The customer service representative for my credit card company is pro-life, but believes that Bush’s pro-corporate tax laws and free trade policies are destroying the U.S., starting with her own family and town.
Our conversation began with a routine call to correct a billing error. Credit card companies do make mistakes. Corrections may take an afternoon, but they do take action while we are all still young.
She asked why I didn’t go online to make the correction. “Because I didn’t want to contribute to anyone else getting laid off,” I replied. “It’s bad enough that we export more jobs than Chevys, to have technology putting another family on the street.”
After allaying my concerns she would not lose her job to the Internet — although I had to confess I wasn’t convinced — she launched into an eloquent defense of workers and a blistering critique of Bush “feed the rich, smash working families” economic policy.
“Every day, on the news or via word of mouth, I hear about thousands of families losing their jobs,” she said. “In North Dakota, where we live, our kids are leaving and towns are just boarding up and blowing away. I got laid off from the phone company after 28 years because my job went to India. My entire department got laid off. These are workers who never missed a day, knew their jobs, built the phone company and are the backbone of our towns and churches. Some neighbors just packed up their trucks, locked the door on their house and disappeared. Not even a Christmas card or wedding announcement.
“I got nothing against workers in India,” she said. “They are just like us even though we are a world away. They are just trying to feed their families, keep a roof overhead and send the kids to college. From TV shows, I see workers in India work hard and smart like we do.
“It’s the phone company.” Her voice was rising and I could feel her grip the edges of her desk. “The phone company is just part of a system, caught up in the system. The corporate stock was up. They made money here; a ton of money here. Turns out that Bush pays them to look for ‘better’ overseas. The Commerce Department paid for the company to travel to India and make the deal. The Commerce Department didn’t pay for my son, who is 22, to send out hundreds of resumes or my daughter to drive 200 miles for a $7-an-hour job. But they paid the phone company to lay us off to increase their profit margins.
“How am I supposed to teach my children a good work ethic, like the church says, when people who work hard, pay taxes, obey the law, end up out of a job when they are 48 years old? And to think my husband and I voted for Bush. (It was abortion, you know.) We believed that tax cuts for the phone company meant that we would work, get a raise. Now, it’s not even a year into his second term! I don’t think he’s coming back to North Dakota anytime soon. And I never even thought about carrying a sign in my life.
“This system is wrong, evil. It rewards greed. It sanctions lying. It encourages people to turn on each other, to hate, distrust one another. That is not the country I want to leave to my grandchildren. That is not why my family works.”
My information came up on her screen. Quickly, efficiently, my account was corrected. Before we hung up, I encouraged her to run for office, in her town or in her union, and to check out the PWW online.
There are times when I wonder if Bush and his corporate cronies live in the same country as the customer rep and I do.
Numbers usually trump anecdotes, conversations on buses or subways or over the phone. The union-sponsored Economic Policy Institute says job growth is “weak.” In June full-time employment was 117.2 million and part-time jobs provided a paycheck for 24.5 million. With Republicans controlling the government, though, it took 51 months to reach that number. Recovery from the recession that began in March 2001 has lagged behind other downturns in the business cycle. Note, this recession began in March 2001, not on September 11.
EPI bases its analysis on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a federal agency that neither the customer rep nor I completely trust. The June numbers do not reflect the reported job slashing at GM, Alcoa, Pittsburgh National Bank, Winn-Dixie, Kodak or Hewlett Packard.
The job loss numbers are staggering, but behind them are light bills piling up, prescriptions unfilled, dentist appointments unmet and too much Hamburger Helper for supper.
Anger is brewing, simmering, sweltering across the country. Opportunity — meaningful, decent work — is disappearing. For most, reality is not the Republican/corporate vision of gated estates. It’s the Flints and Youngstowns, the Pittsburgh neighborhoods, Birmingham streets and North Dakota towns. There is a healthy anger, a thoughtful rant, a working class clarity that sees through the corporate media, the credit card buy-now pay-later schemes, skewed federal reports and lying politicians.
I look forward to seeing my customer rep and her family in Washington, carrying a sign demanding job creation at corporate expense, and trade where products, not paychecks, are loaded onto ships to make a difference in another country.
Denise Winebrenner Edwards (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a member of the Wilkinsburg, Pa., Borough Council, and is on the editorial board of the People’s Weekly World.