American workers were color-blind to other ethnic groups at work. A worker was a worker, whatever his or her ethnicity. Workers were concerned with class only with regard to labor unions. But ethnic distinctions became very important outside of work. Neighborhoods and communities were often split along ethnic lines. In other countries, the separation between work and home was different. In the capitalist countries of Belgium and Holland, for example, ethnicity (and not class) dominated workplace relations.
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Katz nelson says that other alternatives could have developed in place of the work-community divide in the new American industrial order. For example, the old workingmen’s parties attempted to fashion a politics based on class divisions between the haves and the have-nots. Another view, supported by natives groups like the American Republicans and the Know-Nothings, saw an America divided between Irish-Catholic immigrants and American Protestants. Both views failed, however, because the groups weren’t able to mobilize voters. (Steven Peter Vallas, 1993.)
If you study the causes of recessions and depressions, you’ll learn about the business cycle. Now, let’s ask the question, why does business go through economic downturns periodically in the first place? There is more than one theory, but one of the most popular is overproduction. This is also called the inventory cycle. At some point companies produce more goods than can be sold. With market saturation, inventories begin to build up and workers are laid off to keep profits up.
These unemployed workers don’t buy as much, so sales drop in many other industries also. These in turn lay off even more workers. Thus is created a vicious cycle with more and more layoffs as sales cycle downward. After a few years, the inventories are depleted, companies begin re-hiring to build up depleted stocks. These newly-employed workers can buy more again. This stimulates the economy, and there is an economic recovery. And so it goes until the next downward cycle. That’s capitalism.
There is also a long-term economic downturn in the United States from de-industrialization due to capital flight. Companies flee overseas or down south, say, to Mexico, attracted by the cheap labor and capital available, and also the lack of safety and environmental regulation on business. Both the presidential candidates supported NAFTA, which will encourage even more US companies to flee to Mexico. So what’s the solution to these economic woes? Government ownership of the means of production? There are several objections to this by those who recognize the need for basic social and economic change.
First, governments do not necessarily behave any better than private owners. They too are quite capable of laying workers off when economic times are bad witness the French Socialist government under Mitterrand laying off thousands of workers in the name of “modernization” of state-owned industries in the 1980’s. Second, if the state owns the industries, and the conservatives come back to power, they surely would privatize state-owned industries, as we have seen in Britain under Conservative rule following the nationalization of various industries under Labor governments.
One might argue that democratic socialists would never lose an election, but this is wholly utopian. Marxist-Leninist states didn’t lose elections, but they didn’t have free elections. But now most of these communist governments have collapsed largely due to the terrific inefficiency of bureaucratic, state-owned industries. These were noted for their shortages and shoddy goods, with no chance for consumer choice.
This brings up the third objection to government ownership it destroys competition and thus encourages inefficiency and corruption. Political democracy depends on free competition between ideas, parties and candidates. So too does economic democracy. Without a market system there is no hope for an efficient economy. We must come to recognize that command economies have been tested and have proven themselves to be failures and there is no going back. (Tom Payne, 1993.)
An objection to common ownership was made over two thousand years ago in Athens by Aristotle in The Politics as a reply to Plato’s advocacy of communism. Aristotle believed in the superiority of the m! ale as well as upholding slavery. But he did make a good point in saying that we neglect what is held in common and care less about it than what we privately own.
- Tom Payne, A Company of One: The Power of Independence in the Workplace, Pr. Of Albuquerque, 1993.
- Steven Peter Vallas, Power in the WorkPlace: The Politics of Production at At&T, State University of New York Press, 1993.