Live Bait & Ammo: #129: Right Back Where We Started
Sometimes one can’t see the precipice for the pitfalls. When you’ve lost a job or taken a steep pay cut; when your pension is threatened and your backup plan nose dives; when you’re faced with foreclosure or stuck in an abandoned neighborhood; when your biggest investment in life just lost half its value despite all the time, love, money, and labor you put into it; when you’re forced to relocate but can’t afford to uproot; when you’re too young for medicare and too old not to have preexisting conditions that exclude you from health insurance; when you’ve followed all the rules only to find that the rules have changed; when one or all of the above apply, it’s understandable that you may cling to your private barrel of anxieties as the current hurls you down the Niagara.
Understandable, but useless. The barrels that we cling to—contracts, unions, pensions, promises, IRAs, VEBAs—will not protect us. Workers’ rights are not defined by law or contract. Workers’ rights are defined by struggle. Empty barrels won’t protect us from the precipice, and there’s no turning back.
The good news is, the barrels that once provided an illusion of safety are smashed to smithereens. From the wreckage we can clearly see that either we all rise up together, or no one walks away with dignity, let alone a living wage. The good news is, no one—not the salary workers, the knowledge workers, or the retirees—will be spared. The carbon monoxide of ‘Too-bad-for-them-but-I’m-okay’ complacency has blown away. Catastrophe demands unity. The good news is, our history can lead us.
Money isn’t lost, it changes hands. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s capitalism. The transfer of wealth from labor to capital didn’t begin with the current crisis. We can trace it back to Caterpillar, Staley, Bridgestone, and every lockout since then. We can trace it back to the offshoring of steel, rubber, textile, and electronics; to restructured airlines that pilfered pensions; and PATCO. We can trace it back to narrow interest bargaining and lunch bucket politics that allowed the corps to pick us off, one isolated union at a time. We can trace it back to southern tenant farms and garment sweatshops in
Next, they will liquidate the salary pension. What’s to stop them? Capitalism is the law.
GM and Chrysler may not achieve all their goals in the quick rinse bankruptcy controlled by the feds, but they’ll be back in court to finish the job, just like
Base wages at
Each new UAW contract promises security in exchange for concessions from workers. The latest UAW Concession Con promised to deliver members from bankruptcy and plant closings. As soon as it was ratified Chrysler went into bankruptcy and announced more plant closings.
But the nail in the coffin is the agreement to settle the contract in 2011 by arbitration based on non union standards. That isn’t a contract, it’s a death warrant for the UAW. What could be more clear? The Concession Caucus has effectively decertified the UAW.
The union agrees not to strike and commits to a goal that nullifies any benefit to union membership. This is the price we pay for company stock in a VEBA? The UAW signs confidentiality agreements with the companies and leaves members in the dark. Read the actual contract language at www.soldiersofsolidarity.com.
Read it and weep. Weep for the unsung heroes who risked everything they loved in the depths of the Great Depression so the next generation might labor in dignity. Weep for the youngsters who tread in the footprints of the generation who chose to collaborate with management and sold their birthright for a bowl of maggots that the clipboards call joint programs.
Read it and revolt like the heroes of
Read it and recognize that UAW members lost their voting rights.
We’re right back where we started. Sometimes, where we started is the right place to be.
Recently my wife, Sheila, and I ventured down to the crossroads in
You got me working, boss man / Working 'round the clock.
I want me a drink of water / You won't let me stop.
You big boss man / Can you hear me when I call?
Oh, you ain't so big / You just tall, that's all.
The blues is essentially subversive. Every blues like every river has an undercurrent, a subtext, a baseline shackled to oppression and resistance. A song like “Baby Please Don’t Go”, for example, isn’t just another song about love. It’s a song about slavery and addiction; it’s a song about poverty and injustice; it’s a song about fear and violence and solitary confinement. And like every old blues, it’s a song about the struggle, the struggle to be human in an inhuman world—like
We’re right back where we started. The authorities turned fire hoses and police dogs on the children in
When we try to take back what belongs to us, they will beat us and arrest us, and we will know exactly where we stand on the precipice.