Saturday, October 4, 2008

WORKING CLASS POLITICS

Richard Sennett, Guardian, UK - When I began interviewing manual, clerical and sales workers in the 1970s, what most struck me was how much they personalize their experiences on the job, in contrast to their European equivalents. Americans view where they stand in society as a barometer of who they are as individuals, while Europeans tend to put more distance between their personal life and the circumstances of their jobs. This difference has remained throughout all the changes in the economy, patterns of migration and the loss of many American jobs overseas in the past 30 . . .

The problem Senator Obama faces is that everything about his life story - his origins as an outsider, his academic achievements, his decision to eschew making money in order to lend a helping hand to the poor - reads as a positive to working-class negatives. His life story seems to put ordinary people to shame, and the more he repeats this story, the more they manage shame - as we all do - through anger and resentment.

One thing I've learned about political messages targeted at the working class is that declaring "the system has screwed you" is likely to backfire. It casts the listener into the role of victim, a role which workers find demeaning. Better crafted political language is more impersonal, as in "there's something wrong with the system"; such messages treat everyone as in the same boat.

One issue the Obama campaign needs to think through is that the mantra of "change you can believe in" runs up against a streak of fatalism in the American working class. This fatalism has a particular cast. Lower-level workers tend to be treated on the job as invisible. The centre-left agenda for reform has seldom focused on such bread-and-butter issues as better vocational schools, insurance against industrial accidents, or skills-development programs for salesmen, secretaries and clerks; these issues don't register on the political radar just because they are so ordinary, so boring, so unexciting. The fatalism of American workers emerges as a result: those who say they are on your side don't see you.

The right has done nothing more substantial for these workers, but it has offered two cultural substitutes: nationalism and nostalgia. To make "change you can believe in" credible, the changes have to be more concrete. . .

1 Comments:

At October 4, 2008 1:03 PM, Anonymous Workers would be naive to expect more than bs from Ob(bs)ama said...

"The Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, lobbied hard for the bankers’ bailout, according to reps and senators receiving his phone calls. Obama voted for the package of course, and so did the vice presidential Democratic nominee, Joe Biden...
In the crunch, almost invariably, Obama does the wrong thing and in my opinion he always will. Just count out the moments of surrender: reauthorize the Patriot Act? Aye, from Obama. The “class action fairness act”, sought by Big Business for years. Aye from Obama. Capping credit card interest rates? No-o-o from Obama. FISA? Aye from Obama. With Robert Rubin at his side, his bailout vote was as sure as that of the harlot of the credit card companies, the six-term senator from Delaware, Joe Biden. " Alexander Cockburn

 

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