Rich Succeed Setting Worker Against Worker

LongshoremanHave you heard about those awful longshoremen? I have. And from people who ought to know better. The longshoremen have staged a work slowdown in their negotiations and USA Today calls foul, Longshoremen Hurt Blue-Collar Brethren. Do you know how much they make?! “The Pacific Maritime Association, manager of the ports, says an average full-time worker makes $147,000 a year, with very generous benefits on top of that.” But not to be one-sided, the article claims, “The ILWU says longshoremen aren’t always able to work as many hours as they’d like, putting a typical income at $83,000.” Who can say?

Well, according to Mark Brenner in that very same USA Today, “Longshore workers on the West Coast earn $26 to $41 an hour…” And that puts the ILWU quote at the very top of rate. Regardless, the $147,000 figure is ridiculous and USA Today should be ashamed of quoting it.

Basically, the entire argument of the USA Today editorial board is that the longshoremen should just get used to the way that it is with other workers where they don’t share in the economic gain. If profits rise, they should all go to the owners. Don’t these workers know that they don’t matter? Haven’t they been paying attention these last four decades?!

The editorial concludes:

If the port workers took the long view, they might conclude it’s not worthwhile to rock the boat so much. Things are very good for them. Why draw so much attention to that?

It is good, if selfish, advice. It is taking this kind of advice that now has California Safeway clerks earning $10 per hour. Bear in mind that if the minimum wage had gone up with the rate of productivity growth since 1968 (and it always did before), it would now be almost $22 per hour. The lower rate for longshore workers — $26 per hour — is barely above what the minimum wage ought to be. And the upper value is not even double it. But our expectations for what workers should earn have been so lowered that now $83,000 per year sounds like a fortune. I mean, imagine that: you could buy a home, send your kids to school, retire comfortably. What a shocking vision of life!

Brenner sums up the situation well:

We live in the richest country in the history of humankind. But in our upside-down economy, CEOs make 331 times as much as the average worker, and far more folks will face a lifetime of Walmart wages than will end up on Easy Street.

The primary reason? Just one in 10 workers belongs to a union today, down from a peak of one in three. Unions are the only reliable way to ensure that working people share in our nation’s dizzying wealth.

Of course, this is why the entire conservative movement has been out to kill off unions from the moment they appeared. Sadly, the Democratic Party’s position on unions has pretty much been that of the USA Today editorial board, “Don’t ask for anything! Be grateful you aren’t working at Walmart!” And that is the surest road to working at Walmart. I have to say, I respect the ILWU members because I doubt I would have the guts to do this. But it is going to take braver people than me to bring back labor unions.

What’s sad, though, is that workers are not just fighting against the owners. Non-unionized workers are, with relatively few exceptions, the worst enemies of unionized workers. And this is the reason that unions are so important. It isn’t primarily about negotiation and wages and so on. It is about solidarity. By destroying unions, the rich have managed to turn workers on each other.

So in discussing the work slowdown, all that is really necessary is for some manager to say “$147,000!” and 90% of the country is outraged. “Oh, you workers are never satisfied!” Imagine this. What if I told you that New York stock traders made $83,000 per year. Would you think that an outrageous amount of money? Of course you wouldn’t. You would think it was really low. Yet almost anyone would rather work on Wall Street than have a very difficult and dangerous longshoreman’s job. But somehow, they make too much money.

Divide and conquer. The rich have been doing this for centuries to the rest of us. And the only reason they are able is because we allow them to.


H/T: Michael Hiltzik

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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