Sunday, November 18, 2012
An American Trajedy: Another Labor Union Bites the Dust
Workers Massacred Without a Shot Being Fired
This past week we have witnessed the death of an American icon, Hostess Brands, the makers of Twinkies, Zingers, and other delights for kids of all ages. Hostess has shut its doors in a labor dispute with its workers over pay and benefits cuts, as well as the elimination of their pensions. These workers had already agreed to 2 prior cuts in salary and benefits, but a third cut in each plus the forced liquidation of their retirement pensions proved to be too much. Many of these workers had been paying into their retirements for decades, and so they were furious when the company took them away. Evidently none of the striking workers thought it possible that their entire careers would evaporate before their eyes, but that is exactly what happened.
The Hostess employees were given a choice: Either give up their pensions including the face value of their retirement savings, or give that up plus everything else including their careers. In the end they all wound up losing it all. Not since President Ronald Reagan fired 15,000 striking air traffic controllers in 1981 – effectively crushing an entire labor union out of existence – has such a terrible blow been dealt to organized labor in America. The infamy of president Reagan's actions against organized labor in the US are still palpable decades later. And so it will be for Hostess Brands, the company that committed suicide rather then pay their workers a living wage (the striking workers would have had to accept pay and benefits cuts averaging 40% each). The average salary of a Hostess worker was reportedly around $40,000; settling the strike would have cut their pay to $25,000 while nearly doubling the cost of their benefits.
So the striking workers had a choice: Lose their pension savings and half their benefits, along with a 40% pay cut, or lose everything. That doesn't sound like much of a choice to begin with. Is it any wonder that they went on strike? If I were in their place I likely would have done the same, or at least given it some serious consideration. If I still had kids at home, I would have to think about that really hard before choosing whether to strike or not, but in the end I think I still would have.
Workers who insist on a living wage is not something peculiar to only American labor unions of the 20th and 21st century. This is a tradition that goes all the way back to the time of Moses in the Old Testament, where it is written, “The workman is worth his wages” (quoted by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew) and, “Do not muzzle your oxen when they are treading out the grain”. The modern equivalents of that translation would be, “You can run your horses as hard as you want, provided you give them time to replenish themselves”, or “You can keep on driving your car so long as you remember to add fuel when it needs it.” So it is with workers. If it costs a modern family of four $28,000 to $32,000 dollars annually for their basic essentials such as housing, food, transportation, energy and fuel, and the dad's or mom's employer only pays the breadwinner $23,000 annually, this is obviously a huge problem. If both parents work, they end up spending half of their 2nd income on child care. That brings me to my point. If any given worker's salary or hourly wage doesn't even meet the cost of their most basic living expenses, then that worker ceases to be an employee because they have become slaves. Am I not on target here? If discovering that you are a slave when you previously thought of yourself as an employee makes you angry and maybe resentful as well, that not only proves you are normal but also that you are functioning on a higher level. It means you have a brain and you're not afraid to use it. That's always a good thing. Hold that thought, please, while I continue.
Everyone who wants to work and earn a paycheck should have the means to do so. To tell someone that they are unneeded or unwanted is demeaning, mean-spirited and can even be threatening. Why are there not enough jobs for people that want one? Because we are working with a 19th and 20th century business and economic model in a 21st century world! What happens when companies that are controlled by their executive officers and are owned by their stockholders can no longer make a profit? The company declares itself bankrupt and gets liquidated through the courts, with all the proceeds going to the stockholders and creditors of the now-defunct company. That is exactly what happened with Hostess Brands. Everything for them and nothing for the workers who built the company and made it profitable. The top 1% gets to eat steak, but it's beans for the rest of us, as if the American people are expected to put up with this untenable situation in the American workplace indefinitely. Hostess is just the tip of the iceberg.
Everyone everywhere, without exception and regardless of their background, is entitled to a livelihood and to a living wage. That's why I've been advocating a $12.00 per hour minimum wage in my writings since 2010 (I started out at $10.00 and just raised it to $12.00 on my website recently). Anyone who can find no suitable work can and should be retrained to learn new skills, and access to higher education is no longer a luxury in the 21st century, it is a necessity. As such higher education is a basic human right, and to deny anyone access to higher learning or Internet access for purely economic reasons is a civil rights violation of the highest order. Everyone has the right to be able to support and sustain themselves and their families at a reasonable level of success and comfort. Today in America, where 1 in 4 children will depend on SNAP benefits in order to eat, clearly exactly the opposite is occurring. In a country that is alleged to be the richest in the world, this to me is inexcusable.
Of course I can hear our “leaders” in Washington and their “presstitutes” in the main stream media howling with derision already. We have a $16 trillion dollar deficit and I want to give everyone free higher education? “Impossible”, they will retort. Let me spell this out in black and white so everyone understands. If the US military's combined forces took one day's expenditures from the ongoing and increasingly pointless occupation of Afghanistan and deposited that very sum of money into an interest-bearing account of most any kind, the US would have enough cash money to send every American kid to four years of college fully paid for including tuition, books, food, transportation and Internet access. That's every kid from pre-K through seniors in high school. It's not that we don't have the money, it's just that our country's leadership is spending it on all the wrong things.
So, how do we end unemployment, homelessness and poverty for good? A job for everyone who wants one, and paid training for those who don't qualify (yet). According to the US Dept. of Labor, the average employee in the 21st century will have to change careers up to as many as 8 times during all their combined working years. Does the US Dept. of Education, or the Dept. of Labor for that matter, seriously expect US workers to take on up to 8 student loans and repay them over our lifetimes while still buying cars, houses and boats? What planet are these jokers from anyway? Education is a human right, and equal opportunity for education for all regardless of background or economic status is an American civil rights issue for the 21st century and beyond. To exclude anyone from higher education for economic reasons is discriminatory and therefore it is a civil rights violation under the law. It is essential that America's middle and working classes join together in unison to stand up to these corporate bullies – the top 1%, and particularly the top .1 percent. Otherwise we will soon find ourselves out in the cold with an uncertain future just like the Hostess workers across the nation. We the 99% must fight back, otherwise we will all be crushed just like the Air Traffic Controller's union was back in 1981.