The working class: a ticking time bomb

Norris HeatonWhenever Labor Day rolls around, I think of my dad. He passed away in 1988, and like most sons, I discovered while growing older that I’m a chip off the old block. Or, as the other old saying goes, the apple never falls very far from the tree. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t so (I’ve got his ears), but mostly, I’m just proud.

My dad was VERY vocal about his disdain for Republicans. “Silk stockings” is the term I heard. This was a reference to the dandy gentlemen of a former age, those who lorded over the have-nots of the culture. Like so many others after World War II, my dad was a factory-worker, a man who operated a machine of the industrial age in order to support his family. I’ve written before about how he used to stand on his feet, cutting boards with a router eight hours-a-day for Bergsma Brothers furniture. He cut the same piece, day-after-day as a part of a furniture assembly line. He worked hard and never complained.

He hated Dwight Eisenhower in the 50s, and election night was filled with angry tirades against the man who used to be his “commander” during the war. My dad was a staunch Democrat — a labor supporter — and we rejoiced when John Kennedy was elected in 1960. Back then, we had a middle class. He worked his ass off to push us there.

Today, though, we have the haves and the have-nots and nothing in between. Not only that, but the gap between the two is getting wider. A column in — in labor-friendly St. Louis — caught my attention today, as I’m thinking about the Labor Day holiday, my dad’s holiday. Here’s what hit me:

Today, the Tax Policy Center, a non-partisan arm of the Brookings Institution, projects that in 2011 that the top 1 percent of all wage earners will take home 18 percent of all income. The top tenth of that 1 percent will take home 8.2 percent all by itself.

Between 1979 and 2007 (before the Big Recession) the average after-tax income of the top 1 percent of the population nearly quadrupled, from $347,000 to over $1.3 million.

The columnist quotes a study by the Institute for Policy Studies (Executive Excess) that makes me wince:

“American workers … are taking home less in real weekly wages than they took home in the 1970s. Back in those years, precious few top executives made over 30 times what their workers made. In 2009, we calculate … CEOs of major U.S. corporations averaged 263 times the average compensation of American workers.”

Earlier this week, my stepdaughter surprised me when she asked what Labor Day was all about. Apparently, they don’t teach this in school anymore, and that’s another surprise. Labor Day was always my dad’s favorite holiday, because he knew that it’s all about the working people of our country — the people that the Silk Stockings of the land manipulate and take for granted today, as they go about making themselves even richer. This simply cannot go on, and when it blows up in everybody’s face, it’s going to be violent and ugly.

This widening gap between the haves and the have-nots is a ticking time bomb, and when it goes off, it’ll make the current disruptions of technology seem mild in comparison. I don’t think anybody is prepared for it, least of all our government.

Labor Day 2010. Discontent disguised as peace.

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