(I wrote “International Workers’ Day; Immigration Reform; Gas Drilling Industrialization” in May 2010. The Great Recession of 2008 had been wreaking havoc for eighteen months. Anti-frackers were fighting for a real moratorium in New York State and The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation (RWJF) released its national, county-by-county rankings of Health Factors and Outcomes (2010/11).
- Urban Bronx and rural Sullivan Counties were reported at the bottom and next-to-bottom for “State Health Outcomes” in New York State.
In 2019, those rankings from 2010/11 remain unchanged even though Sullivan’s “quality of life” ranking fell from 50th to 60th place while Clinical Care and Physical Environment each dropped 11 rungs. In light of those poor trends, it’s odd that significant improvements occurred in the County’s Health Factors and Behaviors rankings; especially when we consider that wage workers continue to fill multiple part-time jobs, work longer hours to pay the rent and struggle to pay off exorbitant college loans.
Despite the 2010 passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and increases in the minimum wage, workers lucky enough to have health insurance can’t afford to use it. All but the very wealthy pay ridiculous amounts for diagnostic tests and medical treatments. Those on the narrowest edges are forced to ration prescription meds and forego doctor appointments.
Coincidentally, CBS reports that, “Among American workers, participation in a union fell to 10.5 percent last year, from 10.7 percent in 2017 and 2016, with all demographic groups seeing a decline in membership. The drop continues a trend that except for a pause during the 2008 financial crisis, has been ongoing since the 1980s, when the share of organized labor was roughly double what it is today.”
To top it off, against a backdrop of increased machine labor, escalating climate disruptions and water and food insecurity, economists are warning of another impending, global recession.
One bright spot? If forced by management, the United Auto Workers (UAW) will strike Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler when their contract expires September 14th. “Everything is on the table,” said Connie Maynard, a Ford worker and UAW 900 member. “.We’ve got to stand up for our rights, we’ve got to fight for our pensions, health care — we have no choice. If we don’t fight, it’s gone. And we have to come together as people. It doesn’t matter about officials or anybody — if you’re a member, you need to come out here and show your support.”
International Workers’ Day is always on May 1st and many of us consider it “The Real Labor Day.”
In 1886, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) called on workers to strike any business that refused to abide by an 8-hour workday. According to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, (1995, p. 264) on May 1, 1886,
“350,000 workers in 11,562 establishments all over the country went out on strike. In Chicago, 40,000 struck and 45,000 were granted a shorter working day to prevent them from striking. Every railroad in Chicago stopped running and most of the industries in Chicago were paralyzed. The stockyards were closed down.”
In 1880, The United States’ population was approximately 50 million and Chicago’s was 500,000. According to the 1880 Census Compendium Part II, there were 2.8 million men, women and children working in the nation’s 254,000 manufacturing facilities. Using Zinn’s figures then, approximately 13% of US workers struck on May 1, 1886.
Imagine, in 2010, 13% of the US’ 140 million “documented” workers striking for universal health care and a living wage. Imagine 18 million workers thronging the streets, hand-in-hand, advocating for themselves, their children and the future of this nation.
In 1983, my oldest son was born in the middle of an “economic downturn.” A gallon of gas cost $1.25, a Dodge Ram truck cost $5700 and the average monthly rent was $335. Cleaning toilets and pushing a lawnmower earned me $10 an hour. (When I saved enough to buy my father’s old riding mower, I was able to ask $15 an hour for larger properties.)
In 2000, after the boom times of the 1990’s, most freelance “domestic workers” could earn $15-20 an hour. Around that same time, our counterparts in New York City were being paid in the $25-30 range.
In July 2009 — the costs of most everything having doubled since 1983 — the US minimum wage was raised to $7.25 per hour and most wage workers shook their heads when urged to celebrate.
This past May 1st, I worked and was glad for it though I know Grandma and Grandpa were rolling in their graves. (May 1st was the date my family eschewed labor for history; the day we remembered Samuel Gompers, the AFL and the perfidy of police officers who helped smother labor’s demands for living wages, humane working conditions and equal pay regardless of gender and race.)
On May 1, 2010, I informed a prospective client that “I’d have to charge $20 an hour to clean his house” and cited the round-trip travel time, cost of products, gas, fuel oil, rent, etc.
The weighty pause on the other end of the phone and the aghast rejoinder took me by surprise, “We won’t pay that. We don’t pay more than $15 an hour in the City.”
“That’s interesting,” said I. “A few years ago, the going rate for housekeepers in the City was nearer $25-30 an hour.”
“Not anymore,” came the smug-sounding reply.
There are times when my naivete is unforgivable.
I asked another “City dweller” — a member of a white collar union and Fracking opponent — what the going rate for domestic service is in her neighborhood. “Ten dollars an hour,” she answered. “But that’s because we have so many ‘illegals.'”
“‘Illegals? You mean ‘undocumented workers?'”
So for those of you who oppose gas drilling and own homes in the City as well as in our rural Pennsylvania and New York communities, remember this simple action + action = results equation:
When you pay less than subsistence wages to the “illegal human” who has to buy groceries and pay rent in Manhattan, Brooklyn or Long Island,
YOU DRIVE DOWN the wages of the person struggling beside you in Callicoon, Milanville and Honesdale and
YOU ENSURE MORE WORKERS WILL CONSIDER SIGNING LEASES IN HOPES OF WINNING THE GAS LOTTERY.
When I raised this issue of wage depression with friends who live both rurally and in the City, I was told their ability to share the wealth is constrained by their loss of retirement funds; that their disposable income has been drastically reduced by cutbacks in their businesses and occupations.
I understand. My bank account plunged right beside theirs and Sullivan County’s real unemployment figure is nearer 20% than the officially cited 10.9%
So, given that we’re all in greatly reduced circumstances, here’s my deal: I’ll reduce my housekeeping charges by $5 to $15 an hour if you’ll promise to increase my counterpart’s wage in the City to a $15 cash rate.
If you can still afford to hire domestic help, for your own sake, pay them a living wage. Otherwise, whose disposable income will keep you in business?
I saved money during the 1983 downturn. I paid the hospital and obstetrician cash for their services.
The son born to me in 1983 was admitted to the New York State Bar last week. If he was born today, I doubt he’d ever see the inside of a law school.
Breathing is Political because our personal political, economic and social decisions influence the growth of a child in our neighbor’s womb. A child’s life depends, in large part, on the health of the mother and on the parents’ ability to provide nutritious meals, books, ideas, a secure home and a realistic dream for the future.
For all workers, the breadth of that dream and its attainability depend on you and me caring about equitable treatment for all. It does NOT depend on us short-changing another worker just because we can.
As for union workers who de-value the work and lives of others’, as I write this, America’s teacher unions are the latest anti-union target. Unfortunately, if the rest of us are busy scrabbling for each other’s spare nickle, we won’t have the leisure to fight beside you.