Noam Chomsky on America's Economic Suicide
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To pay attention to the actual core of the movement — that would be pretty hard. Can you concentrate for example on either the policy issues or the creation of functioning democratic communities of mutual support and say, well, that’s what’s lacking in our country that’s why we don’t have a functioning democracy – a community of real participation. That’s really important. And that always gets smashed.
Take say, Martin Luther King. Listen to the speeches on MLK Day – and it’s all “I have a dream.” But he had another dream and he presented that in his last talk in Memphis just before he was assassinated. In which he said something about how he’s like Moses he can see the promised land but how we’re not going to get there. And the promised land was policies and developments which would deal with the poverty and repression, not racial, but the poor people’s movement. Right after that (the assassination) there was a march. [King] was going to lead it. Coretta Scott King led it. It started in Memphis went through the South to the different places where they’d fought the civil rights battle and ended up in Washington DC and they had a tent city, Resurrection Park and security forces were called in by the liberal congress. The most liberal congress in memory. They broke in in the middle of the night smashed up Resurrection Park and drove them out of the city. That’s the way you deal with popular movements that are threatening…
LF: Thinking of Memphis, where Dr. King was supporting striking sanitation workers, what are your thoughts on the future of the labor movement?
The labor movement had been pretty much killed in the 1920s, almost destroyed. It revived in the 1930s and made a huge difference. By the late 1930s the business world was already trying to find ways to beat it back. They had to hold off during the war but right after, it began immediately. Taft Hartley was 1947, then you get a huge corporate propaganda campaign a large part if it directed at labor unions: why they’re bad and destroy harmony and amity in the US. Over the years that’s had an effect. The Labor movement recognized what was going on far too late. Then it picked up under Reagan.
Reagan pretty much informed employers that they were not going to employ legal constraints on breaking up unions (they weren’t not strong but there were some) and firing of workers for organizing efforts I think tripled during the Reagan years.
Clinton came along; he had a different technique for breaking unions, it was called NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement.] Under NAFTA there was again a sharp increase in illegal blocking of organizing efforts. You put up a sign – We’re going to transfer operations to Mexico… It’s illegal but if you have a criminal state, it doesn’t make a difference.
The end result, is, private sector unionization is down to practically seven percent. Meanwhile the public sector unions have kind of sustained themselves [even] under attack, but in the last few years, there’s been a sharp [increase in the] attack on public sector unions, which Barack Obama has participated in, in fact. When you freeze salaries of federal workers, that’s equivalent to taxing public sector people…
LF: And attacks on collective bargaining?
NC: Attacks on collective bargaining in Wisconsin [are part of] a whole range of attacks because that’s an attack on a part of the labor movement that was protected by the legal system as a residue of the New Deal and Great Society and so on.