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If We Let The Greedheads Win, We All Lose

March 25, 2013

Mankind has progressed enormously over the last century. Vaccines eradicated some of the worst diseases of the old world. Ingenuity and mass-production made the world smaller with automobiles, aircraft, computers, and eventually the internet. From a purely technological standpoint we’ve never been better. We have mastered the planet in ways our great-grandparents couldn’t conceive, and moved to the stars for our next conquest. It really is incredible how quickly it all happened.

In just 100 years we moved from steam-powered trains and horse-drawn buggies, to landing nuclear powered robots on Mars.

But in so many other ways we’ve completely failed.

Unprecedented wealth disparity, and all of the social ills that come with it, is suffocating us. Most of our biggest problems (sickness, starvation, violence, drug addiction, crime, terrorism, etc) are merely symptoms of a social breakdown caused by a select few hoarding the wealth and power of humanity to nourish their own monstrous greed.

Not to mention climate change, the poster boy for everything that is wrong with our broken political and economic system. An existential threat of our own creation that we are incapable of facing because our leaders are too money-drunk to care.

Banks fraudulently foreclose on millions of homes, lie about risky investment losses to regulators, illegally bet against their own investors, and launder billions of dollars for drug cartels. Yet not a single soul has been arrested or charged with any crime. The Attorney General admitted in sworn testimony to Congress that prosecuting bankers won’t happen because they would threaten the world economy. We are being mugged on a massive scale by incredibly powerful people who will pay zero consequences for it, but if you or I walked into a gas station with a squirt gun and took $25 out of the till, we’d get 5 to 10 for armed robbery.

This is how bloody revolutions start, and they usually end with a long walk to the guillotine for those at the top.

I’m bringing this up because today is the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, of which I wrote about two years ago on the centennial anniversary.

One hundred years later we’re still fighting the same fight.  Multinational corporations have sent millions of factory jobs overseas to avoid even the most basic safety and wage requirements.  In order to “compete” they undercut our middle class workers by depressing wages down to near poverty level, gutting pension plans, and providing only high-deductible junk insurance to their already struggling families.  It’s a criminal enterprise bankrolled by the blood of average workers who feel they have nowhere else to go.  And now they want to destroy the right to Unionize all together.

The Triangle Fire would have changed nothing without the actions of “radical” union members and leaders demanding justice and reform.  That is why the Republican party has been working so hard to destroy the power of unions, because they are the last source of true political power that average people have.

This is what the Republican Party stands for.  They are the champions of despicably rich sociopaths who would trade the lives of a thousand workers for a bigger swimming pool or a new limo, and now they’re on the verge of winning the class war they’ve been waging for well over a hundred years.

I wish I could say we had progressed just a little bit, but we haven’t. Just this morning there was news of another factory fire in India.

BangaloreSix people were burnt to death early on Monday in a massive fire that gutted a seat-making and furniture factory in the Magadi industrial area on the city’s outskirts, police said.

“The victims were said to be asleep when the fire occurred in the factory, which had inflammable material such as foam, thermocol, wooden panels and ready-made chairs,” Ramangara’s Superintendent of Police Anupam Agarwal said in Mumbai.

Though police registered a complaint of criminal negligence against the officials of the factory – SK Seating Systems Ltd – which makes foam seats for auditoriums and cinema theatres, no arrest has been made so far.

And a whole rash of fires over the last couple years.

Another garment factory has burned in Bangladesh and killed seven more workers sewing clothes for Western customers, according to groups that monitor working conditions there.

It is the latest in a rash of deadly fires in the high-rise factories that have made Bangladesh the second largest exporter of clothing to the United States behind China. More than 700 workers have died in factory fires in the past five years. Two months ago, a ferocious blaze at a factory making clothes for major U.S. retailers killed an estimated 112 workers there.

This latest deadly fire occurred in the Bangladesh capital of Dhaka at a factory called Smart Export Garments Ltd., which was believed to be manufacturing clothes for the Spanish parent company of the American retailer Zara, as well as several European brands, worker rights groups told ABC News overnight.

“After more than two decades of the apparel industry knowing about the risks to these workers, nothing substantial has changed,” said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum, one of several groups advocating for a fire safety overhaul in the country.

“Brands still keep their audit results secret; they still walk away when it suits them; and trade unions are still marginalized, weakening workers’ ability to speak up when they are at risk,” Gearhart said.

But what really got me thinking about this again was this Washington Post piece regarding US manufacturing jobs.

One of the hottest trend stories in recent years has been the idea that U.S. manufacturing is on the verge of a large, permanent comeback. Labor costs in China are rising, while U.S. energy costs are dropping. So, the logic goes, companies will return home. Charles Fishman dubbed it “The Insourcing Boom.”

The only problem? This boom hasn’t really shown up in the data — at least not yet. Yes, U.S. manufacturing has expanded and added jobs since 2009 as the sector recovers from the recession. But that appears to be a cyclical bounce-back and not any sort of long-term shift.

At least, that’s Jan Hatzius’s conclusion in a new research note for Goldman Sachs. “Evidence for a structural renaissance is scant so far,” he writes.

Sam Ro digs out a bunch of charts from Hatzius’s note over at Business Insider. This first one shows that U.S. exports — a good proxy for manufacturing strength — have risen modestly in response to a falling U.S. dollar since 2009, as expected, but that’s about it. There’s nothing to suggest a sustained structural improvement beyond that:

Meanwhile, Hatzius isn’t very impressed by the oft-repeated notion that America’s newfound glut of cheap natural gas will give U.S. manufacturers an edge.

“Exhibit 7 shows that we have not yet seen a material pickup in output in the parts of the manufacturing sector that should benefit most from low natural gas prices, such as aluminum, steel, plastics, basic chemicals, and fertilizer and other agricultural products,” he writes. “At least so far, the benefits from the increase in U.S. energy production seem to have been confined to the direct effects on output and income.”

Of course manufacturing companies aren’t returning to the US. Why would they? Americans won’t accept nickles a day for tedious, often dangerous jobs, in death trap sweat shops with zero benefits or job security. Not yet anyway.

The few manufacturing jobs that are coming back tend to be low wage, non-union jobs, which are driving salaries down even further.

U.S. manufacturers have added a half-million new workers since the end of 2009, making the sector one of the few bright spots in an otherwise weak recovery. And yet there were 4 percent fewer union factory workers in 2012 than there were in 2010, according to federal survey data. On balance, all of the job gains in manufacturing have been non-union.

The trend underscores a central conundrum in the “manufacturing renaissance” that President Obama loves to tout as an economic accomplishment: The new manufacturing jobs are different from the ones that delivered millions of American workers a ticket to the middle class over the past half-century.

It used to be that factory jobs paid substantially better than other jobs in the private sector, particularly for workers who didn’t go to college. That’s less true today, especially for non-union workers in the industry, who earn salaries that are about 7 percent lower than similar workers who are represented by a union.

By one measure — average hourly earnings — a typical manufacturing worker now earns less than a typical private-sector worker of any industry. Throughout the 30 years before the recession, the reverse was the case.

Our captains of industry have forgotten Henry Ford’s one rule for the Industrialist: “Make the best quality of goods possible at the lowest cost possible, paying the highest wages possible.” Or in other words; pay your workers enough to buy your products.

Ford understood that without a strong customer base, it didn’t matter how good his cars were, he wouldn’t sell any.

The ongoing Corporate war on unions and decent wages is effectively cannibalizing their own consumer base. It’s only a matter of time until they won’t be able to sell even the shittiest products made in the worst foreign sweat shops, because there won’t be a middle class left in America to pay for them. It’s self-destructive insanity brought on by unchecked greed.

They have reduced every human aspect of their businesses down to numbers on a spreadsheet. Their worker’s lives and safety are an expensive line-item to be cut in the name of bigger profits, and executive bonuses. Environmental concerns are obstacles to be side-stepped, and taxes are easily dodged with teams of accountants and lawyers.

The Greedheads running this world are killing us. Quite literally. Regardless of our technological progress over the last century, if we don’t catch up socially and economically, humanity is in for a very rough century to come. And we may not survive it.

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