I want first to rescue Callicles’s very valuable observation from the obscurity of the comments section:
[T]he experience of previous generations has shown that labor organizing repeatedly suffers from failures to update targets and strategy as the nature of the economy changes. So worker organizing becomes anachronistic and (as a result) stagnant. The flip side is that there can be transformational bursts of activity when the right target comes into view. When the UAW made the jump from plant-by-plant organizing to taking on the giant of GM in its entirety, at the national level, this was such a moment. Capital was coming to operate as a nationwide system, and needed to be confronted at that level.
My thought is that, today, we can't make a dent in class forces in our country because class forces can no longer be confronted on the national level; taking on something like the Walmart global supply chain would then be analogous to taking on GM as a whole.To this I would only add that the legislative and regulatory framework that provides the terrain for labor politics should be included as well. In other words, an effective progressive agenda would have to move to the global level both to directly confront corporations and to change the global rules that corporations play by.
As Callicles implies, there are some very strong and instructive parallels between the situation in which the left now finds itself and that which prevailed in the early days of the Great Depression in the United States. During the prosperous years of the Roaring Twenties, progressives had been left disoriented and demoralized by the failure of “the masses” to mobilize against the elite. The stock market crash of 1929 and deepening economic crisis after a brief false recovery opened up new possibilities both within the political elite—parts of which slowly began to question the old laissez faire doctrines—and within the population as whole, whose hopes of a prosperous future were brutally revealed to be as bankrupt as the financial system.