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Notes From a Higher Education Organizer: MLK and Anti-Capitalism

Every January folks in labor and education fields celebrate the great strides made by folks like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Whit Alleys Dziurka

Less than a century ago the laborer had no rights, little or no respect, and led a life which was socially submerged and barred...American industry organized misery into sweatshops and proclaimed the right of capital to act without restraints and without conscience. The inspiring answer to this intolerable and dehumanizing existence was economic organization through trade unions. The worker became determined not to wait for charitable impulses to grow in his employer. He constructed the means by which fairer sharing of the fruits of his toil had to be given to him or the wheels of industry, which he alone turned, would halt and wealth for no one would be available...

History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them....

This is a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and every January folks in labor and education fields celebrate the great strides made by folks like him, the folks who brought you the weekend, agency at work, collective bargaining, workplace standards, safety regulations, the death of child labor, and gave us a level of consent in our workplaces that was previously unheard of in the United States of Capitalism: a country built on the back of slave labor.

When we live in a political system that views the labor of its people as a commodity for trade, and has a long history of trading its people, we lose our humanity at work. We, ourselves become objectified on the same levels as the goods we produce. We, ourselves, lose the capacity to consent to our working conditions. We, ourselves, lose the ability to have any voice in our compensation. At the end of the day, when our labor is commodified, it is ripe for exploitation, and therefore, so are we.

When the budgets are set, they are based off of predictions of market fluctuations, coldly calculated from mathematical formulas that predict only the cost of commodities, not the needed income of the workers who create the commodities with their labor. These formulas cannot encompass each individual’s monetary needs, and has no empathy to ensure they are protected from poverty. What this means is, we are left to a Garrett Hardin sense of the world, and there are no life jackets.

When these assumed budgets fail, the blame is passed on, and those whole hold the capital/the Capitol, look for places to “trim the fat” from budgets to compensate for their losses and maintain their accumulated wealth. I implicate the Capitol in solidarity with the struggles of Michigan teachers under the current, rampant, austerity, promoted by our tyrannical Governor: Rick Snyder. Hang in there everyone, we are stronger together.

When workers are raw data, represented as numbers in a set, it is easy to cut money from labor. These folks who run the machines are objects, their single cries will not be comprehensible in the echo chambers of commerce. The capitalists will not be giving up their castles or private jets; you will lose your dental coverage. That is, if you were lucky enough to have it in the first place.

In a society that prizes wealth and opulence, and promotes respect and dignity based on one’s ability to collect poles of money, the laborer is left by the waters of Babylon to defend their right to humanity. Those who control the capital/the Capitol may control the means of production, but only those who materialize the goods control the production itself. The reason for Right to Work, Friederichs V. California, and other anti-union legislation is plain: fear.

Those who control the capital/the Capitol know that the collective of the workers, if made aware that their conditions could and should be better, could stop production, which would stop the free-flowing of capital. If the workers organize, and if the workers stop the machines, goods and services cannot be rendered, and the capitalists cannot, and will not, run the machines themselves. This would also prove the importance of these workers—SKILLED WORKERS—to the capitalists. They do not have the specialized knowledge to run the machines as the workers do. They would refuse to provide people with bodily services, such as cooking meals, caring for the sick and elderly, and tending the crops- this work is beneath them. Remember always, the specialty of capitalists is to exploit for more financial gain.

So, my question is, why do you trust those who exploit you over your fellow man? Is it a far-flung hope for some compensation based on merit? I wish I could say that is a reality for everyone, but it is not. Merit raises are far and few between, and based on the subjective decision-making of those who own the capital/the Capitol. These raises are subject to unfair scrutiny based on gender, sex, ethnicity, religion, and other forms of discrimination. Feel free to Google search the tremendous amount of research pointing to this.

The trickle down we were told about in the 1980s never really trickled, and so the wealth has stayed in the same hands for so long that it has already melted off its candy coating. Don’t worry though; the candy coating went into a yacht payment for the CEO who runs the company (or school) you work at. So, now I say to you, my fellow brothers and sisters, let’s join each other, and together, let’s ask daddy for a raise! We deserve it.

And Dr. King didn't merely ask, he organized Americans, in unmistakable numbers, to demand their rights.

Whit Alleys Dziurka is Organizer for UNTF at Michigan State University, artist, activist, and worker.
Graphic from Apple's home page, January 2016.

Copyright © Whit Alleys Dziurka. All rights reserved.