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Saturday, November 29, 2003

America Steps Back into the Pre-Industrial Era

I happen to be rereading Kevin Phillips’ essential text book on the decline of our nation as a bastion of equality and prosperity, Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich, at the same time I have tried to bring myself up to speed on the California grocery workers’ strike. The United Food and Commercial Workers union has said that the grocery retailers are attempting to knock their workers out of the middle class. The supermarkets have hired scab labor in their effort to bring the union to its knees. This sort of labor trouble made me look at a calendar to make sure it was 2003 and not 1903.

The California workers aren’t asking for more money, they are only demanding that they be allowed to keep the benefits they have already fought for and earned. One of the biggest issues of contention is the supermarkets’ insistence that the workers pay a greater share of their health insurance costs. The “liberal media” coverage of the strike has been all but nonexistent and the paltry reporting has generally leaned in favor of the corporate leviathans. Fox News ran a corporate-biased AP wire story on their website posted on October 12, 2003 that lead with this gem, “Three major supermarket chains said Sunday they plan to hire temporary workers (i.e. scabs, this parenthetical aside is mine, of course) to keep hundreds of stores open as more than 70,000 grocery clerks in southern California began a strike.” AP is obviously more interested in the stores remaining open than the plight of the workers. On the same screen Fox had an advertisement for a grocery store chain.

Ever since I can remember, grocery stores clerks have had a fairly strong union that allowed them decent pay and benefits. I have no doubt that you could hire people to do their jobs for less pay, I suppose there are some people who wouldn’t mind reverting back to the days of slavery. I don’t see much of a difference between slavery and paying people next to nothing and denying them essentials like health care. That isn’t the kind of society I want to live in and I’m willing to make sacrifices so every working American earns a decent wage and has access to life’s essentials like education, national security, a clean environment, and health care.

Wealth and Democracy documents how over the past 25 years the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. Every table, every graph, every historical comparison in this book should fill every decent American with outrage. For corporate America to tell workers that they can’t pay them a decent wage is an outrage. Corporate taxes have dwindled from 26.5% of total receipts in 1950 to 10.2 in 2000 while the share paid by payroll taxes has risen from 6.9% to 31.1% over the same period.

What kind of a country will this be when we have split ourselves into two factions: minimum wage peons and a few hyper-rich plutocrats? I think I have spent enough time in Latin America to realize that we are moving to their levels of inequality.

I don’t know about you but I don’t need to save 15 cents on a package of bologna if it means the person stocking the shelves can’t afford to go to a doctor or pay the rent.

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