2007

29 August 2007: Labor Day or Peasant Day

Don’t let Labor Day morph into Peasant Day

“After 34 years with LTV Steel, I was forced to retire because of a disability. Two years later LTV filed bankruptcy. I lost a third of my pension, and my family lost their health care. Everyday of my life I sit at the kitchen table across from the woman who devoted 36 years of her life to my family, and I can’t afford to pay for her health care. What’s wrong with America and what will you do to change it?” – Steve Skvara to John Edwards at the recent AFL-CIO presidential candidate debate.

The first is a seminal question, giving us the opportunity for an honest dialogue about why, since the presidency of Richard Nixon, the American worker has been treated so contemptuously. Mr. Skvara is not an “illegal immigrant” or potential terrorist. In fact, when he first dedicated his life to LTV Steel, his family, and his country, Skvara might have been one of Nixon’s “hard hats,” part of the Nixon’s Silent Majority. He possibly may have later joined the ranks of Reagan Democrats. I am only speculating, but if he had, he should be ruing that impulse.

Not only do Skvara’s words cut right to the quick, but his figure, imposing because of his stout and solid stature, supported by muscular arms grasping crutches is iconic, the face of blue-collar America and, sadly, of what is not working in America—the plight of our working and middle classes.

The greatest threat to the American Republic is not from “illegal immigrants,” not from terrorists, and certainly not from working-class Americans who desire to organize into unions so to give them a bit of leverage in advocating for livable wages and health benefits. The greatest threat to the Republic comes from the massive concentration of wealth into the hands of a tiny minority with our democracy morphing into a plutocracy. In England they call them dukes, earls, and barons. Here we call them fatcat CEO’s, money market manipulators, and silver-spooned heirs of mass-fortune estates.

Recently the Rocky Mountain News ran a spread honoring Colorado’s top 25 CEO’s, it endearingly calls “Movers and Shakers.” According to the RMN, it seems, only a CEO can be a mover or shaker. The day after, a RMN editorial, on the heels of a couple of articles reporting how the GOP was “irate at union access,” decried the opportunity for state workers to have access to information necessary to organize for collective bargaining. For sure, no one is shocked by the RMN’s and the GOP’s irritation with workers not minding their place.

According to a Fair Economy report, “In 2005, average total compensation for CEOs of 350 leading U.S. corporations was $11.6 million, and the ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay was 411-to-1 in 2005 (compared to 1990).” That is nearly 10 times the ratio, of 42 to 1 in 1980, the dawn of the Reagan Revolution, the revolution where the tables were turned and the king began to use the guillotine on the people.

The report goes on to note, “To put the CEO-worker pay gap in perspective, the average production worker pay in 2005, if it had grown at the same rate as CEO pay, would be worth $108,138 compared to the actual average of $28,314. Similarly, if the federal minimum wage had grown at the same rate as CEO pay, it would have been $22.61 in 2005, instead of $5.15.”

If you are wondering if the economic boom has passed you by, it has. According to the Merrill Lynch World Wealth Report, in 2006 the number of North American financial millionaires grew 9.2 percent to 3.2 million, with their total wealth growing by 10 percent to $11.3 trillion. Worldwide it gets better—or worse depending upon one’s perspective: The ranks of the super-rich grew 11.3 percent with their wealth growing by 16.8 percent to $13.1 trillion. At the same time, workers’ wages and perks have remained stagnant or declined in terms of buying power. Indeed, the economy is doing quite well if you are part of President George W. Bush’s base.

If the “Movers and Shakers” of the country looked out for their workers as Jesus would have liked them to, unions would be unnecessary. As it is, greed is their highest value and profit is what it is all about. It does seem that some cannot ever have enough. My question to Stan Kroenke, the Rocky’s number one baron, is how much frigging money do you need to feel secure?

As it is, too many Americans are only a catastrophe away from losing their homes and life savings. As it is, workers have no recourse but to organize if they ever want to return to halcyon days of yore, circa 1950 to 1970, when America boasted vibrant working and middle classes. As it is, if they fail to do so, they will help insure the permanence of the two-tiered society into which we are evolving—the uber-wealthy and the rest of us, the rise of an American plutocracy.

Until then, Labor Day is a day to celebrate the American worker and to fly Old Glory in honor and memory of those who helped make America great—the common man and woman. It would be good to so before Labor Day morphs into Peasant Day.

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