The Spartacist League printed an article in the Workers Vanguard criticizing revolutionary groups that do not print their papers at union printing presses. They specifically discussed MIM, among other groups. MIM responded to this criticism on the letters page of MIM Notes 60.
The Spartacist League said: “MIM is willfully blind to the fact that blacks and Hispanics are represented in disproportionately high numbers in unions in this country; in fact they are the backbone of countless unions and strike struggles—precisely because they’re under the heaviest attack by the racist bosses.”(1) The Spartacist League used this argument to back up the idea that MIM should print MIM Notes at a union shop and support union organizing and the white working class in the United States generally.
MIM will first point out that by the Spartacist League’s reasoning, one could argue that women should boycott union labels because women are disproportionately unrepresented in unions. For that matter so should people of Latino background. In the United States, women and Latinos would do better to boycott union-label products. For its part, MIM does not care to engage in hairsplitting, since the vast majority of unionized workers are white and not exploited.
A greater percentage of Black workers are unionized than white workers, but a smaller percentage of “Hispanic” workers are unionized than whites. The table below is the source of Spartacist confusion and opportunism. Blacks are disproportionately unionized, not because union organizers are so progressive, but because the sectors of the economy with unions in them have more Blacks, both union and non-union than other sectors of the economy.
Since these figures are collected by the government, remember that undocumented immigrants are not counted because they are not considered employees. In fact, the number of unionized waged agricultural workers is not counted at all, because the government sees fewer than 50,000 total. Those agricultural workers not unionized got median wages of $246 a week in 1989. That is one of the lowest paid sectors, and this does not count undocumented labor.
Some sectors of the economy have more unions than others:
Surprise: Better-paid technical and management jobs are less unionized. However, we have already seen that these technical and management jobs are disproportionately occupied by whites. (See previous sections.) Workers unionized in these sectors actually make less than their non-unionized counterparts. The same is true of wholesale and retail trade. The really good jobs require no unionization.
White-collar jobs in general are disproportionately occupied by whites and blue-collar jobs are disproportionately occupied by oppressed nationalities.
Buy from a union shop?
Contrary to the Spartacist League’s wishful thinking, buying from union shops does not help minorities. It’s just that there are more “minorities” in sectors that happen to be unionized. In other words, both the unionized and non-unionized workers in these sectors are disproportionately oppressed nationalities. Supporting the unions in these sectors does not help oppressed nationalities any more than supporting the non-union workers does. In fact, it appears there are more oppressed nationalities in non-unionized jobs in the low paying sectors.
By one method of classification, the government sector is the most unionized sector of the economy. In 1989, 14.8% of the workers in that sector were Black when only 10.2% of workers generally were Black. “Hispanics” are underrepresented in the government sector, with 5.1% of government employees but 7.3% of total workers.(2)
The second most unionized sector is transport, communication and public utilities. This sector was 14.1% Black as of 1989 and only 6.4% “Hispanic.” This data again supports MIM’s view, not the Spart view.
The sector with the highest representation of “Hispanics”—farming, forestry and fishing—is 13.9% “Hispanic” as of 1989 (undercounted, of course).(3) Surprise, surprise: This sector of the economy is the least unionized sector, with only 4.6% of people in unions.(4)
As for discrimination, some sectors of the economy are better than others for Blacks, who face the most pay discrimination in white-collar jobs. However, unionized Black workers still face discrimination. The median weekly earnings of unionized Blacks were only 84% that of unionized whites in 1989.(4)
Keep a global perspective on the issue of unionization. The Spartacist League is right that unions generally succeed in getting workers higher wages, but in Amerika, that is not a goal of MIM’s, because Amerikan workers already get paid too much more than workers from other countries. This causes white people generally to be an enemy of the world’s oppressed, allied with the imperialist class.
Buying from union shops supports the highest paid of Amerikan workers. Unionized workers’ median weekly earnings in 1989 were $494. Nonunionized earnings were $372. Neither figure represents the pay of exploited workers. The Sparts just want MIM to give money to richer non-exploited workers instead of poorer non-exploited workers. $494 a week is the annual income of many people in Third World countries held back and superexploited by imperialism.
1. Workers Vanguard 11/22/91.
2. Statistical Abstract of the United States 1991, p. 400.
3. Ibid., p. 397.
4. Ibid., p. 425
The rate of surplus value is therefore an exact expression for the degree of exploitation of labor power by capital, or of the laborer of the capitalist.
Marx notes this on page 209 of Capital (International Progress Publishers edition 1979) and makes it clear, in a footnote, that this degree of exploitation does not measure the absolute amount of exploitation. This will become important when we consider the variance in actual weekly hours worked by the labor aristocracy as compared to the hours worked by, say, Mattel doll-maker production workers in Malaysia. (Yes, they make Barbie there!)
The simple formula for determining the rate of surplus value (exploitation) is to divide the known amount of surplus value (surplus labor, i.e. profit) by the known amount of wages advanced (variable capital). In Marx’s day, and in parts of today’s world, the wages paid to the worker covered the bare cost of subsistence, that is, the basic cost of reproducing another generation of workers. That does not mean that wages cannot be more than the cost of subsistence if the supply of labor is low and the demand high, etc. The wage itself, its price, its real value as the equivalent payment for the use of the commodity labor power, is subject to the market and is partially regulated (not determined) by motions of supply and demand.
The worker labors for a certain amount of labor time to meet the cost of her/his reproduction. The secret of capitalism is that what appears as an equivalent payment, i.e. wage for work performed, is in reality a shortfall. The amount of time a worker performs contains the labor time socially necessary to meet the cost of subsistence plus (and this is a condition of the hiring itself) the amount of labor time socially necessary to create a product that expresses an ultimate value composed of the value of the materials of which it is made (constant capital), the value of the wages paid for its creation (variable capital) and the “profit,” a capital which is the excess of the amount of necessary labor time subtracted from the total labor time worked.
This surplus labor time is hidden from view because the exploited worker does not receive as payment an amount of labor embodied in commodities equivalent to the amount of labor time she or he expended necessary to imbue the commodity she or he produced with its socially-determined value. In other words, the commodity would not be made at all if a mechanism did not exist to express its value as a price in the market—a price which already contains its total value, a price which, on the surface is composed of materials plus wages plus a socially-determined average “added” profit for the owner-capitalist.
In reality, the worker is the sole creator of the “profit” (surplus labor) despite the fact that the worker is paid the accurately valued price for his/her labor power. The unpaid labor is surplus labor and it is expressed as surplus value upon the sale of the commodity. The rate of surplus value (exploitation) is surplus labor divided by necessary labor, or surplus value divided by variable capital, or profit divided by wages: s/v. We are not concerned here with the rate of profit which is another, related, story.
A Maytag dishwasher
A given commodity, say a Maytag dishwasher, has a price of $500 and, for argument’s sake, contains a profit for the seller of 20%, or $100. Also contained within this final price is the multinational corporation’s total advance of capital in the production process expressed as constant capital and variable capital, i.e., materials and wages. Let’s say that for each dishwasher $100 in wages were advanced and materials cost $300. So the capitalist spent $400 and made a profit of $100.
The surplus labor, therefore, equals $100. The wages are $100. The surplus labor divided by the necessary labor (s/v) is expressed as $100 divided by $100. From the vantage point of the capitalist, the rate of surplus value is therefore 100%.
Now let us consider a situation where the surplus labor is valued at $90 and the necessary labor at $10. this gives us $90/$10—rate of surplus value—900%. Next we consider a situation where the surplus labor is $10 and the necessary labor is $90. This gives us $10/$90—rate of surplus value—11%.
Under imperialism, the raw materials comprising the matter of the dishwasher were most likely extracted from the Third World. We shall ignore that for the moment, while recognizing that the parts (agitator, lid, dials, etc.) were very likely made in Thailand. Let us assume that the parts were shipped to the United States, assembled in an Amerikan plant, packaged, transported again, and sold at Sears for $500.
In our model we are going to assume that the Thai workers were paid at or below subsistence for their locale and that the Amerikan workers were paid at or above subsistence for their locale. The figures we are using are perhaps exaggerations to demonstrate the point. Look at MC5’s statistics for production workers in 1977: United States, $7.60; South Korea, $0.64. The Amerikan workers are paid more than 10 times the hourly wage of the South Koreans and 50 times the Sri Lankans’. In the model we are making, the Amerikans are paid nine times the amount of the Thais ($90/$10) (for the same time period of work).
In the imperialist division of labor necessary for the production of the dishwasher two simple facts stare us in the face: Thai workers were paid $10 for creating a surplus of $90; Amerikan workers were paid $90 for creating a surplus of $10. Thus, the rate of exploitation is 900% for the Third World workers and a mere 11% for the Amerikans. “Unfair,” says the Trot, “but the Amerikan is still exploited.”
Now put that into context. Factory workers in Southeast Asia work 60-80 hour weeks. Amerikan workers do 35-40 hours a week. Even though the rate of exploitation is only 900%, the Thais are working longer hours, creating more material contribution to the product (in an equivalent time period) than the Amerikans; consequently, the absolute amount of exploitation begins at a degree of 900% and spirals up from there into pure misery and overwork, to say the least.
Giving our critics the benefit of the doubt, we shall deal only with the simple equal composition of the labor time embodied in the dishwasher. But even here, because the Thai workers are paid less (than the Amerikans) for their contribution of labor time, the value they impart to the first, second, (third, or fourth, whatever) stage commodities/products in the process of becoming the final stage commodity-dishwasher—where all the value is realized at once by the sale of the dishwasher is more than that imparted by the Amerikan assemblers. We can simplify this to say that each group works ten hours. The Thais are paid $1 an hour. The Amerikans are paid $9 an hour.
Together they receive wages, based on the same period of work-time, that create $100 of profit and are paid by $100 in wages. Only, the relation between these two groups of workers is extremely unequal. Given the pay differential, there is no other way to compute this basic inequality. The recipient of the lesser creates the greater surplus value and the recipient of the greater wage creates the less surplus value (if any).
Because of the real existence of the rate of surplus value (exploitation), the Thai workers have contributed a surplus value of $90 in the same time that the Amerikans have contributed a surplus value of $10. And for this unequal contribution of productivity, the Amerikans have received nine times the wage of the Thais.
But, they are still exploited you say! They are exploited at a rate of 11%! They are creating 11% in surplus value over the wage they receive! Consider this. Amerikan employers are mandated by law to contribute 7.5% of the worker’s wage to Social Security: a material cash benefit which eventually accrues to the worker. FICA deductions are a form of worker savings.
That leaves a rate of exploitation of 3.5% per wage. A union worker in Amerika then receives a pension, welfare, vacation package of roughly 20% added onto the weekly wage by the employer as a “cost of doing business.” Non-union employees may not get this benefit, but here are only some of the benefits most employees get, in one form or another: insurance, health-care (inadequate as it may be), imperialist-subsidized agricultural commodities, energy-commodities, roads, military/police protection, etc. They get an imperialist lifestyle/standard of living. We shall calculate this incredibly conservatively at 25% over the wage paid. This leaves an annual subsidy for the average non-union Amerikan worker of 14%.
“But they pay taxes!” the Trot feebly gasps while clutching at the Bill of Rights. Say they pay 10% in taxes. Balance: 4% benefits over the inflated wage. Where did the 4% come from? Did you guess? Hint: it’s not from the capitalist.
Now let’s put this into even more specific terms. Take the average Amerikan production/transportation/white-collar/blue-collar/service worker (for the purpose of this essay we shall consider service workers as links in the productive circuit who help to realize the sale and receive a wage even while adding no surplus value to the particular commodity—another form of subsidy).
The average Amerikan makes, say, $20,000 a year. According to our conservative calculations in this model you add on 4% ($800). At the very, very least, average Amerikan is being subsidized by Thai worker to the tune of $800 a year. At the figure of $0.64 an hour, the Thai comrade works 1,250 hours to create this subsidy. At 60 hours a week it comes to 20.83 weeks a year of hard labor time.
With the extra money over and above the inflated, as we have seen, wage itself, the Average Amerikan buys dishwashers.
Chapter XI of Capital notes:
The variable capital of a capitalist is the expression in money of the total value of all the labor powers that he employs simultaneously. Its value is, therefore, equal to the average value of one labor power, multiplied by the number of labor powers employed... The mass of the surplus value produced is therefore equal to the surplus value which the working day of one laborer supplies multiplied by the number of laborers employed.
— p. 287; An equation follows.
What this shows is that the actual subsidy of the average Amerikan “worker” is more than the little 4% at which we just arrived. In all likelihood, given the whole world as a relation of imperialism to oppressed nations, it is more like the neighborhood of 1,000%. The good news is that it may be possible to establish a world-market price of labor, even though the worker does not choose the capitalist in the superexploited countries: the capitalists do choose their workers. As the international proletariat and the oppressed masses seize power around the world, we will have to undertake the task of setting right the world distribution of property based on some estimate of these conditions that we already see right now.
2.10 Combating Common Wishful Thinking on the White Working Class
It is tempting to look for the slightest tinge of proletarian class interest among that section of the Amerikan nation (the white working class) that participates in production and in the circulation of commodities, as well as in the realization of the social surplus value through the purchasing of commodities for their own consumption.
It is tempting to look for the possibilities of an irreversible, precipitous decline in the economic status of certain strata in the vast Amerikan settler formation. The beleaguered, exploited proletariat residing in the internal colonies of Amerika could benefit from a little help, or at least neutrality, from the middle classes—the petty bourgeoisie and the labor aristocracy—during the insurrection/civil war and the preparatory years.
Settler radicals (meaning radicals descended from Europeans settling North Amerika)—from the Trots to some Maoists—have long refused to face the fact that the labor aristocracy is not only not a neutral force, but, if class interests rest on economic interests, not even mildly exploited. To paraphrase Lenin: the petty-bourgeois revolutionaries take the conditions for their own liberation to be the universal demands of mankind.
In terms of party-building this kind of thinking sometimes boils down to promoting left-economist notions of immediate gratification, such as, “Nuke war tomorrow? Oh shit, where do I sign up?” Such an understanding avoids the international class analysis necessary to best promote revolution.
To truly take the stand of the international proletariat means to put our analysis in the spot where the oppressed exist: with no choices available but further oppression—or rebellion. We can strive to do this even during the periods when the masses actually standing in that spot have not yet realized their strength. For a revolutionary hanging by his/her thumbs in a cold Peruvian prison waiting for the flames to hit, Amerika must look like one huge, undifferentiated mass of class enemies.
That’s from the outside of this toilet. Inside it, we must make the differentiation and coldly separate friend from foe. The friends will throw themselves into the flames to annihilate the flame-throwers. The foes will stand a little distance apart at the last moment. As groups, this will be decided, in the final analysis, by the historical group interest.
In the beginning, we decide what groups are worth our efforts building for those decisive moments. If there is even a faint hope that the Amerikan “working class” is waiting in the wings for revolution, then it would make sense to organize for the demands of this group. (MIM seeks to organize amongst all groups at all times, but it only organizes for the demands of the oppressed, not the oppressors.)
MIM holds that, at the present, the majority of white workers in this country—skilled workers, trade unionists, paper-pushers, etc.—do not represent a revolutionary class. They do not create
surplus value as much as reapportion the surplus which results from superexploitation of the Third World and oppressed internal nations. They are not prepared to abandon bourgeois aspirations and mainly high-paying jobs to drop everything for the good of the international proletariat.(1)
“Ah ha!” exclaims the desperately vacillating nature of the petty-bourgeois revolutionary. “Just wait until they lose those high-paying jobs and become prepared to abandon their bourgeois aspirations! Then they shall be friends!”
The cold-hearted Maoist replies, “Dream on, by that point what’s left of them shall still be white-collar fascists defending a starving fortress Amerika and firing bullets at Third World Maoist armies, while eating old Spam and lining up to perish for the ‘right’ of their toxic-mutated children to ‘live free or die!’”
These settlers are perfectly willing to fight and die for the continued ability of their group to experience the taste of that rich and famous, completely corrupted, seemingly immortal lifestyle.
An article by Lenin, who died before neocolonialism really pumped up the imperialist alliances of the labor aristocracy and expanded the “shift in class relations,” still says it well:
The greater part of Western Europe might then assume the appearance and character already exhibited by tracts of country in the South of England, in the Riviera, and in the tourist-ridden
or residential parts of Italy and Switzerland, little clusters of wealthy aristocrats drawing dividends and pensions from the Far East, with a somewhat larger group of professional retainers and tradesmen and a larger body of personal servants and workers in the transport trade and in the final stages of production of the more perishable goods: all the main arterial industries would have disappeared, the staple foods and semimanufactures flowing in as tribute from Asia and Africa... We have foreshadowed the possibility of even a larger alliance of Western states, a European federation of Great Powers which, so far from forwarding the cause of world civilization, might introduce the gigantic peril of a Western parasitism, a group of advanced industrial nations, whose upper classes drew vast tribute from Asia and Africa, with which they supported great tame masses of retainers, no longer engaged in the staple industries of agriculture and manufacture but kept in the performance of personal or minor industrial services under the control of a new financial aristocracy.(2)
The above quote was from Hobson, a “social-liberal" whom Lenin found useful to quote, lest he be disbelieved. To would-be communist organizers of the labor aristocracy, Lenin exclaimed: “At the present time, you are fawning on the opportunists, who are alien to the proletariat as a class, who are the servants, the agents of the bourgeoisie and the vehicles of its influence, and unless the labor movement rids itself of them, it will remain a bourgeois labor movement."(3)
Most white workers in this country are not prepared to ditch bourgeois aspirations and high-paying jobs to drop everything for the good of the international proletariat.
1. What is MIM pamphlet p. 8.
2. I.V. Lenin, Imperialism and the Split in Socialism, Moscow Progress
Publishers, 1979, p. 9.
3. Ibid, p. 11.
I have a friend who worked at mccdonalds for nearly decade. He is a weary, broken man.
swampman posted:Populares posted:
I have a friend who worked at mccdonalds for nearly decade. He is a weary, broken man.
Not uncommon. I came across another one on that subreddit (I haven’t been able to find it), where a dude’s department gets dissolved but because of some bureaucratic slip up, they forget he exists entirely (unlike this guy who has to still pretend he’s important) and his paychecks continue to be deposited automatically. Apparently it was a well-paying job and he essentially got a sinecure that paid him to do whatever the fuck he wanted for years.
Labor aristocracy indeed.
In 1987, corporations made $328.2 billion in profits. Individually owned non-farm businesses made another $105.5 billion in profits. Partnerships took a $5.4 billion loss in 1987.(1)
People doing studies tend to focus on corporate profits. The individually owned businesses making $105.5 billion in profits is a little murky because the government assigns zero salary to these business owners and calls everything that they make a profit. This kind of operation will include some situations where one person exploits many workers, but it will also include situations in which one person works alone. So, if you own a grocery store, the government says you are entitled to no salary, just profits. For Marxist theory concerning surplus value, this is not satisfactory.
In any case, this argument about the non-exploitation of the labor aristocracy does not hinge on one little fact. Even if it were all really profits and not salaries, $105 billion is too small to make a difference to the overall argument.
1. Statistical Abstract of the United States 1991, p. 525.
3.2 Under-reported Imperialist Investments
“Direct investment” counts only business assets owned abroad. It does not count loans. It is also relatively easy for U.S. individuals to keep hidden their ownership of various stocks in foreign companies abroad. Direct U.S. investment in 1989 was $90.6 billion in the developing countries. Another $714 million was in South Africa.(1)
As an example, these figures do not give a very clear picture because the overall investment figure for South Africa alone was $14 billion, depending on what was counted, according to an old Jack Anderson column circulated by MIM.
Both for tax and political reasons, the imperialists have an interest in underreporting or creative accounting when it comes to investment abroad. They pretend they have less wealth than they do and they report lower profits than they receive: Who is going to check on them or know? And the local government may be quite happy to turn a blind eye to the company’s tax evasion in the United States: Why should a Third World comprador elite alienate its multinational corporate friends by reporting them to the IRS? Why not just keep taking the bribes and keep quiet?
Another way U.S, assets abroad are undercounted is that, creative accounting and international tax evasion aside, the imperialists pay dirt cheap wages for the assets they construct in the Third World. A mine, factory, tool or office building that the imperialists build in the Third World is done for maybe one-tenth the price it is done in the United States, so as far as Marxists are concerned, the report of imperialist assets in the Third World could be completely honest by imperialist standards and still not reflect the realities of where the dead labor is.
1. Statistical Abstract of the United States 1991, p. 797.
3.3 MIM’s Jargon is the Terminology of the Oppressed Nations
The leader of the Russian revolution, V.I. Lenin, used the terms “Russian chauvinism,” “great nation chauvinism,” “imperialist economist chauvinism,” etc., to refer to various one-sided, biased, provincial and prejudiced thinking not in line with internationalism. Lenin did not make much use of the word “racism.” MIM does not use the word “racism” much either, although racism exists. Instead, MIM observes scientifically that race does not exist and that what really happens in the United States is national oppression, not racial oppression. “Racism” does exist as an element of the superstructure of society, which is to say the ideas and culture, but “racism” is a product of national oppression, including the exploitation and enslavement of various nations by others. Racism can only be disguised, never eliminated by propagating politically correct attitudes, because racism is just a justification for exploitation and enslavement. To rid the world of this exploitation and enslavement requires armed struggle against the imperialists.
Within the Soviet Union, Russia was only one nation. Lenin was always worried that his Russian and Russian-influenced comrades would put down various nations within the Soviet Union. “Russian chauvinism” was a term referring to the bias of the dominant nation within the Soviet Union.
The term “great nation chauvinism” referred to the bias of powerful countries against small countries. It could not be wished away, because imperialism has to be destroyed and the economic relations among the nations revolutionized before such attitudes can be changed systematically.
“Imperialist economism" referred to various kinds of counterrevolutionary chauvinism in the First World. MIM believes that most “leftist” groups in the United States have the most severe case of imperialist economist chauvinism recorded in history, because they are always fighting for reforms in the conditions of the workers in the imperialist countries, instead of taking the view of the oppressed people. The U.S. empire exploits more workers than any other empire in history, but still the settler-“leftists" want U.S. workers to improve their living conditions at the expense of Third World workers even more.
“White supremacy” and “white nation chauvinism” refer to biases and discrimination caused by the underlying economic relationship between nations. We just take out the word “Russian” and put in “white,” and then we locate the cause of the problem in the same kinds of things about which Lenin was talking. So “white nation chauvinist” is the most strongly Leninist phrase we can use. We would use exclusively “Amerikan-chauvinist,” but we think that would confuse some readers, because they don’t realize that “Amerikan” means white nation; it’s not used that much.
On top of all that, we’ve heard indigenous and Latino people criticize the use of the word “American.” Indigenous people say they are the Americans.
So used by itself without reference to whites, “Amerikan” could be construed as mocking or ignoring the oppression of indigenous peoples. In addition, Latino people say “America” is not just the United States. “Settler” is somewhat better for these critics, as is “white.”
Then if you read the Ku Klux Klan slogans you realize that they see whites as a nation, and if you think about it, it is true. Sometimes MIM says
“Euro-Amerikan chauvinism,” but even that term has a little problem too. The problem is mostly in the hyphen, because then people say there are “Afro-Amerikans,” etc. MIM says it is useless to talk about “Irish-Americans,” “Italian-Americans,” “Korean-Americans” in this context. The benefit of the term “white chauvinism” is that it doesn’t have that hyphen and therefore avoids any implication that the white groups are not fully integrated (like Cuomo would have us believe) or that there are fully incorporated minorities in the United States. Some white groups occasionally organize politically as if they were not part of the superexploitation of the Third World, in order to fool oppressed peoples into uniting with them for their white nation goals.
The whole discourse of “Greek-American,” “Italian-American,” etc., only raises ethnicity to show how differences exist and should be treated for
the better unity of “America.” Since Greek-Amerikans benefit from the oppression implemented by U.S, imperialism, no one ever gets up and calls on “Greek-Amerikans” to destroy Amerika, so MIM doesn’t care about that kind of ethnicity.
MIM is saying that the European ethnicities did integrate into something we can call Amerika. MIM knows it’s nonsense to talk about “Afro-Americans,” etc., because, as Malcolm X said, the oppressed nationalities are treated as second- or third-class, not real Amerikans. They are separate nations in objective and subjective reality.
The term “settler” is not inherently correct either because it has no inherent ethnic or national meaning. While the word is not exactly “discovered” technically, the indigenous peoples “settled” North Amerika, probably by coming from Asia through what is now Alaska. “Settler” says nothing about the relations of domination either. “Colonist” is a better term in some contexts.
MIM tends to use “settler,” “Euro-Amerikan” and “white” interchangeably, being careful not to use “white” in the wrong context. All the terms have their problems. “Euro-Amerikan” has the advantage of evoking a history, but the disadvantage of all the hyphen reasoning. “Settler” is vague and “white” plays into the “anti-racist” way of looking at the world.
Most of the “anti-racist” people think if we could change attitudes and individual behaviors—especially by having everyone attend the proper finishing schools (called colleges) with the proper politically-correct codes—wecould solve the problem, whereas MIM says that stuff gets used to focus the disempowered on window dressing so they will avoid the power issue.
In this section we explain in detail something which is intuitive for anyone with a basic knowledge of reality. We start with Amerikan “leftist” assumptions and show that they have no possibility of fitting the facts.
The Amerikan chauvinist “leftist” talks as if there was no surplus collected from the Third World by U.S. imperialism. They go on and on about conditions in the United States being so oppressive and they never talk about the superprofits from the Third World. So here we will assume that no surplus comes from the Third World.
Next we will deal with the alleged exploitation of workers residing in the United States, starting with oppressed national minorities, which most “leftists" admit face discrimination.
To do this we consider Gross National Product (GNP). The GNP is all the goods and services produced in a year. That’s how to count GNP by looking at production. Another way to count up the GNP is to break it up into the various sectors of consumption—private consumption, government consumption and consumption for investment purposes. Yet another way to look at the same thing is to look at the incomes that everyone collected that year to spend. (If someone does not spend his/her money and saves it, the bank invests it, so it’s still part of GNP.) All parts of the GNP can be considered an income; although that may seem strange, it’s a good way to count everything up.
As Marxists who accept the labor theory of value we know that all of the GNP comes from labor. The GNP is just a numerical expression of value, which is labor. In the United States, the government counts as U.S. GNP everything regardless of the nationality of the people who produced it.
How much labor was done by oppressed minorities? Not counting people of Asian descent, indigenous people or undocumented immigrants, and just counting Blacks and “Hispanics,” the government says minorities accounted for 17.5% of employed workers as of 1989.(1) Let’s round off to count some of the other minorities and say conservatively that the minorities account for 20%. So minorities do 20% of the labor and account for 20% of the GNP, because we started with the Amerikan leftist assumption that the Third World does not pay a hidden subsidy to the U.S. GNP.
Well, so how shall we account for the profits that the capitalists made from these workers? How exploited are these workers? How much of the $293.3 billion in profits come just from the oppressed minorities?
According to the government, Black income is about 62% of white income. Of course, the government doesn’t even count how little undocumented immigrants are paid, because it doesn’t count them. These people make $1-2 an hour; thus they bring down the average quite a bit for oppressed minorities. Another factor that brings down minority income is the debt never paid to them for a history of slavery and genocide that has left them
without the assets that generate work-free income. White people tend to own real estate and houses from which they get profits, while minorities have no such assets. But let’s be generous to the ignorant white chauvinists and say that the capitalists actually pay minorities 70% of the income they pay whites for their labor. If they paid minorities the same amount as whites, the capitalists would only get 20% of their profits from oppressed minorities in this model, assuming the Third World accounts for nothing. However, because of discrimination, the oppressed minorities account for higher percentage of profits than 20%.
How much of the profits do oppressed minorities account for? Well, if the capitalists make a profit off of white workers, they make an even bigger profit off the minority workers, so if we calculate wrong, we would estimate that the capitalists get more profits than they do. If we say that the rate of exploitation is 100% for white workers, then that will add up to a lot of profits. If we say 50%, that will add up to half as many profits. It’s still a lot of profits though.
From looking at the figures, MIM knows that it is not possible that white workers are exploited. The reason is that, in this hypothetical model, minority workers alone account for $293.3 billion in profits. Here’s how:
Let’s assume the exploitation rate of white workers is 0%—relatively good conditions. That means they produce no surplus for the capitalists. Zero percent exploitation rate is good for minority workers, too, because that means they get 70% of a non-exploited wage. In contrast, getting 70% of an income representing exploitation is no good for minorities and represents even more profits for the capitalists.
So if oppressed minorities get 70% of what white workers get and white workers have a 0% exploitation rate, how much profit does that mean for the capitalists?
Well, the capitalist says:
Shoot, I think I better buy off the white workers, so I can have peace and expand abroad really fast. How much profit can I get just by paying minority workers 70% of what white workers get?
The capitalist who has studied Marx whips out his calculator. So, minorities do 20% of the labor, eh? OK, OK, well if I don’t exploit the white workers and I pay the minorities 70%...
That means they get:
70% of 20% = 14% of the GNP
And the capitalist says: “That leaves me 6% of the GNP, just for discriminating against the minorities. Let’s see, GNP was $4.4 trillion:
6% of $4.4 trillion = (.06)(4.4 trillion) = $264 billion
“Excellent!” In reality, before-tax profits were $293.3 billion, not much more than the $264 billion in profits that came solely from oppressed minorities. Now if we assume that capitalists really only pay minorities 65% of what they pay whites, then the profits are:
(1 - .65)(20%)($4.4 trillion) = $308 billion
Since profits were really only $293 billion, that is not possible unless we recalculate with the assumption that white workers actually get a share of the profits and that the exploitation rate for white workers is negative. None of that is to mention that after-tax profits were only $173 billion in 1989.
Hence we find the following assumptions cannot coexist:
1. The Third World does not make a hidden subsidy to the U.S. GNP, because it is not even exploited by the United States capitalists.
2. Minorities do 20% of the labor.
3. The capitalists pay minorities 65% or less of the wages white workers get.
4. The white workers are exploited.
The fourth assumption must be dropped, and in reality so must the first. If any profits come from the Third World, there is that much less profit that could be coming from white workers. Indeed, that surplus from the Third World can go to white workers while the capitalist lives off the minorities within the United States.
1. Statistical Abstract of the United States 1991, pp. 395, 548.
the job counselor found my talents most suited for being an administrative error
as an actual job counselor it's unreal how many people come to me that were making 100-200k salary before being laid off and believe they deserve more. if you even suggest they might have to aim for a lower paying position they just look at you as if you're insane. at least I had one sales guy formerly making 300k that admitted he was being paid way too much and would have to settle for a third of that.
— Reprinted from MIM Notes 37, April 8, 1989 —
Before the national elections in 1992, many misleading figures about the middle class are being tossed about as a part of campaigning. This article from 1989 still sounds very fresh. It shows that 80% of U.S. residents improved their economic position between 1979 and 1987 or stayed the same. Only the bottom fifth became poorer. The reason the United States is able to improve the position of its middle classes year after year is U.S. imperialism’s exploitation of the Third World.
Taking inflation into account, the average family income of the poorest fifth of the population declined by 6.1 percent from 1979 to 1987, while the highest-paid American saw family income rise 11.1 percent.(1)
The widening rich-poor gap continues to indict the possibility of the Amerikan dream.
Even a U.S. Representative on the House Ways and Means Committee, which issued the March report on incomes, admitted that this was due to the “invisible hand of the market.” This is what Adam Smith had in mind. In an attempt to deny the government’s complicity in the success of capitalism, the head economist of the Ways and Means Committee said, “There are a lot of forces at work out there.”(2)
On the surface, the rising gap between rich and poor lends some credibility to the arguments of MIM’s “leftist” critics. With growing class polarization, the labor aristocracy in the United States should be in decline and the basis for revolution or social-democratic reform should be increasing.
Still, MIM has always maintained that it is mobilizing in the interests of the bottom fifth of Amerikan society. The other four-fifths of society held their own or saw their income increase.(3) Hence, the thesis that the majority of Amerikan workers are benefiting from U.S. imperialism is still supported by the study. The bottom fifth are not the same thing as the working class in society. It is only a section of the Amerikan working class.
Average family income in Amerika was $29,487 in 1987. The income of the bottom fifth averaged $5,107 that same year.
Hence despite all the social-democratic ruckus about the Reagan years, what the Congressional investigation shows is that there has been no economic basis to mobilize a majority of Amerikans for socialism. At the same time, the Black proletariat and other proletarians in the bottom fifth continue to face conditions conducive to revolution.
Those so-called socialists who attempt to preach a political line that sounds pleasing to the middle classes will end up corrupting their line and supporting the status quo in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
1. New York Times 3/23/89, p. 1. The Times repeated this story on 3/5/92, p. A1 to show that the income of the top fifth of families increased 29% from 1977-1989, while the income of the bottom fifth
of families decreased by 9%, all adjusted for inflation. In fact, some economists argue this scale undercounts the gains of the middle class because it doesn’t count non-taxable capital gains, especially gains from home-selling and pensions. Wall Street Journal 3/12/92, p. 10.
2. Ibid., p. 12.
3. In the updated story, the Times reported that income for the fourth fifth dropped by 1% from 1977-1989. Median family income rose 4%.
4.2 Eastern Strike—A Lesson in Monopoly Capital
— Reprinted from MIM Notes 37, April 8, 1989 —
On March 4, 1989, Eastern Airlines machinists joined by pilots, flight attendants and baggage handlers, began their strike for wage and benefit demands and the security of their jobs, which are being undermined by Eastern owner Frank Lorenzo. Lorenzo, who also owns Texas Air, Continental, System One Reservation System, and an air industry holding company called Jet Capital Corporation, is attempting to break the union and bankrupt Eastern for the profit of his other companies. And he may succeed.
Lorenzo is demanding $150 million in cuts in workers’ wages. The union believes that Eastern is solvent and could increase workers’ wages $50 million and still operate successfully.
Pilots, mechanics and ramp workers are generally part of the labor aristocracy in the United States—a class that is not revolutionary because of the benefits it receives from the system. Pilots make very high salaries; however, Eastern now reports having 100 applications for relatively inexperienced pilots willing to start at $18,000 a year.(1) The top hourly wages in airline jobs give some indication of this:
Table 4.2: AP in New York Times 3/7/89, p. 10.
Reservation workers receive $270 for four days work. Ticket-counter workers receive $280 for four days and middle-level management receives up to $640. These kinds of workers were laid off by Eastern Airlines because of the strike by the machinists who make approximately twice as much money. (One also suspects that more women work in the lower-paying jobs and more men in the machinists’ jobs.)(2)
The Eastern strike has prompted an analysis of unions in the United States. 1988 saw the lowest number of strikes in the United States in 40 years. The percentage of workers in unions has declined from 35% in the 1950s to 17.8% in 1989. “A majority of union members are white males under 45 years of age, similar to the pilots and the machinists on strike against Eastern.”(3)
‘This looks to many women and minorities like a battle involving white male machinists and pilots against white male management in which their interests aren’t at stake,’ said D. Quinn Mills, a labor specialist at Harvard University.(3)
Admittedly, the analysis of the Eastern strikers presented here is inadequate.
The reader should want to know what the average income of the strikers is, and the union’s racial and gender composition by occupation. Then there is the question of what will happen to these workers if some or all are eventually replaced.
Still other “leftist” publications, such as In These Times, Workers’ World and The Guardian, merely engaged in cheerleading for the Eastern strikers. The thought of a big powerful union fighting it out gets a lot of “leftists” going. Jesse Jackson promised to join the picket lines if necessary and if the courts allowed support from other unions.
New York Governor Mario Cuomo said the Eastern strikers’ cause was a “fair” one, one that was “within the law.”(4)
As usual, the Trotskyist Workers Vanguard was the cheerleader that made sure to jump the highest. Workers Vanguard called on workers to shut down the airports and engage in civil disobedience to defy court injunctions. Then Workers Vanguard criticized union leaders for making “impotent appeals.”(4) Eastern’s unions are content to wait for the court to rule in their favor and are willing to negotiate with a court-appointed examiner in spite of the evidence on which to indict Lorenzo. This is the security imperialism provides to the unions and their workers. The surplus extracted from the periphery (Third World) makes it so the majority of Amerika can fly and the majority of “poor” Amerikan jobs pay more than poverty wages.
The powerful union at Eastern is capable of drawing attention the way the air-traffic controllers union PATCO strikers did years ago. That is not to say that Eastern strikers will be a model of economic or political militance: they receive material benefits which make them aspire to the Amerikan dream and side with imperialism and the status quo.
1. New York Times 3/20/89, p. 13.
2. NYT 3/7/89, p. 10.
3. NYT 3/9/89. p. 11.
4. Workers Vanguard 3/31/89, p. 8.
— Reprinted from MIM Notes 38, Nov. 9, 1989 —
In this article, MIM shows that even those few white workers who do face harsh working conditions do not see themselves as belonging to an exploited class. Rather, they see the better material reality of most white people in this country and seek to join that reality instead of organizing as a class for revolution.
These white workers are correct about their position, mainly because they are too few and scattered to form a cohesive class. If a large fraction of EuroAmerikans lived in conditions like the coal miners’, it might be a different story. But as it is, mine workers know from experience that most people from the white nation succeed in exercising their options to get out of the harsh conditions—options besides revolution.
As white chauvinists, lacking confidence in the growing strength of the Third World working classes to destroy U.S. imperialism and capitalism everywhere, the “left” has spent decades desperately cheerleading for movement after movement with no potential for revolutionary consciousness. Until it comes to grips with the reality of superprofits and national oppression, the “left” will never understand why it is so ineffective.
In what is considered a revival of the Amerikan labor movement by working class activists, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) went on strike against Pittston Coal Company in January 1989. Here the corporate and left media diverged. The mainstream basically ignored the strike while the Trotskyist and cheerleading “progressive” movements screamed class war and held out for the first national strike in U.S. history.
Mining is one of the hardest jobs and poses great risks to health. And there is no doubt that companies such as Pittston rip-off the miners and underdevelop their communities as they make huge profits.
Labor periodicals and speakers go to great lengths to note the history of this rip-off. In 1972, a Pittston coal waste dam broke and killed 125 people.(1) The history of black lung and lung cancer and the dependency on the mining income which can disappear without notice in a layoff—these are the daily realities of the Appalachian coal communities.
With their unique culture and obvious exploitation, it is reasonable to ask if miners in the Amerikan South constitute a force for revolutionary change. In the last 65 years of organizing the answer is a resounding NO.
First, viewing the nation as a whole, the miners constitute only a small fraction of the working population; they are an insufficient base for revolutionary change. None of the popular left magazines (Zeta and The Guardian,for example) bother to cite the actual number of workers on strike. Nor do they go to any lengths to show the rejection of the miners’ demands by the rest of the working class. No matter how many sympathetic national leaders there may be in the miners’ headquarters—Camp Solidarity—there are no sympathy strikes in U.S. labor.
As J. Sakai points out, approximately 10% of the Euro-American population is living in poverty, but they are scattered and socially diffuse, and their demands do not carry through organized labor as a whole.
Second, in spite of the lower standard of living (an exception to the general rule for the white population) the relationship between these communities and the assets of imperialism remains. Sakai details the history of radical organizing which has taken place in Appalachia:
Precisely because of this stark, deeply ingrained tradition the Appalachian mining communities have been special targets of radical organizing efforts. The Communist Party USA has had organizers in the mountains for some 60 years. It was there during the 1920s that the most famous of the CPUSA’s ‘Red Unions’—the National Miners Union—led the coal miners into the bitter, violent Harlan County Strike...
Despite the 60 years of repeated radical organizing drives there has been, in fact, zero revolutionary progress among the mining communities. Despite the history of bloody union battles, class consciousness has never moved beyond an embryonic form, at best. There is no indigenous revolutionary activity—none—or traditions. Loyalty to U.S. imperialism and hatred of the colonial peoples is very intense. We can see a derailment of the connection between simple exploitation and class consciousness.(2)
Zeta repeatedly attempts to bill the international character of the union by citing telegrams of solidarity from South Africa, England and Australia and demonstrating “broad” domestic support: the city of Boston, church leaders, and other unions. However, when one spokesperson for the UMWA was
asked what involvement the miners had with struggles in the Third World, he replied “basically none.” The miners and the Trotskyist left frequently make comparisons (there are even posters) between themselves and South Africa or Poland, but the miners take no stand against the imperialism of the
mother country. A recent opinion study found that members of Amerikkkan unions are in the group most likely to hate Mexicans.(3)
The miners, rather than looking to revolution and alliance with the Third World to beat the oppressor, seek to re-cement their bond with imperialism in the form of the company. They are not on strike to nationalize the mine, provide national health care, or condemn rent as theft. Instead, they want their company benefits back and their wages increased to provide the living standard of the rest of Amerika.
In an attempt to show the changing labor alliances, Zeta presented a miner saying, “I never had a problem with State police, I always supported them—when they struck for higher wages.” Likewise, Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO, considers a check for $50,000 from the United Steelworkers to the UMWA an act of labor solidarity which “promises a brighter future for the American labor movement.” And this while wrapping himself in an Amerikan flag.
In August 1989, UMWA Vice President Cecil Roberts declared, “This is class war. The working class versus the corporate rich and their allies in the state and federal government.”(4) But the class character of people in the mining industry contradicts this distinction. First, the miners support the extensive strip mining and environmentally damaging corporations in the interest of having jobs. Second, U.S. mine labor recognizes that it has a good deal in terms of wages, benefits and access to the cheap commodities available on favorable terms everywhere in the USA.
Sakai extrapolates with the case of Martin County, Kentucky:
This has long been one of the poorest counties in the U.S. There are no highways, no sewage system, no garbage collection, no hospitals or even movie theaters, and one radio station and one fast-food franchise restaurant for its 14,000 citizens. The community is ripped off, exploited to an extreme degree...
One corporation dominates the economy. In fact, it owns it... Over the fifty year life of the coal field, Norfolk & Western Railroad’s total return will be something like $1.5 billion—or 6,000% on their investment.(5)
But even in an area this poor, with rampant environmental destruction and much of the population living below poverty, there was no rebellion. The simple fact is that the money for those working the mines was good. The average miner’s wage was around $30,000 while the poverty line was under
$8,000. It is a class of workers who would rather align with the managers, corporations, and government to ensure their benefits than break the state.
It is a worthy goal of the Pittston strike to demand the support of the retired, disabled and dependent people, but this does not excuse the parasitism of white settler culture—a culture which is willing to destroy the environment and uphold the foundations of capitalism so that a few can get rich. This is not surprising if we remember that John Mitchell, one of the founders of the UMWA, cooperated with the National Civic Federation program to head off radicalism in labor by forming a “responsible” group of leaders who could formulate compromises with industry. A Euro-Amerikan nativist might argue that the radicals attempting to organize the UMWA or mine workers in general shared too little in common with the miner to be accepted and trusted. However, there is no indigenous movement for radical social change and the settlers in these areas willingly collaborate with the state and industry to form their alliance. In short, the working class in the UMWA is no more radical than that Boeing or Eastern, and none of these movements have the interest of Third World people in stopping the imperialism of white Amerika.
1. Zeta 10/89, p. 14.
2. J. Sakai, Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat, 1983, p.
3. W. Cornelius, “America in the Era of Limits: Migrants, Nativists and
the Future of U.S.-Mexican Relations,” 1982.
4. Zeta, op. cit., p. 24.
5. Sakai, op. cit., p. 153.