Greetings, and best wishes for the New Year!
It has happened-According to a report from the Pew Research Center, the American middle class, once the backbone of the economy, is now in the minority. Persons identifying as “middle class” are finding it more difficult to make ends meet; the numbers of “middle class” has shrunk from 53 percent to 44 percent. According to the Pew survey, the number of people who identify as “lower middle” or “lower’ class has risen to 40 percent, as opposed to 25 percent in February 2008.
Here is the “free market” working its magic- the idea that if we just let the capitalists do their thing, without the government intervening-except to grant tax breaks and repress dissidents, like workers organizing-we would all prosper, and not just stockbrokers and hedge-fund managers. We are returning to the period just after the Civil war, the “Gilded Age,” when capitalists dominated the government and all public discussion, when workers-including the women and children-worked from before sunrise to after sunset, in mines loaded with poisonous gasses and ready to collapse, working for close to nothing and having to pay for the equipment to use for the bosses’ prosperity, watched over by supervisors who had no respect for workers and could shoot them if they got out of line-these are the days we’re returning to.
BUT-we do have a history, which I and other Labor scholars are digging up, of resistance to corporate tyranny, of workers organizing for their rights, their lives, and their dignity. Contrary to what you might have been told, they did NOT passively accept their industrial fatalities, their poverty, their sickness and oppression as their fate, they organized-making mistakes along the way-demanded respect from their employers, and THIS is how the American middle class, the envy of the world, was born-a level of society that we could all hope to get into. From good-paying union jobs, workers could buy houses, send their kids to college, and have leisure time to do other things besides work. From the union movement, workers has a mechanism to work out disagreements between supervisors and workers, attain medical care, and develop skills to advance in the company.
But alas, the number of union workers has declined to around eleven percent. Any progressive revival in this country MUST include a revival of the union movement, and I DARE to believe we can do it. (It’s better to believe we can do it, as opposed to corporations and their media dictating to us what or what not to believe.)
The latest epitome of capitalism at its finest, and its ultimate logic, is Martin Shkreli-the hedge fund manager (with no background in medicine or pharmaceuticals) whose company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, jacked up the price of Daraprim, a life-saving drug used to kill parasitic infections (particularly in HIV-AIDS and cancer patients) from $13.50 a tablet to –get this-$750.00 A TABLET! A jump of 5000 percent! This had nothing to do with medicine or healing sick people-it was just a way to make money for investors, and for Shkreli to line his own pockets. And in the CBS News interview, Shkreli acted like, “What’s the big deal?”
Fortunately, Shkreli has been arrested for securities fraud, transferring money from one company to pay off the debts in another; he was defrauding other investors and capitalists, but ripping off the public is the “free enterprise system” at its finest. The only damn thing Shkreli did, that was different from other corporate types, was that he was so public and he got caught.
THESE are the people we are expected to trust our economy with, according to the Republican right-wing politicians and media. THESE are the people our working-class forebears fought against while organizing for their rights and their benefits, who OWNED the government-with its police and militias-and used it to beat down efforts by workers and other repressed groups fighting for their rights. THESE are the people who run the government, at the local, state, and federal levels-party has nothing to do with it-and we the working and low-income people are NOT part of the discussion about our economy, our society or our future as a nation.
Alas again, for TOO long, the idea has continued, that working-class white men are irredeemably bigoted on the basis of race and religion, and so many liberal commentators also pick up on this idea. This, supposedly, is the basis of the appeal of Donald Trump, the billionaire real-estate tycoon running for President, calling for a “stronger” wall to keep out Mexican immigrants, saying “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.”
Also, Trump has played on the legitimate fears of terrorism, talking about banning ALL Muslims from entering this country, including citizens traveling outside the country-would that include persons in the military service of the United States not being able to return to the country they served, and their loved ones? Trump, the billionaire bigmouth, has become a rallying point for racists to come out of the woodwork, receiving the endorsement of notorious neo-Fascist hate groups. (And we have had white so-called “Christians” as terrorists, no religion is safe from its extremists.)
We have seen the videos of white males beating up non-white people at the instigation of Trump’s rhetoric. And Trump is part of the same capitalist-plutocratic class that has ruled the country with impunity since the Reagan administration “got the government off the backs” of racists and oligarchs. Here is the ultimate realization of the “southern Strategy” of Nixon and the Republican party-play on the racial hatreds and fears of working-class whites, who had finally attained some economic security and are afraid to lose it, and blame African-Americans, women, and other minorities asserting themselves and their liberal enablers, for whatever difficulties they have. And many pundits have treated this tactic like it was a stroke of political genius, as if racism could not be removed from our minds and our politics.
Now we have Donald Trump as the front-runner among Republican presidential candidates, and the party bosses are nervous. But THIS is the monster they have created, along with the tea party movement-appealing to subtle racial signals and short-term self-interest-“It’s not happening to me, so why should I worry? And I want to save on my taxes.” Sure, but your taxes cover the tax breaks of corporations, like Shkreli’s and Trump’s, which are supposed to pay for reinvestment in new equipment and hire more workers; but they have NOT brought about these things, they have enriched further an already rich plutocratic class, which has set up plants in countries with low wages, corrupt and compliant governments, and paying workers pocket change as wages-which is where WE were in this country, and which we are headed back to, IF we don’t organize and educate ourselves about the issues that really affect us.
Let us resolve to do this in the new year 2016-Bye!