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November 6, 2002
Vol. 1, No. 146




global perspective Don't expect anything

by Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large

Don't expect anything but longer hours and less pay with fewer benefits.

That's the corporate -- and increasingly the government's -- message to all U.S. workers. Workers whose purchasing power has been eaten away by such attitudes for more than two decades.

Further, it'll increasingly be heard at those parishes and dioceses where it's not already in the wind.

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Sunday afternoon and Monday and Tuesday evenings this week I joined the striking grocery workers on the pickets lines for a while. I carried my own homemade sign. Poor calligraphy but bold message: "Shopper Support for Strikers: Your benefits may be next."

And the fact is, no matter who the workers, nor at what level of white and blue collar employment -- all except those in a position to fatten or tailor their own pay packets and benefits -- are now or soon will be under duress.

The United States has entered the Third World-ization of its economy.

Until the 1940s, the country was like a self-sufficient island. Nature's storehouse. Except for coffee and chrome, North America possessed or could grow everything the population needed.

What's the connection to the picket line? America spent itself into prosperity by selling all of its goods -- its forests and iron ore, its copper and its farmland, and most of all its oil -- to itself too cheaply. Its resources were used up as if they were bottomless: today's growing water shortage in a nutshell.

And then it had to compete for resources in a wider world. So it had to learn life as a trader, no longer top dog except that it has its hands on all the international agencies to tilt them in its favor as best it can. It had to switch from buying cheaply to making cheaply -- less easy than it was when you set the price of your own basic materials.

Being capitalistic, the United States has always squeezed the worker to the bone. The lower down the scale the worker, the harder the squeeze. That's why farm workers (and church workers) get so little.

More germane, U.S. labor costs became -- and now are increasingly tied -- to international labor costs in cheaper places. And Americans expectations are deliberately being lowered by the comparison. "Don't expect anything" is the mantra.

And the same applies to corporate and professional white collar workers.

So what the checkers and baggers and meat-cutters face is not merely the severe pressure from Wall Street on their corporations to increase bottom line profits for the investors, but the "Don't Expect."

This is no longer the Land of Opportunity. Why don't Americans realize it?

Debt. If they can still buy, the myth holds.

The reckoning comes tomorrow.

Whenever that tomorrow comes.

Arthur's Daily Ditty

Don't Expect Anything

Not a minute on the day
Not a penny off the pay
Was the picket line chant of yore.
Not a nickel for your health
Not a nickel for your wealth
Is the worldwide corporate lore.

Arthur Jones' e-mail address is

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