Monday, August 5, 2013

State of the Unions

There's been a lot of talk recently about workers. You know, the people who do the work in this country and who expect to be paid a livable wage while earning a little respect from employers and customers. The problem is that somewhere along the way, the conservative revolution has been glorifying the wealthy while bashing the people who actually create the wealth. I'm not saying anything new, but a spate of reports have caught my eye and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if present trends continue, we could have another revolution, but this one will be messy.

First up are those pesky fast food workers, you know, the ones who serve the most meals in the country. They are holding one-day walkouts to protest the unlivable minimum wage, $7.25 an hour or about $30,000 per year if full time, that many of them can't really live on. Add in the lack of health care benfits and you have the fixin's of a major problem. Since many of the jobs being created these days are not full time, more people are earning a wage that doesn't support even a minimal existence.

So what to do? In DC, the City Council voted to require Wal-mart to pay its employees at least $12.50 per hour in all of its city stores. Wal-mart was considering building six stores in DC, but now that they actually have to pay a livable wage, they're threatening not to build three of them. This wage would also apply to other big box stores. Keep in mind that Wal-mart makes billions of dollars a year, as do other retailers such as Home Depot and Target, and they all pay their executives millions of dollars in salaries. But of course, they couldn't lower some of those high paying jobs just a little bit to cover the hourly workers. That would send the wrong message. Like, we care about our employees.

And it's not just in the United States. Amazon is currently finding that European governments (those darn socialists!) are pushing back against Amazon's attitude towards unions and the right to organize. Amazon is going to lose this battle, just as Google lost the privacy battle over its mapping service that also scooped up private information. In Europe, they take privacy and union rights seriously and that's complicating big American businesses who are used to allies on the right allowing companies to bust unions and pay people very little (while telling workers that they should be happy to just have a job).

I am certainly not advocating fighting in the streets, but over time, as people find it difficult, if not impossible, to earn a living wage, and politicians turn a blind eye to them, then what other recourse will people have? Social media and elections will help, but gerrymandered Congressional districts almost ensure that anti-worker politicians will continue to be reelected. The gap between wealthy and not wealthy in this country is as large as it's ever been, and that, in part, is why the economy is not growing a robustly as it should. Let's solve this problem before more people become desperate.

And yes, that's a warning.

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