Spirit of ’68 Week 2–From the Factory Floor to the Welfare Line





(return to TOC)

Economic Crisis:
The 1968 period saw a crisis in global capitalism. In the United States, this was marked by stagnation in economic growth; increased unemployment; increase costs for goods and services (inflation); strains caused by global capitalist competition; political and military challenges from the Soviet Union, third world states, and third world liberation struggles; military spending; labor militancy; demands from civil rights and freedom struggles domestically, along with spontaneous insurrections; the cost of oil; and the delinking of the value of the US dollar to physical gold reserves. The present-day dominance of neoliberalism is born of the ’68 period of economic crisis.

Lazaro Abreu, Emory Douglas

Redistributive Justice:
The 1968 period represents a moment of intersectionality of demands emanating from social movements. “Economic justice,” did not simply mean higher wages or better jobs. As labor organizations, civil rights organizations and other groups intersected as movements, demands for redistribution of power –economic, social, and political power—were increasingly clear and resounding. This was not the first or only time mass movements were calling for redistribution of power, but the ‘68 period marked a resurgence of these demands.


Linkage Between Labor and Freedom Struggles and Anti-Imperialist Struggle:
Connected to the concept of redistributive justice, the ‘68 period marked a moment of intensity of anti-imperialist thinking and doing when it came to demands for redistributive justice—from Dr. Martin Luther King’s intertwined increasing support for labor militancy and denunciation of the War against Vietnam, to the explicit anti-imperialism of Detroit’s Revolutionary Union Movement, to the centrality of anti-imperialism in the massive worker-student strikes in Frances, Uruguay and elsewhere. As above, this was not the first time movements for redistributive justice centered anti-imperialism, but, again the ‘68 period marked a resurgence of this analysis.


Questions to consider in relationship to this week’s assigned materials:

  • In the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. piece, he says, “We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power….”  Following from themes raised in Week 1, what questions and issues of power and emerge from these readings? Who is contending with power, and what are they doing to maintain, protect, extend, gain, shift or redistribute it?  What do (or could) these struggles lead to?
  • What are some key insights offered by these readings about the intersections of politics and the economy?
  • In these pieces we learn about US economic policy, labor struggle in Argentina, and the Poor People’s campaign in the US.  While these examples may be nationally specific, what are some international connections between these examples that could be made?
  • During Week 1 we talked about crisis of hegemony—in which the old status quo becomes unable to replicate itself, finding itself radically challenged by the new.  In the piece by Ruth Wilson Gilmore above, she says, “Objectively, crises are neither bad nor good, but crises do indicate inevitable change, the outcome of which is determined through struggle.” How do we see different crises in our readings?


Ruth Wilson Gilmore, excerpts from “Globalization and US Prison Growth: From Military Keynesianism to Post-Keynesian Militarism” (text)

Eric Hobsbawm, excerpt from The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991.  Section 4 of Chapter Nine (pp. 274-281) (text)

“Immigrant Struggles, Anti-Racism, and May 1968: An Interview with Daniel A. Gordon” (excerpts).  If you want a link to the whole piece, you can find that here. (text)

The Hour of the Furnaces. Part 2, minutes 57:37-1:03:30 (video)

“Statement by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., December 4, 1967” (image of text)



Introduction to All Labor Has Dignity, a collection of speeches by MLK edited by Michael K. Honey (text)

“Second Hand Dreams” by Vijay Prashad (text)

Week 2 Playlist:



Finally Got the News  (video)

“Martin Luther King Jr.: 50 Years Later” by Michael K. Honey from The Nation, April 30-May7, 2018 Issue.  (text)

“‘This Nation Has Never Honestly Dealt with the Question of a Peacetime Economy’: Coretta Scott King and the Struggle for a Nonviolence Economy in the 1970s” by David P. Stein from Souls, 18:1. (text)

“Welfare as a Women’s Issue” by Johnnie Tillman (text)

The Economic Crisis of 1968 and the Waning of the “American Century” by Robert M. Collins (text)

Nixon Ends Bretton Woods International Monetary System (video)

Labor and the Long Seventies: An interview with Lane Windham  from Jacobin (text)

“Success for Whom? An Historical-Materialist Critique of Neoliberalism in Chile” by Marcus Taylor from Historical Materialism Vol. 10:2.  (text)


Here are some brief working definitions/explanations of terms related to this week’s class.

Social Wage: As Defined by Vijay Prashad From “Secondhand Dreams” linked above:  “The social wage is that amount of deferred wages that goes toward the creation of various publicly available goods, such as public transportation, health services, schools, parks, postal delivery, safety [etc.].”

Military Keynesianism: As Defined by Ruth Wilson Gilmore in “Globalization and US Prison Growth: From Military Keynesianism to Post-Keynesianism Militarism”, linked above: “The military Keynesian or ’warfare-welfare’ state… was first and foremost, then, a safety net for the capital class as a whole in all major areas: collective investment, labour division and control, comparative regional and sectoral advantage, national consumer market integration and global reach. And, up until 1967-68, the capital class paid handsome protection premiums for such extensive insurance. However, at the same time that Black people were fighting to dismantle US apartheid, large corporations and other capitals, with anxious eyes fixed on the flattening profit-rate curve, began to agitate forcefully and successfully to reduce their contribution to the ’social wage’.”

Neoliberalism: As Defined by David P. Stein from “U.S. in the World” [slide presentation]:  “The policies, practices and ideas associated with the sharp turn to market regulation of social life [emerging from the ‘68 period]. Neoliberalism preaches hostility to socialism, trade unions, and social welfare programs, all of which are alleged to ‘interfere’ with the market.” Increased privatization of social infrastructure (schools, etc.), deregulation, indebtedness, policing and militarism are some effects of neoliberalism.