Michael Moore says he’s often asked by younger people, “When did America’s downward slide begin?” And he is able to give them an exact date: August 5, 1981. That’s exactly thirty years ago from August 5, 2011, the day Moore wrote a moving blog entry commemorating the day when President Reagan fired every member of the air traffic controllers union who defied his order to return to work. He not only fired them (after being on strike a mere two days), he outlawed their union, PATCO. According to Michael Moore, this event marked the beginning of the dismantling of the middle class in America. He gives us the backstory to the event:
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.
Reagan promised to end all that. So when the air traffic controllers went on strike, he seized the moment. In getting rid of every single last one of them and outlawing their union, he sent a clear and strong message: The days of everyone having a comfortable middle class life were over.
Michael wants those of us who are older to remember how it was before the corporate/Wall Street takeover of America. And he wants younger people, born after 1981, to know that things don’t have to be how they are now. Even though I was an adult at the time, to me his description of life in America before August 5, 1981, reads like a utopian novel or a fairy tale. I had forgotten how painful and deep the losses have been, because, like others, I’ve just adapted to new realities and a more stress filled life. According to Michael, before the PATCO firings:
- Working people could raise a family and send the kids to college on just one parent’s income (and that college in states like California and New York was almost free).
- Anyone who wanted a decent paying job could get one.
- People only worked five days a week, eight hours a day, got the whole weekend off and had a paid vacation every summer.
- 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.
Even though I’ve lived through this period, It’s difficult to read this list and to comprehend how different life has become in the United States for working people. And the attacks continue. Wall Street backed Democrats and Republicans are trying to cut away at the final legacy of the New Deal, the safety nets of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. My questions for them is: Just how much money is enough? Michael reflects:
And we let it happen to us. Yes, they had the money, and the media and the cops. But we had 200 million of us. Ever wonder what it would look like if 200 million got truly upset and wanted their country, their life, their job, their weekend, their time with their kids back?
Have we all just given up? What are we waiting for? Forget about the 20% who support the Tea Party—we are the other 80%! This decline will only end when we demand it. And not through an online petition or a tweet. We are going to have to turn the TV and the computer and the video games off and get out in the streets (like they’ve done in Wisconsin). Some of you need to run for local office next year. We need to demand that the Democrats either get a spine and stop taking corporate money—or step aside.
When is enough, enough? The middle class dream will not just magically reappear. Wall Street’s plan is clear: America is to be a nation of Haves and Have Nothings. Is that OK for you?
A good question. . .
Photo credit: StretchyBill @Flickr Creative Commons