Labor nostaglia

“Again and again, we have traded, voluntarily or involuntarily, the security of the 1950s middle class for greater opportunity, but also greater risk.”

This axiom captures a major source of the communications breakdown that has long affected discussions between Democrats from different regions and different social backgrounds.

It took me a while to figure this out, but after wondering for years about the strong resistance of many traditional Democrats from the midwest and northeast to economic change, I finally began to understand that the 1950s and 1960s represented for them a sort of social democratic “golden age.” It was, if you were a unionized industrial worker in, say, Michigan, an era in which you could graduate from high school, get your union card and go on the line, work your way up, buy a house, raise kids on one salary, maybe even send some or all of them to a state college, and eventually, retire and move to Florida to bask in the sun and maybe bet modest amounts at the greyhound track. Sure, there might be bumps in the road, and periods when you had to rely on strike funds. But this basically secure existence was a reality for many members of what the Marxists called America’s “labor aristocracy.”

Well, where I come from, in the Deep South, this golden age never existed, and the 1950s in particular were a pretty crappy time, especially if you were black, but so, too, if you were white (per capita income in the South was barely more than half of the national average well into that decade). Perhaps if the labor movement’s “Operation Dixie,” aimed at unionizing the textile industry, hadn’t failed so dismally, southern working and middle class people might have begun to experience more of the economic opportunity and security enjoyed by their yankee brethren, but it was not to be.

Huh. I think this might explains what Doug likes to call the “cut the taxes for rich people! I might win lottery someday and benefit!” line of thinking I hear from people who statistically should vote left of economics; mostly southerners. The bit about Warner winning Appalachian VA on a tech/retraining economic platform will Kerry & Gore got slaughtered there is fascinating.