Op-Ed: A Wake Up Call for the Middle Class

Union supporters are closely watching the events in Wisconsin where the governor is trying to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions.  It has become commonplace to blame public workers, unions and the government for the nation’s economic problems.  Public sector workers, who have more job protection from union contracts, are viewed negatively by their private sector colleagues.  Private sector workers feel powerless and are misplacing the blame for their problems at the feet of other middle class workers, rather than with corporate America. 

It is the growing problem of “crab mentality” that is threatening the very existence of the middle class. Crab mentality refers to the behavior of crabs when they are placed in a bucket. While each crab can escape from the bucket, instead they attack each other to prevent others from escaping.  Eventually, this behavior leads to their collective demise.

It is unfortunate that like crabs, human behavior as a group is to pull down or diminish others out of envy or competitive feelings.   The middle class is in warfare against itself, at a time when we should be united in the fight to save ourselves from extinction. This warfare is being provoked by conservative wealthy corporate leaders who are effectively using propaganda to create resentment among middle class workers about salaries, pension and benefits.

But the facts are clear: the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer at a staggering rate. Once upon a time, the United States had the largest and most prosperous middle class in the history of the world, but now that is changing at a blinding pace. 83 percent of all U.S. stocks are in the hands of 1 percent of the people. Consider that 66 percent of the income growth between 2001 and 2007 went to the top 1% of all Americans.

Corporate America is also winning the public relations war.  They are effectively turning middle class neighbor against neighbor. We have taking our anger out on government employees, teachers and other union workers rather than at Wall Street. 

As a strong union proponent, my message to my friends and family in the private sector is that it is  time to wake up and recognize that the real enemy is not your neighbor. The real question is not why should public sector employees have it so good, but rather why don’t private sector employees have it as good? Remember, the old union motto: “Don’t whine – organize!”

Now is the time for middle class to recognize that if we all don’t hang together, assuredly we shall hang separately.

Brad Siegfried

President, Philipsburg Osceola Education Association

President, Central Region PSEA

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