Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As I write this letter, our nation is in the midst of a debate on healthcare. There are few issues more important for working people. As Jack Metzger notes in the Working-Class Perspectives blog, a study that will soon be published in the American Journal of Public Health calculates that each year 45,000 Americans die because they don’t have health insurance. Many other Americans are underinsured because they can’t afford the exorbitant—and rising—rates that profit-driven insurance companies charge. Recently at the private liberal arts college where I teach, faculty sat gloomily in their chairs as we were told that one of our current carriers was increasing premiums 31%; we should think about whether we valued choice of doctors or affordability more highly. How many of us in that room could be among the underinsured facing financial disaster–or worse?
The crisis in healthcare is but one example of how the quality of working Americans’ lives has decreased while corporations and those who lead them have increased their profits. The situation is familiar to those of us in working-class studies: Americans are working longer hours for less and are continually threatened with loss—loss of jobs, loss of health insurance, loss of a home or a livable community.
While the challenges facing us are daunting, they are not insurmountable. Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story depicts many instances of people suddenly, surprisingly refusing to accept economic oppression: a family reclaims its foreclosed home, fired workers refuse to vacate without compensation. We see other signs of rebellion on state campuses where faculty are unwilling to accept furloughs, increased class sizes, and layoffs; and where working-class students see their dreams of a college education threatened.
The Working-Class Studies Association is an increasingly important organization. Yes, we are small, but our work reverberates outside of our conference rooms and computer screens. We make our impact organizing workers, advocating with underserved communities, and campaigning for progressive politicians. We study the lives of working-class people and their representation in the arts. In doing so we “talk back” to stereotypes of the working class. As important, we extend our activism and our scholarship beyond the U.S. borders so that we can understand and work with working people in a global context.
Within the organization, we are continually looking for ways to expand our membership and to address the concerns of those who are members. We’ve formed an Outreach Committee to connect with people who are committed to working-class issues but who may not be aware of the Working-Class Studies Association—especially activists. We’ve also formed a Graduate Student Committee to address the needs of students who may have to explain their interdisciplinary field of study to more traditional faculty or hiring committees.
When we are faced with national and international crises, it’s important to remember that each of us can make a difference because of the kind of work we’ve chosen to do. We can also share that work with one another through the Working-Class Studies Association.
Michelle M. Tokarczyk