Rich and poor

Just to be clear, outsourcing is only one source of the huge disconnect between a tiny elite and ordinary American workers, a disconnect that has been growing for more than 30 years. And Bain, in turn, was only one player in the growth of outsourcing. So Mitt Romney didn’t personally, single-handedly, destroy the middle-class society we used to have —Paul Krugman

When I was a student in high school and university I used to work summers as a factory hand at Rowntree Macintosh (the candy company who made Smarties, Aero, and Black Magic–later bought out by Nestle). It was a great job I got via my neighbour, an old Yorkshireman who’d been a bombardier in the Lancs during the war. It was a union job that paid exactly the price of a dozen beer an hour (in the old, highly regulated Ontario system). I used to watch the clock, counting the beers.

Th other night I realised that I have no idea what it is like to work in a factory now. And more importantly, I don’t think any of our politicians do.

I have a great job. I’m underpaid compared to my peers… but then I work at the University of Lethbridge, which is absolutely and certainly, as our president asserts, “Alberta’s destination university” (over and above, for example, the Universities of Alberta and Calgary whose only advantage is that they rank higher than we do in international comparisons: you can tell we’re not Harvard, but then only because you can’t row on the Old Man river and our logo is blue). Even with that, I earn a salary that places me quite firmly in the 10%, if not exactly the 1%. And I have a lot of autonomy, which is better than cash.

But what is it like not to be a professor… or a lawyer, or a manager, or a politician who was once a professor or lawyer or manager? Being leftish, I hear a lot of Liberal and NDP comment on the economy and society. Commentary that doesn’t sound to me like it really comes from the factory floor. And because I live in Canada, I hear a lot from a reined-in version of the neo-con revolution that has destroyed the U.S. through official government channels… commentary that is scathing of “liberal” attempts to help the poor, but that doesn’t sound like it lives paycheque to paycheque in jobs that do not have a lot of autonomy.

I suspect the real reason voting levels are so low in this country is that Canadian politics has simply ignored the majority of Canadians, and that they are returning the favour. Commentainment like Limbaugh and Beck work in the absence of serious attempts to address what it is like to work in an environment of what looks like complete economic uncertainty–I can see how that would breed the kind of cynicism that Fox thrives on. But neither of Rush nor Glen really know what it is like to be paid by the hour today.

I wonder what a politician would sound like now who actually spoke to the twenty-first-century equivalents of my colleagues on the Rowntrees factory floor twenty-five years ago?


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