I’ve been thinking of JFK and of those hard-luck cases who work at places like McDonald’s and Walmart. (There but for the grace of God and the wearing of a clown uniform go I.)
Those who are old enough can recall exactly where they were 50 years ago when JFK was killed, but I’ll bet few of them recall when the fight to wipe out poverty, a key factor in Kennedy’s New Frontier spiel, turned into acceptance of the widening gap between rich and poor. No, worse than that — acceptance of the idea that government’s main job is to ensure the rich get richer at the expense of the rest of us.
The union-busting Ronald Reagan had something to do with it, but there wouldn’t have been a Reagan without the legions of working-class white voters who thought he had their interests at heart.
From Noam Chomsky, with my boldings:
We don’t use the term “working class” [in America] because it’s a taboo term. You’re supposed to say “middle class,” because it helps diminish the understanding that there’s a class war going on.
It’s true that there was a one-sided class war, and that’s because the other side hadn’t chosen to participate, so the union leadership had for years pursued a policy of making a compact with the corporations, in which their workers — say, the autoworkers —- would get certain benefits like fairly decent wages, health benefits and so on. But it wouldn’t engage the general class structure. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why Canada has a national health program and the United States doesn’t. The same unions on the other side of the border were calling for health care for everybody. Here they were calling for health care for themselves and they got it. Of course, it’s a compact with corporations that the corporations can break anytime they want, and by the 1970s they were planning to break it and we’ve seen what has happened since.
How’s that “compact with the corporations” working for you now, former labor unionists and ex-members of the middle class?
Footnote: The income gap between rich and poor has been growing since the 1970s. Ninety-five percent of the gains made in recovery from the 2008 crash have gone to the richest one percent of Americans.
Another: A recent piece by Peter Turchin attempts to put our era of growing economic inequality in historical perspective.