Thursday, December 4, 2008

Eating Our Own

I wish this were a post about food, about the joy of consuming food grown in one's own garden, about the sustenance of farm life. But, it's not.

Instead, it's simply a post that asks a question.

As we watch our hundreds of billions of dollars magically disappear into the ether of the wall street bailout, with little or nothing to reassure us that this blank check to the captains of finance was good policy, why are we so resolutely determined to send what's left of our manufacturing sector to the bottom of the sea?

Can someone please, please explain to me how, at the end of two decades of spectacular and even celebrated CEO greed, our chiefs making literally hundreds of times what their workers make, retailers like Wal-Mart sucking at the teat of public subsidy by paying their workers next to nothing and then "helping" them apply for food stamps and other, how now does the imminent collapse of our automobile manufacturing industry fall into the laps of its line workers?

Please put 1 and 1 together for me. While real wages have actually declined, and pensions first became rare and then become gone, while productivity has steadily increased and for the first time in history not been met by a corresponding increase in family income, while jobs have been relentlessly shipped off-shore to nations where people are paid pennies on our dollar...we teeter as a nation on the financial precipice of total disaster, and the devil we deem responsible for this is, really?, the American worker.

The American worker - this person that squeezes more out of a day than any European counterpart and in fact has nearly caught the icon - the Japanese worker. The American worker, who has gone from one wage-earner per family to two. The American worker who has to find and pay for private day care. The American worker who has to stay healthy and pay for health care, who can't afford to lose the job because the health insurance goes with it. The American worker who is asked time and time again to stay on long enough to train his or her replacement, often from or in India or China. The American worker who increasingly must find a way to care for not only the next generation, but the last. These slovenly, lazy, good-for-nothings. Not me, of course, and certainly not you. But, you know...them. Those other American workers.

As things seemingly crumble into the sea and we as a nation flail about for some collection of strategies we can take with confidence into the future, I hope we can remember who calls the business shots and who's got 2nd, 3rd, and 4th houses to match their helicopters and Gulf Streams. These people are taking our money, and our children's, and probably even our grandchildren's, and stuffing their pockets instead of rewriting the mortgages of your neighbors. The American worker is not doing that. The American CEO is.

Are the Big Three CEO's any different? No. But, the hundreds of thousands of people who work for them, the people still left in America who actually make something, deserve better than this. The finance sector has a multiplier effect of 1:2 - two jobs are dependent on every actual finance job. The auto industry's multiplier effect is betwen 1:7 and 1:9.

Why is this a race to the bottom? Why are we asking experienced workers with families to agree to make $15 an hour? Why would we do that and yet not breathe a word of disgust at the shocking level of CEO compensation in this country?

We don't cap CEO pay. We don't limit shareholder dividends. We openly fretted during the election that if the economy got too good we might all pay more on our new $250K incomes under this new president. Guess what? That's a problem I'm willing to tackle.

I don't care about the CEOs of Ford, GM, or Chrysler. But I damn sure care about the men and women who work for them. And I'm sickened at the way they are being asked - no, demanded - to shoulder the financial burden their leadership and this nation has created. Until we get health care handled and thus can compete with every other industrialized nation that would like to build things, until we invest in a manufacturing base again in this country, until we hold accountable the men and women who make disastrous financial choices, we will continue to exist as pawns on a very unstable chess board.

But, the UAW is not to blame for this. Advocating for a working wage and expecting compensation for a job well done and years on the line are not sins. They're rights. And it's our right to stand with these men and women and demand a halt to the war on the middle class that has brought us to the edge of this cliff. I want a 40 hour work week and good health care and day care and some way to save for retirement. I want to know that American corporations are working to create and save American jobs.

Don't you?

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