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An Important Read For Working People: How Politicians Divide, Conquer & Confuse American Workers Based On Race - Artificial Divides Based On Racial Fears Worsen Everyone’s Prospects

Published Friday, January 22, 2016
by Amy Alexander/The National Journal

Since the 60s, Amer­ic­an Work­ers have been sub­jec­ted to a steady drum­beat of polit­ic­al mes­sages de­signed to di­vide them by Race and Class, res­ult­ing in a dra­mat­ic weak­en­ing of Bar­gain­ing Power and Job Se­cur­ity – that’s the con­clu­sion of an ana­lys­is of nearly 50 years’ worth of polit­ic­al and eco­nom­ic data that’s been compiled by Ian Haney López, a Pro­fess­or of Law at U.C. Berke­ley.

Dur­ing a re­cent pan­el dis­cus­sion held at the National AFL-CIO Headquar­ters in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., López presen­ted the find­ings in a re­port: Race and Eco­nom­ic Jeop­ardy for All, an ex­ten­ded ex­cerpt of his 2014 non­-fic­tion book - Dog Whistle Polit­ics: How Coded Ra­cial Ap­peals Have Re­in­ven­ted Ra­cism and Wrecked the Middle Class (Ox­ford Uni­versity Press).

On a range of Work­force Is­sues, in­clud­ing Wage Levels, Eco­nom­ic Mo­bil­ity, Job Se­cur­ity and Health and Pen­sion Be­ne­fits, Amer­ic­an Work­ers have been los­ing ground for the past 50 years, National AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

Grow­ing con­cern among Labor Lead­ers that Re­pub­lic­an Pres­id­en­tial Can­did­ates - in­clud­ing Ted Cruz and Don­ald Trump - are seek­ing to deep­en ar­ti­fi­cial di­vides among Amer­ic­an Work­ers based on Ra­cial Fears and Class In­sec­ur­ity led Trumka to in­vite López to de­vel­op the re­port and par­ti­cip­ate in the pan­el.

“When we are ar­ti­fi­cially di­vided - we lose,” Trumka said. “The Labor Move­ment is ‘not big enough’ to (coun­ter­act) neg­at­ive mes­sages alone, which is why we’ve been reach­ing out to Polit­ic­al Pro­gress­ives, Civil-Rights Or­gan­iz­a­tions, En­vir­on­ment­al Groups, and oth­ers.”

In ad­di­tion, Trumka told the gath­er­ing that AFL CIO Or­gan­izers have been en­ga­ging in fact-find­ing ex­cur­sions around the na­tion, “door-knock­ing” to sur­vey voters on polit­ic­al at­ti­tudes in ad­vance of the pres­id­en­tial primar­ies.

Of par­tic­u­lar in­terest, Trumka said, are re­spond­ents’ opin­ions about Re­pub­lic­an front-run­ner Don­ald Trump.  López’s find­ings point to­ward the re­l­at­ive pop­ular­ity of polit­ic­al mes­sages such as those es­poused by Trump and some oth­er Con­ser­vat­ive-Lean­ing Can­did­ates na­tion­ally and in the States that cite im­mig­ra­tion as a lead­ing cause of erosion of job op­por­tun­it­ies for nat­ive-born Amer­ic­ans.

A vir­u­lent form of scape­goat mes­sage fram­ing dat­ing back to the 1960s has re­turned to na­tion­al polit­ics, López said.

In the 1960s, Re­pub­lic­an Pres­id­en­tial Can­did­ate Barry Gold­wa­ter and Demo­crat­ic Alabama Governor George Wal­lace in­voked “coded” or “dog-whistle” lan­guage to paint a pic­ture of Black and Latino Amer­ic­ans us­ing gov­ern­ment pro­grams to avoid “hard work,” and un­der­min­ing Job Pro­spects for Whites.

Sim­il­ar ref­er­ences are now front and cen­ter, López said, and Work­ing Class Amer­ic­ans across the eth­nic spec­trum are at risk of be­ing “se­duced” by the an­ger that such mes­sages en­gender.

“We ‘need to talk about’ Ra­cism as a ‘struc­tur­ing force’ that ‘hi­jacks’ our polit­ics and the eco­nomy,” López said.

Na­tion­wide, Uni­on Mem­ber­ship has stead­ily de­clined since the late 1970s, ac­cord­ing to the Bur­eau of Labor Stat­ist­ics.  In 1983, a fifth of all Amer­ic­an Work­ers be­longed to Uni­ons, but by 2014, the rate had de­clined to 11.1%.

Ac­cord­ing to López, a di­vide-and-con­quer ap­proach used by some Con­ser­vat­ive Politi­cians also at­tacks the two in­sti­tu­tions best po­si­tioned to aid all Amer­ic­an Work­ers in achiev­ing im­proved eco­nom­ic pro­spects: Gov­ern­ment So­cial and Eco­nom­ic-De­vel­op­ment Pro­grams; and Uni­ons that foster Col­lect­ive Bar­gain­ing for Work­ers con­tend­ing with in­creas­ingly power­ful cor­por­a­tions.

He said that Demo­crats, too, have not been en­tirely im­mune from en­ga­ging in at least a watered-down ver­sion of Ra­cial and Class-Based Polit­ic­al “Dog-Whistle” Mes­saging in or­der to ap­peal to Mod­er­ates and Work­ing Class White Voters over the years.

“Bill Clin­ton cam­paigned and won on the fol­low­ing themes: End­ing wel­fare as a way of life; Crack­ing down on crime; and crack­ing down on gov­ern­ment spend­ing,” López wrote.

By “im­it­at­ing” the Re­pub­lic­ans’ form of “ra­cial polit­ic­al mes­saging,” Clin­ton won the pres­id­ency twice - but also suc­ceeded in mak­ing the Amer­ic­an elect­or­ate more “ra­cially anxious,” in ad­di­tion to ush­er­ing in the era of mass in­car­cer­a­tion and weak­en­ing Gov­ern­ment-Fun­ded So­cial Ser­vices at the same time that cor­por­a­tions were re­ceiv­ing ma­jor tax breaks and mov­ing en­ter­prises over­seas.

Among those po­ten­tial solu­tions most likely to be ef­fect­ive at restor­ing Work­ers’ Rights and im­prov­ing em­ploy­ment pro­spects are Co­ali­tion-Build­ing and Edu­ca­tion­al Ini­ti­at­ives that provide clear, con­cise data and facts about Wage Is­sues, Right-To-Work (for less) Rules and In­come In­equal­ity, Trumka said.

Part of the Uni­on’s strategy is to show White Voters that when Wages of Afric­an Amer­ic­ans, Lati­nos and oth­er his­tor­ic­ally un­der­served pop­u­la­tions are sup­pressed, it makes it easi­er for em­ploy­ers to stick to lower rates of pay for White Work­ers, too.

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