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Mythical Reality

by on August 11, 2011

Sometimes, a person under 30 asks Michael Moore, “When did this all begin, Amer­ica’s down­ward slide?” They say they’ve heard of a time when work­ing peo­ple could raise a fam­ily and send the kids to col­lege, that anyone who wanted a decent paying job could get one.  They’d heard that “people only worked five days a week, eight hours a day, got the whole weekend off and had a paid vacation every summer. That many jobs were union jobs, from baggers at the grocery store to the guy painting your house, and this meant that no matter how “lowly” your job was you had guarantees of a pension, occasional raises, health insurance and someone to stick up for you if you were unfairly treated.”

I’ve often asked the same thing, knowing that there’s an answer.  But the answer I’ve always thought, and occasionally heard when I voice my question aloud, is that our “decline” (and it is a decline, though I put that in quotation marks) has been gradual, and our standard of living often falling.  I never thought to put a date on it.  But Michael Moore has a date: Thirty Years Ago, Today.  August 5th, 1981.

On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired every member of the air traffic controllers union (PATCO) who’d defied his order to return to work and declared their union illegal. They had been on strike for just two days.

It was a bold and brash move. No one had ever tried it. What made it even bolder was that PATCO was one of only three unions that had endorsed Reagan for president! It sent a shock wave through workers across the country. If he would do this to the people who were with him, what would he do to us?

Reagan had been backed by Wall Street in his run for the White House and they, along with right-wing Christians, wanted to restructure America and turn back the tide that President Franklin D. Roosevelt started — a tide that was intended to make life better for the average working person. The rich hated paying better wages and providing benefits. They hated paying taxes even more. And they despised unions. The right-wing Christians hated anything that sounded like socialism or holding out a helping hand to minorities or women.

People are often aggravated with the talking heads on television. I confess I am turned off listening to the screaming rhetoric from the right, and even sometimes from the left. The problem, of course, is that the talking heads have opinions – and they will express those opinions – which alienates those who do not agree (and sometimes, those who just want more moderation and agreement and compromise). Michael Moore is one those people with opinions he expresses, and who alienates those who do not agree. The opinion that life – our standard of living – is getting worse is an opinion, measurable by standards, that people might or might not agree with. This is Moore’s view of what Reagan did to America:

  • The super-rich will make more, much much more, and the rest of you will scramble for the crumbs that are left.
  • Everyone must work! Mom, Dad, the teenagers in the house! Dad, you work a second job! Kids, here’s your latch-key! Your parents might be home in time to put you to bed.
  • 50 million of you must go without health insurance! And health insurance companies: you go ahead and decide who you want to help — or not.
  • Unions are evil! You will not belong to a union! You do not need an advocate! Shut up and get back to work! No, you can’t leave now, we’re not done. Your kids can make their own dinner.
  • You want to go to college? No problem — just sign here and be in hock to a bank for the next 20 years!
  • What’s “a raise”? Get back to work and shut up!

The AFL-CIO “told its members to cross the picket lines of the air traffic controllers and go to work. And that’s just what these union members did. Union pilots, flight attendants, delivery truck drivers, baggage handlers — they all crossed the line and helped to break the strike. And union members of all stripes crossed the picket lines and continued to fly.”

That was the beginning of the end … and the end has been the past thirty years.

“Reagan and the Republicans knew they could get away with anything — and they did. They slashed taxes on the rich. They made it harder for you to start a union at your workplace. They eliminated safety regulations on the job. They ignored the monopoly laws and allowed thousands of companies to merge or be bought out and closed down. Corporations froze wages and threatened to move overseas if the workers didn’t accept lower pay and less benefits. And when the workers agreed to work for less, they moved the jobs overseas anyway….

Bit by bit, piece by piece, in the ensuing 30 years, those in power have destroyed the middle class of our country and, in turn, have wrecked the future for our young people. Wages have remained stagnant for 30 years. Take a look at the statistics and you can see that every decline we’re now suffering with had its beginning in 1981 (here‘s a little scene to illustrate that from my last movie).

Thirty Years Ago, Today. When is enough enough?

From → Economy, Politics

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