White Collar Blues is an Unaddressed Economic and Political Issue

Washington    A line in an Associated Press story in the local papers caught my eye:  “Since 2008, roughly a third of major US metro areas lost a great percentage of white-collar jobs than blue-collar jobs.”

That’s not the political and economic headliner that most people are following.  The Trump administration is trying to save the jobs of the last coal miners and their segment of the angry, underemployed factory workers in heavy industry.  General Motors announced layoffs of 14,000 workers recently, 8000 were white-collar and 6000 were blue collar.  Most of the focus has been on production facilities being shut down in the United States and Canada, but it seems that a huge number of the white-collar jobs shed by the company are highly skilled and well-paid engineers.  The much heralded and rocky transition from fuel injected combustion engines to self-driving and in many cases, battery operated vehicles means that mechanical engineers are being scuttled for software jockeys of a coming generation of workers.

These white-collar workers, just like the millions of blue-collar workers, are trainable and many of them are highly educated and proficient, but that doesn’t mean transitioning them to new skills and new jobs solves the problem of age, location, and simply the time necessary to learn and become proficient.

Where is the investment being made by federal and state governments in those retraining programs?  For decades it has been a poorly recognized scandal that virtually no level of government has built a replicable training and reskilling model. The Amazon search was interesting in bringing attention to a couple of cities that had made real progress in this area, but nationally we aren’t Germany.  We are still training hairdressers and auto mechanics in some communities!  I’m not sure how many of these white-collar workers are going to be voting Republican if the only job training is getting a certified nursing assistant certificate.

As candidates start to look at platforms that might make a difference in upcoming elections, these high-road training options need to be front and center.   Some politicians are getting this.  Talking to a friend in Wisconsin recently, it was encouraging how a newly elected governor and his staff were already reaching out for help and advice to the best and brightest with experience in the areas of exactly this kind of economic development, way past the daily news about trade spats and blaming other countries for our lack of investment in our people.

This is a fast-moving disaster coming our way with huge implications everywhere for everyone.  We need to move this closer to the top of the list.


We Need More People’s History Museums!

Manchester      “The Organizer” was screening at the Friends Meeting House today, and the members and leaders of the newly organized ACORN branch in Manchester were working, so I had the opportunity to not only visit, but also observe and work from the People’s History Museum and The Left Bank café and bar.  What a great way to tell the story of people’s struggles for democracy in civic life and a voice in the workplace and political space.

Fittingly, the museum is located in the Spinningfield district, named for all of the spinning mills that heralded the Industrial Revolution virtually birthed in Manchester.  Additionally, signaling the working-class roots that made Manchester wealthy and imprinted the politics for years, the museum is retrofitted into an old pump house along the river with some remnants of its former life still visible. The museum was supported by labor unions in the United Kingdom, but also the European Union, national arts councils, and, importantly the Manchester City Council, but don’t think that diluted the message of the museum:  this is people’s history.

The museum had many, many strengths.  Viewers were encouraged to participate.  Pushing buttons meant hearing historic speeches by politicians of all stripes, union leaders, and others.  At one-point yellow police tape was on the floor and when I walked across the entryway and picket line chanting greeted me as it if I had cross the line during a strike, making the experience very realistic and dramatic.  Speckled throughout in various time periods visitors were encouraged to open suitcases to see what people might have being carrying or wearing at the time, or visitors could try on hats that union leaders and managers might have worn. Visitors could open cubbyholes to see whole exhibits.  Very smart!

The museum was also aided tremendously by dramatic visuals.  Sweeping and intricate banners made by early trades group for their meetings and demonstrations were as creative as tapestries we saw only days earlier in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff.  Posters for demonstrations or political rallies both modern and one-hundred or more years old were fascinating and forceful.  The sections on the suffragette movement and the fight to win the vote for women in England were outstanding, especially the separate pride in Mrs. Pankhurst from Manchester, as they called their native daughter and key leader of the fight.

The development of political struggles from the Levellers and Chartists to the Communist and radical elements as well as the more mainstream Labour Party were well documented.  One amazing illustration on a wall running from floor to ceiling several stories up showed a timeline of British history and the various movements, strikes, demonstrations, and repression that marked the time to either victory or defeat.

Workers, women, and various voices were celebrated everywhere here, as well.  Critically, the museum was not simply about organizations, winners and losers, but the importance of struggle itself.  The People’s History Museum’s motto tellingly was: “There have always been ideas worth fighting for.”