Monday, December 8, 2008

BIzarre Randian fantasies over at Pols

A truly bizarre post this morning at ColoradoPols from the new front pager "Laughing Boy." It's a typical right-wing attack on workers, their rights and on the sanctity of contracts between workers and employers. It's a fact-free hit job on American workers and their labor unions that attempts to exploit our current economic crisis to score ideological points.

He frames his entire post as some great Randian struggle by the capitalists against an oppressive state before going on to attack the protesting workers at a Chicago window factory and the American auto worker.

If a company is put in a place where the owners feel though their effort is not worth the profit they receive because of the high cost of doing business, particularly as it pertains to taxes, regulation, or worker wages and benefits, is it unethical for them to simply close the business and start fresh in an area that might be more business friendly? Or not - maybe the business is simply shuttered as a waste of effort on the owner's part?

The sit in currently being staged at a Chicago window factory that has gone out of business could be the canary in the coal mine for 200,000 auto workers, overpaid and over-entitled for generations, having used strong-arm tactics and countless labor stoppages to wrest unrealistic compensation from a once-healthy industry that now is in its death throes.

Why he chooses to juxtapose the actions of workers in Chicago with the plot from "Atlas Shruggs" is anyones guess. There's no evidence that the factory in question closed up in a fit of pique because of taxes, regulation or wages. Given that we're in a historic economic downturn of course we will see businesses of all sorts fail and fail for a myriad of reasons. Instead of viewing the factory closing in the context of the greater economic crisis Laughing Boy instead chooses to try and shoe-horn it into his pre-existing ideological framework.

The ad-hominem attacks on American workers that follows betrays Laughing Boys obvious contempt for blue collar working Americans. Over-paid? Hardly, UAW workers made a respectable middle-class wage which allowed them to buy a house, send their kids to college and purchase average American consumer goods. UAW workers make in the area of $30 an hour and their wages have increased at the same rate as private sector wages on the whole.

The attacks move from personal ad-homine,s to broad-sides against the legally protected rights of workers to join a union, collectively bargain and (if necessary) strike. To right-wingers corporations using their market size to force concessions from suppliers is capitalism, workers using the same fundamentals of economics to seek better wages and benefits is, apparently, akin to criminal behavior. Strikes are a perfectly legitimate and legal tool. A worker sells his skills and his time to the employer. If an employee feels that his employer is not compensating him fairly his only recourse is to withhold his labor until he and his employer can reach a deal. It's among the most very basic of human economic interactions and yet it engenders so much rage amongst the American right-wing. Why is this? With their professed love of markets one would assume that the right would at the very least respect the right of workers to assert themselves in the market place. Instead though workers are subjected to increasing levels of vitriol.

Laughing Boy continues in the same vein through the rest of the post. First on the agenda - attacks on the workers in Chicago,

The factory is closing. You were not laid off, your company went out of business.

A layoff is defined simply as "the act of laying off an employee or a workforce." Whether or not a business is being shuttered entirely or merely closing a portion of it's operations the job loss is accurately decscribed as a "layoff."

Moving on we arrive at this exchange where we see right-wing obliviousness in full effect. First a quote from the workers,

"They want the poor person to stay down," said Silvia Mazon, 47, a mother of two who worked as an assembler here for 13 years and said she had never before been the sort to march in protests or make a fuss. "We're here, and we're not going anywhere until we get what's fair and what's ours. They thought they would get rid of us easily, but if we have to be here for Christmas, it doesn't matter."

and then Laughing Boys response,

Stay down? Your company just went out of business. Who is keeping you down? Adam Smith?

Quite obviously you would like them to stay down Laughing Boy. Your entire post has been little more than a rant aimed at working families, their rights and their livelihood. It is people like you sir that Ms. Mazon is addressing - the never ending apologists for capital who seek to push all of the costs, both social and economic, of our current malaise on to the backs of the middle and working class. These workers negotiated certain wages and benefits and their former employer as well as, apparently, it's creditors are doing their level best to block these workers from receiving their contractually agreed upon wages. Why should the rights of Bank of America supplant the rights of the factories own workers?

The workers in Chicago have compared themselves with the auto workers who, in the 1936-1937 staged a sit-down strike at the GM plant in Flint Michigan. Laughing Boy though glibly dismisses such comparisons,

Except the auto plants weren't closing in the 1930s.

Except that they were. We had this thing happening in the 1930s called The Great Depression, you may have heard of it. Auto plants did close in the 1930s as the credit which made the easy purchase of cars in the 1920s began to contract and car sales predictably plummeted. At the beginning of the Great Depression there were 60 American car companies, by the end of the Depression there were just 18. If you are going to essentially dance on the economic graves of millions of American auto workers you should at the very least have your history correct.

The sit down strike of GM was engineered by the newly born United Auto Workers (formed in 1935) to specifically target the largest American car company in order to grow the size and strength of the union. Workers don't strike with an intent to destroy companies, it's a common fallacy that is often asserted by the right but it doesn't stand up to any sort of scrutiny. Workers and unions have no incentive to destroy their industries, quite the opposite actually, but the right seems to believe that workers must therefore submit to all terms and conditions as dictated by management. Free markets and contract negotiations amongst management and the corporations but American workers are simply supposed to take quietly take what is offered? It's a world view straight out of Dickens.

Continuing with the baseless speculation,

Isn't this more indicative of a culture where we feel like even though we might not have widely employable skills that we're somehow entitled to be taken care of even after the company we work for could no longer afford to pay for us and stay in business? It doesn't sound like these poor folks were overpaid, but I haven't seen specifics on health and retirement benefits and there is a union involved, so I can only assume that they could have perhaps been unsustainable.

This is patently absurd. These workers negotiated in good faith with their employers and are simply demanding what is contractually owed to them. It's interesting that the right argues so fervently about protection of private contracts except when those contracts require businesses to actually pay the wages owed their employees. The company went out of business and the banks (read, creditors) are lining up with their hands out. The factory workers are simply establishing their place in line. Why some find this so offensive is really beyond my comprehension.

The second half of this paragraph is little more than fact-free ideologically desperately seeking out a fact pattern to substantiate itself.

We then find ourselves inexplciabbly delivered back to the world of Ayn Rand,

In Rand's famous work, the owner of a Steel company had invented a new type of steel that was cheaper to forge and much stronger than previous formulations. He was then set upon by the government as a proxy for the other steel manufacturers who felt it was 'unfair' that he didn't share his recipe with all for the common good. They changed laws and made it illegal to do things like expand, relocate, or even to deny sales of steel to anyone - everyone was allowed to purchase an arbitrary amount of steel (formulated by a politician) and the owner of the factory could actually be sued if he was unable or unwilling to sell steel to someone.

Which of course has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the present situation. There's also the reality of our present patent laws which of course do just the opposite of what Rand fears but that's another post for another time.

Finally Laughing Boy tries to bring it all back home,

but what's to stop the former owners of a successful company from crashing everything, relocating to a State or a country where they aren't paying an average compensated wage of, say, $73/hr. to unskilled labor because they were forced to by a union or government?

First, no one working for the Big Three makes anywhere close to $73/hr. That's a flat out lie and anyone pushing that meme is arguing in bad faith. Period.

Second, no one was forced into anything. The Big Three negotiated with their workers and agreed to a specific level of compensation. If GM or Ford weren't happy with the deal they could simply not agree to the terms. It's that simple and yet the right tries to paint this picture of the poor CEO's being forced into contracts against their will. It's absurd and it attempts to paint corproate management as something less than sentient beings. Bear-Stearns, AIG and the financial industry aren't faced with collective bargaining and they tanked, whats the rights excuse for them? Its a patently ridiculous line of attack but that doesn't stop the right from constantly attempting to absolve their friends in mangement from any and all responsibility for their actions.

Third, in reality the UAW has bent over backwards in recent years to make wage and benefit concessions in order to help Detroit.

These are simple facts, they may be inconvenient for the right but that doesn't change the reality of our present situation nor alter our history. As usual in times of great crisis the right-wing retreats to their ideological ramparts and attempts to exploit human misery for political gain. Laughing Boy's screed typifies this sort of blind ideological writing - from the bizarre attempt to fit our present situation into an Ayn Rand story line, to the deficiencies in historical context and concluding with the utter contempt and disdain for the legal rights and contracts of America's workers.

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