Sunday, January 31, 2010

Book Review: Three Strikes

It was January 27, 2010 when I picked up the book Three Strikes to re-examine something that I’d started to study years before. I began reading in the morning, and only later in the day found out that one of the co-authors, the great Howard Zinn, had passed away. As I write this 5 days later, still struggling for a proper tribute to all the great work that Howard Zinn has accomplished in his lifetime, it is perhaps fitting to finish a book that embodies many of the great values for which he stood.
Three Strikes illustrates a number of the problems of the working class in its fight against capital both today and throughout the twentieth century. Dana Frank and Robin D.G. Kelley joined Zinn in this careful selection of three quite different yet equally important struggles in the act of solidarity in the working class.
Zinn’s examination of the Colorado Coal Strike of 1913-1914 shows the lengths to which capital will extend itself in order to enforce the exploitation of this class. The close ties between government and the titans of business were as obvious a century ago as they are today. Government realized that the very basis of American “democracy” depended upon the submission of the poor and working class to the demand and need for labor. Allowing these people to realize that it was really they who possessed the power in society was unacceptable. The struggle became and remains quite literally one of life and death. Rockefeller and his puppets in government resorted to the tactic of violence that has been utilized by tyrants throughout the centuries. The financial structure which people like Rockefeller had established was something towards which he was prepared to take life in order to defend. The resulting massacre was spun to reflect poorly upon the “unruly” miners and their families who were defying law and order to demand their rights. Today’s familiar refrain of “personal responsibility” for one’s financial situation is relatable in the sense that the “good citizen” will comply with the rules set forth by the system. This citizen will not upset the power structure at risk to their own livelihood and quite possibly, physical well-being. The only counter to this great structure of power is solidarity amongst the working class.
The effectiveness of solidarity extends even to the inexperienced. Dana Frank illustrated this fact in the great Woolworth’s strike of the 1930’s. The women who participated in this strike had no history whatsoever of standing up to capital. The beautiful thing about their solidarity is that they didn’t need to have experience. The very act of bringing work and therefore profits to a halt will also demand the attention of those who reap the financial gains of the exploited. All that is required is a will to better one’s situation, and the harvesting of a similar passion in the minds of one’s comrades.
Finally the problem of technology was addressed in Kelley’s examination of the New York Musician’s strike. Kelley takes the approach that technology will constantly alter the way that people work, but not the need for their labor. I found this to be a bit of an over-simplification, but agreed with him in the perfect example of the music industry’s lack of keeping pace with the times. Just as the musicians of the 1930’s and 1940’s struggled with the advent of recorded music, today’s artists compete with digital downloads for royalties and profits. My own industry, radio, has seen the elimination of the in studio operator or on-air personality as the advent of computerized distribution of music and voice requires fewer and fewer amounts of “flesh” as Kelley refers to it, or live bodies. Capitalism by nature will constantly look to increase technology to the point of eliminating the need for a human to do the labor. If there was one weakness in the book it is the examination of an answer to this problem. How do we employ an ever-expanding population when the NEED for their employment decreases as workers continue to be replaced by machines? The problem is monetary and is beyond the scope of this book and its review but is the central question left unanswered by this otherwise outstanding expose of the exploited. In reading this at the time of Zinn’s passing, it stands as a reminder and a tribute to him and all of the millions for which he struggled.

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