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Meetings hear Marxist analysis of ‘Low-Wage Capitalism’

Published Nov 4, 2009 9:43 PM

Fred Goldstein, author of “Low-Wage Capitalism,” was the featured speaker at two recent New York events: a Brecht Forum meeting and a conference of the Union of Radical Political Economists (URPE) in Brooklyn. He was also interviewed on radio station WBAI-FM in New York and KFAI-FM in Minneapolis. These activities were part of the launching of the new book, a process that began formally in September.

Another radio interview is slated for Nov. 16 on WHCR-FM in New York with Nellie Bailey, chair of the Harlem Tenants Council. And on Nov. 22 Goldstein will be hosted at the Hue-Man Bookstore and Cafe in Harlem.

Goldstein’s talk at the radical Brecht Forum in Greenwich Village coincided with an official announcement that the U.S. economy had finally registered some growth in the third quarter of 2009, after two years of decline. Goldstein seized the moment to point out that official unemployment figures also grew in the same period, and are poised to top 10 percent. The so-called “jobless recovery,” he observed, is a recent phenomenon, reflecting the growing crisis of capitalism overproduction brought on by the overall rise in the productivity of labor.

Goldstein highlighted two key causes of the decline of workers’ wages in the imperialist countries over the past three decades.

The first was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the concomitant opening of China and India to external capitalist penetration, resulting in a doubling to three billion of the number of workers available for exploitation by imperialism.

The second was the scientific and technological revolution—computers, the Internet, supertankers, satellites and software—which have made it possible for large corporations to create global webs of production, which he characterized as “global chains of superexploitation.” He illustrated this by describing how a Dell computer is made in a web of factories around the globe, each with a cluster of suppliers that are forced to compete with each other. These combined factors have allowed the large corporations to push wages down drastically—and they are not yet satisfied.

In his comments on the prospects for a fightback, Goldstein noted that two unions whose traditions are still rooted in the struggles of the 1930s have set examples for the future: the United Electrical Workers and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union on the West Coast. It is no accident, he observed, that these two unions have defied traditional “business unionism” methods.

UE Local 1110 carried out the seizure and occupation of Republic Doors and Windows in Chicago last fall, while the ILWU staged a one-day shutdown of West Coast ports on May Day, 2008, to protest the war in Iraq. It is notable that in the plant occupation at Republic Doors and Windows, immigrant and women workers took the lead. And in the port shutdown, a large percentage of the workers were African-American. These developments reflect a significant change in the makeup of the working class.

Goldstein also highlighted the importance of labor-community alliances, not only to confront the bosses and the government but also to loosen the grip of union officials who are caught in the old patterns of “labor peace” and class collaboration.

Both of Goldstein’s presentations were captured digitally by People’s Video Network and will be available soon both at www.workers.org and on YouTube. The same is true for the radio interviews.

Other aspects of the ongoing launch of “Low-Wage Capitalism” include its presentation at a forum of progressive intellectuals in Europe by Workers World managing editor John Catalinotto and anticipated reviews in a number of progressive publications. Goldstein’s plans include visits to conferences and bookstores across the country during the coming year.