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November 24, 2008 - Ray Hall (Archive)
These are grim and trying times for American workers and for organized labor in particular. We’ve watched as good paying jobs migrated toward lower wages in the sunshine states only to relocate to countries with strange sounding names where workers earn just pennies on the dollar for the same work. American workers are experiencing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and there are even more dire predictions for the New Year. As our economy struggles enemies of the common worker are increasingly vocal in their pursuit to turn the American workforce into third world wage earners.

Greed Street gurus, financial experts, politicians and television talking heads seem delighted that the auto industry is going belly up. Milt Romney, former Massachusetts’s governor and Presidential candidate, seemed absolutely giddy this week at the prospect of bankrupting the automakers and scuttling labor contracts. The situation is so grim that private sector unions might disappear altogether unless American workers stand united to combat forces intent upon relegating the remains of a once thriving middle class to the lowest privileged in our society.

Tune in to any of the cable news networks and hear the likes of Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Friedman to NBC’s Tom Brokaw calling for union workers to step up to the plate and be “restructured,” a euphemism for re-negotiated contracts—more work for less money. There is plenty of talk about how labor unions must sacrifice and what penance workers must undergo before the situation is made right. A stranger to our country would suppose that the American union worker is lazy, non-productive and abides by such rigid union work rules that companies are at the mercy of chance.

American workers—union and non-union—need to join forces and insist upon having, if not a seat at our country’s financial table, a place in the kitchen where we can partake of the same meal. Now is the time to be strong and remind our politicians, the corporate elite and the lobbyist they employ, that we are equal shareholders in this country by right of citizenship. There are several things we can do bolster America’s middle class and we must be relentless in pursuing our just cause.

In 1796 Thomas Paine argued that the right of citizenship ought to include; [1] free health care for all citizens, [2] old age pensions, [3] a stipend for every young man upon attaining adulthood for a stake to start a business or to acquire a craft, and [4] free, public education, including higher education.

We must insist that right of citizenship requires national health insurance for everyone—he or she, the young the old, the rich and poor—a universal system. We have gone too long without affordable national health insurance for everyone. The argument most often used to disparage the United Auto Workers is the high cost for health insurance and defined pensions for union members. Time magazine quoted conservatives as saying Chrysler is a health insurance company with car issues. By some estimates every automobile manufactured in the United states by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler carries a $1500 price tag just pay for union negotiated health insurance for workers and retirees. Yet, those very corporations, Greed Street mavens and like minded politicians—those who complain loudest about high healthcare costs—have always led the fight against universal health insurance that would relieve employers of health care costs and reduce the cost of American made automobiles.

Those who would ‘restructure” the automobile industry would also redefine, restructure or eliminate pension plans for retired workers. American workers must insist upon a pension plan with guaranteed minimums that are portable and sustained by employer/employee contributions matched by some sort of governmental funding and closely monitored by the appropriate governmental agency.

Thomas Paine understood that free, public education would be necessary for the welfare of the Republic and would serve as a bridge for economic democracy. There is no good reason why the sons and daughters of American workers—everyone—should not have a free college education and sons and daughters who choose other career paths would have free access to specialized training for a craft.

If elected officials and the moneyed class are really interested in stimulating the economy they ought to at once forgive all college loans. I can think of nothing more morally repugnant than a college graduate repaying thousands of dollars for a college education, especially an education gained from a state funded college or university.

Some will say every thing I’ve suggested costs money—maybe a lot of money, and where will the money come from? However, after Lehman Brothers, one of America’s oldest money changers went bankrupt for holding too many toxic mortgages, the people in charge of money in America quickly committed $700 billion to make sure no other investment banking company suffered the same fate. I do not recall very many people asking where that money came from, but $350 million has already been spent.


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