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Friday, January 25, 2013

Sad Times for Labor

It has been months since I have posted. My first blush of retirement found me doing all the things I didn't get to do when I was working: quilting, caring for my mom, reading, writing (mostly poetry) and getting my finances in order. Lately, I have been hearing a recurring theme. "Unions are bad, pensions are bad and we've got to make changes." Rick Hogan, on public radio, philosophized that things just couldn't be helped, the pensions had to change. My interpretation of that is a parable.

What if the rich man had gone out into the street to find workmen for his field. At the end of the day, the workmen came to get paid and he said, "Oh, sorry. I don't have enough to pay you. You'll have to take half."

Now I know that there are actually employers out there that do that, especially with vulnerable employees, but that doesn't make it right. I first boycotted Kmart and Sears when Kmart bought Sears and gutted the retirement program of the employees. The news media never provided information on how that was achieved. Wasn't there some sort of legally binding agreement in force? I can't believe all that money would be left to chance.

I have worked for most of my life, paying into my pension, and I seriously considered taking my money out of the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) when I retired. Now I worry about whether I will have enough to get by in my old age. There was a time when a contract was a contract. Employers these days have found ways to manipulate even contracts. I recently heard about a school district that mandated a strike could only be held to negotiate on all 3 issues: wages, working conditions and health benefits. Then they proceeded to offer a three-year contract on health benefits but only a two-year contract on wages. That way, teachers would be unable to strike the third year. Come on, people, we are not dumb! We are teaching your kids! Would you want us to be that dumb?!

The economy of any country is dependent on the people having enough money to purchase things. Robert Reich has suggested that unless the distribution of wealth in this country is restored to former levels, we are probably looking at another recession. I worry that we are in a long, slow inflationary depression, where the same amount of money buys much less each year. In Post-WWI Germany, people carried money in wheelbarrows to buy bread. I have money that was worth a thousand Marks and was stamped to make it worth a million Marks. Everyone says that prices are going up, but if wages are going down, isn't that inflation? We don't have to keep paying more for everything. Read about the conquest of inflation in Brazil. If we don't earn enough to save a little for cars and appliances, this economy will grind to a halt.

Immigrants have always had it tough. It takes a generation to gain enough ground to get a good education and employment that will support a family in most cases. We're not giving away money. Let's just not forget the suffering of a generation of workers during the early Twentieth Century who fought and died for the right to work in a job that provided healthy working conditions, limited hours, and protection from the whims of owners who did not agree with their political ideas.

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