Archive for Protest Movements

The Working Class Rides Again!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

work_or_riot_cropped

Holy moldering Marx, the working class is back! Drawn out of hiding by the Donald and Bernie. Cheerleaders for the Ownership Society who pushed subprime mortgages and equity draining as a substitute for NAFTA-gone jobs are aghast. As are devotees of identity politics. Solidarity Forever? Screw it. An overarching concept like class, with its multi cultural inclusiveness, could undermine decades of hard work fanning social divisions.

As for snobs on both sides of the political divide, for them it’s a real knuckle-drag to see the return of the “great unwashed”. Yes, West Virginia– there still are folks who use that phrase. Or think in its terms. That many of them are no better off economically or secure in their futures than the Morlocks they imagine and despise matters not. Illusions of superiority are as comforting as a baby’s blankie.

So– where has the working class been hiding? Answer: in plain sight. Only the term “working class” disappeared, not the actual people.

In an infamous scene from Sex & the City, the gals are discussing their sex lives (did they ever discuss anything else?) while getting a pedicure in a Korean nail salon. Miranda, a high-powered attorney, is dating a bartender. Charlotte, an art gallery manager with a wealthy husband, says the relationship has no future because a bartender is “working class”. The gals all laugh at such an archaic concept. Then the camera pans down to show the Korean women kneeling at their feet…

The term “working class” began fading out in the 1970’s; its erasure has been helpful politically to both left and right. The boon to the right is obvious; no working class means no need for organized labor. Not saying that not using the term is the sole reason unions have shrunk to a ghost of their former selves– just that it’s harder to organize people when they can’t name the group with whom their economic interests lie. And when that increasingly nameless group is made to appear ridiculous, boorish, and bigoted the organizing gets even harder. I mean, who wants to identify with–

Archie Bunker

Ah, Archie. The creation of liberal TV god Norman Lear, blue collar Archie ruled the sitcom world in All in the Family between 1971 and ’79. Talking trash with little cash. The latter wasn’t a sympathy factor, just another indicator of Archie’s social inferiority. Some claim Archie was an anti-hero and that white viewers secretly identified with him while pretending to scorn. But anti-heroes, after decades of cultural presence, tend to segue into respectability. So why does the term ”Archie Bunker” remain an insult?

Archie Bunker was an ugly stereotype. One that was allowed to stand because its target, the working class, was no longer deemed worthy of respect. Also because those being targeted were ambivalent about identifying as “working class”. Doing so flew in the face of middle class aspiration. Plus, the term was an ideological one associated with communism, our Cold War enemy, and in this country with hoary political groups still fighting the Stalin v. Trotsky wars. Many such groups featured the word “workers” in their titles. Comrades dressed the part, circa Woody Guthrie. The New Left called these groups “Old Left”. By 1971 their worker-centric influence had dwindled to an echo.

Not so New Left influence. Thanks to their piggy-backing the counterculture, rads of the New Left were hip and happening. Their cultural judgments carried weight. And from them, the working class got no respect.

Few groups on the New Left called themselves “worker” anything. In New Left minds, American workers had been corrupted by the success of organized labor and were now part of the problem not the solution. They had houses, cars, and televisions. Refrigerators full of beer. Cupboards stuffed with white bread. They worked in factories that belched pollutants and/or produced gas-guzzlers that carried people away from urban slums to suburban tract homes with lawns. (The New Left, with its amazing ability to intuit hidden motives, knew the exodus was really about racism not lawns.) But the biggest sin was support for the Vietnam War. That most working class people had kids, siblings, spouses, or friends fighting the war was no excuse. In Vietnam, the USA was Hitler. Which made all its supporters back home “good Germans”. Something New Left activists took great moral pride in not being.

Back to Norman Lear. Creator of Archie Bunker. Wealthy as hell but still an ace identifier of all things working class ugly, Lear has denounced Donald Trump. No surprise. Trump’s blue collar supporters are often called Archie. “Meathead” aka Rob Reiner, liberal son-in-law of apocryphal Archie, has also delivered a finger wag.  Apostle Meathead spreading his Creator’s Word…

One Last Thing

Thankfully for fans of the TV working class, Archie Bunker wasn’t the only blue collar guy to grace sets in the 70’s. There was also Detective Columbo of the LAPD. Underestimated. Rumpled. Smoking a cheap stogie, driving a beloved beater. Unlike Archie, Columbo never talked politics. All he did was ask homicide suspects gazillion nagging questions. Relentlessly. The payoff being his nailing arrogant elite types who thought they could get away with murder.

When I look at the people cheering Trump– and Sanders– at rallies in post-industrial places I don’t see the face of Archie Bunker. I see Columbo bringing it home. I can almost hear it…

“One last thing. Nothing important. I just need to clear up a few small details. It won’t take long. I know you need to get on with ruling. But first, can you tell me where you were when American jobs were being exported, cheap labor was being imported, and working class/middle class incomes were stagnating?”

Everybody into the beater!

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Like Mao Said, Real Estate isn’t a Dinner Party

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Mao as realtor

Ho ho ho! On December 21st, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) will gift the nation with the true number of existing home sales between 2007 and 2010. The NAR’s inflated numbers were flagged earlier this year by CoreLogic, a California based data firm. When confronted, the NAR grumped they’d look into it. Sounding more like dwarfs caught mining fool’s gold than housing helpful elves. Several seasons have passed. Now, a few days before Christmas, when most people pay scant attention to news, the NAR will be giving us a wee bit of truth. How holiday special is that? Scrooge’s transformation pales by comparison.

Like Scrooge, the NAR (rhymes with guar, which when partially hydrolyzed is fully fermentable in the large bowel) had to be coerced into transformation. With CoreLogic its Ghost of Christmas Past.

Speaking of the past, though the Washington/Wall Street nexus (On Fannie, on Freddie, on Banksters and Brokers!) financially powered the housing bubble that led to the economic crash, Realtors were the relentless boots on the ground. Threatening folks that if they didn’t buy now they’d be forever priced out of the housing market. Evoking an eternity of rental serfdom under Landlord Potter. As opposed to an eternity of low or no equity mortgage serfdom under Banker Potter.

Then there were NAR TV ads. Such as the 2007 gem claiming “when you have a family it’s always a good time to buy“. Underwater families are yukking over that one. Or how about the 2008 tout for Uncle Sam’s $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit? The break that suckered the last clueless buyers into paying still-inflated housing prices, jacked mortgage fraudsters posing as first-time buyers, and according to many Realtors (now) prolonged the housing crash. And the ads keep coming…

During 2011, reforms limiting government backed housing programs that leave taxpayers holding the bag for mortgage failures and related bailouts have been kicking around Washington. At the same time, the NAR has been blitzing the airwaves with a fear monger pitch featuring a Norman Rockwell grandpa fretting about “the dream of home ownership being threatened“.  Then there’s their “Public Awareness” campaign which champions the housing industry as job creator. What pol with elections looming could resist that?

Not that many pols ever resist the NAR. Its lobbying clout makes pols go all wobbly in the large bowel. For years, the NAR has beat back wave after wave of legislative reforms that threatened to reduce taxpayer exposure to housing-related risk.

Still, NAR concern re job creation is admirable. Many of the jobs that flow from housing are in the unionized construction trades, the last bastions of middle class wages for America’s blue collar workers. The worker-friendly NAR recently made Bill Malkasian, former head of the Wisconsin Realtors Association (WRA), their Vice President of Political Strategic Planning. When head of the WRA, Malkasian threw the group’s full weight behind union-busting Governor Scott Walker. The Koch brothers gave big to Walker, but the Wisconsin Realtors Association gave more. In his new position Bill Malkasian will be in the NAR field, leading political strategic efforts at state and local levels all over the nation.

By the buy, Bill’s new job is part of the NAR’s atta-boy response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that corporations and other entities have the same political speech rights as individuals and can spend as much campaign cash as they wish.

The NAR has other reasons to be cheerful. As 2012 draws nigh, its leaders are making their annual Happy Days Are Almost Here Again predictions. Plus, the NAR is based in the USA not the Peoples Republic of China.

In China, underwater homeowners are doing more than seeking interest write downs or living rent free while awaiting foreclosure. The “fang nu” (housing slaves) of China’s housing bubble are storming the gates of real estate heaven.

The Los Angeles Times, in its December 13th article China’s housing bubble is losing air, describes a revolt of the fang nu in Shanghai. Condo buyers who’d been told by salespeople that “prices wouldn’t go down” became enraged when the project’s developer (China Vanke Co.) slashed purchase prices by 25% for later buyers. The condo cadre trashed the sales office and tussled with employees. It took the police three days to quell the protest. Cities including Shanghai and Beijing have had at least seven similar uprisings in three months, in which mobs “destroyed real estate offices and demanded refunds of up to 40%”.

According to the New York Times (Village Revolts Over Inequities of Chinese Life, 12/15/11) as many as 180,000 “mass incidents” have taken place in China over the last year. There are numerous reasons for the uprisings. But a prime cause is another twist on the real estate game–

“…the seizure of land by well-connected private developers or government officials, which invariably involves forced evictions for meager compensation….these seizures are supported by local governments that have come to rely on proceeds of land sales and development to pay for day-to-day operations.”

A familiar scenario to anyone who followed the rise of eminent domain abuse during the U.S. housing bubble daze. When moderate and low income property owners discovered their neighborhoods had become land-grab goldmines for pols, planners, and developers. Justification? Revitalization by any means necessary.

Like Mao once said, “Real estate is not a dinner party”.

OK. Mao Zedong aka Mao Tse-tung aka the Great Helmsman of the Peoples Republic of China till 1976, didn’t really say that. He said this:

“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous.”*

If you substitute “real estate” for “revolution” Mao’s words could come from a sales motivational speech. One which would wrap with the threat that coffee (or tea) is only for closers.

*From Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan

 

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