Nov 092011
Authors: Jesse Benn

You are not going to be the next Steve Jobs, Oprah or Mark Zuckerberg. You already aren’t a Trump or a Rockefeller.

The beauty of the American Dream used to be its attainability.

The dream used to be a single-income house with a white picket fence, a decent pension and health care benefits.

The dream used to be that your kids would have a brighter future than you and that they would live longer, happier and healthier lives than your generation did.

That American Dream is dead. (And if you aren’t a white, Judeo-Christian male, it may never have existed in the first place.)

The good news for all you dreamers out there: there’s still the lottery and inventing the next Facebook.

And really that’s all that’s left of the American Dream today — so buy your lotto tickets, drop out of Harvard and design a website — just don’t complain to me when you don’t make it big.

Because if you’re not in the top 1 percent, you simply aren’t trying hard enough (Just ask “blame yourself,” Herman Cain.) If we listen to him, and the rest of the regressive right-wing, we could all be in the top 1 percent if we’d just get off our whiny, lazy asses.

Now I never was good at math, but something tells me that’s not possible.

And the “it’s your own damn fault” mentality, championed by the right, has been a key element in changing the American Dream to the American Fantasy.

How else do you justify the top 400 richest Americans controlling more wealth than the bottom 150 million? Answer: You can’t. It’s not like those 400 people somehow work harder than the other 150 million combined, that’s impossible — and being a janitor or an elementary school teacher is hard work.

But if those janitors and teachers are convinced that it’s their poor decision-making that caused them to not be a part of that top 400, rather than just dumb-misfortune, they might not notice just how disparate things have become.

And if they do notice, no problem. Part of dismantling the American Dream included destroying the only tool the middle class used to have to keep it alive: unions.

Since the 1970s, union membership has plummeted and income inequality has skyrocketed, and this is no coincidence.

It’s not just the sharp literal decline in union representation though; it’s the decline in their perceived value, even by those lucky enough to be represented by them, that’s so troubling.

In 2010 only 11.9 percent of American workers were represented by unions — the lowest percentage in 70 years. So odds are, most of the people reading this haven’t been, and won’t ever be, represented by a union.

Incidentally, I was fortunate enough to be a member of the Communication Workers of America when I worked at AT&T not too long ago.

Certain things happen in a workplace when you have a union backing you, but mainly, you have a much louder voice at the negotiating table and as a result, you enjoy better pay and benefits and just a nicer work environment in general.

In 2008/09 AT&T was reaping the benefit of being the only US carrier with the iPhone, and as such the company was raking in record profits. So naturally when it came time to negotiate a new contract with the union, AT&T sought draconian cuts to its employee’s pay and benefits.

You see, the economy was in the tank, and the rest of the world was falling down around us, so AT&T knew it had the perfect opportunity to win a fight against the union. Despite the fact that AT&T was unaffected by the economic crash and was making more money than ever, the company used it as an excuse to cut benefits.

And my peers bought it.

Had the union called for a strike, I don’t know if another employee would have joined it with me. And my boss knew this, and so did his boss, and his boss and so on. (I use “his” literally here.)

So, the company waited out the union’s empty threat to strike, and eventually they came to a lopsided agreement, slashing benefits and chipping away at the union’s power and previous successes.

I’ll never forget my co-workers justifying the loss of benefits by saying,“We’re just lucky to have a job in this economy.”

Yeah, that’s what they were counting on.

So corporations and regressive Republicans continue to just play the waiting game, slashing benefits here, taking away bargaining rights there (not in Ohio, take that Kasich!) and fighting the USPS. It seems that soon, unions and not-so-coincidentally, the American Dream, will only exist in history books.

_Jesse Benn is a political science major who likes James Spader’s new character on the office. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. He can be reached at _

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