Meet Me in the Middle?

Looking around at the world it is all but impossible to maintain any sense of optimism for our future. On every news channel and social media platform, even here on Working Stiff USA, constant reminders of the current state of the world are unrelenting. It is important to remember though that even in the very worst of times there will still be children laughing somewhere, the sun will still rise in the morning, and people will go on living their lives to the best of their ability. To despair and surrender to the circumstances is tempting, to bury our head in the barrage of heart-breaking headlines and wallow in our existential dread is for most of us the natural default.

However, in times like these it is incredibly important to remember that historically it is not until the good people within a hurting population pull themselves out of that despair and take action that anything will change. Unity between the American people is not completely out of reach, the American dream realized for everyone is still something worth fighting for. Our country can still be pulled back from the brink of impending fracture, but only if we each stand up and do what we can.

For some that might mean continuing online activism and coordinating digitally, for others however that has to mean taking real concrete action within your communities. Help your neighbor, speak kind words to the people you are certain you fundamentally disagree with, donate food and clothes, and time to the rapidly filling homeless shelters in your towns. The opportunities to build legitimate trust and brotherhood within your communities are endless if you actively look for them. Indeed, real change can be made through dedicated and consistent action but only if there is someone willing to be the first to stand up and say enough is enough.

No more fighting. No more prejudice. It is far past the time that we looked at our fellow Americans and, instead of taking a defensive stance, asked “how can I be of service?” If each of us take a small step towards uniting our communities then perhaps we can all meet each other somewhere in the middle. Do what you can, where you can, and do it now before this moment passes and our country splinters beyond repair.

No More Sugar Coating It: The Harsh Reality Staring the United States in the Face

The state of the world, and specifically of the United States, is tenuous at best. Unemployment rates are at an all time high, evictions, bankruptcy, and destitution are looming for many; natural disasters seem to be occurring on an endless loop, and a political circus is playing itself out right before our very eyes. Politicians and legislators who seemingly have control over the fate of so many Americans remain content to reapply their clown makeup and adjust their shiny red noses while human lives are being squandered. So where does that leave us, the working people and back bone of this country?

For most of us, we’re swirling around a deep dark hole of despair. 50% of Americans report facing serious financial problems with 26% depending on credit cards (which they are unsure how and when they’ll be able to pay down) to make ends meet. 23% of Americans report being behind on their mortgage or rent payments, 13% are behind on car payments and facing imminent repossession, and 23% are in danger of having their utilities shut off due to late or non-payment. 17% of Americans report that they are unable to afford enough food for their families and are turning to food pantries and other charities on a weekly basis. 13% of your fellow Americans are currently ignoring severe medical problems and skipping or rationing crucial medication. Our national annualized economy is currently sitting at -32%, worse than the Great Depression where is bottomed out at -13%.

For as much as we all wax on about how bad everything is and how 2020 is simply a disaster of a year, many of us are remaining ignorant to how bad the state of those around us is rapidly becoming. Things are not getting better at any noticeable rate and suffering is increasing at an exponentially on the daily. In the entire year of 2018, 48,344 people completed suicide and data trends are predicting that that number will be up by approximately 65% by the end of 2020.

I think by now, most of us are starting to realize that surviving on our own will prove to be extremely difficult if not impossible. None of us are immune to the hardships that are to come and I implore of you to reach out to your neighbors, your friends, your community, to band together and take care of each other. The worst is yet to come and many of us truly will not make it out on the other side unless we all bear up under the weight of this crisis together. Organize. Build mutual aid networks. Take care of each other because nobody else will.

Uncertain Times? Always Has Been.

As long as there have been societies there have been people within those societies falling on difficult times. Be it due to illness, exhaustion, or even the death of a loved one, there will always come a time in a person’s life when their ability to contribute or even care for themselves and their family will come under strain. In the thousands of years before the idea of state sponsored welfare came in to existence, the responsibility for that person’s well-being would then fall to the rest of their community, a favor to be repaid in turn at a later date.

Unfortunately, this system has mostly faded away to be replaced with an incredibly faulty and unreliable network of charity and government programs, both of which come with their own set of requirements and hoops to jump through and both of which are falling short during this time of record high unemployment, accumulating debt, and illness. While indeed the government could shift more of our tax dollars towards social welfare programs to compensate for the current situation, that solution is becoming more and more of a distant hope as politicians continue to wield the well-being of the American people as a political weapon. As it stands, it seems only a return to a community based safety net will allow for a continuation of a stable standard of living for the American people.

These community based safety nets, also known as mutual aid networks, are not a completely unheard of concept in the United States. There is a long history of neighbors and community members banding together to provide financial support during illness and unemployment and, perhaps more importantly to provide emotional and social support. Classified as tax exempt “Fraternal Beneficiary Societies” by everyone’s favorite government entity, the IRS, mutual aid networks are composed of members that are “bonded by a common purpose or ties and engaged in substantial fraternal activities.”

These networks serve several different purposes and can be structured in a number of unique ways. Based on an understanding of mutual trust and accountability among members, mutual aid networks rely on social activities to create community bonds which then serve as a safeguard against abuse of the network. Traditionally, members will come together to pool money and resources on a regular basis, contributing to a lump sum which can then be loaned out at a zero percent interest rate to the members who are democratically chosen to be most in need at that point in time. Members will often also set aside a dedicated emergency fund to be used only should a sudden non-negotiable expense arise in their community.

The investment in mutual aid networks not only provides a safety net for a community but they also serve to ensure that the dollars of working people are used to benefit their community rather than benefiting large banks and the ever-looming Wall Street. At the same time, mutual aid networks remove the stigma of receiving charity and allow people to help each other and to be helped while maintaining their dignity and sense of self-worth, factors which are equally as important as financial security to a communities well-being.

Throughout our history it has been proven that mutual aid networks run by the working class, in the absence of a coherent system of government welfare provisions, provide more aid than any privately owned institution. In a time when people are becoming increasingly isolated, the need for unity is unparalleled and as we build unity around the communities needs, we also build up the strength and power of the people in those communities.

Their Silence is Deafening

According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, 48,344 Americans have died by suicide so far in 2020. Even during a pandemic, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for ages 10-34 and the 4th leading cause of death for ages 35-54. Our fellow Americans are suffering and there seems to be little end in sight. This suffering is only compounded by the despair that comes from the impossible and inescapable situations so many of us are finding ourselves in as of late.

Unemployment rates are debatable and hotly contested in the media where they are weaponized as some sort of political tool. However what unemployment rates are truly a reflection of is the state of the health of our country and right now the outlook is grim. On the TV screen and in the news feeds, unemployment rates are simply numbers but in our towns and neighborhoods they are people struggling to make ends meet. They are the father sitting up late at night going over his family’s bills and realizing there is no way to pay them. They are the young woman applying to job after job as more businesses close by the day. They are the family, previously thriving and optimistic, finding themselves face with eviction and the horrors of homelessness.

And amidst all of this despair and destitution, where are our leaders? The silence from those elected officials who swore to represent and fight for the interests of the working man has been deafening. The false platitudes trotted out on the campaign trail are of little use to the people if when we are in need the politicians send themselves on summer vacation. As the downtrodden working class experience mounting frustration they are turning on each other, channeling their righteous anger at their situation into a fight against their fellow workers when the only true way to change our circumstances is to focus that anger on its true source, the people with the wealth and power to affect real change who sit idly by as others suffer.

As the days become darker and our national outlook becomes increasingly grim, I encourage you to look at your fellow countrymen as your brothers and sisters in struggle rather than your enemy, because as Victor Hugo once said, “There is always more misery among the lower classes than there is humanity in the higher.”

Dream On

We dream of an America where our neighbors are like our family, where our communities are safe, happy, and full of life. In this time of struggle in our country however, for many of us that dream seems to be slipping further and further away. I find myself asking why? Why in a land that is fertile and teeming with life, with room and resources plentiful enough for everyone, are so many of my fellow countrymen and women so entrenched in destruction and despair?

For our entire lives we have been taught that is we only work hard enough we can succeed and have our every dream come true, that through our blood, sweat, and tears we can live happy fulfilled lives. But so much of our blood, sweat, and tears are spilled with little given in return.

Watching those around me grind their bodies and souls down with unrewarding work just to make ends meet seems to strike a stunning parallel to the current state of our country. So many of us give so much of ourselves in sacrifice to the mere hope the American Dream and by the time we realize that it was only ever a hope and not a reality it is often too late. The amount of elderly people living below the poverty line after working their entire lives and paying taxes in this country is nothing short of criminal.

So the question becomes, how can we utilize all of the resources that this country has to offer in order to benefit our people and not just to fill the already overflowing pockets of the wealthy and the politicians. When every American can work and earn a decent and sustainable living then this will truly be a land of plenty for people like me and you. Until then, the American dream is and will continue to be nothing but an illusion.

The Theft of American Jobs

On July 22nd 2020 the State Department of the United States of America ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, TX. This inflammatory action is just one among many small aggressions between the two countries over the past year as global tensions continue to mount. The justification for the closure was, as stated by State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, that “the U.S. will not tolerate the People’s Republic of China’s violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated their unfair trade practices and theft of American jobs.”

That first part of the statement had me curious as to the actual state of affairs of the world, while the latter half of that statement made me wonder if there was any validity to the complaint at all. The fact of the matter is that “theft of American jobs” is a misleading narrative utilized by the owners of businesses and corporations to shift the blame for moving jobs overseas, in order to increase their profit margins, away from themselves and on to the working class people of other countries. 

While many Americans have turned to unsecure free-lance and gig jobs which offer no access to health insurance or other benefits, nearly 300,000 jobs were moved overseas in the past year alone. The most common types of jobs that have been moved overseas or “off-shored” are those in the factory and production sector with 3.7 million jobs sent to China alone since 2001. White collar workers are finding themselves as impacted by this shift as their blue collar counterparts with 1.3 million jobs in I.T. (including electronic device design and production and tech support roles) being off-shored since 2001.

This shift to overseas labor has had a devastating impact on the American working class while the owners and chare-holders of these businesses and corporations are flourishing. Off-shoring of American jobs has yielded revenue increases of between $104.6 billion and $76.9 billion annually over the last ten years with no sign of dropping anytime soon. 

With statistics like these, it is no wonder that the average American attributes the blame for the struggling American workforce on to the loss of jobs to overseas markets. However it cannot be emphasized enough that the people responsible for the “theft of American jobs” are the ones pulling in billions of dollars of revenue and not the overseas workers eking out a living through a below market hourly wage. Any attempts or statements made to frustrate this truth are nothing more than a deliberate effort to sow discord and negative sentiments between the working people of the world and in the end, the only people benefitting from a rivalry between workers are the same ones causing it.

Putting Our Labor Where Our Mouth Is

The average longshoreman on the west coast earns somewhere around $30 an hour.
For the long hours and grueling manual labor the job entails, many might argue that
even that isn’t enough and, with the inflated cost of living on the west coast, those
naysayers may very well be correct. Given the current minimum wage and compensation laws, the contrast between the wages of the longshoreman and similar hourly paid labor is stark. This disparity is due entirely to the unionization of the longshoreman under the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the way they have effectively leveraged their collective bargaining power over the last several decades.

The ILWU has time and again proven that they have little to no hesitance to bring maritime trade to a grinding haltand their strikes are an example of some of the most effective collective bargaining in the history of labor in the United States. At the cost of approximately $2 billion a day, a shut down of the west coast shipyards has an undeniable global ripple effect. In the past ILWU strikes have seen the waters crowded with ships weighted down with millions of dollars of stagnated merchandise, sparking an outcryfrom international as well as domestic mega corporations. Indeed, the rapid fire turn around and shelf life of products in the United States further compounds the impact as businesses rarely have more than a day or two’s worth of goods in reserve and are entirely reliant on a constant influx of merchandise. Given this common business practice, it doesn’t take long until even your average small business retailer in the middle of the country starts to see the impact of a shipyard strike on their bottom line.

For these very simple reasons, when the ILWU speaks, leaders in both government and commerce are forced to listen.
Recently, the ILWU made the historical decision to put their substantial weight behind an issue other than compensation and fair work practices, joining with millions of voices nationwide in speaking out against unjust policing on June 19, 2020. In a statement made prior to the day long shutdown, ILWULocal 10 President Trent WIllis declared “We’re sending a clear statement to the powers that be, our government. We’re sending a clear statement
to the corporate bosses that we intend to use our labor, put our labor where our mouth is. We intend to take economic action if our demands are not met” in reference to the demands to end unjust and unlawful policing nationwide. It is worth noting that ILWU bylaws explicitly ban police membership among their ranks, pointing to the long held belief that police have always been used as tools of the wealthy in the fight against working people.

It remains to be seen whether this unprecedented step by the massive labor group into the realm of civil protest will set further similar actions of solidarity
into motion, but there is no denying the weight of the power that is wielded by a united group of workers.

The Land of the Struggling

For decades the people of the American working class have been largely removed from electoral politics. While 6 out of 10 Americans fall into the working class category, data shows that only 48% of working class families participate in elections. Various sources have cited the reasons for this voter apathy to be everything from a lack of education to a general disinterest in politics by blue collar workers. However, these claims do little but further alienate the working people of this country and distract from the reality of the situation. The lack of working class voter participation is not due to laziness or disinterest but rather the lack of representation of working class people and their struggles within their own government.

It is unquestionable that the fall from the gilded American dream has been longer and harder for the working class and the land of opportunity has rapidly turned into the land of struggle. Because of this shift, the idea that “politics have nothing to do with me” runs deeply throughout most working class communities where people are instead focused on their daily survival. Within the last few generations blue collar workers went from easily sustaining their families on one reliable job to scraping together a living by working two and sometimes even three jobs, none of which providing any stability or security.

The recent pandemic and subsequent economic collapse has only further increased the divide between the working class and their elected representatives. The lack of concern shown for the well-being of the American people by their government has not gone unnoticed as civil unrest continues to brew across the country. In an election year where the campaigns have been filled with divisive rhetoric and political posturing across the entire political spectrum, more and more of the working Americans that sustain our country have been left to wonder if anyone hears their cries for help. As the politicians stand on their platforms and relentlessly pit the members of the working class against each other like players in their game, it is becoming more and more apparent that the true fight shouldn’t be between the working men and women of this country but rather between the workers of America and their incompetent, self interested government.