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getting worse

In the forties and fifties a lot of the impetus behind the organizing on behalf of social equality was catalyzed by unions. How realistic is a resurgence of the old leftist reform program without a strong union movement?

I think that’s a prerequisite: only if the unions can do for the service workers what they did for the manufacturing workers is the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor going to stop.

How much of the decline in union participation and union political power is attributable to the fracturing of the Left that occurred in the 1960s over identity politics and such?

I don’t think that had much to do with it. The blue-collar workers may have experienced a certain disgust for the hippie Left, but that didn’t have much to do with the decline of the unions — it was just the decline of manufacturing and the endless attempt by the Right to find ways to prevent the unions from organizing. The government has had a lot to do with it. It has made it fantastically difficult to organize.

You say at one point that when a Left becomes “spectatorial and retrospective” it ceases to be a Left. What exactly do you mean by spectatorial and retrospective?

Spectatorial in the sense of looking on and saying, “Hey, everything is going to Hell” without having much of an idea of how you can stop it. Retrospective in the sense of looking back at how terrible we’ve been rather than looking forward to see how much better we could make ourselves.

(Interview with Richard RortyAtlantic 23.04.98)