By Elizabeth Willoughby on
On the 30th anniversary of “The Day the Middle Class Died”, activist and film-maker Michael Moore outlined the significance of 5 August 1981 and the subsequent disappearance of American’s middle class. And then he offered some hope.
Two days into the 1981 air traffic controllers’ strike, Moore says then US president Ronal Reagan threatened to fire any member of their union defying his return to work order, and he made the union illegal. But rather than American unions reacting with outrage and defiance, “the biggest organization of unions in America told its members to cross the picket lines of the air traffic controllers to go to work,” says Moore, “and that’s just what these union members did. Union pilots, flight attendants, delivery truck drivers, baggage handlers – they all crossed the line and helped to break the strike.” And that, he says, was the beginning of the end.
“Reagan and the Republicans knew they could get away with anything — and they did. They slashed taxes on the rich. They made it harder for you to start a union at your workplace. They eliminated safety regulations on the job. They ignored the monopoly laws and allowed thousands of companies to merge or be bought out and closed down. Corporations froze wages and threatened to move overseas if the workers didn’t accept lower pay and less benefits. And when the workers agreed to work for less, they moved the jobs overseas anyway. Piece by piece, in the ensuing 30 years, those in power have destroyed the middle class of our country.
“I have often wondered what would have happened had we all just stopped flying, period, back in 1981. What if all the unions had said to Reagan, ‘Give those controllers their jobs back or we’re shutting the country down!’? The corporate elite and their boy Reagan would have buckled.”
Moore believes, however, that three decades later, it’s not too late to turn it around. “This decline will only end when we demand it,” he says, “and not through an online petition or a tweet. We are going to have to turn the TV and the computer and the video games off and get out in the streets (like they’ve done in Wisconsin). We need to demand that the Democrats either get a spine and stop taking corporate money — or step aside. When is enough, enough? The middle class dream will not just magically reappear. Wall Street’s plan is clear: America is to be a nation of Haves and Have Nothings.”
There are organizations already working towards demanding an end to the decline. Here are Moore’s suggested places to start:
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