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Forum Post: Regaining the fighting Spirit of the 1st progressive surge in the 1900's

Posted 7 years ago on March 31, 2013, 9:31 p.m. EST by inclusionman (7064)
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Regaining our Fighting Spirit: A Letter to Bill Sunday, 31 March 2013 12:27 By Bernard A. Weisberger, Moyers & Company | Op-Ed

I am always grateful for the stimulating voices of your guests, and enjoyed Richard Wolff as much on this second appearance as I did on his first. This time, he refreshed my professional recall of a historical episode that needs to be more widely known, and also touched a personal chord that I want to share with you.

As to the first, Wolff proposes as a possible alternative to the current aggressive form of capitalism that preaches individual competition but practices relentless mergers and acquisitions, an economy founded on cooperation for the common good. He is on solid historical ground As we both know from our excursions into the history of progressivism, the eighteen-eighties and nineties saw some very serious discussions of what such an economy might look like. One popular volume by Laurence Gronlund outlined a “Cooperative Commonwealth” that inspired significant numbers of organized followers. Other widely advocated alternatives to the system that produced the grinding inequalities of the first Gilded Age included “Nationalists” kindled by Edward Bellamy’s novel of a collectivist paradise, Looking Backward. Different forms of socialism — Christian, Utopian, and offshoots of Marxism — were embraced by respectable public figures. Taken together, they did not win many votes, but the books and newspapers that they filled with their arguments created a voice that was heard in legislative chambers and opened paths to democratic reform. At the very least they partly removed the mantle of sanctity that the horrified wealthy wove and still weave around capitalism is the greatest of all possible ways of organizing an economy. Who’s doing that work of de-mythologizing now?

Wolff also mentioned the critical need for strong unions to sustain any such transition to “capitalism with a human face,” and he sees a job for the educational system in preparing future union leaders to assume responsible and informed leadership roles. That was what rang my bell.

From 1954 to 1959 I lived in Detroit as a junior professor at Wayne State University. At the time Michigan politics were fairly well dominated by the Democratic party which, in its turn, was heavily beholden to a healthy and hefty United Auto Workers, with real power to strike. As a result the managements of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler were amenable to compromise, and were met part way by the union’s leader, Walter Reuther, a one-time Socialist who was interested not merely in benefits for his members but in economic policy changes that would work to the benefit of society as a whole.

So when the time to cut the profit melon arrived, economists and statisticians from company and union alike met for informed bargaining. And, interestingly enough, they were often trained in the Economics Departments or business schools of the same universities.

How did I know this? Because I lived in a new suburb for middle-income home owners and I had friends on both sides.

For many conservatives the idea of workers having input on decisions regarding what employers could afford to pay them was as horrifying as putting a chimpanzee at the controls of a complicated and delicate machine. Not so at all. The union’s representatives at the table were as familiar with classroom-taught economics as were their management counterparts; sometimes neighbors and friends. The only important difference was in whom they believed themselves to be working for — shareholders or employees. Each group realized that these constituencies were in some sense dependent on each other. That did not produce love-ins, but healthy compromise much of the time because they were not unequal in power. Imagine anything like that happening if unions finally disappear as so many right-wing cheerleaders devoutly wish.

It was a good time for young and liberal folk, and for the nation, too — even with the overshadowing influences of the Cold War. I’d like it back in some form, but that won’t happen without a revival of the anger and readiness for political combat that not only inspired the first surge of Progressivism in the early 1900s and its fiery revival in the Great Depression. I’m still hoping to see some kind of renewal of that fighting spirit, even against mighty odds today.



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[-] 2 points by Perfectcast2 (7) 7 years ago

What industries would be unionized?

[-] 3 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

Progressive handbook. This can help understand how to rekindle the good fight in all of us.



[-] 2 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

No way but the Progressive way

[-] 2 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

All if possible, and widesprread implementation of democracy at work, worker owned business would work for me.

Are you with us?

[-] 0 points by Perfectcast2 (7) 7 years ago

Sure, but where is the money coming from?

[-] 4 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

What money are you talkin about.? To buy into a business?

[-] 1 points by Perfectcast2 (7) 7 years ago


[-] 3 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

I think it has to be some kind of work for shares situation. As long as the workers share in profits and decision making.

[-] 1 points by Perfectcast2 (7) 7 years ago

Workers likely want wages, not stock

[-] 3 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

Of course and good wages, the ownership shares have to be on top of the high wages.

[-] 1 points by Perfectcast2 (7) 7 years ago

Costco had $97 billion in sales, $1.7 billion in profit. Not much room for high wages and stock purchase.

[-] 4 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

I disagree. There's plenty to go around.

[-] 1 points by Perfectcast2 (7) 7 years ago

Well the math doesn't work for Costco. What other companies do you have in mind.?

[-] 3 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

The Math does work for Costco. Any & all companies can improve pay & move towards worker ownership.

Let's start with Walmart and give workers at least $15 dollars an hour.


[-] 2 points by frovikleka (2563) from Island Heights, NJ 7 years ago

Costco also already pays its employees better than their competitors, still probably not enough though.


[-] 4 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

Excellent point. So in Costcos case I would suggest some increase in wages and adding some small share (worth $5 per hour?) in order to create a stake and provide addl compensation.

Heres a bit on Walmarts (any big box store) ability to increase wages.


[-] 1 points by frovikleka (2563) from Island Heights, NJ 7 years ago

I remember reading a while back that the founder/CEO of Costco was at odds with his board in the fact he wanted to pay his employees better

Southwest Airlines and founder, former CEO Herb Kelleher in particular also had a good rep for treating their employees well

The loyalty that people have for employers who treat them well usually translates into a loyal, happier, harder working work-force, and hence a lower turn-over rate

But in the end these places are in competition with places like Walmart, where employees are treated like shit, so there is only so much that they can do to increase benefit packages


[-] 3 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

I agree, so our energies are best used to pressure those corps (like Walmart, fast food) that continue to provide low pay/benefits and squeeze middle class people.

[-] 4 points by frovikleka (2563) from Island Heights, NJ 7 years ago

Yes, we should start with the worst of the worse, and work our way up

Occupy is a reclacitrant movement, hence any RESISTANCE to the corrupt status quo is admirable

For those who want to work within the putrid political system, they should do so

But that should not be Occupy's modus operandi


[-] 4 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

You have said that. I agree.

Push against the exploitative corps squeezing the working class. Corrupt pols can follow if they wise up.

[-] 1 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

Take heart,

Stay strong


Be frosty

Look sharp

[-] 2 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

Progressives ascendent.


Finally sanity begins to return to society.

[-] 1 points by mideast (506) 7 years ago

Two very different points: Two of the best anti-industrialist anti-banker presidents were
Roosevelt (R) & Roosevelt(D)

I would not make it a law, but giving every employee a piece of the action - wherever they work makes sense - just ask Bella Oxmix

[-] 2 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

Can I say "resistance is futile"?

[-] 3 points by mideast (506) 7 years ago

do you know the Jerri Ryan - politics connection ?

Revealed in 2004: In her 1998 divorce, it was revealed that Jeri had accused husband [ very conservative Republican senatorial candidate ] Jack Ryan of asking her to perform sexual acts with him in public,and in sex clubs in New York, New Orleans, and Paris.
The document disclosure led Jack Ryan to withdraw his candidacy; His main opponent, won the 2004 United States Senate election in Illinois.
You might have heard of the Democrat who won

[-] 4 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

Pres Barak Obama. Hard to deny that the sci fi gods were engineering things can you?

Too coincidental.

[-] 2 points by mideast (506) 7 years ago

Live long & prosper!

[-] 3 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

"may the force be with you" LOL (his mixup and the nerdic outrage was too funny)

[-] 0 points by Perfectcast2 (7) 7 years ago

Hard to unionize low value added production jobs like Walmart or Starbucks or Macy's.

[-] 3 points by inclusionman (7064) 7 years ago

Difficulty is a poor excuse for inaction.