The jaw-dropping, eye-opening, moment this morning came from seeing a full page display ad in this morning's Journal Sentinel from Solidarity, the Polish trade union. Solidarity, where Leck Walesa cut his sea legs, Solidarity, the union that brought down the Communist leadership in Poland and tore the first large hole in the Iron Curtain. Solidarity, expressing... well... solidarity with union protestors in Madison!
Shit, in Poland, they get this. They understand what is at stake here.
There are days and there are events that are transformative at an order of magnitude that's hard to grasp at the time, that only appear in hindsight to have been so pivotal, that condense into a short period the leap from one epoch to another. They are messy and they are almost never straight-up changes, but if you lean close to the ground in Madison, you may hear the earth shifting now.
This recession was an earthquake of serious magnitude for most of us. Jobs and homes and pensions were lost. And, almost imperceptibly, the middles class shrank, as 2.6 million households slipped into the lowest economic class, which now constitutes HALF of all Americans. In the past decade, income for the average household shrank by 4%.
But for the captains of industry, for the top 8%, it was a bump. Sure, when the dust settled, it might have meant that your employees were now Chinese laborers instead of Pennsylvania steelworkers, it may have shifted your focus, so that your employees no longer punched in at a factory but worked as guards at a private prison, but life went on pretty much unchanged. The skyrocketing growth in personal income for the wealthy now means that the top tenth of one percent of all Americans earn 875 times what the average person in the bottom 90% earns.
In fact, change has been good for the wealthiest. The recession so frightened the shit out of the rest of us that we were willing to sacrifice just to keep our heads above water. We were willing to cut money to public schools and to privatize prisons and to water down environmental regulations because, damnit, we needed to eat. For the captains of industry, for men and women like the Koch brothers, this was having their cake and eating it too.
Not only were things already going swell, but we were willing to make things even easier for them.
Labor laws tying your hands? We'll change them.
Environmental regulations hampering your operational efficiency? Hello waivers.
Unconscionable fiscal decisions? Bailout!
Look the other way while you reward yourselves with huge payouts and bonus schemes? Sure, anything.
And here we are. We've come to and we're not in our trusty Prius anymore. We're cargo in in a semi-trailer growling and belching dirty smoke and chewing asphalt as it screams forward into a dark corporate new world order. And the truth is we're just too far down this road; reversing it just won't do. No, we have to pull off one of those awkward Y-turns, pitching and turning, inching forward and lurching back, scraping fenders and bumping curbs and no doubt sacrificing a few roadside structures before we are pointed the right way.
But that's what it's going to take. We have to wrest control of the steering wheel from the Koch brothers and Scotty, their chauffeur. Lech Walesa knew that. The union members in Poland knew that. You are either driving the beast or you are the cargo.