Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ainda a "classe trabalhadora" norte-americana - recordações dos anos 70 (II)

Na mesma altura, tanto as greves selvagens como o "populismo" de direita e de esquerda estavam na moda, e por vezes protagonizados pelas mesmas pessoas. Como Jesse Walker refere aqui, nas primárias Democráticas de 1972, em Detroit, Michigan, grande parte dos votantes (aparentemente os mais "classe trabalhadora") estavam indecisos entre George McGovern e George Wallace (o candidato conotado com a juventude radical anti-guerra versus o candidato dos conservadores sulistas).

Um artigo mais completo sobre a evolução da "classe trabalhadora" nos anos 70 (ou pelo menos de um operário de Detroit é Introduction to Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the LastDays of the Working Class[pdf], por Jefferson Cowie:

At only twenty-six years of age, sporting long sideburns, slicked back hair, and mod striped pants, autoworker Dewey Burton could barely contain his rage over the state of politics or his frustration with his job in the spring of 1972.

Dewey loved nothing more than customizing and racing automobiles, transforming old parts into dazzling metallic-flake creations, but he could barely tolerate his job at the Wixom Ford plant just outside of Detroit where he felt sentenced to a trivial role in assembling them. Satisfied with his pay, he was part of a widespread movement across the heartland fighting the mind-numbing tedium of industrial production. Reflecting the broad discontent on the floors of the nation's factories, some of which grew into open revolt, he remarked, "I hate my job, I hate the people I work for.... It's kind of stupid to work so hard and achieve so little."

Politically, Burton identified himself as a committed New Deal Democrat, but he was livid over plans to bus his son across Detroit in order to conform to the Supreme Court's idea of racial integration—policies driving his politics quickly to the right. Like the nation as a whole, Burton was simply being torn in too many directions at once. (...)

Dewey Burton may not have been the typical disgruntled worker of the 1970s, but the New York Times believed that he came pretty close. He proved to be an able ambassador to the newspaper's professional middle-class readership interested in the increasingly exotic state of disaffected blue-collar America. He first surfaced in a New York Times article on industrial discontent at the Wixom plant in 1972. Shortly thereafter, a reporter selected him to explain to an incredulous readership the reasons for northern workers' support for backlash populist and presidential candidate Alabama governor George Wallace, to whom Burton had turned because of his opposition to busing. The New York Times returned to interview Dewey during the fall 1972 campaign, the 1974 midterm elections, and the presidential contests in 1976 and 1980. (...)

 The media attention lavished on workers like Burton was part of a broad blue-collar revival in the 1970s, as working-class America returned to the national consciousness through strikes, popular culture, voting booths, and corporate strategy. Making sense of what Newsweek called the "far-ranging, fast spreading revolt of the little man against the Establishment" bordered on a national obsession. Fortune, along with countless other magazines and television news features, recognized the workers of the early seventies as "restless, changeable, mobile, demanding" and headed for "a time of epic battle between management and labor" given the "angry, aggressive and acquisitive" mood in the shops. (...) In 1970 alone there were over 2.4 million workers engaged in large-scale work stoppages, thirty-four massive stoppages often thousand workers or more, and a raft of wildcats, slowdowns, and aggressive stands in contract negotiations. (...)

[T]he workers bursting upon the national stage in the seventies were hardly the stock proletarian character of the 1930s popular imagination. (...) Whether re-christened as the "hardhats," "the unmeltable ethnics," the "forgotten man," the "Silent Majority," the "working class majority," the "middle Americans" or the "new militants" depended upon at whom the observer looked; whether the Dewey Burtons of the world were in the midst of an industrial insurgency or political backlash depended upon where the observer stood. (...) "In the 1970s," labor leader Gus Tyler declared, "fury comes easily to the white worker. He is ready for battle. But he does not quite know against whom to declare war." (...)

And in Burton's Detroit, plans were to integrate not just the schools within the city, but the suburbs with the city. "What burns me to the bottom of my bones is that I paid an excessive amount of money so that my soncould walk three blocks to school," he explained about his family's small bungalow on the edge of Detroit. The leafy affluence of the term "suburb," however, hardly matched the rows of plain-stoop homes of Dewey's Redford, a township hugging the border of Detroit where many streets, including the Burtons', still remained unpaved. "I'm not going to pay big high school taxes and pay more for a home so that somebody can ship my son 30 miles away to get an inferior education," he declared.

Burton decided that the answer to the busing threat was to pull the lever for the pivotal political figure of the era, George Wallace, for the Democratic nomination for president in 1972. The governor of Alabama, who famously stood in the schoolhouse doorway to defend segregation and who swore never to be "out niggered" in politics, was busy rattling the stale presumptions of both major parties. (...)

The mercurial nature of the politics of '72 was such that when Wallace was eliminated from the race, Dewey voted for the most left-leaning candidate of any major party in the twentieth century, Democratic senator George McGovern. The choice did not come easily. The autoworker was genuinely stumped about whether incumbent Richard Nixon's Silent Majority or challenger George McGovern's soggy populism best represented his interests. (...)

The early seventies' political confusion had its analogue in the discontent boiling up on the shop floors. Employees at the Wixom Ford plant where Burton worked were a minor part of a national epidemic of industrial unrest in the first half of the 1970s. They fought with supervisors on the line, clogged up the system with grievances, demanded changes in the quality of work life, walked out in wildcat strikes, and organized to overthrow stale bureaucratic union leadership. Yet it was a conflicted set of movements. As Dewey explained, workers were harnessed to union pay but longed to run free of the deadening nature of the work itself—and sometimes free of the union leaders who spoke on their behalf. (...) Chained to his paycheck, he dreaded his future at the plant. "Each year I felt like I accomplished something. Suddenly I realized that I'm at a dead end and I'll probably be hacking on the line for 30 years." Burton's "mouthing off" at the plant had resulted in a string of disciplinary notices for relatively minor infractions, which blocked his hopes of improving his skills and position at Ford. Too "pushy" and outspoken, according to his foreman, Burton was trapped at the bottom of the industrial order. As one of his co-workers lamented, "There's only three ways out of here. You either conform and become deader each day, or you rebel, or you quit."

Commentators often referred to the unruliness on the assembly lines as the "Lordstown syndrome," after the infamous three-week-long strike in 1972 by a group of young, hip, and inter-racial autoworkers at a General Motors (GM) plant in Lordstown, Ohio, who battled the fastest—and most psychically deadening—assembly line in the world, "With all the shoulderlength hair, beards, Afros and mod clothing along the line," explained Newsweek of the notorious GM plant, "it looks for all the world like an industrial Woodstock"—suggesting the possibility of an upheaval in class relations for the seventies equal to those of race and culture of the 1960s. "At the heart of the new mood," declared the New York Times, "there is a challenge to management's authority to run its plants, an issue that has resulted in some of the hardest fought battles between industry and labor in the past." (...)

The complexity of Dewey Burton's life cuts against the simplistic "hard hat" stereotype that dominated the decade and that was brought to life each week in the most popular sitcom of the decade, All in the Family. Dewey found little opportunity for leisure or entertainment, other than his passion for customizing cars, but, like the rest of the country, he never missed the break-through CBS show he and his wife, Ilona, affectionately referred to by the name of its iconic main character, "Archie." (...)  Despite Archie becoming the national symbol for the bigoted blue-collar worker, however, Dewey Burton saw nothing of himself in the main character. "He's a fool," Dewey reported about Archie. (...)

In 1976, Dewey Burton announced that he found someone whom he believed could deliver the nation out of its malaise: former actor, California governor, and long-shot presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. He explained that he was going to be a "primary jumper"—a Democrat voting in the Republican primary in order to support the California governor's bid to unseat President Gerald Ford from the right. In Reagan, Burton found the same freshness, independence, backbone, and scrappy spirit that Wallace had shown in 1972 but "without the shadow of racism behind him" that bothered Dewey about the Alabama governor. "Four years ago, it was all fire and brimstone— busing and the Vietnam War. And then it was Watergate," he recalled about the earlier contests. "Now there aren't any issues, except maybe the economy," he explained about both the rapid changes in the nation and the hollowing out of the political process by 1976. (...)

By the turning point election of 1980, Dewey Burton's earlier rebelliousness had melted into a defensive gratitude for the limited job security he possessed. Back in 1972, a unionized manufacturing job seemed like an existential dead end, but, in the twilight of the industrial golden age, that same job had become a rare and coveted source of security. The dwindling numbers of workers who had claim on those high-paying industrial jobs found themselves to be labor's new aristocracy (...) Dewey was certainly doing quite well. He had earned a slot painting parts and then, finally, a much-sought-after position in the skilled trades. His promotions, ironically, were partially management's reaction to his media fame. While he continued to pour his soul into building his T-bucket hot rods, Burton's advancements allowed him to move his family up and out toward the more comfortable suburbs further outside of Detroit. (...)

Dewey Burton may have been a good deal more comfortable than he had ever been, but, as he might have told a complacent George Meany, he was also the last of a dying breed. "It's the first time in 16 years that I've ever been threatened with losing my job," he reported in 1980. Like much of the economy as a whole, the auto industry was in a tailspin as Chrysler turned to a federal bailout and Ford and GM slashed employment levels. "A lot of my friends lost their jobs. They won't never come back to the plant," he lamented about a layoff of 3,200 workers at the Wixom Ford plant—a pattern that rippled across the heartland. (...)

By 1980 Burton completed the most significant transformation in postwar political history: from New Deal faithful to icon of discontent to Reagan Democrat. In his mind, there was little choice for the 1980 general election. "Carter's had four years. He didn't stabilize the country. Don't give me no more promises. Let me try somebody else's promises for a change," he concluded in his last interview. "If Carter's so good for the working people, how come they're not working?" he demanded about the president's disastrously ineffective first and only term. Organized labor rallied to defeat Reagan, but Burton believed that the unions' political influence on him and the rest of the rank and file had greatly diminished over the course of the decade. He also knew that even the UAW's support for Carter was little more than "lukewarm"—if for no other reason than the union had supported Ted Kennedy's attempt to unseat Carter from the left in the 1980 primary. On the eve of the 1980 election, the New York Times concluded its decade-long look at one autoworker, noting, "Dewey Burton has become a happy man, and he will gladly vote for Ronald Reagan for president on November 4 . . . [even though] he is a strong union man, a Democrat by upbringing and conviction."
O Dewey Burton começou no principio da década a ser entrevistado como exemplo dos operários descontentes com a natureza do trabalho fabril ("alienante", diriam os marxistas) e acabou a década a eleger Reagan (com George Wallace e George McGovern pelo meio).

Algumas observações:

- É muito popular a teoria de que há uma classe operária economicamente de esquerda mas culturalmente conservadora, e que nos EUA os Republicanos ganham os seus votos apelando às questões culturais; mas olhando para o relato da vida de Burton, até me parece que até seria ao contrário - era o achar o trabalho "chato" e a má relação com os chefes (o que me parece mais uma questão cultural) que até o poderia inclinar para a esquerda, e era o ter comprado uma casa nos subúrbios e agora o filho ser levado para uma escola, provavelmente pior, no centro da cidade (o que me parece uma questão essencialmente económica - pelo menos se acreditarmos no que ele diz, que não tinha nenhum problema com os negros, apenas com a qualidade da escola) que o levou para a direita (e lá ficou devido à crise económica dos anos Carter)

- O exemplo do operário indisciplinado no local de trabalho e que votou Wallace nas primárias de 1972 faz-me de novo lembrar a tal ideia que já referi, de Keith Preston querer um movimento que combinasse o populismo de George Wallace com a doutrina dos IWW

- O facto de ele até achar o ordenado bom mas (pelo menos em 1972) achar o trabalho desinteressante e ter frequentes conflitos com os superiores hierárquicos (tendo, ao que me parece, ficado quase na prateleira por causa disso) parece-me bater certo com a ideia de a "classe trabalhadora" desprezar mais a classe média-alta, que passa o dia a dar-lhe ordens, do que propriamente os ricos (afinal, se o problema é mais uma questão de autonomia no trabalho do que de dinheiro, faz mais sentido ter ressentimento contra os chefes do que contra os ricos) - embora suspeite que os tais supervisores com quem ele tinha problemas também fossem "classe trabalhadora" (pelo menos no sentido em que o termo é frequentemente usado nos EUA). Já agora, no artigo, o "to work so hard and achieve so little" pode parecer contraditório com o "satisfied with his pay" logo antes, mas na entrevista original ("I'm doing the same job as the fellow working across from me and he quit in the eighth grade. It's kinda stupid to work that hard and achieve so little") parece-me mais explícito que o "achieve so little" refere-se a não ter um trabalho mais interessante, não a ganhar pouco.

- Não é assim tão surpreendente ele não se identificar com o "Archie Bunker"; afinal, ele tinha 26 anos em 1972, enquanto o "Archie" representaria um operário (ou, mais exatamente, um supervisor fabril e taxista nas horas vagas) com provavelmente 50 e tal anos (com as ideias e atitudes esperáveis de alguém, não só desse grupo social, mas também nessa faixa etária). Provavelmente teria mais em comum com os colegas jovens de "Archie", que nos quatro episódios "The Bunkers and the Inflation" queriam continuar a greve, contra a vontade dos mais velhos (a começar pelo protagonista). Aliás, se assumirmos que os personagens teriam a mesma idade que os atores, ele teria praticamente a mesma idade que a filha e o genro dos Bunker.

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