Late to Class

I wanted to share with Commonweal readers an essay of mine, "Leaving Consevatism Behind," just published in the summer issue of Dissent. The title indicates the general subject matter—the way my political views have changed over the last decade or so—but the essay really is about class, and how I've come to understand it. As such, it's the most personal writing I've ever done, because what I call my belated class consciousness really comes from my adult self looking back at how and where I was raised. 

I've excerpted the first few paragraphs of the essay below: 

“You see that factory, Matt?” my father would say to me, as we passed a drab building in his pickup truck. “Every time I drive by, I get a little sick in my stomach, like I still have to pull into that parking lot. Never work in a place like that.” He meant the factory he started working at the day after he graduated from high school, the factory that left him with hearing loss, the factory he eventually walked away from after nearly twenty years to start a small business. He had worked swing shifts, pulling glass plates out of fiery furnaces—the factory made windshields and windows for automobiles. No matter how many times my father told me about the place, it felt fresh, his dread and loathing never receding.

That factory also functioned as a practical introduction to American economic life—or at least, central Pennsylvania’s. My father’s father had worked there too, retiring after he rose to a management position. Later I found out my grandfather had retired early—because he was asked to. I can also remember my father being laid off for months at a time, which seemed to happen more and more as I got older. The factory wasn’t unionized either, and workers were warned not to try: my father would tell me about men in suits from the corporate offices showing the employees charts comparing their wages to those, much lower, of foreign workers. The message was clear. By the time my father quit working there and struck out on his own, his job had become a dead end.

These might not seem like conditions likely to produce a young conservative, but they did.

Read the rest here

Matthew Sitman is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Twitter.

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