Friday, April 15, 2011

The New Third World

I've been thinking about this post for a while now.

The article reports on Ikea's treatment of workers at its American plant. Apparently, although in Sweden, workers are well treated, here in the USA, Ikea is treating workers the way, well,let's face it, the way American companies do not just overseas, but here as well. Wages are lower, vacation days are more limited, and in addition, many of those days are pre-determined by the company. That's not counting the temp workers, who have even lower wages and no benefits. Ikea's management says
"That is related to the standard of living and general conditions in the different countries,"
In other words the same sort of thing our companies say about our exported jobs when they pay obscenely low wages in awful conditions. The Salon piece focuses on the unexceptionality of the US in acting like evil overlords throughout the world, but there's a couple things we ought to be paying attention about:

First, we set ourselves up. In undermining unions in this country (in Sweden nearly everyone is unionized, so they can't treat their workers this way, thus, a better standard of living), we are turning ourselves into a third world country. Is it really acceptable to say that we we allow other countries to come here and set up factories to sell products to Americans, but not pay those same Americans adequately?
In allowing the Republican mindset to set the tone for labor in this country, in allowing our government to legislate against unions, against collective bargaining, in undercutting the NLRB so that corporations who violate collective bargaining laws get at most a slap on the wrist, and usually only after many years, expect to see a lot more of this. Which is to say, expect the US to become the next China, Mexico, Vietnam, where workers have no protections and work for few or no benefits, and low wages. And when that happens the standard of living for everyone except the very top will be affected, so don't think your bachelor's degree will protect you. Indeed, this is a matter of degree not kind, at this point - we already are seeing it all over the USA.

Second: Unlike Ikea, who exports its bad behavior, the USA is exceptional: we do it to our own people, within our own borders. This is because of the increasing imbalance of power in this country. The wealthy few own 80% of the wealth, and yet, we keep giving them tax breaks; huge corporations get away with murder- because there is no person held responsible for poor decisions, or even malicious decisions that harm humans, the environment, that interfere with the establishment of just laws, or decent working conditions. What kind of fools are we in this country to allow the wealthy few to convince us that it is in our country's interest to be turned into a sty for a few greedy pigs to wallow in, as they become richer and richer, and the rest of us lost our voice in government, lose our ability to earn decent wages, lose our country to greed?

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