Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Representing workers

A must-read interview with Thomas Frank. Some of the money:
I think the values of the left still have power. But something has become apparent to me since I moved to Washington, D.C. [from Chicago]. There is this aversion, bordering on hatred, for the left, especially among Democrats. People who dominate discussions in Democratic circles despise the left, and there is no way in hell they are going to embrace the values of the left. You can try to explain to them how they need to do it for strategic purposes or in order to win elections, [but] it doesn’t matter. The Democratic centrists got their way [in the 2004 presidential election], they got their candidate, they got their way on everything, and they still lost.
Although Frank overplays the capacity of unions to serve as the central pillar of a revitalized Democratic Party, he's basically got it right. The hard work that the Democrats need to do is to (re)define themselves around representing the economic interests of low-end service workers. Protecting unions and extending organizing rights is a crucial part of that effort.

But even more important is to acknowledge the reality of capital having moved to flexible workplaces, and given that move, to do things that will help workers who will need to reinvent their careers numerous times over the course of their working life. What are the things that such a "flexible" working class needs? They need retraining programs, job placement programs, tax breaks for daycare, portable health care, solid pensions, high-quality (teacher's unions: do you read me?) public education, and so on. This is what the Democrats need to do to wrest the working class back from the politics of cultural resentment.

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