The vast inequality of this new Gilded Age didn’t just happen. Nature didn’t ordain it, the market didn’t require it, and Adam Smith’s invisible hand doesn’t sustain it.What happened is the rich declared class war and spent what it took to win.
Not exactly a new story, of course, but the extraordinary new concentration of wealth and power created a juggernaut that makes it harder and harder for democracy to work for all.
From Bill Moyers on Class in America
About a year ago I heard an interview on Air America with a gentleman plugging something - a book, if memory serves - on labor and the working class. I can’t remember the name of the person being interviewed, so let’s call him Interviewee. Interviewee said something very interesting about the definition of “middle class”. He said that if you can’t afford to be without a job for at least six months, you aren’t middle class.
Whether you agree with this or not, it’s a vitally important concept. Why? Because until we as working people re-embrace (or, perhaps simply embrace) our very status as working people, the divide between the haves and have-nots in this country is going to continue to increase because we won’t be organizing as working people.
For quite some time now, America’s been a place where everyone who’s not flat-out rich or flat-out poor wants to define themselves as middle class. “Working class” has become a term only for the poor, and only for blue collar workers. This is bullshit. Being extremely conservative, I say that if after missing five or fewer paychecks you need to either run up your credit cards or have family or friends bail you out, you’re working class. If missing just a handful of paydays puts you up shit creek, that means you’re living paycheck to paycheck. That means you’re working class.
The reason it’s so important that Americans wake up and begin to wrap their heads around the fact that they’re working class and not middle class is so they will begin to think like workers. As a country, until we start thinking and proudly identifying ourselves as working class, we’ll never organize - and vote - in our own best interests. I strongly believe that someone who’s identifying as working class and not “middle class” is much more likely to ask themselves, “Why the hell am I not in a union? And why the hell am I working so hard and producing so much for so little pay and benefits?”; and that they are much more likely to hold their elected representatives’ feet to the fire about those issues as well.
Mindset and consciousness/awareness are key here. In addition to the 40+ year War on Labor that’s been going on, politicians and the corporate media have been feeding Americans a steady diet of non-stop hype about how we’re all middle class. This keeps everyone quiet and obediently in line, believing that they are indeed living the Great American Dream. How can they not be? They’re middle class. And the hype has worked. Boy has it worked. “Working class” has become a label educated people and white collar workers shun no matter how little money they might be making. To be fair, not every working class person calling themselves middle class is consciously shunning the “working class” label. They’ve simply been told their whole lives that they are “middle class”, so there you go.
On the opposite side of the spectrum from the politicians’ and corporate news’ “We’re all middle class” propaganda, we have the folks who sincerely want to get working class people organized. Gojira bless ‘em, but I have a bit of a beef with some of them too, epitomized by Interviewee. Interviewee believes that a big barrier to getting working folks organized is all the sub-movements/rights groups, primarily by People of Color. He said we need to stop focusing on ethnic differences so we can be more focused on workers’ issues. That drives me freakin’ crazy. As if we (People of Color) can simply change our reality by simply choosing not to make such a “big deal” about being People of Color - as if we’re the ones making a “big deal” about it. As if fighting for equality and justice is making a “big deal” about it. Well, I got news for you. Black people getting pulled over for “driving while Black” can’t just tell the cop, “It’s OK, you can let me go. I’m no longer making a “big deal” out of being Black.” Or, “Hey, you don’t have to deny me that business loan I’m more than qualified for - I’m no longer making a “big deal” out of being Black”. Or, “You don’t have to throw away my vote/deny me from voting/beat the shit out of me/hang symbolic nooses on the school tree, etc. etc. I’m no longer making a ‘big deal’ out of being Black”. Anyway, it’s not People of Color or Women’s groups fighting for justice that’s the problem here, so let’s put that to bed. That kind of finger-pointing is just another example of ego-centric activism: “If everyone would just get behind my movement and the way I want to do things, everything would be fine”. Besides, victories for people of color and for women are victories for working people. And most activist groups for and by People of Color have worker’s rights as a major part of their agenda anyway. [/rant off]
OK, so where do we go from here? Do you agree that the term “working class” has been marginalized and stigmatized in America? If so, and you think that’s a problem, what can we do about it?
In the meantime, how was your Labor Day? Did you get a paid day off? I didn’t. Oh, my office was closed, alright, but we weren’t paid. We don’t have any paid holidays where I work. None. But I’m not complaining. I’m a college educated white collar worker living the Middle Class American Dream. My TV tells me so.
Responses to “Guess What? You May Be Working Class!”