Book Review

Kim Moody, On New Terrain – how capital is reshaping the battleground of class war, Haymarket, 9781608468461

This is a detailed and provocative study of how capital has changed since the 1980s and its effects on the working class and political parties in the USA and across the world. It rejects the notion that we live in a post-capitalist world or that the ‘gig economy’ dominates industrial relations. Instead, it presents a classical Marxist analysis that painstakingly shows how the composition of the ‘core working class’ has changed in its occupational, industrial and ethno/racial composition under changing business practices since the 1980s linked to increasing concentration of capital.

Much of the productivity gains achieved over this period especially the 1980s and 1990s result from reduced breaks in the 8 hour working day amounting to 24 minutes which allied to streamlined work practices added 2 hours production at no extra cost. Similar gains apply in nursing and other services. Add in the privatisation of child and elder care, health insurance, food preparation, the increase in the hours worked by women, the official ‘low wage’ rate paid to 43% of USA jobs and the increased profits of US corporations are all too explicable. From 1975 to 2011, the real profit/wage ratio grew by 68%. By contrast, the percentage of people holding multiple jobs has barely altered.

The concentration of capital into fewer mega-corporations has resulted in massive logistics hubs around major ports and cities. Increasingly, these act as distribution and final manufacturing centres taking standardised products and tailoring them. In almost all the US hubs, hundreds of thousands of increasingly African American, Latino and women workers are concentrated in low paid dead end jobs. In theory, this gives these workers enormous power given that moving a hub would take decades and too much capital has been sunk into it. The fact that many of these workers are in unions and traditionally have voted Democrat should increase this power. The fact it has not exercised this is the subject of the second half of the book.

The adherence to neo-liberal priorities, promotion of free trade and abandonment of the working class under Obama led to a shift of sufficient number of working class voters to the Republicans to elect Trump. This, however, is not a new phenomenon. Even in 1976, 38% of households with union members voted Republican. In 2016, this was 43%. In 1980, only 48% of union households voted Democrat and 45% for Reagan’s Republicans.

The Democratic party machine is largely beholden to business donations and even the ‘crowd-funding’ introduced by Sanders’ ‘Our Revolution’ organisation has been incorporated into the Democratic National Convention (DNC) multilayer fund-raising controlled by a party apparatus that effectively chooses the candidates who largely share their pro-business stance. Moody is gloomy about the prospects for changing this given the way corporations control Congress and State apparatuses and the increasing spend on election and primary campaigns.

Nor are unions acting to defend workers’ rights, many have adopted the same pro-business model as the corporations. Moody worked for years as editor of Labor Notes a group which advocated, educated and promoted grass roots movements in communities and unions. He describes the struggles in the AFL-CIO as well as initiatives such as the Labor Party formed in 1996 from frustration with Clinton, the Richmond Progressive Alliance which won elections in opposition to Chevron the major employer, the Working Families Party a pressure group within the Democrats, a left ‘tea party’ which stands its own candidates. He highlights a strike by US prisoners, overwhelmingly African Americans, against working as ‘slaves’. He draws lessons from the Occupy Movement and Black Lives matter. Overall he believes a revolt in US cities is inevitable. However, its success depends on the working class having learned the lessons of all these partial struggles to become in Marx’s terms a class ‘fit to rule’. There is much more in the book than this including a discussion on the disconnection between strike waves and Krondatieff long waves, extensive references, a detailed description of how Labor Notes functioned. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would recommend it particularly at the discount rate of $9 including e-book.

Gordon Morgan is a member of the Scottish Left Review editorial committee.

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