We here in America, with all the bubbles bursting in air around us, we sometimes forget how good we have it, and what it took make it that way. I recently lost my job, and no, not as a result of the financial crisis, but a few sons trying to avoid an inheritance tax increase they knew Obama would be bringing them. Which, though not the purpose of this article, didn't their father already pay the tax on it? But I digress. After waiting my required week, I logged on to the local unemployment site, set up my claim, and bam, three weeks later, a check in my bank account. Then the other day I logged in to my account, and there was a new credit. I got a raise! Not too bad; thank you Uncle Sam! And I thought, "You know, there's a lot of places on this not so green earth where I would not only be out of a job, I'd have nothing at all."
So, an entitlement program that needs to be eliminated? I may have thought so before, but not now that I find myself needing it. Social Security? Seriously, what are the wealthy complaining about Social Security for? They don't pay for it! They only pay social security tax on their first $100,000. And, instead of the money we are all paying being put into a "lock box" and sealed in Fort Knox, it is used to shore up the current budget so the numbers don't look so bad. What's another couple trillion between friends, can't we make sure the money we pay now will be there for us later? I hear it won't be.
In this financial crisis, we have heard a lot about these entitlement programs and how they are going to bankrupt us. (Aren't we already bankrupt? Or is that just morally?) And then came the auto crisis, and another entitlement came into focus, unions. The Big Three CEOs hopped in their jets and came crying to Washington, "Well, our car companies are failing because these damn union workers are making too much money. How can we be expected to be competitive when their workers will do it for less?" And yes, I've heard the stories of union workers being paid to play cards because there was no work to do, so obviously there is some fat to trim on both sides. But when the car companies came up with their reorganization strategies, and we gave them some money, and then bankruptcy plans, and we gave them some more money, it was the unions who kept having to make the most concessions. With all the talk we had of executive bonuses and contractual requirements with the banks, no one blinked an eye when unions signed off on theirs. And many say there's more to come.
Life in America is good, better than most I would imagine, and it is that way because the line between the rich and the poor is a little shorter than most, for the moment, or at least there's more people making a decent wage. If the people at the bottom have no money, who will buy your products? The mass mob are what keeps the capitalist wheels turning, but the folks driving the car are too concerned about their bottom lines. So, they take their company somewhere without unions and pay those people less, but not enough to buy what they are making. And we here at home, we no longer have jobs, so we can't buy your product either. Oops! So, yes you saved a bundle not having to pay unionized workers, but nobody can afford what you just made, and you go out of business. Boom goes another bubble!
I was watching the history channel the other day, and there was a special on the early "Hillbillies." Part of the show was on the Battle of Blair Mountain, which the special said was a defining moment for organized labor in America. It was a bloody battle between 10,000 union workers and their bosses' paid-off police squad, and see if you can guess what side the government was on. Many died in their attempt to force the unionization of coal miners, and the revolution slowly got rolling. People started having enough money in their pockets to spend it, and as many with money will tell you, "you spend what you make." So there was more being spent, and the bottom line wasn't bottomed out.
America's bellies and wallets got fatter, the rich and poor alike, and America grew into one of the best places to live. But with the financial crisis, auto crisis, wars and conflicts, we are now having to tighten our purse strings. Most of us don't have that little extra to spend, and the ones who do are holding on to theirs like life rafts so they don't sink with the rest of us. And so, when given the choice of losing some of those "entitlements" or our whole jobs, we decide to sign off on what 10,000 people at Blair Mountain and countless more fought for. And the bottom line drops, for everybody. Eventually.
In an ideal world, which I know we are far from, when our factories ship jobs overseas, the new workers would not agree to the lower wages, but I understand a lot of them are just happy to be eating, so they are not concerned with being able to buy that new HD TV. That's another problem. But again, who will now, Mr. Factory Owner? There is a great episode of the cartoon "The Simpsons" where the jobs at the local nuclear power plant are shipped to India, and the main character Homer is sent to be a cheap supervisor. But after he explains American worker's rights to them, they start worshipping him as a God and praying for "Golden Parachutes." The new plant becomes too expensive and the owner Mr. Burns has to bring the plant home, where he can find cheaper labor. I guess there's a lesson for both sides there.
I know times are tough, and there are no easy answers. People have been taking advantage on both sides for many years, and some concessions can be made fairly, if they are made on both sides. But I hope some people will look up "The Battle of Blair Mountain" (and no it isn't the movie about a witch) and remember the cost that was paid to be paid just a little better. Will we be willing to pay it again, if we end up signing it all away now? And to the one's getting the bailouts, please remember, if the rest of us have money in our pockets, we are just going to give it right back to you, and in the process you can also unload some of those TVs that are gathering dust in your overseas factories. Make room for the new models.
Tim is a some-time activist living in Ohio who thinks things should be a little bit more fair. He has also worked as a musician and an actor, performing throughout the US, Europe, and Japan.