Hey Bernie! Workers need power, not a seat at the table

Proposals that are gimmicks aren’t the answer

June 5, 2019 — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a rally of Walmart workers outside the company's shareholder meeting in Rogers, Arkansas. PHOTO: Bernie Sanders Facebook page
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Bernie Sanders claims he has uncovered the secret to making things better for the working class. Let’s get on the board of directors of corporations and workers can change this thing from the inside! Some are calling it socialism. But Marxists would disagree. Does this plan really help working people?

Sanders spoke at the Walmart annual shareholders’ June meeting in support of a resolution to require the board to consider hourly workers for seats on the board of directors. Fast forward to the end of the story, the Walmart board rejected this proposal unanimously and made no comment. (One can only imagine them rolling on the floor laughing in post-meeting cocktail hour.)

There was no follow up and no response to the board’s rejection, making it a political stunt. It was also a precursor to more of Sanders’ policy proposals that he claims will reduce the wealth gap. One is to expand the workers-as-board-members to a national level and the other is for corporations to turn over portions of their stock to worker-controlled funds.

Other Democratic presidential candidates also recognize that workers are frustrated and demanding a bigger piece of the pie. They, too, line up to promise to take the edge off of capitalism’s “excesses.” Elizabeth Warren’s “Accountable Capitalism Act” and Kamala Harris’s “LIFT Act” (which is really just a tax credit) are examples.

The nature of capitalism. These proposals are, in the end, just gimmicks. They face certain defeat, and they retain the capitalist system. This is not socialism because owners still have control and profit still rules.

Under capitalism, exploitation only gets worse and worse. In this age of advanced technology, robotics and artificial intelligence, labor is steadily eliminated or reduced to the most mundane tasks. The constant drive for “productivity” exhausts workers and pits them against each other.

What Sanders, golden boy of social democrats and ex-Trotskyists, knows but won’t say, is that all value is created by labor. Profit is the measure of unpaid labor in a car, a tomato, a computer program, or a cup of coffee. So, when competition requires speedups to cut costs by reducing labor in commodities, profit falls. Capitalism is based on unpaid labor. Socialism is its opposite.

Let’s take on the system. If Sanders really wants to redistribute wealth and help working people, he would call to tax the wealthy and spend the proceeds on building fantastic schools and housing for all. We need to nationalize major industries, without compensation to private owners, and force them to open their books to show where the money went instead of into worker’s pockets — to say, pay workers what they are worth, starting with a federal minimum wage of $25.

Some of Sanders’ platform sounds good. His idea to increase public ownership in the energy industry is much better for workers than a seat on the board, because the owner is the public, not Wall Street. But if capitalism dominates the economy, it will all be for naught.

Workers don’t need to channel their energy into electing a politician who wants to fix capitalism. On the contrary, they need to flex their muscle and organize a movement that fights on their behalf, independent of corporations. Only then can workers assert their power to benefit the entire class.

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