posted July 19, 2005
Review of THE WAR AT HOME by Laurence H. Shoup

The War At Home: The Corporate Offensive From Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush
by Jack Rasmus
Kyklos Productions, San Ramon, California, 2005, 534 pp.

REVIEWED BY Laurence H. Shoup, “Z” Magazine, October 2005

The dominant institution in American society is the corporation, an instrument of aggrandizement for the few that enriches its already wealthy owners through a never ending process of commodification and privatization. The corporation’s goal is to make everything, even life itself, into a salable commodity, and it tries to turn every type of public property into private property, owned by and for the few. As a result, the earth and all of its life giving resources, from land and water to ores and oil, is being privatized into fewer and fewer hands, with dire consequences for numerous life forms worldwide, including billions of poverty stricken human beings. Current statistics illustrate how successful the corporation has been in helping the several hundred thousand families that make up the core of the corporate rich to reach a level of wealth and power beyond what any ruling class has ever known. The U.S. corporate rich, the top 1% of the population, holds nearly 40% of the country’s wealth, the top 10% over 70%, while the bottom 80%, making up the core of the working population, controls only 16%.

Not only is inequality in America grotesque, it is increasing due to an ongoing economic class war on poor and working people launched about twenty-five years ago by our nation’s dominant corporations. This class war has been very successful for the rich. As billionaire Warren Buffet recent exclaimed: “my class is clearly winning?. Working people, on the other hand, are clear losing. The corporate class war has been a disaster for the vast majority of our people.

In an important new book, THE WAR AT HOME: THE CORPORATE OFFENSIVE FROM RONALD REAGAN TO GEORGE W. BUSH, Jack Rasmus explores these key themes. Filled with facts and analysis, including 45 tables and 540 endnotes, and coming at a key historical moment, THE WAR AT HOME comprehensively illustrates the all-sided corporate attack on working people and their leading organizations conducted both historically and since 1980. In so doing, he makes a major contribution to our understanding of what has been going on, illustrating in depth how every societal institution which supposedly promotes the general welfare, from government at all levels, down through the Democratic Party and its trade union allies, has failed to protect the American working class from the disastrous consequences of unbridled corporate rule.

Rasmus uses the theme of periodic corporate offensives to good effect in reviewing the history of the last century to illustrate how we got to our present predicament. He sees four different corporate offensives since the 1890s, the latest and ongoing one dating from about 1980. In chapters which form the core of the book, Rasmus focuses on how the corporate power structure, using both top down legislation and bottom up actions at the point of production, has, over the past thirty years, been able to transfer about $9 trillion from over 100 million working class Americans to the wealthiest 5% of households. This has been done through tax cuts for the corporations and the rich (for example, the corporate tax rate was 23% in 1969 but is now only 7%), along with tax increases for workers; through ‘free trade’ and runaway shops, which has cost our country ten million jobs, seriously undermining our unions; through further reducing wages by contingent employment, reducing overtime pay and not raising the pathetically low minimum wage; through forcing workers to pay for health care or do without; and through reducing or eliminating pension benefits and stealing the Social Security surplus. Now they are even boldly attempting to privatize this program. Rasmus also suggests how to turn around the ongoing rout and disorganization of the U.S. working class, offering ‘suggested solutions’ at the end of most chapters, along with useful theoretical discussions of some key issues such as the ideology of ‘free trade’.

Rasmus also points out how American democracy itself is now threatened by the so-called ‘Patriot Act’ and the ‘War on Terror’ resulting, together with the impacts of the corporate offensive, in our nation’s most serious economic cultural and political crisis since the 1850s. Rasmus argues that part of this crisis involves the Democratic Party, which is increasingly influenced by corporate donations and lobbyists, is adrift with no clear ideology, or mobilizing approach to politics, and represents a weak ‘Republican lite’ approach overall. Largely taken over by the pro-corporate Democratic Leadership Conference (DLC) in the late 1980s, Rasmus correctly calls the Democrats an ‘organizational ally’, a ‘junior partner’, and frequent supporter of important aspects of the current Corporate Offensive. The War At Home documents key examples of this support, such as NAFTA, the 2000 trade deal with China, the sellout of health care for all in 1992-94, the theft of the Social Security surplus, corporate tax cuts, and two trillion dollars in tax cuts for the rich during George W. Bush’s first term alone. By 2004 the Democratic retreat from pro-working class economic positions had created such a vacuum that its former base had become confused and vulnerable to right wing appeals on cultural/social/religious issues. This is illustrated by 2004 poll numbers showing that core working class voters, those with a high school or less education, supported Bush over Kerry 57% to 38%.

Rasmus concludes THE WAR AT HOME by focusing on a reorganization of the AFL-CIO as the hope for a renewal of progressive class politics in America, proposing his own plan for restructuring the labor movement and its main federation. He points out that for at least thirty years the AFL-CIO’s political strategy has been characterized by “…an almost blind reliance on the electoral fortunes of the Democratic Party, to the exclusion of other forms of political and community organizing or inter-union coalition building? (p. 459).

During this same period probably several billion dollars in resources have been given by the union movement to Democratic candidates instead of organizing and educating working people for an independent fight back based on the needs of the majority. As a result, there has been no coordinated response to the Corporate Offensive, with the dire results that Rasmus documents so thoroughly. To remedy this, Rasmus proposes that to rebuild union and worker power requires a rank and file grass roots democratic movement with an effective membership base working on solidarity activities at the community and point of production level, and implementing a new, “radical transformation of the organizing process? itself (p. 470).

To successfully achieve this requires a fundamental restructuring of the AFL-CIO. At the core of the Rasmus proposal is the creation of an ‘American Workers Congress’, a new legislative body gathered from the state and local levels to set overall policy quarterly, plus two new union structures replacing the AFL-CIO. These are the ‘American Federation of Unions’ with the primary task of political action, including elections, as its main focus, and the ‘American Council of Unions’ with organizing and other activities at the point of production as its main focus.

To implement this at the grass roots level, what Rasmus calls ‘Local Mobilization Committees’, composed equally of union and community forces, would drive local solidarity activities like strike and boycott coordination, major cross-union organizing drives against companies like Wal-Mart, anti-corporate campaigns, demonstrations and actions in defense of community interests, and similar point of production focused activities. Union and community groups would have equal weight in both the membership and leadership of these committees. A new kind of cross-union and even union-community membership would evolve, producing a new layer of ’shock troops’ for labor. And whereas current Central Labor Councils would carry out the political organizing tasks of the American Federation of Unions, the Local Mobilization Committees would carry out the point of production solidarity actions and report to the American Council of Unions in the new reorganized structure. Both parallel structures would cooperate closely but essentially remain independent in carrying out their primary focus and missions, whether political or point of production.

Rasmus also weighs in on the ‘union density’ debate, suggesting that to increase density and potential power, sectoral unions would need to begin to develop. At first voluntary and in a loose federated structure, such unions would operate within the American Council of Unions to enforce coordinated bargaining, develop organizing strategy and direction, resolve union jurisdiction issues, etc.. He sees the eventual necessity, however, of one union in all of transport (trucking, longshore, railroad, airlines, etc.), one union in all of health care, in hospitality, manufacturing, and so on. Neither craft or even industrial unions are adequate to deal with global corporate forms of organization. But the process of developing sectoral unions must be evolutional and voluntary, in his view, not forced from the top down.

One limitation of THE WAR AT HOME is the failure to discuss and suggest possible solutions to one of the central dilemmas facing the left in America: how to escape the clutches of the DLC/Corporate-controlled Democratic Party. There are alternative parties (the Green Party and the Labor Party come to mind) with solid programs now struggling to be recognized as the party of, by and for the working class. An infusion of major labor support would instantly make one, or a merger of these two major players, a viable alternative. There are also those who argue that the political system, with its corrupt financing, winner take all structure, non-transparent voting machines, and partisan political supervision is fraudulent at its core and should be boycotted as not democratic enough even to participate in. A creative discussion of the entire political situation to stimulate a larger debate about what to do in this key area is lacking in the book.

Despite a few shortcomings, THE WAR AT HOME is a path breaking work which will stand as a milestone on the road to a fight back by and for working people, the vast majority of the American population. Jack Rasmus has performed a major service to the movement by starting what needs to be a great debate about our collective future. Those who do not want us to connect the dots about the profound transformation now occurring due to the economic warfare of the corporate rich hope that the majority now being marginalized into oblivion never find out about and read this book. Of course, this is the very reason that it is so important that we all should read it and spread the word about The War At Home.

Laurence H. Shoup is an Historian and author of the book, Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and U.S. Foreign Policy.

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