Tuesday, July 27, 2004

To a significant degree this November's US presidential election is capital (Bush) versus the new middle class (Kerry). Notice that the working class is at best a sideline viewer to the proceedings. Liberals will object and cite the long-standing alliance between the Democratic Party and organized labor, particularly in the form of the AFL-CIO. Andy Stern of the Service Employees International Union (SIEU) isn't so sure about that claim.
Andrew L. Stern, the head of the 1.6 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said in an interview with The Washington Post that both the party and its longtime ally, the labor movement, are "in deep crisis," devoid of new ideas and working with archaic structures.

Stern argued that Kerry's election might stifle needed reform within the party and the labor movement. He said he still believes that Kerry overall would make a better president than President Bush, and his union has poured huge resources into that effort. But he contends that Kerry's election would have the effect of slowing the "evolution" of the dialogue within the party.

Asked whether if Kerry became president it would help or hurt those internal party deliberations, Stern said, "I think it hurts."

. . . Stern complained that motivating blue-collar families who have not voted in the past is being impeded because Kerry and the Democrats have declined to address what he calls "the Wal-Mart economy," a system in which he says employers deliberately keep wages so low and hours so short that workers are forced to turn to state Medicaid programs for their families' health care.

He also criticized what he called the vagueness of the Democratic platform on trade issues.
This is good stuff. Wal-Mart plays an essential structural role in the neoliberal economy, making low wages for the working class palatable through ultra-cheap imports from East Asia and elsewhere. The upshot is, of course, dramatically rising inequality and a diminishing ability to afford key domestic services, particularly education and health care, something Democrats claim to care about but do little to addresss. For the new middle class, attacking Wal-Mart is a lifestyle issue. It hates the big box and the standarization of life it fosters -- justifably so. But when the new middle class attacks Wal-Mart, it usually fails to appreciate how essential Wal-Mart is now to working class families trying to live middle-class lives.

If not Wal-Mart, then what? Voicing those alternatives and crafting a political vision for a different kind of American economy is the work that needs to be embraced (it's already being done) by the top of the Democratic Party. Clearly Stern doesn't think a Kerry-Edwards White House will do that, and I'm inclined to defer to the man in the trenches on this one.


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