I don’t know if any of this is true, it’s a combination of stuff I’m pulling from different conversations (I mean like literally, face to face conversation with friends) but stuff I haven’t looked into in depth so I could be way off. This has been rattling around in my head though so I’m going to put it down, hopefully to help me frame some stuff to look into moving forward.

There’s a fine old slogan — the boss needs us, we don’t need the boss. This is true over all and in the long term. And yet, in the short term, we all need paychecks – either our own or someone else in the family – and it’s the boss that signs the check.

Strikes, at least big strikes, seem to be getting more rare in the US. Some people on the left have called for more strikes as part of turning the tide against the capitalist class.

Relatively recently it was, and maybe still today it is, the case that consumer purchasing in the US was used to help hold up part of the economy. Real wages in the US have been relatively stagnant or maybe declining for 30 years or so. Keeping up consumption began to mean consumer debt.

Debt and credit are two sides of the same coin. Credit temporarily/in the short term expands people’s buying power – you can get more now than you could based on your wages and savings. Debt long term limits people’s options – you have payments to make which cut into the money available for other purchases, limit ability to save, and limit how long you can go without wages.

As debt adds up, going without wages through strikes becomes harder to manage. Workers have less elasticity, so to speak, in their ability to go without wages.

Currently the dominant portions of the capitalist class are in finance. Finance capitalists make money off debt and credit, and debt and credit shape other capitalists’ behavior. Sometimes employers face pressures from other capitalists which result in pressure on employees – insurance costs, for example, go up and employers try to pass them on to employees. At the same time, employers putting pressure on employees can get credit to help them defray the cost of work stoppages. That expands employers’ elasticity.

I could be way off, but I wonder if this is part of what’s going on in the decline of big strikes in the US. And in some cases, employers deliberately press workers into striking, which, it should go without saying, don’t always work out in workers’ favor.

Assuming I’m right, a few more thoughts. The role of debt in reducing workers’ elasticity around wages comes from a few sources. There’s a need or want to maintain a credit rating so as to be able to get credit in the future. There’s a need to keep things like the electric and gas turned on, which is to say, to keep things that are important for life and comfort and can be taken away without too much trouble. There’s the need to keep things that could be repossessed otherwise (or in the case of a home, the need to pay a mortgage/rent or face eviction). All of this could conceivably be fought. There have been anti-eviction battles recently and the past, for instance. There are some difficulties here. All the eviction fights I know of have been pretty strongly localized, they may get pretty intense but they don’t extend very far geographically. That’s not an intrinsic limit, I think, just what’s tended to happen. Also, if someone’s at a picket line or a plan occupation, they’re not at home preventing eviction. So there’s just a matter of workload, so to speak – we only have so much time and can only be in so many places.

Some of this is tied to predictability. Long engagements are not in our favor – we have less elasticity to go without wages than the boss does. And if the boss can see these coming then so much the worse – they can produce more goods to set aside, save up, alert clients of temporary disruptions, line up credit, make plans to get scabs. Unpredictability is more powerful (this is why labor law encourages limitations of unpredictability, as the NLRA preamble stated).