White and black workers

THE WORKING CLASS: Hegemonic Trump analysis makes it appear as if the working class of the United States is white.

Trige Andersen is a freelance journalist and historian.
Workers on Arrival. Black Labor in the Making of America

THE WORKING CLASS: Hegemonic Trump analysis makes it appear as if the working class of the United States is white.

(Note: The article is mostly machine-translated from Norwegian by Gtranslate)

There are three experiences that have been crucial to my understanding of the US political economy in recent times: Ta-Nehisi Coate's analysis of Trump as the "first white president of the United States" in Atlantic magazine one year after the election; Troublemakers School in Chicago a few months before the election; and most recently Joe William Trotter Jr.'s new book Workers on Arrival. Black Labor in the Making of America.

Alliances and fractures

The book through shows Trotter that the black working class has never been passive to the exploitation of their labor: black warehouse worker Brandin McDonald of Warehouse Workers for Justice, for example, was more concerned with fighting locally for the right to organize – and for organizing across racialization – in the warehouses that service giant companies such as Walmart, among others: "They try to divide us into Latinos, whites and African Americans to prevent us from talking about our terms," ​​he said. McDonald's other major concern was that in his local area schools were closed and prisons opened.

Based on his own everyday life, the warehouse worker thus pointed to the legacy of several hundred years of history. A story of how American capitalism is screwed up. The fact that Brandin McDonald was present at a trade union conference with white workers at all would have been unthinkable just a hundred years ago.

Obama signaled to blacks that if they work twice as hard as
white, anything is possible.

The story of American labor struggle is also the story of how white workers allied themselves with the bourgeoisie to keep black workers at the bottom of the hierarchy
- even after the abolition of slavery. About how blacks' work and value creation have been made invisible in the US at all.

It is the 400 year long story in which Trotter unfolds Workers on Arrival. And he starts and ends by showing how history basically interferes with the present.

The first white president of the United States

One of the main stories of the election of Trump has been that it was due to the (rightful) anger of the white working class over being left behind during de-industrialization and deregulation of the economy.

From right to left, this explanation sounded, which obscured two intimately connected matters: Had it not been for the economic elite and middle-class sections, Trump would never have found his way to the White House. And while there are whites in the most marginalized parts of the United States working class, they are mostly black, Latino, and other non-white population.

Indirectly – and occasionally directly – the incoherent but hegemonic Trump analysis came to make it appear as if the United States working class is white. And the black population? Incidentally, a blend of identity-politics-fixated minorities and narcotics welfare prosecutors.

"It is often said that Trump has no ideology, which is untrue – his ideology is white supremacy," Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in Atlantic, arguing that while Obama signaled to blacks that if they work twice as hard as whites, is everything possible, then Trump sent the opposite message to his white followers: Work half as hard as blacks, and even more is possible.

This logic is basically what the United States and its accumulation of values ​​are built upon, Trotter shows Workers on Arrival. During early industrialization, both white and black so-called free workers lived a miserable existence with minimal influence on their own lives. But, Trotter writes:

«White wage workers gradually gained access to vote, to state power, to form their own political and social organizations and unions, while the vast majority of their African-American counterparts remained connected to their enslaved brothers and sisters through both legal and extrajudicial marginalization, financially exploitation and racial inequality. ”

Strikes again

Right up to the interwar years, white unions kept black workers out – some informal, others completely open to the statutes – and black workers instead created their own infrastructure to stay afloat. Through, among other things, professional organization, social organization – around, for example, the racially segregated residential areas and the civil rights movement – the black part of the working class succeeded in pursuing a better political, social and economic platform in the United States.

However, the de-industrialization and deregulation of the economy, whose white victims have fallen over a crocodile tear since Trump, however, has primarily hit the black part of the working class:

"Unemployment, poverty, pollution-created health risks and deprivation of young blacks increased dramatically in the last century," Trotter writes. In the 20st century, the "bottom of globalized capitalist labor" in the United States is primarily populated by blacks.

And as was also evident in the spectrum of participants at the Troublemakers School in Chicago at the time before Trump was taken completely seriously, some of today's most powerful unions in the United States are led by black and Latino workers, and not least women.

Of course, this is what hair-raising large parts of the white United States could not bear. The fact that it must be white (male) workers in particular who have been unfairly treated by global capitalism and political establishment is not at all historical evidence.

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