Class Warfare

Those of us at the bottom of the income scale are involved in a war. It is not a war of bullets, mortar shells, bombs and tanks, but it is a war just the same, and people are dying. We didn’t start this war. It is not a war with us but a war on us. We didn’t ask for it, we don’t want it, and if we could we’d sue for peace. It is not a war we can win in any final way, ever. We are outgunned, overmatched, and trapped in a swamp. The enemy controls our food, our shelter, our health, and our livelihoods. He rarely shows pity, breaks every truce within hours, and chips away at us every day as if we were emotionless blocks of ice he is hoping to whittle down until we just melt away.

We have only one thing going for us–there’s lots more of us than there is of him.

It is a class war, and it has been going on intermittently since the dawn of civilization. Practically the first things that developed in early Sumeria, Babylon, China, and Egypt were classes. For millennia, in all civilized societies, it was classes that defined the nature of that civilization. The upper classes used their power to acquire and maintain their wealth, and the lower classes did all the work. When Marx attacked what he called “capitalism”, he was merely acknowledging the latest identifiable potential source of oligarchic power, not discovering something that had never existed before.

So there’s nothing new about this, nothing unusual, no reason for the shrinking middle-class to cluck its tongue and shake its head in disbelief. It is the way societies work, fantasies of equality notwithstanding–riches are power and the rich use that power to hang onto what they’ve got and they hang onto what they’ve got by making sure we get as little of it as possible. The way they see it, every dime that goes into our pockets is a dime that isn’t in theirs, and they resent us for it. They always have and they always will. This is the reality we live with, a reality unacknowledged by the larger society because it doesn’t fit their misconceptions of what our society actually is, because they’ve allowed themselves to be conned by the plutocrats into believing it’s all our fault, because the plutocrats have taken so much from them that they hardly have time to live their own lives let alone worry about anybody else’s, and because we are, to all intents and purposes, invisible. Like a waiter is invisible, or a maid. We’re part of the landscape, and all trees look alike; if one cuts off your view. you cut it down without a thought. It’s just a tree.

Believe it or not, we understand this. Believe it or not, we don’t particularly resent it. It is just the way things are, the way they have always been. We expect people to ignore us. We expect that promises made to us will be broken as soon as they’ve been made. We don’t expect that our needs will be factored into the calculations of the rich, the plans of the powerful, or the laws of the country. As a rule we don’t ask or necessarily believe that they should be. We have only one iron-clad expectation: We expect to be allowed to live. Not well, not like a member of the Harvard Club, not even like a member of the local health club, but live. What we don’t expect is to be starved, legislated, or beaten out of existence, no matter how ashamed you are of us.

We’re more than a little ashamed of ourselves. You’ve taught us to be. Most of us believe that our poverty is our own fault, and sometimes it is. Most of us believe that there is something wrong with us, that we’re not as good as other people or worth as much, and sometimes we aren’t. Most of us believe that we somehow deserve the advantage the powerful take of our lousy education, lack of marketable skills, and absence of political influence, and some of us do. But not all of us. Not even most of us.

Most of us have been caught in a vise since birth, a vise we have been struggling to escape ever since, a vise made from the poverty of our parents or the color of our skins or the different languages we speak or the countries we came from. It sometimes seems to us that the hands of the whole society are on the handle of that vise, keeping it tight, twisting it tighter. Every time we manage to loosen it enough so that escape seems possible, a whole new group of hands appears to grab it and twist it back to where it was while the voices attached to the hands scold us for staying locked in the vise. It is like a torturer of the Spanish Inquisition scolding the tortured for allowing themselves to be put to the rack. “Why don’t you get up and leave? Why don’t you better yourself?” “Um, because you’ve chained my hands and feet to this wheel….?” We think it’s a test.

We don’t think you owe us a living. We do think you owe us the right to live. That’s really all we ask–a chance to live without facing starvation and homelessness every day because even though some of you are working us like dogs, you’re paying us like rats, as if we could live off the rotted garbage we find in the alleys, while you have more than you will ever in three lifetimes be able to spend. And still you want more.

And while only a few of you are directly involved in such cruelty, the rest of you are complicit because you allow it, because you don’t want to know about it, because it is your silence, your ignorance, your fear that you may be next, that lets the minority that does it get away with it. We don’t believe that you are at heart callous or cruel or filled with hate for us. We do believe that you protect yourselves with a sheen of ignorance: how can you do anything about something you don’t know is happening?

From the Trenches wants to do whatever it can to erase that sheen. We want you to know what’s happening to us, to stop averting your eyes before it’s too late, for us and for the country. Whether you know it or not, we are the canaries in your coal mine–what they would do to you, they will do to us first because it’s harder for us to fight back than it is for you, and because they assume that your self-imposed blindness and the blindness they impose on you will prevent you from reacting until it’s too late.

We don’t hate you. We don’t even dislike you. But we’re afraid of your self-absorbed tunnel-vision. The rich and powerful have convinced you to erect thick walls of fear and complacency between you and us, and used their control of the government and the media to convince you that we are the enemy when it is they who are stealing from you. Only if and when you understand the truth will either of us have a chance against the power they’re collecting to use against us both.

And the truth is this, as simple as this: We’re all in this together. We can’t fight them without you, and you can’t win without us. We need each other, and FTT is going to try to tell you why.

Boeing Reaches Accord With Long Beach Factory Workers

The agreement includes raises but boosts medical insurance premiums. Other plants also agree to contract settlements.

By John O’Dell, LA Times Staff Writer

Boeing Co. has reached agreements on new contracts with union locals representing almost 5,000 workers at plants in California and Oklahoma, including the company’s Long Beach aircraft factory.

Long Beach workers, who build commercial passenger jets and C-17 military cargo planes, ignored their leadership’s recommendation and voted Sunday to approve a new three-year pact that provides wage increases but also calls on them to pay more of their own medical insurance costs. The pact, which covers about 2,900 Boeing employees, was approved by a vote of 710 to 630.

Separately, negotiators for Boeing and the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America have given preliminary approval to a new four-year contract covering 2,000 workers who make defense and commercial aircraft products in Paramount and Santa Susana and in plants in Oklahoma. The union had been working without a contract for the last year. Terms of the new agreement will not be disclosed until the union membership’s ratification vote.

The contract settlements come as Boeing faces stiff competition for commercial plane orders from Europe’s Airbus and for military work from rival Lockheed Martin Corp.

(Read more…)

China Is Wal-Mart

Does this scenario sound familiar?

* Workers toil for rock-bottom wages, putting in long hours and sometimes not getting paid at all.

* Health insurance is minimal or non-existent.

* Workers’ rights are repressed, unions are banned and workers who speak up are ostracized, punished or fired.

* Other workers–outside the entity involved–get hurt, because its size and market power are so large it can dictate terms not just to its workers, but to suppliers and competitors–who must “race to the bottom” to match it, or go out of business.

If that sounds familiar, it should. Those are conditions workers face at Wal-Mart, the largest U.S. employer.

Wal-Mart’s 1 million workers toil in that environment. The firm is so large that it can force its competitors to try to match its inhumane work setting, as the recent Southern California grocery lockout showed.

Remember, the chains locked out 70,000 unionized workers because they wouldn’t accept wage and health benefit cuts the grocers claimed they needed to stay competitive with Wal-Mart.

But Wal-Mart is a small version of a much larger identical threat: China. The trade case that the AFL-CIO filed against the Chinese shows that. And the pro-China, pro-Wal-Mart Bush regime must decide whether to be with workers or against them.

Just listen to Wei Jinsheng, an émigré electrician, about what hundreds of millions of workers suffer in China’s “free enterprise” economic system, geared to attracting Western companies who want to exploit Chinese labor:

“Chinese workers’ lives are miserable and their salaries have been pushed to the bottom of the line,” he said through an interpreter. “According to the information we obtained from China directly, the situation could be even worse” than the AFL-CIO presented.

(Read more…)

Unions discover how to get a voice in the boardroom

By Deborah Brewster
Published: May 4 2004 5:00 | Last Updated: May 4 2004 5:00

US unions have never achieved the same level of influence as their comrades in Europe and the decline in their membership has accelerated in recent years, from a high of 21m in 1980 to a record low of 15.7m in 2003.

But organised labour appears to be finding a toehold of influence in corporate America through an unlikely means – shareholder proxy votes.

Union pension funds such as that run by the AFL-CIO, the unions’ umbrella organisation, have never been shy in giving their views on management but are finding a more receptive audience in this year’s annual meeting season.

They have a new ally in state pension funds, which control sizeable pots of money – $2,500bn, or about 8 per cent of the US stock market – but have until now been largely acquiescent towards company management.

Fed up with three years of losses, the funds, many having union representatives on board because of high union membership among state employees, are showing their muscle.

(Read more…)