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At a rally to organize workers at a supermarket chain recently, a woman stopped as I gave her a leaflet. When I told her that part time workers at this chain didn't have any health care, she shook her head, and I expected her to sympathize.

Instead, she said, "Health care? Who has health care? They should be glad they have a job at all. It’s unions that are killing this country, trying to make all these demands of companies and dragging them under."

Yes, I thought to myself, all these demands like affordable health care—-demands like a secure retirement—-demands like a wage workers can live on with dignity, that lets them pay the bills and put food on the table for their families.

Demands like these aren't killing America. In fact, they’re the only thing that can save us...

When Lehman Brothers failed, I didn't hear talk about how the employees (not the execs, but the employees)there made too much, needed to accept less, didn't need these "legacy benefits" like health care. And I'll bet a lot of them made more than the average auto worker.

But now that it's blue collar auto workers in trouble, all we hear is that they need lower expectations, to be more competitive with foreign workers—-and that unions, especially, are in the way of that competitiveness. This despite the concessions the UAW made and is continuing to make in the spirit of "we’re all in this together-ness."

You can talk about the obvious class warfare going on there—-Michael Moore did last night on Countdown.. Seems a little odd that we don’t ask too many questions of our white collar financial masters, but when it comes to blue collar workers in the manufacturing sector, we can’t be too critical or too demanding. How dare they demand middle class wages, not to mention health care and a pension!

But the bigger concern for me is this: what's left of America when we don't value our own workers and their economic well-being? How do we keep what made this country great, when our workers are constantly being told to work harder for less and shut up about it or their job will go to India or Taiwan? It seems like many pundits and politicians (not to mention business executives) have forgotten what allowed America to succeed uniquely in the first place: the drive and determination of America's workers--not our CEOs. And our economic success came when we rewarded those workers and gave them an incentive to work hard in the first place.

As Terrence O'Sullivan put it recently:

The American Dream is about upward mobility through middle class jobs, not an economic race to the bottom. Middle class jobs built our country by allowing one generation to work hard, support a family and give their kids opportunities they never had themselves. And those jobs were based on good wages and benefits that improved over time to meet the demands and costs of a modern society.

I can just hear the argument from my friend in front of the grocery store now.  "Oh, but that was before globalization. American workers should be lucky they even have jobs now."

But I wonder where we stop once we start sliding down the slippery slope of "staying competitive." What price do we extract from what is uniquely American when we tell workers their work doesn't have value anymore? That they need to accept what workers in India or China will accept? That upward mobility is a thing of the past?  What happens to America when hard work and ingenuity are replaced by a general sense of disappointed complacency?

What happens to the American Dream once we've sold American workers out?

Cross-posted at UnionGal

Originally posted to 4workers on Thu Dec 04, 2008 at 11:39 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Globalization was originally sold as a way to (14+ / 0-)

    improve third world standards for workers overseas.  All it has done is drag the American worker toward third world standards.

    "The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled." -Plutarch

    by DEQ54 on Thu Dec 04, 2008 at 11:46:36 AM PST

    •  Remeber this (12+ / 0-)

      when people say Americans are by reducing our standards of living?

      The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government. - Thomas Jefferson

      by ctexrep on Thu Dec 04, 2008 at 11:54:45 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Putting $ ahead of planet (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Timaeus, bablhous, 4workers, Dirtandiron

        That's the part of the auto bailout that is not given enough attention -- that the cars we're supposed to bail the Big 3 out so they can continue to make, those cars are wrecking the planet.  So let's shoot ourselves in the feet.

        Michael Moore says bail out (actually BUY out -- GM common shares are worth $3 billion, and they're asking for an $18 billion handout -- !) the companies and keep the workers working, but get rid of the lousy lousy LOUSY management and have them build the green solutions we need NOW.  Neil Young has the idea that the workers should keep building bodies, but without the engines and transmissions.  He calls those cars Transition Rollers, with hybrid/electric engines to be supplied at retooled plants, so they will become SCEVs -- self-charging electric vehicles.

        Michael Moore:

        Neil Young:

    •  It's made the lives of the 3rd world (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cassandra77, Dirtandiron, chrome327, DEQ54

      much worse actually. The problem w/ globalization is that their resources flow out and we send in hopes and products they can't afford. IMHO, this is just another variation on how empire works, but this time done w/ kindly words and talk.

      •  That's rather a broad generalization. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Third world agricultural economies have often been negatively affected. However, there are a lot of people in places like China and India who have experienced a definite increase in their standard of living.

        •  Considering the populations of those places (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Cassandra77, Dirtandiron, DEQ54

          how many people do you think have been positively affected? Isn't this what people are always complaining about wrt China and it's labor practices? From what I can tell, neither China or India's new found wealth has spread to the majority of the people or even past the smallest minority...if anything, it seems to be interfering w/ the production of necessary things like food and is (esp. in China's case) wrecking their environment at a terrific rate. The price these two countries are playing for their SEEMING advancements is quite a bit higher than seems to get acknowledged.

          IOW, no, I don't think my generalization is broad. China and India are merely two countries...both of whom are somewhat doubtful at playing the game on the up and up.

          What of the Caribbean, Africa, Central and South America...? Two countries w/ a small population (relative to whole) where some are benefiting doesn't change the fact that MOST in the world are not benefiting.

          •  Over two billoin people (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Timaeus, grrr

            are not a small population relative to the whole. That's about a third of the population of the entire world. India and China have seen a significant expansion of the middle class. It's not just a few people at the top. In the nations of Asia where the industrial revolution has finally arrived it has a similar impact to what it had in Europe and the US. It certainly brought problems with it, but incomes and standards of living have risen.

            The problems you are talking about are in Africa and the Caribbean. Several of the nations in South America such as Brazil have seen significant economic advancement. The problems are in economies that remain predominately agrarian. Globalization did not cause that.

            •  And then there are special total disaster (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              zones like Haiti. Have you ever seen a satellite view of the island of Hispaniola?  The Dominican Republic to the east is verdant and lush.  But poor Haiti to the west is almost completely deforested and looks like a desert.  You can see the borderline as if it were painted.

              The Haitians staged the first great anti-colonial revolt in the modern world. I don't really understand why their society has become so completely dysfunctional, but they are on a path to almost complete starvation in the quite near future.  This has little to do with globalization.

              But if I can wildly has a lot to do with decades of extremely poor leadership. That makes a parallel with the United States: we just started with 100,000 times the resources.

      •  Really? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        grrr, Richard Lyon

        Because statistically India and China have had their standard of living rise.  The numbers contradict you to an extent.  

        "An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot." - Thomas Paine

        by Mister Gloom on Thu Dec 04, 2008 at 01:48:44 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  she has a point (6+ / 0-)

    Forcing employers to bear health care costs and pensions of their employees is an idiotic policy that is dragging down US companies (auto makers, anyone). This should be done nationally, by the government, like in every other developed country, otherwise the domestic commercial sector will continue to suffer. I understand where the unions are coming from, they need to get health care for their members first and foremost and waiting for the government to do the rational thing may take a long time, but it's true, forcing employers to provide health care does hurt our economy.

    Law is a light which in different countries attracts to it different species of blind insects. Nietzsche

    by Marcion on Thu Dec 04, 2008 at 11:46:57 AM PST

    •  Years ago (12+ / 0-)

      The UAW wanted a pension plan that spread pension obligations among many regional employers, thus reducing the risk borne by each company and allowing the pension to be portable should an employee take a job with another company in the network.  With all of the companies paying in, no single one of them has to bear the burden of its' employees retirement.

      The companies resisted that, and the current situation was created.

      I agree that a national health care plan would be much better, something that organized labor has been wanting for years.  Maybe that will actually happen now.

      Procrastination: Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now.

      by Linnaeus on Thu Dec 04, 2008 at 11:51:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  “Too old to work and too young to die,&rdq (3+ / 0-)

        Was the call for pensions in 1949 led by Walter Reuther.

        He tried to make them affordable and equitable, but was opposed by GM because of fears of rampant socialism.

        Now we have socialization of risk and privatization of profits for the wealthy and pensions are a thing of the past for all but the few who are unionized.

        When is it going to get so bad for workers that we actually have national demonstrations again?

  •  She really does have a point (9+ / 0-)

    Everyone for themselves.


  •  This is the reality of a globalized economy (0+ / 0-)

    If it's cheaper over there - over there it will go.

    In that respect, she's right, we are lucky to have jobs.

    The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government. - Thomas Jefferson

    by ctexrep on Thu Dec 04, 2008 at 11:53:34 AM PST

    •  Then the products we need to buy and the (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Timaeus, Cassandra77, djtyg, Dirtandiron

      food we need to eat had better be as cheap as our pay.

      I've never understood this.

      They pay us lower wages (that we're 'lucky' to get) and want us to continue to pay U.S. prices for goods.

      Not an equation that works. We're seeing it fail now.

      Do what you can with what you have where you are - Guild of Maintainers

      by bablhous on Thu Dec 04, 2008 at 03:29:43 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Remember The New World Order? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bablhous, TomP, Dirtandiron

    Looks like we're in the final phase.

  •  Jobs which pay good wages.... (5+ / 0-)

    are gone!  We need to create more green jobs and force the companies who outsource to pay taxes on their goods/ services when they sell them to us.
    The health insurance issue is huge... if we had Single payer insurance people wouldn't be forced to work in jobs which they hate.  They could go out and start businesses of their own or move to jobs they enjoy.

    The Religious Right is Neither.

    by cyncynical on Thu Dec 04, 2008 at 11:58:10 AM PST

    •  How do you propose to do this (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bablhous, Dirtandiron

      in a society that values celebrity and wealth manipulation above scientific, technical and manufacturing competence?  Are video game designers or untaxed hedge fund managers going to have the expertise to create a green economy that actually produces tangible product; real wealth creation?

      And, we are not going to afford technology from other sources anytime soon:

      - When we have an information and service economy that just sells hamburgers to each other.

      - When, as the housing bubble deflates the FED and Treasury are busy blowing a bubble of debt?

      What's going to happen?  When the debt bubble deflates, like the assest already deflating in value, the US Dollar will be so devalued we will have no choice to be self sufficient as a nation.  And, unless we have the manufacturing capacity and skills here, there is not a lot of hope for developing a green economy without first devolving into a third-world debtor nation.

      The first thing that must go under the bus is the suburban car-centric society.  Yet, with all the talk of green economies, nobody wants to take that seriously.  Somedy I'll perhaps calculate alternatives in terms of cost and energy, but I doubt that they will be sufficient to continue the car culture that we now have.

      Anyway, we need Wall Street to fail sooner than later and re-industrialize America.

  •  Great stuff (12+ / 0-)

    This is a really great point:

    When Lehman Brothers failed, I didn't hear talk about how the employees (not the execs, but the employees)there made too much, needed to accept less, didn't need these "legacy benefits" like health care. And I'll bet a lot of them made more than the average auto worker.

    I'd love to see this be a talking point that gets wider traction. I'll be passing it around.

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