Detailing “the blowback from Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s union-busting crusade,” The Nation’s Mike Elk commented on a campaign to boycott one among the governor’s chief supporters. Elk notes that Wisconsin workers, led by a group of local unions, are “threaten[ing] to pull their money from M&I Bank unless it denounces Scott Walker’s attack on workers’ rights.”
As part of the plinth on which his political career stands, the Bank’s execs have lavished contributions on Walker, providing a generous well from which he’s been able to draw. But the Bank’s union clientele, estimated to have upwards of $1 billion in accounts at M&I, is flexing its own muscle in an attempt to send a clear message of disapproval at M&I’s political alliances.
Those alliances — which paid dividends when the Bank collected $1.7 billion in bailout money back in 2008 — provide an expository lesson in the foul interdependences that make up state capitalism, a thing quite apart from an authentic free market. The state’s banking establishment, centered on the Federal Reserve System, grew out of the desire of the big banks to create an intuition that — in the words of Murray Rothbard — “would always stand ready to bail out banks in trouble.”
The state, then, allows banks like M&I to undertake all sorts of risky, exploitative courses of action through coercively-maintained positions of privilege and an implied guarantee against failure. So the Fed cartelizes banking for the ruling class, severely limiting entry into the marketplace and destroying the disincentives to sound banking — wherein banks must actually balance their books.
Another feature attending central banking rooted in state violence is, Kevin Carson points out, the promotion of “what they consider a ‘natural’ level of unemployment.” Through its autocratic manipulation of interest rates and the money supply, elements that the market would otherwise organize through voluntary, cooperative means, the Fed aims at a “sweet spot” for employment levels; those levels must be high enough to keep workers’ expectations down (“well, I’m lucky just to have a job”) without being so high as to critically disrupt the functioning of the state capitalist system.
Because the primary interventions of the state capitalist system are so deeply embedded, those interventions closer to the surface — state action like minimum wage laws, etc. — are often more easily recognized; the mistake, so often made by well-meaning champions of the working man, is to see these more trivial interventions and take them to prove the state’s backing of labor. The state, though, born out of economic exploitation and class subjugation, has never been anything but a tool of the elite.
The idea that it can be used for good is the great illusion, the deceit through which the state makes us participants in our own enslavement to it. The bold actions of workers in Wisconsin remind of the truth, that the state never intrudes into economic life but for the interests of the powerful. Workers’ rights are an afterthought in the overall structure of the statist economy. As a voluntary means to social change, boycott represents a vital element of the way forward and out of the state’s constrained economic system.
The great majority of working people, the productive force in society, have the power if we’ll take it, and violence is not required to transform society. To torpedo the bosses’ system, nonviolent protests, strikes and boycotts are in order. Wisconsin workers are setting an example for all of us.