Machinist Daniel Wasik on Respect for the Working Class

Chuck Collins and Daniel Wasik

Daniel Wasik is a machinist living in a small New Jersey town.  He grew up in Canton, Ohio. He became alarmed about growing US inequality and started to write songs about it, including “Who Has to Wonder.”

In January, he wrote a letter to The New York Times about lack of respect for the working class. He spoke with Chuck Collins at about what motivates him.

How did you get into singing and writing about inequality?

I grew up in Canton, Ohio. My dad was a tool and die maker and I later became a skilled machinist. But, the jobs available to me as a young man – working in fast food, bagging groceries – were crowded out by 60-year-olds who used to work in the factories.

I see people’s lives getting harder and harder.  There are people doing work that everyone needs but their labor is so undervalued.

Working people deserve a better standard of living for completing what society demands.  And there is value in people’s time and effort, regardless of their education level.  It is fine that some people make more money than others.  It is the level of disparity that is the problem.

How do you see inequality around you?

Overall, our society is becoming more and more divided between the haves and have-nots. Resources and educational quality pool into increasingly exclusive and homogeneous zip codes, while opportunity and possibility drain from increasingly segregated working class communities.

I see people whose standard of living is being chipped away from all sides. My health care deductible goes up so you have to come up with $500 at the beginning of the year to see a doctor.

I see people working two or three jobs who literally are choosing between medicine and food. In a lot of workplaces, even a whisper of organizing a union will get you fired.

I fortunately work in a small machine shop and have a great employer. But I feel these stresses.  Job security has disappeared.

Daniel Wasik

Have you had contact with the 1 percent?

I once lived in Big Sur, California, and worked at a store where a lot of wealthy and famous people came in. I talked to Trump and Ted Turner a few times and movie stars. Even those who were nice were so removed from the world that most working people live in.

And yet these are the wealthy who write the rules – and there seems to be no limit to how much of our society’s wealth they will take. It is like a moth to the flame – they can’t stop themselves from lobbying to get rid of the estate tax or squeezing workers.

How can this change?

Working people need a larger voice in our democracy, but most don’t have the time. They can’t spare the attention. They are struggling to survive. It is almost impossible to see beyond the next month’s bills, let alone the next election cycle. They are invisible and there are powerful people who want to keep them that way. I just think they should have a fighting chance.

Government should advocate for everyone. Too many policymakers are rich politicians with rich corporate advisors.  We don’t need politicians to visit working class neighborhoods when they are running for office. We need more people from the working class bringing their voice to Washington, where the policy is being made.

You write about lack of respect for working people and the work they do.  What happens when politicians are disconnected from working class people?

In today’s conversation, people talk about the white working class.  Let’s not forget the working class is also full of minorities and immigrants.

The right wing scapegoats immigrants and the left caricatures the white working class as Trump-supporting racists. I’m surrounded by people who voted for Trump  who are not racist bigots. They are just fed up with the mainstream of both parties.

Would you recommend your children go into the trades?

Probably not. For all the downsides of student loans, etc. I think there is more security in having a degree. This makes me sad, however, because I am a craftsman and there is just something very satisfying in creating objects, incredibly complex and beautiful, with your hands and your head.

What keeps you going?

My kids keep me going. I worry about the world of their future.  I see how long term inequality is pushing people to revolt. But it might be the wrong kind of revolt, the kind that gets people like Trump elected.

At the end of the day it is really an issue of basic fairness. People deserve some dignity for completing the work that society demands, a reasonable quality of life for what they contribute to our common good, and a fundamental understanding that all work has value and deserves respect.


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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work