Archive for the ‘war on working people’ Category

Wesa just be slaves on da massa’s plantation, dependent upon them for the very food we eat, which is provided by giant corporate entities owned by our feudal overlords. But there’s always the worry of slave uprisings. Especially in those places where that nasty “democracy” stuff has taken hold.

Thus why our massas be doing their best to subvert or eliminate democracy via, e.g., laws that restrict voting rights, un-auditable electronic machines that can be easily rigged, threats of violence if the “wrong” people show up to vote, etc. Because if democracy would outlaw feudalism, then obviously it is democracy that is the problem, not feudalism. Right?

– Badtux the “Serfin’ USA” Penguin

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The saddest story that I’ve read since the one about homeless kids.

Being poor in America today is like balancing on a tightrope between hunger and disaster. It wears you down. It wears you down, year after year, decade after decade, until there’s nothing left, just the knowledge that this nightmare is your life, forever, and nothing you do will ever make your life anything else. And then the drugs and alcohol take you.

At the very least we need to raise the minimum wage until the minimum wage is a living wage again, a wage that is sufficient for people to live on without being on the edge of disaster all the time. That requires no welfare rosters or benefits counsellors or Big Government programs, just a law, and the already-existing wage enforcement agencies. Right now we’re literally working our working poor into an early grave, year after year of juggling two or three jobs to try to scrape together enough money to make it another month, year after year of deprivation and desperation and suffering, until they just give out and die. There’s no reason to do that when the amount of money that Wall Street gave out as bonuses to a few hundred executives last year would have been enough to raise the wages of every single minimum wage worker in America to $15/hour…. no reason other than the sick desire of our sociopathic wealthy lizard people to see working poor people suffer, it, like, makes their reptilian li’l soldiers salute, y’know…

– Badtux the Angry Penguin

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The Washington Post snarks that Donald Trump had five different positions on abortion within three days. And then claim this is yet another in a long list of things that’s going to make Donald Trump’s supporters desert him.

They don’t get it. They never have. They never will. Donald Trump could literally decapitate kittens on live TV, and it would not affect the support of his followers one bit. Because, see, there’s one little detail that the WaPo tries to fudge over or pretend doesn’t exist, because the WaPo is part of the establishment and thus can’t admit the truth of what Donald Trump is telling his supporters, which is: the establishment policies of the other Republican candidates have been massive fail for the well-being of working men and women. In the end, no amount of WaPo carping about how Trump is making it up as he goes and regularly changing his positions based on who he’s talking to at any given moment is going to change that fact.

Does this mean I think Trump would be a good President? Oh hell no. He’s an entertainer with delusions of grandeur, and some of his supporters are downright scary. But what I’m saying is that if the Republicans don’t want Trump — or someone like him — to be their Presidential nominee, they’re going to have to step back and take a long hard look at why people support Trump. Because it ain’t necessarily because people like Trump. It’s because Trump is the only one on their side of the bench saying what people already feel in their bones — that they’re fucked, and that it’s the establishment policies being pushed by the other Republican candidates that are responsible for that fuckitude.

– Badtux the Fucked-people-observin’ Penguin

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There’s two rules to live by that result in a better society for everybody:

1) Mind your own business.
2) Your right to do whatever you want to do ends at somebody else’s nose.

On #1, that’s why I don’t care about gay marriage, birth control, or a myriad of other things. Because as long as it doesn’t hurt me or mine (and I have an expansive view of the word “mine”, as in, everybody I know, or could know), it’s none of my business. And none of my government’s business, for that matter.

So far, so good. Capital-L Libertarians have the same view of #1 that civil libertarians have. Where we have a problem is that capital-L Libertarians then seem to say that we should not have all those laws that are about #2 — laws making it illegal to harm other people. They say we should be able to have contracts that allow harm if it’s between consenting adults, for example, if you want to run a coal mine that’s dangerous, well, it’s a contract between yourself and those consenting adults who hired on, you told them it was a dangerous mine, so that’s that.

But my take on it is that your right to run a dangerous coal mine stops at the point where it endangers other people, period, contract or no contract. It may seem to some Koch-suckers that it’s impossible for those two to coexist, that you cannot have #1 and #2 at the same time, that if you are going to have #1 allowing companies to engage in any business practices they want to engage in, you cannot have #2, which does not allow companies to engage in business practices that hurt people, but that’s just ridiculous. These basic principles are the fundamental principles upon which all modern democracies are based — that is, people are free to conduct their business in any manner they wish, unless it violates a law constructed to prevent harm to other people.

But of course the whole point of the Kochites saying that #2 isn’t viable is that it’s *profitable* to hurt other people. Properly disposing of oil well drilling fluids is expensive. Dumping them into someone else’s drinking water is cheap. And other people be damned, they want their profits, and more of it. Thus their attack on rule #2 of how we create a civilized society… and the difference between a civil libertarian, and a Kotch-style capital-L Libertarian.

– Badtux the Civil Liberties Penguin

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One of the things that American companies did a lot of during the past thirty years was outsource manufacturing. But not only did they outsource manufacturing, they outsourced even the design of the manufacturing tooling and equipment and facilities. Now it’s claimed that the United States has lost critical skills and could no longer bring those manufacturing jobs back onshore even if we wanted to do so.

One thing I want to point out is that manufacturing is hard. I was the manufacturing manager for two different small computer companies as well as designing the manufacturing processes for another computer company. Making sure you get quality product out to the customer in a timely manner is not easy. You have supply chain that has to be coordinated so that all the parts in the right numbers come together at the same time, you don’t want to have lots of components hanging around not bringing in revenue, that’s how you lose money. You must design procedures for how the systems will be assembled and imaged with firmware, and how they will be tested. You have to make sure that the final result is packaged in a way that can get to the customer without shaking to pieces.

And if you don’t know how to manufacture, you don’t know how to design.

That was the problem I ran into with the last computer company where I had anything to do with manufacturing. They had completely outsourced their hardware design and manufacturing. There was only one person on staff who knew anything at all about manufacturing, and that was me, and I’m not a hardware designer, I’m a software / firmware designer who happens to understand hardware, and they had not hired me to do manufacturing, they’d hired me to write software. They didn’t even *know* that they needed someone who understood hardware and manufacturing to make sure that the hardware could be manufactured in a cost-effective manner and arrived at the customer site ready to use. As a result they made rookie mistakes. A drive controller board ended up being more than 12 layers of copper and weighed as much as your average girl gym barbell, when it could have been half that thickness (and a quarter of the production price) with a little optimization for manufacturability. Various jumpers to connect to the front panel and to disk drive lights had identical connectors so that the assembly people could not tell at a glance which jumper went into which connector. None of the cables had positive retention, which, given that the motherboard to disk controller cable was heavy and hanging upside down from the disk controller board (which was horizontally plugged into the backplane), meant that the cable was invariably falling out when the system was subjected to vibration during shipping, leading to a system that was basically dead on arrival when it arrived at the customer site. Various things were very hard to screw together into systems, when competitors like Dell were creating snap-together servers that required no tools at all in order to assemble them. I came up with procedures and tests to make sure everything got assembled correctly, but it was a struggle. I also got a connector with positive retention spec’ed *finally*, months after I’d remarked that the connector was *not* going to stay put, because a machine arrived at a beta customer site, didn’t work, got shipped back, and I showed them that the machine was fine once I plugged that cable in. It took that disaster before they finally listened to me at all on these things, because they just didn’t understand manufacturing and didn’t understand how their hardware was basically unmanufacturable as designed.

Eventually I got so frustrated dealing with people who just didn’t “get” manufacturing that I quit that job and moved on. The company eventually ended up going out of business — because they did not know how to design a quality product that could be manufactured for a competitive price.

Which brings me to my point: When you outsource your manufacturing, you’re eventually outsourcing your design too, because you simply can’t “do” design utterly divorced from the question, “how do I manufacture this widget?”. And once you’ve outsourced your design team to China, bringing that skill set back here to the United States in order to bring manufacturing back here to the United States is a mission impossible. You basically have to re-develop those skills from scratch — and we’re talking skills that take decades to develop, this is stuff you learn via hard knocks and passed-down wisdom from older workers, there are no books, there are no courses that teach you how to do this stuff.

In short: In those fields where we’ve outsourced everything to the Chinese, including, now, the design in large part (because they’re the ones with the manufacturing expertise to design for manufacturability, we don’t know how to make anything in the USA anymore), we’re fucked. It will take literally decades to bring any of that back to the USA, and would require some government subsidies and protections in the meantime to keep those companies in business while they learn how to manufacture again. And we can’t do that subsidy/protection thing anymore like we did in the past, because WTO, NAFTA, you name it.

The United States still manufactures some stuff, of course. We still make cars, for example, as well as most of the components for building cars. We build high-value microchips here too. But all of that is now becoming highly automated, requiring fewer and fewer workers. Which means that if you’re a manufacturing worker who was laid off during the Great Recession… well, sorry, guy. Your job went away, and it’s not coming back. That’s all the answer that our political establishment has for that laid-off worker. And that’s not an answer they’re willing to accept.

Thus Donald Trump. But more on that later.

– Badtux the Manufacturing Penguin

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Brookings does the research to tell us what we already knew. They blame income inequality. They’re right, in that with the decline in male US worker income, the lower classes have become even more unequal. If your Presidential candidate isn’t talking about how things have gotten worse for ordinary Americans, if he doesn’t talk about plans for solving this, your Presidential candidate is part of the problem, not part of the solution. There are only two candidates who have mentioned those words “Income inequality”, and neither has an “R” after their name.

But why are the incomes declining anyhow?

There appears to be two things that have caused the decline:

  1. The decline in unionized manufacturing jobs. These jobs paid good wages to working people whose education didn’t qualify them for white collar or creative work.
  2. The decline in unionized trades jobs. Believe it or not, only a few short decades ago if you were a contractor looking for framers or drywallers or concrete workers you went down to the union hall and held up how many people you needed, and the union jobmaster would find them for you and you paid union scale to them. The union provided benefits like health insurance too in exchange for the union dues that the workers paid. But now you call a “labor contractor” who goes down to the local Home Depot and holds up that many fingers and illegal Mexicans fight each other for the privilege of jumping into the labor contractor’s pickup truck, and then you pay the labor contractor and he may or may not pay the workers, that’s not your problem.

The manufacturing jobs went to Asia and Mexico. The trades jobs went to Mexicans. The people formerly doing those jobs went to low-wage service jobs that require speaking credible English, and are boiler room sales or debt collection workers or asking “do you want fries with that order?” or driving around in old beat up pickup trucks with hand-drawn signs that say “Handy Man Work” and a phone number on the side, or otherwise scrabbling for whatever leavings they can find that have dripped off the 1%’s table.

In short, it appears to have been a concerted effort to bust the unions by either exporting their jobs or by importing non-union workers that caused wages for male workers to decline. This has been coordinated at the highest levels of government via creation of “Right To Work For Less” laws in half the states, imposition of low-or-no-tariff policies such as NAFTA which reward manufacturers for exporting manufacturing jobs to foreign countries, and via not enforcing citizenship rules at job sites. Add in the hostility of multiple recent Republican administrations towards enforcing the labor rights guaranteed under labor law, and it’s been a perfect storm, with male workers’ wages being what’s sunk.

In short: It’s not necessary to hypothesize a conspiracy when the evidence of one is right there in front of your eyes. Who should I believe, the people who shout “conspiracy theory!” or what I can see with my own two eyes? Just sayin’.

So anyhow: Bernie talks about these kinds of things. Hillary sorta talks about them, in a sort of pro forma kind of way. None (zero) of the Republicans talk about them, with the exception of Trump and his hatred of Mexicans. So if you’re an ordinary male American and you’re upset that you’re making less money in real terms than your daddy did at your age… well. Who are you going to vote for?

Sadly, we know the answer to that. Said ordinary male American is going to vote for a Republican. ‘Cause Republicans have done a great job of convincing said ordinary male American that his wages are going down because of “those” people, not because the Republican Party has orchestrated an effective destruction of unions and worker’s rights. Yay, ‘Murrica…

– Badtux the Inequality Penguin

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How I know I’ve been in the SF Bay area too long: the Murky News newspaper headline “More Bears are making the grade” did not bring up images of furry creatures in my head. (See: Urban Dictionary and their definition of ‘bear’ for the unsavory image that did come up).

So anyhow, one objection to raising the minimum wage to the $10.70 that it was in 1968 and then indexing it to inflation is, “it’ll cause unemployment!” The theory apparently is that businesses will not be able to afford the higher minimum wage and will lay people off.

There’s two problems with that notion:

  1. Businesses have already laid off everybody they can lay off. Anybody remaining is absolutely critical to the operation of the business. Otherwise they’d be out-competed by competitors who did lay off non-critical workers. So businesses will raise prices to deal with the wage hike, not cut employment.
  2. The unemployment rate in 1968 was 3.6%, down from 3.8% in 1967. The unemployment rate declined even further, to 3.5%, in 1969.

Man, I sure wish a higher minimum wage would cause our unemployment rate to rise to a lofty 3.6%! But in any event the historical record is clear: a minimum wage of $10.70 did not cause unemployment in 1968.

So the question is, why? Well: Poor people spend every dime they earn. That’s because they have unmet needs and never enough money to meet them all. There’s repairs to the car that have gone undone, there’s mouths full of rotting teeth that need a trip to the dentist, there’s ragged clothing to be replaced with slightly newer clothing from the thrift store, and so on and so forth. So the money didn’t stay in their pockets. It went back into the economy. Buying services and things. Which in turn caused a need for more employment to create, transport, and sell those services and things. So putting more money into the pockets of poor people can’t cause unemployment, because it increases business activity overall.

Any correlation between minimum wage hikes and increases in unemployment, in other words, is coincidental. 1967 proves that. Unfortunately since 1967 minimum wage hikes have occurred only at the top of business cycles, where there is no place to go except down. I’d call it conspiracy, but it’s what would naturally happen — times are good for the rest of Americans, so Congress decides to make times better for the poor too by raising the minimum wage. And of course after good times come bad times, that’s been the business cycle for the past 200 years. But the minimum wage hike didn’t cause the bad times. We know that because this business cycle of good times followed by bad times has been happening since well before the notion of a minimum wage was invented. At best you could say that a minimum wage hike might make a downturn better, or worse. Unfortunately ideologues with axes to grind have prevented collecting the data that would settle that question, so all we really know is the lesson of 1967: that a minimum wage of $10.70 does not cause unemployment (because unemployment actually fell in 1968). And in the end, that’s the only lesson we really need to know.

– Badtux the Economics Penguin

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Union Maid

Union maid taking a break

Union maid taking a break

What is always hilarious to me is that the same people who whine about evil unions — individuals gathering together to increase their financial power — have no problem with corporations, which after all are the same thing, individuals gathering together to increase their financial power via pooling their resources. On the other hand, given what has happened here in the United States over the past forty years, perhaps they have a point, because what passes for “unions” nowadays here in the United States are so lame as to basically be useless.

So what’s happened here in the United States over the past forty years? Well: Median per-hour wages have basically been stagnant, and median per-hour wages for blue-collar jobs have been in freefall. A factory worker in the USA today gets less than half the per-hour wages that his father in 1973 received in real dollars. And in many cases unions have been complicit in this, protecting older workers at the expense of new workers. As the older workers age out and retire, the result has been a collapse in wages.

Add in the fact that unions were run by blue collar guys who didn’t understand all that fancy schmancy high tech stuff and made no attempt to change with the times and organize workers in new industries, and what you have is a union movement that has basically been useless for forty years now. All they’re good for is serving as maids to the ruling class, mostly. And don’t tell me about Taft-Hartley etc., if unions had shut down America then, we wouldn’t have Taft-Hartley to worry about because it would have been repealed shorty afterwards. But unions lost their balls, and instead went into service as maids to their bosses.

Which is one reason why the current no-union organizing of workers in the fast food industry has fascinated me. The fast food strikes for higher wages haven’t operated by the rules that unions have played by like little bitches for the past forty years. They’ve played by the old rules, the ones from before FDR co-opted the union movement with his NLRC and other labor laws to formalize unions with government recognition. And what has that government recognition done for unions? Not much, at least not for forty years.

At which point, you have to wonder: What use is government recognition if it doesn’t get you anything? Thus why the fast food strikes fascinate. There are no unions as defined by the government involved here, just workers operating with unity. Which is the core of what made unions work back in the day — something that the union movement apparently forgot at some point in the last forty years, instead caving in to multi-tier workplaces and other such atrocities against workers with barely a peep.

– Badtux the Organizational Penguin

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Ian Welsh has a long post about the decline and fall of post-war liberalism, stating that its most proximate cause was that people who had been adults during the Great Depression and observed what worked and what did not work were liberals, while people who had only experienced the good times created by liberalism after WW2 did not have that direct experience and pined for a different way. He is right, in a way. But post-war liberalism would not have died if one thing, and only one thing, had happened: if the United States had retained a viable labor movement to make sure that wealth got transferred equally to both those who create wealth via their labor and those who “own” wealth via their capital.

The deal, of course, is that rich people don’t create wealth. They invest in wealth — investing in people who build things and provide services — but they themselves personally build nothing and provide no services other than transferring capital from point A to point B (note that most rich people do *not* have much cash in the bank — their wealth is primarily comprised of owning the labor of others via “employing” them). Owners — in the sense of people who do not themselves contribute to the business but rather simply own its output — are useful because their actions help maximize consumer choice and productivity, but they aren’t creators of wealth, they’re merely re-distributors of wealth that other people created.

But being in the middle of that redistribution gives them an unfair advantage in making some of that wealth stick to their hands. In countries with a viable labor movement, no CEO could get away with paying himself 5,000 times the average wage of his workers. The workers would go on strike and the other unions would also strike against him, refusing to deliver goods to his factories or stores, refusing to provide services to his company, etc., so attempts at hiring scabs would fail because the scabs would have no goods or materials to work with. So in those nations, the owners try to pacify the workers by distributing more of the wealth the workers create to the workers that created it rather than sticking most of the wealth to their own hands as it flows from the workers to the customers, because the alternative is that they’re out of business. And being merely affluent (rather than filthy ridiculously rich) beats being out of business. In short, a viable labor movement counters the fact that capital is, fundamentally, theft of the labor of the worker, by forcing capital to redistribute some of the wealth created by workers back to the workers — or else. The situation in a capitalist economy with a viable labor movement is essentially mutually assured destruction — neither capital nor labor can exist without the other, so they try to meet somewhere in the middle in a way that all can consider fair rather than blow up the business.

But in 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act which basically outlawed all effective union activities. So, did every unionized worker in America go on strike the next day, and the next day, and the day after, for weeks and months and more until that blatantly unconstitutional restriction on the right of association was repealed? Well… uhm… no. They were bribed. Bought. Told “don’t worry about that, we’ll take care of you as long as you play by the rules,” and given reasons to do it in the form of generous wages and cushy union contracts — for a while. Unions had the atom bomb — and voluntarily gave it up based on nothing but promises from a generation that intended to keep them, but the generation after them — the generation that took power starting in 1980 — had not made any such promises and had no intention of keeping them. Unions gave up the atom bomb in exchange for fool’s gold, and when President Reagan broke the PATCO strike, everybody realized this — unions and capital both. And as Ian Welsh demonstrates in his many graphs above, the result was devastating.

Ian is a Kunstler follower so of course he focuses on oil. But oil was not the proximate cause here. The fact that labor voluntarily disarmed in exchange for fool’s gold is the cause. And when labor disarmed, people saw no help for themselves in organizing unions and labor actions, and unions were doomed. And without unions, there is nothing but easily-corruptible government to stop capitalists from stealing every bit of wealth from the workers who actually create the wealth that they can get away with — and they’re doing it, as Ian’s numbers show.

– Badtux the Labor History Penguin

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It’s hard to pinpoint a time at which the dream died. If you look at the numbers, the American Dream died in February, 1973. But why was that possible? Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that one of the last decent men to run for higher office, George McGovern, had been defeated in November 1972, leaving the way open for the money men and criminals (oh wait, I’m being redundant again!) to pursue their goal of destroying the American Dream for their own profit. Instead of being a nation where makers were celebrated, where it was understood that wealth was produced by workers, we became a nation where looters were celebrated — looters whose wealth had been produced by the workers they were ripping off with the help of those in power like Richard Nixon, a man so twisted that Hunter S. Thompson famously noted “he needs a corkscrew to put his boots on in the morning.” Instead of celebrating the steelworker who went to work and worked hard all day under conditions that would make the fires of hell seem like a winter vacation, we as a nation started celebrating the looter who put the steelworker out of work for profit.

And of course today, forty years later, one of those looters who has produced no (zero) wealth in his entire lifetime, who has never built anything, made anything, provided any service to improve the life of anybody, is a stone’s throw from the Presidency. The looters no longer are relying on venal politicians, they’re running for office themselves — and the people who they want to loot are voting for the looters! It’s as if, when the Vandals arrived to loot Rome in 455 AD, the Romans not only welcomed the Vandals but made their warlord their new Emperor!

So for forty years George McGovern had to live with the reality that he lost not only his race for the Presidency, but that he lost the American Dream at that same time. I don’t know what it would be like to live for forty years then die under such a burden. I do suspect, however, that his passing was delayed for many years by hopes that things would change for the better… hopes that, alas, were quashed these past four years as the looters found more ways to obstruct any attempt to restore the dream. So it goes, in the United States of Looters, where you are either one of the 1%, or you are one of the looted.

— Badtux the Looted Penguin

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