That Our Children May Have Peace

By Gregg Shotwell

In the progress of politics, as in the common occurrences of life, we are not only apt to forget the ground we have traveled over, but frequently neglect to gather up experience as we go.

—Tom Paine

The bad news is, I have a long commute since I transferred back to GM from Delphi. The good news is, Iím working the road to rule. I drive slower than a mule with hot cargo and expired plates. Screw the oil companies. I get 40 miles to the gallon. I relax like a poor man with a radio and nowhere to go. I lean like a lowrider whose vehicle is the destination. I pause in motion with an unlikely simile—a silo in a wind—knowing Iíve already arrived where I am. I treat the highway of American industry and commerce like a place of idleness and repose. This isnít Zen, itís revolt. My time is worth more than money to me because I canít earn any more of itÖI can only spend it wisely.

I work in a warehouse, which is a place where goods are stashed and money is made literally hand over fist. Itís all in the turnover. We produce nothing. We add no value. We receive the goods and we ship the goods, and the markup for the time in between makes the loan sharks on Shake Street look like St. Vincent DePaul. But the magnum of profit doesnít halt the speedup. We canít march fast enough for the General. Thereís only one solution: shoot the drummer.

Is it maximum profit or minimum conscience that drives our nation to compete for the lowest standard of living? Even children are sideswiped in the race to the bottom line. Schools are turned into sweatshops. Hospitals are managed like maquiladoras. Homelessness is mental-health therapy. Prison is substance-abuse treatment. Every program or agency whose purpose is to serve the public interest is underfunded, abused, and degraded. Our families suffer under the yoke of double wage earners without disposable income or time to spend with their children. Meanwhile, Congress debates whether a minimum wage that snorkels the poverty line will ruffle the feathers and furs on Wall Street.

The madness of the method isnít just about money. The vultures already have all the money. They have plans for all the money you and I will ever make in our lifetime. They have plans for our pensions, our 401Ks, the money that falls through the hole in the doughnut they call prescription drug coverage for seniors. They have plans to profit off the deaths of our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Itís not just about the money. Itís about control.

When the debt comes due, when the dollar deflates, when property values tank and the market collapses, what will the wealthiest of the wealthy do? Seize everything of value; buy up the homes of workers for a dime on the dollar; snap up utilities at bargain-basement prices; then jack up rents and rates in tandem. Theyíll commandeer all the hard assets, the natural resources, the oil and the gold. Just thinking about it makes me drive slower.

And the slower I go, the more the knowledge of where Iíve been and where Iím going comes into focus. The more I listen to the radio spin circles around my vehicle, the more I notice whatís missing from our conversation about the common good, namely, the working class. There is no ďmiddle classĒ and ďlower classĒ in America. There are only workers who have decent jobs, and workers who donít have decent jobs. Those who do hold decent jobs are only one catastrophic illness, one plant closing, or one indefinite layoff from destitution. The victims of capitalís creative destruction arenít strangers. They are working-class Americans made destitute by a system that requires unemployment to hold down inflation.

Lou Dobbs is wrong about the growing demise of the middle class in America. There is no middle class to demise. The mantle of middle-class status presumes a degree of security and upward mobility that doesnít exist. The notion of safety draped like the bossís arm around oneís shoulder is based on the premise that hard work pays off and loyalty is rewarded. The middle-class dream is as dead as the deer I see splattered on the highway every day. There is no middle class for special workers. There is only a working class, and we—however special we may feel—all work in the same demoralized place, under the same relentless pressure to sacrifice our lives for the success of a godless corporation. Where will it end?

Despite expectations to make a billion dollars in net profit, Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee demanded that the union impose a two-tier wage-and-benefit cut in order to secure ďnewĒ work. Union members voted down the double-cross soundly. But union leaders pursued a vigorous campaign to promote the competitive ideal. On the second try the traitorís deal was narrowly ratified.

The soul of a union leader who pushes two-tier is darker than the pupil of a well diggerís eye. Every union leader knows thereís no water at the bottom of that hole. Two-tier is not just about money; itís about control. Harley-Davidsonís extortion didnít stop at the doorstep of the union hall. The state of Wisconsin agreed to provide help with infrastructure improvements, training costs, and even capital. The assault on workers is state sponsored. Health, education, and social programs get slashed while the corporate blitzkrieg on the working class is subsidized. Mussolini would be impressed, but Tom Paine would shoulder the musket of conviction: ďIf there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.Ē

Two-tier is not just about the money; itís about who owns whose soul. The most effective way to break the spirit of the working class is to compromise our moral code by forcing a choice between fighting back or betraying what is most precious—our children.

We stand at the crossroads knowing full well where both roads lead. One road leads to dishonor and the other to the dignity of struggle. One road points to the hope and courage of collective action and the other to shame, despair, and isolation.

After such knowledge, what forgiveness?

Will reduced wages mean the work will be safer or more humane? Will reduced benefits mean more security? Or will it simply mean the collective power of workers will be harnessed to serve our mastersí driving passion—maximum profit for minimum wage? The corpos must think we are dumber than horses. The yoke never lightens, the hardship never wanes, and the hope for retirement in dignity fades like a dope smokerís dream.

Last year, while Delphi was making headlines with threats and intimidation, Hastings Piston Ring, an auto supplier in northern Michigan, quietly and with the blessing of the Federal court, cut off pension and healthcare for retirees. Production of piston rings didnít miss a beat and the profit kept pumping like a flathead eight on a straightaway.

Two-tier for new hires and a kick down the stairs for retirees. Thatís the refrain. Verses in between change only the names, not the scheme.

Hastings Piston Ring, Harley-Davidson, and Delphi are not isolated cases. The degradation of the working class is chronic and contagious. We need collective action—not more concessions. We need to try our souls in the temper of our times that our children may have peace.

Live Bait & Ammo #85, November 28, 2006