Posted on Thursday, November 20th, 2008 at 12:27 pm
Author: Feature Writer
Gc contributor: Renee Martin
It seems each time the news turns to the financial sector there is a company or industry that’s failing. While economists examine what it means to the economy as whole, ordinary Americans sit in fear that tomorrow will bring a pink slip. While we have a tendency to speak about economics in abstract terms, it has a real world-effect on the average Joe Six-Pack that both Democrats and Republicans wooed ardently during election season.
The witch-hunt goes for a business or entity to blame for the current crises goes on. One of the culprits Anderson Cooper named as responsible for the meltdown was the American consumer. He reminded us of the large homes, financed shopping trips, auto loans and lack of saving. He suggested that it was the American desire for possessions, combined with an easy credit system, that played a huge role in this collapse.
What Anderson neglects to factor into his analysis is why the consumer lives on credit. It is not always a case of wanting to get the latest toy or cute new pair of shoes. Many homeowners have been forced to refinance their homes to pay for medical expenses or college tuition for their children. The availability of credit on demand has allowed companies to gain large profits without increasing the wage of the workers that labour to create their wealth.
With the ability to purchase what is needed with credit rather than cash, many did not see reason to stand behind their unions as they fought for gains. What is the necessity of organizing if your needs are technically being met? It wasn’t until the economic fallout that people have come to realize that credit does not offer a real safety net.
Anything that you do not own outright can be taken from you. The only person that is happy and thriving today is the repo man.
Americans are working longer hours with less available disposable income than ever before. Since Ronald Ragan broke the Air Traffic Controllers strike, the war on unionization has been virulent. Each year union density declines, and as that happens workers have less and less protection from exploitative companies and the roller coaster ride of the economy.
We do not live in the Ozzie and Harriet world of 1950 – where you got a job when you graduated from high school, and remained in that same job until retirement. The days of the company providing dependable pensions are over, and people are now forced to risk their future economic stability on 401k’s. No longer does investing your energy to help build a company for 30 years guarantee you a pension or continued benefits.
Somehow the most powerless member of society, the proletariat, is to blame. The working class did not set up a predatory lending system that feeds on those that are the most economically marginalized. They did not target many people of color for high interest loans, and they certainly do not happily report to work every day eager to exchange their labour for far less than the market value. The idea that the working man is to blame is simply another tactic of the ruling elite to deflect from their crimes.
The 700 billion dollar bailout is complete, and yet the bleeding has not stopped. GM and Chrysler have extended their hands for a share of the workers’ money. Once again, ,the pundits are busy blaming the worker for the failures of the auto industry.
The auto industry is one of the few bastions of unionization left in America. The first two thousand dollars of any car sale goes to pay for things like health insurance and retirement benefits. Now that the companies are undergoing financial difficulties, one of the solutions suggested is getting rid of benefits that the union has secured for its workers.
It has been suggested that the labour contracts that were signed with the unions were outrageous. Of course, any concession to workers rights and maintaining a good standard of living would seem outlandish, as it cuts into profits.
GM and Chrysler made bad business decisions of which the worker had no part. The woman/man on the line had no control in the production of gas guzzling, earth-killing, and ultimately unprofitable SUV’s beyond assuring that they were built up to standard.
While it was clear to many that SUV production was not only predatory but unsustainable, GM continued on the same path. Scientists have been speaking about peak oil since the 1970’s; so what kind of business sense did it make to introduce the Hummer to the public? It was a gratuitous commodity at best.
Union concessions will be demanded if the bailout is approved, and while this will save the jobs of many, it will directly reduce the quality of life for many of GM’s retired employees. If companies can retract a contract in tough financial times what benefit is there to collective action for the workers? In a time of economic turmoil, the union is the only protection a worker has against employer exploitation.
The relationship between employer and employee is adversarial and nowhere is this more obvious than in a time of recession. Taking from workers the rights and benefits that were struggled for over decades will only ensure that more people will go hungry. A corporation is conditioned to seek profit no matter the cost, but as a society, what we must realize is that a corporation is not a person. Yes, we have legally classified them as such, but it’s not corporations that die from starvation or cold winters, it’s people.
Changes need to be made to the system, but any change that does not take into account the human equation in the economic downturn is only going to lead to more suffering. Now is the time for solidarity, and now is the time for worker rights.
The woman/man that signs your check is not your friend and the sooner that the American worker stops believing the lies of the ruling elite, the sooner they will have a true return on their sweat equity. The dollar is a social construction, but blood, sweat, and tears are real.
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