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The Mechanics
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Labor & Worker Rights Sat May 09 2009

UAW and Class Envy

Megan Mccardle is one of my least favorite bloggers, if by least favorite you mean it takes me hours after reading her to figure out exactly why I disagree with her. Mccardle is clearly not pro-labor (as she herself admits) and her coverage of restructuring and bankruptcy at Chrysler and GM clearly reflects her "liberatarian-ish" (her words) Booth school pedigree. What the government's role in the crisis of the automakers and who is to blame for their collapse is not a topic I'm 100% qualified to opine on, but what is interesting is what the frothy-mouthed language of those who would use the automakers' descent into receivership to bludgeon UAW and unions in general reveals about the politics of class in the US.

We're conditioned to think of class envy as a right-wing, anti-communist term, seeing it mostly in those of a lower station envying the accomplishments of their betters and turning to politics to take short-cuts to prosperity. The rhetoric around the "semi-skilled" workers of GM, Chrysler, and Ford making too much money reveals a class envy of another kind. It's the "I went to college, took a lot of math classes, and went to graduate school so I should make more than the assembly line worker who went to community college" kind of class envy. It's not fair that the beefy NASCAR fan from rural Ohio or African-American from Detroit (UAW is a heavily African-American union) can work 8 hours a day and earn a decent living while I work 16 hours a day calculating complicated capital flows. This kind of class envy is part and parcel of an economic philosophy that not only assumes that all wages are merely returns to human capital, but a specific kind of human capital, too. Learning firm-specific skills that allow (for example) blue collar autoworkers to become really, really good at putting together cars is less important than having some sort of general academic skill set that allows you to jump from job to job when you boss decides to downsize you to improve his company's stock price.

And so we of the creative, educated class are envious of those last vestiges of our parents and grandparent's generations, the ones who worked hard, built something tangible and not just played with words or numbers and got to come home at the end of a day and actually see their family. It's a shame so many of us have decided to take out our insecurity and envy on those workers.

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Mike Huntly / May 9, 2009 4:21 PM

Who in the hell is Jacob Lesniewski and why should I care about his opinion? I need to see credentials...articles..publications....not opinion and anecdotes.

Richard Ott / May 9, 2009 6:07 PM

Mr. Lesniewski is someone who expressed some ideas and opinions that have validity. Doesn't mean he is right or wrong, just something to think about. Your comments, Mr. Huntly are not really necessary. My Grandfather had many opinions and ideas that actually held fact when compared to our problems today and his credentials, just a person who lived thru the Depression, WWII and everything to 2008. Life experience.....

Good Luck / May 12, 2009 3:37 PM

So much projection, so little credence of reality.

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Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...


Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

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