06 August 2011 ~ 13 Comments

The Day The Middle Class Died…a letter from Michael Moore

You guys know how I love the exulted MM…well, got another letter from him today, and it reads as follows:


30 Years Ago Today: The Day the Middle Class Died …a letter from Michael Moore

Friday, August 5th, 2011


From time to time, someone under 30 will ask me, “When did this all begin, America’s downward slide?” They say they’ve heard of a time when working people could raise a family and send the kids to college on just one parent’s income (and that college in states like California and New York was almost free). That anyone who wanted a decent paying job could get one. That people only worked five days a week, eight hours a day, got the whole weekend off and had a paid vacation every summer. That many jobs were union jobs, from baggers at the grocery store to the guy painting your house, and this meant that no matter how “lowly” your job was you had guarantees of a pension, occasional raises, health insurance and someone to stick up for you if you were unfairly treated.

Young people have heard of this mythical time — but it was no myth, it was real. And when they ask, “When did this all end?”, I say, “It ended on this day: August 5th, 1981.”

Beginning on this date, 30 years ago, Big Business and the Right Wing decided to “go for it” — to see if they could actually destroy the middle class so that they could become richer themselves.

And they’ve succeeded.

On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired every member of the air traffic controllers union (PATCO) who’d defied his order to return to work and declared their union illegal. They had been on strike for just two days.

It was a bold and brash move. No one had ever tried it. What made it even bolder was that PATCO was one of only three unions that had endorsed Reagan for president! It sent a shock wave through workers across the country. If he would do this to the people who were with him, what would he do to us?

Reagan had been backed by Wall Street in his run for the White House and they, along with right-wing Christians, wanted to restructure America and turn back the tide that President Franklin D. Roosevelt started — a tide that was intended to make life better for the average working person. The rich hated paying better wages and providing benefits. They hated paying taxes even more. And they despised unions. The right-wing Christians hated anything that sounded like socialism or holding out a helping hand to minorities or women.

Reagan promised to end all that. So when the air traffic controllers went on strike, he seized the moment. In getting rid of every single last one of them and outlawing their union, he sent a clear and strong message: The days of everyone having a comfortable middle class life were over. America, from now on, would be run this way:

* The super-rich will make more, much much more, and the rest of you will scramble for the crumbs that are left.

* Everyone must work! Mom, Dad, the teenagers in the house! Dad, you work a second job! Kids, here’s your latch-key! Your parents might be home in time to put you to bed.

* 50 million of you must go without health insurance! And health insurance companies: you go ahead and decide who you want to help — or not.

* Unions are evil! You will not belong to a union! You do not need an advocate! Shut up and get back to work! No, you can’t leave now, we’re not done. Your kids can make their own dinner.

* You want to go to college? No problem — just sign here and be in hock to a bank for the next 20 years!

* What’s “a raise”? Get back to work and shut up!

And so it went. But Reagan could not have pulled this off by himself in 1981. He had some big help:


The biggest organization of unions in America told its members to cross the picket lines of the air traffic controllers and go to work. And that’s just what these union members did. Union pilots, flight attendants, delivery truck drivers, baggage handlers — they all crossed the line and helped to break the strike. And union members of all stripes crossed the picket lines and continued to fly.

Reagan and Wall Street could not believe their eyes! Hundreds of thousands of working people and union members endorsing the firing of fellow union members. It was Christmas in August for Corporate America.

And that was the beginning of the end. Reagan and the Republicans knew they could get away with anything — and they did. They slashed taxes on the rich. They made it harder for you to start a union at your workplace. They eliminated safety regulations on the job. They ignored the monopoly laws and allowed thousands of companies to merge or be bought out and closed down. Corporations froze wages and threatened to move overseas if the workers didn’t accept lower pay and less benefits. And when the workers agreed to work for less, they moved the jobs overseas anyway.

And at every step along the way, the majority of Americans went along with this. There was little opposition or fight-back. The “masses” did not rise up and protect their jobs, their homes, their schools (which used to be the best in the world). They just accepted their fate and took the beating.

I have often wondered what would have happened had we all just stopped flying, period, back in 1981. What if all the unions had said to Reagan, “Give those controllers their jobs back or we’re shutting the country down!”? You know what would have happened. The corporate elite and their boy Reagan would have buckled.

But we didn’t do it. And so, bit by bit, piece by piece, in the ensuing 30 years, those in power have destroyed the middle class of our country and, in turn, have wrecked the future for our young people. Wages have remained stagnant for 30 years. Take a look at the statistics and you can see that every decline we’re now suffering with had its beginning in 1981 (here’s a little scene to illustrate that from my last movie).

It all began on this day, 30 years ago. One of the darkest days in American history. And we let it happen to us. Yes, they had the money, and the media and the cops. But we had 200 million of us. Ever wonder what it would look like if 200 million got truly upset and wanted their country, their life, their job, their weekend, their time with their kids back?

Have we all just given up? What are we waiting for? Forget about the 20% who support the Tea Party — we are the other 80%! This decline will only end when we demand it. And not through an online petition or a tweet. We are going to have to turn the TV and the computer and the video games off and get out in the streets (like they’ve done in Wisconsin). Some of you need to run for local office next year. We need to demand that the Democrats either get a spine and stop taking corporate money — or step aside.

When is enough, enough? The middle class dream will not just magically reappear. Wall Street’s plan is clear: America is to be a nation of Haves and Have Nothings. Is that OK for you?

Why not use today to pause and think about the little steps you can take to turn this around in your neighborhood, at your workplace, in your school? Is there any better day to start than today?


Michael Moore

*** Thank you Michael for dedicating your life and energy to making and keeping Americans aware of what is going on around them, and  for putting it in layman’s terms so that anyone of any educational level can at least grasp the complexity of these ongoing travesties and how their every day lives are impacted. I salute you!***




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13 Responses to “The Day The Middle Class Died…a letter from Michael Moore”

  1. Orchid64 6 August 2011 at 8:34 pm Permalink

    A lot of things have changed and one is that Republicans have learned how to deftly manipulate the poor into supporting policies that are antithetical to their wishes. They realized that pandering to their fears about social policy would garner votes while they continued to cater to the desired fiscal policies of big business and the wealthy. The poor often do not care about the fact that they are acting against their own better futures as long as gays, immigrants, atheists, and various anti-patriotic notions are attacked by conservative politicians. I know this for a fact in one case in particular, and there is plenty out there to support this notion in general.

    The case in point I know is that of my mother. During my entire time at home (up until I was 24), she was a democrat and fairly moderate socially and absolutely liberal economically. As part of the working poor with a husband on Social Security disability, her interests were always best suited by policies which acted to lift up the less advantaged. Some time after I came to Japan, my mother started to attend church regularly and was fed a steady stream of anti-liberal messages. She went from being socially moderate to conservative, and started voting Republican because that was what the fear she was being infused with taught her to do. Despite being poor and now disabled herself (she is blind now due to the genetic disease retinitis pigmentosa), she voted for people who would cut her benefits because of social policies (anti-gay, anti-immigrant, etc.) which the church told her God would want.

    This sort of manipulation works as part of a pattern of “us vs. them” thinking that appeals to the poor, ignorant, white Americans. They see their lot in life as continually degrading, and it is. However, rather than see it for the true reasons (tax cuts to companies that export jobs, policies that remove welfare and education benefits, and weakening of unions), they are fed rhetoric which blames it on other social factors and they buy it. They see themselves as victims of the liberals and as part of a “patriotic” part of America which is being slowly and steadily repressed. Since they identify so strongly with their religion and their religion reinforces this identity by saying “this is who “we” are” and “they” are hurting us, they only heed those messages that threaten their identity, not the ones that economically dismantle their livelihood.

    Nothing is more powerful in America, a country with no concrete identity due to its origins as a cultural melting pot, than giving people a solid one to connect to. The social fabric in the U.S. is weak enough for such manipulation to occur and I don’t see how anything short of a revolution is going to stop this. There are just too many people who hear what they want to hear rather than listen to the truth, and a lot of them are afraid and politicians, especially conservatives, are expert at using that fear to get people to believe them and vote for them.

    One thing I have realized about Japan is that they have an identity. This is sometimes a source of frustration when you hear “we Japanese” for the millionth time, but at least they are not casting about trying to work out who they are such that they subscribe to dogma and diatribes that end up gutting their ability to live the best life possible. That is not to say that the Japanese are in anyway better (particularly when they are so politically indifferent and embrace “gaman” and “shikata ga nai” so strongly that they don’t act to improve things), but rather that there is value in having a national identity. It does make it harder for someone to fill up the empty slot in your understanding of yourself with one that serves their ends at your expense.

    • Locohama 6 August 2011 at 9:16 pm Permalink

      I agree wholeheartedly.
      One of the reasons I left America insearch of greener pasteurs is because of what you just stated. specifically that I too believe that without true revolution (in the “V is for vendetta” kind of way) will real change ever occur. furthermore that the revolution that I was eager to be a part of suffered a catastrophic setback on 9/11 and in the dark days that followed where the leadership decided that it was time to galvanize a weary and scared populace into ‘going shopping to show the terrorist that haven’t destroyed our way of life”
      Another point i want to expand upon is what you said about the Japanese and their national identitiy (syouganai and gaman notwithstanding) I was impressed and inspired upon my initial encounter with it. Moved. I had never seen anything like it and I imagined that if I learn more about it (from my upclose and personal vantage point) perhaps i could bring this knowledge back home with me and use it because in my life time (in the US) I had not seen people galvanized behind anything aside from fear and hate and anger. i missed the civil rights era and came of age in the era Mr. Moore so aptly captured in the above letter. i watched without a clear unerstanding the things he described. The demise of unions, the dessimation of the middle class, etc…and being poor, and knowing that the vast majority of the middle class were white (and not being inclned to give a fuck what happened to white people at the time, nor having any comprehension of how the middle class aspiration of many blacks was being dashed simultaneously) I just observed and intoned that the chickens had finally come home to roost. I actually wanted to use whatever I could discern to focus on improving conditions in my community, a formerly black community (now, not so much due to the locusts like spread of gentrification across brooklyn which has chased a good number of my friends to not so greener pasteurs and some even back down to the badlands in the south chockful of people you described so aptly.)
      Anyway, before i could formulate anything substantial my envy of the “we” propelled me to find the glaring drawbacks and shortcomings of it and I trashed that idea. LOL!

      A little nostalgia: I remember when reagan’s predecessor Carter was president. The most remarkable thing about his presidency to me at that tender age were the Iran Hostage Crisis which seemed to go on interminably and of course the Energy crisis and Gas lines (according to the alphabetic on your license plate as I recall in NY) and even my preadolescent mind knew that this was a bad thing. so when reagan came along I, like many americans, welcomed the change, as many have welcomed the change Obama represented. My mother was receiving public assistance and my father was gone and there were 6 of us…and I remember we used to be able to go to the schools in the community and have free breakfast and lunch (and trust me, it was more than a supplement…there was many a day and night where that was all that was on the table), but once reagan got in office suddenly that was history, as were the summer youth job programs and the health clinic and other things my family dependent on for its well-being.
      anyway, all of this meandring is to say I feel you copmpletely Orchid. thank you!

      • Orchid64 7 August 2011 at 8:29 am Permalink

        The irony is that Japan automatically gives us an identity when we step onto its shores. We become “gaijin”. They make it clear who we are, where we stand, and the place we hold in society. It may not always be the identity we want, but there is something of value psychologically in being so clearly defined.

        This is something I’ve pondered for my eventual departure. Who will I be when I’m not longer this outsider, as I have been now for nearly half my life. Even an identity you dislike (or hate) is better than none at all. It’s why people attach themselves to so many destructive things. Moving on to being something else which is vague and unclear is scary.

        • Locohama 7 August 2011 at 12:59 pm Permalink

          I tend to think of it as being stripped of any traces of an identity once you step on these shores, but it amounts to about the same thing in the long run.
          Like “The Invisible man” some people don’t actually see you, only what they imagine you to be, which ever package they’ve been given or programming they’ve uploaded about people that share your qualities. And this they wrap around you like the invisible man of the movies was wrapped in bandages, only it feels more like a smearing than a wrapping to me. When (if) i go back, like you, i will have to take a long spiritual shower to wash off this residue and discover what if anything is beneath it. Maybe it has been dissolved by this layer of “icing”. Maybe there wasn’t much there to begin with so I can just start fresh, from scratch. That’s a refreshing liberating optimistic thought for ya (-;
          Anyway, nothing solid here. just thinking out loud. Thanks for inspiring me.

  2. Chris B 7 August 2011 at 12:07 am Permalink


    “Behind those larger donations is a phalanx of more than 500 Obama “bundlers,” fund-raisers who have each collected contributions totaling $50,000 or more. Many of the bundlers come from industries with critical interests in Washington.”


    “Attempts to put distance between the White House and lobbyists are not limited to meetings. Some lobbyists say that they routinely get e-mail messages from White House staff members’ personal accounts rather than from their official White House accounts, which can become subject to public review. Administration officials said there were some permissible exceptions to a federal law requiring staff members to use their official accounts and retain the correspondence.”

    Comparing 1981 to 2011 is merit less. This whole Moore letter seems to imply that Wall street and big business bought and paid for the White House. Are you not watching today’s news? They are buying it again..and again. This smells like Left wing rhetoric aimed at the Right wing.

    From the middle…where I stand it seems one is no better than the other.

    “As the do-something lame-duck Congress’s triumphs were toted up, the White House pointedly floated the news that the president was meeting with Reagan administration veterans (David Gergen, Ken Duberstein) and taking Lou Cannon’s authoritative biography “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime” on vacation. Reagan, of course, was also pummeled (though a bit less so) in his maiden midterms of 1982, then carried 49 states in his 1984 re-election landslide. In January 1983, Reagan’s approval rating was much worse than Obama’s — 35 percent. So was the unemployment rate (10.4 percent vs. our current 9.4 percent) as Americans struggled to recover from what was then the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression.”


    • Locohama 7 August 2011 at 1:16 pm Permalink

      Clearly you have it in for Obama and MM which is your prerogative. I don’t think this letter was so much about how great Obama is. In fact I think MM has had his fill of “change” and “yes we can”. What it was about is a specific event he believes was a point where shit went awry and the master stroke was applied. I don’t know how accurate it is but it “feels” about right. I was there in the 80s and of an age where things were starting to make sense. I had just becoming politically aware. I actually liked Reagan, personality wise. He was a great choice, charming, disarming,and fatherly,(at first) not too bright and not too dumb.
      I really don’t want to get deep into a political debate. I just want to say that I don’t think it’s an attack on the right wing. I think MM is (has) set up the dynamic not so much of left vs right, but haves vs have nots (or have nothings he cleverly said) and that is where the fight has is and always will be. The Haves have no party affiliation. They exist in both and in neither. They have influence over both as well. This is clear.
      To read this letter and walk away feeling that it was an attack on the right wing is to miss the point partially if not entirely.

      • Chris B 7 August 2011 at 8:34 pm Permalink

        “Clearly you have it in for Obama and MM which is your prerogative.”

        I voted for Obama. I wanted lobbyist to have less influence. Obama is playing the hand he was dealt. I think Reagan was perfect for his time. Vietnam…patriotism and being a proud American was not the vibe until he came in.

        “To read this letter and walk away feeling that it was an attack on the right wing is to miss the point partially if not entirely.”

        MM attacking the right wing…whoda thunk 😉

        I don’t exist on that or any wing. The implication about big business struck me…as Obama…the man I voted for…is raising more money from that sector than any President in history.

        My step dad is in Politics. I grew up around elections and glad handing. They are all the same. Personal values and such may vary but to stay in the game you gotta play the game.

        Great post BTW!

        • Locohama 7 August 2011 at 9:32 pm Permalink

          It’s like a political talk show ploy, changing the subject to put the conversation in an arena you prefer, even if the conversation is only tangentially relevant. Whether or not obama is supportive of big business or not is irrelevant yet you chse to stress that point in both comments. I dont see the relevance unless you count MM as an Obama-ite which he is not. He was anti-Bush for sure, but i think his main agenda was change and to get all people regardless of wing to open their eyes and not only to vote but to vote in their best interest and not according to some agenda set down by divisive political action committee, religious groups or other lobbyist. First and foremost to look at all the facts before making an informed decision. And yes he believes, and I agree, and so do you, that neither party has an exclusive foothold on the high ground.

  3. Will 7 August 2011 at 1:03 am Permalink

    As the offspring of a social worker, I saw the people on the street who’d been kicked out of mental hospitals when ronald took over, met the homeless, and spent a number of holidays taking food to people in farm labor camps… kind of like the ones near the cotton fields where I spent a few summers. And for a time, I lived where most of the people didn’t need to speak English at home.

    I also remember stories of how companies in southern California were hiring illegal workers from India to do their programming…that was in the early 80’s, while I went to live with in a more affluent household with vastly different value$. My, how times have changed. I learned how business people would inject the word “fuck” into just about every sentence they said that had to do with legal matters. Fences were for honest people. If you could afford an attorney, you could do pretty much whatever you wanted as long as you weren’t dealing with people who could also afford attorneys. And people sucked up to money in a way that made them envious and sometimes downright nasty. I learned about white horses and white ponies, saw the decisions people made and the consequences they paid. I learned to walk among the rednecks and their offspring. I also knew that it was not for me.

    Will a revolution change anything? In some places, it just doesn’t matter.

    I also learned about places where people are sticking together, forming communities, helping each other out. Places where people know how to build with their own hands, grow their own food, make their own entertainment. Places where musicians, poets, artists, architects, lawyers, ex-NFL, playwrights, authors, and craftspeople don’t seem to give a damn about who has what kind of advanced degree because that just doesn’t matter anymore. But these places are rare and usually not in California, nowhere near ‘the Industry’.

    And I’ve managed to turn over enough rocks here on this island to finally start finding people who think along similar lines. My neighbors are great, we watch out for each other. There’s a lot to do, but no one seems to be in so much of a hurry that they have forgotten about living.

    Over the last two open fires we’ve cooked over, conversations have focused on the future, what we’ve got to do for the kids. It really looks like things may get a lot worse before they can get better. For us, it only gets better.

    The last real ‘depression’ the educated part of my family faced was in the 20’s, in New York. The women managed to hold it all together because they were strong. In winter, a frozen body near a doorway was something people just learned to step over, never losing composure. The less-educated half of the family were in somewhere near what would later become part of the dust bowl, making moonshine, picking cotton, and living off the land.

    Seems like times have almost gone full-circle. We’re gearing up for what may be another hard period for some people. If things do get bad for most, we’ve got access to what we really need. We know how to fix anything that is necessary.

    Doesn’t WordPress take part of that quote from Malcolm X that goes something like this, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today”?

    This down-cycle is going to be fascinating.

    Back to revolution. Has anyone been paying attention to gentle giants such as Will Allen?

    Anyway…just my two yen worth.

    Thank you Loco.

    • Locohama 7 August 2011 at 1:27 pm Permalink

      Thanks for the shout Will! I agree, education is a key. So the revolution I imagine needs to take place is not about ignorantly taking to the streets in protest of shit you can barely comprehend, but about bringing about an upheaval where getting educated becomes the American dream…not getting paid. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. In particular this nirvana where people look out for one another. I’m not even sure what that means. I mean, here on this island I have seen the closest to what you’re talking about, which sounds like a total trust that ones neighbor has essentially the same morals and motivations as yourself. Like a commune or something. That sounds pretty utopian…but It’d be interesting to experience such a place. Maybe I can learn something.

      • Will 8 August 2011 at 10:28 am Permalink


        This reply is going to go sideways a bit, but not in a bad way. Hang on for a paragraph or two and you’ll see what I mean (maybe). Education and trust.

        When thinking about education that serves the North American dream (and quite possibly beyond), Isaac Asimov foresaw it. There’s a very haunting Bill Moyers interview on YouTube that is from maybe twenty years ago. Asimov goes deep in a lot of ways that people are just starting to really understand…because it’s happening. Before William Gibson, there was Asimov (I Immigrant: The Laws of Immigrants?).

        As for trust in thy neighbor, we understand that fences are to keep honest people honest. What is troubling is when the honest people need razor wire to keep them at bay. Fortunately, we’re in a spot where the fences are fairly low. So, about trust…we’re all human, we’ve got our characteristics, those little inconsistencies that are pretty consistent, the way I see it. “Utopia” is definitely ‘no place’ I can say that I’ve ever been, though I am beginning to learn what is involved about becoming part of a community. At the same time, having boundaries is key. Particularly here, as soon as a person starts being dishonest in trying to please another person, that seems to play a huge part in creating stress that has the potential to blow up in everyone’s face.

        Okay, those were the two paragraphs. Ready for the bonus.

        Boundaries are hella important. And ‘getting schooled’ seems to come with the territory. We had this chat over a fire, while having one of those Sanford and Son conversations when he brought up ‘Chico and The Man’. Sitting around the coals and just talking, no one trying one-up another, no one trying to hustle anyone, just good times kind of talk with all that sempai-kohai baggage gone. And the question came up, “Well, what’s next?”

        And on that note, I’d like to end this reply to Loco of Loco in Yokohama (one of the best-bloggers I’ve come across in Japan) with a little link that helps for those of us who need to keep our inner-hippie in check.

        (NSFHB: Not safe for holding beverages)

        The actual song kicks in at 1:50

        Thank you for your time.

  4. Craig 7 August 2011 at 4:26 am Permalink

    It’s this weird kind of fear that I now get to live with having returned to America. In Japan, there was the ever present social fear you could see in the people about trying to fit into the puzzle and not stand out constantly. That was a simple fear, and easily sensed…

    Now there are these complex fears that hide inside the brain here in the states. I don’t worry constantly about getting sued and losing all my money. I don’t worry about some medical disaster and losing everything. I don’t worry that something like 9/11 will happen again. I don’t worry about a lot of these things outwardly, but they’re deep in there somewhere, and someday I might have to fight those dragons.

    It’s a weird change… I could feel the Japanese fears a lot more directly, but the US ones don’t have this direct effect on me….until they actually happen of course, and then I’m sunk. ;-p

    If more people realized that these things were dangerous, perhaps we could confront and put an end to them….but we just ignorantly trudge forward, accepting it all….

    • Locohama 7 August 2011 at 1:40 pm Permalink

      fear. What a word.
      man did you say a mouthful about those complex fears. Last time I went home I was dealing with some baser fears, but I wasn’t there long enough to engage the complex ones. And I’m not looking forward to it either. Confronting fears as a people? Is that even possible? has it ever been done? I imagine that dealing with one’s fear is a personal challenge. I really think of it on such a large scale.
      You made me think of a quote from a film rich and quotable: V is for Vendetta
      “People should not be afraid of their government, governments should be afraid of the people!” or something to that effect.
      i think many of the fears we deal with, and those you mentioned, are fears used by the governments worldwide to control people, and so overcoming those fears, as a people, is in fact a revolution and will result in societal change that will bring governments,as they stand presently, crashing down.
      I’m totally with you! But, part of me FEARS that this need for control and power through fear is a mechanism of human nature that will taunt haunt and fuck us for eternity. Unless the essential humanity of people shifts from it’s current state…Now that would be a real revolution…or rather evolution.
      Thanks for the shout yo!

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