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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Class warfare? I should hope.

The old Moline High School
As a student at Moline High School, which sat on the crown of a bluff that looked over the Mississippi River into Iowa,  my goal, along with most of my fellow students, was not to end up as shoppie down on Third Avenue.    Third Avenue extended from the Farmall Plant on the border in Rock Island to the International Harvester East Moline Works on the border of that town.  The avenue ran between the river and the railroad tracks, dominated by the factories of Deere and Co. and Minneapolis-Moline and a multitude of foundries and other smaller factories that served the farm equipment industry.  It was a grimy, and squalid street, hazy and soot-stained from the smoke pouring out of the stacks. 
Third Avenue ran along the railroad tracks.
                                                                        Another prominent business interspersed among the factories was the taverns,  commonly called gin mills.  Men  often ran to a tavern during their lunch hour or break to knock back a boiler-maker or two or more.  A boiler maker is a shot of cheap whiskey or other kind of booze and a glass of beer. It was common when workers returned to work to be impaired enough so that their hands got caught in factory machinery and  their fingers were severed.  

A case of  shoppie's hand.
Students, in a parody of shop workers, would hold up a hand with only four fingers showing say, "Can I borrow five cents?"  it was a reminder of what we did not want to  be when we grew up. 

Factory work was dirty and arduous, and the repetition of piece work was mind-killing.  In my lifetime, factory work was still a very seasonal business.  It was especially busy during the summer months.  When we graduated from high school, many of us took summer jobs in factories to earn money for college.  Ironically, the work we despised  provided some of the money that would help us prepare ourselves for better lives.  While a few shop-working parents felt betrayed by their children's disdain of factory work, most parents encouraged their children to aspire to something better.  They saw factory work as a transition to better prospects. 
John Deere plow factory in Moline. 

Industry provided a way for people to leave their fealties to the land-based aristocracy of the Old World and forge new lives out their labors.   When John Deere moved his plow factory to Moline, immigrants flocked there to find work.  Other factories also were built there to  take advantage of the growing demand for agricultural equipment as other immigrants filed homesteads throughout the U.S.

A giant replica of the wagons my grandfather built. 
My grandfather, a carpenter, packed his trunk of saws and woodworking tools in Sweden and took a boat to the U.S where he headed straight for Moline.   He went to work building wagons at the Moline Wagon Co.  Like many immigrants who were looking for a stable center for their families, he invested some of his earnings in land and also took up farming. 

The story of immigration to America is largely told in terms of pioneering and the hardships of clearing the land and establishing communities.  A part that is seldom addressed is what drove the immigrants to America to seek opportunity and what they expected.  They were leaving the Old World to escape the  lingering feudalism that predestined them to a life of poverty and servitude on land owned by the aristocracy.  Their motive was not to submit to another set of masters who controlled their lives in America, but to forge a system that would, in fact, produce the freedom, equality, and justice that America promised.  Work in American factories was oppressive, drudged, and depressing.  But it did provide opportunities for workers to obtain some benefits for their labor.  But they were still squalid and oppressive places to work.  The dominating goal of the workers was to create lives that transcended servile drudgery. 

Then came labor unions.  They improved matters for both the companies and the workers.  For workers, collective bargaining put contracts, not arbitrary and often disdainful bosses, as the controlling factor of working conditions, worker treatment, and wage equity.  For companies, it helped make workplaces safer and more efficient, help create a stable and reliable workforce, and established a system for dealing with problems that effected those in management as well as those on the assembly lines.  Together, unions and management changed the nature of the jobs from dogged drudgery to jobs that gave people satisfaction, respect, and stability.  For those of my generation, we began to think that one could do worse  than factory work.   The jobs that were created elevated the workers out of poverty into a middle class.

Globalization has been used as the mechanism to dismantle the gains of the American middle class.  The Republicans constantly howl about class warfare when one brings up the growing inequalities between the rich and the lower economic classes.  The conservative mindset has blocked out the fact that the invention and building of America has, from the outset, been a process of divorcing the workers, whether manual or technical or intellectual, from the rule of an upper class whose dream of America is to restore wealth and power to an upper class that could not care less about the well-being of the working class.

That trend began a reversal in the 1980s with trickle-down economics that was based on the notion that all productive work is created by a managing class and had to be created on their terms.  Led by the GOP, the business community relinquished manufacturing jobs to low-wage, sometimes prison labor countries in the Pacific Rim and told Americans that the disappearing jobs would be replaced in the service industry.  That shift of manufacturing off shore happened, but the service industry did not replace them with equivalent work.  Instead, it systematically returned the workforce into a dependent class with few opportunities.

 Since the 1980s and the application of trickle-down and class-centered economic measures,  the working people have been displaced from their middle class status with a relentless and deliberate shove into a status of dependent servitude. The trend is well-defined and well-documented.  This is the reversion to a feudal system that the Republicans want, and the Democrats have been more than a little feckless in telling the working class what is happening to it.  As soon as someone calls for equity in the marketplace and provisions for workers to earn some benefits from their labors, the Republicans start yelling class warfare.

From its inception through its building,  America has been a struggle between the classes.  People who work have sought equal status with those who work them in order to achieve identities not based upon definitions of inferiority and servitude.  Democracy is by definition a process of equalization in asserting that equality means that no person is to be considered any more or less valuable than any other.   The conservative movement seeks to refute that notion.

It has attacked and is trying to dismantle all those things that have contributed to the freeing of the working class:  public education, accessible health care, labor unions, livable wages and benefits.  

Democrats, like Obama, prefer to believe in the possibility that the political parties can compromise.  But more and more workers realize that their freedom, their equality, and political justice are being compromised away.  The struggle in America to overthrow slavery, race and sex based denials of franchise, and to attain economic equity through a fair wage for ones labors is currently represented by the GOP as an unpatriotic drift toward socialism and communism.  

Some Democrats have pointed out that this is a reversal of the very premise of American, but the belief that the two parties can come together for the good of the country has weakened the message and reduced it to the level of the partisan bickering that obscures what is happening to the  middle class.  

A few people have begun a movement with Occupy Wall Street that has spread throughout the country and confounded the press.  The press is confounded because the movement has no leaders, no statements of doctrine, no stated objectives, other than to dismantle a system that threatens to enslave people.  The movement is the tacit recognition that the two-party system in America has failed, that the forces in which the wealth and power of the  nation is concentrated are working toward a neo-feudal estate as the future of America.  

Messaging, the movement realizes, is just another form of advertising that tries to dupe people.  It is time to ignore the messaging and look at hard facts and revolt.

The real message is contained in these charts:
Top 0.1%
152,000 $5.6 million +385%
Top 0.1-0.5%
610,000 $878,139 +141%
Top 0.5-1%
762,000 $443,102 +90%
Top 1-5%
6.0 million $211,476 +59%
Top 5-10%
7.6 million $127,184 +38%
Bottom 90%
137.2 million $31,244 -1%
SOURCES: The World Top Incomes Database and reports by Jon Bakija, Williams College; Adam Cole, U.S. Department of Treasury; Bradley T. Heim, Indiana University; Carola Frydman, MIT Sloan School of Management and NBER; Raven E. Molloy, Federal Reserve Board of Governors; Thomas Piketty, Ehess, Paris; Emmanuel Saez, UC Berkeley and NBER. GRAPHIC: Alicia Parlapiano - The Washington Post. Published June 18, 2011.

And from Mother Jones: 

How Rich Are the Superrich?

A huge share of the nation's economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us? $31,244.

Average Income by Family, distributed by income group.
The richest controls 2/3 of America's net worth

Note: The 2007 data (the most current) doesn't reflect the impact of the housing market crash. In 2007, the bottom 60% of Americans had 65% of their net worth tied up in their homes. The top 1%, in contrast, had just 10%. The housing crisis has no doubt further swelled the share of total net worth held by the superrich.

Winners Take All

The superrich have grabbed the bulk of the past three decades' gains.

Aevrage Household income before taxes.

If the middle class wants to save itself from debilitating poverty,  it will need to understand that war has been declared upon by a caste that covets all the power and wealth of America for itself.  It needs to understand the portent of Occupy Wall Street, as an effort to reclaim the progress toward democratic equity made by our parents.   The political messaging is irrelevant to the harsh facts.

Protestors occupy the Brooklyn Bridge to reclaim their American birthright from the neo-feudal classes. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States