Discover more from New Means
When The Rich Tell You Who They Are, Believe Them
The capitalist who just told the world that capitalism requires hurting workers
Yesterday, at a “property summit,” millionaire property developer Tim Gurner was caught on camera saying something extremely revealing. Well, he wasn’t caught. He sat on stage talking into a microphone. He said that since the start of the pandemic there has been a shift towards more worker empowerment, and even arrogance. And he wants bosses and governments to end that, expeditiously. In fact he thinks, “We need to see unemployment rise. Unemployment has to jump 40, 50 percent in my view. We need to see pain in the economy.”
His words are viscerally shocking and infuriating. But that’s not even all of it. He also commented that, “There's been a systematic change where employees feel the employer is extremely lucky to have them, as opposed to the other way around. So, it's a dynamic that has to change. We've got to kill that attitude.” And on, and on.
The shock and anger Gurner elicits here made this moment go massively viral. It’s gotten millions and millions of views in just 24 hours. Righteous fury will do that. Millions of people see a man worth $700 million saying that more of us need to be unemployed, and in pain, and we get pissed. But there’s another dimension that deserves a look, which people started to point out as this clip made the rounds. And that’s how Tim’s words confirm what we already know, but the super-rich don’t usually admit: capitalism requires hurting workers.
As Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò wrote, “I like teaching lefty theory as much as the next guy but I can rarely do better at explaining the connection between capital and social-political domination than just pointing at what the guys with the capital do and say.” In just one short video this millionaire CEO revealed not only that actual capitalists (not workers making $35,000 a year who dream of wealth, but the people who actually own companies) rely on making jobs scarce and on enforcing this artificial scarcity. And he made clear that they are perfectly aware of that dynamic. Normally, they don’t say it while the cameras are rolling, but we can only assume that they say all this and more behind closed doors.
The thing is, capitalists also tell us with their behavior every day that they want more exploitation, more precarity for workers, and that they need us to fear poverty so that we don’t rock this boat too much. We might be called radicals for saying this directly and clearly, but corporate interests say it all the time. Big money is funding a wave of child labor legislation across the United States as we speak. And these are not bills to limit child labor, they’re all aimed at expanding the use of child workers. The capitalist class wants to drive wages down, and they don’t care if that means injured children. They don’t even care if that means dead children, if it keeps their profit margins high. In Wisconsin, a 16 year-old recently died working in a saw mill. And the state GOP is still proposing a bill to make it easier for bosses to put 14 and 15 year-olds to work.
So ignore those who say you’re too radical or inflammatory for accusing the super-rich of knowing exactly what they’re doing. It somehow became controversial to say that capitalists know capitalism is harmful, but they know. They know and they fight for its preservation and expansion. Elon Musk knows that his Texas Tesla gigafactory is an awful work environment filled with heat strokes, serious injuries, and wage theft. Jeff Bezos knows that Amazon workers pee in bottles, are severely injured twice as much as other warehouse workers, and sometimes have no water to drink. The executives at UPS know that drivers have died from a lack of air conditioning.
And workers know all this too. Centrist talking heads and politicians have convinced a whole lot of people that speaking openly and honestly about the grave harms that people experience at the hands of companies and therefore capitalists is alienating or makes you seem too extreme. If anything, it’s the opposite. A ton of workers out there are tired of weak rhetoric and weak approaches to solving the very real problems of being abused, disrespected, injured and exploited. People across the country, and the world, want a message and an approach that will actually solve these issues. And the left has it, so we should be clear and explicit about that.
If you’ve found my writnig valualbe, please consider becoming a paid subscriber and making more of it possible!
More and more I see people saying that the rich are scared. And they are. Some are scared of protests and riots after 2020, or after what they’ve seen in France and Peru and Ecuador and elsewhere. But even more are frightened by the shift in worker power. Covid, worker militancy, and the pendulum of inequality swinging much too far in their direction is creating a moment where it’s easier for the working class to take back our power than it’s been in a long time. We’re demanding higher pay, more respect, and a small but growing subset of the population is demanding a full shift away from the exploitation of capitalism. They know that. The bosses know that we’re not willing to settle for crumbs these days.
So when you see Tim Gurner explicitly telling a room full of people, and the world, that we need to feel pain, know that it’s the capitalist class trying take us down a peg, because that’s what they do when they see workers gaining power. At this very moment they’re trying to bust unions, build Cop Cities, and stop any hint of the pendulum swinging away from the extreme wealth and inequity they so enjoy. In this particular case Tim comes across as a loathsome man, but he’s not special. He’s just the guy caught on camera speaking what runs through the minds of the super-rich everywhere, and even what shapers of neoliberal economic policy like Larry Summers or Milton Friedman have espoused: bringing down wages and cooling the labor market means more people being unemployed, hungry, and homeles, and that’s all a price they’re happy to pay. They do this without any realization that they’re indicting capitalism as a whole, because to them capitalism is unassailable—while the working class is expendable.
But we never need to take this lying down. The exact worker power that billionaire capitalists want to attack must be protected and dramatically expanded. In 36 hours, 150,000 autoworkers could be on strike. And not just any strike. This would be the first major strike in decades, to my knowledge, where you have both a massive number of workers shutting down crucial factories and a militant class struggle element. When notorious CNBC talking head Jim Cramer accused United Auto Workers president Shawn Fain of class warfare, Fain responded, “It's hard when I hear that not to just die laughing, because the truth is the working class in this country has been under attack in a one sided class war for decades." And then, more recently, he went on CNN with Jake Tapper. When Fain was asked how he’d respond to those saying a strike would hurt the economy he said, "It's not that we're going to wreck the economy. We're going to wreck their economy, the economy that only works for the billionaire class. It doesn't work for the working class." Now the time is almost at hand. At midnight Thursday night, they could strike. They are of course striking for thier own needs, for higher wages and pensions and maybe even a 4-day workweek. But their strike will also be a moment that makes the class war no longer so one sided, and a strike at the heart of the economy that does not work for most people.
This isn’t just about one union president. It’s about the fact that hundred of thousands of rank-and-file union members chose this guy. People are ready to fight. People are tired of the class war going in one direction. People are tired of billionaires and mega-millionaires hoarding wealth and controlling society and nearly everyone else getting less and less. And when one of them shoves it in our face, it’s a reality check and a call to organize and stop accepting this system. Tim and everyone likes him knows how the capitalist system works. They know it require keeping us down, and once in a while they let that slip. So let’s believe them when they tell us who they are, when they tell us and how this oppressive economic structure really operates. And let’s respond accordingly. As Malcolm X said, "We're not outnumbered—we're out-organized." So let’s get to it.
If my writing is helpful to see, please consider a paid subscription. It means the world and allows me to write more over time. Thank you! - Josh
P.S. You can pledge to support thousands of autoworkers, should they go on strike, and also get updates if you add your voice here and here. I’ll be covering the UAW strike at work, should it happen, and I’ll definitely have some thoughts to share with you here. Solidarity!