On Gebre’s Labor Day OC Reggie Profile

On this Labor Day, I recall the controversial Preamble to the Constitution of the Industrial Workers of the World that held right at the onset that the “working class and employing class have nothing in common.” A bit Manichean? Perhaps, but when juxtaposed with the OC Register’s profile of Orange County Labor Federation Executive Tefere Gebre, it at least harks back to an antagonistic orientation with some rhetorical teeth behind it. Instead, what we have is a headline in the September 6th edition of the paper reading “Labor’s man in OC out to save capitalism!”

In the profile, Gebre recounts his life in Ethopia where his father once met Hallie Selassie, the emperor who would later  be overthrown by Marxist-Leninists. Life under the authoritarian socialist regime spurred Gebre’s decision to come to the United States. This aspect is almost suggested to properly contextualize Gebre’s pro-union/pro-capitalist stance. To be certain, Marxist-Leninist regimes architecturally betrayed socialism with their state capitalist economies and undemocratic political structures. Indeed, as radical theorist Noam Chomsky has noted, the collapse of the Soviet Union – where Gebre was educated – and its Eastern bloc should have been celebrated by the left as the end of a major impediment to its truer aims.

In a sense, however, what is being presented is a false dichotomy full of contradictions. The first is a quote from the OCLF’s ED that will rankle left and right alike when he said, “I’m the purest capitalist you could find anywhere.” As Reggie writer David Whiting went to write on, “But, he explains, that doesn’t mean he’s in favor of unchecked capitalism.” Pure capitalists are the anarcho-capitalist types. They rarely exist and when they do proclaim themselves to be, they usually act in contradiction to their professed faith. Gebre is not of such ilk and can’t claim such an ideological purity and then favor regulation! Checks on the system recognizes its shortcomings – especially when it comes to labor – and perhaps one day Gebre might figure out the Sisyphusean nature of his efforts.

Next, towards the article’s end, more statements are offered for analysis:

The movement’s immediate goal is to elect leaders who will stop the drop in what Gebre says is a nearly 40-year decline in pay. “We need to create 11 million jobs just to catch up,” Gebre says of the recession. He offers high speed rail jobs as one solution – and ridding the White House of Goldman Sachs advisers.

With the November election looming, Gebre’s offices in Orange are abuzz. His members have registered 37,000 voters in the last three years. There’s a war room with charts of target cities and computers stuffed with data on union members and voting patterns. “We will man 64 phone lines every night between September 7th and November 2nd,” Gebre promises. “We will have 300 people walking the streets of Anaheim on Election Day helping get out the vote.”

There is no doubt helping “fix” capitalism, as Gebre puts it, is an ambitious goal.

Firstly, wage stagnation is the outcome of a neoliberal economic consensus that has been in effect since the 1970’s. Leaders who would be well poised to reverse that trend do not come from the Democratic Party – or else they would have already done it. Bill Clinton’s presidency presided over NAFTA devastating the manufacturing base and his neoliberal economic team helped blow a bubble that burst in the first years of the Dubya presidency. The Bush Administration oversaw the blowing of bigger bubbles that have now burst and wrecked the economy in a Great Recession. Obama’s White House, where all those Goldman Sachs advisers kick it, has delivered his Wall Street campaign donors with nice bailouts while hardly anyone mentions EFCA much these days. Gebre can man the phones, register the voters, and seek to “fix” capitalism, but what party will he turn to in order to faithfully execute these objectives?

It’s as critical historian of the Democratic Party Lance Selfa once put it, “you can’t fight the victory of the rightmost forces by sacrificing your own independent strength to support elements just the next step away from them.”

That being said, and this being OC and all, Gebre’s political economy outlook is just enough to rile the readers of the Reggie though. Case in point with the following comment: “Fixing capitalism with a union? How does a socialist organization fix capitalism? Oh yeah, I forgot, the union bosses make millions by enslaving the masses to the union cause. Just like corporate America. Same america, just a different dictator.”

Ay dios mio! Happy Labor Day?

About Gabriel San Roman