My former coworkers are on strike. I wish them the best in their negotiations and I hope they get everything they’re asking for.
One thing that confuses me is the comments sections (the cesspool of online journalism) of some of the news stories covering the strike. It appears about 80% of people think the workers are greedy, should be happy they have a job at all, and are outright offering to scab for Verizon for about $50k/year with no benefits.
50% of the lowest income earning Americans make about the same today (adjusted for inflation), as they did in 1965. Meanwhile, people in the top 90th percentile make about double what they made in 1965. Further:
Between 1979 and 2007, average after-tax incomes for the top 1 percent rose by 281 percent after adjusting for inflation — an increase in income of $973,100 per household — compared to increases of 25 percent ($11,200 per household) for the middle fifth of households and 16 percent ($2,400 per household) for the bottom fifth.
I don’t think there’s anything inherently immoral about a small number of people being filthy rich and the vast majority of people barely getting by. I think, no matter what policies are instituted, there will always be prudent, lucky or ambitious people who pull away from the pack. Even Matthew knew that, “The poor you will always have with you” (26:11).
Practically though, as a policy, outrageous wealth gaps between people can be problematic. Take this well composed and foreboding excerpt from the wikipedia entry on the French Revolution:
Necker realized that the country’s extremely regressive tax system subjected the lower classes to a heavy burden, while numerous exemptions existed for the nobility and clergy. He argued that the country could not be taxed higher; that tax exemptions for the nobility and clergy must be reduced; and proposed that borrowing more money would solve the country’s fiscal shortages.
Income inequality leads to an imbalance of power that perpetuates itself. Through their immense riches the wealthy can manipulate the government and ensure policies that help protect and grow their wealth at the expense of the majority of people who have nothing. And even at the expense of the country itself. The rich can always repatriate elsewhere, or simply hunker down and enjoy what wealth they can protect through to the end of their lives, while their country crumbles around them.
I think what makes Americans hostile to the labor movement is what some call the American Dream, but what might more aptly be called the American Illusion. The idea is that success is earned through sweat, insufferable conditions, brilliance and perseverance. After years or decades of work one can rise to the top and finally be rewarded with a respectable life with time for leisure, family and personal growth. It’s an illusion though, because not everybody can be the CEO. For every top-level executive a company needs thousands of workers. For every one who achieves their dream, there’s 9,999 who fail and end up working below the winner. Yet these masses of people stand in support of policies that reward the winner, and punish the far far greater number who will never achieve their goals, no matter their ambitions or abilities, simply because their isn’t enough room at the top for everyone.
There’s also the issue that 50% of Americans have an IQ at or below 100. Not everyone is capable of being CEO. But many are capable of being solid, productive workers. If laboring isn’t something you can make a decent life out of, what are these people to do? – Be treated like animals of burden and kept complacent with threats of termination if they step out of line? Shouldn’t we treat them with dignity, respect, and a decent wage?
I think, when people see striking workers. They see people who are trying to skip ahead. They want the good pay and benefits, without putting in the decades of struggle to get into upper management. Americans see it as skipping the line and getting something for nothing.
I think the real travesty is the paradigm people have accepted. As the middle class has been eroded away in the past 50 years, people have developed a new outlook on the working world. It’s uncommon now to be able to get a well-paying job at 18 that offers solid pay and benefits and a 30 year retirement plan.
Instead, people have accepted their squalor. They work harder but get paid less than their parents did, and are expected to be grateful for it.
Private sector union workers have held out though, to the vestiges of the past. Of an economy that values all jobs and says someone can be a skilled craftsman for 30 years and be well-paid and respected without having to get a fluff degree and enter the abyss of middle management hoping he comes out the other side as an executive.
If people would shift their outlook from thinking they have to claw for the top spot, and instead used that energy to fight for better conditions in the job they already have, they would accomplish much more.
The IBEW and CWA are doing just that.
As a utility lineman I was able to go to school for free, was fully insured in case of short or long-term disability, and made over $100k/year with minimal overtime. The company still made net profits of over $8B/year and paid the CEO $30M/year. Customers paid the same rates as they pay to the non-union cable companies who pay their workers less than $40k/year and provide laughable benefits.
Life could be great for the American worker if he would just stand up and demand to be treated with dignity. Instead, like the commentators in the articles on the strike, he is told to work himself to exhaustion for table scraps and, if he’s clean cut and lives his entire work and personal life in a PC/corporate-culture friendly way, maybe he’ll be rewarded with a nice desk and a fat salary when he gets into his 50′s.
As someone who doesn’t plan on doing much more work in the future, I don’t have much skin in the game besides the well-being of some of my friends and neighbors. But I do wish people would be more willing to stand up for themselves, or at least to shut up and stay out of the way of people who do.