Tuesday Sep 26

REVIEW OF The One Percent Solution: How Corporations are Remaking America One State at a Time By Gordon Lafer: Labor War by Other Means

There are many explanatory themes that have emerged since the Wisconsin Winter and the 2011 state level attacks on the public sector, the services it provides, and the workers that provide them. Predatory governors and state legislatures have been duly demonized on the left for their attacks on vital public services, their callous comments and their oft manufactured budget crises. These alarming and catastrophic attacks have emerged with elements of singularity in multiple state capitol buildings around the United States.

Professor Gordon Lafer’s book The One Percent Solution demonstrates the source of this singularity. Lafer, Associate Professor at the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon, has been called upon as an expert to various states, labor organizations, and federal government entities. His sober and unrelenting analysis moves the listener (and reader) into ever-increasing waves of doom from the likes of ALEC, far-right conservative house speakers, the Koch brothers, the Tea Party and Trump neo-tribalism.

Lafer’s fundamental analysis is an exploration of why the right is winning state by state to birth a new nation. However, the most challenging intellectual threads of Lafer’s analysis are the contradictions within the right that expose an ideological rift underneath a tenuous rightwing coalition. Economic statistics do not support the right-wing movement claims of economic growth. When these statistics fail Lafer takes the opportunity to expose the contradiction and show that the true agenda is one of a deep political and moral nature - the destruction of the remaining vestiges of the reformist New Deal. Lafer’s book opens an entire field of analysis and as such the frame he creates is of fundamental importance.

This is Lafer’s framework: increasing economic inequality leads to growing political inequality, politics are nationalized by business lobbies to form a fifty-state agenda, and corporate efforts to benefit the privileged undermine worker’s market power (union and nonunion, public and private) are products of decades long development (37). The aggravating upsurge to the present decade-long crisis comes from the extreme money concentration permissible under Citizens United. The financial meltdown in 2008 has led to a permanent restructuring of the American landscape where both real and manufactured economic crises form the bases for permanent structures of austerity. The forms are both physical and ideological. To wit, the physical floods that swept away portions of New Orleans were used to implement austerity government and the formerly public schools were chartered and city was left without public schools.

Lafer relies on fifty-state, thirty-issue, five-year database of corporate-backed legislation to empirically demonstrate the structural antecedents to political events such as Act 10 in Wisconsin which sliced collective bargaining from the public sector. In this process, the government is dismantled, the labor force is deunionized, and this nonunion economy is transformed into a massive wealth transfer to the 1%, public schooling is attacked and Unions are forcibly removed from politics by an economy of scale and burdensome logically inconsistent requirements. The final contradiction is that the populist resistance at present has largely taken the form of xenophobic, resentment based politics.

Lafer’s book is depressing because of sound reporting and analysis. This is not a how-to manual to understand this fix and then resist. He even tries at the end (like most good-hearted progressives) to give a glimmer of hope which comes off as ceremonial and as a psychological palliative. That said, the most important aspects of his book for the work of the future is two-fold.

First, it creates the basic structure for largely academic but potentially popular political economic analysis of a many states interplay of politics. The potential for state and regional analysis of a large, partially unified threat will inevitably yield common strengths and weaknesses of the austerity movement.

Second, and most important, Lafer’s analysis shows the shift from the shared prosperity model to a statewide and nationwide model that propels a massive wealth transfer from the masses to the wealthy. This is the primary and only aim of these policies. In fact, to demonstrate this point: ‘ALEC policies actually enjoyed significantly lower growth rates - in both employment and income – than those ALEC deems politically incorrect. Minnesota – a state that ALEC deems the third-worst policy regime in the country – was crowned by CNBC as the best state for business in 2015.” When faced with these economic contradictions the argument posed by ALEC transitions to a moral claim.

These moral claims seek to protect the taxpayer from the public servant. They seek to lift the government assistance recipient from their dependency. And, most recently, they seek to protect unwary Americans from their cumbersome government facilitated health insurance. Lafer notes, however, that the true threat of labor is its work to protect all laboring people from the effects of the anti-union attack. The labor movement not only defends the needs of its dues-paying membership but also is pivotal in opposing a corporate state. Many state and federal worker protections are borne of organized labor. Further, as a political entity, organized labor is the last group standing against a total corporate takeover. It is not simply organized labor’s protective activity for its share of 12% of workers covered by labor agreements but the 88% of workers who gain from the movement’s advocacy.

Lafer’s book is essential to explain what has come before it. His frame of analysis and deep understanding of the crisis we face will be pivotal for the intellectual and political work that springs forth.

Ken Volante works for the Oregon Education Association. He has worked as an Assistant Director for Madison Teachers Inc. (Madison, WI), a researcher for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and as an adjunct Professor in Philosophy for The University of Rhode Island. He has been a dues-paying member of the UFCW, UAW, the Teamsters, the IBEW and the Professional Staff Organization (PSO) of the OEA. He holds Bachelor Degrees in English and Philosophy from the University of Rhode Island, a M.A. in Philosophy from Marquette University and a M.S. in Labor Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. An interview with Gordon Lafer about his book can be heard at www.kabf.org/wadesworld.

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