Jul 18, 2013 - Issue 525

 BlackCommentator.com: Redux: “Workers of the world unite…” - By Dr. Carlos E. Russell, PhD - BC Guest Commentator



When Lawrence Peter Berra – “Yogi” to the world - made his now legendary malapropos “It is like déjà vu all over again,” his remark caused much mirth but did not miss its mark. Yogi’s comment was on target. The Yankees had indeed seen it before.

Today, given the unrelenting and unwavering onslaught being waged on the “working class” and the rapid erosion of worker’s “rights, benefits and privileges” – all won through struggles and sacrifices - coupled with the astronomical expansion of the personal wealth of the proponents of a so-called “free market system”, one is almost certain that we have been here before.

In my judgment, for workers caught in this new “globalizing” and expanding economic vortex, it may well be just that; a reminder that “La luta continua.” This time, however, the call for solidarity among workers is but an echo of a now muted and distant bell. If that echo somehow penetrates the surmounting barriers of fear and trepidation and is really heard and heeded, it will not be limited to the old and unfulfilled cry of “workers of the world unite you have nothing loose but your chains”. It could challenge and change the growing and all consuming disparity between those who have and want more and those who have little or none and want some.

Having in the past, at the cost of so many lives and pain, unshackled their chains and, though hobbled, steadfastly strove in small steps towards economic parity, it is difficult to conceive that they will now retreat from the battlefield. This is especially true, I would argue, in a time when respect for their labor and their dignity as human beings are so blatantly being disregarded. They are now, it seems to me, being asked and sometimes forced to replace the economic irons around their ankles and their necks through give backs and curtailment of future revenues, other earned benefits, and privileges.

Across the Atlantic, thousands of Spanish and Greek workers have already taken to the streets, challenging fiscal policies proposed by those who seek to regain and retain economic hegemony, only to be forced to retreat by the organized collective power of the newest version of the old capitalists.

Using the moralistic guise of “saving the nation,” the current crop of policy makers hypocritically suggest that the proposals they are attempting to institute are but “painful economic reforms” necessary to reduce the national deficit and safeguard the future of the nation.

Painful to whom? I ask. That, for me, is the real question! What is occurring is obviously not painful to board members of interlocking international corporations who, respecting no geographical boundaries, are in cahoots with influential members of government whose end game, like theirs, is not the welfare of the workers and their families but the size of the profit margin to be accrued by their investors at the end of the quarter.

To accomplish their aims, they are hell-bent on an international “jihad” to reduce the size of governments by eliminating what they label as “unaffordable” cost-consuming programs. Tragically, as to be expected, these “austerity” measures are being attempted at the expense of those whose labor built the nation. These are the people who are feeling the pain and will continue to do so in the absence of an enlightened alliance between workers and progressive entrepreneurs.

Those who, for a brief moment and at personal risk, commandeered the streets, have been men and women who feeling the pain of the so called necessary reforms and were expressing their unwillingness to be sacrificial lambs on the altar of greed and avarice erected by contemporary economic policy makers. Unfortunately for those who took to the streets and those who may share my view, and who may be forced to take to the streets, the size of the wallets of those who are presently in the throes of cementing and expanding their control over the resources of the planet are not shy about using their wealth or any other means to accomplish their ends and are presently doing so.

Equally unfortunate, perhaps even more so, is the sad reality that there are too many “learned” and “influential” people who cannot see or are perhaps purposefully ignoring the signs now looming over our not too distant horizons. There are many, in academia and the media, for example, who, arguably seduced by the stealth or the wealth of the advocates of unbridled “globalization” and “privatization,” are extolling, albeit in a choral of minor tones, the alleged need for “painful economic reform.”

Unlike those who, for whatever reason, choose not to see, those who are leading the charge against the middle class, the working poor and the poor, as has been their historical wont, are unflinchingly using every means at their disposal to obtain their ends.

Yes, we are indeed living in a different era than when the first cry for the “workers of the world” to unite was first echoed. There have been substantive improvements in the lives of the workers and conditions in the working place. That there is a need for a rational and humane reassessment of the existing labor - employer relationship within our contemporary societies is undeniable, but to suggest, as some have, that national economic austerity programs, coupled with a moral philosophy that suggests that it is up to the individual human being, fortified primarily with his or her resiliency and the charitable behavior of the rich, is the route to be taken is ludicrous. It is conceivable, perhaps idealistically, that were it not for the force of the “darker side” of our humanity we would, by now, have internalized the realization that “no man is an island” and we are “social animals” and not “supermen and women.” The role of government in our lives is a sine qua non for our fruitful and future existence.

Yogi Berra was accurate. It’s déjà vu all over again. We have been there, and done that. Let us not resurrect and propel the pain of yesterday into tomorrow. Let us, collectively, change the present course.



BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator Dr. Carlos E. Russell, PhD, is Professor Emeritus C.U.N.Y. - Brooklyn College. In the sixties, he served as an Associate Editor of the Liberator magazine. As such, he was one of the first to interview Malcolm X after he left the Nation. He is best remembered as the founder of Black Solidarity Day in New York in 1969 and as the Chair of the Black Caucus of the Conference on New Politics in 1967. In addition, he was a consultant to Dr.Martin Luther King Jr. during the planning for the Poor Peoples March. Excerpts of his participation can be seen in Citizen King and Eyes on the Prize (PBS Mini Series Boxed Set). Born in the Republic of Panama he has served as that country’s representative to the U.N and the O.A.S. with the rank of Ambassador. He has also served as the nightly host of “Thinking it Through” a talk show that was aired on WLIB in New York. He is a playwright and poet as well. Contact Dr. Russell.