Wages Dropped for Almost All American Workers in First Half of 2014

 


The last year has been a bad one for people who work for a living.

Think your money’s not going very far this year? It’s not your imagination. According to new research by the Economic Policy Institute, real hourly wages declined for almost everybody in the U.S. workforce in the first half of 2014. Thanks, so-called recovery.

Economist Elise Gould pored over data from the government’s Current Population Survey and determined that workers at the 20th, 30th, 40th, 50th, 60th, 70th, 80th, 90th, and 95th percentiles all saw declines in their real wages in the first half of 2014 compared with the same period last year. This was true whether you had no high school degree, a high school diploma, some college, a college degree, or an advanced degree. In fact, people with advanced degrees saw the biggest drop (2.7 percent).

EPI reveals this isn’t just a blip. Real wages dropped 4.9 percent for workers with a high school degree and 2.5 percent for workers with a college degree from the first half of 2007 to the first half of this year.

Gould explains in the report that “the last year has been a poor one for American workers’ wages.” She states that “on the whole, the broad wage trends by education level over the last decade and a half make clear that wage inequality cannot be readily explained by stories about educational credentials and technology; wage inequality has increased steadily, yet even those with a college diploma or advanced degree have experienced lackluster wage growth.”

Gould adds, “It’s an indication of the fact that no one — not even educated workers — is able to bargain for anything.” Employers have the power and they are using it to pay their workers less.

The only workers who saw real wages go up over the past year were workers at the10th percentile of income, but only two cents an hour, from $8.36 an hour to $8.38. Two pennies! Don’t spend it all in one place. That paltry increase happened because of minimum wage increases in 13 states. The lack of wage growth harms society and the economy in a whole host of ways. When workers don’t have enough money in their pockets to spend on goods and services, businesses can’t hire and they fail, which increases unemployment. Unable to keep up with the growing expenses of things like healthcare and college tuition, the middle class shrinks. For those less well off, life becomes a daily struggle for survival. The increasing gap between the very rich and everyone else produces a wide range of social ills, from mental illness to addiction to chronic diseases. The social fabric becomes unraveled.

Not a very promising reflection for Labor Day, is it?

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of “Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.” She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet’s New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

http://www.alternet.org/labor/awful-wages-dropped-almost-all-american-workers-first-half-2014?akid=12191.265072.iyDaGX&rd=1&src=newsletter1017648&t=4

Temp labor at record levels in US

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By Andre Damon
2 September 2014

The Obama administration marked Labor Day 2014 with demagogic speeches by President Obama in Milwaukee and Vice President Joseph Biden in Detroit—speeches that were notable mainly for the brazenness of their dishonesty and cynicism.

Obama and Biden postured as partisans of what they referred to as the “middle class,” even as a number of reports emerged documenting the devastating decline in conditions for the working class under the current administration.

In his remarks, Obama portrayed the US economy as recovering at a rapid clip from the economic slump, with unemployment falling and hiring picking up. “By almost every measure, the American economy and American workers are better off than when I took office,” Obama declared.

He praised the run-up on the stock market and the record pace of corporate profits. “It’s a good thing that corporate profits are high,” he said. “I want American businesses to succeed. It’s a good thing that the stock market is booming.”

The fact that Obama hails the enrichment of the financial aristocracy in a Labor Day speech reflects the vast chasm separating the political and corporate establishment for which he speaks and the overwhelming majority of the American people.

Speaking at a Labor Day event in Detroit, Biden took a somewhat different tack. He presented himself as an opponent of corporate greed and cited statistics reflecting the growth of inequality and decline in the living standards of American workers.

“Why do CEOs now make 333 times more money than a line worker, when back when Reagan was president they made 25 times what the line worker made?” he asked. Speaking before an audience dominated by trade union bureaucrats and workers close to the union apparatus, he acted as though the grim picture of conditions for working people he outlined had nothing to do with himself personally or the government of which he is a part.

Both events were organized by the unions and had as their principal aim drumming up support for the Democratic Party in the upcoming midterm elections from a population that is increasingly alienated from the entire political establishment.

The disastrous economic conditions for working people, compounded by the policies of the Obama administration, were revealed in a series of reports published over the weekend.

The National Employment Law Project (NELP) reported that both the number of people working for labor contractors and the percentage of the workforce employed by such companies have hit record highs. According to figures from the American Staffing Agency, more than 12 million people, or ten percent of the labor force, worked for a temporary employment agency at some point in 2013.

The NELP report showed that, far from being confined to clerical work, temporary workers are increasingly being employed in industry and warehousing. A record 42 percent of temporary workers are now employed in such industries, up from 28 percent in 1990.

Workers employed by staffing agencies are subject to lower wages, making an average of $3.40 per hour less than traditional employees. They are more likely to be injured or killed on the job, according to a recent study published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

The NELP report concluded: “Major corporations now use [temporary] staffing as a permanent feature of their business model,” adding that “Seventy-seven percent of Fortune 500 firms now use third-party logistics firms, who may then contract out to an army of smaller firms to move their goods.”

On Sunday, the New York Times carried a report documenting a series of high-profile lawsuits against major corporations that falsified workers’ time sheets, used accounting dodges to avoid paying overtime or withheld base pay owed to their employees.

The article noted that last week a California appeals court ruled that shipping company FedEx deliberately misclassified its delivery drivers as independent contractors, even though they were actually employees, in order to avoid paying them overtime and health and retirement benefits.

Schneider Logistics, which provides warehousing services for Walmart, recently paid $21 million to settle charges that it failed to pay workers legally required overtime. “Plaintiffs indicated they often logged 16-hour days every day of the week. Allegedly, they were not allowed mandatory breaks, not paid overtime and did not even receive minimum wage,” said California attorney Deborah Barron.

California Labor Commissioner Julie Su told the Times: “My agency has found more wages being stolen from workers in California than any time in history… This has spread to multiple industries across many sectors. It’s affected not just minimum-wage workers, but also middle-class workers.”

Workers’ wages, meanwhile, are stagnating or falling across the board. The Economic Policy Institute published a report showing that both low- and middle-income earners have seen their wages fall since 2007, while the wages of those with advanced degrees have remained essentially unchanged.

The capitalist crisis that erupted in 2008 has been used to drive down the conditions of life for working people. Decent-paying jobs have been wiped out and replaced with low-paying jobs. Full-time work has been replaced by part-time, temporary and contingency labor. Increasingly, corporations have resorted to illegal means to rob workers of wages and benefits.

They have been aided and abetted by the Obama administration. The multitrillion-dollar handout to the banks, the restructuring of the auto industry on the basis of 50 percent wage cuts for new-hires, the promotion of “insourcing” by slashing US labor costs are part of a social counterrevolution. These attacks are accompanied by an assault on pensions, employer-paid health coverage, public education and all that remains of the basic social programs enacted in the 1930s and 1960s such as Medicare and Social Security.

On this basis, and with the assistance of the trade unions, Obama has presided over an unprecedented redistribution of wealth from the working class to the corporate and financial aristocracy that runs the country and controls both political parties.

The Future of Robot Labor Is the Future of Capitalism

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Written by

Jordan Pearson

September 1, 2014 // 12:40 PM EST

You’ve seen the headlines by now: The robots are coming, and they’re going to take our jobs. The future really doesn’t look so great for the average, human working stiff, since 47 percent of the world’s jobs are set to be automated in the next two decades, according to a recent and much-publicised University of Oxford study.

Some see these developments in apocalyptic terms, with robot workers creating a new underclass of jobless humans, while others see it in a more hopeful light, claiming robots may instead lead us to a future where work isn’t necessary. But fretting over which jobs will be lost and which will be preserved doesn’t do much good.

The thing is, robots entering the workplace isn’t even really about robots. The coming age of robot workers chiefly reflects a tension that’s been around since the first common lands were enclosed by landowners who declared them private property: that between labour and the owners of capital. The future of labour in the robot age has everything to do with capitalism.

Image: Mixabest/Wikimedia

The best way to understand how this all works and where it will go is to refer to the writings of the person who understood capitalism best—Karl Marx. In particular, to a little-known journal fragment published in his manuscript The Grundrisse called “The Fragment on Machines.”

Whether you love him, hate him, or just avoid him completely, Marx dedicated his life to understanding how capitalism works. He was obsessed with it. In “The Fragment,” Marx grappled with what a fully automated capitalist society might mean for the worker in the future.

According to Marx, automation that displaces workers in favour of machines that can produce more goods in less time is part and parcel of how capitalism operates. By developing fixed capital (machines), bosses can do away with much of the variable capital (workers) that saps their bottom line with pesky things like wages and short work days. He writes:

The increase of the productive force of labour and the greatest possible negation of necessary labour is the necessary tendency of capital, as we have seen. The transformation of the means of labour into machinery is the realization of this tendency.

Seen through this lens, robot workers are the rational end point of automation as it develops in a capitalist economy. The question of what happens to workers displaced by automation is an especially interesting line of inquiry because it points to a serious contradiction in capitalism, according to Marx:

Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth.

In Marxist theory, capitalists create profit by extracting what’s called surplus value from workers—paying them less than what their time is worth and gaining the difference as profit after the commodity has been sold at market price, arrived at by metrics abstracted from the act of labour itself. So what happens when humans aren’t the ones working anymore? Curiously, Marx finds himself among the contemporary robotic utopianists in this regard.

Once robots take over society’s productive forces, people will have more free time than ever before, which will “redound to the benefit of emancipated labour, and is the condition of its emancipation,” Marx wrote. Humans, once freed from the bonds of soul-crushing capitalist labour, will develop new means of social thought and cooperation outside of the wage relation that frames most of our interactions under capitalism. In short, Marx claimed that automation would bring about the end of capitalism.

In the automated world, precarious labour reigns.

It’s a familiar sentiment that has gained new traction in recent years thanks to robots being in vogue, but we only have to look to the recent past to know that things didn’t exactly work out that way. Capitalism is very much alive and well, despite automation’s steady march towards ascendancy over the centuries. The reason is this: automation doesn’t disrupt capitalism. It’s an integral part of the system.

What we understand as “work” has morphed to accommodate its advancement. There is no reason to assume that this will change just because automation is ramping up to sci-fi speed.

To paraphrase John Tomlinson in his analysis of technology, speed, and capitalism in The Culture of Speed: The Coming of Immediacy, no idiom captures the spirit of capitalism better than “time is money”. If machines ostensibly create more free time for humans by doing more work, capitalists must create new forms of work to make that time productive in order to continue capturing surplus value for themselves. As Marx wrote (forgive my reprinting of his problematic language):

The most developed machinery thus forces the worker to work longer than the savage does, or than he himself did with the simplest, crudest tools [...] But the possessors of [the] surplus produce or capital… employ people upon something not directly and immediately productive, e.g. in the erection of machinery. So it goes on.

“Not immediately productive” is the key phrase here. Just think of all the forms of work that have popped up since automation began to really take hold during the Industrial Revolution: service sector work, online work, part-time and otherwise low-paid work. You’re not producing anything while working haphazard hours as a cashier at Walmart, but you are creating value by selling what has already been built, often by machines.

In the automated world, precarious labour reigns. Jobs that offer no stability, no satisfaction, no acceptable standard of living, and seem to take up all of our time by occupying so many scattered parcels of it are the norm. Franco “Bifo” Berardi, a philosopher of labour and technology, explained it thusly in his book Precarious Rhapsody, referring to the legions of over worked part-time or no-timers as the “precariat”:

The word ‘precariat’ generally stands for the area of work that is no longer definable by fixed rules relative to the labor relation, to salary and to the length of the working day [...] Capital no longer recruits people, but buys packets of time, separated from their interchangeable and occasional bearers [...] The time of work is fractalized, that is, reduced to minimal fragments that can be reassembled, and the fractalization makes it possible for capital to constantly find the conditions of minimum salary.

Online labour is especially applicable to this description of the new definition of work. For example, work that increasingly depends on emails, instant correspondence across time zones, and devices that otherwise bring work home from the office in any number of ways, creates a mental environment where time is no longer marked into firm blocks.

Indeed, the “work day” is all day, every day, and time is now a far more fluid concept than before. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform, on which low-income workers sell their time performing menial creative tasks for pennies per hour, is a particularly dystopic example of this.

A radically different form of work is that of providing personal data for profit. This online data work is particularly insidious for two main reasons. First, because it is often not recognized as work at all. You might not think that messaging a pal about your new pair of headphones is work, but labour theorists like Maurizio Lazzarato disagree. Second, because workers are completely cut out of the data profit loop, although that may be changing.

Image: ProducerMatthew/Wikimedia

These points, taken together, paint a pretty dismal picture of the future of humans living with robotic labour under capitalism. It’s likely that we’ll be working more, and at shitty jobs. The question is: what kind of work, and exactly how shitty?

In my opinion, being anti-robot or anti-technology is not a very helpful position to take. There’s no inherent reason that automation could not be harnessed to provide more social good than harm. No, a technologically-motivated movement is not what’s needed. Instead, a political one that aims to divest technological advancement from the motives of capitalism is in order.

Some people are already working toward this. The basic income movement, which calls for a minimum salary to be paid out to every living human regardless of employment status, is a good start, because it implies a significant departure from the purely economic language of austerity in political thought and argues for a basic income for the salient reason that we’re human and we deserve to live. However, if we really want to change the way things are headed, more will be needed.

At a time when so many of us are looking towards the future, one particular possibility is continually ignored: a future without capitalism. Work without capitalism, free time without capitalism, and, yes, even robots without capitalism. Perhaps only then could we build the foundations of a future world where technology works for all of us, and not just the privileged few.

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-future-of-robot-labour-has-everything-to-do-with-capitalism

The True Meaning of Labor Day

  Labor  

For America’s workers, it’s a reminder of the struggles we have won—and those that lie ahead.

Photo Credit: Nic Neufeld / Shutterstock.com

To many Americans, Labor Day has become an important way to send off the slower pace of summer and usher in the hustle and bustle of fall. To our nation’s working families, this Labor Day means so much more.

It is an important moment to reflect on the courage of the working people who brought us Labor Day and the many working benefits we enjoy today. It is also a pivotal time to take stock of where our families, our economy, and our democracy are heading.

Today, America finds itself in a position of incredible challenge. Half of all Americans now make less than $15 an hour. Of the 10 fastest-growing jobs in America, eight are service sector jobs that pay $15 an hour or less.

Service sector jobs are the heartbeat of our economy and our communities, from the folks who care for the elderly and our children, to those who cook and serve our food, to those who clean and secure our offices. Moving our economy forward must include making service jobs into good jobs with wages that you can raise a family on.

That’s why this Labor Day, the American people are sparking a new movement, joining together for an economy and democracy that works for everyone.

Fast food workers have joined together to fight for $15 an hour. They have been joined by home care workers who are calling for $15 an hour for all caregivers. Just last week 27,000 Minnesota home care workers joined together in union, determined to raise wages and fight for quality home care for our seniors.

Working people in Seattle fought for and won a $15 minimum wage for 100,000 people, and other cities are poised to do the same. Across our nation adjunct professors, airport workers, security officers, hospital workers, Wal-Mart workers and other service sector workers are standing up and sticking together.

All told, 6.7 million workers have achieved better pay since fast food workers began striking less than two years ago, either through states or cities moving to raise minimum wages or through collective bargaining. These brave workers are building the momentum to raise wages and get our economy roaring again.

Yet the prosperity of our nation and growth of our economy depend not just on economic justice. A vibrant economy cannot exist without vibrant American communities steeped in the fundamental American principles of liberty and justice for all.

The taking of Mike Brown’s life in Ferguson, Missouri only weeks ago reminds us that social and economic justice must go hand in hand for America to thrive. To solve these issues, we need opportunities for all Americans to fully participate in our economy and improve the quality of life for their families.

That’s why we must also fix our broken immigration system and uphold and protect civil rights and democratic participation for all Americans, not just the wealthy few.

We must remember that America is a nation founded on the dreams of immigrants. Today the opportunity to achieve the American dream is jeopardized by a broken immigration system and a Congress that refuses to fix it. The time has come for us to free those immigrants who exemplify the promise of America from the shadows and bring them into the light of our economy and society without fear.

When working people stick together, we have the strength to ensure that both our democracy and our economy continue to grow and progress. When America’s working families rise, America rises.

This Labor Day, we have so much more to celebrate than just the end of summer. So many brave Americans are uniting to raise wages, raise our communities and raise America. Their efforts and successes are shaping up to be the largest, boldest and most inclusive movement by and for working people that modern America has even seen.

I believe in a rising America, where together we can create an economy that works for everyone and a democracy where everyone has a voice.

Mary Kay Henry is the International President of the Service Employees International Union.

 

http://www.alternet.org/labor/true-meaning-labor-day?akid=12189.265072.yr7W36&rd=1&src=newsletter1017538&t=5&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

“GRAPES OF WRATH” AND THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE

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In a Labor Day weekend mood, I watched “Grapes of Wrath” again this evening.  Labor Day is, after all, a celebration of the American labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of workers.  “Grapes of Wrath” portrays familiar themes in the American worker experience:  be it displaced farmers from Oklahoma to baristas and Twitter people with degrees, there is a continual struggle between workers and those with wealth desiring cheap, easily manipulated, labor.

The wealthy pretty much got their way in the States until the Depression (rich people gambling to get richer) fueled the re- balancing of the worker/owner relationship — more in favor of the worker– under FDR, and his New Deal.  This balance, which was great for the overall health of the country, continued through LBJ and the Great Society.  Now things are going the other way, with the wealthy neoliberal controller classes producing a political and economic system that assures their success no matter which of the two political parties wins.  Reagan, Clinton, Bush and now Obama dismantled the Great Society, fought to break the worker unions, and deregulated banking and other entities once deemed “public trusts.”  The resultant series of economic crises and bursting bubbles destroyed the working and middle classes and threatens to remove whats left of the social safety nets.

Tom Joad’s famous final speech (excerpts below) to his Ma in the movie “Grapes of Wrath” powerfully expressed the thoughts and yearnings of the Depression-period worker and resonates with the increasingly disenfranchised workers of today.  The American revolutionary, Tom Joad, espousing collective action that creates change, is a familiar subplot in the American drama.  What distresses me about this speech is Tom’s dream to spread wealth more justly “…if all our folks got together and yelled…”.  In this 21st century people yell for a few months (Occupy) and the illusion and control by the owners returns.  In the age of the “meh generation” and Ayn Rand the notion of a collective soul is anathema.

 

Tom Joad: I been thinking about us, too, about our people living like pigs and good rich land layin’ fallow. Or maybe one guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starvin’. And I been wonderin’ if all our folks got together and yelled…

Ma Joad: Tommy, you’re not aimin’ to kill nobody.

Tom Joad: No, Ma, not that. That ain’t it. It’s just, well as long as I’m an outlaw anyways… maybe I can do somethin’… maybe I can just find out somethin’, just scrounge around and maybe find out what it is that’s wrong and see if they ain’t somethin’ that can be done about it. I ain’t thought it out all clear, Ma. I can’t. I don’t know enough.

Ma Joad: How am I gonna know about ya, Tommy? Why they could kill ya and I’d never know. They could hurt ya. How am I gonna know?

Tom Joad: Well, maybe it’s like Casy says. A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody, then…

Ma Joad: Then what, Tom?

Tom Joad: Then it don’t matter. I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.

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Will “The Simpsons” ever be good again?

The FXX marathon makes us miss the things we loved about a great show — but those things may be gone forever

Will "The Simpsons" ever be good again?

Mr. Bergstrom and Lisa Simpson (Credit: Fox)

Remember when “The Simpsons” was good — about a week ago?

The ongoing “Simpsons” marathon on FXX began with a bang, running through the unsteady early couple of seasons quickly, then getting to hit after hit after hit. It was like living through the 1990s on warp-speed. With its earthy frankness about family life, the challenges of growing up, and the socioeconomic squeeze the American family was undergoing, it was hard to believe that this “Simpsons” had ever been made at all, let alone that it’s technically the same show that’s wrapping up its marathon this weekend and still airs on Fox every Sunday night. If FXX had really wanted to build anticipation and interest for this marathon, they should have run the episodes in reverse order; it would have been an inspiring story of a show that was mediocre for 15 years or so, then suddenly got great.

The complaints about the contemporary “Simpsons” have all been made for years. Primarily, the show, around 2000 or so, abandoned its central conceit slowly, then all at once. The Simpson family’s problems went from trying to stretch the family budget to having too many international vacations to go on or too many other shows to parody in calorie-free jokefests that had nothing to do with anything. The side characters who added color and interest to the show began to take over, with every member of the immediate family having run through every conceivable plot many times over. When episodes weren’t devoted to trips to Brazil or the backstory of Duffman, the Simpsons themselves were warped almost beyond recognition on a whim (Homer became rageful; Marge’s flitting through new fixations like bodybuilding came to look like some sort of personality disorder).

“The Simpsons” went awry for what seem like fairly obvious reasons; it ran out of stories to tell and yet had to keep going. But unlike other shows that had creative lulls and recovered late in their runs — “30 Rock” and “Frasier” come to mind — it’s hard to imagine it recovering. The trend on TV has moved so far away from what, specifically, “The Simpsons” did well, when it did things well. To wit: the five-time Emmy winner for best comedy, “Modern Family,” has placed its family in a world where any material thing is easily obtained. All its adults have lucrative jobs, or don’t need to work at all. As for other consistently successful family series on the dial — well, where are they, really? The only other show as big as “The Simpsons” is “Family Guy,” whose nihilistic attitude and giddy unconcern with material reality “The Simpsons” has aped more and more, leading up to a crossover episode this fall. What is going to push “The Simpsons” to return to depicting the Simpsons as real people when the most successful live-action comedies don’t bother?



It certainly won’t be a push from the audience. Speaking anecdotally, it’d appear that the adult audience has largely left “The Simpsons” behind; its new episodes fail to make the sort of impact among what used to be its core audience than do far-lower-rated shows like “Girls” or “Louie.” And speaking statistically, the show hit its all-time low among adult viewers last season. The teens tuning into Fox’s comedy block, on the other hand, have no expectation that “The Simpsons” be anything more than a mélange of pop culture references tied together by an over-the-top, nearly villainous dad.

It’s not “The Simpsons”‘ fault that it seems unlikely to change — the world is far too hostile to its best elements, now, because everything else on TV learned the wrong lessons from the show’s success. The Simpsons’ lives were fanciful, and so now every show like “The Simpsons” is entirely outlandish. There was a note of sarcasm, and so as though to outdo it, scorched-earth bitterness became the order of the day. Lately, showrunners have been signaling that the show will come to an end soon, even disclosing that an episode that had aired was planned as a series finale. Time is running out. But, really, all the better — it’s time for “Simpsons” fans to accept that at a time when socioeconomic satire is needed more than ever, the entertainment industry is ill-equipped to provide it.

And it’s time for something new on Fox. Perhaps the prime 8 p.m. Sunday night time slot can go to “Bob’s Burgers,” a much-lower-wattage series that has built a fanbase around its very real depictions of a marriage and a family in unglamorous surroundings. The family’s somewhat challenging economic situation — they all work together at a restaurant perpetually one emergency away from closing — isn’t the point of the show, and the emotions in play are far less overt than old “Simpsons’” open, at times gooey, sentiment. It may not be world-beatingly popular. But the expectations that come with mega-popularity, TV fans learned around 2000, can end up destroying a series.

 

Daniel D’Addario is a staff reporter for Salon’s entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

http://www.salon.com/2014/08/29/will_the_simpsons_ever_be_good_again/?source=newsletter

The official cover-up of social and political issues in the police murder of Michael Brown

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27 August 2014

Thousands of workers and youth participated in funeral services for Michael Brown on Monday, an expression of widespread outrage over the police murder of the unarmed 18-year-old. However, the funeral service itself, attended by three representatives of the Obama administration and presided over by Democratic Party operative Al Sharpton, was a thoroughly establishment, right-wing affair.

The aim of the ceremony, paid for and run by Sharpton’s organization, was to obscure the class issues raised by the killing of Brown, legitimize the de facto imposition of martial law in Ferguson, Missouri, and channel social opposition back behind the political establishment.

The ruling class responded to the spontaneous eruption of protests over the killing of Brown with a two-pronged strategy. First, the repressive apparatus of the state was mobilized, including militarized SWAT teams toting automatic weapons, driving armored vehicles, and firing tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bags at peaceful protesters. More than 200 people were arrested in the police crackdown.

Ferguson became a test case for imposing police-state conditions on an American city in response to social unrest. Journalists were threatened, arrested and assaulted. The National Guard was called in. A curfew was imposed and the constitutional right to assemble was effectively suspended under the “state of emergency” declared by Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat.

Sheer repression did not suffice to silence the protests, however. Hence the second prong of the ruling class strategy. Figures such as Sharpton along with local preachers and Democratic Party politicians were mobilized to promote racial politics and direct the protests along safe channels. The Obama administration sent Attorney General Eric Holder, an African American, to Ferguson, and Governor Nixon appointed Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, also an African American, to head up the police response.

This dual strategy found expression in the funeral eulogy delivered by Sharpton—both in what he said, and what he did not say. The one-time FBI informant spoke not as a partisan of the workers and youth of Ferguson, but rather as an emissary of the capitalist state, i.e., of the very forces that killed Brown and sought to crush the subsequent protests.

Most significant in Sharpton’s remarks was the absence of any reference to the social and economic issues underlying the killing of Brown (and hundreds of other police killings across the country) and the mass repression that followed. There was no mention of the unemployment and poverty that characterize Ferguson and cities throughout the country, nor was there any reference to the immense social inequality that drives the ruling class to employ increasingly violent means to suppress social anger and unrest.

Instead, Sharpton devoted much of his remarks to vile slurs against African-American youth in general and the protesters in Ferguson in particular. He complained that too many people are “sitting around having ghetto pity parties.” Celebrating the fact that a section of African Americans like himself have “got some positions of power,” he denounced those who “decide it ain’t black no more to be successful.” He continued, “Now you wanna be a n****r and call your woman a ho.”

These foul remarks, dripping with contempt, were combined with an open defense of the state. “We are not anti-police, we respect police,” proclaimed Sharpton. The murder of youth like Brown is the product only of a few “bad apples,” he declared, which can be corrected with measures like hiring more African-American police officers.

While avoiding any criticism of the massive military-police response to the protests over Brown’s killing, Sharpton repeated all the tropes used by the state to justify its repression. He bemoaned the fact that Brown’s parents “had to break their mourning to ask folks to stop looting and rioting,” adding, “Michael Brown must be remembered for more than disturbances.”

The use of the word “disturbances,” part of the lexicon of the police and military, is significant, carrying with it the implication that the protests were illegitimate. The police repression, Sharpton implied, was a necessary response to violence by the protesters.

He made no mention of the connection between domestic repression and the waging of aggressive wars abroad, ignoring the fact, noted by many Ferguson workers and youth who spoke to the World Socialist Web Site, that even as the National Guard was being deployed to Ferguson, Obama was once again ramping up the US military’s involvement in Iraq.

Sharpton’s support for the police crackdown reflects what he is: an agent of the state and representative of a section of the corporate establishment and upper-middle class that has amassed great wealth even as the great majority of the population, including African-American workers and youth, has seen its living standards plummet. This privileged and corrupt social layer has long promoted identity politics to conceal the basic class divide in society and sow divisions within the working class.

In particular, Sharpton spoke as a representative of the Obama administration. He has developed the closest ties with administration officials, coordinating his actions and remarks with the White House. This is an administration that has intensified the assault on the working class and overseen an enormous growth of social inequality, while increasing the militarization of the police.

The financial aristocracy reacts to any expression of social opposition with repression. In the 1960s, the ruling class responded to urban uprisings with violence, but that was followed by pledges to address inequality and poverty and the implementation of limited social reforms. Today, the ruling class has nothing to offer but more repression.

The events in Ferguson are an expression of the explosive character of social relations in the United States. The financial aristocracy is petrified over the revolutionary implications of the open emergence of class conflict. Hence the resort to violence on the one hand and reliance, on the other, on Sharpton and other so-called “civil rights” leaders to complement state terror with diversions and lies.

Andre Damon