Flushing out the worker-wannabes

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Why are the plumbers in the photo on this page wearing carpenter tool belts? And why are they wielding shiny new $9.99 Home Depot toilet plungers instead of wrenches? True, Halloween is costume time, but it’s not because of the holiday that corporate types are playing dress-up.

Across the country, packs of snarling Republican operatives are pulling on overalls and proclaiming themselves “Joe the plumber” to set the stage for their fight for economic policies to benefit the super-rich.

It’s a pattern with these corporate types. Seems like every time business wants a tax break, they break out their worker disguises.

Back in March 2001, the National Association of Manufacturers sent out a memo to business groups urging them to “dress down” at a rally in support of Big Business tax cuts. “We do not need people in suits,” read the memo. “The people who participate must appear to be REAL WORKER types. We plan to have hard hats for people to wear; other groups are providing waiters/waitresses and other types of workers.”

So for all of us “worker types” out there, it may be fair to ask, what’s behind this worker-wannabe-ism on the part of corporate America?

Do they actually want to do the work?

I don’t think so. In my 20 years working in a sewage treatment plant, I don’t recall any Wall Street types ever showing up in overalls to spend a day with me and my co-workers calibrating flow meters in the scum chamber.

A better answer might be that capitalists recognize that they need workers to front for their economic policies. For starters, working people constitute a much larger pool of voters than multimillionaires. But there’s a deeper reason too.

Workers have moral authority. After all, it’s workers in the factories and the farms who create all the products, plain and fancy. It’s workers who provide the services that keep us alive and make our civilization what it is.

While hedge fund managers, insurance executives and CEOs make their living manipulating these resources, it’s workers, as a class, who actually create the values.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve all heard a lot of complex explanations of the financial crisis. In pondering all that, it’s important to keep one basic principle in mind: It’s labor that creates all wealth. As long as workers are not getting the full value of the products created by their labor, the world economy will be out of balance and crises will occur. In the short term, that imbalance can be addressed by making sure workers get a larger share of their product: better wages, health care, less taxes. In the long run, to do away with the imbalance requires an economic system without exploitation.

Workers come in all clothing styles. It’s not our wardrobe choices we have in common, it’s our need to cooperate — on the job and in the political arena — to make a better life for ourselves and our families.

This year, as Halloween and voting seasons overlap, if we can get past the corporate trick, we’ll be up for a treat.

Roberta Wood (rwood@pww.org) is a member of the People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo editorial board.