A friend of mine, not long ago, was discharged from a major oil company (in the top 20 largest US corporations) after a freak accident. This, despite a spotless record and fast advancement up the management chain. The dismissal was from the corporate office itself and was idiosyncratic and so utterly dismissive and devoid of human concern that it shocked his co-workers, including some of his immediate superiors who had to choke back emotions on hearing of it.
All in all though, it was simply another injustice, one of no doubt thousands committed that day by those with the power to do so – and who have little, if any, concern over facing real retribution.
My friend is a single parent. At the time this happened he only had one kid left at home, fortunately. But he also had taken on the burden of caring for an ailing mother.
My friend was known in the company for being able to “fix” personnel problems. His superiors at corporate were always mystified at how he was able to accomplish this. Perhaps it was because they had long passed the time (if there ever had been one) in their lives where they could take some simple joy in a day's job well done. Even though the pay was laughable…
I say “laughable” because even though by our State's standard it is just a little below median, in comparison to senior management of the energy giant he worked for, and especially its CEO, it is as if he was quite literally a slave.
My friend made, with bonuses (which, mind you, were stripped away, 20% at a time should any of a laundry list of objectives not be met), approximately $40,000 per year.
You might think, “Well, $40K a year, that isn't bad…” I won't go into the struggles he had even then in paying for his mother's medicines (once the wonderful Medicare Part D kicks out… something no one it seems was told of prior to it passing. Now, each year, millions of seniors find that the medicine that was costing them $10 or less last month is costing them now $200, $300, or $400). While he was left to wonder exactly how to make up this difference the CEO of this company is making $15,104 per hour.
My friend will have to work 790 years to equal what his CEO made this past year.
His situation made me think of an amazing day, seventy-one years ago. It was June 27, 1936 in Philadelphia. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had, despite the pain, been assisted to the podium to give a speech expressing his concerns about the real problems which faced America which, were it given today, would be universally considered instant political suicide.
Man's inventive genius released new forces in our land which reordered the lives of our people.. The age of machinery, of railroads; of steam and electricity; the telegraph and the radio; mass production, mass distribution-all of these combined to bring forward a new civilization and with it a new problem for those who sought to remain free.
For out of this modern civilization economic royalists carved new dynasties. New kingdoms were built upon concentration of control over material things. Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities, new machinery of industry and agriculture, of labor and capital-all undreamed of by the fathers-the whole structure of modern life was impressed into this royal service.
There was no place among this royalty for our many thousands of small business men and merchants who sought to make a worthy use of the American system of initiative and profit. They were no more free than the worker or the farmer. Even honest and progressive-minded men of wealth, aware of their obligation to their generation, could never know just where they fitted into this dynastic scheme of things.
Throughout the Nation, opportunity was limited by monopoly. Individual initiative was crushed in the cogs of a great machine. The field open for free business was more and more restricted. Private enterprise, indeed, became too private. It became privileged enterprise, not free enterprise.
An old English judge once said: "Necessitous men are not free men." Liberty requires opportunity to make a living-a living decent according to the standard of the time, a living which gives man not only enough to live by, but something to live for.
Perhaps we could at one time, Mr. President.
Workers in this state are fortunate to at least have the second highest minimum wage in the nation. A wage mind you, that Corporate America has fought tooth and nail to deny workers. My friend was so remarkable in creating a positive, even cheerful atmosphere that district managers were constantly commenting on. Normal attrition at this division is actually 135% a year. Not much of a surprise given the standard “retail” atmosphere. At the stores/stations he managed the attrition rate was 15% per year.
His workers would need to work 2,000 years to make what their esteemed CEO made last year.
This particular energy company has been posting quarterly profits well north of $5 billion. Yet, at this time, it kept telling the managers that “profits” were razor thin. Some managers actually fell for this. It seems to have never dawned on them that an oil company that drills the oil, pumps the oil, tankers the oil, refines the oil and ships the gasoline from their own refineries to their own stations was not – some how – losing money somewhere along this unbroken line!
Anyway, this particular company suddenly decided that it was spending too much money on wages and other non-essentials. All managers were forced to cut back drastically. Yet, this same “concern” never seemed to translate to the company's Palm Springs Weekend Getaway for management where well over $2,000,000 was spent for three days of frolicking in the sun.
Two thousand years… at $8.00 per hour. Here is where the lap dogs of Big Business will bark gleefully. Brilliant sound bites heard on right-wing radio stations will be howled:
Let them work somewhere else!
They should lift themselves up by their own boot straps!
They're too lazy to go to college and earn a degree… or too stupid!
Where would they go, I wonder? To Wal-Mart? K-Mart? Albertsons? Safeway? Target? 7-11? Factory jobs that are disappearing? Really, where is the end of the rainbow that these whores of Big Business keep insisting exist?
Roosevelt saw and confronted the same problem in his day:
A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people's property, other people's money, other people's labor—other people's lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.
Against economic tyranny such as this, the American citizen could appeal only to the organized power of Government.
The royalists of the economic order have conceded that political freedom was the business of the Government, but they have maintained that economic slavery was nobody's business. They granted that the Government could protect the citizen in his right to vote, but they denied that the Government could do anything to protect the citizen in his right to work and his right to live.
These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the Flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike.”
Government in a modern civilization has certain inescapable obligations to its citizens, among which are protection of the family and the home, the establishment of a democracy of opportunity, and aid to those overtaken by disaster.
But the resolute enemy within our gates is ever ready to beat down our words unless in greater courage we will fight for them.
Today we have to ask the question: where is the FDR for our times?
Make no mistake. I am neither Republican nor Democrat. I belong to no party. I believe partisan politics are a blight on this nation.
Still, where is the man or woman with the balls, here in the 21st century, to say what this man said?
The answer is simple and sad: we have no leaders with the guts to rail against what we clearly suffer under in this day: economic tyranny. Big Business works and has worked desperately to cloud our vision. It would have us believe that every tiny gain or protection offered to the average worker strikes a terrible blow against their noble efforts to guarantee us gainful employment. These are the same people that have railed against the minimum wage, universal health care, sane work weeks, safe work environments, employment insurance, social security and worker's compensation to name just a few.
Review the legal and judicial history for the past 120 years. Witness how Big Business has, during that time, done everything in its power to crush any and all attempts by the American worker to have something even remotely resembling a real opportunity to fulfill that sacred promise of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
No doubt the insanity of religious fundamentalism – in all its forms – is a threat to all of us. But a big portion of the fuel that stokes the fires of frustration and anger around the world (and increasingly here at home) is the soul numbing, utter callousness of American corporate greed.
Let no one doubt this: I am a firm believer in capitalism. I believe each person should work hard to fulfill their dreams. Those who choose to be lazy deserve their lot in life.
But when a man simply rises to the position of CEO on the endless wave of the old boy network, when he has taken no risk and indeed had no role in the formation of said company… When he also risks absolutely nothing should he fail at the helm of this company and is indeed promised a severance package that would be unimaginable to the kings and queens of old — a mountain of riches even Caesar would be stunned by — while one of his “employees” – an 18 year old kid trying to scrape some money together to attend community college half time in the fall – is standing out in the freezing rain, coat-less because the company can't “afford” to buy the station any coats…
All I can wonder is how much longer can our complacency last?