Americans once took pride in their unions. The brave men and woman who stood up to big business and demanded novel things like fair pay, fair hours, and humane working conditions. It has come to the point where big business thinks a person who cannot make ends meet should work 60 hours a week and two jobs. Those who don’t are branded lazy. In fact, we brand anyone who is poor as lazy, forgetting that in 2010 there were 10.5 million working people living below the poverty line. We think that, like the Little Engine That Could, all that a person needs to do is think they can and it will come true. Our pride in unions has diminished and even they are blamed for our circumstances as if it is the line worker at your local utility company that is jet setting across the country, spending millions on fuel, or perhaps we think the school teacher spends summer wandering on their private yacht.
It is a convenient thing to blame someone who the deck is stacked against. Cannot afford school, “well you know school isn’t for everyone,” can’t find an office job, “well they should be happy to have a job in such a bad economy.” Your job doesn’t pay enough, “well some people have to work two jobs.” The list of excuses to distance ourselves emotionally from poverty almost borders on the pathological.
Race is back in the public discourse lately with the outrage and heated opinions surrounding Trayvon Martin and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Race is another way that a person can rationalize an unfair set of circumstances: “It must be their culture,” “I don’t understand those people, if they just worked harder; my people came off the boat too.” Race is the ultimate magic trick, while the magicians are showing you the race card in one hand; they are making the debate about class disappear with the other.
Race is real, in so far as we make decisions based on our perceptions of it. The more it remains in the public consciousness the more real it becomes. Race needs to taken seriously as one major factor, but if it is the exclusive one than there will be a hidden set of oppressions committed upon a diverse group of people who seemingly have nothing in common. When a group of oppressed people do not rally or recognize their sameness, there is no way for them to organize and fight back.
The burden here falls on to the middle class who has abandoned their lower class brothers and sisters; they have forgotten their roots. Their task is to see through race lines and realize that they are one layoff, one medical bill from being a member of the lower class. One mistake, one bad turn and they will find themselves among the lower class that they go such great lengths to distinguish themselves from. This class associates themselves more with the upper class than the lower, even though the odds of them reaching upper class nirvana is far more unlikely than moving down. The middle class is really just the middle man between the upper and lower class, their job is to buffer the lower class from any access to the sort of power that could make changes. We call them middle management, lawyers, politicians, psychologists and psychiatrists and I hate to say it, social workers. Their job is to keep social order and their lively hoods are in the hands of the upper class. If they do not perform their dictated tasks they will be banished to the realm of the lower class.
It is hard to stomach, but on some level the very existence of social work might not be to help the lower class, but to keep things static enough to prevent any major social discord. This is evidenced by the fact that the moment social workers come to a point where a real change can happen, where those we serve can truly be lifted by a cooperation of efforts, we often find our programs and initiatives left unfunded by the upper class.
The middle class’ power is leveraged as the upper class squeezes the middle class to bear the brunt of their greed with increases in cost of living, property taxes and health insurance costs. The closer the middle class comes to that line, the more they stay in line. Middle class people still have not come to the realization that there could be a day when only two classes exists; with whom will they associate themselves in such a case? More interestingly, whose interests seem to define the middle class more, a billionaire CEO or one of the fast food workers who went on strike this week?
Today is Labor Day, it is a day to reflect, not just on our labors, but on the class that determines our labors. It is a day to ponder our fears and hopes for our families and our country. It is a day to recognize whose side we are on, and whose side we should be on if we really had our best interests at heart. All of us immigrants, the ones whose families also came off the boats, should start to recognize that even though we have climbed a few rungs on that social ladder, we still came from the same place. That is where our interests lie and with whom we should put our efforts behind if we want prosperity for our families and our country. There are really only two classes in America, and the entire world for that matter, the upper class and everyone else. It’s time we start recognizing that, especially on Labor Day.
Written by Matthew Cohen
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