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Est. April 5, 2002
Oct 28, 2021 - Issue 885
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The talk among pundits and CEOs for the last few months has been the mystery of unemployment numbers and the “shortage” of workers, even though right-wing politicians in various states have cut off the enhanced jobless benefits that were added to regular unemployment checks during the pandemic.

Help wanted” signs are in shop windows all over the country. Some restaurants have even cut their schedules to four or five days, because of a shortage of staff, both in the kitchen and the dining rooms. Factories and warehouses are offering sign-on bonuses and starting pay that a few years ago would have been surprisingly high, say $20-$25 an hour. Still not a flurry of applicants.

Industrial and labor experts tried to explain this strange situation by pointing out that “it could be that the benefits that were being paid during the Covid-19 pandemic were too high.” Some workers, they said, were making more money by staying home and collecting regular jobless benefits with the pandemic benefit on top of that. The experts speculated that Americans were saying, “Why work when we can make more money by staying home? Could be, but that only explains part of it.

Robert Reich, U.S. labor secretary in the Clinton Administration, thinks he has an answer. He said recently: “What’s really happening is more accurately described as a living-wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, a paid sick leave shortage, and a health care shortage.” And, that’s also a part of it, but far from the whole thing.

Most of the world’s big shots, that is those who rule the business world, along with politicians from many countries, are meeting to discuss what they determine are “global challenges.” An annual meeting of that magnitude and importance should only meet in one of the ritziest places on earth. Right? That would be Davos, Switzerland, a world-class vacation, health, and recreation spot, high in the Alps, and they call it the World Economic Forum. They are not there just to relax and drink fine wine and eat from a gourmet menu; rather, they are there to divvy up the world into its various parts, especially the economic parts. One can imagine the discussions in their private meetings and over casual after-dinner drinks about the problems that governments and corporations face, deciding who gets what and how much. Rulers of the biggest and richest countries are in attendance each year and it’s possible that not all countries’ leaders are invited. The world’s workers don’t get to see the invitation list.

They may be rich and powerful, however, in the past several years of their forum, they have expressed some concern over the disparity in wealth between themselves and the rest of the world. They should be concerned, because that disparity is causing a major disruption in the steady flow of riches into their coffers. It hasn’t stopped yet, but they can see the flow slowing down, possibly even stopping, and they’re worried. At least a little worried and they should be. The U.S. oligarchs at Davos are somewhat concerned about what’s happening in their own country because the U.S. economy is based on consumption, on consumer spending. The country doesn’t produce what it once did in industrial production and that’s clear from the now routine sending of auto production to other nations. Steel? Imported. Rubber? Imported. Appliances? Imported. Clothing? Imported. Computer chips? Mostly imported. Devices that use the chips? Imported. Much, if not most, of what is needed by average citizens to function in a consumer society is imported. Thus, there is panic, when cargo ships containing billions of dollars worth of consumer goods are sitting off the coasts because the “supply chain” has been interrupted.

The so-called supply chain is the thing that keeps money flowing from the people, to the few at the top of the economic ladder, the rich and Corporate America. But these are the folks who have set this chain in motion, moving production of virtually everything to lower-wage countries, just to increase profits. It worked for a while, but to do that, they had to convince a considerable proportion of Americans that it was necessary for their well-being. In other words, necessary for them to be able to keep on buying. They convinced wage-working men and women that it was in their best interests to support capital flight and to tolerate low wages and few benefits.

The rich and their corporations managed to convince enough of them to vote for a failed businessman for president, who proved that he was incapable of governing, just as he was incapable of running a simple business at a profit. That was Trump and it was he who said during his presidential campaign that American workers made too much money, that they weren’t “competitive” with workers from other countries. These were workers who were making pennies a day and he felt U.S. workers were losers because they could not compete with those wages. Trump could not have illustrated more clearly that he was, and is, out of touch with reality. Workers are held in contempt by him.

U.S. oligarchs set up the nation for an incompetent like Trump, who is even more dangerous because of his narcissism and sociopathy. The name is the Republican Party, but it is more of a Trump cult than a political party now and Pandora’s box has been opened. Those who study such things have described what has happened since January 6, the riot at the U.S. Capitol was just a part of a coup d’etat that is underway. They said that a failed coup is only the precursor to the real thing, which is likely to be coming in the 2024 election. Trump’s big lie, that he was defeated by fraud in the 2020 election has resonated with his cult followers and the Republican Party. All part of the coup.

Not much can be done to change the course of events now, no matter how much the rich and their minions want. Trump and his cult followers were their useful idiots to soften up the people by propaganda, advertising, misinformation, and disinformation. Now, though, the former president has taken off on his own, reversing roles. He’s calling their shots and they must have considerable fear.

It’s clear that neither the rich and their corporations, nor Trump has any respect for working people, but working men and women have something that they don’t have: The ability to live on very little, to survive on very little. If there is any money coming into the home, they will find ways to live on it. That people are not flocking to fill low-wage jobs in massive numbers all around the country has been likened to a general strike. It is not a general strike, but it resembles one. It would be better for all workers if they were coordinated, such as in the union, but what they are doing is enough to scare the powers that be. Now, starting wages are higher, there are benefits offered, and there are even sign-on bonuses. Republicans and others thought that taking away “enhanced” unemployment benefits would get workers out of their homes and into the workplace. It didn’t happen.

Reich is likely right when he lists what there is a shortage of in the workplace, but what employers and pundits and CEOs don’t understand is that workers are tougher than they are. They have survived abuse and oppression for generations and have come out a bit tougher each time. This is crunch time. Workers are helping each other to survive and they won’t give up the quest for decent pay and benefits for themselves and their communities. It’s almost as if they’re already in the union. They know what solidarity means and they have been practicing it for several years, just not in a union. It’s time they joined the union, to begin to fight together. There is a vast array of powers against them, even some of their own fellow workers (those who have swallowed Trump’s lies), but even they have families to feed and house and clothe. When the vast disparity in wealth and income is reduced, they might see the wisdom of rejoining the workforce, perhaps this time, on a more sustainable level.

BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.

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