Friday, April 16, 2010

The new class warfare

From the 19 April 2010 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

As we’ve seen throughout the long history of our great nation we can be a people divided. From the British sympathizers and revolutionaries of early America to the secessionists and nationalists of the Civil War to the hawks and doves of the Vietnam War, Americans have shown they can be split over significant socio-political issues.

Such public disagreements aren’t necessarily limited to matters of defense and war. Other divisions – internal and bloodless wars, if you will – have always occurred in communities across the United States. Class warfare – both the real and the assumed – has pitted the poor against the rich, the “haves” against the “have nots” and the middle class against the lower class.

After tens of decades of sameness, the face of class warfare is changing. The Great Recession has made it apparent that a new chasm exists amongst our populace. But, it’s not where you think.

Rather temporarily (and expectedly), the hatred for the ultra-rich reached its peak when the recession gained steam and bailouts were poured upon gigantic corporations and their executives who precipitated the collapse of the economy yet found themselves rewarded with extravagant bonuses. But, as the recession lingered and the bitter taste of those events subsided and became old news, the unemployed and the underemployed found a new target: Those who work in the public sector…not just the politicians but every one who punches a clock or earns a salary from a municipality, school district, or federal office.

It’s common knowledge that those individuals have been spared the struggles that befell private sector breadwinners. Since the recession began in December of 2007 nearly 8 million jobs have been lost in the manufacturing and service industries. Thanks to stimulus packages that have served only to prop up governments, government employment gained a net of 110,000 jobs.

That disparaging gap in job security has fed the envy monster that exists in all human beings. Many people who work in or became unemployed by the private sector now look at their public sector friends and family with disdain, seeing them as leading a life that goes on unaffected by unemployment woes. Other factors beyond job security alone contribute to that jealousy, including the public sector’s benefits which include many things that have been cast aside by businesses during the recession like raises, health care and pensions.

That hatred only grows stronger as the recession goes on. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel for many industries, confounding job seekers. For most it looks like the one (or no) income household will be the norm for quite some time. So, they see themselves as the “have nots” and the government workers as the “haves.” This unfortunate and derisive view of their neighbors is fed by the hate speech that comes from talk radio and blogs that paints them as the enemy.

It’s a dangerous way of thinking. How soon will it be before parents start outright hating their children’s teachers before they ever get a chance to know them because they are, in their eyes, “overpaid leeches”? How soon will it be before the stressed, jobless families who need social services turn on their providers, seeing them as “fat cats”?

It’s unfortunate, for a good number of public sector employees didn’t join their ranks for the pay and benefits. I’ve never known a cop to risk his life every day for the money. No, he does it because he wants to make a difference. I’ve never known a social worker to work with a broken family because she likes her pension. No, she, too, does it to make a difference. The same could be said for teachers, border agents, and others of responsibility.

How do we temper this wealth envy that pits friends against one another? Private sector workers can start by not hating the person. Instead, hate the unaffordable and unrealistic employment system that was created and run by politicians and bureaucrats. Get those in power to change it. Public sector workers can help by making accommodations and sacrifices. When their bargaining units fail to make concessions or threaten inactivity at the very mention of the suspension of a guaranteed raise they are only begging for others to despise them.

Class warfare is two-sided affair and it takes both sides to end this ugly, divisive practice before it gets out of hand and divides our communities.

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