Charles Barone’s Radical Political Economy (2004) and David Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity (1990) both touch on many integral aspects of modern society as well as draw out various fundamental theories regarding market economics, society, and history. Because we are reading these authors while in Mexico I find myself applying their work to the world around me, namely the various cultural values of labor, as I have come to articulate it. I do not intend to make sweeping generalizations about culture but a particular quote from Barone helped me conceptualize how media can influence perceptions of labor (and laborers), thereby influencing the processes of hiring labor. This complicated relationship between media and the labor market is important to recognize because, according to Barone, “The process of hiring labor also plays a part in determining everything else,” (p.5).
The quote that stuck out from Barone’s writing made me think of the immigration debate in the United States and the ways that labor is discussed. Barone writes that, “…authority relations within the production unit…and cultural representations of labor in the larger society (e.g. how labor is portrayed in the media), all help to determine the terms on which labor power is sold,”(p.5). I immediately thought of the vilification of “illegal” immigrants in the mainstream and liberal media. Racial tensions can be masked in coverage of the “immigration debate” by sticking to the numbers, or at least perceptions of the numbers. Example: they take our jobs and use up social services. While I do not discount this sentiment as feeling real for some people or places, the large scale assessments actually show that “illegal” immigrants contribute more to social security than they take out. However, the innumerable effects of portrayals in the media include a xenophobic attitude towards immigrants and a devaluation of their labor. Class domination is complex and historically specific and so I do not want to generalize about culture and values of labor; rather, I am trying to highlight an interconnected element of society (media and perceptions of labor, specifically migrant or immigrant) which has concrete, serious ramifications.
The memes that are propagated by mainstream/white-stream/corporate/conservative/liberal media include the assumption that immigrants are criminals, that they are lazy (while simultaneously taking ‘our’ jobs) and that they are going to use any possible birth in the United States as an ‘anchor baby’ with which to root them to the nation. Consumers of media could benefit from taking a step back from the assumptions promoted by rhetoric and coverage to look at the political and economic forces that have influenced the “immigration debate” we know today. Who participates in that “debate”? Harvey writes,“Money confers the privilege to exercise power over others – we can buy their labor time or the services they offer, even build systematic relations of domination over exploited classes simply through control over money power. Money, in fact, fuses the political and the economic into a genuine political economy of overwhelming power relations,” (p.201). Money, a symbolic representation tool, has fused the political and economic spheres of society! The resulting political economy of “overwhelming power relations” guarantees that the member of society who traverses fronteirs of various political states and economies in order to sell her labor in an unfriendly (yet codependent) environment has not been dealt a high hand.
Harvey goes on to discuss ‘otherness’ and how it is dependent on class relations of domination for continuing reproduction. The “omnipresence” of class domination, according to Harvey, is “offset only to the degree that the laborers actively struggle to assert their rights and express their feelings,” (p.104). Shifting relationships and procedures at the level of production, where profit is made instead of in circulation, is critical to any destabilizing of hegemonic market practices. These practices in turn reinforce and reify class relations, since the world’s wealth is dependent on the world’s workers. My feeling that media literacy is a crucial necessity has solidified into a fact.