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May Day for Working People

Proletarier aller Länder vereinigt Euch!
(Workers of the world unite!)
– Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto (1848)

For 170 years, this cry has echoed through every May Day. On streets all around the world, police and many citizens have watched warily as many of their neighbors marched under red banners. Others have hidden, wishing the hint of revolution and danger would simply pass. In most nations, it’s a day off to celebrate the simple fact that labor creates all wealth. In the United States, almost alone, it’s not even a holiday.

What is the proper celebration for all workers on this International Day of Labor? Perhaps it is best to recognize that the best application of the same cause which Marx championed, the workers, may have created Communism as an ideology but in practical terms stands to save Capitalism from itself.

Labor creates all wealth.

As we have discussed many times in many ways, workers do indeed create all wealth. Whether it’s a product of the mind or the body, all human achievement and human production comes from humans. Most of the time, it was done for some kind of reward or compensation based on money, but there are times when it was the pure thrill of invention or creation and the cash came later.

All of the controversy that can be crystallized into the rallying cry at the start is simply about a concept of fairness, decency, and equity which permeates the process of people spending half their waking hours trying to earn a living. The fundamentals of who and what and why we do all of this are not in question. It’s all about how it’s organized and how the money is distributed.

Forget time – money is what really flies

As discussed before, using capital or money as your organizing principle – whether the accumulation of it or maximizing its return – is often a dead end. GE, as the best example, focused heavily on maximizing shareholder return in the 1990s. Within two decades fell from being the largest company in the world to being delisted from the Dow Jones Industrial average, incinerating 84% of shareholder value in the process. It was a victim of short-term thinking that lost site of the need to create a useful product, the main purpose of a corporation.

If the main concern is the wealth and power of a nation, through industrial nationalism, the same problems occur. As we have seen with the rise of many nations, particularly the “Asian tigers” an undeveloped nation begins the march into the developing world by first realizing that its greatest asset are its people – their skills, drive, and inventiveness. At the very least, they need the resources necessary to develop the skills it takes to produce efficiently and the motivation to achieve a better life.

None of this is an intellectual exercise, it’s a practical matter. What works best?

VW Chattanooga – a very modern, efficient auto plant.

We can turn to Germany as a leader in the world of technology to see what they have done. Arguably, no nation has become better at implementing a wide range of industrial technologies ranging from basic industries to car making to systems integration, developing a brand name as a mark of quality and innovation. How do they do it?

All German companies with more than five employees are required by law to set up a worker’s council, called a betriebsrat. This is a group elected by the workers with a say in all matters related to compensation, employment, working conditions, and so on. They often have real power to veto firing and step in when there is a complaint related to harassment and other issues. They do not get a say in corporate reorganization, but they do look out for the workers affected and represent them in negotiations.

Partnership   Equity.

In this sense, the workers in Germany are indeed united, at least within the company. They have some control over the means of production. You can call this “communist” if you like, but in practical terms it is one of the keys to Germany’s success in a free market world. Capital, invested in a company, knows what it is getting and forms a partnership with the people who are going to put that money to work.

Whether your goal is worker’s rights, maximizing return on capital, the status of your nation, or simply having a good life the system of worker empowerment has proven results. These goals are simply not in conflict.

What, then, is the answer? What is the best way to move forward to accomplish whatever political and economic goals you may think are important? If nothing else, the example of Germany and other European nations shows us that the rhetoric we use to describe the relationships that supposed lead us on to our goals is full of meaningless nonsense.

Karl Marx

The great -isms of the world, capitalism and communism and any other organizing philosophy, are largely meaningless. The colors of these words, backed with red banners or green US Dollars, are just shades of a practical reality. You can’t paint the whole picture without all of them.

The rallying cry of Marx which has echoed from the earliest days of industrial organization through a high-tech world is not a threat. Simply put, the techne or skill which creates and defines our world is developed, implemented, and ultimately owned by workers themselves. Countries and corporations alike exist for the purpose of enhancing capabilities and creating a better life, the basic goals of working people everywhere. Any attempt to deny this is easily shown to be nothing more than antique or short-term thinking.

What is the state of workers on this international day to celebrate them? They do ultimately hold all of the power, and more all the time. The strife which exists is simply a matter of how “fairness” is perceived. Indeed, political strife is usually a result of actual power not being reflected in the operation of political systems. With our politics reduced to noise and nonsense, it’s long past time to recognize what works. That’s empowering the working people of this world to git ‘er dun.

Everything else is an illusion. Everything else is just a bunch of stale, pointless words.

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7 thoughts on “May Day for Working People

    • I’m still working on the foundations for People’s Economics – the need. I am trying to ground it in practical examples now.

    • Happy workers are productive workers. Many times, they want stability and the power to just do their job in a low-stress environment, not more pay. In a world defined by skill, the greatest asset of any company is its workers and their ability to produce. They want to. There’s no conflict between worker empowerment and return on investment, the workers are the primary investment.

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