Friday, May 29, 2009

Sure Road to Success - Stick It to Labor

I can say this because I'm a liberal and a Michigander: My heart breaks for the laboring class in this country. I feel sorrow even for the workers who can't see that the unions are their only lifeline and inexplicably fight against them with a passion reserved only for one's worst enemies.

The working class, the significant majority in numbers, has somehow, ever since Ronald Reagan declared war on them, become the least of us--the minority. Privatization and outsourcing have rendered them nothing more than powerless drudges.

The working class is the laughingstock, the disposable, the darling of the politicians when they need their votes, and the most wretched of pariahs when the monied class sees their mountain top begin to erode.

The children of the working class hold no status and deserve no consideration. There are millions of people who would rather spend their money fighting against abortion laws than feed and care for poor children.
  • More than 9 million children are estimated to be served by Feeding America, over 2 million of which are ages 5 and under, representing nearly 13 percent of all children under age 18 in the United States and over 72 percent of all children in poverty.
  • According to the USDA, an estimated 12.4 million children lived in food insecure (low food security and very low food security) households in 2007.
  • 8 states plus DC have more than 20 percent of children living in food insecure households, the states of Texas (23.58%) and Mississippi (22.84%) have the highest rates of children in households without consistent access to food.
  • The top four states with the highest rate of food insecure children are Texas, Mississippi, Arizona, and New Mexico.
There is a concerted effort in this country to abolish public education, which means that the working majority would receive little or no schooling. Instead of working to fix the massive education problems that face us, there is a faction (which includes sitting politicians) that would, instead, like to see all education privatized and turned into a money-maker.

The working class is subject to scams that in any other culture would be considered criminal. PayDay loans and cash advance loans are legal in all but a few states. Credit card interest rates can run as high as 35% legally. Usury laws went by the wayside, along with even the most basic consumer protections. All that those concerned, including governmental agencies, can do now is put out bulletins warning against scammers.

The goal is the impoverishment of the working class, and I believe we're reaching that level faster than any Imperial Fat Cat could have imagined in his wildest wet dream.

What stuns me and keeps me awake at night is that there are millions of laborers here in America who see no disparity, no unfairness, no real need to change the status quo. Wages and protections go down at a dizzying pace while costs to live rise by the minute.

Robert Reich wrote in his blog today that manufacturing jobs are gone forever, so we might as well

. . .stop pining after the days when millions of Americans stood along assembly lines and continuously bolted, fit, soldered or clamped what went by. Those days are over. And stop blaming poor nations whose workers get very low wages. Of course their wages are low; these nations are poor. They can become more prosperous only by exporting to rich nations. When America blocks their exports by erecting tariffs and subsidizing our domestic industries, we prevent them from doing better. Helping poorer nations become more prosperous is not only in the interest of humanity but also wise because it lessens global instability.

Want to blame something? Blame new knowledge. Knowledge created the electronic gadgets and software that can now do almost any routine task. This goes well beyond the factory floor. America also used to have lots of elevator operators, telephone operators, bank tellers and service-station attendants. Remember? Most have been replaced by technology. Supermarket check-out clerks are being replaced by automatic scanners. The Internet has taken over the routine tasks of travel agents, real estate brokers, stock brokers and even accountants. With digitization and high-speed data networks a lot of back office work can now be done more cheaply abroad.

I don't know. Maybe that's what so depressing--that notion from even the most learned, the most logical, that we might as well just give up. Privatizing and outsourcing works. Our days of actually producing goods are over. Where it used to be patriotic to produce goods, we now find that the best way to keep our country strong is to send the workers packing.

So now what do we do? Here's Reich again:

The biggest challenge we face over the long term -- beyond the current depression -- isn't how to bring manufacturing back. It's how to improve the earnings of America's expanding army of low-wage workers who are doing personal service jobs in hotels, hospitals, big-box retail stores, restaurant chains, and all the other businesses that need bodies but not high skills.

Unbelievable. Even Reich. They got to Reich. Who's next? God??


(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here.)


  1. hi, Ramona--
    I just looked at some statistics and figured out that about 28-30% of all homeless in this country are children. and the fastest growing group is mothers with their children. 1,000,000+ homeless kids/3,500,000 total. stunning numbers.

    and, remember back in the 80's and 90's when the talking heads were bemoaning the loss of manufacturing jobs? they consoled us with the idea that we would become a service nation--though, even then, they admitted that service jobs paid less than manufacturing jobs.

    but now, even the service jobs are being shipped out. only if the job requires face-to-face contact is it safe. any service jobs that can be conducted by phone, mail or computer are being shipped out.

    with fewer jobs, fewer people in this country can afford to buy what they used to.
    I wonder how much of the current economic crisis is being caused by the fact that all those jobs went overseas.

    and no one else knows how to buy like Americans do. when the bottom drops out of this market, the whole world has to tighten it's belt.

    when are the CEO's who keep shipping the jobs overseas going to wake up and realize they're being penny-wise-pound-foolish?

  2. TC, I typed a long answer in here and then it just went Poof!

    Condensed version: "Service economy" sounds too much like "servant". It'll never work.

    But about those kids: What kind of monsters are in charge when we have hundreds of thousands of kids without a place to sleep or enough food to eat? It takes more than a village--it takes Big Government. And if they don't have enough guts or compassion to do the right thing, we all have to storm the gates and FORCE them to do it.

    (I don't have the logistics down yet, nor the army to do it--I just know it HAS to be done!)

  3. one more, Ramona--
    have you ever read Those Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursala K. LaGuin? [short story - so it will be in an anthology] it speaks directly to letting the child suffer for the comfort of the rest. it'll tear your heart out.

  4. Ramona, You are absolutely right on this. What about the working person, what about jobs for the working person. With unemployment up to 12% in some states and the cuts just keep coming.
    The taking down of General Motors, gives me some pause. There are thousands of jobs; gone with a stroke of a pen. These are people, families, taxpayers and what about them. Does anyone speak to the retired workers that worked for 30-40 years and are retired.
    And we have a President, who is saying that "this generation will have to make sacrifices." And no mention of how this generation is supposed to earn a living, support their families and put their children through college.
    When I walk into the Post Office, there is a phalanx of machines (self-serve) in the post office now and in almost all the places of business, there are automated check-out and so I would have to say that Sales Associates and Cashiers are a dying breed.
    The States are going broke, revenue is drying up and programs such as Education, Prisons, Programs for children and seniors, are being phased out to balance budgets.
    No one is speaking for the Working Man. The legions of the Working Poor are growing by the day.
    Who will speak for them. I feel like a lonely person is a cave speaking to no one.
    The American Dream has always included a job, a family and a home.
    This is sounding more like a modern myth, as we speak.
    Rhetoric with no action are empty promises and something needs to turn.
    I watched a two-hour program on the Green Economy and after looking at pencil sketches of wind turbines on apartment balconies and people on bicycles, I heard of no company hiring people. So what is this Green Revolution and where are the jobs. Is this the 10-year wait?
    I am not impressed with the process that eliminates working class people. This is the group of people that elected the present Administration and when is this could to articulate to jobs.
    Best, Neena

  5. Two Crows, I'll look for the LeGuin story. Kids in peril tear my heart out. I don't understand for the life of me why that isn't a universal emotion. Very strange, since we all were kids once. Has everyone forgotten that feeling of powerlessness, when things are going on around you that you don't understand, that scare the crap out of you, and that you have no control over? Why is there even ONE child who has to go to sleep at night in a strange place without enough to eat? It wouldn't be that way if I were running the world.

  6. Neena, Another 1/2 million people lost their jobs in May. I don't know how much longer this can go on. I'm terrified for the future of this country, and I'm baffled by those who seem to think we'll come out of this stronger and more prosperous. It can't possibly happen--not in our lifetimes, anyway.

    You're right about everything becoming automated. The factories are now full of robotic machines taking the place of real live workers.

    There are a few training programs in place for Green jobs, but any real application is a long way off. These people need help NOW. Where is the new WPA? The Feds have the ability to start a New Deal NOW, so what's the hold up?

  7. Ramona, We need less rhetoric and promises of change and more direct involvement, such as what FDR did. I was reading this morning in last week's Newsweek Magazine on the benefits of government intervention on a thriving economy with healthy, educated populace.
    For the life of me, I can't see the problem with paying taxes for the necessary services that sustain life and give rise to socializing the population and readying them for inclusion in the society.
    I have attended the Organize America groups from Barack Obama and I was left with the impression that the process/direction of the President is more idealistic and couched in terms of support and creating listening/talking groups and when I raised the question of jobs, all I heard was that change is coming.
    I still remember the Grapes of Wrath and that era and when the jobs are gone, when the unemployment is gone, when the 401 K funds are gone, when the homes are gone; then what?
    All the programs thus far; all are geared toward those working and there is little or no assistance for the working poor and soon just the poor.
    I am really concerned about this and pleased that the Word is getting out there for this to be a priority.
    Best, Neena

  8. Two Crows: I can appreciate your comments on the CEO's. Here last week we were in New Mexico and Colorado Springs for a Graduation and along the route we stopped at one of the tourist stops for a rest stop. I have always liked Minnetonka Mocassins and they were having a sale and so I stopped to look and I was astonished that the Minnetonka Mocassins that used to be made in Minnesota are not made in China. I was so saddened. My husband Glenn is from Iowa and Vanity Fair under-wear used to be made in a small town in Iowa and so were Maytag Washing Machines; now they are made in China. And these are just two companies. But you are right-on; where are the people out there to be consumers. We are becoming less and less able to purchase anything and WalMart keeps getting bigger all the time. WalMart reminds me of the company store; it is the only place that the working poor can afford to shop.
    Best Neena

  9. Neena, if everybody paid their fair share of taxes (read Fat Cats), and if there were no caps on Social Security, we might just have enough money to take care of our needs. But "fair" is not yet in the American vocabulary. Maybe someday.

  10. I don't think we should be that surprised by Reich's statements -- recall that he was in Clinton's administration when Clinton 'triangulated' NAFTA through Congress. I believe that Reich wants to be mildly liberal but still wants to be invited to 'the right parties' -- and doesn't want to admit that the so-called 'free-trade' is merely a way to get rid of unions with a race-to-the-bottom type of wage structure. I'm always bemused by tenured college professors whom wax eloquent about the purported advantages of 'entreprenuers' (often another word for 'huckster') and against 'protectionism' from their priviledged perches in one of the MOST protected,secure positions of the low or middle income classes. I always wonder if these 'anti-protectionists' lock their car doors, or give out their ATM PIN number, or leave their wallets laying around? After all if 'protectionism' is bad, then it must be good to practice carelessness with abandon, oui? And isn't it "strange" how during the 1950's -- when we had plenty of tariffs and 90%+ maximum personal tax rates -- that our US economy thrived?

    I think that ANY economist that you see regularly in the mainstream media is NOT going to be a friend of the working class - - the gatekeepers won't allow that kind of exposure to socialist ideas. Rather, you need to look on the Internet -- Dean Baker is a good start, or Z-Net, etc. Remember that economics is a 'soft-science', the one that is (arguably) most influenced by the preconceptions of the individual practioner...

  11. Welcome, Big Em. We're so afraid of that word "socialist", yet we have no fear of the word "capitalist". Yes, I remember the 50s very well. One breadwinner, stay-at-home moms, job security, good retirements--and strong unions. Even the southern, right-to-work states benefited from the reforms brought about by the unions, though they're mighty ungrateful, even today.

    I've been saying for years now that "deregulation" is going to be the death of us. And here we are.

    You're right about the MSM economists--they take anybody's press releases and read them verbatim, without a thought in their heads about how much sense it makes.

    Love your ideas about "protectionism". Right on!


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