Comments: 1978 Letter from Douglas Fraser Resigning from the Labor-Management Group

Fraser died when William F. Buckley died; I started a blog post at the time (Feb 2008), then filed it away because I thought nobody would be interested-- about what it says about our shitty media zeitgeist that the press made such a fuss about Buckley but essentially ignored Fraser that week.

Posted by Jonathan Versen at November 5, 2010 02:54 AM

A number of the labor leaders that came out of the immediate post-war era had a manner of speaking that was truly exciting to listen to if you were inclined to their views (and probably exciting in a different manner if you were the object of their criticism).

A contemporary of Fraser's with a similar style was William Winpisinger of the Machinists union (IAMAW) who said in the late '70s that "The best thing that could happen to the American Labor Movement would be for George Meany to drop dead." Meany was the president of the AFL-CIO, a staunch anti-communist/socialist, and a supporter of Nixon in the '72 election (not to mention regular golf partner). Wimpy, as he was known affectionately, was another visionary thinker of the movement.

Posted by darrelplant at November 5, 2010 03:40 AM

If you like that, you will love this speech the great Scottish trade unionist Jimmy Reid delivered when he was elected Rector of Glasgow University.

Jimmy Reid became famous when he led the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in in 1971. It's a fantastic story that anyone interested in trade unionism should know about.

Posted by Dunc at November 5, 2010 07:28 AM

The counter-revolution against the wild and wooly social change of the 60s and early 70s was well organized by the time Fraser came to his conclusions in mid-1978, and it pulled off its coup without much trouble. That counter-revolution sure has been successful too. Even well-intended folk like Ted Kennedy ended up getting schooled, and Wall Street and the Pentagon sure have gone to town.

I agree with Versen that it is pretty sad that everybody in the media fawns over pricks like Buckley and even the most prominent decent people like Fraser don't get a word of airtime. So it goes.

Posted by N E at November 5, 2010 11:48 AM

Great story yet wonders what happened to union organising since then. Did workers forget how?

Posted by Mike Meyer at November 5, 2010 01:56 PM

Kill the rich.

Eat their young.

Posted by done with words at November 5, 2010 02:04 PM

What do you think happened to unions? They have been legislated and executive-ordered out of existence. The 'first' they 'came for' was long ago brother. You are next.

Posted by Terrier at November 5, 2010 02:05 PM

Mike,

Well, there was a lot of union busting under Reagan, and then there was so many decades of anti-union loaded repetitive language in the press. I am working on unionizing my office right now and boy is it depressing how anti-union people are. They can't even vocalize why. Just they hear "union" and think "bad."

Posted by Anna in PDX at November 5, 2010 02:27 PM

My buddy who works construction in Toronto (and who is the most thoughtful, radical person I know) complained to me recently of the nature of unions in that city, and ever since I've been kind of soured on the idea; as a poor guy trying to get work, he saw unions as a way for a few (mostly white) guys to get reliable, high-paying work, mostly by enforcing a strict relationship between the union and the employer. Unionism that's about restricting the supply of labor sucks, and that's what unions have become; so long as unions don't retain their radical, socialist edge, they're as horrible an institution as any other me-first capitalist organization.

Posted by saurabh at November 5, 2010 02:49 PM

Dunc, as usual, has the best comment. Everyone go read Jimmy Reid's speech - opening with the word "alienation" is obvious and brilliant.

Posted by saurabh at November 5, 2010 03:46 PM

Baby John,

The LQ (legitimate question) is the lift.

Put a little more yeast in the pot.

Keep stirring the load.

More please.

Posted by go heavy, go hydralic at November 5, 2010 05:39 PM

The best fictive representation of labor-management relations is the "Strike" chapter of Hubert Selby Jr.'s "Last Exit to Brooklyn."

Posted by seth at November 5, 2010 07:43 PM

Note that we already were a plutocracy before Reagan. Reagan just accelerated the process.

Posted by Jay Gold at November 6, 2010 12:17 AM

Labor Unions declined when owners and managers stated contracting out their labor force in poorer countries. And the new IWW http://www.iww.org/ can't even remotely keep pace with the power of the multinational corporations. A bright side though: corporations these days are nearsighted and put short-term profits over long-term hegemony, and are therefore inherently self-destructive.

Posted by Paul Avery at November 6, 2010 04:18 AM

Paul Avery,

What are you talking about? What's a corporatin that's imploded as a result of putting short-term profits first? And the capitalist class has CERTAINLY been putting long-term hegemony high on their priority list, even if individual corporations haven't; they've been actively plotting to destroy any kind of popular power for decades, as the letter above demonstrates.

Posted by saurabh at November 6, 2010 11:36 AM

Thank you, Duncan. I needed that.

Posted by Nell at November 6, 2010 01:01 PM

Like Ole Uncle Ben sez, "Hang together or hang alone."

Posted by Mike Meyer at November 6, 2010 02:09 PM

In "Capitalism and Information Age", published by Monthly Review Press, Noam Chomsky has an essay.


In that essay, Chomsky mentions Doug Fraser's speech.

That book is a collection of essays by about 14 Leftist scholars. That book is very good.

Posted by Ajit at November 6, 2010 11:50 PM

Go back another century or more, starting about the 1870s and trace corporate hegemony, and you will find that it tends to unwind itself (although not totally) in roughly 50 to 80 year cycles. This is due to the fact that nothing, even corporate capitalism, can sustain constant expansion. It's like sustaining a global empire. It can't be done indefinitely. There are too many counter-forces that challenge it.

But let's examine further. International industrial cartels as we know them today are fairly young, only really taking off around WWII, but already they are staggering under so many debt and currency uncertainties, unsure of the future, that they are openly quarreling among themselves for dominance of a system that is falling to pieces. It may seem like they are indestructible, but, historically, 50 to 80 years is really a short time.

Or, if you choose, you can look at capitalism as a red star: first, there is an enormous expansion,
then it implodes under it's own weight.

Posted by Paul Avery at November 7, 2010 01:50 AM


Go back another century or more, starting about the 1870s and trace corporate hegemony, and you will find that it tends to unwind itself (although not totally) in roughly 50 to 80 year cycles. This is due to the fact that nothing, even corporate capitalism, can sustain constant expansion. It's like sustaining a global empire. It can't be done indefinitely. There are too many counter-forces that challenge it.

But let's examine further. International industrial cartels as we know them today are fairly young, only really taking off around WWII, but already they are staggering under so many debt and currency uncertainties, unsure of the future, that they are openly quarreling among themselves for dominance of a system that is falling to pieces. It may seem like they are indestructible, but, historically, 50 to 80 years is really a short time.

Or, if you choose, you can look at capitalism as a red star: first, there is an enormous expansion,
then it implodes under it's own weight.

Posted by Paul Avery at November 7, 2010 01:52 AM

Paul Avery

It sounds like you are talking about Kondratiev waves, which have always been too difficult for me to study in the time available to me. But I think there is more to the cyclical problem of capitalism than the inability of any system to sustain constant expansion, and apparently in other countries less hamstrung by ideology economists and other social scientists study Kondratiev waves. I'm sure much of the literature is in English.

You certainly touch upon very difficult questions. You and possibly others may be interested in The Economics of Global Turbulence by Robert Brenner, which is about the declining rate of profit in the West from WWII onward and a brilliant book. Global Fracture and Superimperialism by Michael Hudson are also important and valuable books to understand what changed in the 70s to make the current system we have. Personally, I also think 13 Bankers by Simon Johnson and James Kwak and William Black's The Best Way to Rob a Bank is To Own One are very important to understanding the global financial system now and how oligarchy and financial elitism (Johnson) and control fraud (Black) dominate it.

But people can start by just watching the Canadian documentary "The Corporation," which I thought was excellent. A little less than a century ago, the Left, especially Trotsky, argued that fascism was the last phase of capitalism. After WWII, that argument lost ground, and with the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of capitalism in China, it seemed to die altogether. But that point of view will perhaps begin to reappear in coming years, because the wolf has come out of the woods and is scratching at the door again.

Posted by N E at November 7, 2010 11:16 AM

N.E.,

Thank you kindly for the references for which I am eager to check out.

I'm also looking for follow-up material that echos Hermann Levy's Industrial Germany (1935) and Richard Sasuly's IG Farban (1947)--the transnational precursors of the post-war era and how cartelization integrates with war-making machineries, collectives and powers of the modern state. I think the key paradox is expressed by Levy in that the capitalist ideology is undermined by private monopolies. Indeed, the hottest opponents of non-state integrated capitalism in theory (true laissez faire) became the strongest proponents of the state integrated capitalist order (the cartel), and therein lies the mass deception under the general name of "capitalism."

Posted by Paul Avery at November 8, 2010 08:05 AM

Paul Avery

You might want to then also look at The Folklore of Capitalism by Thurman Arnold, FDR's attorney general around the time of WWII and in particular his trust-buster. Also take a look at books that follow up on that, especially the New Deal books by Douglas Brinkley and his article, The Antimonopoly Ideal and the Liberal State: The Case of Thurman Arnold. Brinkley is a good historian, and I recall from one of his books that Arnold had commented as the militarization of WWII got going that soon nobody would be able to oppose the Henry Kaisers of the country--they were just acquiring too much power.

Thurman Arnold thought fascism came from the development of capitalism into monopoly capitalism, and that German concentration of industry had paved the way for it there though obviously other social factors were at work. That was a slightly different take than Trotsky's, but really not so different either.

By the Way, the giant corporate law firm Arnold and Porter--Thurman Arnold was THAT Arnold. Such have been the forces of social change over the last 70 years.

Posted by N E at November 8, 2010 03:08 PM

In the 80s there was a union-management cooperation thing in the Post Office, I forget the name now. At the time junk mail was flooding the system and what had been 8-hour routes were now taking 12 hours. So when this cooperative venture arrived at our station and management said that they wanted to know how to make our jobs and the Post Office more efficient we said we need shorter routes and more relay boxes (where a carrier without a vehicle picks up his next block of mail).

Both of these solutions were ignored by management because they required money. So the carriers ignored the happy horseshit that followed.

Posted by Bob In Pacifica at November 9, 2010 11:24 AM

In the 80s there was a union-management cooperation thing in the Post Office, I forget the name now. At the time junk mail was flooding the system and what had been 8-hour routes were now taking 12 hours. So when this cooperative venture arrived at our station and management said that they wanted to know how to make our jobs and the Post Office more efficient we said we need shorter routes and more relay boxes (where a carrier without a vehicle picks up his next block of mail).

Both of these solutions were ignored by management because they required money. So the carriers ignored the happy horseshit that followed.

Posted by Bob In Pacifica at November 9, 2010 11:24 AM