The Family of Man

The Family of Man … The Family of “God”

The only true community … what defines us … is the family of man.  All others are derivatives.  It comes with our bodies.   The family of man is what material energy has evolved out of its own substance, therefore it is “God’s” community.  Every other derives its meaning from there.  Humankind’s justice requirements take precedence over every other social reality created by the mind and choices of men — union, church, party, nation, race, even biological kinship and clan. 

 Any human institution, entity or agency, and most pointedly the Church, is of value only to the degree that it plays an ancillary, subordinate role in promoting and protecting the family of man.  It does this by displaying the human community’s essential characteristics in microcosm.  In traditional terms, the Church strives to become the “sacrament” of humanity, recapitula­ting in itself the social structures and interpersonal dynamics that serve to bring out human­kind’s potential.   “Serve” is the appropriate term.  The church (and any other community) exists to serve humanity, not the other way around.  It  betrays us and fatally corrupts itself, losing any justification for its existence, when it tries to usurp the place of humankind and declare itself “God’s” only true community … or allows itself to be defined by the individualist commercial ideology promoted by our current version of the capitalist economic system.

 Capitalist Individualism 

Capitalism as it currently functions, stands in direct contradiction to our communitarian human reality.  It is based on the false and impossible premise that human beings are not related — that they are unconnected isolates.   In this system solitary individuals subsist, survive, and achieve happiness on their own by “distinguishing” them­selves through their accomplish­ments from every other individual.   The sign of this accom­plish­ment is remunerated recognition; the measure of “dis­tinc­tion” is given in mone­tary terms — the power to earn and to buy.  For the deluded and ignorant, it is a Disneyland fantasy to which they cling even when it evaporates before their eyes; for the willful purveyors of the consumerism that drives this system, it is a calculated deliberate venal lie.  Human survival and well-being including the accu­m­u­la­tion of wealth is a community achievement.   Individuals can do nothing.  Even the human “self” — name, personality, language, religion, charac­ter, values, social role — is itself an inherited and carefully cultured social artifact, the product of a community: family, clan and class. 

 Those who love their families and work to sustain them know perfectly well that individu­al­ism is an empty lie or the family disintegrates.  They don’t need me to tell them.  But the fiction is sustained by the constant drumbeat of corporate advertising which is constitutively invested in main­tain­ing  a labor pool of unorga­nized solitary individ­uals pro­grammed to consume what the corporations sell.  The power of advertising  over the human mind is proven by the fact that results in sales and votes correla­te directly  to the amount of money spent.  Advertising works all the time.  This is not speech.  It is brain­washing.   The claim that it is protected by the constitution shows how malleable are words in the hands of the ruling elites.

 There is only one important event in this system: the commercial trans­ac­tion; and there is only one significant relation­ship, the power relationship:  buyer and seller, patron and client, boss and employee, master and slave.  People are defined as disconnected, unrelated economic units, characterized only by their relative power to control the outcome of a an exchange of goods and services, which includes their labor.

 Genesis

The original Jewish account of “beginnings” was an allegory of life on this earth.  The authors never had any intention of saying , nor were their readers ever tempted to think, that there was another world before this one from which our ancestors were expelled.  The sermon the Genesis authors were preaching with their allegory was that this world, this world, IS a paradise, and it is we who we ruin it for ourselves when we think we can deny our dependent origins and become “gods” — solitary unrelated divine individ­uals  — self-made, self-subsistent, independent , self-involved, owning “knowledge” and living forever.  Eating the fruit of the “tree of life” was an allegory for the denial of death.  But it is death that saves us from our delusions of grandeur;  for it cements, with its undeniability, the dependent connectedness created by our extrusion from the sacred matter of which all things are made.  This matter is the same every­where, and in it everything “lives and moves and has its being.”  It is what we are.   Our very bodies proclaim our eternal and universal related­ness.  We are family; that is our true definition.   That reality is there now as it has always been there, waiting to be activa­ted any time we want.  Is this something that needs to be proven?  I don’t think so.  Everybody knows it … everybody.  Living as family would make this world a paradise.

 Tony Equale

 

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Reflections on the Wisconsin recall

Unions are not unions

I have at times been a labor activist, but I am not a professional and I generally don’t offer commentary on the strategies and policies adopted by unions.   However, the significance of the defeat in Wisconsin impelled me to try to understand what happened there, and what that calls for going forward.   The following are my reflections.

I start with what I read.  Economics Professor Emeritus Richard Wolff’s short article in Truthout titled Lost Elections’ Strategic Lessons[1] acknowledges that one of the principle reasons for the failure of the Wisconsin recall was that working people are not particu­larly sympathe­tic to unions.  His point caught my attention because it referred to some­thing that all my working life — and I am 73 — I felt was missing from the American Labor movement: in my terms, a sense of community. The historic workers’ word for commun­ity is union.  To put it tersely, I believe the reason why working people do not perceive the be­ne­­fits of labor unions, is that they are not unions … and they have not been for 75 years.

The sense of community

 Dr Wolff claims that in the ‘30’s, the socialist and communist parties, wedded to the CIO-type industrial unions, provided the sense of community that the unions did not:

 Unions are less vulnerable to criticism as narrowly caring only for their own members when they are continuously and clearly allied with organizations struggling for a better society for everyone. Socialists and communists built the community contacts and consciousness that undermined and defeated pro-business arguments against the CIO union drives and against the programs Roosevelt developed.

He seems to feel that the “Occupy” movement could offer the same service today.  History, he says, teaches us that success for workers …

 … requires building a robust alliance between labor unions and movements or political parties (or both) seriously committed to an anti-capitalist agenda for social change. The historic significance of the Occupy Wall Street movement lies in its taking a big first step toward rebuilding such an alliance.

Without disputing his historical claims, his analysis raises two questions, which are really the same question: exactly why were the unions not capable of providing a sense of community on their own in the “30’s? … and, what prevents them from providing it now?  What is it about unions that explains why they can’t seem to do this?

I believe Wolff’s theory and solution needs further elaboration.  But at least he has identified the area where the problem lies: the absence of the sense of community, “labor unions narrow­ly care for their own mem­bers.”  That in itself, in my opinion, would be enough to explain the debacle in Wisconsin.  People in general, the majority of whom are people with jobs — working people — are not sympa­thetic to unions. They don’t see them as on their side.

 Other observers concur.  In a June 15th discussion sponsored by the Nation magazine evaluating the Wisconsin recall failure, a number of the participants voiced similar feelings.  Here’s Doug Henwood:

 … unions aren’t all that popular with the broad public.  In my original piece [6/6][2] I cited a number of Gallup polls showing that people thought that unions had too much power, were too interested in themselves and not the broader public and ranked toward the bottom of the list (rivaling banks and HMOs) in Gallup’s annual survey on confidence in major institutions.

But the astonishing thing is that the Wisconsin vote showed that the unpopularity exten­ded even to union members.  25% of union members and a whopping 38% of union households suppor­ted Scott Walker.  What explains that?  I am convinced the “narrowness” identified by Dr. Wolff runs deeper than he seems to discern.  I think that labor unions have not only failed to connect with the broad public, they have failed their own people because they are not unions at all they are  law firms.  They are corporate entities that repre­sent workers; they are not them­selves a “brother­hood,” an organization of working people, even when the organizers and union reps they hire used to be working people.  Even unions’ “narrow interest in their own members” somehow misses the very thing that their people are are most in need of … the thing that will guarantee everyone’s security and well-being:  people power — real human community — true union.

 The american dream

 Let’s look at this phenomenon in perspective.  Take a few steps back.  Politicians loudly pro­claim that the American people are enamored of something called “The American Dream.”  The “dream” is that in America, not just some, but every hard working individual can achieve “hap­pi­­ness” in the form of a secure and adequate living.  “Dream,” in my opinion, is the proper word for it; for I believe it is an individualist fairy tale.  Individuals can do nothing.  Human survival and well-being is a community achievement.  If the “dream” seems convincing it’s only because people have let themselves be convinced by those invested in keeping the indi­vi­­­­du­al­ist myth afloat. 

The American Dream originated with European immigrants fleeing traditional ethnic and national tyrannies in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Today it is propagated by a com­mer­cial over-class that lives on the exploi­ta­tion of individual consumerism.  When America was an 85% rural nation, freedom and independence meant “owning your own land” or small business.  When capitalist industrialization made America 85% urban, it came to be applied to whoever holds down a “job” and thus can “buy” the items of happiness provided by the ruling corporations.  “Free­dom” evolved to mean the power of the individual to earn … and buy.

American Labor Unions bought into that individualist fantasy and used it to promote their project.  They decided the road to success for the “union” was to “go with the flow.”  The stan­ding contradic­tion to the very meaning of “union” didn’t occur to them or was ignored.  So instead of provi­ding the only alter­native to a dysfunc­tional economic system built on the fan­tasy that financial inde­pen­dence was available to the isolated jobholder, they claimed to be the one secure route to the “American Dream.”  They called it “sticking to the bread and butter issues.”  It meant “forget uniting with others to change the system, and take care of the dues-paying members in a contract-protected shop.”  They re-defined “union” and in so doing re-inforced the individual­ism, the isolation and the power­less­­ness of wage-earning workers. People found that when they did join a labor Union (or were forced to by contract) they didn’t get a “union,” a brotherhood, a mutual assis­tance commu­nity, but rather a firm of well-paid para-legal semi-profes­sionals who would de­fend the indivi­dual jobholder’s rights to the full extent that an anemic law and a dilute contract would allow, so long as the job­holder worked under that contract.

So?  Unions are being realistic.  What’s wrong with that?

Besides the impotence of the law and the deficiency of the contract, it’s not communirty, it’s not UNION.  The power of a community to identify and defend itself, and from there to provide the social supports that went beyond the narrow confines of legal protection for the isolated individual became a supererogatory activity that the Union was unlikely to engage in.  I’m talking about things like help for the un­em­ployed with job training and employment search … help with housing, … avoiding foreclosures, … securing day-care, medical, food, clothing and education needs … helping to organize the unorganized … taking on issues in the community where the union was located.  As Fletcher and MacAlevey say in the same Nation discussion:

 There are plenty of important structural issues that the rank and file could be engaging, including the on-going housing, credit, climate, public transportation, and child care crises. And there’s the matter of bringing the worker’s sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters home from unwinnable wars of aggression.

The Union was not grounded in people, but in the contract.  There was no “membership” for those who did not hold a job under contract.  And most cer­tainly there was no concern for those people and those “industries” that were unorganized.  Shops, workplaces, industries were strategically targeted for organizing drives because of the benefits that would accrue in dues and clout to the union corporation.  People are not blind.  They saw what was happening.  Unions had turned themselves into a “service-for-sale” industry and reduced the services they sold to the bare minimum necessary.  People’s apathy and antipathy grew in pro­portion.

A fourth of July picnic doth not a union make.  Many people are disappointed with the “nar­row­ness” of the Unions, but many others go even further and see them as just another “business” dedicated to its own success and profits, leaving working people defense­less as always, isolated and powerless in an inhuman system.  After the Union enters the picture, there is no more human community — no more collective muscle and no more brotherhood — than before.

The labor corporation

The big labor corporation selling the “American Dream” is fully integrated into the American Capi­ta­l­­ist system.  It exploits the “individual-happiness-through-consumption” mentality so neces­sary for the current economic machinery to work.  They call it “bread and butter.”  Any sugges­tion that “happiness” can only be found in true human community — that the super­fluous consump­tion urged by corporate advertizing is a scam and a rip-off — has the door slammed in its face as new age woo-woo.   The ability of the individual to earn and consume has been identified as “the American Dream.”  “Independence” has been redefined by the corpora­tions.

Besides, the big Union is itself a corporate enterprise with a service to sell and thus part of the com­mer­cial ruling elite.  Workers “shop” among labor Unions the way any individual client shops for a lawyer or an insurance company, and for the same reasons.  The big Union may actually do its job quite well, but there is no community … there is no human union, no power for people.  There is a corporate commercial enter­prise with a product to sell, and there are individual consu­mers who are forced by law to do their shopping with others from the same work­place.  But there is no neces­sary connec­tion among them.  “Union certifica­tion” is no differ­ent from any other commercial transaction except for the fact that the individual consu­mers must do their buying together.  But they buy as individ­uals, for their individ­u­al benefit, and only for the duration of this indivi­dual “job,” with this indiv­idual company, under this particular contract.  Should they get laid off, or change employ­ment even in the same field, their connection to the “union” dis­solves, because the basis of the connection was the individual workplace contract, not the commu­nity of the workers.  The “labor corpora­tion” does not exist to increase human social depth and empow­er­ment.  It exists to provide its individual dues payers with the minimum services neces­sary to maintain worker willingness to not “de-certify” … i.e., to keep on paying dues. 

It’s a question of who you think you are, i.e., how you define yourself.  Once you identify yourself as a commercial enterprise, all kinds of things tend to occur.  Consider … the greatest obstacle to the Union’s comfortable uninterrupted dues collection (usually witheld by the Company on payday) would be a hostile uncooperative attitude on the part of management.  The Union does not want that.  But neither does the Company.  It’s to the advantage of management to maintain good relations with the Union; it means they can shunt shop-floor grievances to the friendly Union rep and leave wage questions until contract time.  The arrangement has all the potential of a “sweetheart deal” between the Union and the Company.   And that is exactly what has happened in many cases.  As long as the union does not make life uncom­fortable for man­age­ment, management cooperates with the Union as much as it can.  And as long as the workers are quiet, the Union has no reason to demand higher wages, more bene­fits or greater job security and safety.  Given the nature of the relation­ships invol­ved it is not in the interest of the Union to press for im­prove­ments, despite the wide­spread belief that it does.  It’s a myth.  Think about it.   The reality is that under the current self-defini­tion of Union as provider of profes­sion­al services, the Union tends to  move only when the workers push it.  Worker-manage­ment co­op­er­ation was the explicit intention of American Labor law, set in stone by the big Unions’ acquiescence in the 1940’s, and we should not be surprised that that’s what we got.

Here’s a concrete example that I am familiar with.  A recent high profile drive for certification at a Southern pork plant was embar­rassed by the glaring presence of a nearby chicken processing facility — repre­sented by the very same Union — where wages were barely above the legal minimum.  “Why should we want the union,” asked the pork plant workers, “what did it get those people”?  Workers soon learn: if they want their “Union” to work for them, they have to make noise … the kind of adver­sar­­ial noise we all used to think was reserved for man­age­ment alone.  That doesn’t sound like union to me.  After the victory at the pork plant, wages re­mained what they were.  What the workers got was job security, including protection against arbitrary firing and harassment by line supervisors, a grievance procedure and better reponse to injury claims … not unimportant achievements to be sure, but there was no “up to 30% increase” in wages as touted during the organi­zing campaign.  I am not saying the Union negoti­a­tors who agreed to that contract should have or even could have done better under the cir­cum­stances; I am just pointing out the way things are.  The pork plant workers have a union, but they are still extremely poor disconnected people.

 Moreover, the fact that in this particular case the “victory” was achieved primarily through a “corpor­ate cam­paign”[3] and not through sustained shop-floor agitation, meant that the wor­kers didn’t “bring in” the union, the boss did.   The Big Union’s corporate campaign had persua­ded management that it was better to have a contract than suffer the kind of damage at the corporate level that another big corporation can inflict.  The boss permitted elec­tions to proceed unim­pe­ded.  Earlier attempts during the previous 15 years based on employee organi­zing alone had failed under the intimidating tactics of a management known to resort to violence in its interests. There was no “true union” among the 5,000 workers of this immense plant (and the surrounding community) strong enough to withstand the company’s onslaught and override the negative impact of a toothless labor law.  The cohesion need­ed for a shop-floor victory had not been achieved.  The “corpo­rate campaign” resulted in an agree­ment between big corporations ratified by an election, but it did not result in a human union — a community that had tasted and appropriated its own power. 

 As this is being written, ongoing organizing and worker education by a commit­ted local plant union committee may succeed in creating a “true union” that did not exist at the time of certi­fication.  Will the Big Union help them do it?  Or will it advise them to “stick to the bread and butter issues,” cooperate with management, and reject any thought of expan­ding the reach of the union beyond the the plant and contract to empower the lives of the workers and the community in which they live?  It remains to be seen.

 Anti-union?

 This essay was an attempt to understand what happened in Wiscon­sin on the 5th of June, but it was done in the interest of a much wider analysis.  Unions are perceived as selfish and spoiled.  If I point this out and try to fathom why, am I anti-union?  Not on your life!  What I am against is that unions, like so many of us, have bought into this economic system built on the corporate exploita­tion of the isolated indi­vidual both for labor and super­fluous consump­tion.  The Ameri­can individualist Dream is a con-game.  It’s purpose is to rip us off.  The obesity epi­dem­ic is symbo­lic.  The commercial propa­ganda that has us eating things we don’t need comes from the same sources that convince us that the key to the American Dream is to keep working as isolated pawns of the corporations.  It’s a Kafka-esque formula for suicide that the big Unions’ “bread and butter” goals do not challenge.   When was the last time you heard a Union thunder­­­ing against superfluous consumption and its advertizing?

It’s one thing to be forced to function within a retrograde system, it’s another thing to join it, run with it and seek to succeed in it on its own terms.  What I am against is the distortion of unionism that bought into the culture of individualism and individual consumption — the so-called American Dream — that is now suffo­ca­ting us.  It encourages union members to think narrowly about themselves and not about their brother and sister workers who share their destiny nor about the community where they live.  There is only one antidote to that toxic combination, and that is TRUE UNIONS.  We need unions that stand proudly for what they are and what they have to offer: the power of human com­mu­nity — a power that can change the world.   

 Union is not just a tool or a tactic, it is the answer to life.  Human community is the real American Dream.

Tony Equale

Preserving the Vision?

I recently sent out a short piece called “Corporation Sole” accusing the bishops of substituting a corporate definition of Church for the definition of Vatican II.  The Council definition I am referring to reiterated the traditional understanding that the “Church” is a loving community inspired by the teaching and example of Jesus to imitate the generosity of “God.” 

One reader, who felt my condemnation of the entire hierarchy was over-generalized, declared that there are differences among bishops, and intimated that in this regard, the bishop of Brooklyn is not like others.

I disagree.  I have been informed that at the June 12th annual bishop’s “convocation” with married priests, many of whom had been forced to resign, that when questioned about the documented voluntary withdrawal of over 200,000 Catholics from the Brooklyn Church, the bishop responded:  “hey, we’ve still got 1.5 million.  We can live with a quarter million less.”  I was shocked, but not surprised.  Concern for the “salvation” of those who left, or questions as to why so many would feel impelled to leave, were not even considered.  Apparently the fact that the remaining constituency was still large enough to guarantee the Diocese’ corporate status, was enough to allay any misgivings the bishop may have had.  The only thing that seemed of concern to him was corporate strength and conti­nuity, not the loss of almost a quarter million “souls” or the implication that perhaps something was lacking in the category of “loving community” to account for it. 

The fact that such attitudes mirror those of the CEOs of major corporations is usually excused as the unfortunate but inevitable by-product of “efficient management.”  But, I’m sorry, this is no harmless technical foible.  It must be seen squarely for what it is.  It is the crass substitution of the goals, structures, motivations  and operating dynamics of a commercial business enter­prise for a community of the followers of Jesus who function on the unique loving motivations inspired by his teaching and example.  We are not dealing with a moral question here, it’s much deeper, and much more important.  It’s a question of fundamental identity.   Just what are you?   Are you a Christian community concerned about your people, justice, widows and orphans  …  or are you a corporate commercial enterprise concerned principally about your buildings, their occupancy, utilization and remunerative “productivity”?

Last November (2011) the same Brooklyn Diocese published a “Strategic Plan 2011-2014” for Catholic Schools.  The language used in that document reflects this corporate commercial mindset.   It is called  officially, “Preserving the Vision,” and it can be found on the Brooklyn Diocesan website (http://dioceseofbrooklyn.org/ ).   It includes the announcement that all Catholic Schools in the Diocese will be converted into “academies” by 2017, thus completing the privatization of all parochial schools and their final separation from the parish and any semblance of a “loving Christian community.” Education for the paying elite (regardless of religious affiliation) will be the official order of the day — the “product” the Church sells to whomever can afford to buy.

The mission statement for the “strategic plan” includes this following bit of jargon, I’m sure you will find it familiar:  Goal #2: “Increasing enrollment through effective marketing and outreach to the diverse communities within the Diocese.”  Effective marketingDiverse communities?  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what is being proposed here.  Catholic schools never had to be “marketed” to Catholic people; you “market” when you are out to find new customers and clients.  “Diverse communities” obviously refers to non-Catholics, presumably those who appreciate up-scale “Catholic Academies” and are willing to pay for it. 

Are we to suppose this is part of the Diocese’ missionary mandate to spread the gospel to all nations? … or are we seeing a clever and lucrative way to avoid providing education for the hundreds of thousands of immigrant poor that now make up more than ½ of the Diocese’ Catholic population?  Catholic Schools were originally the main tool of the early 20th century strategy of supporting the immigrant populations from Europe that were Catholic:  Irish, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian.  Catholic schools kept them “catholic” and prepared their children for success in a hostile sectarian environment.  They were poor, but the “Church” always found a way. 

Apparently the current flow of immigrants no longer merit such efforts, and one wonders, why?  Are they any less “Catholic” than our people were?  Are they any less in need?  Are they any the less in danger of “losing their faith”?  They are not able to pay … but neither were our people And the church always found a way.  What explains why these particular “Catholics” are now passed over for education in favor of non-Catholics and non-Christians who just happen to have money and a recognition of the “value” of not sending their kids to public schools.   If this is not explained by a new commercial priority for the church, please tell me what does explain it.

“Marketing” isn’t the only “buzz word” that reveals the commercial nature of the ecclesiatical endeavor.  There are many more that emerge from the whole section on “marketing.”   The following (p.13) are a good example.  They are strategic goals for the “marketing” effort.  Notice the commercial language and the real goal behind “preserving the vision” — building utilization:

Goal 16. High priority will be given to effectively marketing Catholic schools and acade­mies within the Diocese of Brooklyn in order to build a strong educational brand through­out the Diocese and increase K-8 enrollment by 10% each year so that buildings are fully utilized.

Strategies

16.1 To maximize effectiveness and clarity, marketing and branding messaging at the dio­cesan and local school and academy levels will be presented to all diocesan constituencies in a “single minded” manner and delivered with “one voice.” Schools, academies and various offices within the diocese will work collaboratively to ensure this consistent branding and messaging.

16.2 Specific marketing resources will be identified and committed to fund an integrated marketing communications program of branding Catholic education within the Diocese of Brooklyn and to support individual school and academy recruitment activities.

I found that these ideas and this use of terminology curiously coincided with a similar anomaly of speech uttered by Cardinal William Levada, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when he commented on his recent June 11th meeting with the nuns of LCWR:

“Too many people crossing the LCWR screen, who are supposedly representing the Catholic church, aren’t representing the church with any reasonable sense of product identity,” Levada said.[1]

Am I the only one appalled at this talk of “branding” and “product identity”?  The fact that this non-religious terminology is used in such disparate and unconnected circum­stances gives rise to the suspicion that the Church managers, generally, are now defining the Church as commercial corporate enterprises … everywhere.  They are spontaneously using words that reflect that self-identity. 

The only time Jesus really lost it and might have set in motion the reactions that ultimately were to cost him his life, is when he encountered the money changers in the temple.  The remarkable fact is that what they were doing was not “immoral.”  But the fact that they had converted the Jewish relationship to the nameless “God” of Sinai into a commericalized enterprise centered on animal sacrifice (standard practice throughout the Greco Roman world) was more than he would tolerate.  It suggests that what we are dealing with in the commericalization of religion is not immoral … it is worse!  “Sin,” as we know,  was no big deal for Jesus.   But “turning my father’s house into a den of thieves” was more than his patience would abide. 

I doubt that further research will uncover any glaring difference between the Church bosses and the Church businesses that vie with one another for clients and paying customers in the “diverse market” on whichever side of the East River they may be located.

Tony Equale


[1]John AllenVatican official warns of ‘dialogue of the deaf’ with LCWR,” NCR June 12, 2012