The Most Dangerous Union in the World

Several commentators have remarked about the sudden outbreak of class struggle in the United States.  I see the brutal behavior of the state and federal governments as an indication of the failure of class struggle.

Let me explain.  Back in the 1960s, when United States was enjoying the so-called Golden of economic prosperity, profits were weakening.  By the late 1960s, the organized right wing began to harness the energy of the tea party of the day, which took hold with the defeat of Barry Goldwater.  Using its almost unlimited source of funding, wealthy businesspeople and corporations began to create a solid network of organizations to remake the country by undoing the gains made during the and New Deal, and even emulating the political landscape of the late 19th century.  The Cato Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, right wing legal offices, and a host of other activist operations led a systematic assault on anything and anybody who seem to know represent a barrier to profit maximization.


This movement was extraordinarily successful, so much so that they even co-opted the Democratic Party, which had previously offered a meek resistance to business demands.  By the 1990s, the results were clear to anybody who bothered to take notice of the economy.  On the eve of the Great Recession, the results were so obvious that only the most stubborn ideologues could fail to see that virtually all of the economic growth since 1970 had been captured by a very small elite.  I told this story in a book entitled The Confiscation of American Prosperity: From Right-Wing Extremism and Academic Economics to the Next Great Depression, published in 2007, just as the stock market peaked.

The ideological justification of this confiscation was that business prosperity would create a tsunami of productivity by following the right-wing regimen.  The entire population would benefit.

Productivity did increase — not spectacularly — but which is still stagnated.  Job security eroded.  Protections previously guaranteed by regulatory agencies or the law quickly disappeared.


Despite the idea that the economy somehow suffered from an over burden of taxes and regulations, the more these hindrances to prosperity fell by the wayside, the worse the economy performed.  Profits became concentrated in the financial sector, but much of the rest of the economy faltered.


Scapegoats had to be found.  Already, during the Nixon administration, the right wing became adept at recruiting working-class support, using racism and cultural discomfort as fuel.  Ironically, one of the first groups successfully recruited were craft unions, a minority of whose members attacked antiwar demonstrators.  A parade of scapegoats march across the political landscape.  Braless hippies, Blacks, unwed teenage mothers, welfare recipients, immigrants, and now public workers, especially teachers.


The results were always the same.  The right would win more victories.  The overall economy would still perform sluggishly.  And the next scapegoat would step forward.  Even when the culprit is obvious, scapegoats still must be found.  For example, with the collapse of the financial scams in 2007, blame was shifted to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and even more ridiculously to an obscure rule that had been passed two decades earlier.


For example, private-sector unions became virtually powerless on the national scene.  In this environment, jobs disappeared.  Disappointed union members would be vulnerable to the relative prosperity of public sector workers, who had pensions and medical coverage.  Similarly, people who had lost their pensions to fraudulent banking schemes often became more upset with the relatively comfortable conditions of public sector workers.


One union stood out by its successes.  It is not generally called a union, but so long as we can abuse reality by calling corporations people, we can call the Chamber of Commerce a union.  This union is so powerful that the present United States must come before as a humble supplicant.  This union was at the forefront of the deconstruction of the New Deal.


The time has come to stop blaming the victim.  Somehow, we have to learn to fight back in this one-sided class warfare.  We have to learn to explain that more of the same medicine that made us sick is not going to cure us.  We have to learn to identify the architects of this disaster — the political manipulators, the right wing foundations and their benefactors, and if we want to begin a legitimate fight against unions, let’s start with the Chamber of Commerce.

18 comments so far

  1. Stephan on

    Hear! Hear! The Chamber of Commerce? This is just an amorphous body no one can relate to. If you want a fight you must start with real people — the plutocrats and captains of industry. Name calling works in both directions! I would single out for the beginning the Koch brothers. The Egyptian people didn’t fight against the NDP but against Mubarak who embodies the NDP.

  2. mark hansen on

    Yes, any time one speaks against the continuing consentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few he is called by those same few a class-warmonger.

    of course when the wealthiest commit class-war it is called just good business.

  3. endorendil on

    While I agree with a lot of the sentiments, I don’t believe that the language of class warfare is helpful. Americans never willingly gave up their freedom, they just pursued the American dream – which locked them up well and good. Americans never gave up their civil rights, they took a stand against terrorism. Similarly, Americans will not accept socialism, but they may decide to become a world economic powerhouse once again by allowing each citizen to perform to the best of their abilities.

  4. Stephan on

    The problem with your assessment is to associate class warfare with socialism. There’s indeed no socialism on the horizon in the America. Which might be bad or good. But since the 80s the class warfare is waged relentlessly. It is only turned upside down. The 1% top end of town are on the warpath.

    • endorendil on

      @Stephan, I don’t think that class warfare can be dissociated from socialism. The other side won’t let it. Remember, they don’t engage in class warfare, they “protect US business competitiveness” (by pushing wages down) and “fulfill the American dream” (by paying way too little in taxes). Yes, that all comes down to class warfare, of course, but rhetoric matters in politics.

  5. […] Most Dangerous Union in the World” Written by oolaah on 23 February 2011 Michael Perelman: The Most Dangerous Union in the World, by Michael Perelman: Several commentators have remarked about the sudden outbreak of class struggle in the United […]

  6. political economist on

    The story you have presented bears repeating but I do have a bone to pick: “By the late 1960s, the organized right wing began to harness the energy of the tea party of the day, which took hold with the defeat of Barry Goldwater.” Someone might interpret this as suggesting that class warfare did not exist or was rather benign before the 1960s although I know you do not hold this belief. For those interested, a good read on the subject is “Selling Free Enterprise: The business assault on labor and liberalism–1945-60” by Elizabeth Fones-Wolf. Of course, she chronicled simply a stepping up of the continuous assault against the working class. (Even the Communist witch-hunt that is associated with the post-WW II era began in the 1930s.) Another related book that I believe should be a classic is “Political Repression in odern America, 1870 to the present” by Robert J Goldstein (1978). This may bolster your theme if it is that the capitalist class gears up when it perceives the need. But, not if it is that the capitalist class is ever more repressive or that its repression is tied to the rate of profit.

  7. mperelman on

    Dear Political Economist. The Fones-Wolf book is great. I only began with I picked up on the post Goldwater movement because that group was so successful in beginning a grass roots (astroturf) movement beginning at the local level.

  8. FT Alphaville » Further reading on

    […] – The most dangerous union in the world. […]

  9. A.F Walking on

    So should I sharpen my pitchfork?

    • A.F Walking on

      If the durability of the work of Robespierre, Lenin, and Mao is anything to go by – has this ‘class war’ formula not had a fair shot?

      I say this, because what first occurred to me reading your post was the old though that, well, it must be because progressive/liberal/social/democrats are just too nice. They need to get tough and nasty like the wicked and evil rich people who have different labels we call them by… what a crock.

      So, I don’t buy it. Classwarfare that is, it’s a nonsense.

      And why does everything have to be a ‘fight’ or a ‘war’? It takes two, it really does.

      Protesting only legitimizes what is protested. The remedy (endo, you there?) is to opt out, completely. A new way of being will unfold and flourish and we will wonder how and why we got so caught up in all this power, wealth and money bs.

      I have every confidence we can get there, we are – as a species evolving very rapidly.

      See you on the otherside.

      • R.C. Moyes on

        Of course we quickly devolve into the tired old tactic of disavowing “Class Warfare”. The keepers of the agenda laden status quo seek to delegitmize the notion of class warfare by either refusing to acknowledge its existence, or labeling those who recognize it as Socialists. It’s the Conservative Right’s own version of “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”. So quick they are to divide and deflect the focus from the true nature of the issue. Hannity has taught you well…

      • A.F Walking on

        Moyes, you miss my point completely. You are so caught up in your militant passion you cannot even see that neither me or my message is your enemy. I’m not denying class warfare exists, I’m denying it’s benefit. I’m denying that it is winnable by either side, I am highlighting the fact that divided we all are conquered. Rich or poor. Whether we realize it or not. You can keep your mind, heart, and soul invested in a world of war and struggle. That’s your prerogative. I’m suggesting there’s another way. I’m suggesting that if collectivist’s and libertarians would only look behind them they would notice they are standing back to back on a political and socio-economic spectrum that is not linear but circular, and that they have more in common that the radically conservative center that insists on maintaining the corporatocractic status quo…

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  11. evilDoug on

    For many years I have referred to the Chamber of Commerce (at any level) as The Shopkeepers’ Union.

  12. Mike B) on

    Real wages haven’t increased, in fact they’ve decreased overall for the working class since 1964. Meanwhile productivity has kept increasing. The wage system is unfair; it cannot be made fair. Until the workers understand this basic fact of life under the rule of Capital, they will remain pawns in the political games of their masters, organised as a class by them to produce wealth and political power for them.

  13. […] Jim Luke @ 2:34 pm Tags: AMA, Chamber of Commerce, collective bargaining, unions, Wisconsin Michael Perelman writes an excellent post on the roots of the current conservative efforts to roll-back collective […]

  14. […] The Most Dangerous Union in the World, by Michael Perelman: Several commentators have remarked about the sudden outbreak of class struggle in the United States. I see the brutal behavior of the state and federal governments as an indication of the failure of class struggle. […]

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