Famous investor Warren Buffett nailed it years ago: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning,” The rich were already winning big when Buffett made this remark in 2006, and since then economic inequality and the political power differential that makes it possible have only gotten worse, driving more and more workers into a condition of desperate “precarity.”
War against the working class is nothing new, to be sure. But the system underlying the class war – globalized corporate capitalism – is exacerbating the conflict acutely. Capitalism’s quest for expanding profits is, of course, unending, as it is endemic to the system’s very nature. With virtually the entire world now operating within capitalism’s “rules of the game,” opportunities to open new and profitable markets have largely evaporated. The system’s response (not the only one, but a primary one, along with privatizing public goods and warmaking at the public’s expense) is to extract more and more “value” from workers – longer hours, lower pay, fewer benefits, and the accumulation of much more debt on the part of workers.
Years of declining economic prospects – worsened but not created by the Covid pandemic and the current inflation in prices – have now pushed growing numbers of workers to resist. Hence the renewed push to unionize workplaces, and the waves of strikes and threats to strike – by teachers, nurses, mental health workers (including social workers!), railroad workers, dockworkers, truck drivers, Amazon and Starbucks workers, the list gets longer almost by the day – aimed at arresting the decline.
From a social work perspective, a renewed labor movement is good in and of itself, representing empowerment and agency on the part of ordinary people. It is especially good in the current moment, however, in that it is one of few forces with any chance of posing effective resistance to the current slide toward authoritarian politics – which even President Biden, a “corporate Democrat” if there has ever been one, in referring to the dominant MAGA wing of the Republican party, has called “semi-fascism.”
We should make no mistake about this: As Sinclair Lewis warned during the capitalist system crisis of the 1930s, fascism can indeed “happen here.” Given the choice between surrendering power and wealth to genuinely democratic control and supporting undemocratic and despotic (and usually militarized) regimes, history suggests that capitalism will always go the latter route. Only a strong workers movement can pose a meaningful, at least potentially effective, counterweight.