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November 20, 2008

The princes of Wall Street and peasants of Detroit

It’s a shame that in this digital age we can’t even genuinely deride financiers as paper pushers. The money they make isn’t even real enough to be on paper.

Commentators speculate that the auto industry needs to take its bitter medicine for the good of the market economy — an ideology that was all but abandoned during the bailout of the financial sector, an industry that’s based entirely on fantastical and damning speculations about industries that actually create products.

If the auto companies go under, it could impact around 2.5 million jobs — many earning around 20 dollars an hour, as the New York Times reported today. That decent wage, according to Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake, is the main nail in the auto industry’s leaky business model.

For an autoworker, 20 dollars an hour equals about $40,000 a year. Even with luxury benefits like –gasp- health insurance (which I’m sure struggling financiers nobly deprive themselves of). It’s a pretty standard wage.
My question is: why didn’t we hear about exorbitant wages when the financial industry was licking the plate of a 700 billion dollar unconditional bailout?

Politicians who condemn the workers of the United Automobile Workers — who’ve voluntarily taken hits year after year as management wallowed around in excessive bonuses — reveal their own smelly distaste for humanity. For all the talk by Republicans about class war, which Democrats do their utmost to disprove time and again to the disadvantage of their constituencies, the stink is really based on class-based prejudice.

Somehow, it’s acceptable for a fortunate son from the Ivy League to take a couple years of free school (for him) and then slide right into a 100 grand a year starting position at some bank. It’s these people, along with their politician pets who repeatedly deregulated accounting standards — not to mention forcing through “free trade? pacts that only benefit the rich —who are responsible for the economic crisis that risks the modest incomes of
millions of hardworking autoworkers in the United States.

I’ve worked lots of jobs in my life. No matter how menial it seemed my co-workers and I took pride in doing them well.

When politicians and other elites say that 20 dollars an hour is too much while they’re slurping three times as much from the public trough without breaking a sweat, that’s a question of whether America rewards hard work, or whether it rewards an entrenched, unaccountable, privileged class.

It's not just an economic question; it’s a questioning of workers’ humanity.