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The Big Squeeze: How Americans Are Being Crushed by Financial Insecurity and Doubt

Americans are living lives of lowered expectation and intensified financial uncertainty.

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However, having been organized and funded by well-financed conservative and Republican operatives, the politicians and legislative solutions it championed are turning out to only make worse the lives of an increasing number of the more vulnerable Tea Party proponents. Tea Party ideology and politics is being exposed as a con job.

The response among more self-conscious progressives, the broad moderate citizenry (i.e., the majority of the voting public) and decent, apolitical Americans, has been slow to come to a boil. In light of the uprising in Madison and the growing number of angry constituents greeting Republican Congressmen throughout the country, political resistance is beginning to bubble up.

There is, however, a form of resistance that takes place everyday, but is invisible to the media and traditional political analysis. It occurs at the friction points of the Big Squeeze, where the values and/or authority of the more middle-class or managerial sector rubs up against the reality lived by poor and low-wage working Americans. These are the junctures where everyday class power is exercised and inchoate social struggle is waged.

Lisa Dodson’s recent book, The Moral Underground, analyzes the friction points played out in the social relations that define low-wage jobs, in the classroom and in healthcare institutions. They are the settings where Americans confront profound, often deeply perplexing, moral challenges. These moral confrontations involve those on both sides of the economic and power divide.

Dodson calls these points of resistance to the Big Squeeze the “moral underground.” Everyday, those with power, including managers, supervisors, teachers and health care professionals – and the list can go on and on – make decisions that determine the fate of employees, students or the ill and their families. Dodson sees these points of friction serving as moments for moral resistance to the dictates of business-as-usual. For those in authority, subverting corporate protocols and procedures can involve risking their jobs. And they are doing it.

Resistance to the Big Squeeze will likely intensify over the next two years as the nation builds to the 2012 election. The most visible form of this resistance will likely be protest marches, strikes and other public demonstrations. A new, emboldened progressive movement may well take shape.

As this occurs, we shouldn’t lose sight of the more invisible, but mounting, resistance of the moral underground. As it grows, it may undermine one of the great social fictions grounding American capitalism: That one leaves one’s morals and politics at the office, factory or store door when one enters the job site. This fiction is based on the well-propagated notion that when one sells one’s labor power one leaves one’s personal beliefs and values at home.  This social fiction is crumbling under the pressure of the Big Squeeze.

David Rosen regularly contributes to AlterNet, CounterPunch and Filmmaker Magazine; check out

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