Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Happy birthday, Stanley Aronowitz, lion of labor intellectuals and activists, plus a few comments about the U.S. health care system


(Stanley Aronowitz in 2007. Photo by David Shankbone)

Stanley Aronowitz, a lion of labor intellectuals who spent years on the front lines as a factory worker and labor organizer before entering academia, celebrated his 86th birthday this week. It’s an event that all who seek betterment in the lives of working people should mark. Perhaps no other labor writer/activist in this country has contributed more to the understanding of our own labor history, how we got to where we are, and where we need to go to revitalize the movement.

Born and bred in New York City, Aronowitz has written eloquently about the need to organize the U.S. South. Calling the region “labor’s Achilles heel,” Aronowitz wrote in his compelling foreword to my 2008 book Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press, that “the South has become, in essence, another country. … Anti-unionism in the South is preserved and protected by measures that resemble the actions of antidemocratic governments in Asia and Latin America more than the ideal that America is the land of a free people. The struggle for Southern labor is perhaps the greatest struggle for democracy in the land.”

In the 2008 Manifesto for a Left Turn: An Open Letter to U.S. Radicals, Aronowitz and a group of leftist writers offered a plea for a workers’ party that finally will end the largely one-sided allegiance labor has given the Democratic Party and become truly a force for workers’ rights. In a detailed, step-by-step outline describing how labor can once again become a social movement, the manifesto calls for a committed radical media that will help encourage a deepened sense of class solidarity, one that dispenses with all the distracting “middle class” mumbo-jumbo politicians and neo-liberalism-embracing “liberals” use to distract us.

As detailed by Aronowitz’s daughter, writer Nona Willis Aronowitz, in her New York Times op-ed piece in December, this lion of labor activists and intellectuals has suffered health problems since having a stroke a few years ago and even with a decent pension has experienced financial strain like many older Americans because of this country’s broken health care system. Her sister, fighting breast cancer, has faced a similar struggle.

Even as a respected and honored intellectual, philosopher, and author of many books, Stanley Aronowitz has always stood with the working class, and their fight has always been his fight.

Speaking of our health care system ...

I’ve had my own experience with this broken system with the recent injury of my stepson in a serious truck accident in Little Rock, Arkansas. Having started a new job just a couple months before with still a few days before his health insurance kicked in, Andy soon found himself not only in a hospital with serious leg and hip injuries but also without a job and then without insurance to pay for his care. His company let him go nine days after the accident. Shortly thereafter, his scheduled departure from the hospital got expedited from weeks to days to one day.

He’s now on Medicaid and staying with his mother and me in Oxford, Mississippi, as he recuperates. The latest struggle is to find him a primary care physician, and so far it’s not easy.