Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shame of the Working Class

Oh, man, here we go again. I'm scheduled to retire in August of this year. Hopefully, Social Security and Medicare will see me through the rest of my life although I hold no great hopes of that. Maybe we'll go back to poor farms for the elderly. Whatever....

I have given up on optimism when it comes to the American working class. I've seen them betray one another and themselves too many times. What's going on in Wisconsin is deja vu all over again. And with the lovely addition this time of the Tea Partiers who can always be depended upon to jump off the steepest cliff at Rush and Glenn's suggestion.

One thing you can always count on is that the rich who rule corporate America will stick together (i.e., the mega-rich Koch Brothers in Wisconsin and their fair-haired Governor Walker). America's plutocrats may hate each other as individuals but when it comes to forming iron-clad bonds to lobby for laws that benefit them, to influence prices and wages to their advantage, to lavishly support their political cronies, to fund groups that actively seek to turn working class America against itself , they can depend on one another to the bitter end....and they can depend on us playing to type too.

As Mary Kay Horter, who has not had a pay raise or retirement contributions in her job as an occupational therapist for two years, was quoted as saying in the New York Times - "I don't get to bargain in my job." And that's always our the attitude. "I didn't get a raise/pension/increase in benefits/more holidays, so you shouldn't either."  It never fails that we can hardly wait to race each other to the freaking bottom.

Over and over, labor is brought down by jealousy. We can't see that that every hit sustained by the employees of American Whatchamacallit bleeds down to the employees of  National Thingamabob. That's so even if AW's workers are unionized and NT's workers are not, in fact, even more so.

Decades ago, America's strength was its large and prosperous middle class. Our goal then was to bring as many people into the middle class as possible. We believed that the better off America's workers were, the better off the country was. Well-paid employees meant more consumer spending and that meant more profits and oh, yes, more jobs. Unions played a big part in this scenario. Were they perfect? Absolutely not. Like all entities that grow in power, they also grew in arrogance and corruption. But they were a counter-balance to unlimited power by the corporations who were themselves arrogant and corrupt. They at least made labor a somewhat equal player in the struggle for political parity.

Highly compensated labor bought the cars they produced themselves and the microwave ovens you produced and the house you sold and the steak you served and the gas you pumped. It was a closed loop system. As everyone did better, everyone did better. A rising tide raises all boats, as the old saying goes.

But the corporations never quite bought into that rosy scenario for workers. If they could lower wages and benefits and renege on pensions, their profits would be even higher is how they saw it. And unions and collective bargaining were the root cause of demanding employees.

Ah, but then along came President Ronnie. I have always thought that busting the Air Traffic Controllers Union was a test to see just how much solidarity workers could count on from each other. They chose an elite group of employees. One about which the rest of us could say, "those greedy PATCO people, they make lots more than I do," (sort of like MaryKay Horter). People for whom it would be unlikely lower wage people would feel much sympathy.

Reagan sentenced the Air Traffic Controllers, not to a temporary suspension for their transgression, but a lifetime disbarment from their profession. Did the rest of us protest that this was cruel and unusual punishment for PATCO's crime? Nope. We cheered and loved us some RR. What a man! The John Wayne of the White House. God, it made me sick then and it makes me sick remembering it now. Look where that slippery slope took us. It's sure not Morning in America anymore.

After PATCO, the writing was on the wall. It put those superior Air Traffic Controllers in their places, by Golly, but it sent the rest of us a warning too.  When about one/third of us were unionized, we believed that increased productivity and higher wages were roughly comparable. No more. We have fallen to a union membership of about eight percent. Between 1980 and 2008, our productivity increased 75 percent while our wages went up only 22 per cent. So work as hard as you like for your bosses, but your reward probably won't correspond to your effort.

The Wisconsin's governor's attempt to outlaw collective bargaining is just the next phase in the war against labor and if Governor Walker wins, expect other states to take up the banner. This could just be the final nail in the workers' collective coffin.

Incidentally, for all the talk about budgets and the necessity of employees being willing to pitch in and help, the Wisconsin Public Employees have already agreed to make the cutbacks the governor asked for but that wasn't enough to satisfy him - he wants to do away with collective bargaining. What do you think the motive for going down that slippery slope could be? Without collective bargaining, there may as well not be a union which is exactly the point.

And let's see what the result might be. Five states do not allow their teachers to collectively bargain. Here they are with their national rank in education:

South Carolina - 50th

North Carolina - 49th

Georgia - 48th

Texas - 47th

Virginia - 44th.

Wisconsin currently ranks 2nd. If the anti-union crowd wins, what do you suppose that percentage will be in a few years?

The race is on! Let's see who can get to the bottom first! Just like always.