Tuesday :: Jan 25, 2005

I Am My Brother's Keeper


by pessimist

The Left Coaster has been covering the Republican-inspired Social Security 'crisis' a great deal lately, but that is only one important issue facing Americans (even the Red Staters).

One of the issues facing me in the reality-based world is contract negotiations. The union I belong to, as well as the other trade craft locals on site, are in contract talks ('collective begging' is how one of my coworkers puts it!) with our employer, who in true Dickensian fashion, is trying to put it to us. ('I already gave you a lump of coal today, Cratchit!')

Just like every other employer in America, health care costs are the big expense, and what to do about these costs is a primary concern. Some employers dump the costs of their plans onto their employees. Some cut back coverage so much the plan becomes almost worthless. Others eliminate them altogether.

My employer is taking a novel tack, but before I can explain it clearly, a little background is in order.

Back in the Early Reagan Age, my employer had a split benefit plan, with those in management enjoying a better benefit package - including 100%-paid medical - and a better pension plan. But because of certain financial excesses (tame by later Enron standards), some agency of the Federal government ordered my employer to alter this arrangement, as it was illegal to have such. There were other orders as well, including completely funding all pension liabilities with a set-aside of pension funds, instead of paying them out as retirees required. The net result was that everyone - management and labor - shared the exact same fully-funded benefit package.

Needless to say, this never sat well with those who believe themselves superior to the rest of us, so they have been plotting for many years to reverse this, and reclaim the financial proof of their righteous Ubermensch glory.

They began by requiring that we pay ever-increasing amounts for both our health care and for the co-pays while their annual bonuses grew. They eliminated the pension for new hires, replacing it with a 401(k) plan administered by the company at no cost to us (It was the least they could do, since they weren't contributing to this plan at that time) while they established a completely separate holding company to allow them to return to having a superior retirement package whci didn't include the rest of us. There were other little things here and there, but this was the essential state of our benefits for over 10 years.

Now, they have hit on The Big One - how to 'have' benefits without having to pay for them.

It works like this: they arbitrarily declare that a full-time shift is 30 hours a week. I haven't heard of any company proposal to reduce the wages (negotiations have just begun, after all!), so this amounts to an immediate 25% wage cut. That almost matches the wage cut suffered by the US Air workers recently.

But Wait! That's not all! Buried deeply within another proposal is this: the number of hours worked for benefit qualification will become a weighted average of 35 hours a week. This weighted average will be some period of time (three to six months) during which the average hours worked will be 35 hours provided that this number of hours is worked every week. (Vacation, holidays, and sick days will count as hours worked for this purpose. Extended sick leave would not.)

Can you see where this is likely to be heading? Somehow, we're not supposed to be putting two and two together and coming up with four. They must think we live in a Red State or something. (But then, most of our management are ex-military officers whose states of origin have a history of sedition and armed revolt against the Federal Government.)

So here I sit with my recent medical experience (they could hang meat in those hospitals!) wondering just what I would have done if this proposed benefit change were already in place. I was off enough time last quarter so that my benefits for this quarter would now be in jeopardy. But whether or not I'm able to maintain my medical coverage is of minimal importance next to ensuring that the Toppers have enough ca$h on hand to replace the Rolls when the windows get dirty.

It wasn't so long ago that my family had to find new doctors when the group we belonged to dissolved (the doctors weren't willing to treat us for what our coverage would pay). I have relatives in the medical field, so I know that their costs are increasing while revenues are shrinking. Out here in California, trauma centers are closing, in part due to the Federal Government subsidies intended to offset the treatment costs of illegal aliens [live with it!] being cut off so that a few more dollars can be shuttled to Halliburton through Iraq.

I haven't even brought up the disgraceful fiasco that is Medicare (do I need to?), and Social Security is on the hit list of Grover Norquist as well, as you regular readers already know.

So where is the party of the people?

Please don't point to the recent statements of the Congressional Democrats, as the proof is in the results their ACTIONS produce. I fear that their current opposition to Bu$hCo initiatives will prove to be merely symbolic in the long run.

One of the warnings George Washington issued within his Farewell Address was that the rise of 'interested factions' would cause harm to the nation. We are living in the times which resulted from over 200 years of government by 'interested factions', so we now know of which he meant in practical terms. Since there is almost total protection of the 'interested factions' which represent the corporate interests of America, it is time for the rise of the Party of the People to represent us.

To keep our resident wrong-winger friends from launching all of their pre-programmed anti-Marxist rants, Karl Marx is long dead. His Communist Manifesto was only viable in the year that he published it, so let's not go there.

The Republican Party has always been the party of the monied interests, as it was founded by such interests to represent them. We can no longer count on the Democratic Party to represent the interests of the people, particularly while it is in the corporate grip of the DLC. Is it such a stretch to insist that We, the People have a right to representation as well? I say no - we DO have that right.

The Party of the People doesn't have to have a formal organization or structure, nor does it have to promote a separate slate of candidates for elections. What it does have to have, however, is an awareness of which issues and solutions are important for the health and well-being of the majority of Americans.

For example, workers have to cease voting for corporate representatives whose sole purpose is to take away their jobs and benefits to increase corporate profits. Small business owners have to stop supporting officials whose efforts are intended to create opportunities for large corporations at their expense. The elderly have to return to caring about providing a better future for their grandchildren, and the young have to protect their elders from exploitation. The strong have an obligation - no, a responsibility - to protect the weak, and Christians have a religious obligation to 'do unto the least of my bretheren ...'.

Few of these responsibilities are being met.

Maybe it's just the fact that I am a big brother. I'm the eldest of several children, and I was raised to protect my younger siblings, and to provide for them when necessary. I was not allowed the luxury of selfishness when it meant that another of the family would do without. We were all in it together, and we all helped each other when help was needed.

Maybe it's just the fact that I am a parent. I have several children, and I protected and provided for my family at great expense to myself. My children never went without even if it meant that I did. I could manage doing without much better than they could, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Maybe it's just the fact that I will soon be a grandparent, and my grown children know - as I did - that their children are their greatest responsibility and trust - as I did - and that nothing they need should be denied them.

Maybe it's all of these things that make me so irritated with the glorification of greed that is the GOP. Maybe that's why I'm so repelled by the celebration of selfishness that is America today.

My personal moral values include the strong protecting the weak from bullies, protecting and providing for the young while caring for the old, and Right Makes Might. I believe in standards loftier than 'What's in it for me?'. I believe in actually practicing all those 'moral values' from the New Testament that the Radical Evangelicals ignore in favor of the Cult the the Faithful of the Wrathful Diety From The Old Testament. I believe that if you want the rest of us to follow the Ten Commandments, then they have to be apllied to the actions of the Bu$hCo version of the Federal Government just as much as it wants to impose them upon the rest of us. THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR'S OIL should bear at least as much moral gravity as THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY INTERN'S SEXUAL FAVORS.

The 'strong protecting the weak' argument I present above is not intended to support the Wrong-wing's removal of Saddam from power in Iraq as much as it should have prevented the establishment of the Ba'athist Party as the Iraqi ruling clique by the CIA in the first place. It means that Mossadegh and Arbenz and Allende should have remained the elected leaders of their nations instead of their American Corporate Installation Activism-selected replacements (this includes you, Allawi and Karzai!). It means that the sick can get medical treatment over pharmaceutical companies gaining protection from lawsuits from the killer drugs they released into the market place without adequate testing. It means the elderly can have a secure and comfortable life over Wall Street forcing massive increases in profits by eliminating all other retirement insurance options. It means that nations can be secure in their independence without fear that Big Corporate Brother will call in Uncle Sam's Club to beat them into submission.

One responsibility I had as a big brother was to be a leader, and to show the way to doing the right thing. America should be doing that today like it (mostly) did back in 1945. We should be developing future energy technologies to replace those running out of viability. We should be developing ways for nations to become self-sufficient instead of undermining them and converting them into corporate serfs (see: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man - strongly recommended). We should be teaching local farmers better ways of growing food instead of suing them for saving seed from this year's crop (like they have always done) and not buying next year's seed from Monsanto.

What kind of a big brother would I have been if I had sold my sisters into prostitution? If I had allowed my brothers to be forced to work as slaves? If I had done these very things myself? If I had sold their possessions and kept the proceeds for myself? If I beat them up because I claimed they were going to attack me?

And yet - that is exactly what my country is doing.

pessimist :: 7:23 PM :: Comments (7) :: Digg It!