Monday, April 6, 2015

the fruits of whose labor?

A living wage
In the early night yesterday, I could see a set of headlights dead-stopped in the middle of the street. I looked from the porch, waiting for them to move forward or back, but they didn't. The engine sound was not one I recognized on my block. Then a car door slammed and the lights moved up towards my house, where what turned out to be a pickup truck slowed and then stopped.

I didn't recognize the truck, so when a man opened the cab door and descended, I thought I might have a visitor. "May I help you?" I said in a fairly loud voice.

The man did not reply. The noise of his motor may have blotted out my sound. Instead, he went directly to the garbage my wife had laid out for collection -- a rolling bucket of waste weeklong waste baskets and a smaller box for recyclable plastic and metal containers. Garbage pickup is Mondays around here.

An ornamental bush blocked my view of what the man was doing, but I could hear him sorting through the recyclables -- sifting out cans and bottles that had a return-deposit value of five cents each. He took an armload to the truck and distributed his haul among several boxes in the truck bed.

And then he was gone.

The man's truck was well-worn but well-kept -- a used vehicle, clearly, but not a rattle-trap. And the man himself consulted a cell phone that is hardly a mark of poverty. The neighborhood he was in is part of a community that is largely lily-white enough and well-enough-heeled to be able to afford the luxury of being 'concerned' about the indigent and homeless.

Five cents per bottle. Five cents per can. When I was a kid, it was the kids who scavenged for returnable bottles and made a little money. Now it's grown men and women, perhaps with families to feed.

But of course the 'economy is getting better.' Listen to TV's Nightly Business Report or watch the talking Wall Street savants on TV. "Wealth management" is for the wealthy and they know it.

Nowadays, China is leading the worldwide economic outlook in several senses, not the least of which seems to be....

More than three decades after Beijing began allowing market reforms, China's 168 million migrant workers are discovering their labor rights through the spread of social media. They are on the forefront of a labor protest movement that is posing a growing and awkward problem for the ruling Communist Party, wary of any grassroots activism that can threaten its grip on power.
Strikes?! In China????!!!! Will pigs fly? It seems they might.

In China, yes. In the United States -- outside the recent longshoremen's dock-strike on the West Coast -- labor cowers. No one wants to lose whatever job s/he has and a lot of people are afraid they might. Fear suits the outlook of power. If you doubt it, check your 'representatives' in Washington: Never mind your job, war generates profits and diverts attention, so let's have another war.

It might be laughable if it weren't so sad -- today's reaction of the Chinese to labor unrest when compared to the U.S. reaction to labor unrest in the late 1800's and early 1900's ... send in the cops/troops, beat the crap out of them, scare 'em silly!

It's ironic to think that the very masters and manipulators who shape the response to labor unrest are themselves the beneficiaries of such things as the 40-hour-work-week, health care, Social Security and other American benefits that can be directly traced to the labor movement that once got the crap kicked out of it ... and kept on coming despite blood and bruises and death.

China holds a small candle. The U.S. seems to be content to watch football on Sundays. In the end, it may be the same Internet that challenges China's rigidities that will challenge America's: Money, after all, is a strong incentive.

1 comment:

  1. I saw a story from Forbes yesterday, an economic wizard who said that the solution to the California drought was the same as with any commodity shortage, raise the price. So those who can afford to can be wasteful and the poor can go thirsty. Public water isn't visibly privatized but there are a lot of industries who support it with pumps, pipes, etc. Clearly as the market corrects the shortage will be over because nature will flood the market with water. The bus we all ride is being driven by idiots.