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January 2019, Week 2

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 		 [ The social cohesion for a general strike supporting federal
workers is part of America’s past, how about now? ]
[https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE LABOR 

 THE CASE FOR A NATIONAL GENERAL STRIKE PROTESTING TRUMP'S HEARTLESS
SHUTDOWN   [https://portside.org/node/19127] 

 

 Bob Hennelly 
 January 13, 2019
Salon
[https://www.salon.com/2019/01/13/the-case-for-a-national-general-strike-protesting-trumps-heartless-shutdown/]


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 _ The social cohesion for a general strike supporting federal workers
is part of America’s past, how about now? _ 

 People march on January 5, 2019 in La Rochelle during a demonstration
called by the yellow vests (gilets jaunes) movement. , Getty/Photo
Montage by Salon 

 

It is hard to understate the utter disdain and contempt being shown by
President Donald Trump toward the 800,000 federal workers whose lives
he has upended with the government shutdown.

That 400,000 of them have to continue to work without pay, because
they are deemed essential, reduces them to a form of serfdom
which  really amounts to a massive abuse of human rights. 

According to the Washington Post
[https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/politics/shutdown-federal-worker-impact/?utm_term=.f635eed789ec] their  average
salary is around $85,600 a year, but almost 111,000 of them make less
than $50,000, with  thousands of TSA agents
[https://www.federallawenforcement.org/tsa/] making $30,000 a year.

The fact that 40 percent of them are veterans just adds to the
injustice and indignity they’ve suffered at the hands of an out of
control tyrant who came into office pledging to dismantle the federal
government and is doing that with the help of industry players he’s
placed in top positions to help him do it.

The corporate news media, PBS, NPR, et al., are playing this as a
two-dimensional political game starring an unhinged Trump and a newly
invigorated Democratic Congress with the furloughed federal workers as
just extras “who will get paid anyway.”

Make no mistake: Such a wholesale abuse of workers has much broader
implications for the entire nation, where for decades capital (money)
has been kicking labor’s ass -- as our grotesque income and wealth
concentration so amply documents. There’s a direct connection to
this unconscionable abuse of federal workers and everybody else who
survives based on the wages they earn each day.

The government sets the bar as an employer. Every time it violates
laws like the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act
[https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Fair+Labor+Standards+Act+of+1938],
which requires workers be paid the minimum  wage and overtime, it
sets a precedent that puts all workers at peril. 

With the explosion of the “gig” economy, the raid by owners on
their employees’ pensions, and a national workforce that became
increasingly part-time without benefits, Americans were beaten into
submission  to believe they were even lucky to have any  job. 

And make no mistake about it, the vulture capitalist’s attack dogs
like former Governors Scott Walker and Chris Christie, exploited this
growing American worker anxiety to try and humiliate and denigrate
public workers — including teachers — in their states who, because
they had union representation, still had benefits at all.

It was Walker
[https://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/how-scott-walker-turned-job-creation-into-a-goodie-bag-for-campaign-donors] and Christie
[https://www.ibtimes.com/chris-christie-gives-taxpayer-subsidy-donor-whose-lawsuit-helped-him-prosecute-2006881] that
perfected the GOP playbook of pitting public and private sector
workers against each other while they showered hundreds of millions of
dollars in government largesse on their donors under the cover of
“economic development.”

This Republican attack on organized labor is part of the party’s
DNA. And, while President Obama had a “bromance
[http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2044712,00.html]”
with the Reagan presidency, Reagan’s 1981 mass firing of 11,000 air
traffic controllers who belonged to the Professional Air Traffic
Controllers Organization
[https://www.fool.com/investing/general/2013/08/05/the-day-ronald-reagan-weakened-the-american-labor.aspx] set
labor back several decades. 

Reagan’s breaking the PATCO strike set the stage for a second robber
barons’ gilded age when capital would dictate the terms and
conditions of employment and workers were reduced to waiting by their
phone on pins and needles praying the sunrise would bring the chance
they might work that day.

American workers have been seduced and then subjugated  by mass
consumer capitalism that replaced good wages and benefits with
consumer debt.  From cradle to grave they have been harnessed into
a “debt”
[https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/media/newsevents/mediaadvisory/2016/Graying-of-American-Debt-02122016.pdf] mule
train like the one  that was the trademark of the Borax 
[https://www.facebook.com/20MuleTeamBorax/videos/724057900021/?v=724057900021]soap
that as an actor Reagan hawked on TV. Think what a great social
control mechanism the $1.5 trillion dollar college debt yoke is on our
young people. 

How can you dare challenge the established order, no matter how
abusive and oppressive, when at your so-called
“emancipation”  you are shackled to a debt load
[https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2018/02/16/more-students-are-taking-on-crippling-debt-they-cant-repay-its-time-for-higher-education-to-share-the-risks/] you
won’t be able to pay back ever? 

We live in a culture where we usually keep our economic anxieties and
tribulations to ourselves, no matter how bad they get, which only
empowers those systems that profit off our isolation and
exploitation. 

It’s a form of self-shaming because we have internalized the
propaganda of our consumer driven media that we only have ourselves to
blame  for our circumstance. 

As Alissa Quart [http://economichardship.org/] , author of the
seminal work “Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America”,
pointed out in a recent New York Times
[https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/05/opinion/sunday/middle-class-shame-american-politics.html] article
it is this internal shaming that is a roadblock to our individual
empowerment that sets the stage for direct action that can produce
radical social transformation.

“One of the first challenges is getting people to admit they are
struggling financially, and to talk publicly about it,” she writes.
“This can be hard for members of the middle class, a group that has
a real sense of stigma about financial floundering. They are hobbled
by a long-held obsession with privacy and don’t always acknowledge
what is troubling them, according to research by Caitlin Zaloom
[https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/11/what-does-middle-class-really-mean/574534/],
an anthropologist at New York University.”

In our debased state as debt slaves, with tens of millions of us
struggling week to week to make ends meet, its hard to see any vestige
of the courage possessed by our Revolutionary War ancestors who put
everything at risk to fight off the tyranny of a distant monarch who
at the time ruled a global empire.

Those were long odds.

If this Trump shutdown had happened, say in France, where there is
some residual social cohesion, there would have already been a
national general strike in support of these workers.

For decades Americans had that muscle of collective action and their
children and grandchildren benefited. 

From the end of slavery and child labor to the very concept of the
weekend itself, these advances in our circumstance were the fruits of
bitter, often violent struggle. 

But our ancestors took this on because a sufficient number of them
loved and cared for each other enough that knew their fates on this
earthly plain were surely all interconnected. 

How long could Trump’s tyranny stand if all of working America stood
up to this gold-plated bully?

_[Bob Hennelly has written and reported for the Village Voice,
Pacifica Radio, WNYC, CBS MoneyWatch and other outlets. He is now a
reporter for the Chief-Leader, covering public unions and the civil
service in New York City. Follow him on Twitter: @stucknation]_

Reprinted with permission of the author.

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