Low-wage capitalism’s wages of sorrow

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LOW-WAGE CAPITALISM: What the new globalized, high tech imperialism means for the class struggle in the US today. By Fred Goldstein || Reviewed by Kellia Ramares

This book looks at major developments in the past three decades which have led us to the current crisis.

The author believes that the workers need to do something on the political front to change things. He argues for more understanding on the part of workers of the existence of class differences and the need for class struggle.   There are definitely class differences in this country, and the overwhelming majority of workers end up in the class in which they were born or lower, despite the myth of upward mobility. Goldstein makes an excellent point in saying that people who believe that they are in the owning class because they own a business or are middle managers in a large corporation have to realize that they have more in common with the employees under them than with the bosses above them.

Low-Wage Capitalism: What the new globalized, high tech imperialism means for the class struggle in the US today.

By Fred Goldstein, World View Forum

ISBN 0-89567-151-4 / 312 Pages, Softcover

$19.95 USD or available free online at

http://www.lowwagecapitalism.com//Low-WageCapitalism-lores.pdf

Reviewed By Kéllia Ramares

With the corporate capitalist economy falling apart as it is, some people are looking at socialism with a less jaundiced eye. Of course, there are some people for whom socialism was never the spawn of Satan that banksters and other corporate cutthroats and their political minions would have us believe. One of these people is Marxist author Fred Goldstein, who was inspired as a college student to become a Marxist by the Cuban revolution. Goldstein, a contributing editor to Workers’ World newspaper, has demonstrated, in the book Low-Wage Capitalism, that Marxist economic theory is alive and well in the post-Soviet era. In fact, Marxist theory provides an excellent analytical tool for explaining the failures of globalized capitalism to provide a decent way of life for the world’s people.

The book looks at major developments in the past three decades which have led us to the current crisis. In considering the growth of the available world labor force, Goldstein shows that 19th Century Marxist theory can be applied to a world very different from that in which the theory was born. A  world in which more women and people of color are in the labor force still operates according to Marx’s law of wages. Just add sexism and racism to the various ways the bosses exploit labor.

Goldstein believes that the workers need to do something on the political front to change things. He argues for more understanding on the part of workers of the existence of class differences and the need for class struggle.   There are definitely class differences in this country, and the overwhelming majority of workers end up in the class in which they were born or lower, despite the myth of upward mobility. Goldstein makes an excellent point in saying that people who believe that they are in the owning class because they own a business or are middle managers in a large corporation have to realize that they have more in common with the employees under them than with the bosses above them.

The essence of this book, however, is Goldstein’s analysis of the role that technology plays in the exploitation of labor. Technology has its own chapter in the book, but it is a recurring theme in other chapters. Technology, which should make life and work easier and safer for workers, is instead used to reduce the labor force, so that the unemployed and underemployed compete with the employed, thus keeping a downward pressure on wages. Technology is also used to “de-skill” jobs, making workers more fungible. This way, workers who are being too “troublesome” in their demands for higher wages or union representation can be more easily replaced.

Economic conditions have gotten desperate, says Goldstein, despite the fact that more families have at least two earners. He explains the decline as inevitable, given the way capitalism works. Goldstein amply demonstrates the decline with statistics, graphs and reports without getting overly academic. This is a book one could easily read on the train or bus to work.

Goldstein believes that the workers need to do something on the political front to change things. He argues for more understanding on the part of workers of the existence of class differences and the need for class struggle.   There are definitely class differences in this country, and the overwhelming majority of workers end up in the class in which they were born or lower, despite the myth of upward mobility. Goldstein makes an excellent point in saying that people who believe that they are in the owning class because they own a business or are middle managers in a large corporation have to realize that they have more in common with the employees under them than with the bosses above them. (Owners of Chrysler dealerships that were recently terminated, even if they were profitable, should take heed!)

Workers would be will served by having a greater understanding of labor history, including the recent history of resistance to the demands for cutbacks and concessions, because the study of history is useful to any political movement. But people like me, who are having trouble with the idea that the paradigm of struggle rather than cooperation is still useful as a change mechanism–struggle is still a necessary defensive tactic–may have problems digesting the last part of the book.

Perhaps I am having trouble with this approach because I believe that our environmental crises will force everyone, even the bosses, to understand that we have only one planet, we all live on it together and even gated communities will not protect the ultra-wealthy from environmental devastation. The book makes no mention of environmental issues, and for me, that was a glaring omission. I don’t believe that any serious political change can be made without factoring the environment into the economic analysis. In a radio interview I conducted with Goldstein several months ago, he expressed concern for the environment, explained how socialism was the answer to our environmental problems, and wondered how capitalists could devastate the environment as they have; after all, ecology and economy come from the same root. I wish he ad brought that viewpoint to bear in the book.

Still, Low-Wage Capitalism provides an excellent analysis of the current economic situation. Whether or not you believe in the value of class struggle a key to a better future, it is worth reading for its look at the way things are now.

Copyleft 2009,  Kéllia Ramares. Non-profit distribution with credit is strongly encouraged.

Kéllia Ramares is a freelance journalist in Oakland, CA. She can be reached at kelliasworld@yahoo.com. Her web site, Kellia’s World, is at http://kellia.ning.com/

3 comments on “Low-wage capitalism’s wages of sorrow
  1. As to the issue of class struggle and Fred Goldstein’s view that there is a need for workers to understand the need for class struggle, maybe it would be a good idea to consider the large amount of nuclear weaponry that infests this planet.

    The ‘Master’ who ordered the building of this weaponry made a decision on the outcome of the ‘class struggle’ long ago.

    Isn’t it time for new thinking altogether?

  2. Socialized medicine under a single-payer system works, as demonstrated in all countries in which it exists. But the politicians, including apparently Obama, don’t want it because all their payoffs from the AMA, ADA, and insurance companies will disappear. So the goons on FOX News are screaming bloody murder about that demon “socialism”. And the public, including the currently still-employed middle class, will finally have to face up to the fact that there truly is a class war going on (initiated and supported by the rich), another subject that the people running this country have suppressed and made an object of ridicule.

  3. I enjoy visiting this site as more often than not the comments are as good as the posts themselves (no offense to the excellent authors!).

    Here’s my two cents regarding this piece and the comments above:

    FIRST, Goldstein is right. The decline of conscious class-based politics has done terrific harm to the American working person, weakening workers’ organizations of self-defense. Yes, I know, the union leaders have often been corrupt and less than brilliant in their strategies, BUT unions are still the closest thing we have to a dependable class defense tool in a class-divided society where the upper class, or, rather, the ruling class, has been CONSTANTLY AT WAR with the rest of the population. THEIR MEDIA, of course, never mention such things, and have obliterated class consciousness from the equation, which only hurts us–the mainstream public. The solution? As Goldstein says, CLASS STRUGGLE! Starting with effective media capable of reaching the alienated, dumbed down workers.

    SECOND, this for Patrick Sullivan. Patrick, the pursuit of class struggle DEMOCRATIZES a nation, rendering that nation less apt to immerse itself in wars of any kind–ordinary or nuclear. It’s the ruling classes–the plutocracies– of the bourgeois world who have engineered and involved their nations in almost constant warfare. You can’t stop such wars by merely rallying around anti-nuclear slogans without defeating their source, a deeply exploitative class system. You gotta go to the root of the problem, overthrowing these bastards and their compulsion to make war to expand and protect their vast economic empires. The much maligned Soviet Union existed for more than 7 decades, and NOT once did it initiate a war. (The assault on Finland was a defensive maneuver to neutralize a flank sure to be utilized by the nazis, not a callous power grab as has been portrayed.) During that period the capitalist powers, or, rather, their ruling classes, entangled their nations in two horrific world wars, and innumerable “counter-insurgency” wars throughout the “Third World”, the most notable in this respect Vietnam, Korea, and more recently the Balkans and Iraq/Afghanistan. Now Washington is openly brewing a war against Venezuela and Bolivia, using the traitorous regime of Alvaro Uribe in Colombia as a base of operations.

    THIRD, Richard Backus–Just this: A pleasure reading your astute comment. Hope you can contribute some more.

    Anne Schulhof-Brens
    Los Angeles

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