Monday, February 16, 2009

We Need More Holidays And One Big Union

We need more holidays.

We used to have two February holidays from school and work: February 12 (Abraham Lincoln's birthday) and February 22 (George Washington's birthday). Now those two have been combined into one holiday, called Presidents' Day. A lot of people have to work today despite the holiday. And a lot of people are unemployed. What are we going to do about this?

These are the paid holidays I remember: (1) New Years (2) Lincoln's birthday; (3) Washington's birthday; (4) (in some places) Good Friday; (5) Memorial Day; (6) 4th of July; (7) Labor Day; (8) Veterans Day; (9) Thanksgiving; (10) Christmas. Some places also used to give their employees their birthdays off, paid. Actually, I also recall Admissions Day as a paid holiday (when the state joined the union).

Now many businesses only have five paid holidays: President's Day, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving. They shut down their entire business from December 24 to January 2, without pay, so no paid holidays for Christmas or New Years. If people can't afford to go a full week without pay, they have to use their vacation days to get paid. So actually, people are only getting one weeks' vacation, since the second week is used to cover the one-week when the business closes and nobody gets paid.

Working people in this country used to get at least 10 paid holidays in addition to two weeks paid vacation, two weeks sick leave, employer-paid health insurance, and an employer-paid pension. Every year that an employee worked, the employer would put a certain amount of money into a pension fund for that employee. What the heck happened to workers' rights in this country? In Europe, working people receive much more time off and better benefits than Americans do. But their CEOs also aren't allowed to loot the businesses, rob the country blind. The people are considered to have basic rights like a living wage, affordable housing, healthcare, education, and a pension for when they retire. Why not us? What happened to our rights?

Ronald Reagan, to start. Those of us who bothered to read history knew Reagan was bad news. As President of the Screen Actors Guild, for example, this B-Movie Actor sold out the working people he was supposed to be representing by testifying at Huac and cozying up to the right-wingers in Washington who were intent on destroying the entire movie-making industry.
It isn't like he had no choice. Lots of people in this country, as well as in Hollywood, stood against Huac and its efforts to destroy our constitution. Reagan went over to join the stomping crowd, rabidly right-wing and anti-worker even as a young man. While others took the more courageous stand against the drunken right-wing neo-fascists in Congress who were running these kangaroo courts known as Huac.
After World War II, this country was briefly run in a manner designed to give most Americans (non-whites continued to be excluded) a decent-paying job, the right to join a union, and an income that would allow them to afford housing, food, clothing, and an education for their children. The right-wing was always against the idea that working people, your average schmoe, should have a decent life.

When Ronald Reagan took office, it marked the beginning of this most recent period of destruction and oppression in our country in which any benefit given to working people was considered bad, and only the accumulation of wealth by the elite was considered good.

Needing help was defined as wrong and bad, weak, so Reagan closed all the mental hospitals that provided housing and 24-hour care for the severely mentally ill, and he literally threw those people out onto the streets where, as rugged individuals, he claimed they'd be better off. Go check out any subway grate, soup kitchen, homeless shelter, park in any city of this country, and you will see exactly what happened to those people. And of course Ronald Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers and all but destroyed their union, sending the message across the land that the federal government belonged to business and would destroy any working person who stood up for their rights.

During the Reagan era, we also saw the rise of a dogma that continues to plague us today: the work-till-you-die theory of competition. Everybody, no matter where they worked, was told that "real" men work 80 hour weeks, and if the women want to have decent jobs, they have to do the same. For a brief period, you also had to get up at 4 a.m. to go run 5 miles before work, but that began to fade as people's knees gave out. The neocons actually sold the public on the idea, once again, that the strong survive, the rich deserve it, and anyone who is not willing to work themselves to death is not a company man. Or woman. And as that dogma gained popularity, the business owners turned up the heat and began crushing American workers, taking more and more away. No rest for the weary.
This Reagan assault on your average working person was cheered by the right-wing who began setting up privately-funded and sometimes secret organizations to provide the legal, political, and ideological support for the destruction of democracy in this country.

How best to destroy a nation, take away the power or hope of working people? Throw them out of work, take away their income and their ability to support themselves. That is the culmination of what Reagan began and what, unfortunately, Bill Clinton continued and George W. Bush carried out to its logical conclusion. Crush the working people, steal everything from them, berate them, make them miserable, don't pay them enough for their basic needs. Tell them they are stupid and bad, and deserve what they get. Don't treat them with respect or dignity.
We have 7% "official" unemployment today, but if we include people who lost their jobs but exhausted their unemployment compensation, and people who only have part-time work but want full-time, it's 14% unemployment today. Many predict 14% "actual" unemployment (the part the government counts) by the end of this year, which means maybe 21% or more real unemployment if we include those who lost their jobs but also exhausted their unemployment compensation, and those who can only find part-time work. And of course those who still have jobs get less for their labor.

American workers are told that we are stupid and worthless, we don't deserve jobs, we should lick the boots of anyone who would let us work for them for even a day, we don't deserve a living wage, we would not be having money problems if we weren't so wasteful and stupid and lazy. Yet these are the people who will save our lives when we're sick, care for our parents when they are old, teach our children now, keep our communities safe. Should we support a system which makes these people's lives unbearable, does not pay them enough for them to be able to have a home, healthcare for themselves, to retire someday? Isn't this just an abusive relationship writ large?

You know the abused spouse defense? A woman whose husband beats her finally gets a gun and shoots him in his head, but she gets off because -- he deserved it? I wonder how that defense would work on a national level if the working people of this country finally got sick of being stepped on and verbally abused, and decided to take on the abuser. Of course not with violence. By seizing their assets, by taking over the factories and offices, by sitting down at the borders to prevent Mexican truckers from coming in to take Teamsters' jobs, by targeting businesses that have sent their manufacturing overseas, and shutting them down completely inside the U.S., by having sit-ins at companies that use hb1 workers to throw Americans out of work, sitting in at airports and docks to prevent products manufactured in other countries from being brought into the U.S.. Hit them where it counts, in their pocketbooks.

It's cut-backs and take-backs and give-backs for working people. Things that workers struggled for at the turn of the last century, such as minimum wage, and time and a half for overtime work, have been eliminated during the past 30 years. At the same time, the management of the businesses have radically increased the amount of money that they take out of the business. Essentially, the insiders and CEOs (and Wall Street) have looted the American businesses, looted our country, stolen money from the working people. That is why our country is broke and we now live in failed states. The CEOs, Wall Street, and corporate insiders took all the money.

For example, in 2007 the median compensation package (which includes pay, stock options, other benefits) for CEOs in Standard & Poors 500 was $8.4 million. Compared to the average worker's salary of $55,000. And that $55,000 is worth a lot less now that housing costs almost half of people's take-home, they have no pension so are expected to fund their own pensions, and many employers pay only a small part, if any, of people's health insurance costs. The rich get richer and everyone else goes broke.
Of course management has always earned salaries grossly in excess of their worth, but the real looting began in 1980 when Reagan came into office, accelerated dramatically under the famed Republican neocon Bill Clinton, and continued to hold that obscene level through recent years.

In 1980, when Reagan took office, CEOs earned 42 times as much as the average worker.

By 1990, CEOs earned 107 times as much as the average worker. So the CEO's share of the earnings of business had increased by 150%.

By 2000, after Bill Clinton's pro-business, pro-nafta, anti-worker years of control, the CEO's earned 525 times as much as the average worker.

So it went from 107 times as much shortly before Clinton took over, to 525 times as much when he left office. That is what Bill Clinton did for this country. As has been said before, Clinton was a true Republican president. He also set up the new trade laws that would lead to millions of manufacturing facilities in the U.S. shutting down their local operations and transferring all their work to third world countries. Thanks again, Bill.

By 2006, apparently having reached fairly obscene levels and retracting just a bit, the CEOs earned 364 times as much as the average worker.

And you know what they did for all that money? They looted the country, committed fraud on a massive world-wide level, stole retirement accounts and pensions and savings from the entire world, lined their pockets, and bankrupt their own businesses as well as our country.

Who is going to stop these people? If not the working people, then who? Not Congress. Congress takes bribes from the rich people to look the other way and allow them to engage in this plundering of our country, abuse of us as workers. So who else can do it except the working people of this country? Those people who will likely work their entire lives.

The concept of trade unions might need to re-evaluated. Replaced with one big union. The only people with any interest in stopping employers and businesses from doing what they are doing is the working people, who represent about 80% of the people in this country. Probably 10% on top of them think they'll get rich, so they do the bidding of the truly wealthy. And the truly wealthy have already shown us their goals: loot the country, crush the working people, steal it all.

Maybe we need "One Big Union," as Bill Haywood and Joe Hill and the IWW used to say. One Big Union to which any working person can belong. Truck drivers and nurses and teachers and bricklayers and pilots and all sorts of professionals who are quite surprised to be waking up all over this country and finding out that they're not so smart after all, that they are to their bosses simply widgets, that their work too can be sent to India to be done by young people who come to the U.S., graduate from law school, return to India, and will gladly join a sweatshop to do legal research and briefs for very little money.

Same for engineers, computer workers. Same for accountants. And we all know that journalists are being thrown out of work all over the country, replaced by newsreaders and gossipy old men. Nurses have certainly been treated poorly in our country. While doctors routinely earn over $1.0 million/year, nurses are being thrown out of work, or if they keep their job they have to do the work of two or three people, and their wages are being crushed by hospitals bringing in low-paid nurses from other countries.

Maybe we need one big union for all workers. If we don't help ourselves, who will?

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