By Daniel C. Adkins
We face the critical problems of the needs of a sustainable future and creating an economy that works for all of us, not just the interests of the 1%. These goals cannot be reached without changing our political and labor system from a game rich people play to a more democratic and inclusive one. To reach our goals it is time we evaluated how our various social-economic groups use their creativity to change society (or not). Below is a quick view of different social class contributions.
The middle and upper middle classes cover a wide area and have created the crown jewels of our networked society. In addition to maintaining educational systems, small businesses, etc., they have created the new corporations of our technological world. The tech companies: Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Facebook have been created by middle class students enthralled by the opportunities of their disciplines, especially the technological ones. Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak is the son of a defense engineer who taught his son electronics so well that the “Woz” was able to build one of the first personal computers. Bill Gates learned coding so well that he was able to start a business. Steve Jobs got enough college under his belt that he was able to build a computer that was important in a cultural way as much as a business way. The Google guys created a company in the process of implementing their search algorithms. Although middle class professionals are unionized in education and government, unionizations have not caught on in some of the newer industries so when companies have gotten creative stealing workers options, the work force has had to create class-action lawsuits.
The companies that were created eventually grew beyond their initial technologies and often have used business techniques that are monopolistic. These techniques can be seen as part of capitalist market reality and “creativity”. Markets are not stable and a successful company will try to control its market unless regulated not to do so. The values of these middle class inspired corporations often include supporting a sustainable future. Google has been carbon neutral since 2007 and Apple aims to be carbon neutral in the near future. The middle classes fulfill the professional and small business needs, often work for a sustainable future, and its creativity has created major corporations.
The blue collar or working class not only fulfills the needs of production and services, but also has been the focus of the Quality movement. In older production practices workers were seen to be programmable by management instructions. The Quality movement’s goal is to capture the workers mental (creativity) and physical efforts to create more efficient systems. If a cooperation wants to excel it can use the creativity of all it workers. Some firms do utilize their workers suggestions and even reward them. Unions can create a safe working environment and minimize fear thus allowing open speech, which is a basis for creativity. In other countries there are worker’s councils that let management and unions plan together and formally use worker’s creativity. With the roll-back of unions in the US this joint structure is used very little. However much of the U.S. livability (8 hour day), health insurance coverage, and welfare state came from the workings class’ union history.
Much of the lower class creativity is spent in just surviving. Sadly the economy is so rough on them that most do not seem able to thrive or rise. They do not get the childhood educational enrichment that other classes do and this is a serious limit. The latest news about the police shooting of young black men has noted that some police forces have used the law to raise money for themselves and obstruct citizen’s movement by minor arrests, thus making it difficult to keep a job. We had hoped Jim Crow was gone, but it has just been institutionalized.
The 1% is well educated, well financed, and protective of its wealth. There are divisions between old money and new members (innovators from the middle class) politically, ethically, and economically. The 1%’s creativity can be seen as it maintains its wealth using money to lobby Congress, rewrite laws in its favor, and use politics, statistics, culture, and psychology to manipulate elections to expand its corporations’ profits. Congress has given business interests so much influence that the AFL-CIO and environmental organizations are not even given complete access to the proposed trade bill. Allowing the 1% to define the trade bills blocks unions and environmentalists from requiring living wages and a healthful environment worldwide. We see who is important when labor and the environment are not seen as essential to trade treaties.
The 1%’s creativity has optimized its cash flow from production and distribution of goods on a worldwide basis. The Wal-Mart example of this does provide low prices while wiping out local businesses and paying such low wages that many of their employees need public assistance at our expense. Over the last 40 or so years the top 3% has gobbled up productivity so much that it owns 90% of US wealth. This level of inequality has not been seen since the Great Depression. A new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation (major industrialized countries) links inequality with slower national economic growth. The financial sector has been so influential that it almost created a depression after its lobbying dismantled laws to help prevent that outcome. Much of the climate denying comes from the fossil fuel industry-buying politicians in order to make money the way they have always made it. Climate change is a business opportunity for some of the 1%. If coastal cities become swamped, those with capital can just build and sell cities up the river. The 1%’s corporations use the creativity of all of us but reward only themselves. The 1% is leading us toward a less sustainable, less viable U.S., and less democratic future in order to maximize their wealth and influence.
The 1% loose empathy for us as inequality grows. When the 1% uses us as a factor of production or a political variable to be manipulated, we are faced with a powerful group that no longer sees us as fellow citizens but an impediment to their plans for the whole world. Whether we are janitors, security guards, teachers, programmers, or scientists, to the 1% we are just cogs in their wheels to be adjusted as needed. The trade bills that our government has let the corporations design give the 1% a tool to manipulate labor and the environment in countries worldwide. American and foreign labor would both be protected if labor rates were not allowed to fall to the lowest level worldwide. Now foreign labor’s distress is only noted when hundred of them die at a time. This can change when we have a just trade treaty. The environment problems are connected as our atmosphere and must be solved on a worldwide basis and this must be a basis for judging trade treaties.
One factor in capitalism replacing feudalism was that the merchants and business people were more creative in developing the future. Eventfully they created businesses that became highly centralized. Today, much of our new technology is distributed like solar and needs to be coordinated but not necessarily centralized. With the outrage at our current inequality and the lesser need for centralization, is there a basis for a new mode of production? Are we up for building a new social contract that will enable our pursuit of happiness to people worldwide? Or will the 1% continue to threaten humankind’s sustainability by monopolizing the world’s economy and rewarding only itself?
FOR UNION ORGANIZERS: This article tries to undercut the US culture obsession with individualism. It is true that we are individuals and our decisions and creativity are important. It is also true that we live and work in systems or organizations from families, schools, corporations, and governments. None of us lives independently growing our own food and making our own tools. Individualism and libertarianism blinds us to our social and economic connections. Opposing a heavily organized corporation or class as individuals is not a winning hand and the public needs to get this information ASAP.
Daniel C. Adkins, an active member of Washington, DC DSA, has been a member of the Laborers’ International Union of North America and the American Federation of Teachers, and an officer in the National Treasury Employee¹s Union Chapter 213 for the U.S. Department of Energy headquarters. At the DoE’s Energy Information Administration he was the union partner to EIA’s Administrator for TQM and quality issues.