Labour yes, consumption no

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Labour yes, consumption no



Could we please have a forum for workers' issues and struggles - without mixing it up with something called "consumption"? I never understood that forum title. Might as well call it "labour and taxpaying". It's grounded in a distortion of reality.


I agree. They are two different topics. Labour can include labour history, current labour struggles, the labour (or workers' movement) and such issues as industrial "accidents" and disease/conditions.

I'm thinking right now about the two terrible explosions in the Sherbrooke area - a third worker has died in the more serious one, as his family mercifully agreed to pull the plug.

Consumption and "consumerism" also have two different meanings - I remember "consumerism" once used as advocating the rights of consumers (against shoddy or dangerous products, for example, or not being swindled by the fine print). Now it is used more to mean over- or mindless consumption.

ikosmos ikosmos's picture

I understand the point you two are making but the caveat "from a pro-worker point of view" is the most critical thing.The title of the section is less important I think.

Consumer advocacy, especially of the kind once advocated by Ralph Nader et al, is the next best thing to straight up advocacy for worker power and/or socialism. In the cold war climate of the USA, that was about as socialistic as Nader could get.


Michael Dawson has a great book, called "The Consumer Trap" which I highly recommend, by the way.


ikosmos wrote:

I understand the point you two are making but the caveat "from a pro-worker point of view" is the most critical thing.The title of the section is less important I think.


I agree that the perspective is the most critical thing, and that the title of the section is less important. The only point I was making, I guess, is that the title of the section is dumb. And it hints at some significant connection between labour and consumption. Capitalists are just as much consumers as workers - more so, I think, which is part of the problem. It would be like, "anti-racist issues and housing".

Ken Burch

How about "Class Struggle" as an alternate forum title?

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Interesting proposal, Unionist. My own perspective is that this forum is an alternative to a conventional newspaper's Business section. In that regard,'s "section" is Labour, full stop. But I disagree that "consumption" is a distortion. On the contrary, "consumption" is for me the anti-capitalist obverse of labour and casts a light on the other side of the equation which is obfuscated in mainstream press.

I'm willing to move on consensus, though. It's not a die-on-this-hill hill (Hullo Nov 11!).


Yeah I'm not too hung up on this either. I rather thought the consensus would be immediate, but clearly there are aspects I haven't considered.


For me, consumption is what the female protagonist Violetta, dies of in La Traviata, but then I've always championed minority opinions.  In this context I've always seen it as a recognition that the banal act of mere spending and shopping has significant social and moral dimentions which almost no one thinks about.  Those who do think about it think about it a lot, and post here.


Actually anti-racist issues and housing are closely connected (take it from someone in a tenants' association who has worked as a staff member there). Poverty and housing of course even more, but even people with the means to pay a considerable rent or even mortgage suffer from racial profiling.

Sadly, even some of the tenants who came to see us for help stereotyped their landlords on an ethnic or racial basis. (What do you expect, he/she is a .......). And the ...... included a wide range of "races" and ethnicities!

Indeed, labour and consumption (or consumer advocacy) can dovetail in issues such as boycotts.

ikosmos ikosmos's picture

Veblen made it clear that big business marketing is simply a new embodiment of class coercion.


Perhaps that is the most important point ... and why "consumerism" belongs in a section devoted to Labour from a worker's point of view. It's still about class struggle.


Ok, I think I'll be guilty of explaining the obvious.

Of course racism and housing are related . Good topic for a thread or series of threads. But too narrow as a title for the sole anti-racism forum.

Of course labour and consumption are related. Good topic for a thread or series of threads. But too narrow as. title for the sole forum about workers' issues.

I think I'll leave it at that before I start a fight.


@ oldgoat

Yes, I'd say what we decide to consume and support is probably the most important vote we have.

But I also think Unionist is right. Consumerism relates to workers, of course, but it is most directly a relationship between us and the people who produce, manufacture and sell.

And it has little if any direct relationship to workers rights and trade unionism. It has just as much of a relationship to government policy, if we want to water it down further.




Catchfire Catchfire's picture

By the way, rabble just hired a labour reporter who will cover that beat exclusively. The hire, who I imagine will be announced shortly, sounds very talented and I'm looking forward to the new column/reportage.


Catchfire, that sounds great. I certainly appreciate Karl Nerenberg's Parliament blog (as well as his tireless following of the Cons war on Roma people facing persecution and pogroms in Hungary and elsewhere).

I agree with Unionist too, though of course consumer issues are also a major cog in capitalism. In Québec anyway, major dailies all used to have at least one "labour" reporter and beat.

As for consumption, has anyone noticed how much of newspaper copy (and its virtual equivalent) is devoted to cars? Very little to public transport or to less-polluting forms of mobility.

ikosmos ikosmos's picture

I mentioned Dawson's book because there is a lot there about consumption that is very important. My notes follow ....


The Consumer Trap: Big Business Marketing in American Life Michael Dawson (1965- ), Univ of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 2003. Preface and Acknowledgments - big business do not want us looking behind the scenes of their marketing operations as demonstrated by the "Restricted: no photocopying" of the semipublic materials at the centre for Advertising History at the Smithsonian. In Dawson's view, this is one of the major reasons why we should look, and look carefully.


1. Thinking the Unthinkable - big business in the US spends well over a trillion dollars a year on marketing. This amount is twice as much as the combined annual spending on public and private education from kindergartens through graduate schools in the US. It works out to around $4,000/year for every man, woman and child in the country. - ".. big business marketing is class struggle from above. It exists to make commoners' off-the-job habits better serve corporate bottom lines, and, thereby, to further fatten the portfolios of the established ultra-rich families, who, in the words of the nation's leading business historian, "remain the primary beneficiaries" of large-scale private enterprise." - "Because corporations blend their marketing expenses, untaxed, into the prices of their products, buyers of Pepsis, Nikes, and Fords pay not just for the drinks, the shoes, and the cars, but for all the things Pepsico, Nike, and the Ford Motor Company do to lure and cajole them into purchases. And because, as a group, they buy most of the corporate products sold in the United States, working- and middle-class Americans also wind up paying for the lion's share of big business marketing." - The burden of corporate marketing is much more than financial. "Over time, our increasingly marketing-saturated life spaces make us dumber, lazier, fatter, more selfish, less skillful, more adolescent, less politically potent, more wasteful, and less happy than we could and should be. The damage occurs on many levels. As corporate marketers press us to pack our activities with the maximum number of maximal products, they coax us into habits that clutter our homes, poison our bodies, undermine our independence, pollute our ecosphere, and waste our precious time and energy. ... a vicious cycle of jobs, traffic jams, shopping, fast food, and television bleed away quality time for family, friends, community, politics, and self. As corporate marketers invent and extend marketing "platforms", their sponsored programs and events crowd out noncommercial venues and pastimes. As this happens, sensationalism and titillation - the two great cultivators of receptive advertising audiences - corrupt our mental, emotional, and practical capabilities." - ... in some cases, big business marketing is directly homicidal. (cigarettes, beer, cars, ...) " crashes have killed far more Americans just since 1950 than have all our wars combined, from 1776 to the present." - Big business marketing is also pied-pipering the human race toward ecological disaster with overpackaging, planned obsolescence, “disposable” products, petrochemical artifice, and the promotion of ecologically wasteful products. - there is the ugly irony that, despite all our piety about family values and putting children first, kids in the United States are already paying dearly for their growing immersion in corporate marketing. We see real juvenile shooting sprees inspired by the profusion of shootings and killings in commercial media, the epidemic of childhood obesity (a contradiction in terms until recent history) from soda pop and junk food, corporate entertainment destroying traditional children's games and other "self-organized children's amusements", and so on. - The most basic facts and consequences of big business marketing have escaped rational (public) analysis. This great evasion has seven major causes:

  1. Business. The mainstream press and those who benefit from corporate subsidy and funding don't criticize big business marketing.
  2. Business secrecy.
  3. Linguistic Bias. “consumption” is not the goal of most people. “Ordinary people are product users who generally rue and work to minimize the consumption of goods and services.” See the CMAP diagram on Linguistic Bias for further information that shows how perverse it is to acede to our rulers' consumer vocabulary.
  4. Fear of the 5-letter word: c-l-a-s-s. Taboo against its use. No one dares expose big business marketing as a systematic effort to help make the rich richer by coercing the non-rich into suitable habits.
  5. “Free market” dogma.
  6. Confused critics. What mainstream pundits have suppressed, would-be radicals have simply missed, often preferring theoretical gamesmanship to critique of real institutions.
  7. Ignorance about Thorstein Veblen – the best critic of America that America has produced. (C. Wright Mills) Today's pseudo-radicals have helped to excise Veblen's powerful theory of big business marketing from contemporary consciousness. Veblen made clear that big business marketing is simply a new embodiment of class coercion.

- Ending the Great Evasion ... “The essence of my argument is that big business marketing is neither more nor less than a system for profitably crafting and applying stealthy little versions of the force and fraud that have always sustained class dominance. In ancient Rome, demagogues and patricians used centurions and bread and circuses to bring plebeians and slaves into line. In feudal times, landlords deployed sheriffs, knights, and priests to push and pull serfs into paying their tribute to nobility. Likewise, today, major investors reap their fortunes partly from the actions of the armies of market researchers, ad execs, product planners, and media creatives who, to the tune of a trillion-plus dollars a year in the United States alone, hone the commercial carrots and sticks that lure and cajole us into making increasingly commodified, profit-yielding, privilege-perpetuating product choices.”


2. The Marketing Race - F. W. Taylor and The Principles of Scientific Management - Corporate Power and the Growth of Marketing Budgets: Advantages include size, reduced price competition, and systematic management. - Rentier Power and the Marketing Motive - The Marketing Revolution. The marketing approach becomes the central organizing principle of big business. “... most big businesses turned themselves into organizations whose central means to institutional success is conscious, Taylorian engineering of the objects and environment that condition ordinary people's product-related activities.” Said one marketing “pioneer” ... “The large firm's constant purpose ... is to manufacture customers.”


3. The Targeting Race In marketing circles, the individuals chosen to receive marketing messages are called “targets”. The art and science of choosing targets is called “targeting”. - The Need to Weed The targeting decision is one of the first issues considered by a marketing manager. Specifically, the poor are considered unworthy of targeting. They are not considered part of the market. Similarly, marketing is steered away from unfavourable audiences. Great effort is made around demographic and psychographic data. Forces for consideration include: demographic, economic, natural, technological, political-legal, and social-cultural – so-called “noncontrollables”. A first step of targeting is “naming the market”. - The Evolution of Targeting “If you don't know who your customers are, (then) your competitors probably will”. The Rise of Market Segmentation. Key shift of managing “consumer behaviour”. Businesses had been failing to match their actions to the possibilities of more efficiently altering the configuration of effective demand. Segmentation means “superior customer knowledge”. Toward the “One to One” Era. Hyper-targeting. The individual target. Ads aimed at individuals based on race. Reward cards. Corporate reconnaissance. - The Future of Targeting. Bringing the customer inside the company. Business Week 1994 cover story  on database marketing outlines how mass marketing gave way to market segmentation and, with newer, more powerful computers there developed marketing to the smallest market segment of all – the individual. Database marketing. - Big Business Marketing, Targeting, and American Society Corporate collection of data rivals U.S. Census Bureau and surpasses it in terms of richness and frequency of the detailed surveillance of American households and individuals.


4. The Motivational Research Race -The Logic of Motivational Research. Corporate Marketing is the largest, expanding project of applied behavioural research in human history. Veblen's “force and fraud” theory of marketing content is powerfully accurate. Not brainwashing for its own sake, but brainwashing for the sake of motivating individuals to spend more money and use more of the firm's commodities. Tactics: Psychological, Information Control, Existential, and Promotional Tactics. -The Evolution of Motivation Research. -Toward a Science of Consumer Behaviour. -Big Business Marketing, Motivation Research, and American Society. C. Wright Mills observed that power relations get worked out at points where people with institutionally generated interests meet and interact. However, there is a crucial difference between product users and marketers: the environment of the users is wide open to marketers detailed influence; otoh, marketers' institutional decisions are secret and closed to everyone but authorized personnel. The future is an Orwellian one not in which a big brother watches over us constantly, but one in which a hundred kid brothers constantly watch and interrupt our daily lives.


5. The Product Management Race. - marketers conceive of goods and services as vehicles for profitably manipulating our off-the-job behaviours. The discipline of designing products as communication assets within marketing is called “product management”. - The Consolidation of Product Management. Sloan at GM. GM exists “to make money, not just to make motor cars”. First priciple of product design becomes marketability, not functionality, etc. Triumph of marketing over engineering. Marketing precedes production and is integrated into each phase of the business. Not a better mousetrap but a better people-trap. - Products: “The Marketing Approach”. Products are viewed as means of behavioural control, not ends in themselves. Bundles of marketing stimuli. Branding as managed personalities for products. Combat, by the firm, of the twin “evils” of inattention and perception of product parity within a given product category. Positioning the product in the mind of the consumer or prospect. Planned Obsolescence. Quality assessment being user-defined, science-defined, or marketing-defined. Avoidance of “excessively” high quality despite advertising and propaganda to the contrary. Planned Physical Obsolescence. Development of CD when LP market was saturated and casette market was slowing down at Sony, etc. Planned Aesthetic Obsolescence. Packaging as the 5th “P” alongside price, product, place and promotion. Product Proliferation. This follows viewing commodities as managed aggreggates of product attributes that work either more or less effectively as behaviour-shaping carrots and sticks. The Social Meaning of Product Management. The Myth of consumer sovereignty, treating sales as a mere sequel, has things backwards. Product design serves sales and behavioural engineering. Institutional reality contradicts the ruling dogma that big businesses are diligent appliers of objective engineering science. In reality, behavioural manipulation is the ruling principle.

6. The Sales Communications Race. Corporate sales communications have only 2 functions: (1) to attract the attention of the targets and (2) by strategically focussing targets' attention of selected market stimuli, to reshape targets' attitudes, feelings, knowledge, decisions, and habits wrt the proferred product. It's about delivering eyeballs and changing the perceptions and behaviours of the targets. Who is being praised for qualities they probably don't have? That is likely to be the target market. The Logic of Sales Communications.

  1. Myth 1 – Advertising Equals Marketing.
  2. Myth 2 – Advertising is a Deep Ideological Force. Consider the teeter-totter metaphor in which a feather can change results. Advertising can create an emotional response without words using visual language on the screen. It's not what people are saying on the screen, it's what's happening (that is important).
  3. Myth 3 – Advertising Does Not Work.
  4. Myth 4 – American Television is Bigger Than Advertising.
  5. Myth 5 – Advertising Equals Sales Communications. This excludes the massive use of sales promotion, personal selling, retailing, direct marketing and public relations.

The Evolution of Sales Communications. “Demand Management Process”. The Quantitative Growth of Sales Communications. Big Business Marketing, Sales Communications, and American Society.

7. Macro-Marketing and Public Subsidy. Reorganizing the milieu of the customer in ways favourable to the enterprise. M-m means managing the politics of the macro environment. Cars. Human and ecological holocaust. Suburbs. Commercial Television. Pandemic addiction to commercial television watching. The Marketing Race's Public Basis

8. The Globalization of Marketing. The Logic of Transnational Marketing Global Effects of Big Business Marketing: Americanization of the Lucky. Dumping on the poor – cigarettes, entertainment. The Need for Global Democracy

9. The Consumer Trap. Class Struggle in Personal Life How Marketing Works The Piranha Effect: Marketing's Aggregate Influence Marketing and the Degradation of Personal Life: Clutter, Junk, Danger (auto deaths, e.g., of 1.7 M 1950 to 1989, exceed all US war casualties in history.), Puff and Fluff, Mobile Privatization, Narcissism, Personal Deskilling, Personal Dependence, Time and Energy Drain, Bloat (low-involvement learning), Frustration, Salt on Poverty's Wounds/Envy, Market Totalitarianism, and the Degradation of Personal Life

10. Escaping the Consumer Trap. - reason 1: marketing and the accumulating costs of corporate capitalism: economic polarization, ecological destruction, degradation of personal life, and tendency towards war. - reason 2: big business marketing's ironic contribution to socialism. - conclusion: reclaiming our macro choices. In the final analysis, modern big business marketing is “an instrument for preventing the democratic governance of large-scale economic institutions and the big decisions they make.”

ikosmos ikosmos's picture

lagatta wrote:
... As for consumption, has anyone noticed how much of newspaper copy (and its virtual equivalent) is devoted to cars? Very little to public transport or to less-polluting forms of mobility.


Dawson: "... in some cases, big business marketing is directly homicidal. (cigarettes, beer, cars, ...) " crashes have killed far more Americans just since 1950 than have all our wars combined, from 1776 to the present."


Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Not to hijack Unionist's thread (again), but I think this is relevant: welcomes Lori Theresa Waller as inaugural labour beat reporter

As a freelance writer, Lori has written about environmental and social justice topics for BriarpatchThe Dominion, andPeace and Environment News. Lori’s work will involve covering meetings, conferences, media briefings and interviews with leaders in the labour movement. Lori will also be working’s Parliamentary reporter, Karl Nerenberg covering committees and scrums.

This inaugural labour beat co-op placement is a position created in partnership with the Canadian Auto Workers. The goal of the program is to equip the reporter with the skills and knowledge of the labour movement and workers' issues so that not only will there be six months of solid reporting but also for many years to follow, in other media outlets.



Great news - important step by rabble. I'm looking forward to this!