Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Bush Talks to Workers--Only the Workers Aren't There

Presumably you already know about the loyalty oaths the Bush Campaign is demanding before you're allowed to hear him speak, but here's something you might not be aware of: those speeches he's been making to 'workers' at plants in the MidWest? Well, um, the people who work in those plants weren't there.

Picking the Right Audience

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, August 18, 2004; 11:34 AM

President Bush is off on a bus tour of Wisconsin and Minnesota today, his last campaign swing before a week's vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Tex.

There's been a lot of attention focused lately on how willing his campaign is to allow non-loyalists into his events.

Yesterday, in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, both campaign events were invitation-only, as usual.

When he spoke at a Boeing Co. plant outside in Ridley Park, Penn., you might have been forgiven for thinking that he was actually speaking to Boeing workers. But, just like when he spoke at a union hall in Las Vegas last week, the room was filled with invited guests. Workers had the day off.

And that wasn't the only one.

Kell said a presidential visit is definitely disruptive to the everyday operations of a major manufacturing company.

"We have informed the employees of the honor and have let them know that we will be closing the plant on Wednesday to accommodate the president," Kell said.

The employees have volunteered to work different hours to assure work gets done as usual.

Don't you love the word 'volunteered'? Like they had a choice. So the workers were home, presumably sleeping in preparation for working all night. I'm sure they were just thrilled.

But it gets better. In Chippewa Falls, WI, Bush spoke at a plant that was closed because the jobs had all been shipped to China.

When President Bush rallies his supporters in the suddenly critical hinterland of western Wisconsin today, Dave Dressel and Roxi Sharp will not be among the throng.

That's because they are painful reminders -- along with hundreds of other men and women who have lost good jobs in Chippewa Falls -- of trouble.

Dressel and Sharp used to work next door to the cardboard-box plant where Bush will speak today, in the factory of Mason Shoe Manufacturing. Mason is the nation's largest catalog seller of shoes and work boots, and sells millions of pairs a year from its Chippewa Falls distribution center, a cheerful fact that may merit a mention from the president today.

But the president is unlikely to add that no shoes are made in Chippewa Falls anymore.

Mason's good ol' American shoes are made in China now, on the same machines that used to hum and whir -- and support families -- in Chippewa Falls. Last Oct. 31, in a Halloween prank that wasn't funny, Mason ended its Chippewa Falls manufacturing, just months before the firm's 100th anniversary.

Don't be gulled by the American flags that still adorn Mason's "Work America" boots or the stirring corn pone on the company Web site bragging that Mason provides "fine-quality footwear to men and women across this great land of ours."

Unless you can say "this great land of ours" in Chinese.

Dressel, 53, was a maintenance worker. It fell to him and a handful of others to unbolt hundreds of expensive U.S.-made machines and pack them in custom-built oak crates for shipment to China. He didn't like being an undertaker.

"It made me feel pretty bad, crating up all those machines I worked on for 31 years," Dressel says. "They gave us the dimensions for each machine, so we could build the crates out of special lumber -- all treated-oak lumber -- with each pallet built to an exact size. It wouldn't have seemed so bad if they had just closed it down and left it at that. But moving it to China?

"That was just telling us they didn't want us anymore."
The last 100 workers laid off last fall got two weeks' pay and medical insurance for each year of work. The money and the medical are starting to run out now, and life isn't quite as great in this great land of ours for many of the people who lost their jobs. Some of them are now working for Wal-Mart in Menomonie, 30 miles away, without the benefits and wages they used to earn. Many are still looking for new jobs.

Dressel, who has a history of heart trouble, is wondering what to do next. "Going back to school is probably not a bad idea, but there's not a lot out there for a guy who's going to be 54," he says.

Roxi Sharp, who worked 15 years at Mason, has decided she wants to be part of America's bright future as a worker in the service industry. In other words, she's going to wait tables.

"I don't want to do factory work again -- you can't count on it," says Sharp, 43. "But they always need a waitress somewhere."

Sharp has a 10-year-old daughter and has been drawing unemployment since her severance ran out in May. She and her husband divorced recently, and he may be able to cover their daughter with medical insurance. Waitresses don't get health insurance, but if she's lucky, Roxi will have to worry only about herself.

"I hope I don't get sick," she says. "Closing the plant was a real kick in the ass. I have a girlfriend who has had three jobs since then. But management? They don't care about the workers. The more people they got rid of, the more money they got."

That's not the kind of happy talk America wants to hear.

So no, you won't hear Roxi Sharp at the president's rally today in Chippewa Falls. The economic disaster that befell her and Dressel and the others is last year's news, and this campaign is about the promise of a bright, better future.

Wiping food spills off of table tops.

(emphasis added by me)

Is it too much to ask, do you think, that if Bush is talking to workers, there ought to be some there for him to face? I guess it is. Between sending them home and speaking in a factory that's no longer operating because everybody's been outsourced, it seems that there wasn't a single actual working-class stiff present at any of those events.

But don't despair. One worker did manage to sneak into a Bush rally in West Virginia. He even spoke up--and was not only promptly hustled out, he was just as promptly fired. For 'offending a client who provided tickets to the event.'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A man who heckled President Bush at a political rally was fired from his job at an advertising and design company for offending a client who provided tickets to the event.

The fired graphic designer said Saturday he won't try to get his job back.

"I'm mad less about losing the job — I'm more mad about the reasons," said Glen Hiller, 35, of Berkeley Springs. "All I did was show up and voice my opinion."

Hiller was ushered out of Hedgesville High School on Tuesday after shouting his disagreement with Bush's comments about the war in Iraq war and the search for weapons of mass destruction. The crowd had easily drowned out Hiller with its chant: "Four more years."

"He surrounds himself with people who support him," Hiller said of Bush. "Your opinion ... is viewed as right or wrong."

When he showed up for work at Octavo Designs of Frederick, Md., the following morning, he said he was told he'd embarrassed and offended a client who provided tickets to the event — and that he was fired.

The client was a public relations worker who represents the Berkeley County school district, he said. "It's just bizarre that you disagree with them and it all turns evil," Hiller said.

'Bizarre' is SOP in BushAmerica. A few more years of this and you won't be able to tell the difference between the US and Argentina circa 1975.

Welcome to the Monkey House.

(Links thanks to Tom Engelhardt at TomDispatch