(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
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.