Monday, November 10, 2014

The Economy Sucks Because That's The Way the Plutocrats Want It

Anybody even remember the '90s, when the tech bubble make unemployment almost disappear and workers set the agenda for desperate employers?  The bosses have blood-sworn: Never. Again.


One of the subtle effects of having such a long period of high unemployment is the way it infuses this idea into the bloodstream of the workforce that you have to work beyond your agreed-upon hours. People will do whatever they have to do to keep their jobs in a bad economy. And it's going to take a long period of low unemployment to convince people that they have rights in the workplace again.
130 years ago, work speed-ups were the primary issue that lead to industrial workers joining unions and striking.

Speed-ups, which also included the increased workload from under-staffing and extended hours, were the cause of permanent disabilities at least and horrific accidents and deaths at worst.
Now, the New Gilded Age is bringing back not just widespread poverty, massive income inequality and theft by the disgustingly rich, but also the speedups that national labor laws banished in the 1930s.

Esther Kaplan at The Nation:
But the crush of work these nurses face also exemplifies a hidden side of the recent economic recovery: in industry after industry, speedups are turning work into a hazard, with increasing numbers of injuries and dangerous levels of stress. While 18.6 million people remain underemployed, millions of others are working more hours, and more intensely, than ever.

Take the meatpacking industry. By age 39, Juan Martinez, who worked at a Cargill beef processing plant near Omaha, had hands so disfigured from making repetitive cuts that he could no longer work; he is now surviving on disability. He still experiences pain so intense it feels like nails are being hammered into his fingers. His crew had to slice up 4,600 twenty- to thirty-pound pieces per shift. In the four years he was at the plant, from 2003 to 2006, the number of people at his station dropped from eight to six or seven, while the parts kept coming. Since they couldn’t keep up with the line when someone took a bathroom break, supervisors responded by simply denying break requests. “There are people who would pee in their pants,” he told me, “because they didn’t give them permission to go.”

Whether the USDA recognizes it or not, the costs of overwork extend beyond the growing army of exhausted, shattered or broken workers. Few of the meatpackers I spoke with in Nebraska had paid sick days, so they routinely handle meat while sick with colds or with fingers infected so badly they’ve lost their nails; one organizer told me there are foods he’ll no longer eat after seeing the inside of the plants. “If it were slower, we could do the work more carefully,” one longtime Cargill worker says, “and the food would be safer to eat.”
Speedups, like those at the plant or the hospital, have produced some of the most spectacular industrial disasters in recent years.


 In our increasingly polarized economy, it seems, squeezing workers to the breaking point is just another way to maximize gains at the top. But we’re all absorbing the cost of doing business, if not in broken backs and ribs and shattered sleep, then in unsafe food and roads and hospitals. Little in our regulatory system takes on the risks of work speedup. “During a fatality investigation, OSHA doesn’t ask the question why: Why was the guard off the machine?” Celeste Monforton says. “And it’s typically off the machine because they can operate quicker without it.” She circles back to the Massey mine explosion, which she helped investigate: “The technical way it happened was the coal dust exploded—but the cause was the production pressures, the way the company had no respect for the workers’ lives.”

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