From The Editorial Team | Fall 2010

No one,two years ago—viewing the outcome of the presidential election—would have predicted the shape of the political landscape now before us, as we approach the midterm elections. Obama and the Democratic Party not only won a decisive victory, they seemed poised to establish a dominant electoral coalition likely to endure for a long time. The Republican Party, so bound up with the disasters of the Bush years, seemed poised to live in political exile. Its Palinesque gaucheries and paranoia promised to marginalize the party, confining its appeal to a shrinking minority.

Welcome to reality! For various reasons examined by several of our writers in this issue, a very different scenario may play out in November. As we write, the Obama Democratic Party is on the defensive and, at best, apt to lose some of its commanding congressional majorities. Essays by Gary Gerstle and Thomas F. Schaller assess the midterm prospects of the Republican and Democratic Parties, respectively. Forecasting any election is a tricky business. But there is little question that, no matter the outcome, the labor movement faces a clouded political future. On most of the issues dear to the heart of labor, the Obama administration has disappointed. What to do? Adolph Reed and Bob Master conduct a spirited debate on this critical question.

Even if the Democrats were to win big, the underlying dilemma facing the domestic and global economy will continue to bedevil all efforts at reconfiguring the political universe. Are we looking down a dark tunnel of protracted recession, a kind of retrogression in the standard of living that has been turning a developed country into an underdeveloped one for a long generation? Articles in this issue bear on aspects of this fundamental question. The geo-economic center of global capitalism is located in the Pacific Rim. Relations between capital and labor in China, Mexico, and the United States are particularly decisive in shaping the region and the material well-being of working people in each country. A cluster of essays, guest-edited by Chris Tilly and Kent Wong and arising out of a recent conference held at UCLA on work and inequality in the Pacific Rim, closely examines this vital trilateral relationship.

Every progressive and partisan of the labor movement agrees that any hope for a more robust and sustainable recovery depends on shifting the foundations of the economy to renewable energy. But it won’t be easy, as Andrew Ross points out in his article, which examines how far behind the United States is when it comes to high-tech, high-skill, high-wage manufacturing in that sector.

Some in and outside of the labor movement think that one important way to defend the jobs and interests of American workers is for the government to become much more aggressive in the arena of trade and currency manipulation. Robert Pollin’s “Economic Prospects” column argues why this is not so.

Tea Party populism has startled and electrified political life for more than a year. Our “In the Rearview Mirror” column explores the Tea Party’s historical antecedents and the evolution of populism from a hotbed of anti-capitalism to a defender of an older, cultural, and political conservatism. “Under the Radar”—Ben Becker’s scrutiny of what ought to have, but did not, receive mainstream media scrutiny—includes some remarkable social statistics, a radically unconventional approach to the BP disaster, and a funny cartoon. On the Internet, Liza Featherstone unearths sites—one that tracks workplace hazards and another that deals in unusual ways with the curse of sweatshop labor—that can keep you informed as the midterms approach.

“Books and the Arts” contains reading and viewing gems from Matt Witt and reviews of books about the struggle against gender discrimination at work; the fight to defend and enforce frequently ignored worker rights; a study of women workers in China; and a review of four works of poetry that evoke the lives and emotions of working people. The poetry section contains two poems from those works: one, by Craig Paulenich, that cries out for and delivers a ballad from the blighted landscape of steel work in the Rustbelt; and Sy Hoahwah’s dissonant riff on the Comanche’s long and luckless association with automobiles. Although New Labor Forum does not publish reviews of books by our editorial board members or editorial staff, beginning with this issue the journal will carry—under the rubric of “Our Book Shelf ”—brief descriptions of their recent publications.