The working class can't expect altruism

Friday July 13, 2012

For some time, working class Americans have seen their lifestyles stagnate or fall from the levels of the late 1970s. This is well documented in terms of wages adjusted for inflation, job and government benefits like education or health care assistance, especially when compared to those in the upper middle income or wealthy strata.

There are many reasons why working class families and some once considered middle class in terms of income have fallen back, but the underlying explanation is that they no longer have a powerful voice in Washington or in most state legislatures and governor's offices. That means no political influence in comparison to the clout those working in factories, on construction projects and in non-managerial office and/or service jobs had from the 1930s through the ‘70s. During that era, those workers, and their unions, had solid support from the Democratic party in Washington and in most state capitals -- beginning with the administration of Franklin Roosevelt.

However, the Reagan presidency, beginning in 1981, reinforced a trend that had already begun -- toward more deferential treatment for the wealthy and business interests, usually at the expense of less educated and less skilled workers and their unions. Today, the Democratic Party itself is a far cry from the one President Harry Truman led to victory in 1948 by bragging about the party's history of standing up for the working person and facing down the interests of big business and the wealthy.

And the prosperity of the 1950s through the ‘70s contributed to a relaxation of the intense labor-management strife that preceded FDR's election. The economic pie was so massive, and other nations so debilitated after World War II, that labor and management found less to fight over.

That golden era was brought down by new political and judicial strategies developed by conservatives beginning during the Nixon administration and reaching full flower after Mr. Reagan's election. Conservatives were fired up as well by the rapid pace of social change, and today social issues are a sure-fire electoral trigger for conservative Republicans, who also are invariably also pro-business and pro-tax cuts at the expense of social programs like health care.

Another major factor involves the great number of families that have seen significant economic progress because of programs enacted by Democrats and suddenly find themselves torn whether to continue paying taxes to fund those same programs for the working class of today. Too often, they have turned their backs on those still scrambling at the bottom of the ladder.

In short, the national Democrats -- most of whom are upper income or wealthy themselves -- have no first-hand knowledge of working class challenges and, most importantly, see fewer votes coming from that group than in the past. Republicans have deftly peeled away millions of working class voters by appealing on social issues like gay rights or asserting their alleged patriotic fervor, and most Democrats no longer view those voters as their major base of support.

Instead of plaintively appealing for help from either party, however, working class Americans should be busy organizing a new political force to represent their economic and other interests. They should also think twice about voting on social issues that will ultimately have little or no effect on their own lives, while at the same time voting against their own economic interests -- as in against "Obamacare" or funding for education or college tuition.

Just as there is no crying in baseball, according to an oft-quoted film character, there is no assistance -- never mind pork -- that will ever flow to anyone lacking political clout. Working class Americans have to find an effective way to make that influence felt in Washington and elsewhere.


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