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Consciousness is a complicated thing. But Class instincts are real

Started by Richard Mellor, May 15, 2007, 02:57:35 am

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Richard Mellor

Sometimes we call it our gut feelings.

I was listening to the national news tonight, CBS in fact. This is a rarity for me as these days I get most of my news from the Internet. For analysis, from the point of view of the capitalist class, their serious journals, the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Business Week, these are crucial reading for any serious activist; after all, one should know what the enemy is thinking and saying about the system they govern.

The anchorperson, a well-known woman apparently, was reporting on the buyout of Chrysler by the private equity firm Cerberus.  Cerberus has the infamous Dan Quayle on its board, confirming once again alongside Bush's present tenure as President, that hard work and brains isn't a pre-requisite for wealth and power.

Daimler is letting Chrysler go for one fifth of the purchase price.   The Unions, meaning the heads of the Unions, are Ok with the deal according to the report.  CBS included a little history with an appearance by Lee Iacocca whose articles bashing the Bush administration are appearing on liberal websites such is the state of affairs in US politics.  Iacocca was introduced as the man who "saved Chrysler from bankruptcy."

Well that set me off.  I thought it was concessions on the part of the workers in auto and the US taxpayer that saved Chrysler.  I'll be hearing next, or should I say the millions of young people that can't remember would be hearing, that Michael Milken saved the Savings and Loan industry.

But it made me think about consciousness, how the capitalist class through their control of the media influences consciousness-how they dominate the ideology of society.

For socialists, anti-capitalists, trade unionists who have to fight the boss every day in the workplace, it is not difficult to become frustrated with the present state of consciousness.  The trade union leadership and many progressives blame US workers for our "apathy" and even worse, "stupidity"; "US workers just don't care." we are told.  Ultra leftists also have the same view but they daren't admit it.  Obviously it is not true, as it is U.S. workers we have to thank for all the democratic rights, wages benefits and social advances we have made against the most ruthless ruling class in history.

 But we are in a difficult period.  The capitalist offensive has had an effect and the rich and militant history of the US working class, not to mention its socialist traditions, has been driven deeper in to the consciousness.  The main reason this has been successful is that the leadership of the working class in this country, and that means the heads of organized labor as we have no mass political party of our own, are indistinguishable from the employers in how they see the world.  They have the same worldview as the boss; they worship the market.  The market as they see it is paramount, the end of history.  And their actions, the sell out's, the refusal to go on the offensive, flow from this.  The corruption, the obscene salaries, the undemocratic maneuvers etc. are the results of this process.

So CBS News, like all the other national news stations that cover the continent and indeed the world, go on to say that it is the pricey US worker that is destroying US auto manufacturing and they show a graph to prove it. When health care and all the benefits the Unions have won over the years are tacked on, the US autoworker adds some $1700 to the cost of the car at GM (I can't remember exactly and don't feel the need to go to the files as you get my drift).  The graph shows Toyota's costs at $100.  Pretty convincing evidence that we have to take cuts if we want to survive.

Then they bring on a Democratic politician from Michigan.  She adds more evidence of the need for scaling back our living standards.  If we can't be competitive we can't manufacture cars in Michigan she points out.  Not only that, the newscaster affirms, if we can't compete they (the "they" is a crucial, issue here) will move production offshore.  "They will be American cars in name only." she laments.

The evidence is just piling up.  How could any autoworker ask for a pay raise?  It would be unpatriotic, un-American.  It would mean the end of life as we know it, and given the increased inequality in the US, the higher paid worker would be seen as just plain greedy.  CBS would point its slimy finger at them: "How can they, when our boys are fighting for our freedom and there are so many people willing to work for half their wages."  They like this word, "willing", it's confirmation that we have free will.

The vast majority of workers, hearing this view of things and though skeptical and driven to question by the deterioration of our material existence, would draw the conclusion that there is nothing that can be done.  No social force of any significance will counter this view.

I haven't taken the time to seek out the UAW leadership's response to the deal.  But it will be pretty much the same as what I heard on the news from the Democrat and the newswoman.
There will be nothing said about private ownership and the crisis over overproduction/overcapacity that flows from this.  No questioning as to why "they" have the right to move production or to determine production or to own the company at all.  No public debate about public transportation and the shifting of society's resources in to that sphere of production. No war waged nationally by the heads of organized labor against this private equity deal that involves the imbecile Quayle and other investors whose names we don't know and who don't have to tell us.  According to an SEIU report, the five biggest private equity deals "involved more money than the annual budgets of Russia and India." (1)  The bosses' right to own the capital, the machines, and the right to move it to wherever they can find the cheapest and most desperate worker is sacrosanct

The experience reminded me of how frustrating, and if we're not careful, depressing, mass media can be.  The local (San Francisco Bay Area) news opened with three or four murders, a young man killed another over an argument about something called a play station, a couple of whales are heading up, or down the Sacramento River and the dangers of Omega 3 oils. (Or was that national news?  I can't remember.) It's the erudite version of Jerry Springer and Maury Povich.

Back to the Union leadership.  I have gotten in many an argument with co-workers and leftists of the progressive type for blaming the leadership rather than the members for the present situation and the members' consciousness in particular.

This episode tonight reminded me of those discussions  I used to have at work about these issues and the other ideological offensive, the Team Concept. This is the view that workers and employers have the same interests.  This concept has an extremely destructive effect on the workers' movement and makes it impossible to build solidarity as workers compete with each other to help their boss drive his or her rivals from the marketplace. For us, it is a race to the bottom for who can work faster, cheaper, with the least impediments to profit making. It was something myself and a couple of colleagues had to wage war against every day at work, a war that was almost impossible to win given the labor leadership from the President of the AFL-CIO down are in support of it.

Most serious workers know the boss isn't on the same team.  "But they voted for it" I am reminded by union staffers here and there, many who once had their feet in Marxist soil; or thought they did.  No, they voted for it because, like the explanation of the auto mess, the ideological combination of the employers and their Union leaders is a formidable force. It's like the contract that offers only two alternatives, a wage cut or layoffs.

I dug up the glossy brochure that the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department sent out when the partnership between the Unions and Kaiser, the giant HMO, was voted on here in the East Bay.  The AFL-CIO urged a yes vote and included a letter from President Sweeney himself explaining why.
The brochure assured workers that by voting yes they weren't giving up their bargaining rights. (They were just going against their class instincts of course.) "The parties understand that certain information may be of a very sensitive and propriety nature and will need to be held in strict confidence", states the brochure with regards to the new partnership. (2) In other words, if you find anything out that would give you an advantage over the boss, don't use it against them. Most importantly, don't you're your members.  Such information won't be used "to the detriment of the other partner' the brochure continues.

I remember talking with a health worker in SEIU when I visited the hospital as a patient. (3) She told me she didn't want to vote for the partnership but felt she had to.  It should come as no surprise really.
AFL-CIO President, John Sweeney, formerly the head of SEIU International, made a passionate appeal in his personal letter to the hospital workers.  He wants a yes vote.  "We could show the world that the for-profit greed-driven HMO's are dead wrong, that it is possible to provide care that is affordable and high-quality by working together."

Knowing that no worker would really vote to jump in bed with management with such a lame argument he closes with gusto, "The worst that could happen?  The worst that could happen would be for us to not give this ambitious and groundbreaking partnership a try, because things are bad and getting worse."

Naturally the partnership was voted in.  What were those workers thinking?

The workers that voted in the Team Concept went against their gut feelings; against their class instincts, although many of them would never consider calling them that. This ideological offensive is launched against us day in day out and is effective. It is a daunting task overcoming it but overcome it we have to and overcome it we will. Around the world from Oaxaca to China, the working class opposition to the capitalist offensive is growing. We can expect some battles in Franc in the coming period as Sarkozy moves goes on the offensive against the French workers and their 35-hour week.  Here in the belly of the beast it is harder to see that; Pakistan didn't exactly make major headlines here.

We must not that the Seattle events shook US capitalism along with the heads of organized labor. The US working class will have its day.  Ideological warfare works but has limitations. In the last analysis consciousness has a material base and it is this reality that will prevail.

(1)   Behind The Buyouts: Inside the world of Private equity.  This can be obtained from the SEIU website.  As to be expected, the strategists of organized labor draw the wrong conclusions but the information contained in the report is very useful

(2)   AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department Kaiser Permanente Union/Management Partnership

(3)   The California Nurses Association (CNA) did not sign on to the partnership

Richard Mellor
AFSCME Local 444 retired


Actually, to flesh out Milken's legacy in the eyes of the reading public, Michael Barone, senior writer of US News & World Report, in his 2004 Hard America, Soft America, claims Milken didn't sell junk bonds at all, but that he was a visionary (p.152) "specializing in issuing and marketing non-investment grade bonds" (p.90-91), the hero who saved large corporations and workers alike, causing the "American economy [to grow] faster than it had in the 1970s" (p.92). Ahh...the power of mainstream media and the short term memory of the American public! This nonsense not only is permitted publication, but sells and is believed!
As for class consciousness, I don't know, Mr. Mellor, like you, I think it is a saddening state of affairs.  There is an "Us against Them" mentality out there, but it does not manifest itself in creating bonds with like people in order for the benefit of everyone. I do not believe a true class consciousness exists at all in America, except on the part of the wealthy.

Tony Budak

Consciousness is a complicated thing. But Class instincts are real
  The individual consciousness that I see, is a shared one. It is reinforced every second by the consumerism that all the classes are submerged through the mass media. It seems we can only identify ourselves as valued human beings if we buy, own, and control things. There are some that even try to buy, own, and control other human beings. This shared consciousness seems to exist in all classes rooted from western European cultures, so much so that poor, working, middle, upper classes, nearly everyone, perceive this to be the only reality and as the normal way in for any society, hence the terms, the ideology of capitalism.
  I'm trying to say that this ideology of capitalism is got such a firm grip on the consciousness of folks that it not only dominates class instinct but make it very difficult for folks to see the world in another way. It is possible for people to have a change of heart in some situations, i.e., a shared burden or crises amongest a group. But without the shared platform to change from or land on, folks in all good sense will not jump to an unknown and unshared state of mind or reality.
  The burnout rate for organizers a friend once told me is seven to eight months.
With Respect and Cheers,
Tony Budak, Site Owner and Webmaster

Please do not email or PM me for CLNews technical  support. Instead Post Questions and Concerns Here

Diana Shaheen

What is consciousness?  I believe that consciousness on its most basic level is the awareness of need.  As instinctual needs are fulfilled, there is greater freedom to explore higher needs or to reach a greater consciousness--and much like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, as each level is fulfilled, we move to the next level of awareness and try to fulfill those needs.  The question that arises is at what level do my needs intersect your needs?  At what level does need become "our" need instead of "your" need and "my" need.  

   If we presume that a primary instinct of humanity is reproduction or procreation,  aside from the obvious, male and female produce a child which creates family, we need to ask ourselves how we as humanity have sustained ourselves so that we have been able to continue to reproduce.  The obvious answer is possession.  What we possess allows us to sustain ourselves and our creations.  How do we acquire what we possess?  Cooperation.  Those with whom we co-operate help to sustain us as we help to sustain them.    Examples of these are mates, family, and friends, business partners, churches, schools, hospitals, unions and other governing bodies.  The Consciousness that arises from these relationships determines how we perceive ourselves and the world in which we live. If our relationships are threatened by an outside force then usually we rally together to defeat whatever prevents us from fulfilling these needs.  

   So, how is it that we, as a people, as the American people are so disenfranchised from the great wealth that is this country?  How is it that despite the fine houses that we live in, and the fact that over 90% of the people in this country have indoor plumbing and heating, more food, better transportation, better clothing and more leisure time than most countries of the world, we are dissatisfied?  Perhaps it is because that everything we have is dependent upon a society that does not respect us for who we are but respects us only for what we produce.  This is most obvious in the fact that during the prime of our lives (our most reproductive time) healthcare is allocated only to those who work specific jobs.  Literally, the health of our body, which is our primary possession, is dependent upon what we produce and for whom.  

   I may be a nurse's aide, and work four twelve hour shifts in a week.  I may have more contact with the patients in the room, than either the nurse or the doctor, both of whom have excellent healthcare benefits, I may have more influence with the patient than they do, I may have developed a greater rapport than either of them, but I have no benefits, why?   I may be an office worker who works forty hours a week, typing, filing, answering phones, I may be the first line of defense that that company has, my friendliness is why they keep their clientele despite their policies, and I have no health benefits, why?  

   Consciousness can go no further than the last need that was met.  If I don't know where my next piece of bread is coming from, I'm seldom worried about feeding the birds.  If I don't know how I'm going to be able to afford to pay for a prescription that I or a loved needs but the opportunity to work overtime arises so that I can pay for that prescription, then it is unlikely that I will make it to the next union meeting, even if it's about organizing for Universal Healthcare!

Need!  Consciousness is relative to need.  By the same token, no society which so obviously disregards the needs of its different sectors can long survive.  It collapses from within.

    Diana S.


Hhhhmmm, thought I posted again, but obviously it didn't submit properly.
Thanks, Diane, for the concrete example.  Though I LOVE theory and speaking in theoretical abstractions, those abstractions really don't get the point across to anyone but academics.
To add Tony's ideas, consumer consciousness is just that--submerged.  Our consciousness is submerged so thoroughly through mass media that our identities and genuine thought have drowned.  Take, for instance, yard sales. I have been studying consumer behavior at yard sales, a most overlooked avenue of purchase, for years.  Last year, I had purchased two sets of drinking glasses from two separate sales.  One set was frosted with flowers, one clear with flowers and ladybugs.  Each woman explained to me in great detail that each set was "patioware," for summer outings on the porch, and thus, by implication, could not be used as everyday "inside the kitchen cupboards" drinking glasses.  Have Dasani and the dispoasal soda industry truly affected our perception of a drinking glass to the point that we cannot see the basic function of an object? Or has the mass media and marketing system become so pervasive in compartmentalizing our minds that we REFUSE to accept "patioware" as "everyday-ware,"---the good-China plate and silverware used for the arrival of guests vs. ordinary-family Corelle and flatware argument?
My point being---if people cannot see clearly the use of an object, or see clearly their relationship to a material object, without all the layers of ridiculous sound-bitten meanings imposed upon an object, then they can in no way form a consciousness of the relationship of said object and certainly in no way are they capable of solidarity with others in having a consciousness about their class.  Their consciousness does not exist.  It is submerged. We need to find another way of resuscitation, or their identities and meanings will die.
Kelly Ohler