Saturday, August 12, 2006


A Growing Serf Mentality Among American Workers

General Motors recently ended pensions for 42,000 of its salaried workers because the "legacy costs" incurred by retaining these pensions made GM uncompetitive. The Wall Street Journal subsequently discovered that GM's pension fund actually included nine billion more dollars than was necessary to maintain the pensions of its regular employees. A vast portion of that excess had been set aside for the pensions of GM's tiny and powerful executive class, which had grown dramatically even while those same executives planned the elimination of pensions for everyone else.

Top executive pensions total $1.4 billion at GM, $3.5 billion at GE, $1.8 billion at AT&T, and $1.3 billion at both Exxon Mobil and IBM. According to The Journal, "Sometimes a company's obligation for a single executive's pension approaches $100 million." And, of course, these are always the guys who want to wipe your own pension off the face of the earth. What's happening here isn't a cost-cutting measure, but a ruthless act of displacement intended to sacrifice even the most minimal concern for employee welfare to the maximization of executive income.

For those corporations so deeply in debt that they can no longer afford pensions and benefits programs, there are always the Bush administration's convenient corporate bankruptcy laws. These allow a company to declare bankruptcy without actually closing down. Once Chapter 11 relieves the company of its pension and benefits liabilities, a new owner buys it, rehires its old employees - without benefits - and continues on its merry way without a worry in the world. Only the employees of the company have really suffered.

The author of the article deplores the strategies and dodges corporate executives use to put their own interests first, as well as Congress for facilitating them - but she also faults workers for so passively allowing themselves to be shafted. As she says, "It's painful to observe a growing serf mentality among ordinary Americans. Working folk seem afraid to complain about greedy executives or tax cuts for the rich, lest some big-money politician accuse them of waging 'class warfare'."

If we "ordinary Americans" don't change our ways, we will soon lose not only the shreds of our remaining "affluence", but our pride, our individuality and our self-respect. In twenty or thirty years, we may become a peasantry as downtrodden as any in old Europe, a sad, humble little bunch of potato chip eaters languishing in the glow of our television-hearths.

"Execs wage class war against serfs" from The Detroit News

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