I feel a mighty ranting coming on.
(Or it could just be a reminder that I really, really shouldn’t listen to the news before I am caffeinated enough to have my mental shields up.)
It seems America has entered a post-union phase of corporate relations. I’m not sure we’re going to like the results.
In this new post-union America, “corporations are people my friend” *wink* – and because of that they are allowed to try to influence elections, dodge taxes, regulate themselves and have their low wages subsidized by the big bad federal government. Corporations are too big to fail and deserve our tax dollars to keep them afloat when they screw up.
These corporate “people” are not held to any of the same standards of citizenship that actual people are. They have written their own laws allowing them to socialize the costs of doing business while privatizing the wealth it creates. Meanwhile, if actual people rise up and ask for fair wages, or fair taxation, they cry socialism and wealth redistribution. All while riding the backs of the taxpayers to ever greater profits.
Corporations are not people, they are national gods – infallible and untouchable.
If corporations were people Haiburton, Exxon, BP, Monsanto, GlaxoSmithKline, Bank of America, etc… would not exist, because they would all be in prison for life.
This morning, I climbed inside the “way back” machine and took a trip to “remember whenville…”
Then I realized I was skipping a major piece of the puzzle and went even more “way back.”
Let me show you what I learned.
Way, way back, once upon a time…
There was a thing called the industrial revolution.
During this time there was a great upheaval in the lives of many citizens. Many people left their family land and moved to cities to get jobs in factories.
In the beginning conditions in the factories were terrible. Men, women and children worked insane hours in horrific conditions that made Bangladesh look, well, not like a vacation – but, normal. Just – normal.
Lighting, ventilation, bathroom breaks, fire escapes…
Those things did not come about because industry decided to regulate itself and start caring about its workers.
They did not even come about because industry did some math and realized, all on its own, that taking better care of workers resulted in increased profits for the company, or at least lower losses from building fires.
No, those things came about because the WORKERS decided to start caring about themselves. Because WORKERS stood up and said, “Enough!”
I’ve heard all the “big bad union” stuff – and while I agree that unions are far from perfect – we owe them, big time, for the small shreds of corporate responsibility that we do have.
We owe them for minimum wage, which is all that is preventing American corporations from dragging certain strata of our population into less than a dollar a day slave wage poverty.
We owe them for the 40 hour work week, retirement benefits, paid vacation and sick days, bathroom breaks, child labor laws…
We owe them for the next stop in the way-back machine.
The 1950s – a time often romanticized by both sides of the aisle.
While, like most romanticized portions of our past, most of what we romanticize is our own fictionalized rose-colored idealism slipping through, there is one thing that stands out to me from that era.
It was an idea of corporate responsibility and loyalty – to the workers, to the cities and towns where businesses set up, to the country that hosted them.
Unemployment was low. People could reasonably expect to get a job at a company, rise in the ranks and retire at 65 with a healthy pension and a gold watch. Cities and towns rejoiced when a new company wanted to come into town because it meant jobs and money flowing to the coffers.
Now, this wasn’t necessarily because corporations wanted to take care of their people. It was a result of years of labor union activism, it was a result of post-depression legislation, it was a result of a national attempt to grow the middle-class and give a few more people a chance at the American dream.
Corporations were regulated, wall street was regulated, banks were regulated.
Taxes on the wealthy were at 75%!
All this at the height of the Red Scare!
In our new post-union America, all the battles those workers fought, all the rights they won, are slowly being eroded.
Minimum wage has less buying power now than it did in the 1970s – yet we can’t get congress to raise it, or to tie it to inflation.
Now, cities and towns out-bid each other to PAY companies to come to town, bribing them with tax breaks and rent deferment. These days, it costs money to bring business in. And sure, they promise jobs, but when the jobs pay poverty wages, is it really worth it? (Also, there are a few companies with interesting histories of moving in when the price is right, and shutting down as soon as the bill comes due!)
The idea of corporate responsibility has eroded – or perhaps it was never there, perhaps it was all smoke and mirrors created by laws and regulations that no longer apply.
In our hyper competitive market, where a company will locate its manufacturing in Bangladesh instead of Vietnam because in Bangladesh it’s allowed to pay workers a buck a day for 18 hour shifts in windowless buildings with no fire escapes, rather than pay workers $1.50 for 12 hour days and have to put in windows, ventilation and fire escapes all to save the consumer (or the bottom line) a few pennies per shirt… Something is broken.
We are exporting our market-based capitalist economy all around the world.
And we claim that as these new manufacturing hubs crop up, they are just going through the same growing pains we, ourselves, experienced as we built our own industrialized economy.
But… Why should they have to?
If we are exporting our manufacturing, shouldn’t we also be exporting our ideals of fair labor law?
Should these people be worked like slaves until they find a way to rise up?
Or should American companies be held to American labor standards, regardless of where they choose to do business?
As we work to tear apart unions and dismantle labor law right here in America, I wonder if there is any hope of justice at all.
I wonder, as we export more and more jobs overseas where cheap labor and low regulations fuel the bottom line, if there is any dignity left in the corporate world, or if it was ever there to begin with.
I wonder, as people shout that instead of creating stronger, more just, labor laws we need to deregulate and become “competitive” with China, Vietnam and Bangladesh, because after all, if we pay people a living wage… I don’t actually know how that sentence ends.
I do not understand the negative consequences of paying people living wages for work performed. I’m sorry, but I cannot for the life of me see the downside of that.
What if, there was no slave labor available?
What if everyone – in every nation – all at once – stood up and demanded living wages, safe working conditions, bathroom breaks, child labor laws…
What if, instead of holding everyone but the rich down, we built everyone up?
Is it really socialism and wealth redistribution to say that companies shouldn’t have their labor costs subsidized by the government? Really? I mean, you do see the irony of people who are anti-big government being propped up by… big government, right?
Would the economy really come to a crashing halt if every worker had enough money to live – to buy groceries, to pay for their own health care, to get to work, to buy clothing, to have a roof over their head, to raise a family?
Or would the wealth begin to circulate?
What if instead of importing poor labor standards from developing nations, we exported the ideals of basic safety, fair pay and worker justice that our nation’s workers fought so hard for? What if we exported the lessons we struggled to learn?
What if we exported our best, instead of importing someone else’s worst?
What if we held American companies accountable, regardless of where they did business?
What if we held all companies that wished to do business with America accountable, regardless of where those companies were founded?
What if we, as a nation, used our clout to raise the global standard of living, starting right here at home and exporting it to every place we touched?