Why Isn’t The American Worker More Pissed Off ?

(noon. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

The title of this essay is a bit rhetorical in nature. I think we can all come up with some structural and ideological reasons why the American worker is not just blindingly angry. An article over at Alternet summarizes two recent books that tell us familiar stories about how American workers are being abused in the work place and treated like cattle. The bottom line: many of us are getting fucked in the eye with a sharp stick. What I find intriguing is the way that these familiar issues are not being discussed as a part of regular political discourse. It certainly speaks to the way McCain easily embodies the radical right and Obama is afraid to embody the radical anything.

I would argue that working people in America aren’t angry enough because they have no vehicle. There are low rates of unionization and most people are very much aware of how easily they can be replaced. People have a bunker mentality they are living on hope that some how economic realism will pass them buy. How ironic that we are taught to believe that we control our own destinies and our coping mechanism is simply avoidance.

Poor people are not necessarily jobless people. The right likes to ramble on about welfare bums and and entitlements in order to get people to express contempt for one another. The right really only wants to unify Americans over cultural issues, the last thing they want to do make those same angry supporters think about their economic situation.

Being poor doesn’t necessarily mean being unemployed, as Greenhouse points out in The Big Squeeze, “The annual pay for Wal-Mart’s full-time hourly employees averaged $19,100 in 2007 — some $1,500 below the poverty line for a family of four

Companies are also often using two tiered wage systems, a clever way to create resentment among workers. In some instances this occurs within the context of unionized entities

Caterpillar, the heavy machinery manufacturer, is a case in point. Greenhouse tells the story of lower-tier workers at a Caterpillar plant outside Peoria, Ill., where workers are represented by the United Auto Workers

Under the two-tier contract at Caterpillar, the most Arnold can ever earn is $14.90 an hour or $31,000 per year — so little, he says, that some of his coworkers are living at home with their parents. “Some,” he said, “are even on food stamps.”

A 52-year-old who works alongside Arnold, doing the exact same work, earns $19.03 an hour, or just under $40,000 a year, because employees who started before Arnold began in 1999 are on a higher wage scale. “I don’t like it,” Arnold said. “I wish I was at least able to get to the pay scale that the guys who are right next to me are making.”

One can understand why even workers aren’t certain unions will look after their interests in scenarios like this. Because in this scenario, they aren’t.

Upward mobility is in America becoming a myth similar to dime store novels about the grand old west…..

According to the State of Working America, statistics have belied the great American myth of upward mobility for hard-working people of modest or poor beginnings. “About 60 percent of families that start in the bottom fifth [on the income scale] are still there a decade later,” the authors note. “At the other end of the income scale, 52 percent of families start and finish in the top fifth.” And from one generation to another, the authors note, “there is considerably more mobility in most of the developed economies of Europe and Scandinavia than in the United States

The article goes on to nicely summarize the state of working Americans today…

No union can avoid confrontation with rapacious employers determined to make labor bear the costs of the recession. No worker can be certain that his or her job or health benefits are secure. No working-class parents can be confident that their children will have better opportunities in life than they had. There’s little alternative other than to fight back — or accept being pushed down even further

If you can even afford a book these days you can buy one of them referenced in the articlehere. Another excellent summary of the main points of the book can be found here.

An NY times review of the book by an economist makes this observation…

The bad news is that in today’s hyper-competitive climate, the corporate sector is no longer able to administer the nation’s social safety net. Government is really the only alternative. The good news is that the American economy still has the largest G.D.P. in the world – much more than enough to support a high standard of living for shareholders, managers and workers alike

I find it interesting because he cannot help himself in lumping in shareholders, managers, and workers alike as if they are on a level playing field as if they all have equal power and as if the still large GDP of the United States magically distributes it to all who are forced to compete in the free market.

Alas, the American worker is not quite angry enough. And we live in a political culture where when women and people of color are angry and express it they get marginalized and when white males are angry they get legitimized. I realize somebody will take issue with this vast generalization but my opinion/perception is that when women or people of color express anger over economic and political misadventure they are frequently labeled as “radical” or “shrill.” The lone exception to this would be when right wing women who speak up ( and it is never about economic issues unless it is to praise the free market )they get tagged as being “feisty.”

I guess McCain could be right when he says that the fundamentals of the economy are sound. They sound like a death knell to me.

22 comments

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  1. with a hilarious “reality show” where an average American worker gets totally screwed in each segment and they all have to fight with one another to get the last remaining job.

  2. Johnny Paycheck had the right attitude:

  3. often. I think after canvasing in the primaries that part of it is false pride. Poverty and Patriotism are somehow intertwined in their minds. The media pumps this myth also. Lunch Bucket Democrats, Small town Americans, Heartland and on and on. Obama got in big trouble when addressing this in San Fransisco. They are angry they have misdirected their anger at liberals and instead focus on cultural pride and the strange strain of individualism that runs through our history.

    ‘You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, a lot of them – like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they’ve gone through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, and they cling to guns, or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.’  Obama, San Fransisco

    • Robyn on September 18, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    …but mostly feel helpless to cause any change.  So they spends his Sunday mornings at a a sports bar/restaurant watching 7 screens of different sporting events and spend evenings watching unreality television.

  4. When the food supply dwindles, rats in a cage do not wonder why they’re in the cage, band together, and try to escape. Rats in a cage fight with each other for the last bit of food.

    God created Arrakis to train the faithful. — Paul Muad’Dib

  5. I might have to go in tonight. Fuckity fuck. I just got called.

    • kj on September 18, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    where i work, blue- and white-collar and union workers…  they understand what happened via Enron better than i do… they read the WSJ, they figure their pensions and 401K’s are probably scrap, and they show up to work every day because, so far, the door still opens and there’s still a paycheck.

    quite angry, quite aware, and quite also stoic.  

    • pico on September 18, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    You can be dirt poor in this country and still have access to 24 hours of mind-numbing entertainment.  I’ll put money down and say that’s one of the big reasons it’s harder to get people class conscious and angry about their circumstances in a productive way.

  6. among the rank and file about globalization, the New World Order and the Illuminati Plan to Destroy America.  I have planted the seeds but now these seeds have germinated, grown and come to full scale reality such that others are asking how to construct hats made of tin foil.

  7. is exhausted.

  8. . . . as others have said above.  The corporate media, of course, don’t like to go into this.  The last thing they’re going to do is allow themselves to be used as a means for frustrated workers to find out about, and communicate with, each other.  So the story doesn’t run in the corporate media.

    Whether anger and frustration will translate into bloc voting for a progressive agenda remains to be seen.  Fear and a sense of helplessness are powerful countervalents to motivational anger, and the Republican Party owes the last century of its existence to its ability to drug the electorate with fear.  They try it every time, and it works almost every time.

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