Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore. Or Are We?

December 15th, 2004 | Paula Brantner

In “What’s the Matter With Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America,” a book published earlier this year by Thomas Frank, we learn about how the state of Kansas over the last hundred years was transformed from a hotbed of political populism—and even radicalism–to a hotbed of conservative activism, which also purports to be populist. Frank’s analysis is both insightful and funny, and if you read it knowing that it was written before the November election, its brilliance is all the more apparent. For those struggling to understand why American workers don’t necessarily vote in their own interests, it is definitely worth reading.

I picked up this book not necessarily expecting it to have such relevance to the work of Workplace Fairness. It was more of a personal interest, really: I had heard that it was a rather entertaining history of the (d)evolution of Kansas City’s Kansas suburbs, to which I happen to live close (in Kansas City, Missouri, where I work from a home office for Workplace Fairness.) And while the book certainly is that, it’s also much more.

Its basic premise is this: why do the people from a state which used to be known for its crusty and independent radicalism now vote so completely against their own interests? Or, as Frank describes it:

Here is a movement whose response to the power structure is to make the rich even richer; [and] whose answer to the inexorable degradation of working-class life is to lash out angrily at labor unions and liberal workplace safety programs. (Frank, p. 7) The angry workers, mighty in their numbers, are marching irresistibly against the arrogant….[W]hile the millionaires tremble in their mansions, they are bellowing out their terrifying demands. “We are here,” they scream, “to cut your taxes.”

(Frank at p. 109)

It’s certainly a frustrating paradox for groups like Workplace Fairness. Before the election, we introduced a new area of our website called “Short-Changed: America’s Workers are Giving More and Getting Less.” In it, you’ll find the proof that in virtually every aspect of the American workplace, workers are getting the shaft, while employers only get wealthier and more brazen in their efforts to deny fundamental fairness to their employees. So how can we, and others who care about workers, educate those most affected to take action that is in their best interests?

Frank offers not so much a solution as an observation that liberals/Democrats/progressives/whatever you want to call “the other side” have essentially abandoned economic and class issues to remake themselves as “the other pro-business party” (like “pork—the other white meat.”) Frank claims that this side “no longer speak[s] to the people on the losing end of a free-market system that is becoming more brutal and arrogant by the day….[and their] political strategy assumes that people know where their economic interest lies and will act on it by instinct.” (Frank at 245.)

Yet as Frank could have predicted would happen on November 2, “[t]he gigantic error in all this is that people don’t spontaneously understand their situation in the great sweep of things. They don’t just automatically know the courses of action that are open to them, the organizations they might sign up with, or the measures they should be calling for.” (Frank at 245.)

Two words: Workplace Fairness. We hope to be part of the solution, but we need your help. We need you to spread the word so that working people who certainly understand the bad things that are happening to them—but not how to fight back—know we exist and that we have resources to help them. We need your financial support, so that we can continue to provide that assistance and be that voice, while reaching millions more each year. And we need you to understand what it is that we’re up against: a movement that has people believing that only “moral issues” matter, but neglecting the moral values of combating greed and materialism that Americans find to be significant. With your help, we can start building the kind of national movement that American workers can claim as their rightful home—not one that runs so counter to their interests.

Recommended Reading List (contains Frank’s book and others we like; all purchases of these and any books from Powell’s Books through our site supports Workplace Fairness.)

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