First of all let me define “worker.” This is a person who owns relatively little (their net worth is small), and therefore must sell their labor – whatever skill they have – in order to live and, if possible, be happy. This category of person is contrasted with those who own a lot (their net worth is enormous) and who do relatively little, since they have hired those in the first category to do what needs to be done. Now I don’t care what level of education you have, what work ethic you go by, or whether or not you are a crackerjack at what you do: if you are in the first category you are beholden to those in the second category.
At one time, the worker thought that by simply developing a skill, working hard and competing successfully against his or her fellow workers, he or she would please the people in the second category, please them so much as to be assured of the twin desired benefits: monetary rewards and security. But this isn’t necessarily the case.
Since the owners are in a system of intense competition, since this system has only one bottom line – profits, since the system is quite effective at promoting greed, and since the owners feel they are not beholden to the workers, they have used the workers, since the beginning, as a means to an end. This is a historical fact.
And when they deemed the worker dispensable, they swiftly began dispensing with them, either with technology or cheaper labor. Thus the two types have been at loggerheads since the beginning. That feeling the worker has of being exploited by the owner is quite real, since the owner from the start has constantly been looking for – and implementing – better ways to exploit: longer hours, less pay, reduced benefits, etc.
The point is that there is a clear power differential here: the many (the workers) are under the thumb of a few (the owners). And the exploitation and downright cruelty the latter has foisted on the former is well documented in poetry, movies, novels and scholarly historical works. The only protection the workers have to fight against this growing power is a working democracy. And so unions were born. In fact it was considered a “right” to form them if enough people deemed them necessary. Moreover, labor laws were enacted to protect workers – union and non-union alike – against atrocious abuses.
Remember, these laws and rights were not put in place as a preventative measure; they were a reaction against actual abuses. But it should be noted that these laws and rights, which effectively clipped the wings of the owners, were put in place during more ethical times. But alas, the march of capitalism, with its concomitant growth of greed and greater emphasis on profits, has counter-reacted. Thus owners have turned to government, since government is the only force greater than they are. The thinking is quite obvious: If government is on the side of the owners, then the constraints of democracy can be sidestepped and business can continue as usual. Is it any wonder that corporate America spends vast amounts of money to get a certain president (who can appoint a certain Supreme Court justice), a certain senator, and yes, a certain governor, elected? Clearly it is in their interest to elect people who are beholden to them, so that their power is intact – and growing.
And so we have the latest struggle – in Wisconsin.
It seems to involve only public workers – public workers in a union. But not all the people at the demonstrations in Madison fall in that category. Many have grasped the tremendous significance of what is going on there. If this last bastion of protection is taken away, then the pendulum will have swung so far to the right that workers – all workers – will be further victimized and left at the mercy of their oppressors. The workers – all workers – will be blamed for the economic debacle; they will be portrayed as selfish and greedy and ineffectual and lazy; and they will be forced – not asked – to give up what little they have, while the owners on their yachts click their wine glasses and say to each other, “Well done.”
Photo: Madison, Wis., March 5. People’s World