Capitalism in these United States has always been contemptuous of the labor whose sweat and toil create profits.
Thanks to Ronnie Reagan and his successful crushing of the Air Traffic Controllers, we are now back at, or very close to, the point where Robber Barons of industry treated workers like chattel.
In the double-speak that passes for political dialogue these days, those Barons are “job creators” who would put everyone back to work if only Big Government would stop levying taxes and imposing regulations. These so-called “job creators” are the very same corporations that shipped millions of well-paying American jobs overseas to be filled by slave-wage foreign workers. They are the same corporations that Reagan enabled to bust unions willy and nilly, opening the way to obscene profits for such as Walmart and the fast food industry.
Abuses of the workforce, from child labor to overlong workweeks to low wages to unsafe working conditions led to the labor laws that capitalists now find so onerous. After much suffering and bloodshed. American workers won the right to organize unions, bargain collectively and work in safe, healthy conditions. Thanks to the Citizens United decision, corporations have taken over the government and are rewriting the law to their satisfaction. Once they opposed the 40-hour work week as a socialist crime against free enterprise. Now they embrace it as a means to oppress workers by limiting everyone to less than 40 hours, making them part-time workers unprotected by the laws that were devised for the benefit of full-time workers.
No nation in the industrialized world has weaker laws affecting “temporary” workers. What corporations in the United States get by with would be illegal in countries like Sweden, Germany, South Korea and Chile.
Meanwhile, right-to-work laws and other legal fictions make it virtually impossible for these workers to organize. Walmart tactics alone could form the text book for how to keep workers in virtual enslavement.
Current Bureau of Labor Statistic data show that the number of Americans belonging to a labor union is at an all-time low — barely 14 million vs., for example, nearly 18 million in 1983. Last year, the rate of
union membership in the public sector fell by more than a full percentage point, from 37 to 35.9 percent of workers, while in the private sector it dropped from 6.9 to 6.6 percent. The combined rate of American workers now belonging to a union stands at 11.3 percent, down from 11.8 the previous year and the lowest figure ever since the bureau started collecting the data in 1983, when the rate was 20.1 percent.
The relatively brief period of ascendant labor unionism in the United States coincided with the emergence of a growing middle class, swollen by hourly-wage workers. Now, most economists are wringing their hands over the decline of that middle class. Virtually all of the real income growth in this country has gone to the richest one per cent of the population. Workers no longer aspire to becoming middle class. Millions of them aspire merely to work, to find a job, any job. The relative handful of jobs our mythical “job creators” are offering each month are virtually all minimum-wage jobs or below. Yet our corporate rulers propagate the myth that American business can’t afford to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour — even though it would now be over $15 an hour if it had merely kept pace with inflation.
While their whores in elected office prattle about further weakening of the labor laws, and further tax concessions to the ultra-rich, to encourage ”job creators,” even a cursory study of our own history reveals that, left to their own devices, American business still has nothing but contempt for workers.
The TV performer Stephen Colbert was largely correct when he said in a recent speech that we have only ourselves to blame for the fix we’re in. We elected the people who did this to us, and re-elected them, and re-elected them again. He was referring to our forfeiture of civil liberties under the so-called USA Patriot Act. But it applies as well to the plummeting economic status of John Henry Citizen.