_ Working class people in America today really have no safe harbor,
even in a pandemic that has real unemployment hovering around 20
percent, the highest since the Great Depression. _
“Let’s be quite honest, as much as Joe Biden is here to support
us, he’s not here to support us. He’s literally going to stand
here, smile, wave, maybe do a speech and then go home,” Gilson said.
, Kenneal Patterson
OXFORD, Miss. - I remember being very impressed with the young senator
from Illinois as he spoke at the 2005 AFL-CIO national convention in
Chicago about the dignity of the worker and the bold history of the
labor movement in this country.
“They could have accepted their lot in life or waited for someone
else to save them,” Barack Obama told the crowd of thousands.
“Through their actions they risked life and living. They chose to
act. In time, they won. … It started with hope, and it ended with
the fulfillment of a long-held ideal. A humble band of laborers
against an industrial giant – an unlikely triumph against the
greatest odds – a story as American as any.”
A few years later, as Obama became president, he saw those promises
and dreams plunge into the abyss of the Great Recession as countless
workers lost their homes and their livelihood. So what did the
nation’s first African American president do? He assembled an
all-star Wall Street insider group of advisers—Larry Summers,
Timothy Geithner, Rahm Emanuel--to help him guide American Business
back to safe harbor. Banks were too big to fail, and corporate
bailouts were the order of the day.
As for those laborers whose praises Obama sang in Chicago, they got no
bailouts and they struggled as best they could to survive.
Working class people in America today really have no safe harbor, even
in a pandemic that has real unemployment hovering around 20 percent,
the highest since the Great Depression. The Republican Party, as
always, looks at them with deep suspicion that they’re all either
freeloaders or potential freeloaders who want an easy ride on the back
of the billionaire class that funds the GOP and the journalists and
preachers who use their podiums to teach obedience.
In the White House is a renegade Republican who talked the talk to
working people on the campaign trail but who never walked the walk. He
serves the bosses, not the people who work under them. He orders
meatpackers and poultry workers back to work but says nothing to the
owners to make sure the workplace is safe. He even promised those
owners protection from liability. Like your typical cookie cutter
Republican, he is contemptuous of government oversight and safety
During the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon
Johnson, workers could turn to the Democratic Party as a loyal ally.
However, the party largely abandoned the working class after the 1960s
and became the party of identity politics where one’s race, gender,
and sexual orientation, not class, are paramount to one’s identity.
Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden, who now will lead the party
in this year’s presidential election (among his likely advisers is
Obama’s old hand Larry Summers), liked to boast their credentials as
men of the people, but they led a party too beholden to its corporate
donors and too bereft of a true uniting vision to speak to regular
folks any more. That’s why many of those folks, out of desperation,
turned to the empty promises of the demagogue who now occupies the
White House. At least he offered them the illusion of a promise,
certainly more than what Bill and Hillary Clinton ever offered.
Bernie Sanders was a ray of hope to working people, but he has largely
joined the party machinery since his abdication. Perhaps he tired of
being an outsider in the millionaires club that the U.S. Senate still
The current pandemic has exposed the ugliness of the American economy,
where workers depend on the management class for their health
insurance, which those workers lose when they lose their jobs.
Income inequality is at a 50-year high in the United States, which
Donald Trump loved to boast as the world’s greatest economy before
the coronavirus landed on our shores.
This is a nation where the prison system has become the world’s
largest gulag, and struggling minorities and immigrants sit in its
barbaric cells for months, even years, before they can receive a
semblance of justice. Watch as those prisoners become an increasingly
popular source of cheap labor. That’s what happened when sanitation
workers in New Orleans went on strike earlier this month to protest
their $10.25-an-hour average wages and unsafe working conditions
during the pandemic. They were fired and replaced by prison inmates
making $1.33 an hour.
Still more and more workers are rising up. Teamsters are once again
revolting against the Hoffa dynasty that has compromised the union’s
mission as a voice for laboring people. Smithfield Foods workers have
protested the lack of safety measures in their jobs.
“At the edge of despair, in the shadow of hopelessness, ordinary
people make the extraordinary decision that if we stand together, we
rise together,” Obama told the crowd that day in Chicago in 2005.
“And we do.”
He was right. Obama was always good at speeches. He told the truth, a
lived truth and the only hope for American workers, and they don’t
need a politician to tell them that it is true.
Joseph B. Atkins is a veteran writer and professor of journalism at
the University of Mississippi. He is the author of Covering for the
Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press (University Press of Mississippi,
2008) and the novel Casey’s Last Chance (Sartoris Literary Group,
2015). His blog is [link removed]
[[link removed]], and he can be reached at [email protected]