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It's crazy to think that in this economic climate guys like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul feel completely comfortable talking about eliminating workers' rights. Eighty years ago, under similar conditions, large scale conciliations were made to workers. The difference is that they knew back then what we have since forgotten; that the wealthy need us more than we need them and that capitalism is a choice.

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How short our memories are. Eighty years ago this country stood at the crossroads. The Great Depression was only the most recent in a long line of economic catastrophes stretching back to the inceptive stages of American Capitalism. The Bolsheviks had taken Russia. There was a strong Socialist presence in America. Unemployment was at an all-time high.  Those who had lost their jobs found no unemployment relief. Elderly workers without savings ended up in the streets. The homeless and jobless were left there to rot through no fault of their own; sans health insurance to boot.  American workers who had been screwed yet again had to wonder if capitalism’s inherent risk warranted its merits. They could see that the system offered the potential to get plenty rich, but wondered for how many and at what cost.

None of this was lost on the powerful men of that era who understood that there was a very real chance that the Great Depression was the last straw and that the people would no longer agree to participate in such a volatile and pernicious system.  Any businessman worth his salt knows you can only scam someone so many times. Faced with the prospect of losing the greatest systemic conception for generating profit that the world had ever seen, those who value the abundant accumulation of wealth sought to strike a deal. Joseph Kennedy Jr. recognized the seriousness of the situation when he said, “…in those days I felt and said I would be willing to part with half of what I had if I could be sure of keeping, under law and order, the other half." Capitalism had to be saved from itself, not for the workers, but for the capitalists.

What America got was a proposal for the New Deal. Far from being the sinister plot to destroy capitalism that it’s sometimes made out to be—by these same ungrateful assholes for whom it was saved no less—it  was a maneuver designed to resuscitate it. But American workers, whose spirits had been broken, were apprehensive and sought guarantees. They bought back in only with the understanding that there would be protections from the potentially and evidentially destructive leviathan. So relief was offered to those who had lost their jobs. Workers were given the right to collectively bargain. Social Security was implemented. Minimum wages were established. Overtime laws were instituted; weekends, the forty hour work week, Glass Steagall, the FDIC, all born from the New Deal. These ideas weren’t manufactured out of thin air. They were reactive, as almost all legislation is; specific prescriptions designed to remedy specific ailments, understood quite properly, to be illnesses of an unbridled political economy. It was a last ditch tactic to save the system by renegotiating terms with an American workforce that was ready to walk off the lot. It was conciliation.

Today, in the wake of the greatest economic disaster since the Great Depression, a conciliatory gesture of this sort is unimaginable. Two things in particular make it so. Firstly, today’s most vocal political elites, those leading the charge, are exceedingly arrogant self-entitled ideologues with no sense of history and/or no respect for it. Secondly, the American workforce has drastically underestimated its own bargaining power. The result is that at a time when those who stand to lose most should be considering to what extent they are willing to concede further protections to the American worker, as Joseph Kennedy did in the 1930’s, they have no compunction about making public declarations that they aim to reduce workers’ protections!

The underestimation by the middle and lower classes of their own bargaining power has everything to do with a singular and critical point. American workers must recognize and remember that capitalism is a choice. There is nothing in the Constitution that says it must be utilized as the mode of economic organization in the United States of America. We have chosen it just as we have chosen our flag and our national anthem. We recognize its upside, but we are in no manner beholden to it. We are seduced by the opportunity it presents and terrified of its fury. We chose it. We chose it. We agreed to participate. We owe it nothing. We chose it.

The point really deserves overemphasis because the fact that it’s a fact—and it is—has  been altogether missed, not just by self-important pricks like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul, but by the American populace at large. The only reason that Ryan, Rubio, and Paul get away with saying shit that would in the past have gotten them run out of town on a rail is because the American worker has forgotten just how much power he has. These guys are not scared of you. Not even a little bit. And they fucking well should be.

This misguided cabal of small men with short memories so casually speaks publicly about dismantling the New Deal it’s terrifying. They talk about privatizing Social Security and Medicare—yawn—they go on about abolishing minimum wage—whistle—and  they wage all-out war on labor unions—ho-hum. They threaten to take away all that was bargained for; everything that was put in to protect you against what has proven time and time again to be an extremely volatile, risk laden, devastating system that left to its own nature and course will chew up labor and spit it out without relent. They do it because they don’t fear you. They don’t fear you because they are blind. They don’t fear you because you have forgotten who you are and where you came from.  Either from ignorance or aggression they threaten to take it all away. All of it.

But there are voices crying out against them. These voices that caution the adolescent Libertarian faction of the Republican Party against the total dismantling of worker protections come from two distinct groups—strange bedfellows indeed. The first group is composed of workers and Liberals, and usually both, who are wide awake and fully remember what the New Deal really was. The second is made up of old school Republicans who remember it as well and entrepreneurs who understand why it was and is necessary; guys like Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Nick Hanauer. David Frum is only the most recent in an ever expanding contingency of GOPers who are scared shitless that assholes like the Ryan-Rubio gang are about to, forgive me, fuck the American worker so hard he goes Commie. Guys like Frum, under conditions like these, are perfectly content with sacrificing a little in progressive taxation towards social services in return for the opportunity to make and keep, and keep making, gargantuan piles of cash. To guys like Frum, there is a time and a place to slyly make runs at further tilting the scales, but now, with the eyes of all American workers on political movements, is definitely not that time. The Lib kiddies are getting carried away. They’re getting too greedy. They don’t understand that the whole thing can come down at any moment if they keep on like they are. They’re about to ruin it for everyone.

Frum knows what these kids need to learn; that given a choice between sitting duck capitalism—like the kind Ryan and gang are forging towards and demanding we all accept unconditionally—and Socialism, the American worker has got to take a long hard look at Socialism. Now that’s a crazy statement given the fact that there is no strong Socialist Party in the US and that Americans love their capitalism, but how many times can the American worker get suckered by the same scam before he walks off the lot? What will it take? Twenty percent unemployment with the safety net yanked out from underneath us by the Ryan crew? We may be half asleep and fat and drunk but one more big one would just about do it. The more astute Conservatives understand this. And they don’t want to risk it. Life is pretty good for a millionaire in America. No need to go risking everything just to pay a little less in taxes. It's a bad bet, bad business.

There's only one way to move forward. To keep these pricks honest we’ve got to at least threaten to walk off the lot. And that won’t start until we remember what old school Republicans like Joseph Kennedy Jr. knew; that we have a choice, that the only reason that they are able to make stacks of loot is because we agree to participate in the system, that they need us, that the system is crazy dangerous, that for our part in generating the wealth that largely concentrates in their hands we deserve some base minimum protections, that if they take too much away we’ll walk off the lot.

Someone needs to remind these assholes that capitalism is a choice. They need us. They need us much more than we need them. There are no rich guys without us. Remember it. Never forget it. Take back your bargaining power. De-smug them. Make these guys terrified at the thought of even discussing taking away your base guarantees. Make it so that when they go to speak in public their aides have to remind them “not to touch issues relating to worker’s rights.” Visualize it. Picture the defeated looks on their faces when they realize that their aides are right; that despite their deeply held conviction in their deeply flawed ideology it just isn’t politically tenable to spout their misguided beliefs in public anymore because the American worker has reawaken. And he remembers.

Originally posted to r fisher on Mon Dec 12, 2011 at 10:56 PM PST.

Also republished by Postcapitalism.

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