LUMPENPROLETARIAT—Let’s face it. Former Vice President Joseph Biden is anti-working class. The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. And Biden’s past behavior has been to disregard labor, unless he needs a photo op, like he did back in 1987 and in his campaign kickoff in Boston, as The Guardian’s Gabriel Winant explained:
Now, his first major presidential fundraiser is being hosted by the founder of one of the country’s leading anti-union law firms. The man running to be labor’s champion is sponsored by someone who has made millions choking the life out of the labor movement.Gabriel Winant, The Guardian, 2 MAY 2019
THE GUARDIAN—[2 MAY 2019] In San Francisco there’s a high-end boutique called “Unionmade”. There you will find expensive work jackets and overalls, lit by bare bulbs and displayed on unvarnished metal shelves. The aesthetic could not convey its message any more clearly: buy these clothes, and access a bygone era of authenticity and American craftsmanship. But it’s a lie – the clothes on offer are largely not union-made. “The unfortunate reality is that there are not many unions left in the garment industry and so the name was cultivated as a signifier of well-made and aesthetically timeless goods,” explains a spokesperson.
As the industrial working class has faded, its afterimage has become available for appropriation in commerce, in culture and in politics. Such appropriation need not entail commitment to the workers’ movement. Everyone from Levi’s jeans to Donald Trump has made this move – and now, Joe Biden, the would-be candidate of labor.
Biden is the Unionmade of politicians. The former vice-president is taking great care to dress up his new candidacy in a blue-collar costume; as Andrew Epstein puts it, he is an “aesthetic populist”. His kickoff rally was on Monday in a union hall in Pittsburgh, where the president of the United Steelworkers of America promised his members would be present “wearing their USW gear”.
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Nor does Biden have a public policy record favorable to the working class. In 1977-1978, during unions’ big push for labor law reform, he vacillated for months and sabotaged the proposal with public criticism. He voted for Nafta and supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He authored the punishing 2005 bankruptcy bill, a reward to creditors and punishment to debtors. Worse still, he has been one of the main legislative architects of mass incarceration, a regime that has devastated the heavily policed and punished American working class.
But this brings us to the real substance of the problem. Biden would surely not recognize the targets of mass incarceration as members of what he imagines as the “working class”. As he put it in a speech to the IAFF in March, “In my neighborhood you grew up either to be a firefighter or a cop, a tradesman or a priest.” This stratum is what has often been called the “aristocracy of labor”. These occupations and their unions have historically been hostile to women and people of color and de facto segregated. They are more economically comfortable and politically conservative than the rest of the working class, and are notorious for pursuing their own immediate interests over broader working-class solidarity. The building trades, for instance, have played a central role in leading organized labor’s opposition to the Green New Deal.
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Learn more at THE GUARDIAN.
[17 DEC 2020]
[Last modified on 17 DEC 2020 at 07:26 PST]