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Posts Tagged ‘income inequality’

Wage Slaves and Wage Thieves

 

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There has been sporadic articles and documentation regarding the inflated salaries of corporate execs and how they dwarf the salaries of our most senior public servants. More outrage ensues. More condemnation from the liberal press pours forth as they use the previously mentioned comparison to offer some perspective on the gross inequality in pay that exists.

Seemingly, the implication here is the difference in pay within the higher, more senior brackets between public and private sectors is large, and it shouldn’t be. However, I do not want a comparison drawn between the bosses of each sector. A much more worthy comparison would be to analyse the pay and rights of an average worker against a boss.

In our post-industrial, service driven economy, we are even outsourcing jobs citizens here are training to secure. This is freezing the price (wage) of labour here, and in some cases, driving it down (considering inflation). This is not only making society unequal by killing off any social mobility, it raises the top bracket of earners higher and higher above everybody else.

The attitude which manifests is one of spite towards the fellow/future worker who demands more via protest too. This is not so much a natural reaction, but one born of helplessness towards the rubbish we have to put up with. When we hear vacuous sound bites like “we are all in this together”, we tend to think, “we’re putting up with it, why aren’t they?” The answer is simple: none of us should, because the disconnect we are all feeling about the labour we offer and the fruits of it we receive is a very real problem that deserves our utmost attention.

This is not to mention the heavy cuts being implemented by the government, which will result in 500,000 public sector job losses, 50,000 of which will be in NHS, and the abolition of the UK Film Council which has produced Oscar winning films, among other wild swings of the axe. These are not just figures. They represent lives, mortgages, families, and a quality of life being squashed from above. Employment is the lifeblood of an economy. One can argue there are many superfluous jobs that should be shed – really?

The large size of the public sector here and other Western economies has become necessary to offset the deficiencies of the private sector, which has failed to provide not just sustainable growth, but sustainable employment. Until our casino finance sector stops operating in boom and bust cycles, the public sector will remain a dependable crutch for those who do not wish to gamble with lives. This brings me to the meat of this article: the attitude which the management class have tried to foster in their workforce and its economic consequences.

This can be first illustrated quite profoundly with a personal anecdote: I know someone who has earned well over £1,000,000 in product sales in the last business year, yet was only paid £22,000 for their troubles. This represents a 2.2% return of the value to the worker who was made solely responsible to shift the goods. Of course, there are other costs to account for, such as production costs and transport, but it would be reasonable to surmise that a large chunk of the profits made its way to the pockets of the directors and shareholders.

This is not only unjust, but symptomatic of the economic phenomenon in our age of globalisation: the value of a product is not simply determined by the seller in a simple transaction with simple market forces, but monopolised by those with the financial clout to keep workers dependent and hungry, effectively prostituting their labour as they see fit, while manipulating market conditions for their own benefit. This means that a worker in a Western country, who is no longer the producer of one given good, cannot readily identify the worth of a product outside their own contrived salary.

Detachment with the labour ensues, and apathy blooms.

This apathy is responsible for the incredible tolerance of the workforce to brave the gluttony and greed of the management classes. We simply do not care about what we do anymore because the reward is miniscule and our labour is undervalued. Corporations understand this problem, and the solution to protect their interests is not to improve worker conditions, but to drive them down further, so that workers become desperate, and finally grateful for their lot in life. After all, a starving man will think a dry biscuit is the best meal he’s ever had if there was nothing else.

Of course, this policy has two outcomes – March 26th is a testament to that.

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Globalisation has fermented the economic shit-storm here and made it co-dependent on the labour situation in developing countries. Take the example of a £20 pair of jeans manufactured in South East Asia and sold on a UK high-street. The worker there is on slave pay and slave hours and just about gets by (if they’re not killing themselves en masse). The product is then priced according to the target market – in this case, the poor here. The poor producers create for the poor and the rich, it is worthy to note.

Keeping the example of the cheap pair of jeans: how about improving the pay and working rights for the outsourced labour? The price of the product increases, resulting in fewer sales and probably redundancies. All the while, the rich are unaffected and preserve their profit margins. The excuse is that the poor here cannot afford to purchase the now more expensive jeans, and have been priced out by concessions to labour movements elsewhere – which then effectively demonises development on these issues among local populations.

The sadly unorthodox reaction to such events is to support each other in a rather Marxist “workers of the world unite” fashion. It is starting to happen with messages of solidarity issued by those struggling for better conditions around the world. What needs to be remembered is that the consumers here are also producers, and the producers there are also consumers. We are not one or the other. We must not be only one or the other. The conditions one worker has to endure can be normalisedfor good or for worse. That is key.

If conditions improve for workers in the North China labour market, we should support them and demand similar. If the quality of life for the workers there improves, we should demand the same concessions and readjustments. In our globalised economy, isolated progression, i.e. one that is naive to the interconnectedness of the labour markets, will damage understanding of the true economic issues of our time. Moving together is fundamental to narrowing the chasm which exists between the classes.

A revaluation of labour is necessary for a successful redistribution of income. The general discord we have for many of our jobs finds solace in our apathetic approach to the opportunities and rewards we have available. If the poor worker/consumer here cannot afford those jeans anymore, they in fact should be paid more and given better working conditions. In effect, this unilateral progression of working rights will raise the bar for workers everywhere, while simultaneously lowering the astronomically high bar of the rich profiteers.

In a blog on Brazen Careerist, a hip career-based website, Whitney May Parker advises a worker to:

3. Never tell your boss “No, I can’t do that.” Obviously if your boss is asking you to do something illegal, immoral or otherwise, that’s a different case. But when it comes to professional tasks and responsibilities, bosses like to see a can-do attitude. Instead of reacting to a challenging assignment with a sigh and immediate reasons why it can’t be done, consider what resources you’d need to actually get the job done. Maybe you need an assistant, a bigger budget, more time, access to a special resources. Think of it as an opportunity to expand your responsibilities in a way that can lead to a raise or promotion at the end of the day.

The writer clearly has immeasurable awe for her superiors and its nauseating. It is almost as if a boss is to be viewed as a benevolent being, never wrong, omniscient and noble in their judgement. This kind of material is everywhere, and it all contributes to that feeling of gratitude the management class want to instil within the workforce. Workers must remember – they do not owe them anything. Labour is not free, and 100 workers have just as much value as 100 bosses. In reality, the ratio is 1 boss to 1000 workers, looking at salaries.

Of course, that cock-tease of a line always shows up: “It can be you! You can be the tyrannical boss one day!”.

But exploring even cheaper and grateful labour might very well be “the wave of the future of human resources” one CEO has mentioned recently:

People who work for free are far hungrier than anybody who has a salary, so they’re going to outperform, they’re going to try to please, they’re going to be creative

Kelly Fallis, CEO of Remote Stylist

They will definitely be hungrier. The scandal here is that they now want us to feel grateful for working for free, and many of us do – look at interns. Entitlement is the mentality of the management classes, and gratitude is the attitude they wish to foster in their underlings. It is reducible to slavery and it should inspire our deepest contempt. But universally, it doesn’t.

Divide and sell remains the mantra…

As Marx once commented on 19th C decadence in France:

"Since the finance aristocracy made the laws, was at the head of the administration of the State, had command of all the organised public authorities, dominated public opinion through the actual state of affairs and through the press, the same prostitution, the same shameless cheating, the same mania to get rich was repeated in every sphere, from the court to the Café Borgne, to get rich not by production, but by pocketing the already available wealth of others, clashing every moment with the bourgeois laws themselves, an unbridled assertion of unhealthy and dissolute appetites manifested itself, particularly at the top of bourgeois society – lusts wherein wealth derived from gambling naturally seeks its satisfaction, where pleasure becomes debauched, where money, filth, and blood commingle."

Such is the state of affairs now, but magnified one hundred fold. To an almost fever pitch degree of greed and debauchery by the rich, the workers are deprived of a fair wage, reside in filth, and give their blood, all for a pittance. The saga of the wage slaves and wage thieves which has blighted modern civilisation to a now exhausted extent simply must end.

And it will only if we fight in solidarity.

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The Erosion of Public Goods: Time to Rally

24/02/2011 1 comment

The Middle East is engulfed by the rage of millions. Its heartening to see so many realise their rights and finally mobilise to oust their dictatorships and demand a better quality of life sans white people, tanks and jets. Western governments are eager to piggyback on this public outrage despite supporting said tyrants for decades. This rage is not isolated.

We are inspired to take every breaking story as self-contained, sensitive to the inner dynamics of the event and the history of the town, city or country. Recent stories, such as  the protests in Wisconsin, the 50,000 projected job losses in the NHS here, and the upheaval of ancient regimes in the Middle East are all incredibly different issues, but are they?

I believe there is something more at work here, and to notice as such is considerably dependent on assessing the various strands of history which have led different populations to demand a better quality of life. The working and middle classes have simply had enough, everywhere, and are finally waking up to the possibilities of living in a democracy.

We band the word “democracy” around like its a done deal in the West – like its a product we manufacture and sell to the world with an ambiguous one-glove-fits-all instruction guide. Make no mistake, the democratic deficit in the West (see U.K) is a stark problem we have to address at length for there to be any progressive legislation which tackles gross inequality.

Therefore, we must be careful not to make “the banks” a scapegoat. No doubt, they are grossly dangerous organisations which actively promote inequality and simply reward wealth with wealth, but they, like everything which operates in society, are dependent on legislation which allows them to do what they do. Banks are simply not accountable, governments are.

The recent history in the United States regarding the two major (now homogeneous) political parties is a testament to what has befallen all Western countries to some degree or another regarding this last point. Nowhere in the world has such a metamorphosis taken place in the political arena given the strength and diversity of its culture.

During WW2, taxes were at an all time high in the U.S. During the boom of the 60’s and 70’s, this started to change because of the emergence of a strong pro-business, free market lobby. The Republicans enjoyed the attention of these lobbyists and took it upon themselves to pen friendly legislation. Nothing has changed there. What of the Democratic Party?

Back then, the Democrats relied on a strong labour movement embodied by powerful unions, who, without the vast riches of giant corporations, could still do one thing all political parties valued above all else: organise the electorate. Yet, the labour movement was soon splintered and abandoned by the Democrats.

This was because the activists on the left became disillusioned with lacklustre and unimaginative union leadership. Their usefulness spiralled into oblivion as different bodies of the movement started pulling in other directions, such as the growing anti-war sentiment, or feminism, or the environment. What was a clear mission became blurred by the broad spectrum of interests which emerged from the movement.

For big business and the Republicans, their interest was the singular goal of acquiring wealth, and therefore power – together creating a working relationship to acquire both respectively.

Thus, the cynical leadership of the left saw unions as becoming defunct, inefficient, and unable to do the one thing they wanted them to do – organise behind the party come campaign time.

This snippet of American history is vitally important to understand what happened there next, and what is happening here today.

Big business saw its opportunity to hold both parties in thrall to its financial muscle. The Democratic Party finally towed the line the corporate lobbyists were setting in order to keep pace alongside the Republicans. Taxes have steadily been in decline since the 60’s, and during the last 30 years, the top 1% of the population have been raping the income chart.

 

This is not to mention corporate tax levels, which have plummeted despite astronomical profits.

Reason? “We create jobs with that money”. Yes, you do, and pay them 185 times less than what you get (if they’re lucky). This is while co-opting the labour market by standardising that low wage amongst fellow CEOs and Gov. officials at the golf course on Sunday. Ahem, back to reasoned assessment…

 

Charts courtesy of motherjones.com – where you can find many more revolting ones to shake your fist at.

Now, to be in the American government, one has to be rich. Super rich, in fact. Campaign costs are always footed by corporate interests eager to have friends on both sides writing the law. It is a classic business model: dominate the market by controlling all production outlets – Kind of like Starbucks opening two shops on the same road. You win or you win.

The consequence in politics is that you limit choice and freedom.

The second half of the 20th Century can be remembered as the 50 years where the siege against public goods in society swayed in favour of big business. The U.S. has taught us that much, as they serve as something of a blueprint for the current government in the U.K. as it pursues increasing the wealth and prosperity for the blue-blooded upper classes.

It remains a fact that political parties don’t care about the electorate. To them, voters are an alien mass of hands and feet which somehow gives them power. What they do value is those who can organise the great unwashed into making a favourable decision at the ballot box. The policy has always been about seeking stability – at home and abroad.

That is, stability in funding for the political party, and the stability of low trade costs for the corporate friends who had bankrolled them into office.

The outrage in the Middle East shines a great fat light on this point. The U.S. and other Western governments have admitted to seeking stability over democracy in this region, and achieving neither (Condoleezza Rice in Cairo, 2005). They will want you to believe this sentiment has changed. It hasn’t.

The West are vocally supporting these uprisings not because they view democracy as an objective good, but as something contingent on the same old fashioned notion of stability. Now, they think Arabs living in oppressive dictatorships will behave better in a democracy. It has nothing to do with democracy as an idea in and of itself – it is still secondary to stability.

This is a microcosm of a larger point. The assault against the public good, as seen with its steady erosion in the U.S, the old/new Conservative ideologues in the the U.K, and flagging kleptocracies in the Middle East, and all the dictators around the world propped up by one foreign element or another – it all comes down to a great and engineered shift in risk.

Public goods are the bedrock of society. Not only do they limit the market with regulations, no access zones and such like, they give citizens a space where they do not have to relentlessly keep competing with each other economically. The key to big business strategy here is destroying all public goods and replacing them with individual and involuntary risk.

The risk element is important to understand, as seen with the recent financial crisis. Banks failed at the roulette table and the taxpayer bailed them out. This embodies the individual paying the cost vs. business undertaking risk. This is also why the wealthiest 1% have enjoyed such a grotesque rise in income over the poor over the last three decades.

When we win, they win bigger. When they lose, we lose bigger. This relationship is a relatively new phenomenon and has only been brought about by legislation enabling corporate entities to have more rights and lower rates of tax than the individual. A bank is liable to pay 1% in corporation tax on profits of £11.6bn. The individual always loses.

And the working individual must lose for big business to succeed in the way it has done. Corporate strategy focuses on keeping people collectively weak and dependent. It is a weird dynamic, because on one hand, new technology is personalising our media and simultaneously bringing people together regardless of government or corporate interests.

Yet, the same corporations depend on our weakness to organise to demand accountability in government, and better conditions in society and the workplace. They want to provide the leadership and the laws, but are creating the conditions with which we can empower ourselves once again.

It is the old capitalist joke: they would invent the only weapon that could destroy themselves if they thought they would be made supremely rich by it.

And they have.

The protests in Wisconsin are a throwback to the dogged labour movement which is steadily awakening once again. The downtrodden workers of the wealthiest country in the world remember the public good wistfully now more than ever. Sometimes when you are at your lowest, you are at your highest.

The people in the Middle East are fed up with their installed dictators, and one by one, by popular will, these dictators will fall on their swords for the public good, for better working conditions, and for a free and democratic vote – something we cannot even do here in the West given the myriad of business interests involved in a modern political campaign.

In the U.K, we are in the middle of it all, and by virtue of that and our history, we can contribute to the cause only by example.

This means not repeating the mistakes of the past by identifying a handful of leaders who will ultimately fail under the combined pressure of the entire corporate lobby with all its instruments of coercion and persuasion.

This means going after those accountable as an organised network emboldened by what democracy is capable of delivering here and everywhere it is championed. The public good is not just the street lamp, or a bench, or a park. It is workers rights, fair wages, health care and the freedom to organise.

The stories are indeed standalone, but the movement is global.