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Value and Labor August 3, 2012

Posted by johnhemry in Uncategorized.

Here in the US we’ve been downplaying the importance and value of labor for a while now.  We’ll pay four bucks for a cup of coffee (or eight bucks if it is a grande triple vanilla frappe) but heaven forbid the person taking the order or making the coffee be paid too much.  The universal solution to our problems is to reduce the work force, reduce wages, reduce benefits.  Except for the very top tier, who need to be motivated by millions in bonuses even if their company is tanking because of their decisions.  I think that’s sad, and not purely for economic reasons.  The middle class keeps getting squeezed because it’s easy to cut their wages and benefits, but along with income they are losing respect.  I personally believe that anyone who does their job to the best of their ability deserves respect, not a look down the nose because their job involves manual labor or repetitive work or just isn’t upper tier.  They also deserve to be paid a reasonable wage.  That’s in everyone’s best interest.  Almost a hundred years ago now, Henry Ford doubled the wages of his assembly line workers.  The Wall Street Journal howled that those were “obscene” wages, but Ford prospered mightily because his workers could now afford to buy the cars they built.  He sold a lot more cars.  By contrast, we’ve been following the Walmart model for a while.  Drive down wages so you can drive down prices.  But eventually you reach the point where wages are low enough that people can’t afford to shop at Walmart, either (which is why Walmart is facing a real challenge from Dollar General and similar retailers).  Boosting wages too high is a mistake, but so is cutting them too low.  As in everything else, there has to be balance.  And respect for those who do their jobs well, no matter what that job is.


1. Jamie - August 3, 2012

Spot on John. Have you read “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” by BARBARA EHRENREICH? She lays it out in stunning detail. Benefits and 401ks at a minimum along with a living wage. It will cost more but it’s the right thing to do. Cheers! Jamie

2. Jeremy - August 4, 2012

Ya did you read about Caterpillar wanting to give a pay and pension freeze to their workers for six years despite having record profits by the order of something like 4.5billion dollars last year and they were projected to make 6 billion this year? Use to be when a company did well you’d do well, but these day that isn’t the case.

Corporations also love having a large unemployed class because it isn’t a burden on them, it is a burden on the government. It lets them drive wages down because there are so many people just trying to find a job that they will take anything regardless if they pay is reasonable. It also reduces the power of the (few) unions we have left in america because it is very easy to find replacement labor.

The government keeps talking about giving tax breaks to the job creators and that these big corporations create so many jobs with these tax cuts but the truth is they don’t. Corporations right now are making record profits despite the fact that we are in a recession.

The truth of the matter is its a recession for the bottom 95% and no one else.

3. Richard (@Dellicate) - August 4, 2012

A similar trend here in our “Rift Federation” aka Europe. Especially manual labor, construction, factory jobs, craftsmanship and so on has been degraded and bashed on. Partly by politics though, at least in our case, I put even more blame on media and entertainment. Any sort of hard and manual labor has been portrayed as being for the losers, the uneducated and those with less abilities. Uncool jobs with no glamor or prestige. This was a very dramatic culture change because labor used to be valued very much in the past. Just like it used to be in the US once. ‘Honest hard work’ once earned respect. Somehow that got replaced by having wealth and money. The more money you had, the more prestige and respect you deserved – no matter how one had earned the money. Whereas in the ‘old days’ the emphasis lay much more on the way one had found his fortune. This changed in the eighties and even more so in the nineties and after the fall of the Berlin wall. However unlike the US we had much more robust labor unions that provided some buffer. Despite the perpetuated negative image the unions were strong. It protected the working and middle class somewhat against the biggest onslaughts. Still, here too they have suffered and the wages have gone down, whilst the income gap with the top tier jobs has grown exponentially.
Now with ongoing economic woes since the crash of 08 there is somewhat of a culture change happening. People again start valuing labor and manufacturing more. Homemade and craftsmanship is getting more esteem. Simultaneously, the very rich are being regarded with increasing skepticism rather than having their instant prestige. Hmm I wonder how he made his money?
I myself am a child of the eighties and nineties and grew up in this ‘only money matters’ culture. It took me a while to undo this programming. It’s good to see this change taking place because we were wiping out the middle class. These cultural changes take time though and perhaps even takes a generation to see the real implementation. The tide is slowly turning but we’ll have to wait and see if it will wash away the mess we’ve made…

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