"A Decent Life" or It's the Respect, Stupid
"Necessitous men [women] are not free men [women]," said FDR in his 2nd Bill of Rights speech. This phrase is said to come from a English property law case in 1762.
This morning in the second hour of "UP" with Chris Hayes, Chris had on Greg Fletcher of Our Walmart, Raymond Castillo of Warehouse Workers United, Heather McGee of Demos, and David Frum of free market vampirism. I watch this show to get a bead on what the Democrats are up to and occasionally something really good slips in like hearing real workers talking economics.
When Chris asked Raymond Castillo what he wanted, Raymond replied that he wanted better opportunities, a living wage and safety at work so that he could give his family "a decent life". He and the Wal-Mart manager, Greg Fletcher, were eloquent in explaining why they risked their jobs to fight for some respect in their work place. (I define "eloquent" as the ability to convey sometimes complex ideas very simply). They talked of their children and being able to take them to Knott's Berry Farm or buy them an X-Box if they had a living wage. To give pleasure to someone is a great gift. And as much as we can tsk tsk about video games, a kid likes to be able to have what other kids have. And until we have a different kind of society that is not consumer driven, going to an amusement park is something to look forward to, experience, and then to remember. (In my day it was Riverview and it had some pretty scary rides. At a recent reunion we all recalled being hurled and hurling after going on the ride where the bottom fell out as you were whirled in a giant centrifuge.)
Heather McGee was there to provide the statistics with a report coming out November 19. If you raised the wage a little to $12.25 an hour or $25,000 a year, all kinds of good things happen. "It would lift 700,000 families out of poverty, 5.4 million workers would get a raise, and create 100,000 jobs." How much would this cost? It would cost the whole large chain store sector about $20 billion. The top ten retail companies spend less than that on buying back shares to boost their earnings per share. It would cost consumers 15¢ per shopping trip with the increased price of that flat screen TV. And it would help everybody as the workers immediately pump more money back into retail. Even Raymond wants to buy an X Box from Wal-Mart for his son.
Wal-Mart recently made its biggest quarter profits ever (around 16 Billion) , so why not put smiles on the faces of their employees instead of frowns they wear now by putting those profits into the people who actually do the work? Why not take some of those profits and provide the warehouse workers with safety goggles, gloves, and masks instead of making them buy their own? Why not provide more water for the workers who work in 102º warehouses? Well, the why is obvious. If the workers get hurt or collapse from dehydration, they just get some other workers. And they don't really like the shared sacrifice thing. What they are doing by denying fair wages is theft. And last time I checked, thieving is a sin.
(Frum's contribution, by the way, to the discussion was to interject whenever possible the "hey, that's a free market", "let them eat cake" and "moral schmoral" "why should they [Wal-Mart and other companies] do it [raise wages] if they don't have to? golem mutterings.)
What Raymond and Greg also discovered in a thoroughly grass roots way without the sometimes hefty baggage of being in "organized" labor was something labor leaders often just pay lip service to. They discovered solidarity. The dignity and respect they don't get at their jobs, they get by joining with their co-workers to right the wrongs. They found their voices. That's what a real union does. It allows someone to address their employer as an equal as far as being human beings are concerned. "I am somebody," said the sanitation workers of Memphis in the march that cost Martin Luther King, Jr. his life. "Attention must be paid," said Linda Loman of her salesman husband in "Death of a Salesman".
Raymond and Greg want their sons to look at them with love, but also with pride. They do not want to be bound by debt and in servitude to unfeeling lords. They want to stand tall. They want their freedom. So they have formed a band of brothers and sisters who will watch each others backs and leave no one behind. These are my heroes and heroines. If they are yours, support them. Wal-Mart Strikers Food Fund