2008

23 April 2008: Worker bees make honey everyday, but it’s getting tougher

Worker bees make honey everyday, but it’s getting tougher

There are a couple of great scenes in Mel Brooks’ History of the World: Part I dealing with the French Revolution. In one, an attendant of the court Count da Money—Count de Monet—rushes up to Brooks playing the role of King Louis XVI of France and cries out, “Your Majesty, the peasants are revolting!”

In reply, the King says, “That’s right; they stink on ice.” In the meantime, he takes another blast at a clay pigeon consisting of a serf.

Those scenes, while perversely funny, strike a cord in today’s American society. From the beginning, one of the characteristics of our culture from the onset has been the myth of the rugged individual. In time that myth would contribute to an anti-union mindset that has effectively kept workers in their places.

The irony is that mindset hasn’t applied to corporations that have been legally defined as individuals. Merriam-Webster defines a corporation as “a body formed and authorized by law to act as a single person although constituted by one or more persons and legally endowed with various rights and duties including the capacity of succession.”

In other words, a corporation is a union, a collectivist entity entitled with individual rights

The modern capitalistic system in the US is the progeny of the feudal system of the middle ages. The lords of the manor are the corporate heads sitting atop their umpteen-floor castles surrounded by minions, sycophants, jesters, and other court attendants.

The small business owners are akin to the feudal shop owners and craftsmen, while the workers of the large corporations are the serfs who comply grudgingly and give of their toil for their daily bread.

It’s important to recall that the so-called American Revolution was more of a civil war in that while we overturned the system of governance, we made no substantial changes in the structure and hierarchy of the society such as the French and Russian Revolutions did.

King George kept his head—the pond helping to keep his personage safe, perhaps—despite some calling for it. It’s important to recall, though, that there was a movement by George Washington’s former military leaders to have him crowned king in what is known historically as the Newberg Conspiracy. Thankfully, Washington was an anti-monarchist and, unlike the current President George, sought the good of the nation, placing it above his and his cronies’ self-interests.

That historical overview is helpful as we watch the clash between the corporate powers along with their corporate media apologists and the resurrecting workers’ rights movement.

The gulf between the rich and the rest of us has grown to its greatest breadth in history. That disparity is reflected in Denver Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan’s 35,000-square-foot newly constructed home, being built at a time of one of our greatest mortgage calamities when thousands of middle class Americans are losing their homes. It is also striking to see how free-market disciples applaud what is essentially “corporate socialism,” the Fed’s bailout of Bear Stearns, “one of the nation’s largest underwriters of mortgage bonds,” according to the New York Times.

The reality is unions are an integral and natural part of the American landscape. If the moneyed powers were not all about unabated growth and accumulation of wealth—guilty of one of the Seven Deadly Sins: Greed—unions would wither away for lack of need.

That is not to say that there are not individuals within the ranks of union guilty of graft and other crimes, and they certainly need to be dealt with and exorcised. But then, they are small potatoes when compared to the Wall of Shame of corporate Pooh-Bahs doing or potentially doing time in the Big House: Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco; Bernard Ebbers of WorldCom; Sam Waksal of ImClone; Jeff Skilling of Enron and his partner “Kenny Boy” Lay, who may be doing time in the Good Lord’s Big House; and, of course, our local celebrity Joe Nacchio of Qwest. The list is legion.

Most unions are made up of everyday people, workers who, like the worker bees, produce the honey by going at it everyday. But it’s getting tougher, with each day a struggle to keep up with bills particularly due to the unabated passion for accumulation of wealth by the energy and health insurance industries.

Condescending anti-unionists in defaming unions, caricaturizing them as bastions of lazy, bloated thugs, are simply using code to express their disdain for workers who dare to rise above their stations in life and challenge the Lords of the Manor.

Yes, the peasants are revolting. They have, after all, only their diminutive stations in life to lose.

Professor Jim Walsh of the University of Colorado at Denver, an authority on the rise and history of labor rights, was my guest on Saturday on KYGT. You can hear the show by going to www.kygt.org.

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