Our VoiceCulture

Race and The Race to the Bottom


Rev. David L. Ostendorf • Aug 03, 2011

In a restaurant in Kirksville, Missouri, a recently-fired immigrant worker made $400 for seventy-two hours of work per week. Seventy-two hours. $400 per 72-hour week.

It took Maria Rivas forty years of hard work to earn her way up to $11.40 an hour at the turkey processing plant in West Liberty, Iowa. Forty years. $11.40 an hour.

For over fifty years the unemployment rate for Blacks has held fairly steady at twice the unemployment rate for whites. Fifty years. Twice the unemployment rate.

The story is endless. As the inane debt debacle in Washington draws to a close, and as the Tea-Partied Congress fails once again to do anything about the nation’s economic travails, there is one grim constant woven into the story of national stagnation and decline: workers of color are swept up in the race to the bottom of the political economy—unseen, alone, disposable, and unrepresented at the tables of power.

And as budget slashers continue their assault on peoples struggling to simply make it day-by-day, those programs and agencies mandated to protect workers will – you can count on it – face even further cuts in both their budgets and enforcement powers.  After all, who needs Departments of Labor or Health or Human Services (or even the IRS) in a Wall Street Economy where even white unemployed workers have been written off?

Meanwhile, the US is in the throes of ever-deepening political conflict – indeed paralysis – and an overall race to the economic bottom that reflects the racial transformation of the country.

The dominant population of European descent is slowly fading, but will not give up power without a fight—the Tea Party craze and its slash-and-burn politics being but the current manifestation of a (white) body politic at the barricades.  Other such manifestations have been somewhat less raucous but nonetheless impactful: the law-and-order crowd which for decades has incarcerated hundreds of thousands of Black men; ­­the nativist, anti-immigrant movement that now imposes draconian, racist laws in a growing number of states; the unfettered transfer of wealth to an ever more powerful white economic elite; the transfer of countless jobs by US corporations to nations where profits might be super-maximized on the backs of more distant low-wage workers of color.

And now with the debt crisis “resolution,” the white political class has once again put off the country’s most difficult economic problems to another day and another election to further the pathos of chastening the Black President, one who sought to raise tax revenues on the wealthy, even as said pathos has propelled workers of color to the economic bottom.  Such “economic” problems, however, are but the tip of the political and economic crises inherent in the structural racism that pervades the country’s systems of governance and economics.  Those upholding such systems have always functioned primarily for the dominant population; now threatened by potential collapses, they are ready to fight for their maintenance, no matter the cost.

As power struggles to maintain power, the past month of political class dysfunction is but a harbinger of things to come. For at least the past half-century workers of color have struggled for jobs—for good jobs, for better lives. Some have made it, most have not.

Forty years to make $11.40 an hour.  Race?  Race.

The road ahead is full of full of unrepaired chasms and will not be easily traversed.  Organize. Organize now for the trip.

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