George Bush's Assault on American Jobs
By Dennis Rahkonen
You don't have to go far to realize that an economy tenuously
on the rebound for Wall Street is very much in the dumps on
Main Street. Just check out the proliferating dollar stores
and paycheck loan providers that both owe their existence
to far too many of us being too poor to shop at "real" retailers
or to go through a month without running completely out of
Even in cases where usually at least two breadwinners are
struggling to make ends meet, a shockingly high number of
us look at our forebears' expectation of seeing their progeny
lead better lives than they themselves did as totally impossible.
The American dream has become a forbidding nightmare.
Under the profits-before-people priorities the Bush administration
advances in absolute fealty to selfish and socially irresponsible
special interests, the rungs have broken on our national ladder
Jobs, pensions, and healthcare are being irrevocably lost.
Conservatives attack overtime pay and seek to deny extended
unemployment insurance. Living wages are resisted tooth and
nail, with even proposals for modest increases in federal
minimum pay getting assailed by business lobbyists as "unaffordable."
Reactionary Republicans rail against organized labor, striving
to eviscerate the only entity strong enough to fight for public
welfare and the common good through united clout that matches
the greedy power of big business and high finance.
Manufacturing jobs that comprised America's industrial heart
have been outsourced to sweatshop locales in the Third World
where foreign workers are rapaciously exploited while ex-employees
of padlocked U.S. plants ponder their out-of-control bills
and a bleakly fearful future.
This has spawned a whole new category of parasitism. Notice
the many TV commercials for "debt management counseling" that
commonly charges clients usurious rates and puts them more
deeply in the hole.
Those "lucky" enough to have found work after this nation's
effective de-industrialization are making lousy wages with
scant benefits in a service sector that's impoverishing and
ruining millions. How are adults with families supposed to
survive on the part-time hours of jobs originally intended
for high school students seeking a little income beyond their
With technological employment that was supposed to be our
salvation also having gone down the tubes or overseas, a wave
of jobless white-collar workers suddenly finds itself competing
with teenagers for the opportunity to "manufacture" burgers
at strip malls.
According to trends documented by Beth Shulman, in her eye-opening
book, The Betrayal of Work: How Low-Wage Jobs Fail 35 Million
Americans, nearly one-third of U.S. workers will fall
within low-income ranks by 2010.
This clearly means that - if they won't be cruelly dying
in needless wars fought just to enrich multinational corporations
- the children we've raised with such high hopes for success
will face tomorrow going down instead of getting ahead.
While saddled with the exorbitant legacy of paying for massive
tax breaks George W. Bush has given the wealthy in our time.
REAL PEOPLE BEHIND THE STATISTICS
When we hear news accounts of lost jobs, or the monthly
unemployment rate, we understandably can't associate with
the real lives and tragic stories those abstract figures represent
(unless we're already experiencing the same ourselves).
Here, in the words of those directly affected, are some
personal testimonies from people living in my native Midwest
who know the impact of Bush-era hardship:
"I am very upset how older employees are
being tossed away and how jobs are being shipped to other
countries. What a slap in the face for those who came before
us and tried to make this a good, hard-working America.
What has happened to the American dream? I am very scared
for my children and grandchildren's future."
- Gloria Jean, Menomonee, Wis.
"It's mind boggling how dramatically life
has changed for my wife and me since I was laid off two
years ago. We don't go out any more, see movies or eat fast
food. This was the first year I couldn't afford to buy her
an anniversary present - it was our 29th anniversary. Vacations
are a thing of the past. I truly don't believe that I'm
ever going to be able to retire."
- Ron, Bay View, Wis.
"It's been 12 months since I was permanently
laid off from the paper mill, and I have had no success
finding a new job. I don't have recent work experience in
any other field, so that makes getting even low-paying,
no-benefit jobs difficult... My unemployment has run out,
and it's put a tremendous stress on myself, my wife and
my family. I think the most difficult thing is not knowing
what lies ahead. Being out of work for this long has completely
thrown out retirement plans for myself and my wife. Not
to mention the tension that it's placed on our marriage."
- Dan, Duluth, Minn.
"My husband and I have run up credit card
debt trying to stay afloat, and I'm afraid that we may lose
our apartment. If that happens, I have no idea where we'll
go. My husband works as a bookkeeper for a convenience store,
and when I was working, I was the primary breadwinner. So
right now, we've just been living day-by-day. We can't buy
groceries because we have other bills that have to get paid."
- Lisa, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
"People just can't find jobs that offer good
wages, health care and retirement benefits. In fact, I've
had to let go of my COBRA health insurance because I couldn't
keep up with the payments. It's so difficult to keep a positive
attitude through this whole struggle. Losing my job has
made me humble, and I continuously question my self-worth.
This has been such a difficult time for my wife and me."
- John, Crystal Lake, Illinois
(For more testimony from other parts of America: www.showusthejobs.com/51stories)
HOW THIS MESS CAME ABOUT
Our current ordeal goes back more than twenty years. Shortly
after taking office, President Reagan harshly broke the federal
air traffic controllers' union (PATCO), thereby signaling
to private employers that an aggressive anti-labor posture
would be supported at top governmental levels. Big business
dutifully followed suit, triggering a flurry of downsizing,
runaway plants, outsourcing, speed-up, forcedovertime, orchestrated
This accompanied "Reaganomics," a callously deliberate plan
to shift the nation's wealth from workers' wallets to corporate
coffers, leading in time to the U.S. replacing class-stratified
England as the developed country with the world's most glaring
The rich grew stupendously richer, and the poor soul-devouringly
George W. Bush wanted more of the same. He used such deceits
as miniscule tax breaks for average citizens to gain support
for mammoth giveaways of the federal treasury to billionaires.
Federal (as well as state and local) programs designed to
meet people's crucial needs had to consequently be sharply
cut back. Or eliminated altogether.
Whatever small amount Joe or Jill Average saved in taxes
was quickly surpassed by out-of-pocket expenses for costly
private substitutes for governmental services they'd taken
for granted in the past.
More importantly, as the economy inevitably tanked and millions
of us became too poor to buy back the goods our labor produced,
more and more of us were driven to shop at Wal-Mart and similar
cut-rate merchandisers to try to buy some cheap semblance
of prosperity. That trend killed local businesses by the thousands,
taking decent wages and vital tax-base contributions with
The chickens had come home to roost. Now the entire system
was threatened by shortsighted greed blind to its own, ultimate
IT TAKES A FIGHT TO WIN
We're over a barrel and being pick-pocketed by unscrupulous
political and economic interests because we abdicated what
should be a perpetual struggle for social and economic justice
for the wage-earning multitudes. A nation's health, strength,
and eventual viability can't be determined by how well a selfish
elite fares - especially when that elite's standing is purchased
by exploiting working people who invariably comprise any society's
We, as threatened workers, now need to show that backbone.
And our decisive sense.
Conservatives who fear our simmering anger and latent power
try every diversion to keep us from militantly uniting to
demand good jobs and fundamental justice. Wedge issues like
abortion, gun control and gay rights are presented with great
sensationalism. "Worry about homosexual marriage. Forget about
how little you're paid, and that you haven't got health insurance
or can't afford to retire."
Avaricious crony capitalists afflicted with chronic Enronhalliburtonitis,
and their Republican protectors, count on us accepting such
diversions. It's what allows them to laugh all the way to
But we have the means to set things right. It's called unity,
By steadfastly combining across racial, gender and other
ultimately inconsequential lines to mutually assert our shared
right to enough jobs with good pay for honest work, we can
force a realization in Washington that we, the people, actually
rule America. Not unscrupulous bosses who wake up each morning
to see how much money they can extract by willfully undercompensating
the arduous labor of others. The collective labor that's the
true source of every rich person's wealth.
Simply defeating Bush and sending him back to the tumbleweeds
of Crawford isn't sufficient. We need to also deliver a body
blow to right-wing Republicanism at all electoral levels,
and in its capacity to influence popular culture through its
infamous demagoguery. Crucially, we have to elevate the worker
- not the high mucky-muck in shiny shoes and a tailored suit
- as the true American hero, in whose service all political
decisions are first considered.
Envisioning ourselves as the primary engine of history is
absolutely key. In our own bread-and-butter interest, we're
obligated to unleash the popular might a favorite slogan of
progressive movements stirringly calls forth:
"The people united will never be defeated!"
Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, Wis., has been writing progressive
commentary and verse for various outlets since the '60s. He
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org