Monday, December 8, 2008

The Republic Windows and Door Protest Matters

There was a time in the United States when people worked at one company for their entire careers. Workers made things and managers sold them and people bought houses and lived middle class lives and the country prospered. Workers had pensions and healthcare and their kids went to college and life got better.

The America of that time has been systematically dismantled. Over the past thirty years the Conservative movement decided that if solidarity and stability were allowed to become institutionalized conditions in the United States that we would go down the road of European Socialism. In Europe there are laws regarding severance, vacations and workers rights. The conservative movement saw this happening here in the 1960's and so they created an idea to undermine this reality.

The idea is that what Americans really want is to have their own small businesses and control 'their own destiny' un encumbered by the state or workers rights laws. An entire philosophy was created to explain why Unions, National Health Insurance, Severance Laws, Low Cost College Tuition and Mass Transit were bad.

Moving your factory or business to the south where you can break unions or better to Mexico or China was good. National Health Insurance is bad because it takes away choice. National Health Insurance is bad for Conservatives because it controls costs and huge health care companies want to make as much money as possible. Mass transit is bad because you want people to think of themselves as individuals not as part of a group. Unions are bad because they drive up wages so what you do is keep wages stagnant but give people credit so that they do no have freedom and they use their credit to make up for the fact that they have not seen their wages rise.

The Conservative's goal was to spread the idea that we were individuals and that we all have a chance to be 'rich' someday. Why should we give our tax dollars for projects that benefit everyone? We are a society of rugged individualists not a community. If you dont succeed it is your own fault and we owe nothing to each other.

The dream of the Conservatives also came with a deep desire to destroy Social Security- the program that challenges their philosophy to its core. Since they could not destroy Social Security they created the 401K and they attacked pensions making them obsolete.

So a whole generation came to believe that if they put money into their 401k's and got alot of credit that they could parlay their home's growing value unto a nice retirement and a good life.
It appeared tht the Conservative philosophy had won. New cities built on this philosophy like Atlanta, Dallas, Charlotte, and Houston . While major older cities like Chicago and New York were doing ok, other cities like Cleveland, Buffalo and Detroit were descimated. But of course the reason for their demise was the greedy unions and their bloated benefits. All seemed right with the world. The Europeans were laughed at as slow growing welfare states. They made fun of the fact that women in France get government help with maternity leave and help at home and money payments to raise their own children. We had our .com boom and then our housing boom. Our economy was filled with millionaires, on paper, and we all were buying huge homes in the suburbs. Unions and Solidarity and Community were quaint old notions while innovation and entrepenural capitalism became central to our society.

Then the house of cards collapsed. It turned out that all of it was a lie to funnel money to the top and it was a drug that kept the average citizen dumb and happy. Unlike the Europeans who have a safety net where workers know that if they lose a job they have a certain amount of severance and national health care when Americans lose their jobs they get nothing. Uncertainty set in and the whole think began to unravel. People stopped spending money and the circle of confidence ended.

While the US invested in Wall Street workers paid them millions to move paper around other nations especially in Asia and Europe invested in infrastructure and manufacturing. The leading exporter in the world by value of products is Germany not China. After all the money and all the leveraged buy outs and all the downsizing America is weaker and our people have no confidence in their financial safety.

So now what about Republic Windows and Doors here in Chicago? 200 mostly Mexican American workers are demanding that they receive their severance and vacation pay and prescribed by law. A lender the Bank of America cut off credit to the company but yet recieved tens of millions of tax payer money.

The workers did something that I think will be as important for the American Labor movement as the sit down strike in Flint in the 1930's or the Haymarket Square Riot of the 1890's they refused to go away. They occupied the factory and refused to be ignored. They said we refuse to be ignored and we want justice, imagine Justice in the America of Rugged Individualists?

For 40 years American workers have been ignored. When the cities of Flint, Michigan, Newark New Jersey, Gary, Indiana and Galesburg, Illinois were allowed to collapse with no help from anyone no one really cared about all those workers. And instead of protesting and refusing to be ignored the workers moved away or took less or went to work at Wal Mart because they did not want to be a 'burden' on anyone. They did not protest.

The Workers at Republic refused to do this and they have set a marker for other workers. The ideas of Milton Freedman, Ludwig Von Mises, and Arthur Laffer are as dead as the ideas of Leon Trotsky.

Where do we go from here?

President Obama, your move.