American workers are afraid of losing their jobs. That’s obvious. I have a step-granddaughter who worked part time at a gas station/convenience store in west St. Louis County while she was working on a two-year degree in early childhood education. Fortunately, she was able to leave the gas station and the owner’s blatantly illegal demands on his employees when she nabbed a job working with 3 and 4 year old kids.
She and the other workers at the gas station were allowed NO breaks except to go to the bathroom. In fact, that was the only time she got to sit down because there wasn’t even a stool behind the counter. They had to eat behind the counter when there were no customers in the store. Sometimes a shift would go past the 8 hour day, and, of course there was no overtime pay. There was supposed to be a policy that no one had to stay alone in the store after 10 p.m., but somehow there never were enough employees to fill that time slot.
This goes on all over the country every day and every night. Democrats have been asking for years why people vote against their own economic interests and keep electing the politicians who vote to screw them over. Robert Reich says it’s because they are afraid of losing their jobs. Fear works. That’s disgustingly and sadly obvious in West Virginia. Even the Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is in the pocket of the coal industry. He said recently that we shouldn’t criticize Big Coal because we wouldn’t have the country we have without it. He was right in more ways than one. We wouldn’t have the pollution, global warming and disastrous changes in our weather patterns caused by climate change.
For decades, Republicans used their holier-than-thou righteous megaphone to convince voters that to be “pro-life” was the way they could save themselves from eternal damnation. Abortion, contraception, pushing back all the advances women have made since the 1960’s – this worked for a long time. Now the anti-abortion bills in state legislatures are getting so ridiculous that the Republicans can’t rely on that anymore.
But they don’t have to because over the past few decades – yes, since Reagan fired the air traffic controllers – there has been a steady erosion of workers’ rights and the power of unions to protect their members.
The level of unemployment in our country is still a national disgrace despite some new jobs being created and a few companies calling back workers who were laid off during the Great Recession. The Republicans are doing everything they can to hurt the poor, according to Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sound too harsh? Maybe. But it’s true. And why do the Republicans want to hurt the poor? So they won’t have the courage to object to terrible, unsafe working conditions and wages that force even someone working 40 hours a week to live on the streets.
As long as megacorporations can keep us scared to death of an even worse fate, they have us by the short hairs. They can abuse workers who speak up like Wal-Mart did to some who protested on Black Friday. Supposedly Wal-Mart is being taken to court because those protests were perfectly legal, but what do you think the chances are that their employees will have the courage to do that again?
Desperate people do desperate things. Fear is a powerful motivator. I’m sure there is a connection between this fear of losing what little we own in the rush to buy more and more guns and ammo. This seige mentality works to keep us in our selfish little enclaves and closing our eyes to the violence and destruction in our communities.
Who knows where all this fear mongering will lead? It might make millions of Americans so angry that they finally rise up and throw off the yoke of desperation. Or we may continue losing strength in numbers and look more and more like workers in those countries where the factory owner has to put netting around a building to keep trapped workers from committing suicide.
A social movement needs charismatic leaders and courageous followers.
I hope I live long enough to be part of the next Progressive Era.
This post was written in response to an article by Bill Moyers.