Our purpose in this paper is to draw attention to an illusion that, it seems to us, has been working its way into the writings of an increasing number of intellectuals and political leaders on the Left. The illusion is that the legislative introduction of a generous universal basic income program can replace traditional forms of labor organizing, or else that its legislative introduction should be prioritized as an essential stepping stone to more effective labor politics. This attitude is held by all those who spend time studying, piloting, or simply entertaining generous basic income proposals in their writings, while showing much less interest in the timeworn tactical question of how to organize a durable majority of the working classes.
Often, this attitude is accompanied by a second, all-too-common thought: namely, that aside from being the dying remnants of a bygone era, labor unions are at bottom politically too divisive to fuel progress in our modern liberal age. For organized labor to become an engine of generalized progress once again, we are told, would simply require much too radical of a social transformation at this stage. In this regard, basic income proposals are increasingly presented as possessing a major strategic advantage over labor’s traditional wish-list items, such as the rewriting of long-eviscerated labor laws or reversing the fait accomplit that is the global mobility of capital.