Day 22 3 April 3, 2003


1. Names. Some journals to give back. Collect policy options sections, and whatever else people have to give me.


Coming events: Poster presentations next week: meet in the Kiva Tuesday and Thursday—groups B and C presenting Tuesday, A and D Thursday. I’ll have a sheet for those of you not presenting to offer some feedback on your peers. This is 10% of your grade, about 1/3 of that for the feedback, 2/3 for your poster and the brief conversation we’ll have. Again, see the instructions.


The three final days: distribute and discuss sheet.


Some confusion about your last response? I meant for group D to respond to the film, but I didn’t actually say that, I realize, so I will cut you some slack, if you sent me some kind of response.


In the news: some commentary from Reliable Sources.



2.  What about Roger and Me?  Where on the political spectrum is Michael Moore?  He’s, I’d say, an old-style, working-class, labor-union leftist.  Not New Left or leftover sixties radical, hmm?  Note the movie comes back over and over to the 1937 sit-down strike which forced GM to recognize the United Auto Workers as the legitimate representative of the workers. 


What happened in Flint?  Auto industry went through major recession in 70’s with oil crises, demand for small cars, competition from Japan, etc.  In 80’s American companies recovered, became profitable again; 80’s plant closings were not because companies were losing money, but because they hoped to make more money by shifting production overseas, replacing high-priced US workers with cheap foreign labor.  It worked, more or less, in that company profits increased, shareholder returns and executive compensation went through the roof. . . .


These days GM is still profitable, those who still have jobs are making good money, and the top executives are getting, well, filthy rich. 


What about the characters in this movie?  Moore himself?  Roger Smith?  Tom Kay the company p.r. person?  Bob Eubanks, who keeps telling rude jokes?  The rabbit woman?  Fred Ross, deputy for evictions?  Workers?  Bob who cracks up?  Anita Bryant, who says hang in there, be positive, today’s a new day, thank God for the sunshine?  Pat Boone?  It’s nobody’s fault, he says.  In a free, capitalist society there are shifts . . . the key is attitude.


Two views: that the “shifts” are external, natural forces, painful but inevitable.  Or, that specific human beings make particular decisions that have particular effects on others . . .


The Amway color woman.  She just seems deluded, hmm?


The lady golfers: You can’t help them.  They just don’t want to work.  Some of them anyway. 


Reagan: move to Texas


Schuller: tough times don’t last, tough people do.  Turn your hurt into a halo.  He gets 20 grand to come to town.


The attempts at urban renewal: “Our spark will surprise you.”  In some areas, money is still flowing; $11 mil. for Hyatt Regency, $100 mil for Autoworld.  They both go broke.  Puppet autoworker singing love song to robot that’s going to replace him on the line.  “Me and My Buddy.”


Back to the rabbit lady: what about her?  Why should she gross us out?  Isn’t she doing what the Anita Bryants and Pat Boones recommend, making the best of things, setting up a business, keeping herself going? 


Anybody see a parallel between the way she treats her rabbits and the way GM treats its workers? 


She’s in the movie not as a symbol but as metonymy: a part that stands for a larger whole.  She is to her rabbits, more or less exactly, as Roger Smith is to the workers of Flint.  She needs to do what she needs to do, and when the rabbits are too old to be pets she needs to find some other way to use them.  She doesn’t hate them; she likes them, in her own way.  But she’s got to live, right?  She cares for her rabbits, but she doesn’t see them as people.  Smith “cares” for the workers at the GM plants, but . . .


Tom Kay: Why should GM be loyal to Flint?  Its goal is to make money.  What do you think? 


Crime on the rise: the stolen Nightline truck, the new jail.  Couples spending $100 to spend a night in it.  Whoopee. 


What lines or divides in our society does this movie show?  Does it exaggerate the division between working and upper class?  Or is it the way that it is?  Do those above the line show much understanding of those below it?  Solzhenitsyn: “A man who’s warm can’t understand a man who’s cold.”


The Roger Smith Christmas message, intercut with Deputy Fred evicting people on Christmas Eve: not too hard to get the message here, hmm?


What about this view of the country and the economic system?  The film is hardly a “comedy” in the usual sense of that term, is it?  It’s more in the tradition of black comedies like Mash or Catch-22, in which the laughter is the only remaining defense against the brutal violence of war.  Here the brutality is economic, not military, and the casualties are merely thrown into the street, not killed outright; but otherwise it’s not much different. 


Is he right or not?  Or, does this point of view matter?  What makes this movie so surprising, I think, is that it treats social realities that are generally avoided in the mainstream media, for all we hear about how “liberal” they are.  Small/midsize midwestern cities are just about invisible; people who live in New York or LA, where most media stuff comes from, tend to live in the illusion that there are only a few thousand people scattered in between the coasts, unless some schoolkid in one of those towns starts shooting his classmates.


Cf. Ragged Dick and the American Dream.  There Mr. Whitney is the great benevolent father, helping out the plucky lad.   Here Roger Smith is the Bad Father, the one who abandons his children and hires underlings who blame it all on impersonal market forces.  The message isn’t “Work hard and you’ll get ahead,” but “Work as hard as you want, you may just get screwed anyway.”  Hmm?  Meanwhile the folks above the unemployment line are still repeating variations on the old line.


Also, cf. the recent shooting in Mount Morris: a 6-year old boy, his father in jail, his mother evicted from her house, using drugs and working “during the day and into the evening” according to a neighbor.  He didn’t have a bed of his own.  He was often in trouble, he had a social worker.


Now, what’s the deal here?  Whose fault is this?  Is it the mother’s for being morally weak?  The father’s for abandoning the family, for getting himself locked up?  Do the people who closed down the plants in Flint and shipped those jobs somewhere else bear any responsibility? 


3. What about unions in America? Look at some of the web sites I found--the Haymarket riot, the Flint strike, information about labor history and current statistics. Say I wanted to write about labor issues--I’m more than halfway there already.


Note also looking for stuff on various sides of issues, and recognizing bias. The AFL-CIO, the guy who spoke at Hillsdale, the government report.


What’s true? That unions are the last best hope for the American working person, that union members almost inevitably get higher wages and better working conditions than non-union members in similar jobs? Or that unions are bent on destroying our freedoms, ruining the corporations their money comes from, stifling free enterprise everywhere, and turning the country into a hapless socialist dystopia? Well, you decide.


It is true that union influence and membership have been steadily declining, along with manufacturing jobs that paid high wages for relatively unskilled work. . . .


On CEO compensation, here’s one overview:  A report on the current situation regarding plant closings and the threat of closing/moving plants as a

deterrent to labor organizing.


“In the most comprehensive survey ever of U.S. union organizing campaigns, Bronfenbrenner found that "the majority of employers consistently, pervasively and extremely effectively tell workers either directly or indirectly that if they ask for too much, or don't give concessions, or try to organize, strike or fight for good jobs with good benefits, the company will close, move out of state or move across the border, just as so many other plants have done before."


In union organizing drives in the United States in 1998 and 1998, she found, more than half of all employers threatened to close all or part of the facility if workers voted to join a union.


But the situation is even worse than that figure suggests, because for some types employers it is difficult to make credible threats to move -hotels and hospitals, for example, are to a  considerable extent tied to place.


In mobile industries -- manufacturing and other companies that can credibly threaten to shift production -- the plant closing threat rate was 68 percent. In all manufacturing, it was 71 percent. In food processing, it was 71 percent.”


What’s the legacy of nonviolent action mean for America in the 21st century? Protests at WTO meetings, and at abortion clinics—there’s a very short answer. What’s the legacy of industrial capitalism?

Enron and Microsoft, cozy dealings between the richest men and the most powerful politicians; and Bill Gates setting up a multi-billion-dollar fund for world-wide public health improvements.


Who matters? Who do we care about, and whose problems slip below our radar? Are we all bound in an inescapable network of mutuality, as MLK claimed, or are some people really not our concern?



Student Responses


Nickel and Dimed was a really interesting book.  I enjoyed the class discussions we had on the book, because different points were raised and many good questions were asked.  I had never thought that maybe to those who are poor, maybe that is happiness for them, because they know no other way of living.  I found myself really impressed with the work that Ehrenreich did.  I know that she cheated in some ways, but the fact that she tried this and endured a lot of trouble she didn’t have to, is so impressive.  I probably wouldn’t have the guts to do such a huge project.  What she gathered and was able to teach the readers is really valuable.  We don’t see what life is like for those so less fortunate than us, and we can’t forget them.  They are so much a part of the world and we don’t realize it.  In the chapter “Scrubbing in Maine” she was talking about the owner of a million-dollar condo she was cleaning.  She was complaining about her marble walls that were bleeding, and Ehrenreich thought it’s not your marble bleeding, it’s the working class – “the people who quarried the marble, wove your Persian rugs until they went blind, harvested the apples in your lovely fall-themed dining room centerpiece, smelted the steel for the nails, drove the trucks, put up this building, and now bend and squat and sweat to clean it”.  I found that really powerful.  These people of the lower class are so much a part of our lives, yet we ignore their problems.  The US has a lot to work on.  Millions of people are making less than $10 an hour.  “The United States, for all its wealth, leaves its citizens to fend for themselves …”  We need to get realistic.  Working hard does not guarantee success and wealth.  Many people work so hard and still don’t see the benefits of their work.  It’s a hard and sad reality.  It is important to be in our awareness, though, and Ehrenreich did a great job in bringing this issue into our awareness.


I found an interesting article called “An Irish Play Seeks to Ease the Pain of Child Abuse Survivors” (  I found this article interesting because I am a social work major, and I will be going on the cross-cultural trip to Northern Ireland this coming fall.  I guess for some years, the issue of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy has been discussed.  This one-man play is by Gerard Mannix Flynn, who is one survivor of this abuse.  The play is called “James X” and it tells the story of his life and the abuse that happened to him.  It mentioned how abuse has been underreported, such as in Ireland’s industrial schools (church-run reformatories that house children who are delinquents or whose parents cannot provide for them).  Flynn spent some time in two of these.  In this play, the narrator speaks to the audience while waiting outside a courtroom where he will give testimony for his compensation.  Critics have said that it’s “an essential document of a shameful part of Ireland’s past”.  Flynn says the Irish society and Irish government need to become more honest, and then survivors will be helped.  I found this really interesting, because I didn’t know about this problem Ireland has been having.  It’s pretty sad. 


Erica Wiebe


This article was about a 3yr old boy who was assualted and left to die outside of a New Jersey library.  The culprit was a 10yr old boy.  What is the matter with our society?  What problems is this boy having at home that he thinks this act of violence is okay?  At the funeral service for the boy, a voice shouted out that it was the 3yr old's sister's fault because she was at the library with him.  This is outrageous!  It is not her fault by any means.  Children wander away when you turn your head for just a second.  I can attest to this!  When I was litte, I went to Cedar Point with my grandparents and I wandered away from them.  Of all people, you wouldn't think that Grandparents could lose a child.  I was eventually found outside the Putt-Putt course.  If I could wander away from my grandparents, this boy easily could have wandered from his sister.  Especially in a library, which should be considered a pretty safe place.  Who would  think that a 10 yr old would be searching for his victim?  We look to adults to do that kind of thing.  I feel that this boy needs to be tried as an adult.  I am sure that there are family problems at home, otherwise he would have never taken part in this horrendous crime.  However, I feel that if you do an adult crime, you should serve the adult time. 

Miranda Thorn