It is truly breathtaking to realize that we have gone from seeing our economy destroyed in 2008, the result of several decades of corruption and degeneracy on the part of hedge fund managers and Wall Street tycoons to todays situation in Wisconsin where public teacher, police and nurse unions are held to be responsible for all our financial problems. That is less than three years time. Did someone whack us all in the head with a 2X4 to make us forget? This latest political comedy is really part of a larger whole which we should start naming for what it is: the right wing war against the working class. And for at least 30 years, they have been winning it.
Forty years ago I knew a young man who was soon to graduate from the University of Minnesotas School of Veterinary Medicine. His father had written checks for the young mans education and support for, at that time, seven or eight years, extracting from him the promise he would not work while going to school except for summers, and that he would treat his education as his job, getting as much out of it as he could.
So what, you say? The rich do that all the time. Well, this young mans father was a slaughterhouse worker, a man who often worked the night shift on the kill floor to earn a few cents more on the check. The young man was proud of his father, and spoke often of him to me in terms of respect and affection.
For a short time after World War II the working class was able to exert enough political influence to encourage an economy that enabled a high school graduate to earn sufficient money to provide for a familys needs and some of its wants. I see nothing wrong with that and a great deal to admire. So how did we get to here from there? How did we get from that possibility of a good and respectable and hopeful middle class life for a slaughterhouse worker in the 1970s to todays reality where the working class comes in for a steady stream of vilification in that vicious millionaires club we call the Senate, being called lazy, drug addicted and drunken when the unemployment benefits run out? Look behind us folks. The tracks are not hard to see.
In 1980 Ronald Reagan ascended to the presidency as the beneficiary of far too many white working-class votes. One of his first acts was to break the strike of the air traffic controllers union, to the applause of many of us.
In 1985 Hormels local P9 started their hopeless endless strike against Hormel, which wanted to reduce their wages by 23%. By the time Bush the elder assumed the presidency in 1988, slaughterhouse wages were not much more than 60% of their pre Reagan levels.
Benefits were reduced as well, in some cases to virtually nil. Through it all, us white working class voters who were not slaughterhouse (or auto, or steel) workers nodded sleepily, not worrying since our jobs werent impacted, or so we thought.
The meat industry needed slaughterhouse workers, of course. To get them at their preferred low wage, they needed to go to Mexico, which is just what many of them did.
To facilitate the hiring, they got Bill Clinton to push the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) through Congress, which drove many small Mexican farmers off their land by destroying the corn market in Mexico. Now Big Meat, and today, Big Livestock, has a virtual endless supply of cheap labor. And the working class, whether white, black or brown, is being shafted.
The right wing never sleeps. It works and watches constantly. And when we, because of mental laziness or ignorance or race hatred allow it to get away with one thing, it immediately goes on to the next. Today the next thing is to blame teachers and police and city workers for the current state and municipal budget problems. And that is how we get from the crash that was caused by Wall Streets moral degenerates to the current circus in Madison, Wis., in not much more than two years.
The corporate elite, which is what funds the right wing, including the AM radio screamers, has found that it no longer needs a prosperous American middle class. There are bigger and fast-growing middle classes in China and India which can now serve as customers for their foreign made goods. Consequently, it wants to shut our government down, except for the military, which it needs to protect it overseas. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the home mortgage deduction, veterans benefits, Pell grants for education, the public school system, all public police and infrastructure services, all are on the block. Will we soon have to have a bake sale to pay the snow plow drivers?
Right-wing success depends upon our tendency to hate the guy next door who does a little better than we do, or at least better than we think he ought to do. Rather than thinking of the unionized teacher next door as a kind of goal, and insisting to our politicians that we all deserve a similar kind of wage and benefit package, we tend to tear apart the few good examples of middle class life we have left, to the applause of hedge fund criminals and the rest of the corporate elite who each earn enough every year to pay thousands of teachers.
The outlook isnt good. We can look at our own local politics to see that. I wonder what will be the situation 20 or 30 years from now. How much further will we have slipped? Or will we learn to stand together and draw the line somewhere? They are doing that in Egypt.
Jim Van Der Pol writes and farms near Kerkhoven, Minn.
From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2011
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