Green Shoots in America’s Ruins




T

he
September 13, 1993


Wall
Street Journal

was abuzz regarding a “remarkable improvement,”
a “welcome development of transcendent importance.” It
seems the wages of U.S. workers had gone from being the highest
in the G-7 to the second-lowest in the span of seven years. 


A
decade later the

Journal

bragged of “fatter corporate
profits” to be enjoyed by companies and investors, while, “one
group of folks will likely be left out in the cold once again: workers.”
The longstanding war against workers continues, with no sign of
letting up. 


Of
particular importance is the continued decline in wages in this
country. The

New York Times

reported on IRS data, showing
total adjusted gross incomes fell 5.1 percent, while average incomes
also fell 5.1 percent. “Adjusted for inflation, the income
of all Americans fell 9.2 percent from 2000 to 2002…”
As the

Chicago Tribune

reported, “More than three years
into the economic recovery, U.S. workers’ hourly wages continue
to decline when adjusted for inflation with little hope of a dramatic
turnaround any time soon.” 


But
the

Journal

insisted, in an October 11, 2004  editorial,
“These are good times for most American workers…”
and the Bureau of Labor Statistics had “underestimated the
number of jobs created from March 2003 to April 2004.”

Financial
Times

of London offered a different take, stating most of the
created jobs were temporary positions and that “about 4.3 million
Americans have also been forced to accept part-time positions because
they have failed to find full-time work.” Good times, indeed. 


The
exploitation of temporary workers is ever-increasing. Manpower cleared
$12 billion in revenue in 2003, making it 160th on the Fortune 500.
Kelly Services cleared $4 billion in revenue and also made the Fortune
500. In South Korea the government is attempting to enact legislation
that would increase the usage of temporary workers. Mexican maquila-
dora factories are increasingly making use of temporary employees
provided by subcontractors in an effort to suppress wages and deny
benefits to employees. 


Using
temporary workers has not been enough for the Caterpillar Corporation,
though. Cat, which, according to the

Chicago Tribune,

pays
its temporary workers $14 an hour, is proposing to implement a two-tier
pay system where new and temporary employees would earn $10 per
hour. As a Caterpillar employee asked, “When Caterpillar gets
the pay down to $10 an hour, what’s the difference between
Caterpillar and McDonald’s?”



The
proposed wage is half of what beginning, unionized employees currently
earn. 


Nissan
and other automobile manufacturers have taken advantage of near
third world labor conditions in the southeast United States. According
to

BusinessWeek

, “Sure, [Nissan’s] plants use cheap-
er, nonunion labor. Besides lower wages, the Smyrna [Tennessee]
workers get about $3 an hour less in benefits than the Big Three
assemblers represented by the United Auto Workers.” The

Financial
Times

reports, “Foreign carmakers have poured billions
of dollars of capital into the US southeast over recent years…attracted…by
relatively low labor costs, a largely non-unionized workforce, and
hefty financial incentives from states desperate to attract fresh
investment and jobs.” 


Thus
workers in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia are being
used for class war against the “pampered” western European
auto workers. This is a trend which initially used the low wages
of Eastern Europe as weapons. As Kevin Dome reported in the

Financial
Times

(discussing the opening of a new car plant in eastern
Germany), “GM has…an enthusiastic and young workforce
eager to learn new working methods, but also wage rates are 40 percent
of those at its Russelsheim plant near Frankfurt. The gap is supposed
to close somewhat in the next few years, but for the moment the
[new plant’s] workers receive no extra holiday pay, no 13 months
of salary, and they work longer hours than their pampered colleagues
in western Germany.” 


Eastern
Europe offers “green shoots in communism’s ruins”
(see

Financial Times

, October 20, 1992). The “green
shoots” include “rising unemployment and the pauperization
of large sections of the industrial working class.” These “green
shoots” are still being used for class warfare today. In July
workers for DaimlerChrysler relinquished a pay raise after the company
threatened to ship 6,000 jobs from western Germany to the east and
to South Africa. Volkswagen has threatened to eliminate or shift
30,000 jobs unless its European workers agree to a wage freeze.
Now corporations will have another threat in their pockets—green
shoots in the southeastern United States. 


It
seems the green shoots are spreading throughout the United States.
The

New York Times

recently reported, “The ranks of
the poor and those without health insurance grew in 2003 for the
third straight year.” The U.S. has been home to rising unemployment
and the pauperization of minorities. The

Journal

reported,
“The median net worth of Hispanic households fell in 2002 to
$7,932, down 24 percent from 1999…. Over the same period, the
net worth of African- Americans fell 32 percent to $5,988 from $8,774.
For white households, the measure rose 2.6 percent to $88,651.” 


The
green shoots in the United States have clearly benefited. Bonuses
on Wall Street reportedly rose this past year. The

Journal

reported Goldman Sachs’s bonus pool increased 25 percent, Lehman
Brothers’ increased 15 percent, and Morgan Stanley’s went
up by 15-20 percent. Goldman’s CEO said, “We had a very,
very good year.” The business press speaks of the “affluent
advantage” where the “economic recovery tilts to highest-income
Americans.” Yet most people in the U.S. live within the green
shoots, with declining wages, increased debt, social service cutbacks,
McJobs, and another four years of the Bush regime.



 






Keith Yearman
is assistant professor of geography




at the College of
DuPage.