“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, July 10, 2006

fuck the poor

I was corresponding with one of my best friends, M., who lives in Polanco. We were talking about the elections in Mexico, and M. mentioned that the absenteeism of the poor had doomed Obrador’s campaign.

I replied that, as for the poor, I have one opinion: fuck the poor.

It is a sign of the unhealthiness of liberal-left culture that the working class has been discarded as a pragmatic political category. I hated Obrador’s slogan, the poor first. What poor? We are talking here about the producers of wealth in any society whatsoever. This isn’t a simple linguistic matter – this is all about a very pernicious shift in attitudes. Once one decides to let class definitions sift out of politics – and that is something that leftists are pretty comfortable with, since there is nothing they are more uncomfortable with than, say, blue collar white guys –why, then they can pursue a fake politics of slogans and demos and endless defeat to their hearts content.

The poor, those bugeyed people with bugeyed kids thrusting out their hands create a satisfying catalytic response in many a lefty, who are able to take a sufficiently broad minded, charitable view that they are all ‘for’ the poor. Usually, this view begins by stripping these ‘poor’ of all autonomy. I have been to a lot of blog sites to see what has been said about the elections in Mexico, and there is one response that is just infuriating to me. It is that Obrador had to have been cheated since the poor would never vote PAN. Obrador was cheated, but the evidence for it is not in someone's superior view of how the poor voted. This is usually stated with smug confidence by people who are, I am sure, making above 20 thou a year and would be insulted to be told that they should be voting for tax breaks and Republicans. No, these people have a higher mindset – unlike the poor, whom they love so much, they can actually decide things for themselves. They can show some agency. But not those loveable, loveable poor people.

LI was thinking of this when we saw a movie last night: Harlan County, USA. Wonderful documentary that was directed by one of the Winter Soldier filmmakers, Barbara Koppel. The film was made in 1973-1974, and it showed a very aggressive working culture that wasn’t going to take gun thugs and state sponsored police oppression – and would buy its own guns if necessary to defend itself. The people in the movie had a firm sense of themselves as makers of wealth, living at the bottom of the economic spectrum. And Koppel had the good sense not to see these people as the poor – they would have handed her her ass if she had displayed that attitude. So, LI’s recommend today, a companion piece to recent events, is Michael Yates autobiographical essay, “Class: a personal story” in the Monthly Review. Yates was born in the forties, and benefited from the social mobility of the fifties. He can look back and see the costs and motives of what was happening to him and his family.

Here are some good grafs:

“The factory town [where his parents moved] also had a range of small businesses, and a worker could aim for the petty bourgeoisie. My uncle once opened a small restaurant with a fellow worker in an effort to escape the factory and be his own boss. My father had hopes of becoming a radio repairman and later took a correspondence school course to learn drafting. This kind of thinking and acting, while easy to understand, also sapped class consciousness.

As with the miners, the Second World War profoundly affected the ways in which workers thought and acted. On the one hand, the factory men came home from the war unwilling to tolerate the corporate despotism their fathers had suffered before unionization. They struck and filed grievances and won more control over what went on at work than they ever could have imagined before the war. I well remember the two summers I worked in the plant. My grandfather, a time-study engineer, got me a summer job while I was in college. I did mostly clerical work, cataloging accidents and analyzing accident reports to see where and when they were most likely to occur. Many children of workers got such jobs, and the company found this a good way to recruit local college kids into management (as with the miners, parents had mixed feelings about this but in general were proud to help their children to get out of the working class). My job was housed in the fire department—the factory was large enough to have its own. The firemen were typically on-call and often had few regular daytime duties. So they spent a lot of time drinking coffee and talking. The atmosphere was casual, and the supervisors never, while I was there, told the men to do anything. The union officers, themselves full-time union staffers (drawing pay from the company), stopped everyday for coffee. The firemen moved around the plant freely and were good sources of gossip that might be useful to the union. The union president was a gruff man with one arm; he had lost the other to a grinding machine. The vicepresident was a dapper man, a superlative bowler and pool player and
a chronic gambler. Conversation ranged freely from football pools to ongoing disputes with management. I was impressed with the degree of freedom the workers and the union officers had, the product of long years of class struggle after the war most of them had fought in. Without using the word in a sexist way, I would say that the war had made them “men,” and they demanded to be treated as such.

On the other hand, the war and its aftermath locked most of these workers into mainstream America. Wars are always about getting people in one country to hate those in another. If this can be done once, it can be done again; all that is needed is for the state to declare a new enemy. After the war, the new enemy was the Soviet Union and by implication, all radical thinking and acting. It was no accident that the labor movement was held up as an entity infiltrated by communists and that, further, workers would have to repudiate the reds in their unions if they were to maintain membership in U.S. society. War gets people used to obeying orders issued by the state, and this habit of mind worked to good advantage from the employers’ perspective after the war when they strove to regain the power they had lost during the heyday of the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO). Workers who insisted
on trying to deepen what the CIO had achieved before and during the war—greater control by workers of their workplaces, a weakening of racism, solidarity with workers in other countries, the beginnings of a social welfare state—were simply declared enemies of the state, on a par with the Germans and Japanese just defeated in the war. The workers in my hometown, never especially radical to begin with and deeply influenced by the war and by the Catholic Church, bought into the new patriotism of anticommunism wholeheartedly...

"To help workers embrace the Cold War, the government initiated a variety of programs aimed at giving them a greater material stake in U.S. society. The most important of these was the subsidization of home mortgages. Millions of working-class families bought homes on the cheap, usually away from the cities and towns in the new and more isolated and diffuse suburbs. Home ownership came to define the “good life” for workers, and the constant care and worry that had to be devoted to home ownership left workers with little time for anything else, except perhaps to sit around the television every night to live through the characters on the various drama and comedy shows. An enormous amount of propaganda was devoted (and still is) to the wonders of owning a house and the satisfaction to be gained by living in one with a family whose members were devoted to one another. This and the array of consumer goods needed to maintain a home were all that workers needed to be happy.”

1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

Heck. I am glad I was able to squeak into home ownership myself. Am I a victim of the Man? (lol) It's just a small townhouse, but...better than an apartment.