Commentary: Slaving for the Progressives
By THOMAS GANGALE
Remember the old progressive values: better working conditions, shorter work weeks, higher wages? These issues hark back to the capital “P” Progressive Era, when workers struggled to win decent wages and working conditions from the Robber Barons. The movement made great gains in the early and middle 20th century, and fell victim to its own success as its core values became less important, nearly forgotten altogether. These issues ought to be front and center on the progressive stage once again. American middle class incomes have been stagnant for 30 years, and income inequality is the highest it’s been since the Gilded Age of laissez faire capitalism.
Sure, we’re all for saving the whales and the spotted owls and the snail darters and the medflies. Sure, we want clean air and clean water. But meanwhile, we all have to eat and pay the bills.
If you think that the main problem in American society is economic justice, take a look at Boston-based Grassroots Campaigns, Inc., which has offices in major California cities. Their motto is “Building grassroots support for progressive candidates, parties, and campaigns.” And, they have been spectacularly successful at it. In 2004, Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. had a target of raising five million dollars for the Democratic Party. They ended up raising million!
How did they do it? By exploiting their workers to a degree that would make John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie beam with approval. The starting annual salary at Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. is ,000.
But, as they say on late-night TV, “Wait, there’s more.” More, more, more hours of toil. For this princely sum of ,000, Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. expects its employees to work 60 to 70 hours a week, seven days a week. This works out to an hourly rate that is barely above the minimum wage in Massachusetts and California, and well below San Francisco’s “living wage.”
Worse working conditions, longer work weeks, lower wages. Right on, man!
For all its political rhetoric, Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. is like any other business, but instead of the profits going to the shareholders, they go to the Democratic Party. In Marxist terms, GCI was able to hand over million to the party instead of the targeted million by extracting surplus labor value from its workers. Obviously, the less you pay the workers and the more you work them, the more money you get to keep for your own purposes. But of course, Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. is fighting the good fight for the progressive cause—for the party—and we must all make sacrifices for the revolution, comrade. The ends justify the means, as usual.
I recently attended what I expected to be a traditional job interview at GCI’s offices in Berkeley. Instead, it turned out to be a mass indoctrination session, where we were told how wonderful it was going to be to adopt this “lifestyle choice.” Now if that isn’t Doublespeak, I don’t know what is. You have the “freedom” to choose “slavery.”
Most of the attendees either had or were about to receive political science degrees, so they should have had a course in political economy somewhere along the way, and they should have learned all that Marxist stuff about surplus labor value and rates of exploitation. I guess they didn’t let all that education go to their heads. But I’m an old horse, and when they saw that I wasn’t buying the Party line, they whisked me out of the building as though I had a plague that was about to spread to the rest of the herd.
For my money, these so-called progressives at Grassroots Campaigns, Inc. are worse than the capitalists.
Farms? In Berkeley? You bet... Animal Farm.