A friend of mine dropped out of high school in the mid-70s. She went to work cleaning at a college in her town. She worked at this college for about 30 years.
Apparently, she didn't work for the college, though. She worked for three or four (it's hard to tell) different companies, companies contracted to do the cleaning.
Now she is ready to get her pension. She went to human resources at the college. But they said she didn't work for them. They sent her to the company currently responsible for housekeeping. That company sent her to the company that manages the union's pension fund.
The union told her to fill out a form. It seemed to her like they wanted her to say that she worked at the college for fourteen years. That's all they had on record. Apparently, some time (when?) the union's pension fund was in trouble so it merged into another pension fund. All the records from the early time were transferred to the new fund managers.
The new fund managers seem to be saying that they have records for my friend's years of work and that they don't have records for her years of work. They also seem to be saying that she needs to go to the social security office to get a bunch of detailed records of her hours. This will cost $47.50. It's hard to know why this is necessary if they already have records of her work. But maybe they don't.
Meanwhile, the office managing the fund changed addresses on August 1.
I can't quite get why they were telling my friend that she had to go get all these records. And this is after having spoken this morning to four people at three offices (college, current company, and union fund) two or three times each.
After two hours, though, something else emerged. It now seems like there was no pension fund until 1991. That is, it appears like the local only established a pension fund for the workers in 1991. And it also looks like the employer's contribution during that period was only five cents an hour. It's strange that no one mentioned this to my friend when she was first attempting to get her pension. It is also strange that it took so many phone calls to establish this. Is it even true? That's not what my friend remembers. She remembers a union being there from the beginning, but it's been a long time and this stuff is complicated and confusing.
On the surface, my friend's experience is that of working in the same place, in the same union, in the same buildings, for nearly 30 years. Below the surface: three (or four) companies, only one of which currently exists and two (or three) pension funds, only one of which currently exists.
Because of capital, her world is not what it seems. Her basic experience of work (which also sucks) is fundamentally different from capital's managing of her remuneration for her work. The effect is that she worked for 30 years and her pension will only cover 14 years. And, it isn't clear why: no union contract? a mismanaged pension fund? a loss of records as ownership changed? The complications benefit capital and screw her. She's being exploited through the mechanisms of a process that was supposed to provide her with a benefit. She doesn't understand a lot of it (and neither do I). But she gets the basic point: "they expect me to die so that they won't have to give me my money."
But this story is incomplete because I've left out or underplayed another key aspect of the situation--how the people who work in offices treat my friend. She's in her sixties, black, and without a high school degree. When she got to my house this morning, she understood the primary issue to be that she needed to get information from social security that would tell the pension fund people how long she had worked for the college (which, technically, was zero years since she was employed by a private contractor). Her concern was with filling out a form properly and needing some white-out to fix some information that was misrepresented. When I made the phone calls, people talked to me, answered my questions, tranferred me to others higher on the food chain, and began doing the research on the employers and union contracts. I'm a 50 year old white woman, a full professor with a Ph.D. I found it all extraordinarily difficult to understand and only began getting things sorted by asking a lot of questions. The bureaucrats only divulged information when asked and spoke as if all of their terms were clear and obvious. They were brusk and confident, off-putting if you aren't privileged enough or socialized to question and push back. After I hung up from the last call, my friend looked at my across the table, shaking her head in a combination of disgust, fury, and resignation, "they wouldn't tell me none of that."
As it looks right now, she will get $70.70 a month. She worked as a cleaner for thirty years.
The photo is from the National Lawyers Guild. They note that in New York City, police have already begun to install massive fortifications around the Financial District in preparation for the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, as if a day of action against corruption were a barbarian invasion.
The Obama administration, state and local police, and the courts are carrying out an increasingly aggressive intervention on behalf of the telecommunications company Verizon against 45,000 striking workers in the Northeast US. The workers, now entering their second week on strike, are opposing $1 billion in concession demands by the company.
On Friday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), an agency of the Justice Department, announced that it was investigating as a “national security” issue unsubstantiated charges of sabotage leveled by Verizon against striking workers. FBI Special Agent Bryan Travers issued a provocative email connecting the alleged incidents to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“Because critical infrastructure has been affected, namely the telecommunications of both a hospital and a police department, the FBI is looking into this matter from a security standpoint as part of our security efforts leading up to the 9/11 anniversary,” the email stated.
A day later, the New York Post reported that New York City has begun deploying police officers, including members of an anti-terror unit, to escort strike-breakers across picket lines and monitor picketers.
According to the Post, police officers are “monitoring Verizon garages and following its trucks with cops from all over the city, including members of the Critical Response anti-terrorism units.” The newspaper quoted one police officer complaining, “We have to follow Verizon trucks all day.”
The government and police are seizing on the charges of sabotage to increase pressure on the workers, even as they ignore numerous instances of picketing workers being injured by managers or strike-breakers.
At least 30 workers have been hit by cars driven by Verizon management. Last Monday, a strike-breaker drove through a picket line in Getzville, New York, outside of Buffalo, sending several workers to the hospital. In Silver Spring, Maryland, picketers reported several attempts to hit strikers. Three workers went to the hospital Friday morning after being struck by cars.
There have been no reports of arrests in connection with these incidents.
Monday, August 15 is the 22nd anniversary of the death of Gerry Horgan, who was killed on a Communications Workers of America (CWA) picket line in New York in 1989, after being struck by a vehicle driven by a strike-breaker.
Verizon workers denounced the claims of sabotage, noting that service goes down all the time. Now there are no workers to fix the problems, so Verizon is blaming the strikers.
One Verizon worker on the picket line in Buffalo told the World Socialist Web Site, “They are blaming us for things that happen every day, like an animal chewing through a wire.”
Gladys, a technician in New York City, said, “I really don’t think vandalism or sabotage is happening in this strike. Management can say this. They have to fight back somehow. It is sad that the media is filled with stories like this because I cannot see any workers doing this.”
“I don’t understand why the FBI has to get involved in investigating everything,” she added. “Even when there isn’t a strike, lines go down at police stations and hospitals.”
Verizon has also obtained court orders or injunctions limiting picketing in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, and an injunction is pending in Massachusetts. At locations throughout the Northeast, workers report an increased police presence, with cops enforcing the orders restricting the number of picketers allowed at a given entrance and outlawing any efforts to halt the business operations of the company.
Several workers have been arrested, including six outside a Baltimore, Maryland facility last week. On Thursday, police arrested two women in Salisbury, Maryland for blocking the road and trying to prevent strike-breakers from entering. They were charged with disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct and failure to obey a lawful order—charges that carry penalties of up to 60 days in jail.
Pickets in Albany
Jeanine, a call center customer service representative in Albany, explained: “The injunction is allowing everyone to walk through the door because we are fenced in and they are given a clear path to the doorway. We are supposed to stay within the fencing, which means we cannot reach the scabs. They have the fencing out in the road because they say we have to be 15 feet from the building. So they put us in the road.”
“There are three entrances to our building, and they are limiting the pickets to 30 at each entrance,” Jeanine added. “There were hundreds of pickets here before this injunction. We were keeping scabs out and slowing them down. At one point, the scabs barreled through us and knocked people down with their shoulders and elbows. We reported these assaults to the police. They talked to the union, and they now have an injunction against us.”
Pam, another Verizon worker in Albany, felt picketers could be arrested if they tried to block the scabs. A video on the web site of the CWA showed how a worker was knocked down the day before by a management official who accelerated his car as he approached the picket line.
“It does look like they could make a police state for the corporations. Look how they have us penned in,” Pam said.
The refusal of the two unions involved in the strike, the CWA and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), to oppose the scabbing or defy the strike-breaking injunctions only encourages the Obama administration and state and local governments to step up their repression and intimidation of striking workers. The AFL-CIO, by virtually ignoring one of the largest US strikes years, provides critical de facto support to the strike-breaking operation.
These unions are allied to the Democratic Party and are preparing to pour millions of dollars into the reelection campaign of Obama, who is pursuing a right-wing, pro-corporate policy of bailouts and tax cuts for big business and austerity for the working class—a policy that in all essentials coincides with that of the Republicans.
The ability of Verizon workers to defeat the attacks of the government and the corporation depends on the mobilization of broader sections of the working class. The Verizon strike must become the starting point for a general mobilization of all workers against the attack on jobs, wages, social programs and democratic rights.
The AFL-CIO is opposed to any such mobilization and is working, with the collaboration of the CWA and IBEW leadership, to isolate and betray the strike. On Sunday evening there was no mention of Verizon on the front page of the AFL-CIO web site.
Verizon is carrying out the Obama administration's policy, supported by all sections of the political establishment, of using the economic crisis as an opportunity to slash labor costs. Obama set the tone for such actions in the forced bankruptcy of the General Motors and Chrysler in 2009, carried out with the assistance of the United Auto Workers.
The intervention of the state—FBI, police and courts—underscores that in defending their rights the Verizon workers face a political struggle against the two-party capitalist system. For all its talk of advancing “democracy” abroad, the American ruling class denies American workers their basic rights whenever the exercise of those rights impinges on corporate profits. The US state will use all the instruments of repression at its disposal to put down resistance by the working class to the dictates of the corporate elite.
A recent article by Evan MacDonald in the June 2011 issue ofConsumer Reportstates that:
"In 23 of the past 24 months, lower income Americans have lost more jobs than they've gained. Meanwhile, more affluent Americans seem to be gaining more jobs than they're losing."
To hear millionaire Congressmen and TV pundits, poverty only exists in Third World countries while America is rapidly becoming one itself. In the US, poor people are euphemistically referred to as "the struggling middle class" while Third World poverty that is now enveloping Detroit and Camden threatens to consume Erie, Pennsylvania.
It is one thing to be poor, but quite another to have the deck stacked further against you by the compounding ills of poverty through legal and social structures that are, simply put, unfair.
"Equal Justice Under the Law" is inscribed above the doorway to the US Supreme Court. But when the laws are unjust, when moneyed interests shape jurisprudence and public policies and the poor are excluded and forced to bear the all the costs of a "free market"; the hope implied by that inscription rings hollow for many.
When money equals speech, and speech equals influence, and influence drives law and public policy, there is no "equal justice under the law" and there is no fairness in such an unethical system. But there is little talk of fairnness in our society today.
We hear about how government anti-poverty initiatives are "socialism", that they were a "failure" and that giving money to the poor won't really help those who are trapped in poverty; that the power and majesty of the "free market" under limited government is the only answer.
But the "free market" is not really free. The economic law of supply and demand does not operate in a vacuum when this "free market" is cornered and manipulated and controlled by the rich, and stacked with rules that perpetually favor those with wealth, power, and influence at the expense of those who have not.
We believe that justice is fundamental to a healthy society, but very few social predators from the hallowed halls of Wall Street went to prison as a result of the recent economic crisis caused by their economic crimes and the flamboyant escapades of corporate America's fig-newton follies. "Personal responsibility" seems to only apply to the have-nots.
"The poor you will always have with you" — but lack of fairness and lack of social and economic justice is a choice.
Two surveys released this week show that CEO compensation at major US corporations for 2010 topped the levels reached in 2007, prior to the financial meltdown and global recession.
The Wall Street Journal on Monday published its review of 350 companies listed in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index, concluding that the median value of salaries, bonuses and long-term incentive awards for their CEOs rose 11 percent over 2009 to $9.3 million.
In 2010, the average annual pay of US workers was $40,500. Thus, according to the Journal’s survey,the typical CEO at a major US corporation took in the equivalent of the combined salaries of 230 American workers.
A separate analysis by the Associated Press, based on a survey of 334 firms in the S&P 500 index, concluded that CEO pay rose 24 percent in 2010 over the previous year, with the typical pay package coming in at $9 million. AP reported that the 10 highest-paid CEOs made $440 million in 2010, a third more than the top 10 made in 2009. These 10 individuals took in the equivalent of the earnings of more than 11,000 US workers.
Pay for workers grew by only three percent in 2010, barely keeping pace with inflation. The average wage was less than one-half of one percent of the amount awarded to the typical CEO.
According to AP, median compensation in 2007 was $8.4 million. In 2008, following the Wall Street crash, it fell to $7.6 million. In 2009, when the stock market hit its post-crash low point, CEO pay dropped again to $7.2 million. The $9 million median figure for 2010 is the highest since AP began tracking CEO pay in 2006.
AP reported that the biggest gains came in cash bonuses, with the typical CEO bonus reaching $2 million, up 39 percent from 2009. Two-thirds of executives got a bigger bonus than they received the previous year, some more than three times as big.
The Wall Street Journal, using a somewhat different sampling of companies, also concluded that cash bonuses rose faster than any other component of pay. It set the increase over 2009 at 19.7 percent.
According to the Journal,median CEO pay in oil and gas was $13.7 million; in telecom, $12.5 million; in financials, $10.9 million; in consumer goods, $10.7 million, in health care, $10.6 million; in technology, $9.7 million.
The newspaperlisted the five highest-paid CEOs as Phillippe Dauman of Viacom ($84.3 million, an increase of 150 percent), Lawrence Ellison of Oracle ($68.6 million, a 17 percent decline), Leslie Moonves of CBS ($53.9 million, a rise of 38 percent), Martin Franklin of Jarden ($45.2 million, up 143 percent) and Michael White of Directv ($32.6 million in his first year as CEO).
Among those in the top 20 were Alan Mulally of Ford ($25.8 million) and Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase ($23 million).
The Journal’s computation for 2010 compensation did not include payouts on long-term incentives, the vesting of restricted stock or the exercising of stock options. The result is a significant underestimation of the amounts actually taken in by CEOs. Mulally, for example, received a stock bonus of $56.6 million, bringing his total take for the year to more than $83 million.
Ray Irani of Occidental Petroleum received $70 million in 2010 from such incentives; Thomas Ryan of CVS Caremark received $50 million.
Last month the AFL-CIO published its annual Executive Pay Watch, showing an even more massive windfall for CEOs. It reported that the CEOs at 299 US companies took in $3.4 billion combined in executive compensation in 2010, with the average CEO pay coming in at $11.4 million.
This represented a 23 percent increase from the prior year. The sum of the salaries of those 299 CEOs equaled, the report concluded, the combined average earnings of more than 100,000 workers in their respective companies.
ggering sums coincide with soaring corporate profits and stock prices on the one hand, and near-Depression levels of unemployment, record long-term joblessness, rampant wage-cutting, millions of home foreclosures and growing poverty, on the other. S&P 500 companies saw their profits rise 47 percent last year, and major stock indexes have nearly doubled from their 2009 lows.
This bonanza for the corporate elite is almost entirely derived not from expanded production and hiring, but rather from ruthless cost-cutting. Revenues at S&P 500 firms rose by only 7 percent last year.
The Obama administration, acting in behalf of the financial aristocracy, has utilized the economic crisis to fundamentally and permanently alter class relations in America. Its central preoccupation has been to protect the wealth of the parasitic financial elite and ensure its ability to continue plundering the country’s resources.
No one has been held accountable for the wild speculation and outright criminal practices that precipitated the crisis. No measures have been taken to reclaim the ill-gotten wealth or rein in the banks and corporations. To the contrary, everything has been done to shield the perpetrators and make them richer than ever.
It is essentially in pursuit of this aim, concealed behind homilies on the need to reduce the deficit, that jobs, wages, unemployment benefits, schools, health care, pensions and social programs upon which tens of millions of people depend are being gutted.
The deliberate policy of keeping unemployment high, in order to weaken the resistance of workers to pay cuts and speedup, is reflected in the record cash hoard of nearly $2 trillion held by US corporations, the result of their refusal to use their bumper profits to significantly increase hiring.
The surge in CEO pay underscores the fact that the American capitalist class and its political representatives, beginning with the Obama administration, are pursuing a policy of class war.
At the risk of repeating myself, I want to note where I think Eric Alterman, writing in the Nation, is wrong. I am tempted to mark this as a difference between the commmunist left and left liberals, but maybe that is too reductive. One could even say that this is a difference between rule of law liberals and the bizarre sort of contemporary American liberals who have never been modern. Alterman writes:
The killing of Osama bin Laden was a just and necessary undertaking; just because he had the blood of thousands of innocents on his hands, and necessary because his continued escape from justice was an inspiration to others to try to follow in his footsteps. But it should not be occasion for joy. The Talmud tells the story of angels dancing and singing as the waters of the Red Sea close over the heads of the Egyptian troops after the Israelites have safely crossed over, only to be rebuked by their God: “How dare you dance and sing as my children drown in the sea?”
Who determines justice? The Talmud? Angels? God? What sort of justice can Alterman possibly have in mind? He presumes that vengenance is just and right. He presumes that assassination can be necessary. As long as we operate with such suppositions we remain incapable of justice.
Paul (Passavant) published an article a few years ago, "We Should Be Liberals (at least)." His primary text was Locke's Second Treatise--which would remind us all arbitrary power is a condition of the state of war. I wonder, then, if Alternman and others think that the justice they invoke is a kind of military justice or a justice that holds in a time of war. But military justice does not authorize assassination--does it? or execution?