'Joe Hill' Carlos Cortez www.art-teez.org

Somethin's Happenin' Here
Jeanne Treadway

"Remember, that those who have power, and who seem invulnerable are in fact quite vulnerable, that their power depends on the obedience of others, and when those others begin withholding that obedience, begin defying authority, that power at the top turns out to be very fragile.

- Howard Zinn

OKAY, BOYS AND GIRLS, time for a pop quiz, essay-question-style. What's the meaning of plutocracy? Yes, this is an astrology website, and yes some of the squiggles of Pluto will help you answer the question. Here's another clue: We are living in one right now. Oh, did you think we live in a democracy? Well, as my grandmother used to say, you've got another think coming.

Here's the second essay question: Besides great sex honoring the Goddess and Horned God, besides winding ribbons around a pole or secretly delivering flowers in little hand-made baskets to your neighbor, what else should we be celebrating on this fine day of May 1, 2003?

Don't Iron While the Strike Is Hot

Throughout history, workers have banded together to fight for appropriate wages and safe working conditions. For example, it appears fairly certain now that one reason for three-hundred years of witch burning stemmed from farm workers demanding a larger share of the crops they grew (enough to feed the families who grew the food). The landowners and the Catholic Church protected their wealth by implementing a reign of terror that culminated in the death of thousands of women and was at least partially responsible for thousands of Irish and other European peasants starving to death in the great potato famine of 1846-1850.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, set against the backdrop of the Civil War, Americans started banding together to demand basic rights from their employers. Average laborers worked twelve to fourteen hours, six days a week. While women and African Americans earned $3-4 a week, usually in horrendous working conditions, enormous wealth flowed into the coffers of the factory owners, the bosses of the political machine, and a few others, especially those who owned the infrastructure--the railroads, the ships, the mills.

The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions passed a resolution in 1884 that an eight-hour work day would constitute a legal work-day beginning May 1, 1886. The resolution called for a general strike to achieve that goal. By April, 1886, more than 350,000 workers had joined the strike. (The US population was about 63,000,000 versus 290,000,000 now.) Chicago was considered the heart of the labor movement in 1886 and it was there that police attacked striking workers on May 1, killing six. The next day a bomb exploded during a protest demonstration in Haymarket Square. The bomb injured hundreds and killed many, including several policemen. Eight anarchist trade unionists were arrested for throwing the bomb. All were found guilty; four were executed, one committed suicide, and the other three were pardoned in 1893. No evidence has ever been found to connect any of the eight men with the bombing.

The Haymarket Riot electrified the labor movement around the world and since then, May 1 has been the holiday for millions of workers around the world. Only Canada, the United States, and South Africa do not recognize May 1 as the official Labor's Day.

Unions Have Outlived Their Usefulness

All that has changed, hasn't it? You only work eight hours a day, five days a week, right? If that's the case, you are among the minority of American workers. It is estimated that in 1998 the average American employee worked 140 more hours than she did in 1973--that is four additional weeks per year. And the trend continues. A sixty-hour workweek is considered normal in most corporations, especially if an employee wants to "get ahead" and climb the corporate ladder. Many of you who work those sixty hours, also take work home with you, eliminating or significantly reducing your two-day weekend.

Ah, you say, but the pay is so much better now. Again, you might want to think that through a little more carefully. Here's some information to help you. Most American workers are earning less than they did in 1973, when salaries are adjusted for inflation. Over one quarter of the jobs in the US now pay less than $8 an hour. Nearly 5.4 million workers pay half or more of their salary for housing. In 1973 most households of four could live relatively well on the wages of one person; they could buy a house, send kids to college, retire in some comfort. Today, on average, it requires two jobs, sometimes three, to support four people. These pieces of information come to you directly from statistics published in a survey conducted by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2000. And since then, things have gotten worse, not better.

Perhaps you work for one of the companies suffering from Enron shock--that backlash of federal auditing that is uncovering very devious accounting practices in many of the top American corporations. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, the list of top corporations facing intense investigation into their bookkeeping practices include AOL Time Warner, QWest, Tyco, Lucent Technologies, and Xerox. There are eighteen others on the list published in August, 2002. Typically, these same corporations have CEOs whose salaries and bonuses fall readily into the top 50 highest paid employees in the US. While most of you struggle to pay your mortgage, your executives are cashing in big time.

Do you work for Tenet Healthcare? If so, you probably already know that your CEO, Jeffrey Barbakow, earns $22, 758 an hour. That's if he worked fourteen-hour days every day of 2002, according to USA Today. Median wages for CEOs of large American corporations are about $1000 an hour, while an average worker makes $16.23 per hour. In fact, CEO salaries climbed 15%, while "rank and file workers averaged 3.2% gains" during 2002. Had minimum wage risen at the same rate as CEO pay during 1990-2001, it would now stand at $21.41, according to Executive Excess 2002, published by IPS/United For a Fair Economy. Average worker pay would be $101,000 annually instead of $25,000.

How are your health benefits these days? In April, 2002, PriceWaterhouseCoopers published an analysis, "The Factors Fueling Rising Healthcare Costs," which outlined some of the reasons behind the crisis. They stated that inflation is responsible for 18% of the increase; higher provider expenses is 18%; drugs, medical devices, and medical advances are 22%; and government mandates are 15%. There were three other categories, but basically the increase in healthcare was laid at the feet of those four categories. Certainly this is a well-researched, cogent explanation of a very complex situation. One thing that was not highlighted as adding significantly to the increase, though, is the salary and compensation packages of the CEOs and upper management of all types of healthcare companies--drug manufacturers, rehabilitation facilities, and that ilk.

Remember Mr. Barbakow of Tenet Healthcare. Remember he earns $22,785 an hour. He runs a chain of rehabilitation centers. In 2002, Robert Walker of Cardinal Health earned $3.7 million a year, plus a host of other benefits, which raised his salary 108% over 2001. By the way, his company's stock value decreased 11% in 2002. Same thing for Miles White, CEO of Abbott Laboratories. His payments increased 16% while his company lost value to the tune of 28%. Is there any link here? Do exorbitant salaries cause healthcare costs to rise?

You know that 41 million Americans are uninsured. Perhaps you work for a company that offers health benefits based on your salary. Usually, the more you make, the less you pay for your benefits. Seems reasonable, right? Wrong. The less you make, the less you can afford health care, the less able you are to afford deductibles, the less able you are to pay for catastrophes of even the broken-leg variety, let alone cancer or surgery or long-term illnesses of any sort.

Unions Are Just As Corrupt As Everyone

Let's look at retirement for a moment. First of all, do you work for one of the top 500 companies in the US? If so, your retirement benefits might be a tad short when you get ready to join the AARP crowd. According to Harper's Index, February, 2003, the minimum amount Standard &Poor's top-rated 500 corporations owe in retirement benefits for which they have set aside no funds is $458,000,000,000. That's a chunk of change, folks.

You've been steadily adding to your 401(k), haven't you? Does your company match your contributions with cash or with company stocks? If you answered 'company stock', you might start planning to work until you are 75 or 80 because it is unlikely that you'll be able to retire on the monies in either your pension fund or your 401(k) any time soon. The Profit Sharing/401(k) Council of America estimates that 39.2 percent of 401(k) assets are stock of the company sponsoring the program. If there are more than 5000 of your fellow employees contributing to the 401(k) plan, the percentage of company stock goes up to 43 percent. Do you work for Proctor and Gamble? Ninety-four percent of your 401(k) plan is invested in company stock. Perhaps you work for GE, which has about 77 percent of its 401(k) in company stocks. Current average GE pensions run in the $700-800 per month range. Jack Welch, GE's longtime CEO, retired in 2001 and gets $750,000 a month, and has $250 million in yet-to-be-exercised stock options. Imagine what will happen to GE stock once he sells his shares. So just how well is your company's stock doing these days? Perking right along with the rest of the economy, I bet.

There's something else to remember here. When stock prices are driven into the ground by rapacious CEOs, all Americans suffer the consequences. Municipalities invested heavily in the stock market and now are facing huge shortfalls, which in turn require cutbacks on programs such as infrastructure repair (highways, schools, bridges), protection (salaries for firemen and police), and human services (teachers, hospitals, garbage collectors). For example, when Enron's stocks crashed, state and municipal pension funds dropped $1.5 billion in value. New York City lost $109 million alone. You, in your role of taxpayer, are then required to either fork over additional taxes or do without those vital services.

What other grand scheme has your management recently paraded as ways you, the ever loyal employee, can help save money and hopefully prevent additional layoffs? Have you yet been hit with VTO? What a concept. A few of the larger organizations in the US have developed this handy way of saving money: Urge employees to take voluntary, unpaid, time off. (In one of the documents I saw, this was aimed at directors or below). Why if one-third of an organization took just two VTO days a year, the company could save several million dollars, says the well-designed brochure. Gosh, what a great way to save money.

There are a bunch more stories--no matter what the media says, the economy is horrible and getting worse. Flutters in the stock market, a few less people laid off this past month, and they proclaim that we are rebounding. Right. So, tell me again, why it is that you don't get together with your fellow employees and start demanding some changes? What? Unions are so dè classè? You don't like the sound of the word unions? There isn't a union that suits you?

Remember: "throughout history people have felt powerless before authority, but ... at certain times these powerless people, by organizing, acting, risking, persisting, have created enough power to change the world around them, even if a little. That is the history of the labor movement, of the women's movement, of the anti-Vietnam war movement, the disable persons' movement, the gay and lesbian movement, the movement of Black people in the South." -Howard Zinn

Wear your red power suit or tie on May 1 this year. It might stimulate your thinking. It would at least be a subtle reminder that you are a member of the working class and that you do have rights.

Just in case you haven't figured out the answer to the pop quiz:

A. Plutocracy is governance by the few, usually wealthy.
B. May 1 is International Labor Day.++


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