Manufacturing Jobs, 1939-2012

I grew up in South Bend, Indiana when it was a solid labor town. The men worked at Studebaker, Bendix, South Bend Lathe, and a host of manufacturing businesses, and almost every one of them was a proud union member and a loyal democrat. No more. The chart shows the staggering decline in manufacturing jobs in the last ten years, from around 17.5 million to about 12 million today.

Those jobs didn’t just disappear, of course. American businesses sent them overseas under the prodding of consultants and private equity businesses like Bain Capital. Mitt Romney won’t bother his pretty head with the problems this creates for workers, like those at Sensata Industries in Freeport Illinois. In his acceptance speech he offered them his solution: “…when you lost that job that paid $22.50 an hour with benefits, you took two jobs at 9 bucks an hour and fewer benefits.” Mitt is very grateful that those workers didn’t sabotage the equipment being shipped overseas, despite the humiliation of being required to train their Chinese replacements. He seems to think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask them to vote for him.

It’s unlikely that any of Sensata employees will vote for Romney, but plenty of others in the same position will, just like the voters who keep electing Todd Akin. Commenter jimkhm offered a description of these voters (slightly edited):

These people are the typical white middle class frustrated with higher costs, jobs going over seas, higher health care, lower spending power, Birch Society, Heritage Society, home schooling, urban looking for someone to blame crowd. … These people want the peace and quiet of Troy Mo population 10,000 and the convenience of driving 70 miles into my neighborhood to see Wicked when it comes into town. They prefer to bury their head into a bible and refuse to look at any other evidence even when presented. These people are intentionally and willfully ignorant on any and all subjects unless they find it to their benefit. For example one might be an accountant, great at their job, immersed in the business world but as backwoods as it gets when comes to social mores. Yeah they will love the show Wicked but hate the Fags playing the roles and see no conflict.

These voters are completely different from the union men in South Bend. They do office work, not physical labor. They assume they got their jobs because of personal merit and will hold them forever. Many of them were home-schooled, others trained at bible-based colleges. They are the kinds of men described by Hanna Rosin in the New York Times Magazine article “Who Wears the Pants in This Economy”, men who try to live out the fundamentalist maxim that they are designated by the Almighty to be the “head of the household”. Rosin’s interviews show that many men who believe this are having trouble with their masculinity when they lose their jobs and their ability to pay for the needs of their family.

Hallmark [then the Pastor at the First Baptist Church] had to make slight adjustments in what he had preached for nearly 20 years. Instead of reminding the men that the Bible instructs them to be the head of the household, he tells them, “Your manhood shows in your reaction to hard times.”

The pathos in that sentence is touching. The Pastor was wise enough to see that he was hurting people, and he changed his sermons, if not his beliefs. He seems to be a decent man, but he still thinks he has to teach the men how to be masculine, as if they couldn’t figure that out for themselves.

None of these men would consider joining a union. It’s perfectly OK for the boss to ship their jobs to Taiwan and to cut their pay to increase the bottom line. As a result, they have no way to fight back. They cannot defend themselves from a violent attack on their self-image, their way of life and their family by capitalist bully-boys. No wonder they feel neutered. They slink off into self-pity, or take Mitt Romney’s advice and work twice as hard for less money. Perhaps that explains their lack of empathy and willingness to kick the people who can’t even do that.

I have some advice for the Pastor: quit encouraging weakness of spirit, stop encouraging meek acceptance of fate. It’s unmanly. Preach a sermon on Deuteronmy 25:4, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Or if you prefer the New Testament, discuss Luke 1:7 “… the worker is worthy of his hire.” Tell your people it’s all right to fight back.

Here’s my advice to these genderless creatures in Rosin’s article: Man Up! Join the Union Team and Fight to Protect Your Way of Life.