Thursday, December 22, 2016

Life in Trump Country — "I make $2.35 an hour in coal country. I want a living wage."


What rebellion looks like in Trump Country, and why people choose selling Oxy over flipping burgers (Spencer Platt/Getty Images; source)

by Gaius Publius

The good wages that my father and grandfather fought to win are gone. I’m 20 years old, and I’m working at Waffle House, getting paid $2.35 an hour ... [W]e don’t need empty promises about bringing back coal jobs. We need the jobs that actually exist in our towns to pay us wages high enough for us to afford basics we can live on.
—Nic Smith, Roanoke, Virginia

At Netroots Nation in 2014 I taped a conversation with economist Stephanie Kelton in which we discussed work in America. She made two interesting points about "bringing back manufacturing" to America.

"Junk Jobs" vs. "Junk Wages"

First, those manufacturing jobs aren't coming back, and they weren't great jobs (as jobs) to begin with. Imagine yourself working an auto assembly line all day. But they became good-paying jobs because of unions and union wages.

Second, there's a way for government to create a de facto living wage in the U.S. without reverting to the country as it existed in the 1950s — make government the employer of last resort.

Click here to listen to the clip; start at about 5:30 for just this section. A short quote:
SK: If [FDR-style jobs programs] were created the right way, and you said, “Anybody who’s ready, willing and able to work, or unable to find a job in the private sector — or if you just don’t like that job — you can come and take this [government] job. We’re going to create one for you at a living wage with these benefits …”

You create a package for the worker that then becomes the minimum, [which] everyone else has to provide … or they’re not going to get workers. That becomes the de facto minimum. … We’re not going to let you starve in America.
My comment to her, just to make sure I had it right (emphasis added):
GP: I don’t want this to go by without people getting what was said. … You’re saying that you don’t really need to define a minimum wage, because the government sets a floor. … [Then] anybody who wants a better job than the junk job they’ve got, can work for the government. That forces the private employers to compete with the government for workers, and that’s a good thing for workers.
Her answer was yes, I have it right. Note the reference to "junk jobs." What's the answer to junk jobs in the absence of better ones? A living wage — an end to "junk wages."

Unfortunately, Kelton's means to that end — a presidential administration that would implement her "government as employer as last resort" plan — isn't available under Trump, and frankly, would not have been available under any Democrat with the possible exception of Sanders, for whom Kelton worked in the Senate.

But the plan is still right. And the means to execute that plan under Trump — a rebellion against Trump himself by Trump voters whose lives are not getting better — is definitely available.

The Rebellion of Trump Voters

That rebellion, the revolt of Trump voters in places like Roanoke, Virginia — coal country — may already be starting. Consider the following from Nic Smith, a man in his twenties who comes from a coal mining family, reflecting on his life.

Please read, and as you do, ask yourself: Are any of the conditions he and his neighbors suffer under — job loss, home foreclosures, drug-ravaged towns, school closings, poverty wages — likely to improve under a Trump administration? If not, what will people like Nic Smith do?

In this excellent piece in the Washington Post, Smith writes (my emphasis):
[C]oal country isn’t what it used to be. Corporate greed, mechanization and the rise of fracking have forced people in Dickenson County into lower-paying, less stable work. Now 25 percent of people in Dickenson live under the poverty line, and the average income is under $20,000 a year. There are not enough jobs to go around, and the jobs we can get pay next to nothing. Corporations are emboldened to cut wages and benefits with no regard for the working people who drive companies’ profits. Mineworker families have been forced to accept pennies because we don’t have another choice. My family was on welfare when I was a kid, and I’ve seen schools shut down and people lose their homes. I’ve seen neighbors lose their jobs and scrape by struggling to pick up work. Some people I know fell victim to addiction, others turned to selling drugs to survive. Meth and OxyContin have ravaged towns across the coalfields.

The good wages that my father and grandfather fought to win are gone. I’m 20 years old, and I’m working at Waffle House, getting paid $2.35 an hour and relying on tips to reach the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Our reality goes unmentioned but for every four years, when politicians start knocking on our doors and stumping outside old, shuttered mines and factories. But we don’t need empty promises about bringing back coal jobs. We need the jobs that actually exist in our towns to pay us wages high enough for us to afford basics we can live on.
To the first question I asked above, the answer is clearly No. The gold-plated Trump regime will serve only itself, never the voters who handed him the power he now revels in.

To the second question I asked above — how will people respond to that? — notice what Nic Smith's answer is:
If the white working class gives in to the notion that the color of our skin makes us more politically valuable ... we lose power against the very forces of rampant greed that wreaked havoc on Appalachia to begin with.
I saw the power of working people with the UMWA victory that preserved my family’s livelihood in 1990, and I see it with the Fight for $15 today. Now more than ever, working people must come together and tackle our broken economy head-on. It’s time to go beyond voting to fight for higher wages so we can create growth and jobs in my county and across the country.
Shorter Nic Smith — forget color; organize and fight.

Shorter me — Trump is creating against himself the rebellion he rode to power on. And maybe because institutional Democrats are now out of power, some of them might actually join it.


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At 10:25 AM, Anonymous Hone said...

In the 1930's unions were fought for tooth and nail. Unions have declined greatly in this country and unfortunately many people now have a negative attitude towards them. The Republicans in particular have done a lot of damage in this regard. In contrast, in Europe, governments are wary of the workers and unions, as they hold tremendous power. Any American who looks around can see that there is much work to be done to improve our roads, our schools, our health care, etc. If the government committed to improving the lives of Americans and our environment and not just the 1%, the military industrial complex and the expansion of intelligence on our own people, this would generate a lot of jobs. Our tax structure is extremely biased towards the rich and corporations and this greatly hurts those who actually work for a living and earn a paycheck. You cannot hide from the taxes due in your paycheck.

And those low wage jobs noted in coal country - these are the kinds of jobs that many immigrants have all over, such as in retail and restaurants. Immigrants are not the cause of our problems - they have not taken over the kinds of high paying jobs that so many Americans desire. Another warping of reality by the Republicans to incite hatred and turn workers' eyes away from the Big Picture - that they are being screwed. Unfortunately, this has been working and got the tangerine elected.

At 2:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Myopic and ignorant of history.

First, from the hapless ex-coal schmuck: "Our reality goes unmentioned but for every four years, when politicians start knocking on our doors and stumping outside old, shuttered mines and factories...."
To him I'd ask: "Then why the fuck don't you vote for the Greens or for Bernie?"

The federal gummint is, at the VERY BEST, indifferent to his reality. At worst, he is among the "Fuck the UAW" type crowd that gummint is actively trying to kill.
As long as these hapless rubes keep voting for either R or D, they just couldn't give a flying fuck. The money does just fine with either R or D and he gets that much closer to an early grave (DC motto: the earlier the better).

Look to your history. When and where in the last century did all these same conditions exist?
gummint owned/operated by the money
ever increasing levels of abject misery among the citizenry (top 1% excepted)
gummint virulent hatred of unions (and communism)
leader spouting racial hatreds that are enthusiastically received by the public
gummint assimilating some flavor of a national religion
a lege consisting of those servile to power, owned by the money and just plain cowardice.
a history of official lies in order to shape public opinion to justify fear and war
gummint hostility to any and all standards of conduct
arrogation of near omnipotence by the executive

Did that end well?

wake up.

I wouldn't be looking for the Ds to reform themselves nor the electorate to demand any sort of changes. This will be another case where history repeats... and the next substantive change will be a total economic collapse and/or another world war (that will go nuclear... again).

At 6:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a smart man! He had to go for political career, run for the office! can somebody help him, please?


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