Weekend Reading

And your regularly scheduled reading:

Gun manufacturers have successfully managed to shift virtually all blame for lax gun laws in America onto their lobbyists and their customers. It’s no coincidence that companies like Sig Sauer, Freedom Group and Glock (which also made one of the weapons used in the killings) are privately held. They strive for minimum transparency, and they have achieved it. The NRA, bless its heart, is a front—a perfect little whipping boy designed to weather all of your abuse so that Ron Cohen can drive to and from his office without a reporter shoving a microphone in front of his stupid fucking face. They have taken phrases like “Gun control” and “the Second Amendment” and crafted them into permanent, bulletproof diversions. They’ve done such a good job of shielding themselves that Sig Sauer doesn’t even feel compelled to issue a public statement when one of its weapons is used in a mass tragedy. They don’t have to express their regrets or spew some bullshit about being dedicated to making sure guns are used safely. Higher profile companies have to send out public apologies when they send out a bad tweet. Big Gun does nothing and doesn’t have to. Isn’t that remarkable?

The working class as it existed in Old Left political discourse was a sociologicalcategory, and it often referred to a specific type of wage labor: the industrial proletariat, employed in large-scale factory work. Such workers were thought to be the leading edge of socialist politics not merely because they were exploited by capital, but because they occupied a specific environment that tended to forge a collective identity and to facilitate disruptive mass action: factories in which workers were employed for a long period of time, and where they were massed together each day performing similar, routinized work.

The working class in this specific sociological sense has lost its political centrality both because of structural changes in the economy, and due to the transformation of political consciousness on the Left. Capitalism has increasingly replaced industrial workers with machines, and as a result the economy is more-and-more dominated by culture industry and service employment that is not conducive to fostering solidarity in the way the old factory model was. At the same time, the work of national liberation and feminist movements has forced an acknowledgment that the older conception of the working class implied the centrality of a particular white, male labor aristocracy, rendering invisible both unpaid labor in the household and the role of white supremacy in excluding non-whites from the most privileged sectors of the economy. However much the Old Left liked to portray the “working class” as a universal identity that subsumed particular interests — and as much as contemporary left nostalgics like Walter Benn Michaels might still like to portray it that way—the working class in its sociological sense was always a form of identity politics.

FDR leveled the workplace playing field some with the Wagner Act, for the first time making union security (closed shop) a reality. Labor union power and membership soared, as did wages and benefits; America suddenly had Social Security and unemployment insurance, child labor laws, a minimum wage, five day/40 hour work week, and within a few years, a powerful middle class.

To big business plutocrats, the New Deal labor laws represented a sort of political Holocaust that they never forgot or forgave. They lost their full spectrum political dominance over their workers and over the political and judicial direction of the country, and all that essentially because FDR brought to an end America’s “open shop” culture and empowered unions with “closed shop” union security.

But business vowed that one day it would have its revenge. And that revenge would be “right to work” laws.


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