Daily Archives: January 26, 2004

The Working Class and Blogging

David Neiwert at Orcinus has written an excellent post about the controversy over Junior’s military record that erupted when Michael Moore called it “desertion” and Wes Clark refused to renounce him for it. The second half of the post is as good a primer as exists of the facts behind the controversy–a quick read will bring you right up to speed.

And as long as we’re there, David wrote a post earlier in the week concerning what he called the “Latin Americanization” of American workers, or what others have called the “race to the bottom”, ie, the competition to offer corporations the cheapest possible labor with the least possible protections. In the context of Bush’s bogus immigration proposal to legalize so-called “guest workers” (a program that has failed miserably in Europe, btw), he quote John Kenneth Galbraith on the likely results:

Galbraith…details painfully just how many jobs we are losing, and what that means for working people. I was particularly struck by this passage, since it brought back Church’s remark like a bell:

What does Bush want? He wants a growth rate high enough to get him through the election. That’s obvious. After that, he doesn’t care. His clientele — the military contractors, oil companies, pharmaceutical firms and big media that control this government — make their money on patents, contracts and the exercise of monopoly power. (Case in point: Bush is pressuring impoverished Central Americans, in trade negotiations, to add 10 years to the length of drug patents.) These people have no interest in full employment. They like unemployment, weak labor, low wages and a government that bullies on their behalf. And after the election, if Bush wins, that is what they will get for four more years.

And I was likewise struck by Galbraith’s description of the outcome of Bush’s proposed immigration reforms:

This program will permit any employer to admit any worker. From any country. At any time. The only requirement is that it be for a job Americans are not willing to take. But it is easy to create such jobs: Cut wages. Terminate the unions. Lengthen the hours. Speed up the lines. Chicken farmers have known this for years. Bush’s plan is a blank check for every bad boss this country has…. For millions of citizen workers, what would happen? The answer is clear: Bad bosses drive out the good. Good bosses will turn bad under pressure. The terms of our jobs would get worse and worse. Who would want a citizen worker? A bracero will be so much cheaper, more loyal, and under control. And who among us, in our right mind, would want to look for work? Unless, of course, we needed to eat. Or pay the mortgage. I am not exaggerating: This is a threat to us all.

All of this is thought-provoking enough–and I highly recommend that you go to Salon, sign yourself in for the day, and read Galbraith’s whole piece–but what struck me was the paragraph that followed those quotes.

I’m not sure how many people writing in the blogosphere — or working in journalism, or especially among the pundit class — have a clear sense of the reality of this existence — what it is like to be trapped working for a Wal-Mart or a Con-Agra or any of the thousands of faceless bad bosses whose main purpose in life seems to be finding ways to worsen everyday life for their workers: refusing raises, shortening hours, slashing benefits, pitting employees against each other, allowing work conditions to steadily deteriorate. Eventually they may taste it, of course (anyone who works for a midsized or small-town chain newspaper already has), but for now it is mostly an abstraction, and thus not something as important as, say, John Kerry’s haircut.

It’s a good point and it got me thinking–how many bloggers in this massive blogosphere are actually working-class, actually suffer daily at the hands of bosses concerned only with the bottom line who have little respect let alone appreciation for the workers under them, how many actually have to cobble their meager finances together in an effort to stretch a steadily shrinking paycheck to cover ever-rising prices? And while I was thinking this, I realized that I am one of those but I have never admitted it, never openly acknowledged it, let alone identified myself as a working-class stiff.

Well, I am. I’ve said I teach acting, and I do, but it’s part-time at best. By far the vast majority of my working life is spent in a shop where I fix broken pallets for resale. It’s a form of recycling, which is nice, but it’s also a brutal job physically which I’m getting too old for, full of mind-numbing repetition and serial injuries. I hate it but I hang onto it in large part because, for the first time in my life as a laborer, I have a thoughtful boss who is flexible, cares about his people, and pays enough for even an oldster like myself to get by (some of his younger workers make as much as $50K/yr–a phenomenal income for a recycling worker; they are normally paid minimum wage). He provides group medical insurance (one of the few employers I know of who does) and has been known to pay for lost time due to injuries out of his own pocket when they aren’t serious enough to be covered by Workman’s Comp.

All of this is so contrary to my previous work experience that even if I could make more doing something else I wouldn’t leave because I know I’d wind up working for yet another petty tyrant who hates his employees and would replace them all with robots if he could because robots don’t get sick or have kids that need to be taken care of or threaten to join unions or refuse to risk their lives because he doesn’t want to pay for safety equipment. I know I’d wind up working for one of them because they are–by far–the kind of managers today’s corporations train. I know this because I have worked for so many of them over the years and for so few of the kind I have now.

If there is outrage on these pages about how corporations and their bought-and-paid-for govt stooges use us as cannon-fodder and make our lives harder and harder and more and more marginal with policies, laws, and a tax structure that favors the rich at our expense, then that’s where that rage comes from: a personal experience as one of those who has to pay the consequences when a corporate Scrooge demands yet another sacrifice to boost his dept’s profit statement a penny or two or throws hundreds of us out into the street to boost his stock price another half-point or moves the whole company to Ecuador so he can pay 8 cents an hour and boost his aleady-record profits even higher.

There are millions of us struggling down here where nobody ever looks who have things to say nobody ever listens to, suggestions nobody ever takes, and ideas nobody ever respects. We should have a voice, too.