In thrall to that one percent

I recently sang a couple of songs in Cooper Union at the centennial commemoration for those who perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. I do have to admit that it was a thrill to stand on the same stage where Abraham Lincoln gave one of his greatest speeches. And this is a week to remember Honest Abe, it being the 150th anniversary of the first shots fired in the Civil War. Anyway, at the4 Cooper Union event I had the unenviable task of following Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers Union. This was akin to going on after the Rev. Ian Paisley at a Democratic Unionist Party rally in East Belfast or Ballymena when he was in his heyday. Brother Roberts is one hell of an orator. He had the audience crying over the 100,000 U.S. miners that have died from work related accidents since 1930. He had them cheering by declaring that Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin is the best union advocate to come down the pike in decades. And he had everyone taking to the barricades when he stated that the top one percent in this country who own 35 percent of the wealth could kiss his union ass. Hardly Lincolnesque, but effective nonetheless. Now, I don't blame schoolteachers, cops or firemen for the country's financial woes; it's no crime to wish to retire with some kind of financial security. But the fact is, there's so much anti-union rhetoric currently being spewed out that a certain amount is beginning to stick. If there's a change in the weather fingers begin pointing at the UAW, while if the Yankees lose a couple of games, it's likely the fault of the AFT. The fact is that all of us, left, right and center, are being manipulated by that top one percent. It's just that we're so busy trying to keep our heads above water we don't have time to stop and think about it. Consider this! Back in the bellbottom 70s, manufacturing workers were pulling in $15 to $20 per hour. The recently negotiated UAW contract guarantees new hires $14 per hour. Thirty years of progress. That great American ineluctable right - or rather assumption - that one can make the middle class is now a mere pipe dream for much of the population. Many who lost their jobs in the recent financial debacle stand scant chance of regaining their standard of living, for those decent union jobs of 30 years ago have been replaced by low paying service industry positions, if they have been repalced at all. The great factories that I once drove past on Route 80 are now boarded up shells. Buffalo, Toledo, Detroit are graveyard cities, their populations declining by the year. Detroit is even being downsized according to recent reports. How did this all come about? Well, we trusted venal politicians in the pocket of lobbyists employed by the top one percent oligarchy. Meanwhile, we allowed ourselves to be divided by a media more interested in selling ads than seeking the truth; and the sad part is, nothing has changed. Capitalism itself was almost brought down by Wall Street cowboys whose only interest was the bonuses they would receive for their casino-like trading from over-leveraged positions. And now we're prepared to let their political hacks dilute and shackle the recently enacted Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Hey, but let's not get carried away. We all have that infinitesimal chance of someday joining the heady one percent, so don't rock the boat, baby. Lloyd Blankfein from the Bronx was raised in public housing and will receive $19 million this year for steering Goldman Sachs to the brink and then resuscitating it. Who cares that people are raising families on $19,000 per annum? So to hell with Cecil Roberts and his unions, and to hell with collective bargaining and regulation too! The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire happened 100 years ago and it was just a bunch of immigrants anyway. It's every man for himself now - every woman too. Besides, there's always Michele Bachman - and Powerball.

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