Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ode to Unions

I apologize in advance to those who have written to tell me they enjoy my “funny” blogs, but not my political rants. But being the “mouthy political bitch” that Google thinks I am, sometimes I just have to get on my soapbox, especially on an issue like this that’s so important to so many families (and in particular affects the ability of working-class mothers to be at home with their children). I’ll keep this one short at least (please note, on my behalf, that I spared you my 3,000-word rip on Linda Hirshman’s infamous anti-stay-at-home-mom article on the AlterNet a while back).

From the New York Times, an article about Caterpillar (a heavy machinery manufacturer) and how much wages have dropped for manufacturing jobs. New workers (and especially unskilled laborers) are being hired on at about half the wages they were thirty years ago. Simultaneously, pensions and health insurance benefits have declined (not to mention costs of living have increased). But lest you think there’s no bright side to all of this:

“To make employees feel better," D. Dean Messinger, a plant
manager, said, “The bathrooms have been modernized and the
cafeteria redecorated in a cedar shingle design.”

Well thank God for that. Perhaps I’m out of touch with the working man (I mean I’ve been solidly middle class off and on for well more than half of my 36 years), so someone enlighten me if I’m off base here, but when people can’t afford to feed their families is a “modern bathroom” at work a big consolation?

Something that is good (but not as good as Caterpillar wants its employees to believe) is they offer a lot of free training and cover college tuition for any employees who want to go. But here’s the problem:

“The way up from the admittedly meager wage scale is not a
better union contract, the message goes, but a promotion – if
not within Caterpillar, then at another employer. Driving a
forklift or working on an assembly line for 20 years should
not be a career goal.”

This is predicated on the false assumption that people are actually created equal. Some people lack the intelligence, the confidence, the ambition or all three to do “more” than drive a forklift their whole lives. So they deserve to be treated like slave labor? These lowly slobs show up to work every day and provide valuable services that earn Caterpillar multi-billions of dollars in profits… and yet, according to Jim Owens (CEO) they don’t deserve a decent (American) standard of living… unless they’re smart enough to get a different job.

Manufacturing and other labor jobs used to provide a good life for less-academically-inclined, but hardworking Americans. Not anymore. Thanks to Wal-Mart’s “successful” example, treatment of employees has been in rapid decline. Unions have fallen hopelessly out of fashion, but surely they’re going to make a comeback soon – corporations are just out of control.


Anjali said...

Amen, Staci. And I just love how politicians distract us from the issues of terrible wages/benefits for working people by blaming oursourcing to foreign countries, or illegal immigrants. Unions are the backbones of workers' rights in this country. And they won't be around much longer under the current social/political climate.

Anonymous said...

Great blog, Staci.

Another really important issue, maybe the workers were making a comfortable $25 per hour in 1960 dollars and are now making $12 per hour in 2006 dollars (which does not a living make), but management in the 1960s was making a very comfortable $75 to 150K per year and are now making $100-500 million per year.


tomama said...

For the record, I like your political posts.

landismom said...

Amen, sister! Just came by to say thanks for commenting on my blog. Great post.