A Win-Win SolutionHaving never been one to work unless absolutely required by starvation or eminent loss of home, perhaps I'm not the best candidate to blog about labor. But then, most professional pundits, politicians, and CEOs are equally unqualified, so I figure - what the hell.
In between taking advantage of the GIIIIIANT SAVINGS at Labor Day sales, you could read thousands of words about the nature of labor and what it means to this county. Within these words you'll see hard work, grit, determination, and unions mentioned prominently - as if the American worker was some sort of superman on steroids in the grand tradition of 1950 heroic Soviet artwork.
But, these words - by and large - describe various forms of necessity. "Work or die" is just a shorter, pithier version of New Hampshire's license plate slogan "Live free or die" or the slogan "Arbiet Macht Frei" - (Work Makes You Free) that adorned the gates of Auschwitz. People don't work because they're yearning to be free. They work because they'll starve and live in a cardboard box if they don't. So maybe in a grossly perverted way, Auschwitz wins the truthiness contest with its diabolical satire. That Adolph always was a jolly joker.
We live in a country where labor is devalued in extreme deference to profit-making. I'm not against profits, indeed conservatives have it right when they say profits are the engine that drives the economy. However, they sometimes ignore the truth that labor is the fuel that keeps the engine running. I don't know about you, but I can't remember when an investor dropped by to lighten my workload. No labor, no profits. No profits, no labor. The fact is that the product generating the profits has to come from somewhere and that place is as much from labor as investors.
After a decades-long struggle for humane working conditions and adequate pay, there's now an anti-union backlash. This backlash is fueled by overpaid CEOs, money-gobbling politicians, and investors with no concept of the connections between labor, profit, and not killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
However, it's also a function of the unions themselves. Once they succeeded in balancing the scales, they became as corrupt as an aggressive capo hungry for another plate of spaghetti. They demanded things that probably shouldn't have been part of the labor/management deal and they're suffering for it. Today, labor is in no position to wield what little power that remains. Wages, benefits, and working conditions are all on the downward slide while offshoring, outsourcing, excessive management pay, and corporate greed and avarice are trending up.
Whether they work in an office or factory, American workers find their asses in a Sophie's Choice pinch. On one side, the company demands they do more and more with less and less and rewards them with reduced benefits, layoffs, or sending their work to a sweat shop in Indonesia. As this happens, investors and executive management - who many times are the same people - profit extravagantly. Clearly, monetary equity vs. sweat equity is one of the most mismatched equations of all time. It's interesting that in bankruptcy proceedings, everyone has a seat at the bargaining table except workers. More often than not, they're just shit out of luck - just ask airline employees and ex-Enronnies.
One of the truly astounding things is that the very workers hurt most are the ones who ofttimes oppose unions and elect politicians who clearly don't have their economic interests at heart.
Sometimes, they even do the dirty work themselves. It's the middle class drones who research and craft the business strategies that support job drain, hoping they'll be spared the axe when the time comes. But in karma-soaked irony, you'll find many of these workers cast into the pit when all the fat and muscle has been cut and the investors are clamoring for the butcher to drop by with the bone saw. CEOs and over-expecting investors like a good piece of meat and workers just turn into walking drumsticks from a Bugs Bunny vs. Elmer Fudd cartoon. "Do anything you want to others, JUST DON'T HURT ME!," they cry in fear while facing the oncoming locomotive trussed up like potato sacks Snidely Whipvestor twirls his handlebar moustache.
So this Labor Day I'm going to suggest something directly counter to my instinct to avoid work. I'm going to suggest that labor and management work out a better balance between sweat equity and monetary equity before both sides find themselves dehydrated in a hot and poorly ventilated sweatshop.
Workers of the world UNITE! Do a fair day's work for a fair day's pay and no untoward slacking off either. No carping over whether the company pays for the morning coffee. No insistence on featherbedding. Just do the best job you can. That's not too much to ask.
Capitalists of the world UNITE! - Recognize that sweat equity is every bit the equal of an investor's money. Don't cheat and steal. Don't engage in egotistical pissing matches over who has the most money or the plushiest yacht. Stop trying to dupe your workers into believing that if they work harder they'll be commensurately rewarded. Oh yeah, and stop giving so much money to politicians. They're turning into the overweight neighborhood mongrel that's always at the back door begging for dinner scraps.
The economy relies on high quality, affordable goods, but it also relies on a population of workers who make enough money to buy the goods they produce. It seems to me we can all benefit from a change in the current environment.
In business, I believe they call that a win-win solution.
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Monday, September 04, 2006