Mark Ames: The Left’s Big Sellout – How the ACLU and Human Rights Groups Quietly Exterminated Labor Rights

By Mark Ames, the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine. Cross posted from The Daily Banter.


Progressive intellectuals have been acting very bipolar towards labor lately, characterized by wild mood swings ranging from the “We’re sorry we abandoned labor, how could we!” sentiment during last year’s Wisconsin uprising against Koch waterboy Scott Walker, to the recent “labor is dead/it’s all labor’s fault” snarling after the recall vote against Gov. Walker failed.

It must be confusing and a bit daunting for those deep inside the labor movement, all these progressive mood swings. At the beginning of this month, New York Times’ columnist Joe Nocera wrote a column about having a “V-8 Moment” over the abandonment of labor unions, an abandonment that was so thorough and so complete that establishment liberals like Nocera forgot they’d ever abandoned labor in the first place!

The intellectual-left’s wild mood swings between unrequited love towards labor unions, and unrequited contempt, got me wondering how this abandonment of labor has manifested itself. While progressives and labor are arguing, sometimes viciously, over labor’s current sorry state, one thing progressives haven’t done is serious self-examination on how and where this abandonment of labor manifests itself, how it affects the very genetic makeup of liberal assumptions and major premises.

So I did a simple check: I went to the websites of three of the biggest names in liberal activist politics: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the ACLU. Checking their websites, I was surprised to find that not one of those three organizations lists labor as a major topic or issue that it covers.

Go to Amnesty International’s home page at On the right side, under “Human Rights Information” you’ll see a pull-down menu: “by topic.” Does labor count as a “Human Rights topic” in Amnesty’s world? I counted 27 “topics” listed by Amnesty International, including “Abolish the death penalty”, “Indigenous Peoples”, “ “Children and Human Rights” and so on. Nowhere do they have “labor unions” despite the brutal, violent experience of labor unions both here and around the world. It’s not that Amnesty’s range isn’t broad: For example, among the 27 topics there are “Women’s rights”, “Stop Violence Against Women” and “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”. There’s even a topic for “Business and Human Rights”—but nothing for labor.

Puzzled, I called Alex Edwards, Amnesty’s Media Relations guy in Washington DC, to ask him why labor unions didn’t rate important enough as a “topic” on Amnesty’s “list of topics.” Edwards was confused, claimed that he was totally unaware that there was a “list of topics” on Amnesty’s home page, and promised to get back to me. I haven’t heard back from him.

Amnesty’s “Topics”: Labor rights “disappeared”

Next, I checked Human Rights Watch. From my experience in Russia and Eastern Europe, I’ve learned to expect less from HRW than I would from Amnesty—my memory of HRW during the Kosovo conflict and in others is that, when called to, HRW acts as a propaganda arm for the liberal hawk war party. But HRW has also done a lot of important good work in areas not covered by the press, and they’re certainly better than most—so does Human Rights Watch consider labor unions an important human rights issue?

Checking Human Rights Watch’s homepage (, there’s a tab listing “topics”—14 topics in all. Once again, labor is not listed among Human Rights Watch’s covered “topics.” Instead, Human Rights Watch lists everything from “Children’s Rights” to “Disability Rights” to “LGBT Rights” and “Women’s Rights”—along with “Terrorism”, “Counterterrorism” and, I shit you not, “Business”—as vital human rights topics. But not labor. “Business”—but not “Labor.”

On the advice of an old friend, Jan Frel, I read an excellent book on the human rights industry, James Peck’s Ideal Illusions, which helps answer why labor rights have been airbrushed out of the language of human rights. It wasn’t always this way: Economic rights and workplace rights were for decades at the very heart of the human rights movement. This was officially enshrined in 1948, when the United Nations adopted a 30-point “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” putting labor rights and economic equality rights alongside those we’re more familiar with today, like freedom of expression, due process, religion and so on. But somehow, labor rights and economic justice have been effectively amputated from the human rights agenda and forgotten about, in tandem with the American left’s abandonment of labor.

In Peck’s history, Human Rights Watch stands out as a force for rank neoliberalism, a major player in the extermination-by-omission of labor rights and economic equality rights from the language of human rights. How this happened sheds at least a bit more light on how the left abandoned labor.

Aryeh Neier, founder of Human Rights Watch and its executive director for 12 years, doesn’t hide his contempt for the idea of economic equality as one of the key human rights. Neier is so opposed to the idea of economic equality that he even equates the very idea of economic equality and justice with oppression—economic rights to him are a violation of human rights, rather than essential human rights, thereby completely inverting traditional left thinking.

Here’s what Neier wrote in his memoir, Taking Liberties:

“The concept of economic and social rights is profoundly undemocratic… Authoritarian power is probably a prerequisite for giving meaning to economic and social rights.”

Neier here is aping free-market libertarian mandarins like Friedrich von Hayek, or Hayek’s libertarian forefathers like William Graham Sumner, the robber baron mandarin and notorious laissez-faire Social Darwinist. As with Neier, William Graham Sumner argued that liberty has an inverse relationship to economic equality; according to Sumner, the more economic equality, the less liberty; whereas the greater the inequality in a society, the more liberty its individuals enjoy. It’s the fundamental equation underlying all libertarian ideology and politics—a robber baron’s ideology at heart.

Neier goes further, explicitly rejecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because nine of its 30 articles focus on economic rights as human rights. Neier objects to that, singling out for censure “such economic issues as a right to work; to social security; and to an adequate standard of living.” The human rights article on “a right to work” that Neier dismisses as “authoritarian” is Article 23, and it reads:

“Article 23 (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

It’s interesting that Neier rejects Article 23, the article on labor, which he mislabels as “a right to work”, because back in the 1970s, when Neier was executive director of the ACLU, he supported big business’s “Right To Work” anti-labor laws, against the rest of the left and the ACLU, which at the time still supported labor rights as civil rights. The so-called “Right To Work” laws are grossly misnamed—they’re really laws designed to bust unions by making it even more difficult for them to organize worker power against the overwhelming power of the corporation. It was corporate PR flaks hired to deceive and conceal the real purpose of those laws who came up with the false name “Right To Work” laws. Fred Koch, father of Charles and David Koch and one of the founders of the John Birch Society, got his start in rightwing politics as a leader of the “Right To Work” movement in Kansas in the mid-1950s.

Less than twenty years after Fred Koch fought to destroy labor rights through “Right To Work” laws, the executive director of the ACLU, Aryeh Neier—the same Aryeh Neier who later led Human Rights Watch— colluded with William Buckley to push the ACLU rightward against labor by getting the ACLU to represent big business and “Right To Work” laws, under the guise of “protecting free speech”—the same bullshit pretense always used by lawyers and advocates to help big business crush labor and democracy. This “free speech” pretense is the basis on which the ACLU currently supports the Citizens United decision, which effectively legalized the transformation of America into an oligarchy.

I found an article from 1971 written by William Buckley in which the National Review founder praises Neier for working with him to turn the ACLU against labor: “I invited the ACLU to practice consistency by associating itself with a lawsuit which would prove unpopular among its labor union supporters,” Buckley wrote. “The executive director, Aryeh Neier, has replied, rather straightforwardly, I think. He says, ‘for many years, it has been the ACLU’s policy that the union shop does not, by itself, violate civil liberties. I have felt for some time that we should review this policy and I will use your request to initiate reconsideration,’ going on to say that it will take a while to canvass the directors.”

New Right “libertarian” William Buckley teams up with ACLU’s Neier to destroy labor

A few years later, Buckley boasted of his first early success in turning the ACLU against labor, citing not just his ally Aryeh Neier, but also another well-known name in the so-called “left,” Nat Hentoff. Buckley wrote in 1973:

“Meanwhile, Mr. Nat Hentoff, a left-winger of undiluted loyalty to the first amendment, has urged his very important constituency to side with me and with Evans [M. Stanton Evans, an early libertarian and longtime defender of Joseph McCarthy] and has attempted to persuade the American Civil Liberties Union to file a brief amicus curiae. He has almost singlehandedly persuaded the ACLU to change its historic opinion about union membership. The union shop, the ACLU now says belatedly, ought not to be required for people who are journalists.”

The lawsuit Buckley refers to, Buckley and Evans vs. AFTRA, was backed by the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation, the legal arm of the notorious union-busting outfit of the same name. And “leftist” Nat Hentoff. People used to think Hentoff was a leftist—and he seemed like one to de-politicized Baby Boomer imbeciles, who figured the Village Voicelabel on Hentoff’s columns meant whatever he said was leftist. Today, Hentoff is finally in his ideological home at the Cato Institute, the Koch brothers’ anti-labor, pro-oligarchy libertarian think-tank. Despite the Cato Institute’s tireless efforts to undermine democracy and labor, many progressives today consider Cato as “left” or “progressive”—a perversion only possible in today’s mutant left, stripped of its historical relationship to labor and economic justice.

The ACLU under Aryeh Neier also allied with another Buckley in another key decision that hurt labor and democracy and helped the oligarchy: Buckley v Valeo in 1976. Neier was the ACLU head at the time that the ACLU sided with William Buckley’s brother, James Buckley, in a lawsuit to open up the money floodgates into American politics. Most people don’t know Neier’s role in moving the ACLU against labor and against egalitarianism—instead, he did a lot of cheap grandstanding on behalf of Nazi marchers in Skokie. That’s the sort of pseudo-politics and pseudo-bravery that, stripped of economic politics and labor politics, results in the pseudo-left of today, a left absorbed by “identity politics” at the expense of labor, egalitarianism and socio-economic justice.

And that brings me to the ACLU today—the most depressing part of this story. I had an inkling that the ACLU had abandoned labor before my simple exercise check of their website. Mike Elk has shared with me some of his research into this subject. And it’s well known that the ACLU vigorously supported the disastrous Citizens United decision; the ACLU also took $20 million dollars from the Koch brothers, whose libertarian outfits have played a major role in making Citizens United a reality. Supposedly that money was meant to “fight the Patriot Act”—which is odd, considering that the director of the Koch brothers’ Center for Constitutional Studies at Cato and Vice President for Legal Affairs at Cato, Roger Pilon, explicitly supported the Patriot Act from 2002 through 2008, and that the Kochs’ Cato Institute hired John Yoo to serve on their editorial advisory board for the Cato Supreme Court Review. One should be skeptical when it comes to Koch “donations” sold to the public as charity work in the service of human rights.

Maybe there’s no connection there whatsoever between the Kochs’ $20 million gift to the ACLU, and the ACLU’s advocacy for the Kochs’ pet political issue, Citizens United, which transferred greater power from democracy and into the hands of billionaire oligarchs like the Kochs. Maybe it’s all a coincidence, I don’t know. But we do know that there is precedent for the ACLU taking money from corporations, advocating their cause under the guise of “protecting free speech” and hiding the conflict of interest from the public in order to make their defense seem more convincing.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the ACLU vigorously defended the interests of the tobacco lobby under the guise of protecting their “first amendment rights”—and they did it for payments in-kind. Leaked tobacco documents in the 1990s exposed the ACLU working out explicit deals with the tobacco industry to take their money in exchange for advocating their interests in public, without disclosing that gross conflict of interest and violation of the public trust. The documents and memos revealed that the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to the ACLU by the tobacco companies were payments in kind to for the ACLU’s defense of Big Tobacco, a relationship that both parties tried to hide in order to confuse the public into believing that the ACLU’s arguments for tobacco were motivated by purely altruistic constitutional arguments, rather than sleazy under-the-table cash payments. The ACLU is, after all, a trusted institution among progressives—that made them the ideal “Third Party Advocate” in PR terms for the tobacco industry’s interests.

Yessiree, it’s all about protecting our Constitutional liberties!

One of the best accounts of the ACLU’s sleazy relationship with big tobacco comes from former Washington Post investigative reporter Morton Mintz, in his piece, “The ACLU and the Tobacco Companies,” published in Harvard University’s Nieman Reports. Mintz reported how the ACLU laundered the tobacco lobby’s money as supposedly charity money to fight for workplace rights. This abuse of public trust so outraged former ACLU legal director, Melvin Wulf, that he publicly denounced the ACLU’s rationalization as a “sham” — the ACLU worked with tobacco to fight against second-hand smoke laws, the very opposite of “workplace rights”:

“The justification that the money is used to support workplace rights is a sham. There is no constitutional right to pollute the atmosphere and threaten the health of others. The revelations…support the conclusion that the ACLU’s mission is being corrupted by the attraction of easy money from an industry whose ethical values are themselves notoriously corrupt and which is responsible for the death annually of 350,000 to 400,000 persons in the U.S. alone.”

So it should come as no surprise that on the ACLU’s website, on the page marked “Key Issues”— labor does not appear. Not among the 14 categories of ACLU “Key Issues” — which include “HIV/AIDS”, “LGBT Rights”, “Technology and Liberty” and “Women’s Rights”. Not even among the 90 sub-categories of “Key Issues” is there a single mention of “labor rights.”

Everything under the civil liberties sun but labor rights and economic/social equality are named as ACLU “key issues.” Among the 90 sub-categories: “Marijuana Law Reform”, “Flag Desecration”, “LGBT Parenting”, “Medical Care in Prison” and “Mental Care In Prison” [separate sub-categories], “Biological Technologies”, “Internet Privacy”, and “Sex Education.” All of these certainly qualify as key issues to progressives; but the list of categories, 114 in all, without a single mention of labor unions, let alone economic equality or even the very word “equality”—provides a grim and shameful picture of a left stripped of labor, stripped of economic egalitarianism. It is not a left at all: It is, alas, libertarianism. The left was born of labor struggles and the fight against oligarchy and for egalitarianism, economic justice and equality. Now there isn’t even a memory of that.

Stunned by the fact that the ACLU didn’t even include “labor” or “equality” among the 114 “key topics” listed, I called and then wrote to the ACLU asking for comment.

Here is the response I received from Molly Kaplan, the media relations liaison at the American Civil Liberties Union:

Hi Mark,

Labor rights are certainly a key issue for the ACLU; it is folded into our work for free speech, immigrants’ rights and women’s rights. If you look into the pages for those issues, you will find that labor rights have a presence. Let us know if we can be of any further assistance.



Well, at least someone has labor rights.

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  1. albrt

    Thanks for this post.

    Since I am abandoning the Democrats I would be willing to throw that time and money toward labor issues, except that most unions would basically just funnel it back to the Democrats.

    If you find a non-disfunctional way to support labor rights, please let us know.

    1. Dameocrat

      It is even more hopeless and bleak when you consider that trade unions themselves are run by neocons like Social Democrats USA and NED, and that they do gotv for dems who hate them like Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama and Tom Barrett.

      By the way most social democrats usa leading lights freely admit that they don’t believe in the labor movement, or the right to join a union, so why labor submits to their dictates is beyond me.

    2. Goin' South


      The Wobblies are growing, practicing solidarity unionism, organizing shops others ignore and do NOT send a dime to the Democrats.

      We don’t phone bank for them either. ;)

    3. leftover

      I’m not sure what you mean by “non-disfunctional” but…
      The Socialist Equality Party is associated with The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). Jerry White and Phyllis Scherrer are their candidates in the election.

      Workers’ Struggles and labor rights are a consistent theme.
      Do not expect any favorable treatment of the Democratic Party or current trade union leadership.

  2. salvo

    thanks Ames, e very importatnt issue showing how labor has been deprived of any representation in discourse and exposing the role those claiming representing progressive positions have played in erasing it from collective consciense

  3. Min

    Any rift between labor and the intellectual left goes back before the 1970s, at least to the Civil Rights and Anti-War Movements (usually thougt of together as The Movement) in the 1960s. It is not a one sided story of abandonment.

    1. CB

      Here’s an outline of the decline of labor’s influence in the Democratic Party and the unions’ split from the “left.”

      My only question is about the assumption that Obama would have been the Dems presidential candidate had labor remained strongly supportive of the Democrats. I don’t think someone as callow and inexperienced as Obama, and given his Illinois legislative history, would have made it thru the primaries. Obama would not have impressed labor as a worthy candidate. Just speculating, but in all the what-ifs I’ve seen, the assumption of Obama’s presidential candidacy seems to me too long a reach. In the land of What-if, I believe there are many scenarios in which Obama is just another case of truncated ambitions.

      1. Won't be voting

        I agree. But how deep would one have to push into the Democrat’s bench to find a person who could be relied upon to support workers’ rights? There are no more than one or two Senators and even the Black Caucus includes careerists, knaves and fools.

        So instead of a labour voice, we got dystopian neocons and, 40 years on, the dystopia. Every natural system is failing and we’ve destroyed the political and social institutions that enable us to cope with disasters.

        For those of us with long memories, the loss of labour representatives is poignant. There was always an alternative.

        1. CB

          Had the 60s and 70s gone differently, the whole social and economic panorama likely would look very different and the Marleys holding office today would be back benching and gnawing on scraps. I just don’t think Barack Obama would have been in the field of possibles. Nothing of substance to offer. Peggy Noonan was on the money.

          During the campaign, I found it amusing, and perplexing, that Palin’s resume was derisively compared to Obama’s, as if Obama had vast depth and breadth to Palin’s scanty CV. Palin had more experience than Obama.

          1. binky bear

            As an Alaskan;
            a thousand times, no. And no again.
            Palin did one good thing: raised the taxes on oil producers, which her Lieutenant Governor (slave of Conoco Philips) has been working at revoking since she wandered off.
            Palin. uff.

          2. CB

            I didn’t say Palin was a laudable governor, I said she had more experience, a better resume, than Obama. She absolutely did. If you think Obama’s been a better pres than Palin was a gov, well, to me that’s a skew lines argument: I don’t think there’s any basis for comparison. I can’t stand him, I wouldn’t have wanted her. I will say, tho, that determined opposition appears to have an effect on Palin and it doesn’t on Obama: she can be moved off her dime, he can’t.

    2. jake chase

      I remember organized labor as a militant bulwark of the Vietnam War. My reaction then was: okay fuckers, your time will come. It has come, too. Labor stopped being leftist long before the left dumped labor.

      1. Bobok

        Depends what you call “leftist” doesn’t it? Sectraian infighting on the left has always gotten in the way of progress and still does to this day. Glad to see it’s alive and well.

      2. stevefraser

        As FDR said “All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.” Other than minorities, the public employee unions are the DEMS most important supporters.

  4. Externality

    “Amnesty Int’l collapse: new head is former State Dept official who rationalized Iran sanctions, Gaza onslaught”

    “Amnesty’s Shilling for US Wars”

    Amnesty even recruited Madeline Alright — best known for her infamous statement to “60 minutes” that 500,000 dead Iraqi children were “worth it” — to speak on human rights.

  5. Rutger

    Labor doesn’t support labor. Here in Denmark the supossedly left wing government just lowered taxes, financed largely by a reduction in unemployment benefits. Something the previous right wing government didn’t even dare mention. But I more or less expected that, what left me slightly baffled was, that the most powerful labor-leader pretty much gave it his whole-hearted approval. They can all go f themselves.

    It’s an awesome article, though I’m a bit creeped out about how many times women’s rights is emphasized as something the human rights groups valued above labor, giving one the impression that you think it’s unimportant. I know you say: “All of these certainly qualify as key issues to progressives”, but the amount of times things pertaining to women’s rights are mentioned, makes you think…

    1. Foppe

      neoliberals are consummate social climbers, and will go wherever they can to pad their cv.

  6. Maju

    I’m less familiar with ACLU but HRW is generally seen in many places as little more than a US government agency, a CIA cover up, just like USAID. I see that Amnesty International, for all its petty bourgeois prestige, is not at all different.

    Thanks for this eye-opener.

    1. They didn't leave me a choice

      Agreed, I’m actually a bit annoyed now that I’ve supported amnesty monetarily for several years now. I guess it’s time to seek better uses for that money.

  7. Maju

    On second thought, I am not sure if you can consider these organizations “the Left” at all. I mean: the Left is the unions, or the communists and anarchsists if you wish… not some petty bourgeois “human rights” organizations.

    Being Left or Right is a matter of Class, not the Dem-Rep false democracy show.

    1. salvo

      you are right, actually those human rights institutions cannot be considered to be left as they focus on abstract human rights devoided of any concrete social substance, they represent whoever is deprived (generally by evil governments) of his political rights (i.e. free speech) which mostly happens to minorities (as Ames rightly writes they focus on identity policts), but not whoever is deprived of the social-economic basis to actually exercise those political rights. The point Ames aims being that those human rights institutions actually originally had those social economic rights on their agenda because their representants conceived their very basic nature to the representation of human rights. So by devoiding the language of human right representation of such social economic basis they implemented the goals of the right-wing agenda in a progressive camouflage.

  8. OMF

    If Labour wants a voice, its has to leanr how to dispute again. In short it has to learn how to strike, picket, and vote.

    There is nothing wrong with labour disputes in a mature democracy. Companies who threaten to run off abroad at the first sign of a union should be ignored in the main, and hit with tariffs when they do.

  9. Roman Berry

    I normally don’t link to Joan Walsh at Salon, but she had an article based on Jefferson Cowie’s “Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class” and an interview with that author back in September of 2010 (just before the mid-term shellacking of Democrats) that’s well worth a read for anyone wanting to get an even larger picture of what has happened to Democrats with regards to labor these last 40 years.


    When blue-collar pride became identity politics: Remembering how the white working class got left out of the New Left, and why we’re all paying for it today

    1. MontanaMaven

      Thanks! Very good stuff indeed. I meant to read “Stayin’ Alive”. The whole union and labor deal has become a mild obsession with me for years. I say “mild” because I do have a job to do. I decided to become “active” in politics in 2004 after years of just voting for Democrats. The author singles out labor abandoning McGovern in 1972 as the single most important event that divided labor from the Democratic Party. It was my first vote. I was standing in a long line in Michigan when they announced Nixon’s victory. We wept silently and stayed in line to vote. Only time I got excited again was Jesse Jackson’s campaign. And finally when I heard a North Carolina senator in 2003 say, “It’s time to reward work over wealth” did I join a political campaign. For me, the answer to everything seem to lay in trying to solve inequality in wealth/poverty and to give dignity to work. Gosh, we could help ourselves and the planet. Martin Luther King Jr joining the sanitation workers in Memphis and Bobby Kennedy going to Appalachia all seemed to fit in my young mind. Then they killed them. That fit too.
      Now add Mark Ames’ story to the puzzle. Wow! Fool me again and again. I keep having to stop subscriptions to so-called progressive magazines. (I stopped “The Nation” in 2008 with their early endorsement of a guy with absolutely no labor creds. Can’t believe now I went of their cruise in 2004. Well I got to sing show tunes with Molly Ivins, so it wasn’t all bad). Now I throw away almost all fundraising letters. Now I gotta rip up my ACLU card.

      But yes, John, below, is right. Ohio defeating SB 5 was encouraging. New coalitions can be formed but we’ve got to go back to basics and not be afraid to talk about alternatives. Opening up liberal eyes is a needed first step. So thanks again to Mark and Yasha.

  10. Middle Seaman

    Two of our major civil rights heroes, MLK and Harvey Milk, were strong supporter of the idea of civil right and workers right are one and the same. Today’s Democratic party, obviously, has become a center right party and it is willing to get labor support but does absolutely nothing for labor. Therefore, claiming that labor controls the ideas of the Democrats is a cruel joke.

    Amnesty and HRW are corrupt organizations who emphasis fads over substance. ACLU’s history as depicted by this post is new to me and shocking.

    First, the US doesn’t really have a progressive political organization. What we have is wanabes. For instance, the Nation, the supposedly progressive magazine, has supported Obama in early 2008 despite knowing only too well about his strong ties to Wall Street. Since when is a Wall Streeter good enough for progressives?

    Following the Huffington Post’s article for three consecutive months labor references revealed that on average labor is mentioned about once a month. The Huff being quite progressive reveals the huge chasm, i.e. “we don’t do labor.”

    There is a class divide between pretend progressives and labor; it’s the old divide between white and blue collars. It’s not only Amnesty, HRW and the ACLU.

    1. Synopticist

      Damn Right. Ultimatelly, being progressive has to come down to class and income (in)equality. There’s no substitute.
      The replacement of genuine leftism by identity politics has happened to an extent everywhere amongs the left, but has gone much further in the US than elsewhere.

      There’s nothing in Amnesty or HRW’s views that would prevent 90% of the population living in hovels owned by their heriditary oligarchic bosses. As long as straight, white debt peons were being treated as badly as gay or black peons, they’d be fine with it.

  11. kevinearick

    only your own can sell you out.

    labor operates implicily, to avoid shorting the event horizons until the final piece, the multiplexer,is linked, dropping the old for energy of catalysis.

  12. watchmice

    These phony parastatal advocates crap on the UDHR because it’s US state policy to ignore the UDHR’s force as customary international law. These phonies also bowdlerize the other two parts of the International Bill of Human Rights, the CCPR and the CESCR. For instance, supreme law of the land under Article VI of the Constitution, CCPR Article 22 (1): “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” Collective bargaining is integral to freedom of association. Frinstance also, Article 7 of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which the US is a signatory obligated to do nothing that would undermine the object and purpose of the treaty. Labor standards are a core human right but don’t expect to hear that from the government’s tame domestic advocates. Labor’s only trustworthy institutional advocates are The Human Rights Committee, the Human Rights Council, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Labor Organization. You can tell because their work gets buried here at home.

    1. Synopticist

      Maybe your list of “good guys” is part of the problem?
      “Rights based advocacy” has replaced political activism and solidarity. Bad move.

      1. Bobok

        You can say that again. Heck, I’ll do it:

        “Rights based advocacy” has replaced political activism and solidarity. Bad move.

        The only good news for labor is some of the most significant gains came at a time when people were abused or even shot for striking. We’re still starting with a big head start on our counterparts in the 30’s. “Direct action gets the goods.”

  13. PaulArt

    This was a brilliant expose! Great work Mark! One wonders how much of the enervation of labor was caused also by corrupt Union bosses. Look at Richard Trumka, case closed. Going from this arc of logic one also wonders if its time to create a Federal Reserve equivalent for Labor rights and to advocate for working people. While this also suffers from the weakness of regulatory capture we could structure it in such a way so as to make it independent of labor unions and give it sufficient teeth. More Government, yes but labor unions have now been tarred, feathered and tarnished beyond redemption. Its now the brown dried stain of a yester year roadkill. We need to move beyond the paradigm of ‘Union’ and enter the realm of the working class. The umbrella has to be big enough so that it does not lend itself to easy divide and conquer methods as we see now, pitting private sector workers against public sector workers. It will help us to drive towards a common framework of worker rights. We will definitely need to break a few legs and crack a few heads of the Corporate lobby to do this but it will be worth it.

    1. Ames Gilbert

      How about a Union for the Rest of Us? Open to all, not some relatively small interest group set up by the masters of ‘divide and conquer’. Modern non-authoritarian organizational methods and communication, total quality management style. Big enough to start co-ops, Mondragon style. Big enough to have our own health organization. Big enough to reduce the common fear and stress of the members (job security, health security). Big enough to negotiate on equal terms with the one percent. Big enough to back representatives of the ninety-nine percent and win back our democracy.
      There was a song about that, wasn’t there? Chorus: “Pie in the sky . . .”

  14. Mcmike

    Has any one ever studied the boards of these groups? Inevitably, they get captured by corporatist neolib “centrists”.

    It is a version of the same revolving door. Corporatist infiltration of useful idiots padding their resumes or following their watered down version of noblesse oblige service, accompanied by not a few actual agent provacateurs very much intent on diverting/destroying/coopting the organization.

    Eventually the groups are toothless, and M Albright or T Friedman are keynoting their big events.

  15. John

    I am disgusted to learn about some of these issues; I wasn’t aware of the ACLU’s hostility to unions. I am now. I also have to say that too many commentators have very short memories. What we did in Ohio in defeating SB 5 by an almost 2-1 margin in November should serve as a model of social and labor activism for other parts of the country. It was far more important and indicated the real strength of the labor movement than Wisconsin. Everyone has a lot to learn from our historic victory for labor rights. Finally, I attended a conference the other day about problems in k-12 education. The lefties there could not say enough negative things about the AFT and the NEA. I pointed out again and again that they only way to have an impact on education is by getting them on your side but too many people only want to speak to people they agree with to maintain their ideilogical purity. By doing so, they condemn themselves to always being a fringe organziation and never creating change.

  16. Mattski

    Extremely important piece that takes a moment to get going; I’d reorganize the first few bars. Thanks for this–will circulate.

  17. SR6719

    “Human rights, dissidence, anti-racism, SOS-this, SOS-that: these are soft, easy, post coitum historicum ideologies, “after-the-orgy” ideologies for an easy-going generation which has known neither hard ideologies nor radical philosophies. The ideology of a generation which is neo-sentimental in its politics too, which has rediscovered altruism, conviviality, international charity and the individual bleeding heart. Emotional outpourings, solidarity, cosmopolitan emotiveness, multi-media pathos: all soft values harshly condemned by the Nietzschean, Marxo-Freudian age… A new generation, that of the spoilt children of the crisis, whereas the preceding one was that of the accursed children of history.” – Jean Baudrillard

    1. MS G

      Thank you for the link to J. Baudrillard. Perfectly illustrates how signals and signposts exist all around us but we can miss them and years go by until you come face to face with them. I read a lot of JB in my 20s . . . never came across this passage. If I had . . .

      1. SR6719

        In that case you might find this article interesting. Baudrillard contra Susan Sontag. (A provocative challenge thrown out by Jean Baudrillard to Susan Sontag and other American intellectuals, that also does a good job of explaining Baudrillard’s concept of the “hyperreal” (often completely misunderstood as some form of escapism or denial of reality):


        “In the summer of 1993, while Sarajevo was under bombardment from Serb forces, the New York based intellectual Susan Sontag returned there to direct a group of local actors in the staging of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Sontag understood her work in Sarajevo as an act of brave solidarity. Baudrillard saw her visit (despite Sontag’s best intentions) as fitting too neatly into the West’s new world order…”

        “…Intellectuals like Sontag then are (at best) unwittingly playing out the humanitarian side of the equation for the West and providing the window dressing which serves to divert attention. Sontag’s act fails for Baudrillard because it does not (and cannot) create a rupture in such an information continuum….”

        1. Ms G

          Not sure what “does not and cannot creat a rupture in such an information continuum” means. Maybe that Sonntag going on a Beckett theatre junket to Sarajevo struck some of us as 99% PR operation for Sonntag, with Sarajevo providing a perfect pseudo-humanitarian backdrop. (I gave up on the french semiotics school early on because I found the vocabulary and phraseology impenetrable and, well, a bit pretentious!)

          1. Ms G

            … on the other hand, I liked Baudrillard’s concrete observation about “neo-sentimentalist” politics of the generation living in the brief post-War prosperity decades.

          2. SR6719

            In other words, under the circumstances it would have been impossible for Sontag (as a “cultural tourist” to a war zone) to do anything that was not falsified (or mediatized) into an act of complicity.

            And the Baudrillard quote I referred to (that perfectly illustrates his concept of the hyperreal) was not in the link I provided above, but here instead (and nothing could be less pretentious than his understanding of how Bosnians managed to cope with hell on earth):

            “Susan Sontag herself confesses in her diaries that the Bosnians do not really believe in the suffering which surrounds them. They end up finding the whole situation unreal, senseless, and unexplainable. It is hell, but hell of what may be termed a hyperreal kind, made even more hyperreal by the harassment of the media and the humanitarian agencies, because it renders the attitude of the world towards them even less unfathomable. Thus, they live in a kind of ghost-like war – which is fortunate, because otherwise, they would never have been able to stand up to it. These are not my words, by the way: the [Bosnians] are the ones who said it.”

            “But then Susan Sontag, hailing herself from New York, must know better than them what reality is, since she has chosen them to incarnate it. Or maybe it is simply because reality is what she, and with her all the Western world, is lacking the most. To reconstitute reality, one needs to head to where blood flows. All these “corridors”, opened by us to funnel our foodstuffs and our “culture” are in fact our lifelines along which we suck their moral strength and the energy of their distress.”

            No Reprieve for Sarajevo


        2. SR6719

          Perhaps this is a better example (than Baudrillard attacking the well-intentioned Susan Sontag) and it’s the last thing I’ll say on this topic.

          Here’s the film-maker (and ridiculous clown) Jean Luc-Godard, as a cultural tourist in Sarajevo, trying to make a *very serious* art film out of a war zone, something for artsy-type Europeans to ponder over their cafe au lait:

          5:min, 45sec

          1. Ms G

            The direct quotes/passages from JB are great. I met JB once and he was as down to earth and astute as anybody could be; great sense of humor too.

            Thank you for the sign to the JLG link.

  18. Jerry

    Thanks for this article. I’m a former board member of the ACLU of Iowa. I’ll send this along to its director and a couple current board members.

  19. docG

    Excellent post! Imo, what’s happening in the world today is almost all about labor and NOT finance, “the economy,” the Euro, or even Wall St. bankers (though they are certainly major villains). We are in the mess we are in today essentially because the needs of working people the world over are being ignored, they are being turned against one another and forced to compete unfairly in a market controlled by oligarchs and plutocrats.

    As I’ve written,

    “the whole dog and pony show of recapitalization, austerity, growth, default, EFSF, ESB, TARGET 1, TARGET 2, etc., etc. is nothing but a huge misdirection, intended to confuse the workers of the world as to the true nature of what is taking place. Amidst all this turmoil, the tiny minority of plutocrats and oligarchs is doing just fine, raking in millions if not billions in profits earned on the backs of hapless human beings the world over, conned into believing they have no choice but to sacrifice their very lives to feed the enormous profit machine. What is at risk if they refuse to comply, is NOT their own well being, which will in fact be liberated, but the vast wealth of the super wealthy, whose power very literally depends on the willingness of ordinary people to buy into the swindle.”

    for more, see my blog, Mole in the Ground.

  20. Michael Cohen

    Lobor died in the U.S. from 1970 — 1980 under the onslaught of the loss of industrial jobs and a complicated mix of labors own lacking documented by Jefferson Cowie, an unsympathetic majority opinion which is shown by the positions of the ACLU, Human Rights Watch etc. and blithe lack of concern or reporting of what is happening. Labor went from 1/3 of the labor force to about 1/10th. During this time the Gini coefficient in the U.S. went from .35 to about .47 a number only seen in the undeveloped world.

    Most of the other highly industrialized countries, notably, Scandinavia and Canada and Germany also had a decrease in unionization but its still far higher than the U.S. peak. The U.S. has become a third world country in many ways and one of them is the lack of support for Unions, Labor and their rights. They are the only major counterbalance to right wing plunder and exploitation which exists under Capitalism. I would argue that until Union Strength approaches what is seen in Germany or Sweden the U.S. will remain a backward largely third world country.

  21. steve from virginia

    What a selective memory Ames has. The unions ‘mobbed up’ here and there, who do you think supported Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater during their heydays? Almost all of the industrial unions if not the unions’ management (apolitical racketeers), most certainly did the rank and file.

    It was hard to find a more reactionary bunch of neo-nazis in the US other than the hard-hat unions and the Teamsters: ‘American Stahlhelm’. The only common ground between the unionists and the ‘civil rights left’ was a shared appreciation for hard liquor and Frank Sinatra.

    Left bolted as far away from the stinking industrial unions before the Vietnam War (unions wanted all-out nuclear assault on North Vietnam) and the unions made sure the door didn’t hit them on the way out. Sadly, without left support (which went back to German Karl Laurrell and the short-lived National Labor Union) the unions evaporated. Only the muni unions that had support of the civil rights movement (many of these all-black) survived.

    These promptly became self-interest groups offering blocs of votes ‘for sale’ on the installment plan. Muni-unions = Koch brothers, what’s the diff?

    De-racketeering of industrial labor and automation, shipping of jobs overseas (which saved American business, BTW) and rise of neo-liberal Washington Consensus put paid to industrial labor: stake in the heart, RIP. The remaining industrial unions are little more than skin-head ‘liberty’ groups and quasi-militants … or retirees playing out the string (GM UAW). Why would ACLU and/or Koch brothers have anything to do with them? Why would anyone?

    Ultra-reactionary labor gets what it deserves, time to start over without the swastikas this time.

    1. jimmyj

      As someone who has spent way too much time reading about organized crime, it always seemed as if the unions were practically left to the mercy of organized crime. After prohibition ended , the mob needed a new cash cow and unions were it. We have to remember that when unions were having their peak decades, our own J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI hadn’t even admitted that there was such a thing as the mafia and rank and file members were given no protection whatsoever from the gangsters and practically told who to vote for as far as union elections went. Add this to the fact that the government and industry has always found it easier to deal with a few crooked union bosses than actually dealing with than their supposed constituency and you have all you need to give unions the corrupt, lazy mobbed up reputation that they have today. The fact that Jimmy Hoffa Jr. is actually an important name in labor today should give everyone who favors the idea of unions a creepy feeling. I also cant help but think that the decades long stewardship of much of american labor by the mafia has damaged its character as well, encouraging the more petty biases and fractionalism of its rank and file. And when the government finally gets around to “cleaning up the unions”, they are more likely to try to shut the union down than to investigate the OUTSIDE ORGANISM that has infected the host.
      Ahhhh. The Mafia. The ultimate provocateur with benefits.

      1. Synopticist

        This is true.
        The partial takeover by organised crime of the union movement seems a purelly American phenomena.

    2. bobok

      “The remaining industrial unions are little more than skin-head ‘liberty’ groups and quasi-militants”

      Care to elaborate?

  22. Dan Duncan

    Hey Ames,

    Maybe there’s a 14 year old girl out there who is inspired by your Rant for Labor.

    Wouldn’t that be great?!

    Hey Yves, I’ve heard that these past few months of incarceration has given Sandusky lots of free time for reading and that he’s made a hard turn into the Progressive Left. Perhaps you could give him a forum to expound on his views?

    [Yeah, yeah, I know Sandusky’s actions are frowned upon by The Establishment…and that an adult male ass-raping a 14 year old boy is much worse than with a 14 year old girl (right, Mark?)….but let’s think about this rationally…the Sandusky (and Ames) exploits just aren’t relevant to matters of political discourse, so those who would refer to these past niggling little discretions really are just engaging in unfair, irrelevant red-herring, ad-hominem attacks.

    Oh…sigh. Aren’t such prudish views on the rape of 14 year-olds so close-minded and conventionally middle-American? We are, after all much more sophisticated, and dare I say, European. And besides, Mark Ames–and now, Sandusky!–both validate our views on unions and labor…so who gives a shit? Yea Mark and Jerry! You guys rock!!!]

    1. Moonbeam McSwine

      Oh Danny darlin’, be nice, you know you just cross cuz you ain’t got no union and your shit jobshop job just got outsourced to some 14-year old girl in India who knows Lua coroutines better’n you and so you couldn’t buy me no bloomin onions at the tractor pull and we had us a spat and you broke my last front toof and the sherffs hogtied you and tased you till you shit yore pants and squished around in em and everybody laughed and cheered but I will always love you no matter how pore we git.

    2. Bryonie


      Bryonie here, last remaining member of the Dan Duncan fan club.

      The other members have all given up on you, but not me.

      It’s been hard these past months since you’ve been gone. Remembering the old days when you used to single-handedly take on Pilkington. Because if you ask me, those were the good old days.

      Yes, we loved each other with a premature love, marked by a fierceness that so often destroys adult lives.

      Forced to relive those Duncan/Pilkington fights every day for months on end, in the absence of new comments from you.

      Every day reading each and every comment posted to NC, in the hopes that one day you’d come back.

      And suddenly, there you are, the moment I’ve been waiting for….

      Life is short. From here to that old car you know so well there is a stretch of twenty, twenty-five paces. It is a very short walk. Make those twenty-five steps. Now. Right now. Come just as you are. And we shall live happily ever after.

      1. B. Traven

        “Take those 25 steps.”

        So. Vladimir Nabokov’s parodic echo of Billy Graham’s exhortation.

        This can’t be happening…

    3. Attorney

      Dan Duncan should be careful of libel, falsely accusing someone of child rape can be expensive, and there is legal precedent for successfully suing libelous comments of this order. The libeler can be traced, no matter how clever he thinks he’s being.

      I would assume that Yves will remove this comment soon, but Dan Duncan should watch himself if Mr Ames has access to legal assistance.

      1. Pup Tentacle

        That’s hilarious. A post such as Duncan’s on a site that is about fake-intellectuals debating various superiorities in splits of hair follicles, that’s libel? Where Mark Ames is a public figure, even?

        Hilarious. What kind of attorney are you? Mail order? Fake rolex?

        In any case, it’s sad that people need to be told the ACLU is a stooge of capital and always has been. Guess there’s still a lot of sleep obscuring the vision of Leftist Economics Fans Who Debate Nonsense on Eve’s Myth’s blog.

  23. F. Beard

    Labor unions were never the optimum solution. Instead, the government backed banking cartel should have been abolished.

  24. Maju

    Class does not necessarily mean labor unions, certainly not when the unions are controlled by (capitalist) mafias or the intelligence services (what happens often). Class means the central struggle for the control of the economy between producers (workers) and speculators (capitalists), sometimes unions are used by capitalists and workers are bribed or coerced but the central issue that defines politics is class struggle, of which all the other issues are mere derivates.

    All but two: gender and ecology, these are even more fundamental than class probably but still criss-cross and closely relate to class exploitation (women and Earth are exploited and deniad as workers are in an extractionist, exploitation system). Left is against oppression and exploitation, Right is for it and shield themselves either behind babbled ad-hoc excuses as some I’m reading here or the more honest brutal belief on the so-called “Social Darwinism” (which has nothing to do with Darwin): the belief that some are entitled to rip the flesh out of others’ bodies and drink the blood from their veins just because they can, because they are strong enough to do it.

    The Right believes in that brutal society of ultra-competitive monsters (I say “monsters” beacause actual “beasts” are usually much more cooperative, empathic and generous), the Left believes in success through cooperation and solidarity instead. The concept of the Right does not only exploit humans, as either workers, women, children, minorities or whatever, or even domestic animals and plants, it exploits Earth in a dramatically inviable way that may well destroy humankind and life as we know it in a matter of decades, demonstrating that their ideology and project is ultimately unfit.

    Evolution requires from us to be a fully intelligent species and cooperate, among us and with Earth. And that is the project of the real Left.

  25. issacread

    And then there’s that little problem with the voting machines including the previous, and infamous, optical scanners, ie. they can all be hacked, and some of them in real time. Rather more sophisticated than stuffing paper. Darn.

  26. Capo Regime

    Great, great post. Maju–great comments, thoughtful, knowlegable. Very few people especially in the truly understand real poiltics, power and political theory. People are miguided by slogans, party memes and oerganizations with some ostensibly honorable mission. Don’t see the obvious but they certainly can mouth the talking points and propaganda. NC is a smaill island of sanity in this insane asylum called the U.S.

  27. Jill

    I noticed that lefty intellecutals began to use “issues” as a way to create job programs for themselves. If the way someone talks about those “issues” takes a PHD to understand they are lackies. People who truly care about others find a way to speak plainly, forcefully and with the intent to reach as many people as possible.

    I agree with other people here who seperate class issues from labor unions. Sometimes these intersect to help people but many times they do not.

    Yves and Matt’s interview showed how many people know they have been screwed over. People are angry. We should be. I truly believe that starting with this anger at injustice, speaking about it clearly and accurately and then moving together to confront it is the way to go.

  28. Francois T

    As long as unions leadership insist on surrendering any leverage by blindly supporting the Democrass w/o getting ANYTHING in return, this miserable state of affairs shall continue.

    To anyone who disagree, pray explain to us why SEUI and AFL-CIO were among the FIRST organizations to support Obama for 2012 when this guy hasn’t done shit for the workers.

    And spare me the auto bailout as an example! No government on this planet would ever let its own auto industry go down the drain. Romney can write all the Op-Eds he wants, he would’ve never let that happened; would’ve been a guaranteed one-term President.

    1. Francois T

      BTW, I am at the point that I wish the unions rank and file decide to stay home during the whole election circus 2012 and let Obysmal and the Democrass fend for themselves.

      A Romney presidency with House and Senate for the Reichpubliscums is the only way to wake up all the lazies and stupid who refuse to even VOTE.

  29. S Brennan

    jake chase says at 12:49 pm:

    “I remember organized labor as a militant bulwark of the Vietnam War. My reaction then was: okay fuckers, your time will come. It has come, too. Labor stopped being leftist long before the left dumped labor.”

    Hmmm…Do we have an orwellian Disinformation Worker, or an abysmally ignorant liberal?

    Let’s set the WABAC machine to the early sixties…BEFORE the Viet Nam War was an American occupation.

    “In the 1960s, a significant number of American Leftists gave up on the revolutionary potential of working class people. Following the lead of Herbert Marcuse, they shifted their attention to students.”

    “the New Deal so thoroughly incorporated the radical agenda that the Communist Party USA…endorsed New Deal programs with unbounded enthusiasm. Three decades later, working class people were regarded by many radicals as rock-headed bigots solidly in support of a hopelessly racist and imperialist system.”

    “In the 1960s, a significant number of American Leftists gave up on the revolutionary potential of working class people. Following the lead of Herbert Marcuse, they shifted their attention to students…how could one convince the workers to rise up and overthrow a system which was benefiting them in real and material ways? The dominant angst of the era shifted from a proletarian angst…to an angst afflicting the middle and upper middle classes and the intelligentsia. Radicals were set adrift and when the civil rights movement became the dominant cause, what progressives saw on the other side were white workers. When the Vietnam war heated up, what they saw again were white workers opposing them.”

    That was there excuse however the facts don’t concur with that fable;

    “According to polling information from the late 1960s, most Americans were highly ambivalent abut the War and among working class Americans, the symptoms of war weariness were particularly acute. Working class people should have, therefore, joined the peace movement in droves, but they didn’t. Although workers, because of their ambivalence and because they were bearing a disproportionate share of the cost, were predisposed to support an end to the war, they were not particularly eager to join forces with peace activists. Rosenberg, Verba and Converse comment:

    “The delight which some radicals on the fringe of the peace movement have taken in baiting the conventional virtues and relatively simple world understandings of Middle America have closed many minds. These displays of contempt may have been important in providing the radicals with emotional thrills or a stronger sense of moral superiority over the less well educated, but… the price to the cause of peace in terms of mass support has been high.”

    So there you have it, Jake is seeking revenge against people he insulted repeatedly and refuse to support him after he betrayed them. Can you imagine the gall of those blue collar workers?

    – Philip S. Foner, US Labor and the Vietnam War (NY: International Publishers) 1989 Part 1 of a review by Jacqueline R. Smetak

    1. Francois T

      Working class people should have, therefore, joined the peace movement in droves, but they didn’t. Although workers, because of their ambivalence and because they were bearing a disproportionate share of the cost, were predisposed to support an end to the war, they were not particularly eager to join forces with peace activists.

      I’m genuinely interested in finding out WHY working class Americans were (and still are) so leery and reluctant to join protestation movements despite messages that clearly resonate with them. Is it just a matter of deep seated conformism?

      1. S Brennan

        It’s in the piece, you insult somebody…then ask them to join you as supplicants:

        “The delight which some radicals on the fringe of the peace movement have taken in baiting the conventional virtues and relatively simple world understandings of Middle America have closed many minds. These displays of contempt may have been important in providing the radicals with emotional thrills or a stronger sense of moral superiority over the less well educated, but… the price to the cause of peace in terms of mass support has been high.”

    2. jonboinAR

      It continues. “Why don’t those ignorant, benighted, no-account,inbred (and don’t ever forget) racist, white hillbillies with their superstitious religion and otherwise feudal values wake up and join us who only have their best interests at heart” is a crude but, I think, accurate rendition of the refrain.

      Not accusing Jake Chase of this, but that the left has, in my time, been openly and proudly disdainful of the white working class. What’s hilarious especially is when the left labels all of the WWC’s attempts at solidarity or defense of their culture racist while piously defending ANY other group on the planet’s need to close ranks. “Why don’t those stupid born criminals join us? Must be their ignorance and generally bad character.” It’s unbelievable.

  30. Hugh

    The power of institutions comes from the movements which underlie them. Cold War McCarthyism destroyed the social movements that were responsible for the New Deal economic reforms and the institutions these movements empowered. It became commie and anti-patriotic to advocate for economic justice and fairness. You could say that even as unions became more powerful institutional players, unionism, as a movement engaging its members, died. The 60s saw several movements: civil rights, against the war in Vietnam, feminism, and the counter culture. But they were all partial addressing the needs and demands of specific groups. They did not speak for or to all Americans.

    This is not to say that the New Deal wasn’t controversial or that it was universally accepted. But it did speak to the broader concerns of most Americans and it engaged and made ordinary Americans feel they were part of it and had a stake in it. By the 1960s that broad appeal no longer existed. There were a few leaders who tried to rise above the partial movements where they began, but they weren’t successful or, as with Martin Luther King, were assassinated.

    The rise of unions as institutional players conferred transitory political power but had devastating long term results. They became anti-democratic and distant from their own memberships, and these memberships became disconnected from workers more generally. Unions were for a while politically powerful, but they were extremely vulnerable, cut off from all the things that had made them strong.

    It wasn’t just that traditional liberal groups were subverted. Mark Ames makes a good case for this. It was that unions themselves were subverted. And just as union memberships began voting against their own best interests, so did liberals. I think this is because the movement that once underlay both and created a common social consciousness was lost.

    There is no movement or consciousness to create a common purpose, a sense of solidarity. What institutions we have left are compromised. There is no sense that we are all in this together. Rather each acts very much like we are all in this separately. This splintering of the 99% is what class war is all about and illustrates its near total success.

  31. Paul Tioxon

    This reminder of the political struggle of the liberal establishment to manage the rate of social change and determine the transgressions, the unforgivable political acts and those who should be bar coded politically incorrect, is not news to much of the New Left, who have aged and been forgotten in the go go era of America’s Belle Epoque. But as all Golden Ages pass, this one is more abrupt in its passing due to the unavoidable laying bare of the mechanism of social control. It has always been about work, the paycheck and what can and can not happen in our everday lives, because we have to work for a living.

    We have to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads. And the capitalist has to profit. The only source of profits is unequal exchange of our labor, the time we spent working to make other people rich. They sell what we make for more than the cost to produce and the cost to produce is our truncated wages, the truncated portion which comprises the profits. No one is paying more for goods and services than they are worth. No one says, yea, please jack up the price to cover your costs and your profits. The profits come from keeping a lid on the one variable cost that can come under political control. The wages and benefits of labor and conditions within the workplace. That difference makes the profits. Always has. Always will. And the only political question that does not cost anyone any more money, like a hiring a woman over a man, or gay over a straight or a black over a white, or citizen over an immigrant or whatever, is okay as an intangible piece of noblesse oblige. But don’t ever ask for any more money, or benefits, or better conditions. Unless someone else is paying.

    1. LifelongLib

      The capitalist would respond that up front he really has no idea what the object you’re making is worth. You get X dollars for making it, but he can’t be sure that he’ll be able to sell it for X + profit dollars.

      1. Paul Tioxon

        I will tell you off up front, you’re full of shit. Nobody releases a dime without a business plan that tells you to the penny how much profit will be made and the roi. Or else go to mom and dad and pile up credit card debt and go broke with yr dream. The New Industrial State is planned by r and d departments. Operations Research, Strategic Planning, Decision Science and Price Algorithms are part of the planning process. If you don’t plan on succeeding, you are just gambling. Capitalism has not succeeded for 5 centuries by random chance and not being afraid of gaming the future to their benefit. Your simpleton response is received wisdom, not a description of the world we live in as it works.

        1. LifelongLib

          Of course my simple response was received wisdom. It was intended to provoke your response, and it did. Thanks!

  32. JTFaraday

    I think this article seems to conflate women and black Americans of the 1960s/70s (many of whom, particularly the latter, did tend to vote Democrat) and the “New Left.”

    This is false. The New Left was/is an intellectual movement dominated by academics and other cultural workers who had very little at stake beyond their own individual careerism– starting with the day they freed themselves of the inconvenience of the draft.

    You couldn’t find a less likely group of labor supporters than amongst these forerunners of Facebook.

    1. JTFaraday

      And I mean labor supporters of ANY kind, not just “organized labor” of the industrial sort that once benefited from the white boy premium.

      The New Left is all about the white boy premium.

  33. S Brennan

    The ignorance overwhelms

    “The profits come from keeping a lid on the one variable cost that can come under political control. The wages and benefits of labor and conditions within the workplace. That difference makes the profits. Always has. Always will.”

    There are high margin industrial processes where labor constitutes less that 1% of the cost. Profits do not come from labor. A GM car in the heyday of Unions always came under 20% labor. Labor costs are much higher in Japan and Germany and still they kick our ass.

    America is suffering from gross ignorance, sadly it is the “educated classes” where it is most acute…and that class of ignoramuses trickles their ignorance down upon the working people…who through life experience know the upper class to be fools.

    The ignorance overwhelms

    1. LifelongLib

      All right, then educate us. I think the real problem with the economy is that the managerial class has become separate from the working class, and that both are subordinate to the financier class which has control of a vital resource (money) that the people who actually produce things (workers + managers (who really ought to be seen as workers)) need.

    2. Francois T

      “The profits come from keeping a lid on the one variable cost that can come under political control. The wages and benefits of labor and conditions within the workplace. That difference makes the profits. Always has. Always will.”

      If we were at the end of the 19th century, I would agree. Alas for the author, we are already in the second decade of the 21th!

      The thing about trashing labor rights has nowadays as much to do with the intoxication that comes from yearning for absolute power (a drug as potent as pure cocaine BTW) than purely economic considerations.

  34. stevefraser

    FDR: “All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.”

  35. Sundog

    Collective action in the US ain’t gonna happen via workers’ unions. The history is important, and the role of unions/leftists in developing economies should not be ignored or short-sold (see Mexico.) Nor should the role of mercantilism in US development.

    Regarding collective action amongst the industrialized democracies, Izabella Kaminska has been doing some great econ fiction. Will NC enga

    1. Sundog


      Collective action in the US ain’t gonna happen via workers’ unions. The history is important, and the role of unions/leftists in developing economies should not be ignored or short-sold (see Mexico.) Nor should the role of mercantilism in US development.

      Regarding collective action and economic development (as opposed to growth) amongst the industrialized democracies, Izabella Kaminska has been doing some great econ fiction. Will NC engage?

  36. Troy

    So labour rights for immigrants. In europe the whole purpose of immigration is to increase the pool of labour to drive down costs. Who is the most vocal behind this move? The European left who are blind to even considering importing labour in a collapsing economy is bad. Who are the beneficiaries? Why quelle surprise its the wealthiest in society.

    The left is asleep at the wheel and thinks subscribing to Amnesty, flying a tibetan flag and talking about social justice is as tough as call as has to be made.

    Good article

  37. Snipe

    I am with Troy on the immigration angle. Mass immigration is not good for the labor union movement, nor is it good for working class employment and wages.

    You can’t have everything, and the left has thrown its support behind mass immigration because that is where the future voting numbers are. This has come at some expense of the native working class.

  38. Snipe

    “In this timely book, Vernon M. Briggs, Jr., challenges labor’s recent about-face, charting the disastrous effects that immigration has had on union membership over the course of U.S. history.Briggs explores the close relationship between immigration and employment trends beginning in the 1780s. Combining the history of labor and of immigration in a new and innovative way, he establishes that over time unionism has thrived when the numbers of newcomers have decreased, and faltered when those figures have risen.Briggs argues convincingly that the labor movement cannot be revived unless the following steps are taken: immigration levels are reduced, admission categories changed, labor law reformed, and the enforcement of labor protection standards at the worksite enhanced. The survival of American unionism, he asserts, does not rest with the movement’s becoming a partner of the pro-immigration lobby. For to do so, organized labor would have to abandon its legacy as the champion of the American worker.”

  39. Aquifer

    As someone who sees “the left”, whatever that means, and that’s a (w)hole other discussion, as splintered among a plethora of “special interest groups”, I am continuously frustrated by the lack of solidarity among the groups – each has its own issue which is THE most important, and each seems willing to sell the others out in return for some benefit to itself – a situation begging for the divide and conquer strategy that has worked SO well all these years for TPTB.

    Even inside a “specialty” area the competition for power is rife – unions fight with each other, for Pete’s sake, so a discussion of who “abandoned” who seems like just another way to pick a fight where there are too many already.

    The idea of human rights as an umbrella seems like a damn good idea to me – so critiquing a particular rights org. and suggesting that it represents “the Left” or even that it represents the apotheosis of a concept, and claiming that that org or that concept has “dissed” labor seems not only off the mark but downright counterproductive to me. So is the ACLU co-terminal with “the Left” any more than the AFL is co-terminal with “Labor”?

    When Labor marched in Seattle, then voted for free trader Gore, when there was a more suitable choice, that seemed pretty dumb to me. When workers interests at a community hospital where i used to work that was being swallowed by a bigger public institution were not uniformly defended by all the unions because some unions lost and some gained under different scenarios – frankly i lost sympathy with arguments about “labor” being trampled – they were trampling themselves for Pete’s sake, and the “workers” got lost in the shuffle …

    “The Left” will never gain any ground until it unites under some umbrella – that includes peace and labor and environmental and healthcare, etc., i.e all the concerns that are covered by a concept of “human rights” at a minimum (other species need to be brought in as well, but we can’t even get humans to agree that ALL humans have “certain rights”…)

    “Labor” – get “your” house in order, damn it – stop the petty squabbling – join with other “rights” groups.

    And other groups need to adopt “labor” issues as well – but frankly, coming from an environmental/healthcare position – when i see labor groups willing to trash the planet, e.g., in the name of jobs and even then for jobs for certain folks over others, I confess I find it hard to be sympathetic ….

    If “the Left” abandoned labor, seems to me it was a 2, 3, 4, whatever, way split. I would like to sit all these folks down in a room, lock the door and say “you can’t come out until you get it together ….”

  40. Walter Wit Man

    Good post.

    I’m adding the ACLU to the perp list, as much as it hurts, being a former supporter.

    And I already had Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on my list.

    Amnesty International is helping attack Syria.

  41. Daniel

    Mr. Ames,

    I am not familiar with your research but as an Amnesty International Volunteer and member in the U.S. I challenge your inclusion of Amnesty International in this article and group.

    If you look at Amnesty USA’s website (, you will that it does not have a list of topics present, which explains the confusion on the part of their Media Relations Department. You were looking at the “Amnesty International” which is the overarching International organization. AI and AIUSA do not have uniform websites. In addition websites often design a “BROAD” list of topics in order drive as many people as possible to a website. Labor Unions Fall under the “Business and Human Rights” topic. While I believe Listing Labor Unions would elicit more traffic, the decision not to list the “Topic” has nothing to do with how important Amnesty International believes the topic is.

    A simple search for Labor Unions on AIUSA’s website finds several campaigns that AIUSA has conducted in the past couple of years on Labor Unions.

    When Collective Bargaining came under attack Amnesty USA came to its defense see-

    We need to continue our work with the Allies of Labor to protect our rights not launch baseless claims against them.

    1. Hugh

      So you are telling us not to believe our lying eyes essentially. That we are supposed to assume that labor is important to Amnesty because you don’t list it as a topic, or that we have to hunt through the site to find any mention of it at all. I am sure you have heard the expression that if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck. Well, if Amnesty does not give any salience to or place any emphasis on labor issues, then most of us would say that’s because labor is not an Amnesty priority.

    2. Maju

      I find difficult to believe in organizations that are presided by more than dubiuous professional politicians going through the infamous revolving door.

      Suzanne Nossel, executive director of Amnesty International USA was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs in 2009. Even if we dismiss this and her former participation in the discredited Human Rights Watch (a CIA cover up NGO) and her being a former high executive of the Wall Street Journal (a clearly Capitalist media), we can’t forgive her the support she gave to the Zionist massacre of Gaza

      Nor the justification of NATO’s invasion of Afghanistan on alleged feminist grounds (what IMO is prostituting and degrading Feminism). But the support for the genocidal bombing of Gaza with weapons that are either clearly illegal or should be only qualifies her for the guillotin, not as “respectable human rights defender”.

      So regardless of whether AI still keeps some dignity or not in general, the naming of Suzanne Nossel is suicidal for its credibility in the USA and the World.

  42. Anonymous

    Amnesty International is closing all regional offices in second major layoff in the last four years. They don’t care about their staff why would they care about labor rights.

  43. sulphurdudnn

    It should come as no suprise that in a society of money worshipers that money corrupts all institutions. Indeed, in a society where the love of money is the norm it becomes difficult to even justify calling its influence corruption.

    1. Maju

      Anything diverted from the ethical “center” of equal justice for all, emphasis on justice, is corruption, even if it’s not directly caused by money.

      Of course corruption is widespread under Capitalism: I’d dare say that Capitalism = Corruption (and this is nothing new). But that does not justify anything: self-proclaimed human rights watchdogs (or any other institution seeking legitimacy and respect) must be above corruption and punish the slightest attempt of corruption among its ranks.

      Doing otherwise is falling down the slippery slope and suicidal.

  44. Geoff

    I think the piece would benefit from the author checking with the organizations’ researchers rather than just looking at the list of topics pages on the organizations’ websites. While I understand some of the disgust and frustration, and also sympathize with the concerns about labors’ lost influence and the desire to understand what brought us here, it seems a bit too easy (I think, although maybe I’m wrong) to lay the blame at the feet of (in the case of HRW, at least, which I know a little about) the founder of the organization, even though the organization may be very different today than how it was set up or envisioned to be by its founder.

    It may or may not be the case that the organizations prioritize labor in the way that the author wishes (although that is not really defined in the article, since the author appears to ridicule Amnesty for discussing labor under women’s and immigrants’ rights, among others). A simple check of HRW reports for instance will reveal that HRW long worked with AFL-CIO to successfully delay trade agreements with Colombia in order to (among others) defend labor rights among union members in Colombia threatened by paramilitary organizations. A number of efforts have also originated with HRW to impose conditional provisions on US financial support to foreign countries tying aid to respect for international labor rights and norms.

    These are important things, not to be taken lightly. And at the least, these efforts should be mentioned and taken into consideration in your analysis, I should think. This doesn’t mean that everything is perfect, nor that labor shouldn’t be its own “topic” on these organizations’ websites, but it does merit discussion and, perhaps, a bit more respect. There are a lot of pressing human rights issues, of course, and these organizations are spending time on issues we probably all agree are important ones–prisoners’ rights and sentencing laws, immigration, LGBT, women’s issues (to name a few that fit in the domestic box). So, I salute the effort to understand what went wrong with labor, but I’m hoping you can add some nuanced perspective in your continued analyses.

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