Monday, December 10, 2018

Working People Podcast on the GM layoffs

Maximillian Alvarez is an essayist and dual Ph.D. candidate in comp lit and history at U of M. If you don't follow him, you should. He is a great writer and I am excited to see how his ideas shape our future.

Maximillian has recently made a foray into podcasting launching Working People. The podcast features working people, talking about their lives, their work, and their struggles. You can read more about the podcast in Maximillian's article in the most recent Current Affairs. Since GM's layoff announcement in late November, Working People has been focusing on the stories of GM workers at the factories that are being shuttered. The first special episode covered workers from the Lordstown Plant in Ohio. The most recent episode covers workers in Michigan plants including Hamtramck and Pontiac. You should listen to all the podcasts, especially the episodes covering the GM layoffs. I think it is really important to hear these stories, and not to just think of these workers as numbers. So often blue collar workers are portrayed as unintelligent and ill informed--people who can't be trusted to make important decisions for their communities. What these interviews show is the depth of knowledge and understanding within blue collar workers and within the union tradition.

Maximillian graciously agreed to answer some questions for me over the weekend. I asked him what he hopes people take from the podcast, this was his response:

You know, working on this urgent, multi-episode series on the GM layoffs has taken a lot out of me. I’ve been working overtime these past two weeks to put it together, talking to dozens and dozens of people, making contacts, following up on leads, researching and editing late every night, interviewing dozens more folks. But, to be honest, the hardest thing about it has been the emotional drain—I feel so depleted and angry and just … heartbroken. Every day, for two weeks straight, I’ve been talking to other working folks about the situation they’re facing, about the bleak and impossibly heavy reality that their lives are about to be turned completely upside-down … the reality that the very beating hearts of their communities are about to be ripped out. And we’ve been talking about how these layoffs lay bare the dire situation facing the working class writ large.

It’s impossible not to feel drained after all that. And I know I’m asking a lot of people out there when I urge them to sit and listen carefully to these interviews. Because they’re going to stir up a lot of emotions. But that is necessary, for all of us—it reminds us that this is real. These emotions bring to the surface those trembling, vulnerable, human connections we have with our brothers and sisters. The pain and fury of listening, I think, comes from that raw, beating sense of duty we have to one another … to empathize with our fellow workers, to find solidarity in our shared struggle, to help shoulder their burden, because it’s our burden too—to stand with them and fight, together, against the forces that command and destroy and darken our world.

That’s a big part of why I started this podcast in the first place. In however small a way, I hope the podcast can help to build a sense of class consciousness, a sense of common struggle, and a sense of solidarity among workers all around the country—people coming from all walks of life, working all sorts of jobs. And I believe that we cannot do that unless we actually do the tender, loving, patient work of listening to each other—like, really listening—and talking to each other in a way that affirms our shared humanity. Because, in doing that work, we will come to remember (or see for the first time) that life under capitalism is an unlivable, never-ending process of dehumanization, a process that reduces us and our neighbors, and our relations to one another, to the commodity form.

And you can see this in the mainstream coverage of these layoffs, and pretty much any story having to do with the lives and struggles of workers. We are reduced to little soundbites and flat archetypes that can be deployed for the self-serving ends of people who do not have our best interests in mind. Our voices are either silenced or contorted to fit the narratives that buttress the very power structures that are grinding us into human mulch.

And that is the other main reason I started this podcast. If workers are going to claw our way out of this endless cycle of exploitation and despair, then we’re not going to find the answers we need from the people and institutions that serve and benefit from the existing, horribly unequal arrangement of power in our society. We’re going to have to work things out among ourselves. And we can’t do that if we’re not actually talking to each other. If you listen to these episodes, especially those in the series on the GM layoffs, you’ll realize very quickly that these aren’t just sad, infuriating stories. These workers, who come from all over the ideological spectrum—they know the score. They know that little concessions and political band aids aren’t going to keep our communities alive. They have so much to say about the unsustainability of our political economy and what we need to do, collectively, to fight back. These are the conversations we need to be having with our fellow workers. And that’s what Working People is all about.

Please, take a listen to this podcast, it's very good.

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