Friday, February 03, 2012

Race To The Bottom

I'm feeling particularly glum lately. This didn't help much.

I wrote about EMD and Caterpillar exactly one month ago. While I figured the plant closure was coming, I didn't imagine it would happen so quickly. Frankly, that more than anything else alarms me. You think your job is secure? Apparently you can be forced to take a 60% pay cut, or lose your job entirely, just because somebody somewhere doesn't think billions in profits is quite enough money.

Welcome to the race to the bottom, folks.

I see it everywhere: mandated 55-hour work weeks, the loss of defined benefit pension plans, mass layoffs...where does it end?

And you know the argument that drives me batty about this? "It's unskilled labour--only worth $15/hour." Yeah? Says who? And what will Who say next, "sorry, we miscalculated, that labour is only worth minimum wage? Which, by the way, is at least 50% too high?" Not only that, but you try working in a factory, Mr. High-And-Mighty Educated Man. Even odds you wouldn't last a full shift.

I work in retail and confront this attitude daily. It is unskilled labour--only if you're doing it wrong. I could gussy up a resume that would make you think twice: "Liaise between stakeholders, management, suppliers and clients, providing superior customer service at every opportunity. Supervise a team to ensure compliance to company standards and protocols. Troubleshoot supply system glitches, resolving issues and preventing future problems. Juggle many competing priorities and unfailingly meet multiple hard deadlines. Maximize sales per labour hour, minimize shrink, and provide a stable and reliable experience for clients with diverse backgrounds and requirements." You think it's easy? It is--again, if you're doing it wrong.

 The person who replaced me at my old store, I'm told, has had about enough. It hasn't even been six months. I don't blame him. I'm just glad I don't measure my self-worth in dollars and cents. That said, there are bills to pay.

It's possible to have a living wage: EMD workers had one until just now, after all. Countries such as Germany--which has no minimum wage law--nevertheless pay their factory workers quite well. But that's Europe. Different ethos there, one we used to have to some degree in Canada but which is eroding and fast.  We seem to be moving towards the American model, wherein there is no God but Greed, and Dollar is His Profit.

Sometimes I wonder if the corpocracy that really runs the world won't be happy until we're all making wages similar to those paid in India and China. And here I thought it was all about raising the Third World up, not bring the First down. Naive of me...

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