Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Courts, police, politicians: All waging war on workers.

Target CEO Greg Steinhafel. A $47 million retirement
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Amazon workers suffered a defeat last December as the most prominent US judicial body representing the interests of the 1%, the US Supreme Court, ruled against them in their efforts to receive back pay for the time they have to spend in line at the company’s security checkpoints before being allowed to head for home.

The US Supreme Court, an unelected board of the most trusted bourgeois legal representatives, decided that under federal law the workers didn’t have to be compensated because they weren’t working, (What do the members of the US Supreme Court know about work?) The way they phrased it was being held up by your boss’s security force wasn’t, “integral and essential” to warehouse work. In fact, and don’t laugh, it is more like part of the commute. I wonder if the honorable supreme beings on the court get paid when they go to the bathroom.  I am sure they do, but I guess they would have a good defense as it is in this place where they think deeply about how to best protect their super rich patrons.

That Amazon ruling didn’t help Apple employees very much either as they are fighting their own legal battles against one of the most valuable corporations on the planet that sits on $35 billion or so in cash.  Tim Cook, who took over after Steve Jobs, received a hefty $300 million for that little move.  How these folks must love the Stalinist bureaucracy in China providing a nice repressive environment for profit making. The Amazon bosses’ victory forced an attorney representing Apple workers in a similar suit to drop it says Business Week.  He will try to make some headway at the state level.

This is really an issue organized labor should take up but the heads of the labor movement are almost indistinguishable form the bosses when it comes to their world view and will not fight them unless they are absolutely forced to through a revolt from below, at that point they will be made redundant hopefully. They are completely wedded to the Team Concept, the view that bosses and workers have the same interests. They support bosses’ rights on the job and support them in the political arena though an unholy alliance with the Democratic Party and its Wall Street backers.

In the case of the Apple workers, their legal argument might get more of an echo in California which, like many states, has more liberal labor laws than the federal government.  They will argue that California’s Apple workers are “Under their bosses’ control during their time waiting for security checks.” Business Week tells us. 

Part of the reason California is so demonized in the corporate press is that it has more restrictions on business.  Workers’ rights, environmental protection, regulation of transportation and other industries is stronger here.  They don’t say this of course when the mass media covers demonstrations or protests. They stress that people can run around naked or focus on some obscure religious sect or pot laws and other liberal causes.

In California, overtime begins not after a 40-hour workweek but after an 8 hour day. And California regulations state that, hours worked amount to “The time during which an employee is subject to the control of an employer”. In other words, they are hours worked ands should be paid.  As BW points out in its January edition, the California supreme court confirmed this decision in 2000 adding that, “An employee who is subject to an employer’s control does not have to be working during that time to be compensated.”

Duh! As they say. It’s common sense isn’t it?  If the boss keeps you at work, no matter what you are doing, they should pay you for it. I had a good public sector job and a union and anytime the boss wanted me at work they had to pay me for it. This is a problem for big business and they have already instituted some reforms that have undermined this right with the cooperation of the labor officialdom. 

The bosses want to drive us back to conditions that existed before the great uprising of the CIO in the 1930’s and the Civil Rights movement that followed. The architects of this are the members of their two parties, the Democrats and Republicans. I admit there are some minor differences between these two parties of the 1% but on the fundamentals they agree---the working class must pay for the crisis of capitalism.

As this war is being waged on US workers and the middle class (the poor have already hit bottom) the corporate thugs and CEO’s are doing quite well thank you.  I already touched on Cook’s huge windfall when Steve Jobs died but he is not alone. Greg Steinhafel, who just ended his stint as head of Target was given a $47 million retirement gift, “1044 times the average balance of $45,000 that workers have saved in the company’s 401K(K) plan” says Business Week. *  Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson’s pension started at $2.1 million with a “supplemental” of $21.1 million tacked on and yet another “additional payment plan” of $38.6 million tacked on to that.  Business Week points out that about 1000 Exxon executives will receive that sort of payout. And I need to feel bad about my public sector pension? I do not. Politicians in both parties have these defined benefit pensions on the chopping block.  Thanks to their actions, these pension plans dropped more than 70% between 1984 and 2012 as 401(K) plans, their precious market oriented deals, went form 17,000 to 500,000. If you think your living standard is declining you are not imagining it.

Ron Pierce, a Target worker in Virginia had a different experience.  He had $32,000 in his retirement account plus a one-time payout of $4,600 from a previous plan that Target eliminated for new hires in 2008.  Pierce does not have a positive view of this disparate treatment, “Target throws a cracker and the top executives take the cake.” He tells Business week adding, “Who can even spend $47 million? I’d like to see a chink of that go for pensions for all employees.”  Wait a minute! Isn’t that communism? 

The reader should take note.  This type of thinking is common here in the US.  It has not yet risen above the surface of society in any serious organizational way but it is not uncommon and surface it will at some point.

And what is driving it is the continuing attack on workers living standards (the capitalist offensive) and the blatant flaunting of this obscene wealth by the increasing number of billionaires that reside here, especially in California. According to the AFL-CIO the CEO to worker pay ratio was 331 to 1 in 2013 with the CEO to minimum wage worker pay a mind boggling 774 to1. 

There’s trouble brewing alright and I advise readers, especially folks outside the US not to pay too much attention to the crappy US TV fare you are subjected to or the standard Hollywood movies that have us all working in the corporate world or as cops and living in nice neighborhoods with white picket fences and tree lined avenues. Despite the shifting of manufacturing to the orient and the vast majority of the industrial working class no longer in Europe but Asia, the capitalist system cannot be sent in to the history books without the US working class settling accounts with the heavily armed US bourgeois.

Next time, or perhaps the time after that, a few words on the crumbling infrastructure problem in the US, a catastrophe waiting to happen.  You can’t have guns and butter.

* A retirement Toast. (BW 1-7-15)

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