But when workers heard the ruling class say “tighten your belts,” they correctly understood that such a program was never going to apply to the wealthy. It would always mean: lower your expectations. And accept a worse tomorrow for your children. The entire history of the labor movement was clear: it was the class enemy who told them to do more with less. In 1980, the Democrats’ share of the union-family vote dropped from 63 percent to 50 percent. Reagan won with Morning in America while Carter lost with his Protestant hand-wringing over decadence and materialism.
Volcker and Carter weren’t environmentalists (nor were they anti-environmentalists), but their belt-tightening policies fit all too neatly with an environmentalism increasingly focused on consumer cutbacks. And the corporate drive to make such regulation a matter of voluntary consumer choices quickly made it a middle-class lifestyle, the antithesis of Mazzocchi’s vision. As companies moved jobs overseas to cut down on labor costs, it was all too easy to blame environmentalists and diffuse the power of the environmental-labor united front.
re: Carter exhorting the American public to embrace environmental austerity in 79 (fewer trips, less heating, etc)