Monday, February 28, 2011

A Crack In The Facade

I last wrote, in the context of the protests in Wisconsin and Republican efforts to crush unions, about whether the American working class might be about to wake up from its stupor and begin resisting the Neoliberal, Reaganomics assault it has been subject to for 30 years now. I said that the main impediment to this happening is that the American working class does not see that it is in the struggle together. There is not a "working class consciousness," to put it in Marxist terms.

That could be changing, according to a new poll released today showing broad support for public sector workers struggling to retain their collective bargaining rights against a group of Republican governors who are giddily doing everything they can to help their rich masters turn the American working class into serfs.

Over the course of 30 years of conservative propaganda, with the help of the conservative, corporate owned mass media, we have been divided, and conquered. We see government as the enemy, unions as the enemy, Muslims as the enemy, immigrants as the enemy. We don't understand that we have much more in common with each other than we have differences.

Primarily, we have in common that our labor is exploited by those who control the economy. Labor creates all wealth, but an ever increasing percentage of the wealth our labor creates goes straight into the pockets of the rich. I have referred to government statistics that demonstrate this shift, which is still occurring. Wages, which in inflation adjusted terms have been flat since the late 1970s,  are now declining. Our standards of living are declining.

Also, the gap between rich and poor grows wider each year. People who used to be simply rich are now filthy rich, and its not that more money has been suddenly created. It's that they are taking more money from us. Republican, Reaganomics tax policies that let the rich and corporations off the hook have starved government and we are being told we have to make up the difference by taking cuts in pay and benefits, while the bankers and Wall street financiers are handing out record bonuses, just a short time after our so-called bail out of them, which was in reality just a giant fleecing.

Another poll released today, however, shows that a big majority of Americans are on the wide of the unions in this current situation. In fact, the New York Times/ABC News poll shows even more support for unions than the previous poll, which I cited yesterday.

In the news article explaining the poll, a retired property manager from red-state Tennessee, and probably no flaming Liberal, gives the reason he supports the unions:

Phil Merritt, 67, a retired property manager from Crossville, Tenn., who identifies himself as an independent, explained in a follow-up interview why he opposed weakening bargaining rights for public workers. “I just feel they do a job that needs to be done, and in our country today if you work hard, then you should be able to have a home, be able to save for retirement and you should be able to send your kids to college,” he said. “Most public employees have to struggle to do those things, and generally both spouses must work.”

This pretty much coincides with the generic description I have used to describe the effects of Neoliberalism on our standard of living. I say that before Reagan, one person working in a family made enough to raise a family, buy a house, and put the kids through college. They had at least one new car, sometimes two, sometimes a new one and a used one, but they lived in decent housing, sent the kids to college, and in many cases there was a pension to supplement Social Security. This fairly well describes my upbringing, and that of most of my friends. all my brothers and sisters and I attended college, and Pell grants, not loans, paid for most of it, along with scholarships and part-time subsidized college employment.

Americans had achieved the highest standard of living in history, and with just one person working. Society was such that is was usually the husband, while the wife stayed home. Women began to enter the work force in large numbers in the 1970s. Feminism has something  to do with this, but necessity did too. People who have following Reaganomics point out that Americans were able to maintain their standard of living for awhile, but it was because women were also bringing in an income.

I remember quite well George HW Bush, Reagan's vice president, when he was running against Michael Dukakas, when he would talk about gains made during the Reagan administration, would tick off a few things, including, "Family income is up!"

He did not say income was up, or wages are up. All he was doing was putting spin on the fact that more women were working.

When the work force had absorbed all the women who wanted to work, there began another phase of Neoliberalism. Now, in order to maintain our standards of living, we did it on credit. Much has been written about the great credit expansion of the 1990s and early 2000s under Fed chairman Allan Greenspan, and about how in order to keep the economy expanding he purposely inflated the housing market, by relaxing credit, and created the housing boom, the demise of which we are still suffering under as foreclosures continue at record levels.

During that time, you will recall, it became very easy to get a credit card. Banks were sending out credit cards in the mail. Even college students were able to get credit cards. A note here. The media in its ignorance uses the term "credit card companies." That is a misnomer, and let the banks duck the bad publicity associated with credit card usury. Banks issue credit cards. Credit card companies are banks, and the biggest credit card companies are the big banks.

Anyway, the comment by Phil Merritt, the retired property manager from Tennessee, shows that he understands, at some level anyway, what has happened in the US. Despite years and years of Conservative propaganda. Despite years and years of walking into a voting booth and pulling the Republican lever believing that this would solve their problems, people like Phil Merritt can see the reality  that is unfolding before his eyes. There is a point beyond which which campaign slogans and race baiting and divide and conquer tactics cannot conceal the truth, and we might have reached that point.

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