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Political Consciousness and the American Dream


John Simkin
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In a survey carried out in 2008 in the US by Pew Research, 91% of those interviewed claimed they were middle-class. In sociological terms, only 45% of people in the US are members of the middle class with 54% being members of the working-class or under-class. Less than 1% of the US population is considered to be members of the upper-class.

In a study in 2005 only 2% of Americans described themselves as “rich”, 31% thought it very likely or somewhat likely they would “ever be rich”. The latest official statistics show that just 1% of Americans own 42.7% of all financial worth. The next 19% own 50.3%. In other words, the bottom 80% own only 7% of all financial worth.

There appears to be a difference between people’s perceptions of reality and the facts of the situation. It seems that the US population has bought into the myth of the “American Dream”. It shows the power of the mass media to develop a false political consciousness. It also explains why the US electorate votes mainly for two political parties that support the status quo.

I am interested to hear from American members whether the political situation will ever change in the foreseeable future.

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In a survey carried out in 2008 in the US by Pew Research, 91% of those interviewed claimed they were middle-class. In sociological terms, only 45% of people in the US are members of the middle class with 54% being members of the working-class or under-class. Less than 1% of the US population is considered to be members of the upper-class.

In a study in 2005 only 2% of Americans described themselves as "rich", 31% thought it very likely or somewhat likely they would "ever be rich". The latest official statistics show that just 1% of Americans own 42.7% of all financial worth. The next 19% own 50.3%. In other words, the bottom 80% own only 7% of all financial worth.

There appears to be a difference between people's perceptions of reality and the facts of the situation. It seems that the US population has bought into the myth of the "American Dream". It shows the power of the mass media to develop a false political consciousness. It also explains why the US electorate votes mainly for two political parties that support the status quo.

I am interested to hear from American members whether the political situation will ever change in the foreseeable future.

Well, for one, if you compare the worst off in America - those below the middle class and even those below the poverty level, they earn ten times as much as most of the people in the world, so they certainly are better off.

The two party system has been shown to be a farce, and doesn't work effectively, especially in Congress, and there are movements to develop solid third parties - and some are moderately successful, like independents, the Libertarians, and the emerging Tea Party.

I was never surveyed by the Pew people, who I suspect are the big oil/private foundation CIA grants funders, though the one poll that they did originate and I quote frequently is the one they started on the confidence of the American public in their government, which has been in steady decline since the assassination of President Kennedy and has never let up.

One American's opinion.

BK

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United States: Wisconsin workers raise the stakes

Sunday, February 27, 2011

wisconsin_protest_feb_19_2011_by_mrbula_flickr_4.jpg

February 19 rally for workers' rights, Madison. Photo from mrbula/flikr. A huge battle of the right of public sector workers to organise has broken out in the state of Wisconsin. In response to a law pushed by Republican Governor Scott Walker, protesters have held a sit-in at the state legislature in Madison, Wisconsin’s capital, since February 14.

The law would combine cuts to wages and conditions with a ban on collective bargaining for many public sector workers.

Over the next two days, teachers began ad hoc industrial action by phoning in sick and thousands of high school students walked out of class to join protests in Madison. Protesters carried placards such as “Welcome to Cairo” and made comparisons between Walker and the fallen Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Thousands of people besieged the state legislature to prevent a vote from taking place. All 14 Democrat Senators refused to turn up, in order to deny the legislature quorum. In response to the threat from Walker to send state troopers to capture them and force them to show up, all Democrat Senators fled the state.

Huge protests by public sector workers and their supporters have continued. On February 21, the South Central Federation of Labor, an umbrella organisation representing more than 45,000 workers in Wisconsin, voted for a general strike if Walker’s bill passes the state legislature, the February 22 BusinessInsider.com said.

In the early hours of February 25, Republicans rammed the bill through the state assembly. However, it must still pass the Senate, which does not have quorum as long as the Democrat senators remain out of the state.

Protests have continued and even won support from some of the police. Salon.com said on February 26 that more than 100 police officers joined the sit-in in the legislature. Red Ant Liberation Army quoted a participant in the sit in, who said police arrived, informed the crowd they had instructions to clear them out and then announced they refused to do so and were joining the protesters.

Robin Gee is an editor at Madison Area Technical College, a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 3872 and delegate to the Madison-area South Central Federation of Labor. In the article below, published at SocialistWorker.org on February 22, Gee describes the efforts to block Walker’s union-busting bill.

* * *

After a weekend that included one of the largest protests in Wisconsin history, union activists and the Madison-area labour council have continued organising to oppose all provisions of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting “budget repair bill”.

About 40 labour and student activists gathered on February 21 to discuss the next steps in building a “no concessions” campaign against Walker’s bill.

The bill would not only strip public-sector unions of meaningful collective bargaining rights, but also slash pay by forcing public employees to cover 12.6% of their health insurance costs and contribute 5.8% of their pay toward their pensions.

The bill would also force 65,000 people off the Medicaid rolls and gut BadgerCare, the healthcare program for low-income children.

Our group, which named itself the Kill the Whole Bill Coalition, was formed in part to counter some union officials’' public offer of concessions. Marty Biel, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 24, has stated publicly that his union would be willing to accept cuts in pay and benefits, and even bow to a two-year “freeze” on collective bargaining if Walker agrees to return to bargaining in 2013.

But that’s not acceptable to many public-sector workers in Wisconsin, who would see their income slashed by as much as 20% under Walker’s plan.

With the huge numbers of non-union working people actively in support of our struggle, it’s important that we stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable people in our state.

That same sentiment was shared by delegates to Wisconsin’s South Central Federation of Labor (SCFL), the umbrella organisation for unions representing 45,000 workers in the six-county area around Madison.

When I announced the formation of the Kill the Whole Bill Coalition, the news was welcomed with cheers.

SCFL delegates voted to endorse a national general strike in the event that Walker signs the bill, and designated a committee to educate and prepare our members for such an action.

There was virtually no debate on whether we should endorse a general strike — only how to prepare for one. No one argued for accepting concessions.

We have already made concessions for many years, and we’ve got to the point where we've got nothing left to give.

For example, members of AFSCME Local 171 are preparing video interviews with their members who work full-time yet receive food stamps.

The meeting also celebrated the solidarity on display in this fight. Workers talked about how student struggles inspired them in this last week of struggle — and some students spoke about how they were moved by the unions’ fight, too.

Many acknowledged the important role of members of Madison Teachers Inc., who remained off the job for a fourth school day in a row.

The endorsement of a general strike by South Central Federation of Labor followed a weekend in which labour flexed its muscles for the first time in decades.

On February 19, more than 70,000 people marched in and around the capitol building to chants of “kill the bill” and “protect union rights”. It was the sixth day of ongoing protests and an occupation of the building itself.

Students and others, led by the University of Wisconsin (UW) graduate employees union, the Teaching Assistants’ Association union, have been sleeping in at the Capitol since February 14 to the building under the control of workers.

They have since been joined by workers from many different unions, including the firefighters and the steelworkers.

The floor is hard and most get little sleep, but participants in the overnight occupation feel that it’s worth the discomfort to maintain the “people’s capitol” and to continue the momentum of the movement.

The sense of solidarity is contagious, with musical performances until midnight or later.

Many who turned out on February 19 were excited about their chance to spend the night in the capitol. “It’s been one of the best experiences of my life,” said Liza Brown, a 19-year-old college student at UW Milwaukee.

On February 19, there was also the first organised opposition to the anti-Walker protesters, with a small contingent of Tea Party activists turning out.

Police generously estimated the group at between 1500 and 2000.

They were mostly contained to one side of the Capitol and drowned out by the throngs of union activists who continued to chant against the bill.

A few Tea Party counter-demonstrators tried to goad people into a confrontation, but the event remained peaceful — so much so that the local police issued a press release thanking the protesters.

Still, sentiment ran high whenever pro-union demonstrators encountered the right-wingers. One Tea Party activist held a sign reading: “I would have come down here earlier, but I had to work.”

Seeing the sign, several workers shouted: “Who do you think gave you the weekend?”

Another held a sign chiding teachers for being greedy and unwilling to cooperate.

High school teacher Rhett Hanson countered: “Teachers have always been willing to make concessions when our districts were suffering and they asked us to. We’ve been giving since 1993, and we’re still giving.

“But we know we were not in bad shape when he got in. We had a surplus, but Walker held a closed session and gave corporations tax breaks totalling [uS]$140 million.”

Workers were angry, but the crowd was upbeat. Many families brought their children for an impromptu civics lesson.

The importance of the moment was not lost on anyone.

“America is waking up!” said Kirk Danhouser, a city maintenance worker and member of AFSCME Local 60. “They used to say ‘Remember the Alamo’. Well, now they’ll say ‘Remember Wisconsin!’”

The crowd included contingents of high school students, immigrant rights activists and several groups of private-sector union members, including Teamsters and members of building trades locals. Many people carried signs calling for no concessions.

“This is about America — our neighbors are here,” said Gerard Runde, a UPS worker in Madison and member of Teamsters Local 344. “This affects all workers in Wisconsin. I wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

High school students join a rally against Walker’s anti-union bill on February 15.

Police officers join the occupation of Wisconsin’s legislature in Madison.

‘I'm a union man ... someone asked me why I'm going to Madison and I said its because they are making history in Madison.’ Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morrello performs his Nightwatchman track “Union Song” to protesters in Madison on February 21.

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From GLW issue 870

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In a survey carried out in 2008 in the US by Pew Research, 91% of those interviewed claimed they were middle-class. In sociological terms, only 45% of people in the US are members of the middle class with 54% being members of the working-class or under-class. Less than 1% of the US population is considered to be members of the upper-class.

In a study in 2005 only 2% of Americans described themselves as "rich", 31% thought it very likely or somewhat likely they would "ever be rich". The latest official statistics show that just 1% of Americans own 42.7% of all financial worth. The next 19% own 50.3%. In other words, the bottom 80% own only 7% of all financial worth.

There appears to be a difference between people's perceptions of reality and the facts of the situation. It seems that the US population has bought into the myth of the "American Dream". It shows the power of the mass media to develop a false political consciousness. It also explains why the US electorate votes mainly for two political parties that support the status quo.

I am interested to hear from American members whether the political situation will ever change in the foreseeable future.

Well, for one, if you compare the worst off in America - those below the middle class and even those below the poverty level, they earn ten times as much as most of the people in the world, so they certainly are better off.

That it is true if you are happy to compare the US to the undeveloped world. However, you do very badly if you compare the US with the developed world.

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United States: Wisconsin battle heats up, anti-union measures spread

Sunday, March 6, 2011 By Phil Orchard

wisconsin-protests_from_reid_report_blog.jpg

Protest in Madison in against Wisconsin Govenor Scott Walker’s anti-union bill. The protests that began on February 14 in Madison, Wisconsin against an anti-union bill have continued to grow. On February 26, an estimated 100,000 people defied sub-zero temperatures to rally against the bill.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s bill would outlaw collective bargaining for public sector workers, as well as slash pay and conditions.

However, several events have combined to compound pressure on public sector workers and unions resisting the attacks. It remains to be seen whether this pressure will result in the proposed bill becoming law.

One twist in Wisconsin’s ongoing saga was reported by Lindsey Boerma from Nationaljournal.com on March 3. She said Wisconsin’s Republican senators passed a resolution “ordering police to take their 14 Democratic colleagues who fled the state two weeks ago” into custody.

All 14 Democratic senators in Wisconsin fled the state to deny the state legislature quorum in a bid to stop the bill being passed.

Threatened by Walker with being kidnapped by police and dragged to the legislature, the senators went into hiding on February 17.

Boerma said “state lawmakers voted to impose a $100-a-day fine on the runaway senators”. Boerma reported Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald justified the fines by saying the Democrats “have pushed us to the edge of a constitutional crisis”.

The resolution came as a Wisconsin judge ruled in favour of removing protesters that have been occupying the state’s capitol building, which houses the legislature.

Workers, students and supporters have occupied the building, day and night, since February 14.

HuffingtonPost.com said on March 3: “Dane County Circuit Judge John Albert ruled … that protesters remaining in the [state capitol] building should be immediately removed.”

Raising the stakes even further, Walker has issued layoff warnings to public sector workers. The March 3 New York Times said Walker will “begin issuing layoff warnings to unions representing 1,500 state employees on Friday [March 4].”

Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, told the HuffingtonPost.com on February 28 that “more than 2000 teachers had received non-renewal notices as of Monday”.

Bell said: “All of this turmoil, all of this chaos, are examples that Walker’s proposals are too extreme.”

The details of Walker’s budget cutting measures were officially announced on March 1 in a full budget speech. A March 2 NYT editorial said Walker’s proposed budget “would cut aid to school districts and local governments by nearly $1 billion over two years”.

In a statement to the media, state superintendent Tony Evers made plain the consequences of Walker’s proposed budget-repair bill. Evers told HuffingtonPost.com that “when you make unprecedented and historic cuts like these to schools, it means teachers are laid off, class sizes are larger, course offerings are reduced … and whole parts of what we value in our schools are gone”.

Widespread anger against Walker’s proposals is fuelled by the fact that while using the state’s deficit to justify the anti-worker measures, the governor handed corporations a US$140 million tax break in January.

One of Wisconsin’s self-exiled Democratic senators, Jon Erpenbach, told the February 28 New York Times that Walker was not telling the whole truth.

Erpenbach said: “He’s not being honest. Piece by piece, public employees will be shown the door and then replaced by private contractors with no accountability … These are the first steps he needs to take to privatise the state.”

HuffingtonPost.com said on March 3 that anti-union measures proposed in Wisconsin were being repeated in Ohio.

The article said: “The bargaining rights of public workers in Ohio would be dramatically reduced and strikes would be banned under a bill narrowly passed by the state senate.”

The law means unions would no longer be able to negotiate health care, sick time or pension benefits. It also does away with automatic pay rises.

Democratic Senator Edna Brown told HuffingtonPost.com: “This bill tilts the balance of power toward management and does not give one new right to employees.”

A series of copycat bills have been proposed in states across the US. No less than 12 states have proposed similar bills to the one that has sparked a huge struggle by workers in Wisconsin, Nationaljournal.com said.

The bills would severely limit the ability of workers to collectively bargain. They would also largely place the burden of reversing budget deficits on working people.

Two major polls have illustrated the lack of popular support for these measures.

The NYT and CBS News conducted the first poll from February 24- 27.

The NYT said on February 28: “Americans oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions by a margin of nearly two to one: 60 percent to 33 percent.”

More than half of those surveyed, 56%, said they “opposed cutting the pay or benefits of public employees to reduce deficits”.

The NYT said “those polled preferred tax increases over benefit cuts for state workers by nearly two to one”.

The Wall Street Journal and NBC News conducted the second poll from February 24-28. This poll focused on broader, national economic questions.

However, the sentiments expressed aligned with the results of the NYT/CBS News poll.

The WSJ said on May 3: “Less than a quarter of Americans support making significant cuts to Social Security or Medicare to tackle the country’s mounting deficit.”

The WSJ said this result illustrates “the challenge facing lawmakers who want voter buy-in to alter entitlement programs”.

The article said: “More than seven in 10 tea party backers feared GOP [Republican] lawmakers would not go far enough in cutting spending. But at the same time, more than half of all Americans feared Republicans would go too far.”

The results of both polls suggest that the public outcry and protests in Wisconsin cannot be dismissed as simply a unilateral response by unions. Instead, the polls indicate large-scale opposition to the so-called budget-repair.

Julia Edwards and Kevin Brennan, in a March 2 Nationaljournal.com article, compared the spread of dissent from Wisconsin to the spread of revolutionary unrest in North Africa and the Middle East.

They wrote: “2011 is the year of protest — both foreign and domestic.”

Describing the spread of protests from Wisconsin to other states like Ohio, Nevada, Indiana and New Jersey, Edwards and Brennan said Wisconsin “may wind up as the Egypt of the Midwest”.

How the struggle on the streets of Wisconsin plays out remains to be seen. One thing is certain though, US workers have rediscovered their voice.

Democracy Now! report on the 100,000-strong protest

Madison, February 26.

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From GLW issue 871

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Green Bay Packers vs ‘Hosni’ Walker

Sunday, March 6, 2011 By Dave Zirin

green_bay_packers.jpg

The Wisconsin-based National Football League (NFL) team Green Bay Packers — the only fan-owned, non-profit franchise in major US sports — won the Super Bowl on February 6, bringing the Lombardi trophy back to Wisconsin.

But now, past and present members of the “People’s Team” are girding up for one more fight, and this time, it’s against their own governor, Scott Walker.

Walker, after the Super Bowl victory, bathed himself sensuously in the team’s triumph, declaring at a public ceremony that February was now Packers Month. He oozed praise for the franchise named in honour of the state’s packing workers.

But just days later, the governor offered cutbacks, contempt and even the threat of violence for actual state workers.

Walker unveiled plans to strip all public workers of collective bargaining rights and dramatically slash the wages and health benefits of every nurse, teacher and state employee.

Then, Walker proclaimed that resistance to these moves would be met with a response from the Wisconsin National Guard. Seriously.

In advance of any debate over his proposal, Walker put the National Guard on alert by saying that the guard is “prepared” for “whatever the governor, their commander-in-chief, might call for”.

Considering that the state of Wisconsin hasn’t called in the National Guard since 1886, these bizarre threats did more than raise eyebrows. They provoked rage.

Robin Eckstein, a former Wisconsin National Guard member, told the February 15 Huffington Post: “Maybe the new governor doesn’t understand yet — but the National Guard is not his own personal intimidation force to be mobilized to quash political dissent.

“The Guard is to be used in case of true emergencies and disasters, to help the people of Wisconsin, not to bully political opponents.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have marched at various protests around the state with signs such as “If Egypt Can Have Democracy, Why Can’t Wisconsin?”, “We Want Governors Not Dictators” and the pithy “Hosni Walker”.

But also intriguing is the intervention from past and present members of the Super Bowl Champs.

Current players Brady Poppinga and Jason Spitz and former Packers Curtis Fuller, Chris Jacke, Charles Jordan, Bob Long and Steve Okoniewski issued the following statement on February 15: “We know that it is teamwork on and off the field that makes the Packers and Wisconsin great. As a publicly owned team, we wouldn’t have been able to win the Super Bowl without the support of our fans.

“It is the same dedication of our public workers every day that makes Wisconsin run. They are the teachers, nurses and child-care workers who take care of us and our families.

“But now in an unprecedented political attack, Governor Walker is trying to take away their right to have a voice and bargain at work. The right to negotiate wages and benefits is a fundamental underpinning of our middle class.

“When workers join together, it serves as a check on corporate power and helps ALL workers by raising community standards.

“Wisconsin’s longstanding tradition of allowing public sector-workers to have a voice on the job has worked for the state since the 1930s. It has created greater consistency in the relationship between labor and management and a shared approach to public work.

“These public workers are Wisconsin’s champions every single day, and we urge the governor and the state legislature to not take away their rights.”

The latest member of the team to stand strong with Wisconsin's working families is Charles Woodson, the Packers’ defensive icon.

A former Heisman trophy winner at the University of Michigan, NFL defensive player of the year and perennial Pro Bowler, his voice will evoke cheers at the capital and shock waves in the governor’s office.

In his statement, he said: “Last week, I was proud when many of my current and former teammates announced their support for the working families fighting for their rights in Wisconsin. Today, I am honored to join with them.

“Thousands of dedicated Wisconsin public workers provide vital services for Wisconsin citizens. They are the teachers, nurses and child-care workers who take care of us and our families.

“These hard-working people are under an unprecedented attack to take away their basic rights to have a voice and collectively bargain at work.”

Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers hasn’t spoken out yet, but give it time. Rodgers is the Packers union representative in negotiations with the NFL, and on February 15, the players union issued its own statement in support of state workers.

The statement said: “The NFL Players Association will always support efforts protecting a worker's right to join a union and collectively bargain. Today, the NFLPA stands in solidarity with its organized labor brothers and sisters in Wisconsin.”

The support of the Packers players hasn’t been lost on those marching in the streets.

Aisha Robertson, a public school teacher from Madison, told me: “It’s great to see Packers join the fight against Walker. Their statement of support shows they stand with us. It gives us inspiration and courage to go and fight peacefully for our most basic rights.”

Walker no doubt envisioned conflict when he rolled out his plan to roll over the workers of Wisconsin. But I don’t think he foresaw having to go toe-to-toe with the Green Bay Packers.

As we learned in Egypt, envisioning unforeseen consequences is never an autocrat’s strong suit. As we're learning in Wisconsin, fighting austerity is not an Egyptian issue or a Middle Eastern issue — it's a political reality of the 21st century world.

And as Walker is learning, messing with cheeseheads (as Packers fans are known) can be hazardous to your political health.

[Reprinted from Zirin’s site, www.edgeofsports.com .]

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From GLW issue 871

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“We know that it is teamwork on and off the field that makes the Packers and Wisconsin great. As a publicly owned team, we wouldn’t have been able to win the Super Bowl without the support of our fans.

“It is the same dedication of our public workers every day that makes Wisconsin run. They are the teachers, nurses and child-care workers who take care of us and our families.

“But now in an unprecedented political attack, Governor Walker is trying to take away their right to have a voice and bargain at work. The right to negotiate wages and benefits is a fundamental underpinning of our middle class.

“When workers join together, it serves as a check on corporate power and helps ALL workers by raising community standards."

It is good to see sportsmen becoming politically active in their community.

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