Labor Day this year was a mixed bag. The parade was small, but dense. I actually missed most of it, because we were about 40 minutes late. That didn’t used to be long enough to guarantee missing it. I also didn’t stay to see President Obama give his “I will defend labor rights” nonsense. I’ll vote for the man, but I’m so heartbroken and disillusioned with what his administration has brought, I can’t bring myself to watch him on TV, much less stand in line to do it.
I did, however, meet some truly inspiring people, the folks from Autoworkers Caravan. They were overwhelmingly Ford workers, but that’s okay. I won’t hold it against them. Just kidding. But sincerely, they seem to have one item on their agenda: Ending the Two-Tier System. I can get behind that, as my son says.
As cool as they were, though, they were all tier-one people. I was the only tier-two person there. They said that they talk to the new people around them and try and get them to come, but no one is interested. Or if they are interested, they’re intimidated. This got me to thinking about why the old-timers kinda love me (or hate me) and the new folks call me Al Sharpton (seriously). I got to thinking about the sick genius of the two-tier system. It’s brilliant, not only because it creates division among rank-and-file labor, but because it also puts to use the last generation of conditioning.
I work with a great number of people for whom this is their first job. People in their early 20s (particularly Black men) have had a hell of a time finding employment in this recession economy. Remember, the recession has been going on for at least five years around these parts. Detroit has been in an economic downturn since….well, really since the 50s. But a hard slide since the Engler years. This has led to an entire generation of people who missed out on: The pride of a paycheck; the lesson of keeping a cool head when someone messes with you; the demonstration of competence; the idea that your work contributes something. These are all lessons that many of us learn in our first jobs in high school. But for someone who is 22, 23, 24 years old and just getting this, it’s hard to communicate that it can be better. Because for many of us two-tier people, a (mostly) steady paycheck is about as good as it’s ever been.
So many of us have never been treated as anything more than consumers. We have never had anyone come to us and tell us that our work matters, that what we do fuels the engine of our economy. Hell, that our work builds the engine of our economy. That because we come to work every day and sweat and toil and pay taxes, schools get built, roads get built, lights turn on, police patrol, firemen rescue, mayors serve, congress dithers, presidents waffle, wars get fought, everything that happens does so because we, the working class, come to work and make it happen. Our work does that, our tax dollars do that, and we deserve better than we’re getting. We, the stepchildren of the working class are going to have to be the architects and builders of our own destinies, the ones we carve out of these new conditions. We have the right to know, to be told in no uncertain terms that we are the ones that we have been waiting for.
Stepchild in the Promised Land