The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Welcome (Back) To The Jungle

It was just a couple of weeks ago that Paul Krugman wrote about the new inequity American workers face:

In 1969, General Motors was the country's largest corporation aside from AT&T, which enjoyed a government-guaranteed monopoly on phone service. GM paid its chief executive, James M. Roche, a salary of $795,000 -- the equivalent of $4.2 million today, adjusting for inflation. At the time, that was considered very high. But nobody denied that ordinary GM workers were paid pretty well. The average paycheck for production workers in the auto industry was almost $8,000 -- more than $45,000 today. (. . .)

Today, Wal-Mart is America's largest corporation, with 1.3 million employees. H. Lee Scott, its chairman, is paid almost $23 million -- more than five times Roche's inflation-adjusted salary. . . . On average, Wal-Mart's non-supervisory employees are paid $18,000 a year, far less than half what GM workers were paid thirty-five years ago, adjusted for inflation. And Wal-Mart is notorious both for how few of its workers receive health benefits and for the stinginess of those scarce benefits.

Today I ran across an article in The New Republic about another industry that's seen some changes at the expense of working Americans (link at top).

In the postwar years, the industry matured beyond the bloody, septic pit that Upton Sinclair once exposed in The Jungle. It became heavily unionized and began paying wages equivalent to $20 an hour today, accompanied by generous benefits. But, beginning in the late '60s, the companies, eager to escape unions, relocated from cities to the rural Midwest and Southwest. (. . .)

Workers now stood on slippery floors in dark, fetid buildings wielding knives and power tools with which they would slice steers or hogs as they swung past at high velocity. They were paid about half of what their unionized counterparts had earned.

Of course, that article isn't even about the growing gap between rich and poor. It's about the Bush administration inventing yet another bogeyman to appeal to angry, working-class white men while emptying their pockets.

This growing discontent [toward immigration] helps account for the events of the morning of December 12, when the White House launched another campaign of shock and awe. More than 1,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, clad in riot gear, swooped down on six Swift & Co. meatpacking plants. With the news cameras rolling, the agents carted away nearly 1,300 Latino immigrants whom they accused of "identity theft." The most telling crackdown came in Greeley, Colorado, where 261 workers were hauled away, but only ten were arrested for identity theft.