The eternal question – why do working-class Americans continuously vote against their own enlightened self-interest? Why do we vilify successful social policies elsewhere instead of emulating, and improving, them here?
“Canada, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and France now have greater social mobility — university education is free, or at minimal cost in Western Europe. Compared to other advanced industrialized countries which all provide universal health care, we are at the bottom in life expectancy and infant mortality. Americans have three months unpaid parental leave — Swedes have 13 months, paid. Unlike Western Europeans, we have no government legislated paid vacations. In Germany, the world’s largest exporter after China, workers get 6 weeks a year off. Americans average 13 days.
“American conservatives delight in predicting the imminent demise of socialistic Western European benefits. But these benefits are part of the social contract within which all major European political parties, including conservatives, operate. While large national debts are leading to some cuts in benefits, these cuts do not represent reneging on that contract, just as cuts to education in the U.S. do not represent reneging on government funding for education — which is part of our social contract.
” * European workers define themselves as working class which facilitates awareness that their interests are opposed to those of the upper classes — factory owners, bankers, financiers etc. Since WW2, the common wisdom in the U.S. has been that we have no working class. Factory workers, the folks who flip Hamburgers at MacDonald — they’re all middle class, so it’s a small leap to becoming upper middle class. Someday, with hard work and a little luck, you, or your children, could be making millions, or at least hundreds of thousands — true for a small percentage of working class Americans, but for the vast majority more than ever, a fantasy that discourages struggling for better conditions.
” * The shift to “we are all middle class,” coincided with virulent McCarthyism which lumped socialism and communism together — no distinction made between murderous, totalitarian Communist regimes, and democratic socialist societies developing in Europe — and turned both into un-American dirty words. (Right wingers’ attacks on centrist President Obama as a “socialist” testify that it remains an attack word 60 years later.) Talk of working class versus capitalist class, common among European workers, became anathema — such talk supposedly created class conflict where none existed. But it does exist. With all due respect to our many responsible CEO’s — and wealthy Americans willing to pay higher taxes — a vast majority care only about their bottom line.
” * Unions, still influential in Western Europe, are committed to democratic socialism. Since the 1970’s U.S. unions have been in sharp decline. Industry moving to un-unionized areas, employers — with their lawyers — using labor law to evade unionization, corrupt union leaders, have been factors. By the 1990’s most workers — especially blue collar — were without power and without the political education that unions historically provided.”