Europeans Wonder: How Can Minimum-Wage Workers in America Side with the Republican Party?

My British, European, and Middle Eastern friends often ask me how it is that minimum-wage level workers often side with fiscal conservatives at the voting booth.  They wonder how and why the minimum-wage workers often vote against their own economic interests.

American sociologist James Petras addresses this issue when he explains that unionization in America has taken a different path between public and private-sector workers.   Public-sector workers have secured and maintained greater social benefits and wage increases, while private-sector workers have lost ground.

“The public sector workers draw on public financing to fund their ‘corporate interests’ while private sector workers are forced to pay increased taxes, because of regressive fiscal legislation. The result is an apparent or real conflict of interest between well-organized public workers organized around a narrow set of (self) interests and the mass of unorganized private sector workers who, unable to increase their wages via class struggle, side with “fiscal conservatives” (funded by big business) to demand cutbacks from public sector workers.”

So, unlike British and European systems, private-sector workers do not look to the government to “protect” their rights as workers.  Instead, they have been convinced that it is the government itself, taxes themselves, and government workers themselves that are the sources of society’s economic ills.

Government workers (who are jealously seen by many as having the highest salaries and benefits; yet are generally viewed as  incompetent, and as having obtained their jobs through “preference points” to make up for past discrimination against minorities) are the most despised of all workers by the general American society.  (Certainly America has plenty of dedicated, competent government workers.  However, the negative viewpoint of government workers dominates in American society.)

The minimum-wage public who votes as Republican are now convinced that the remedy to America’s economic woes is to cut back the government itself.  This involves cutting the the positions of most government workers, their services (sometimes without realizing the true cost of those services until they are gone), and the social programs that they feel others lazily take advantage of, while they themselves are out working hard for every penny, yet receiving no assistance.

As Petras points out, it is competition (not solidarity) between minimum-wage Americans, and the “near extinction of private-sector unionism” which is driving their behavior.

So, how do Republicans plan to cut back on the government, from this point forward?  By defunding it, of course, through additional tax cuts.

–Lynne Diligent

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7 Responses to “Europeans Wonder: How Can Minimum-Wage Workers in America Side with the Republican Party?”

  1. Mike Lehr Says:

    Social issues such as abortion, religiosity, minority-rights and immigration play a role. These are stronger than economic issues in many cases.

    Voters who favor strong legislation restricting or eliminating abortion, wish to protect or reassert the Christian heritage of the U.S., would like to scale back or eliminate laws protecting minorities, and want to see immigration laws enforced with little or no amnesty; will tend to defer their economic interests.

    Furthermore, many in this group perceive the Democrats as wanting to reallocate wealth from those who work hard to those who don’t. They are perceived as siding with those who don’t add very much economically to the nation’s well-being. So, when Democrats talk about “taxing the rich,” conservative minimum-wage workers interpret this as “taxing those who work hard.” Thus, while they might not be rich, they do believe they work hard and so can identify with the rich in this way.


  2. Happy Elf Mom Says:

    Well, and there’s the fact that the super-poor get MORE than the middle class in health benefits. To qualify for Medicaid in my state, our family must own less than $999.99 in assets. Which means even though all 8 of us can’t fit in the van, since we own the van and it’s valued at $1100, we get nothing.

    Out of my husband’s wages he must pay for health insurance and deductibles, copays etc. Factor that in, and we would qualify “net income” wise for all kinds of help. But we don’t because our gross income is too high, and that’s what they use to see if we “need” help. Oh, and medical creditors and others? See that there is no way we need help. Look at all the money we are earning…

    So yeah. I get mad about it. It bothers me to see the “poor” person around the block from me eating school lunches for free every day and my kids get teased because all we can afford is peanut butter on a regular basis. This family also has a new truck and our cars are about 10 years old.

    Maddening, I tell ya.


  3. Lynne Diligent Says:

    Mike, you’ve summed up what I was trying to say in your third paragraph better than I did myself.

    Happy Elf Mom, I hear your frustration. It’s my understanding that the Middle Classes in Europe have quite good benefits, and of course good medical care in France is free for French citizens.


  4. Floyd Russak MD Says:

    Dr. Diligent,

    I find it interesting that you quote James Petras, as many find him to be one of the most virulently anti-Semitic intellectuals in the US. He singlehandedly expounded the ridiculous conspiracy theory that “Jews” and “Zionists” were part of the cause of 9/11 World Trade Center event. Most of us in the Jewish community regard him as a neo-Nazi.

    Also, as a doctor who devoted half of his career to serving the working poor, I tend to agree with Mike Lehr, that the working class tend to vote their social, rather than economic conscience.
    Floyd Russak MD
    Clinical Faculty Harvard and CU Medical Schools


  5. Lynne Diligent Says:

    Floyd, Thank you for sharing this additional information (it is a bit shocking). I had never run across James Petras before until finding this article by him before writing this post.


  6. middleagedmuaythai Says:

    I find the US political system to be highly bizarre. I suppose Americans must feel the same way about political systems elsewhere. It is easy for me to pass judgment, but at the end of the day it is not really my place. I think most of us are at least partially ignorant and will do things that are ultimately against our best interests. Cognitive dissonance is a global phenomenon.


  7. Crimson Wife Says:

    I agree with Mike that it’s voting one’s conscience rather than one’s pocketbook and it applies to yuppies as well. My DH and I often wonder how so many of our friends and neighbors can support politicians who advocate raising taxes on them. But their liberal views on social issues causes them to vote against their own financial interests.


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