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Comments on "Breaking the Chains of the Corporate Media"
Presented at International Labor Communication Association 2005 Convention Plenary In Chicago
by Larry Duncan
July 23, 2005

EVERYONE, NOT JUST THE left, is complaining about the media. There is a increasingly intense battle over public ideology. The dominant public ideology is being fought over because the old relationship between the classes in the production of wealth is evolving toward class war. To survive into the future, the capitalist class must now destroy the organizations of the working class and dismantle all their social gains.

For the most part, on the left, the debate about media-which dominates public ideology-is being led by middle-class reformism. The working class and its organizations-the unions-have pretty much been put on the sidelines. At the recent National Conference on Media Reform in St. Louis, the question of labor media and labor media producers was for all practical purposes ignored.

For those of us who see class struggle as the core dynamic, and who declare the need for labor's cause to live and breathe on tv and radio, we should look upon this broad, middle-class movement to reform the media as something that is both helpful and a hindrance. Labor media should develop alliances with this movement, but should not dissolve into it. We should begin by questioning the expression "Corporate media".

A corporation is an instrument which protects and nurtures a corporation's members. But behind these corporations lurk a class. This capitalist class owns and controls, through corporations, the means of production. In this way the capitalists class accumulates surplus value-wealth-by which it finances and controls two dominant political parties, and buys up tv stations, which then inject into society their ideology.

The old messages of alienation are given new life through such ideological entertainment as the survival genre of tv show. Here, people are thrown into orchestrated scenarios where one person rats on and plots against another in the group, where the group cannibalizes itself as members are eliminated in humiliating ways. This is now presented as the new social paradigm in the race to the bottom. When Kodak plans to lay off 10,000 employees, they certainly must be grateful to these tv shows for psychologically preparing workers to see this as culturally acceptable.

So the role of capitalist-controlled television is to extinguish any trace of class consciousness in society, turning workers into individual contractors and alienated consumers, acclimatized to a military culture. Without workers taking the means of production out of the hands of private owners, capitalists will always have the power and wealth to disseminate their ideology, indoctrinate new generations of workers, and therefore preserve the present relationship between classes.

The majority of the media reformers picture a classless, 'populist' offensive against 'corporations' rather than a class struggle. Rest assured, the class struggle is still with us. It is objective, existing independently of our desires to avoid touchy terminology. The expression "corporate media" tends to obscure this understanding.

In addition to maintaining our independent working class media, we should keep in mind the following: underneath the glitter of Wi-Fi and blue tooth and broadband are old political questions. I think that without an upsurge of the workers movement there can be no significant labor media growth. This is not to say that the labor media existing today, and in the near future, cannot play a role in helping to nurture that big uprising we need.

Another part of this old political question-which overrides fashionable new technology-is the reason the AFL-CIO at present has failed to develop a national labor media strategy, and has, indeed, now junked its only national publication America@work. This failure to have, at this late date, a labor tv channel and labor radio network is, to me, a gross dereliction of duty. It is part of the same syndrome that has kept the AFL-CIO from creating its own political party, a party of Labor. The AFL-CIO is today deeply enmeshed in the folly of labor-management schemes, in the disastrous path of seeking junior partnerships with management. It does not think that labor should declare its independence from management; nor does it think it should declare its independence from capitalist parties, nor declare its cultural independence from the Big Media networks. When the AFL-CIO at the top grumbles about how much a national cable tv channel might cost, I think it's just smoke. The AFL-CIO found, as some reports calculate, nearly a half Billion dollars to flush away on campaigning for John "reporting-for-duty" Kerry and we have bupkis to show for it. If we had spent a fraction of that on labor tv and radio, we would now have something concrete. The AFL-CIO doesn't seek an independent path; it accepts its future as American imperialism's battered wife. And the Stern camp shows no signs of thinking any differently.

Yet this picture does have rays of hope. The Machinists, who have been calling for labor television in some form since 1978, have now come out in their January 2005 White paper for organized labor to spend $188 million for a cable news and info-entertainment network. Regional, and rank-and-file efforts have been going on for years, through the efforts of members of Union Producers and Programmers Network, which includes Heartland Labor Forum in Kansas City, Building Bridges in New York, Labor Video Project in San Francisco, Workday Minnesota, OPEU District 4 Productions in Oregon, Labor Beat/Labor Express here in Chicago, and a short list goes on. These shows hang on for a number of reasons, but the main reason is that locals and union members support them.

Finally, the most encouraging example of where labor media can go nationally is Workers Independent News, which brings labor programming to two million listeners daily via the Internet and radio. And the resolution put forward by the San Francisco Labor Council last June to call upon the AFL-CIO at their upcoming convention to support the development of a labor media movement nationally is an immediate, concrete step.

In closing, the Working class must defend its unique and independent interests by creating its own media, because no other class in society is going to tell our story

Larry Duncan lduncan@igc.org

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