Rich Yeselson

Rich Yeselson lives and writes in Washington, D.C.

Recent Articles

Harnessing the Power of the New Working Class

If the new proletariat starts identifying as a class, it could transform politics. 

Erik Mc Gregor/Pacific Press/Sipa via AP Images
This book review appears in the Spring 2016 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America By Tamara Draut Doubleday There is a classic sociological distinction between workers who are politically conscious of their economic class and those who are not. Leftist theorists have spoken of the difference between “class in itself”—an objective category defined by a worker’s relationship to capital—and “class for itself.” The latter concept refers to a class having become consciously aware of its own exploitation, and its workers actively fighting to overcome it. Karl Marx alluded to the distinction in his early work The Poverty of Philosophy (1847). We can understand how the political economy works by studying class in a seminar room. Unjust economic and political conditions only change, however, when a class aggressively acts for itself. Without using those words, Tamara...

Labor at a Crossroads: Will Diversity Foster a New Solidarity and Save the Movement?

The determination to represent the entire working class is the best chance labor has had in over 40 years to put the “labor question” before the nation again.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)
This article was commissioned as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our "Labor at a Crossroads" series here . Is it possible for Americans to ever again bring the “labor question” to the forefront of their thinking about our economy and political culture? The phrase today resonates only with historians, yet for over a half century, from the late 19 th century to the era of the Great Depression, it was a central analytical category in American public life. At its narrowest, it concerned what elites believed to be the necessity to mitigate the regular civil disruptions of the most militant labor movement in the Western world. At its most broad and socially creative, the labor question considered the essential relationship between the great waged work...

James Madison’s Worst Nightmare

Today’s Republicans have become the very kind of obstructionist faction—with apocalyptic politics—that the primary author of our Constitution warned us against.

To understand the vexed position the modern Republican Party backed itself into with its relentless opposition to the Affordable Care Act, we might listen to one of its most influential analysts. In mid-October, George Will was complaining in his syndicated Washington Post column that neither Barack Obama nor the Tea Party understood that “in Madisonian politics, all progress is incremental.” Our constitutional system is “compromise-forcing.” Will’s great mentor is the leading constitutional thinker among the founders, James Madison. To his regret, Will seemed to believe that both Obama and the base of the Republican Party misunderstood Madison’s intentions and his handiwork. Nine days earlier, though, in the midst of the government shutdown, Will was declaring in an interview with National Public Radio’s Steve Inskeep that the possible default of America’s incurred debt, for the first time in history, was nothing but politics as usual...

The Year in Preview: Labor's Outlook

AP Images/PAUL BEATY
Labor—unions and the broad working class of wage workers—hasn’t had a good year in a very long time. Union membership continues its long, slow decline, as does median family income. But if nothing else, 2014 should be a clarifying year in the life of several legal and organizing struggles that will either advance or retard the progress of labor. The Cold Hard Numbers The labor year begins in early January when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its union-membership numbers. Despite recent high-profile fights over public-sector unionism—teachers and government workers—union density among public employees has stayed remarkably steady, somewhere around 35-36 percent of the public-sector workforce. Private-sector unionism (the iconographic male union members of yore—autoworkers, steelworkers, truckers, coal miners) continues, year by year, to creep lower and lower—last year, density stood at 6.6 percent, probably the lowest since the...

Our Passivity Surplus

As recent calamities show, change takes empathy—plus insisting on making yourself heard.

AP Images/A.M. Ahad
AP Images/A.M. Ahad Once in a while, disparate news events make visible a thematic convergence, something wonderful or disturbing that had been coursing unseen through the culture. Since the mass murder of 26 children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the nation’s attention has frequently been riveted by events that call into question what we owe to one another and what we owe to ourselves. Can we, like the inspiring, relentless parents of those dead kids, rouse ourselves to care about our fate? Recently, two terrible yet at least partially hopeful episodes occurred: one in a familiar American city, the other thousands of miles from the U.S. We were horrified to learn of the kidnapping, torture, and sexual assault of three girls (now women) over a ten-year period by Ariel Castro, a middle-aged man seemingly as nondescript as his house in Cleveland. Charles Ramsey, a generous, charismatic neighbor in a down-on-its-heels neighborhood, heard a cry for help and helped...

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