re racists or bigots for various reasons.

They now find, these folks, who are always there to some degree, but they now find a new audience among the working class folks who are worried about immigrants not because of their color or their religion about which they care little or nothing. But they want someone to push back because they are fearful of what immigration will mean for them economically.

So they’re begins to be a coming together of the working class opposition to immigration-anxiety about immigration-and the racist or bigoted groups that are set against them. Meanwhile-and that gets ugly-there’s another kind of ugliness. The people at the top-the corporate leaders, the wealthy, the people who attend to them-their servants-directly and indirectly-begin to reproach the working class as if its opposition to immigration were racist or bigoted. As if your average working person had some moral lapse that a big wealthy person could reproach them for.

This is really ugly now. You are now casting the working class, whom you had endangered with immigration, whose risks at immigration you are precisely pursuing, because it advantages your profits. But instead of facing what threat you represent to working people you dismiss them all as racist and bigoted, which they never were and which they aren’t now.

I told you it gets ugly.

Well, what should we do? Let’s look for a minute historically at what has happened and then we can talk about what we ought to do.

Most of the time the employers win. We know why that is: they’ve bought the two political parties, you can see it being played out in Washington now as the Republicans and Democrats fiddle and faddle over immigration legislation-they never quite make a decision-mean time, millions and millions of people come to the United States, more or less able to continue to do so, often under terrible conditions, particularly recently with the children, but this is an old story.

What I’m saying to you is the corporations win. They control enough of the political system that when they want heavy immigration from poor places they get it.

For most of the history of the United States, it was poor people from Europe who came here. Since the second World War the Europe movement has slowed and largely collapsed but we get now from Latin America and from Asia and Africa a growing flow again, in the main, poor people. People looking for work, even those with degrees who come from higher levels of income in other countries, they also come looking for work. And they are also prepared to work for lower than the comparable salary or wage in the United States.

Workers have occasionally fought back with enough political muscle to stop immigration. Or to slow immigration. Or to limit immigration. But that’s been rare.

The victors have mostly been the corporate elite. And so we’ve had immigration. And so we’ve had an endless succession of tensions in our community of divisions in our working class along ethnic lines that are not so different from the lines between native born, recent immigrants and long ago immigrants.

With all the tension and all the injustice and all the pain and hurt that that has meant particularly for the immigrants but for everybody else involved.

Is there a better way? is there a solution? And the answer, as always is, of course there is.

If we want, and it ought to be “we” who make the decision democratically-if we want to open our nation, past and presents and future, to immigrants from other countries, then we ought to do so but provide the mechanism so that their arrival is not a threat to the people here but is in fact a blessing and a benefit as it brings more diversity, more variety, into the food, the dress and the ways of thinking of the American people-it enriches us with the cultures of diverse populations rather than threaten our working people. And the way you do that is, no one here loses a job or lowers their income because of their coming. An immigrant comes in and he or she will be provided with a job-an additional job-not a substitute job, at a decent income that’s comparable to what people here get, so that there’s no question of what people here are getting being reduced because of the competition from an immigrant.

You bring in immigrants without threatening the American working class and those immigrants will not have epithets shouted at them, will not have their children driven away, they’ll be welcomed for the diversity and the difference that they bring to enrich this society. You want immigration to work better, then do it properly. And who should pay for it? Of course, the people who wanted the immigrations in the first place. You want more workers? Fine. You want more workers for less? No, that’s not available. Let’s bring immigrants in if we need more workers, fine, bring them in in a way that enriches their lives and ours. And make those who benefit by having an available labor force pay the freight for making it work properly. No more folks at the top giving lectures on racism when the exacerbation of racial tension is precisely what they’ve produced by bringing poor people in to replace workers in this country. Anything else is insincere, duplicitous and dangerous in more social ways than I can count.

Asking the Hard Questions on Ferguson

A lot of outrage now about Ferguson-all of it righteous and all of it legitimate.

But there are bigger questions which need to be asked and answered.  For example,

While I haven’t studied the voter rolls, as a former local official, I can speculate on why this might be so.

First, the rate of participation of African Americans in local elections is almost certainly pitifully low. This is not, as Democratic Party operatives would have you believe, entirely or even mainly due to voter suppression efforts by Republicans. A lot of it has to do with local machines themselves discouraging participation, failing to mount voter registration drives or get out the vote campaigns.

Their reason for not doing so, as I observed first hand in New Haven, a city which shares some similarities with Ferguson, is because it gives the constituencies which reliably support machine candidates (mainly those revolving around black churches) disproportionate influence.  They are perfectly happy when their own handpicked candidates return to office with tiny numbers of votes rather than have to deal with potentially disruptive challenges which might emerge with more participation.

A second factor has to do with what the Black Agenda Report has pegged as the black misleadership class   There is nothing in any of the previous public statements of Ferguson’s African American Mayor James Knowles III which indicate any concern with police brutality, institutional racism, or anything beyond the most bland and uncontroversial “quality of life” initiatives.  In this, he takes his cue from black misleader in chief President Barack Obama who has still, predictably, failed to make a single statement expressing concern over or even awareness of the mounting destruction.

This gets to a larger point which is that the militarization of local police forces has been proceeding for at least a decade now with virtually no opposition on a local level a process which began with the receipt of surplus military equipment made available to localities.

They, or I should say we, were not required to accept it. And knowing how the guns, stun grenades and ammo would be deployed, there should have been unanimous opposition not only from the left but from anyone who is minimally concerned with civil liberties.

As far as I know, there was no such opposition not only in Ferguson but anywhere in the country. Based on my brief tenure as a local official, I’m pretty certain that the public safety committee hearings where the acquisition of the humvees, assault weapons and kevlar vests were discussed were almost if not entirely unattended by members of the public.  I also know from my experience that just a few calls to a local official would have resulted in, at least, some of the hard questions being asked about the wisdom of putting this gear in the hands of local police and quite possibly the rejection of some of the proffered gear.

Why did the left fail to act when it could have, and almost certainly would have mattered?

The answer is that the left has long since stopped caring about local politics even though our having obtained these positions, as we have seen, could have prevented the drift towards militarized police forces and their now routine suppression of protest.

There is one point of light in this-the Seattle city council campaign of Kshama Sawant whose path to victory began with the most notorious instance-the federally coordinated destruction of the Occupy movement.

Let’s hope that the left has now recognized that local campaigns, far from being “electoral extravaganzas unworthy of the attention of serious activists” are the first line of defense against the imposition of what can only be called a police state, operated by and serving the the interests of the one percent.

The Case of Norman Cazden

Freddie DeBoer’s letter protesting the administration’s disgraceful termination of Steven Salaita’s appointment to a position at the University of Illinois references the McCarthyite smearing of two UI faculty members in the 50s. One, DeBoer’s grandfather, was protected by tenure. The other, composer Norman Cazden, was not. He lost his position and would eke out a living for the next 15 years, according to wikipedia, giving private piano lessons and doing hack arranging and continuing to compose prolifically. Cazden was, from all accounts, an impressive musician and scholar, and while I don’t know his music, it is said to be of very high quality. Interestingly, just yesterday when I was at NYU’s Tamiment Library researching the history of the music curriculum of New York City’s now completely forgotten Jefferson School for Social Science.  There was Cazden listed on the faculty in, I believe, the year 1948. Here are the pages from the Jefferson School course catalog listing some of the music courses offered. This should give everyone some idea of the kind of artistic and intellectual ferment which existed in left circles at the time and which has been completely written out of history. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone were to write about this subject.


Theorizing Underpants and Mr. Burns’s Skirt: Multiculturalism and the Left Road to Nowhere

A couple of weeks ago Jacobin ran a blog post by Peter Frase attempting to answer certain criticisms pertaining to the dominant role of multiculturalism and identity politics in the left as it is now constituted.

The consensus, in my social media circles at least, appeared to indicate that it was not very convincing, with some objecting to what one commenter referred to as its reliance on “90’s grad seminar” discourse.

If it were only a question of style, the piece wouldn’t be worth discussing. What requires that it be dealt with is the substance, revolving around the claim that critics of the diversity agenda “do away with race” by taking “class (to be) the universal solvent that does away with all identity.”

That Frase’s characterization is not without merit is apparent in that it is not hard to find examples of what he has in mind. One is the following remark by Adolph Reed.

(T)he fact of the matter is that if you want to improve the social position of black americans, latino americans or non-whites the most effective way to do it, the biggest bang for the buck, would come from pursuing programs and goals that would enforce the economic well-being and security of the vast majority of working americans. Because not only (does) the vast majority of those non-white groups fall into the working class broadly construed but disproportionately so according to those who focus on racial disparity as a key metric of inequality. So that’s the only way to do it.

Another is from a Jacobin article by Sam Gindin cited by Frase, though not what would seem to be the most relevant passage:

“The alternative (to attempting to mobilize African-Americans as a particularly oppressed group) is to define racially coded inequality as part of a more general class inequality and mobilize the class as a whole around universal single-payer health care, free quality education, jobs with living wages, and liveable public pensions. Only the latter approach would seem to hold out the potential to build political capacity for substantive reform and such reforms would, given the nature of existing inequalities, disproportionately support the African-American working class.”

Frase is correct to construe these strategic proposals as “doing away with race” provided they are understood in the following narrow sense: any left majority will need to be assembled from groups which could, if they choose to do so, define themselves as minorities. The left needs to provide a reason for why they should ally themselves with what will necessarily (based on demographic reality) be a white majority coalition advancing issues such as “universal single-payer health care, free quality education, jobs with living wages, and liveable public pensions”. And they need to do so even when this means withholding their support from, indeed, opposing, for example, an African American leadership class, including the president and members of his administration, whose hostility to the left agenda is by now a matter of record.

If helping the left succeed in this way is “doing away with race”, Gindin and Reed provide a simple basis for why it makes sense to do so: it will benefit the great majority-including minorities and women disproportionately, which is to say what the coalition achieves will benefit them substantially more than it will benefit everyone else.


While the argument seems straightforward enough-not to mention plenty familiar-it is revealing that nowhere does Frase attempt to address, let alone answer it. Instead, his rebuttal consists largely of repackaging various elements of 90s social construct theorizing, among them the “current (of) discussion among radical feminists, . . . which sees the ultimate aim not as an equality between hypostatized essences but as eliminating the gender binary entirely.”

As Frase continues the old story, this “performance of gender could then become more fluid, playful, and theatrical, following the models set down by queer and transgender cultures.”

Of course, there would be nothing wrong and a great deal right in achieving the gender negationist utopia Frase describes. However, there would be nothing socialist-or even necessarily just or decent about it; to see why, all we need to do is imagine Mr. Burns in a skirt. Frase along with an alarming number of others on the left completely miss this obvious point: exploitation without discrimination is still exploitation. As a result of their conflation of opposition to discrimination with opposition to exploitation, the essence of their proposals amounts to a multiculturalist restatement of the underpants/gnome theory which here take the form 1) elimination of gender binary 2) ???? 3) expropriation of the expropriators.

Just as it is unclear what stroke of gnomic inspiration can derive profits from collecting underpants, it is hard to see what step 2) can link radical conceptions of gender performativity to nationalization of major industries, democratic control of the means of production, or the institution of a wealth tax.

The reason why Frase doesn’t attempt to argue for or even mention how 1) and 3) are to be connected may be due to there being no real connection to be had. As the economist Gary Becker has suggested, the meritocratic logic of neoliberalism is intrinsically hostile to all forms of arbitrary discrimination and by extension fully consonant with “the elimination of the gender binary.” If multiculturalism can be naturally achieved within neoliberalism, what purpose is served by attempting to show that it is a natural fit with socialism?

One of many indications of the harmonious combination of neoliberalism and multicultural diversity is the top prize “in workplace innovation” from the Human Rights Campaign having been awarded to Goldman Sachs for its creation of an LGBT friendly workplace. While Goldman is, needless to say, among the more odious capitalist institutions, most accounts of its hiring practices indicate a sincere commitment to recruit candidates who will serve as the most effective plunderers of the remaining assets of the 99%. By doing so, it shows that it fully accepts Becker’s logic that its shareholders’ interests in a maximum return of their investment derived from successful plunder would not be served by excluding candidates on the basis of their race, gender or sexual preference. Goldman’s policies in this respect are a special case of the general trend towards rainbow complected corporate boards far beyond that which left institutions have managed to achieve. All this is indicative of both how naturally multiculturalism can be accommodated and how cheaply multicultural credentials can be purchased by those with a prime claim to huge agglomerations of capital.

It should be noted that none of this has any bearing on Reed and Gindin’s argument. Rather it serves to show how the multicultural agenda can function as a smoke screen through which neoliberalism is legitimated and even accepted by some of its primary victims. Among these are African American communities who have suffered the largest drop in aggregate wealth in their recorded history, hemorrhaging rates of home foreclosures and continuing application and maintenance of the new Jim Crow system of incarceration. The administration’s continuing high approval ratings demonstrate the success of multiculturalism in obscuring the target which should be clearly in the sights of those most on the receiving end of its predations.

In addition to the smoke screen there is the offensive weapon of raising doubts as the sincerity of the left’s commitment to racial and gender equity. Frase offers a low-wattage recycling of this charge in his suggestion that “among intellectuals, appeals to class as the universal identity too often mask an attempt to universalize a particular identity, and exclude others.” Frase offers no evidence of attempts by intellectuals to “exclude” for the likely reason that very little exists. What possible objective, after all, would “exclusion” of any significant group serve those trying to build a mass movement? By reinforcing African American suspicions that they need to be continually on the look out for “masks” hiding an underlying racialist agenda Frase’s rhetoric is a close cousin to that of Obama apologists’ routine claim that any criticism of the current administration derives from white intellectuals threatened by “black faces in high places”.

If Glenn Greenwald is correct, a gendered variant of the same tactic is in the offing should Hillary Clinton receive the nomination. A debased, neoliberal feminism will be deployed to tar all criticism of Clinton’s policies and governance as sexist, to be followed in the sequence by a gay neoliberal Democratic nominee, protected by the inevitable charge of homophobia directed at his or her critics.

Finally, it should be mentioned that Jacobin itself has been one the receiving end of a particularly unpleasant form of weaponized identity politics, namely the charge that all males are implicated in perpetuating a “culture of rape” designed to silence and prevent women’s participation in the left. As Jacobin well knows, these smears, usually based on little to no evidence are highly effective at undermining and discrediting promising left institutions.

Frase and Jacobin should know better than most the damage which a debased multiculturalism inflicts when it is resurrected in a vampiric form. It’s high time that they, and we, began a more critical examination of its underlying premises.

The Left is Hopeless, installment 7,329

A tweet from journalist Allison Kilkenny-who has done some good work over the years.

“Key to success: Be old and white and male and make decisions that kill lots of poor brown people.”

So let’s see, the guy who’s signing off on the drone attacks is middle aged and black, his U.N. ambassador justifying them a middle-aged, black female, the previous secretary of state responsible for massive death and destruction was a white female, preceded by a black middle aged female etc. In short, killing poor brown people is an equal opportunity employer.
It has been for a long time. Those who own and operate the political system love it when they can find young fresh faces-especially black and female ones-to do their business for them.

Why can’t we wake up to that fact?

The Discourse of Acceptance (of neoliberalism)

In a revealing discussion on Doug Henwood’s Behind the News, Suzanna Danuta Walters, Director of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Professor of Sociology at Northeastern University, argues that, with respect to sexual preference, “(We need to) push back against the discourse of acceptance.”

That, according to her, is why she “always cring(es) when (she) hear(s) about court cases about gay families and our side says ‘look all the data shows that kids from gay families do just as well as kids of straight parents.’ That’s the weak argument,” Walters suggests. Rather, “Don’t you want to say that queer families are ‘queer’ and do something to undermine traditional family forms?”

I wonder whether Walters at all realizes how contemptuous this rhetorical question is for those who can’t maintain any kind of family arrangement whatsoever-traditional or otherwise?

In fact, our country, or more specifically, its political class is doing a great job of achieving her objective of “undermining traditional family forms.” By destroying the economic basis of working class communities through attacks on unions and the minimum wage, deindustrialization, withdrawing support for public housing (as discussed in the second segment of the show) etc. neoliberalism has made the maintenance of any kind of stable family unit impossible for many segments of the population.

It’s hard to imagine that communities devastated by it are joining with Walters in cheering on undermining of families. A broader politics which celebrates this would seem to be a sure loser, not to mention morally degraded.

Revealing in this connection is that in her entire segment, there is not the slightest mention of the primary victims of neoliberal austerity: the words poor people, poverty or economic injustice are never once uttered.

That’s likely because economic victimhood is a reality which barely exists in the circles which dominate Walters’s consciousness and that of many self-described academic radicals.

A good indication of this is her claim that “all families are to some extent the same (in that, for example) we all have to deal with college apps.”

No, WE don’t all deal with college applications. In fact, well less than the majority of African American high school students attend college, with only 24% having completed a bachelors degree.

In the circles which Walters moves, and to which she is directing her remarks, all this, and the tens of millions living in poverty or near poverty is a world away-out of sight and out of mind.

But that, of course, begs the question of why Walters should expect any support for initiatives she believes should be central to the left agenda.

Orwell once asked whether’s it’s any wonder why “we”-by which he meant the British intellectual and upper middle class-are so hated.

In a short and very useful segment, Walters provides a clear answer to this question.

Can the Left Learn the Lessons of the WFP Debacle?

It was often said of my maternal uncle that whatever his character flaws (significant, by all accounts) “that guy could sell a broken refrigerator to an eskimo.” Based on the reaction to last weekend’s convention debacle, it’s pretty much impossible not to issue the same back handed compliment to the Working Families Party with the defective product being, of course, the right wing Cuomo candidacy marketed to the left eskimos in Albany.

Continue reading Can the Left Learn the Lessons of the WFP Debacle?

Pulling the Plug on Working Families: A Teachable Moment in Albany

Just a few weeks ago, those daring to suggest that a Working Families Party endorsement of the notoriously right wing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was in the offing were assailed by the WFP’s liberal supporters as cynics at best or GOP moles at worst.
But that, to their evident displeasure, is precisely what materialized last weekend.

The driving forces were, most conspicuously, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio who, despite his being slapped down by the Governor on charter schools and in his attempt to finance universal pre-K with a millionaires tax, urged delegates accept on faith his portrait of Gov. 1% as a genuine progressive blocked by Senate Republicans (that the Governor has supported and engineered a working Republican majority in Albany was left unmentioned).  As a loyal Democrat, this display of blind partisanship while plenty unappealing was what was necessary and required from him.   The same cannot be said for the other shoulder on the battering ram, the state’s major unions who have not, or at least not yet, officially merged operations with Democratic Party.  However, it is probably by now best for them, and surely for us, to dispense with the fiction that there is any meaningful daylight between the two, or that any response other than “how high” will follow the demand of Democratic Party leadership to jump.

Just as revealing as the endorsement itself were the circumstances which framed it.  Mirroring the contempt towards the WFP demonstrated repeatedly by the Governor’s policies in his first term was that emanating from the party leadership directed toward the party’s Howard Dean wing. The latter, in response to the shit sandwich offered up to them, had made their displeasure known by supporting the insurgent candidacy of Park Slope law professor Zephyr Teachout and by demanding real action from Cuomo on campaign finance reform in exchange for the endorsement. This provoked the wrath of party insiders who regarded he failure to wave the pom-poms for Governor 1% as tantamount to treason.

A concise expression were the remarks of Mike McGuire, the political director for the Mason Tenders of New York City, who professed to be “ashamed (he) ever helped found the WFP.”

“To call yourself the ‘working families’ party and then draw the line in the sand over campaign finance reform is an absolute disgrace,” McGuire announced on his Facebook page.  Rejecting the activists demand that the Party should receive some meaningful concession in exchange for their endorsement, McGuire shot back, “How about a line in the sand over raising the minimum wage? Or establishing a true living wage? Or fully funding the public transportation system? Or bringing jobs and opportunity and economic development to the pockets of New York City and vast swaths of upstate New York that so desperately need them? When you can’t pay the rent or put food on the table, campaign finance reform is a rich person’s problem. The WFP leadership is now nothing more than a bunch of Park Slope limousine liberals, either literally or figuratively.”

Leave aside the blatant dishonesty of the implication that Cuomo has any interest in pursuing “a true living wage” or other economic policies which help “put food on the table” or “provide jobs” for upstate residents, or that the real estate moguls backing Cuomo’s campaigns have the slightest concern with those who “can’t pay the rent.” What is most glaring here is the hypocrisy of a six figure union boss smearing as “limousine liberals” the rank and file activist base of the party who likely have salaries far below the six figures typical of the upper ranges of the labor hierarchy.

Unfortunately, McGuire will almost certainly get away with it as the targets of his rant rarely if ever hit back.  This despite their having a huge club to wield if they chose to use it, namely, the indictments Robert Fitch memorably assembled in his classic 2006 exposé Solidarity for Sale.  As Fitch documented, union leadership salaries are achieved through concessionary contracts negotiated with industry, their well stuffed bank accounts often derived from funds directly or indirectly stolen from local treasuries for which they escape prosecution via “get out of jail free cards” provided by so-called “labor Democrats”. Completing the circle, blank checks to the Democratic Party from near bankrupt unions provides leadership with “seats at the table” where they collude in policies responsible for a decades long collapse in union density now at single digits in the private sector. Their doing so provides them with a reputation for “seriousness” and “pragmatism” making possible lateral moves into establishment think tanks and corporate boards.

The WFP deal is just one more episode in this depressing charade.  And if the history offered by Fitch is not enough, there is also Eric Chester’s brilliant 2004 historical monograph True Mission: Socialism and the Labor Party Question in the U.S. which identifies a consistent pattern of labor unions undermining repeated attempts to form independent left parties going back more than a century-raising hopes and then dashing them by folding the efforts back into the Democratic Party, then, as now, controlled by elite corporate interests.

Readers of Chester’s book will discover why early socialists including most notably Eugene Debs vehemently opposed attempts by party moderates to form a Labor Party based in the existing unions of his day, whose leadership then was as compromised and capitulationist then as New York state labor leaders showed themselves to be last weekend.

The current generation of leftists have either forgotten or, more likely, never learned this history.  Consequently, they have fetishized unions and union leadership taking for granted as the ne plus ultra of third party organizing the formation of a Labor Party created at the initiative of existing unions.  Chester shows how this hope is a chimera: to expect what Debs called “the bourgeois unions” to act in the broad interest of the working class by challenging the two corporate parties is as unrealistic as the expectation that the expropriators will expropriate themselves.

By unmasking the New York union leadership as craven and unprincipled, the WFP convention debacle provided the left what could be a teachable moment forcing the general realization that unions are deeply rooted in the capitalist system and in the individualist ethos which supports it.

The left must begin to develop fully independent organizations outside of establishment channels which are able to seriously contend with capital and erode the foundations on which its legitimacy rests.

Anything less is a recipe for failure.