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Green Shoots in America’s Ruins
T he September 13, 1993 Wall Street Journal was abuzz regarding a “remarkable improvement,” a “welcome development of transcendent importance.” It seems the wages of U.S. workers had gone from being the highest in the G-7 to the second-lowest in the span of seven years.
A decade later the Journal bragged of “fatter corporate profits” to be enjoyed by companies and investors, while, “one group of folks will likely be left out in the cold once again: workers.” The longstanding war against workers continues, with no sign of letting up.
Of particular importance is the continued decline in wages in this country. The New York Times reported on IRS data, showing total adjusted gross incomes fell 5.1 percent, while average incomes also fell 5.1 percent. “Adjusted for inflation, the income of all Americans fell 9.2 percent from 2000 to 2002…” As the Chicago Tribune reported, “More than three years into the economic recovery, U.S. workers’ hourly wages continue to decline when adjusted for inflation with little hope of a dramatic turnaround any time soon.”
But the Journal insisted, in an October 11, 2004 editorial, “These are good times for most American workers…” and the Bureau of Labor Statistics had “underestimated the number of jobs created from March 2003 to April 2004.” Financial Times of London offered a different take, stating most of the created jobs were temporary positions and that “about 4.3 million Americans have also been forced to accept part-time positions because they have failed to find full-time work.” Good times, indeed.
The exploitation of temporary workers is ever-increasing. Manpower cleared $12 billion in revenue in 2003, making it 160th on the Fortune 500. Kelly Services cleared $4 billion in revenue and also made the Fortune 500. In South Korea the government is attempting to enact legislation that would increase the usage of temporary workers. Mexican maquila- dora factories are increasingly making use of temporary employees provided by subcontractors in an effort to suppress wages and deny benefits to employees.
temporary workers has not been enough for the Caterpillar Corporation,
though. Cat, which, according to the
its temporary workers $14 an hour, is proposing to implement a two-tier
pay system where new and temporary employees would earn $10 per
hour. As a Caterpillar employee asked, “When Caterpillar gets
the pay down to $10 an hour, what’s the difference between
Caterpillar and McDonald’s?”
The proposed wage is half of what beginning, unionized employees currently earn.
Nissan and other automobile manufacturers have taken advantage of near third world labor conditions in the southeast United States. According to BusinessWeek , “Sure, [Nissan’s] plants use cheap- er, nonunion labor. Besides lower wages, the Smyrna [Tennessee] workers get about $3 an hour less in benefits than the Big Three assemblers represented by the United Auto Workers.” The Financial Times reports, “Foreign carmakers have poured billions of dollars of capital into the US southeast over recent years…attracted…by relatively low labor costs, a largely non-unionized workforce, and hefty financial incentives from states desperate to attract fresh investment and jobs.”
Thus workers in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia are being used for class war against the “pampered” western European auto workers. This is a trend which initially used the low wages of Eastern Europe as weapons. As Kevin Dome reported in the Financial Times (discussing the opening of a new car plant in eastern Germany), “GM has…an enthusiastic and young workforce eager to learn new working methods, but also wage rates are 40 percent of those at its Russelsheim plant near Frankfurt. The gap is supposed to close somewhat in the next few years, but for the moment the [new plant’s] workers receive no extra holiday pay, no 13 months of salary, and they work longer hours than their pampered colleagues in western Germany.”
Eastern Europe offers “green shoots in communism’s ruins” (see Financial Times , October 20, 1992). The “green shoots” include “rising unemployment and the pauperization of large sections of the industrial working class.” These “green shoots” are still being used for class warfare today. In July workers for DaimlerChrysler relinquished a pay raise after the company threatened to ship 6,000 jobs from western Germany to the east and to South Africa. Volkswagen has threatened to eliminate or shift 30,000 jobs unless its European workers agree to a wage freeze. Now corporations will have another threat in their pockets—green shoots in the southeastern United States.
It seems the green shoots are spreading throughout the United States. The New York Times recently reported, “The ranks of the poor and those without health insurance grew in 2003 for the third straight year.” The U.S. has been home to rising unemployment and the pauperization of minorities. The Journal reported, “The median net worth of Hispanic households fell in 2002 to $7,932, down 24 percent from 1999…. Over the same period, the net worth of African- Americans fell 32 percent to $5,988 from $8,774. For white households, the measure rose 2.6 percent to $88,651.”
The green shoots in the United States have clearly benefited. Bonuses on Wall Street reportedly rose this past year. The Journal reported Goldman Sachs’s bonus pool increased 25 percent, Lehman Brothers’ increased 15 percent, and Morgan Stanley’s went up by 15-20 percent. Goldman’s CEO said, “We had a very, very good year.” The business press speaks of the “affluent advantage” where the “economic recovery tilts to highest-income Americans.” Yet most people in the U.S. live within the green shoots, with declining wages, increased debt, social service cutbacks, McJobs, and another four years of the Bush regime.
Keith Yearman is assistant professor of geography at the College of DuPage.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
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