Monopoly Bookstore Chains and the inanity of moralism

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at
Sat Oct 24 02:19:34 PDT 1998

-----Original Message----- From: K <d-m-c at> To: lbo-talk at <lbo-talk at>

I wrote:

>IWW and UCFW are in a bit of an inter-union tiff
over this. I have avoided
>Borders partially because of their union-busting
in some stores, but the
>chains are actually more likely to unionize than
>most of the groovy independents.

-Which is theoretically interesting, of course: -Labor-capital-(state) accord, legitimation crises -and response, Gramscian hegemony. And all that -good stuff.

Actually, it's more Gramscian analysis of Fordism. The labor-capital-state accord is a function of every political-economic settlement; the question is whether the particular state of large-scale corporate capitalism opens up new opportunities for bringing previously disempowered, underskilled members of the working class into those labor-capital-state accords that had once only included the most skilled sectors of the working class.

The 1930s saw a massive expansion of those allowed into those capital-labor-accords, injecting race and gender issues into internal labor processes that the skill bar had once largely excluded- even though labor did a piss-poor job dealing with them.

But the romance of the independent book store over the Borders chain has a lot of similarity to odes to the old craft trades over big industrial firms. There are social policy worries about the oligopolistic effects of such big firms on the consumer, but workers have usually found it easier over time to organize unions in the big firms than the mess of small firms.

>Now Nathan, another question: if you'd welcome
>the idea of people boycotting or honoring a picket
>line or even joining a union movement just because
>they're afraid of being humiliated by their peers,
>the what think you of the idea of seeing same from
>the kinds of folks mentioned above? A kind of
>superficial radical chic that motivates
>identification with unions?

Back in the East Bay, I had a number of Wob friends who were running pickets against Borders there and I knew at least one person who was in the original Philadelphia Borders struggle. As I said, I've avoided Borders largely because of the Wob boycott, although I also noted the complication of inter-union strategic differences with the UFCW.

The binary boycott versus no-boycott decision is relatively simple (at least for coercion/shame loving me), but how to respond to competing working class strategies against the same set of employers is tough. One response is a unified labor federation that seeks to mediate such inter-union disputes to create a clear line of shame/guilt to inflict on the consumer population in case of labor dispute. The whole dual unionism problem is rare today in the specific labor struggle (with the Wob-UFCW fight over Borders a rare example) but comes up in many labor-community struggles.

I actually appreciate the young Wobs trying to organize their 20-something compatriots. It hopefully will inspire the labor movement to try to do something about the abysmal 7% unionization rate of those age 30 and under.

I recently heard that the ILWU is trying to organize bike couriers in San Francisco- the classic punk hip stereotype job of the young generation. So maybe the message is getting through.


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