Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Going For Woke

Via Vox.

I'm always pleased to see somebody I admire catching up with some ideas I've been cherishing for a while, even more so when they're using words I might well have used myself, as in this from Washington Post's Greg Sargent on dated concepts of the US working class:

In the emerging Democratic reading, the old vision of a White, male, breadwinning working class concentrated in burly jobs shapes much political analysis, but it’s a pundit fiction. With service, retail and health-care sectors growing as manufacturing and mining jobs dwindle, the new working class is far more ethnically and culturally diverse — and more socially liberal — than commonly supposed.

What he's commenting on is the remarkable string of progressive legislation that's been coming out of Michigan all year since Democrats captured the state legislature in spite of its gerrymandering, most recently when they repealed the state's "right-to-work" law, enacted in 2012 to combat unions by disallowing closed shops so that workers could benefit from union contracts without paying union dues. 

But that's not all they've been doing over the past three months. In addition to pushing a really good labor agenda beyond the right-to-work action, bringing back the prevailing wage for public construction jobs,  and reducing taxes on retirement income, they've also been enacting some "woke" stuff of the kind the "working class" is supposed to object to,  expanding tax credits for people with low incomes, scrapping the state's zombie abortion ban (a 1931 law that died with the onset of Roe v. Wade but that suddenly rose from the grave when Justice Alito overruled that decision last year), and establishing civil rights for LGBTQ+ people.

That's because Michigan Democrats have started to revolt against the debate that's been going on on the left since the anti-busing movement in the 1960s and 70s in places like Boston and Detroit and their suburbs created the spectacle of a "white working class" with conservative social values that Republicans have been exploiting ever since, while Democrats helplessly vacillate:

Republicans often talk about the culture wars in class terms. Party leaders say their “anti-woke” agenda embodies “working-class values.” Republicans who lean toward populism go further, genuinely trying — to some limited degree — to create a pro-worker agenda that combines economic and culturally conservative or reactionary appeals.

Democrats, by contrast, are regularly sucked into fruitless battles over whether to emphasize economic or social issues. This is often a proxy for a dispute over which groups in their coalition to prioritize: working-class voters, especially Whites who have been abandoning the party, or more affluent, culturally liberal suburbanites.

Michigan Democrats, Sargent argues, have recognized that as the numbers of those burly jobs, in manufacturing and mineral extraction, decline, and jobs in services, retail, and healthcare increase, the work force is getting less male and less white, more diverse and more amenable as a group to socially progressive ideas—we don't have to choose any more, if we ever really did.

Matty (possibly offended by that term "pundit fiction") gives the idea a big sneer, naturally,

but makes himself look like an idiot, because he hasn't read enough of the column to take note of the research Sargent cites, like this elegant study by Paul Frymer and Jacob M. Grumbach showing the effects of union membership (which has pretty suddenly started strongly expanding across the country after many decades of decline, including in Michigan): 

We draw upon research in history and American political development to generate a theory of interracial labor politics, in which union membership reduces racial resentment. Cross-sectional analyses consistently show that white union members have lower racial resentment and greater support for policies that benefit African Americans. More importantly, our panel analysis suggests that gaining union membership between 2010 and 2016 reduced racial resentment among white workers. 

Also they won in Michigan. And Pennsylvania. And not shabby in Minnesota and Virginia. And...

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