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November 15, 2008, Volume 16 Nr. 3, Issue 247
Capitalism Is In Crisis.  It's The Unions' Fault!

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

Recently, a neighbor and friend, was making the point that the reason that the car industry and the country's economy were collapsing was because of unions.  You know, those outdated collective institutions of the past two centuries that are blamed for having brought the most powerful economy in the world, first to stagnation, and now to regression.  Never mind, that unions were responsible for making the U.S. economy as great as it once was and the time before that, and before that.  Never mind that unions and workers built the biggest middle class in world history.  Never mind that unions gave a single bread-winner in a family the ability to support it, buy a home, and send the kids to college.  Never mind that unions are the collective voice that can stand up for the workers and fight exploitation.  And never mind, that when workers hit the golden years, that unions brought them the ability to retire on a comfortable pension.

People have been heard saying that unions have been scamming the people for so long now that everything is falling apart.  Yesireee.  Did you happen to notice that when Wall Street collapsed that the United States government handed the bankers and securities people all those billions of dollars without any accountability?  It wasn't the unions that received all that money.  You didn't know that none of the millions of taxpayer/worker dollars headed into the pockets of the union membership and workers?  No?  You did notice, didn't you, that all those CEOs and upper management people who received bailouts, golden parachutes, bonuses and incentives, that they were not union members?  They were not.     

I guess what bothers and rankles my feathers is how any working person in the USA can blame other workers for the wages that they receive or for the problems in the economy.  Doing so, in my opinion, shows a disregard or ignorance for U.S. labor history.  It highlights the success that the owning class has had in pitting worker against worker while absconding with the material wealth that all workers have collectively created.  CEO's don't create any new wealth.  Workers do.  And destructive Capitalist CEOs, and the owning class, do nothing but manipulate the labor and commodity-money-commodity exchanges so that all wealth can trickle up from the worker on the bottom to the CEOs at the top.  The owning class has been doing this for centuries.  They have been riding the worker-created gravy train during the times of Capitalism's boom cycle while blaming the worker for Capitalism's bust cycle.  The owning class always wins.  The working class, however, has been trained by them, to blame itself when the bust arrives.  Welcome to the bust.

It doesn't take a brilliant intellect to understand that predatory Capitalism especially as practiced in the late 20th and early 21st century could not continue forever.  Wealth accumulation and greed just cannot go on forever.  The fact is that Capitalism is manic-depressive.  It goes from greed, to being high on profits, stock options, condos, multiple-homes and investments to greed and corruption, recession, unemployment, depression, bankruptcy and loss of homes, even eviction and starvation.  To blame the worker for Capitalism's crashes is like blaming a rape victim for their rape.  

The blame for Capitalism's crashes rests on the shoulders of the owning class.  You see, having more than enough money and wealth, is, well, never good enough.  Being content with having millions or billions of dollars is not what satisfies the Capitalist.  Capital, to the Capitalist, has only one purpose, that is, to make more capital.  And when more capital is made, there is only one mindset that keeps the Capitalist content.  And that is, to add the newly acquired capital to the total and to repeat the process over and over again.  It is this addiction to the process that leads to the inevitable crash.  The owning class, the uber-Capitalists, seldom experience the consequences of Capitalism's bust.  The worker and his or her family does.

So then how healthy can Capitalism's manic-depressive, boom-bust, cycles be?  They are not the least bit healthy to the masses of working people.  Just compare the "suffering" of CEOs who come crawling to Congress for bailouts for their companies with the suffering of families whose bread-winners have lost their jobs and their homes.  It is a travesty that CEOs go to the U.S. Congress to demand multi-billion dollar bailouts, corporate welfare FROM the taxpayers and then to restructure their corporations by laying off workers who not only created the surplus value that paid their salaries, but also paid taxes that funded the bailouts.  If this is not akin to someone raped saying, "thank you", to the rapist, then I don't know what is.  

Consider this.  The top 5 percent of U.S. household income grew from 16.6 percent of all income in 1973 to a whopping 21.2 percent, eleven years later in 1994.  The top 20 percent had their incomes go from 43.6 percent of all income to 49.1 percent.  All of this was taking place at the same time that the poorest 20 percent had their incomes fall 2.7 percent.

The inequality between the haves and the have-nots continues to skyrocket.  The disparity takes place at a faster pace in the boom times than in the bust times.  But in the bust times, the bottom only falls out for the working class.  "In 1970, for example, the average for all CEO pay was about 30 times that of an average worker's; this multiple has increased steadily to about 100 times today." (Wealth disparity. The Coming Political Storm. Robert Folsom, April 2008). And just who is at the bottom of the income pile?  Well, it's the workers, those that do all the work that make everything possible that everyone uses, needs and enjoys.  

So then, the next time you consider complaining that a worker is making a lot more money than you are, why not look into why that is so.  Chances are that you will find the higher paying job is a result of many years of union activism and struggle.  Ask yourself why YOU are not in a union?  Ask yourself where all those worker privileges that you have, such as an 8-hour day, overtime pay, paid vacations, good working conditions, etc., came from.  Read up on U.S. labor history.  You will discover that the owning class does not give a hoot about you, the worker, and your plight.  You are but a commodity, like steel, or oil, that is bought at the lowest price so that profits can continue to go up for.  Let workers not be divided by those that do not care about them.  If you're not angry, then you're not paying attention.  If you are angry and the anger is directed at fellow workers then you're ignorant.  It's time to change that.

"If [workers] succeed in getting what they demand, they will be better off: they will earn more, work fewer hours and will have more time and energy to reflect on things that matter to them, and will immediately make greater demands and have greater needs . . . [T]here exists no natural law (law of wages) which determines what part of a worker's labour should go to him [or her] . . . Wages, hours and other conditions of employment are the result of the struggle between bosses and workers. The former try and give the workers as little as possible; the latter try, or should try to work as little, and earn as much, as possible. Where workers accept any conditions, or even being discontented, do not know how to put up effective resistance to the bosses demands, they are soon reduced to bestial conditions of life. Where, instead, they have ideas of how human beings should live and know how to join forces, and through refusal to work or the latent and open threat of rebellion, to win bosses respect, in such cases, they are treated in a relatively decent way . . . Through struggle, by resistance against the bosses, therefore, workers can, up to a certain point, prevent a worsening of their conditions as well as obtaining real improvement." 

-- Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, pp. 191-2

2008 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski, P, PhD

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski is co-editor and co-publisher of Metaphoria along with his life partner and wife, JeanneE. He is 30-year veteran retired teacher and a member of Veterans For Peace. His writings have appeared in Metaphoria, After Downing Street, Buzzflash, Counterpunch, Thomas Paine's Corner,, Omni Center, Rutland Herald, Times Argus, and others. 

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