A fundamental lesson of the auto crisis, crucial to all workers, revolves around the cost of not having an independent class vision. Independent, that is, from employers and the competitive logic of capitalism, and confident in the collective potential of workers — union and non-union, employed and unemployed — to build a society supportive of equality, solidarity, and the deepest democratization of every dimension of society, especially of the economy itself. Limiting the analysis to specific issues and ignoring the wider context — that is, the development of global capitalism as a social system — leads to incomplete solutions and incomplete solutions can in fact make things worse. It is the refusal to think in larger terms, typically in the name of being "realistic," which bears a good deal of the responsibility for why workers were left so vulnerable when the auto crisis hit and why they subsequently found themselves boxed into such narrow options.

Escaping that debilitating trap — which involves truly being realis-tic — would mean learning to think and act in fresher, bigger, and more radical ways. This does not, of course, reduce basic workplace, bargaining, and union issues to a secondary status. Rather, it emphasizes that these can advance working class struggles only if located within a larger strategy for social change. In previous periods of economic turmoil, workers developed new structures for fighting back and visions of moving beyond the narrow confines of capitalism. It is to a broader discussion of the impasse in labor — the barriers and challenges to the revival and development of organized labor as a social force — that we now turn.

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