Three things social workers should watch in 2023

Just a quick note on this first morning of the first day of the new year. Of all the issues and developments that will no doubt crowd our attention in 2023, I think each of the following carries the potential for decisive impact.

First, labor struggles and the unionization movement. To my mind, the large wave of worker efforts to organize unions is the “happiest” news story of 2022. The movement will no doubt continue, with an important assist from public opinion, which has turned decidedly pro-union. Young people in particular (especially the ones with college degrees working for crappy wages and benefits) are likely to have a militant mindset. Why should social workers care? Because only organized labor has the potential to counter the concentrated corporate power that has ruined our politics, driven obscene levels of inequality, and makes the lives of more and more Americans miserable.

Second, rising fascist thought and action. The January 6 congressional commission (headed by Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson) did a masterful job of exposing the efforts of Trump and his cronies to deny the results of the 2020 presidential election. Where the commission’s final report falls down, however, is in attributing sole responsibility for the insurrection to Trump and his inner circle, while minimizing the extent to which Trump’s actions rested (and still rest) on a large and growing base of openly racist and anti-trans, armed and violent, “Christian nationalist” fascist organization. These people aren’t going away. Why should they? They have significant support in Congress, have arguably captured a majority of the Supreme Court, and are on a roll intimidating local political leaders. Trump himself may be political toast, but DeSantis and many more like him are in the wings, champing at the bit to take the fascist reins. Why should social workers care? Aside from the obvious imperative to denounce hatred and violence, social workers must realize that the fascist mentality is inherently hostile to the very concept of social responsibility for the system’s rising flood of “losers.” (Far-right Republicans have already declared their intent to assault “entitlement” programs.)

Third, issues of “great power conflict.” The U.S. may or may not be a true “empire” in the historical sense of the term, but it surely acts like one, provoking and fueling conflicts that the foreign policy establishment and certain sectors of the oligopoly deem to be in the interests of “national security.” At present the U.S. continues to supply weapons, military intelligence, and other forms of support to Ukraine to fight a war it cannot win no matter how long it goes on, while refusing to engage in any form of diplomacy. In like vein, the U.S. is showing increasing military belligerence toward China, selling weapons to Taiwan – long recognized as rightfully belonging to larger China – in anticipation of eventual armed conflict. U.S. political leaders talk openly of fighting (and defeating, of course) both Russia and China, even at the risk of nuclear war. Does anyone really think that either of these other “great powers” will accept military defeat – an existential threat – without resorting to nuclear arms? And is anyone mad enough to believe that wars among the great powers can actually be “won” in any meaningful sense of the word? Do any social workers need to be told why they should care deeply about this? I certainly hope not.

Resolutions for 2023, then: (1) Support the labor movement. (2) Oppose fascism at every turn and opportunity. (3) Work for peace, always. Happy New Year!

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