Page 25


Automobile Workers agreed to buyouts from General Motors Corp. for all of its 24,000 workers at an auto parts supplier. Two months earlier, GM had offered buyouts ranging from $35,000 to $140,000 to all of its 113,000 hourly workers. It’s better than nothing, but even if you got the $140,000, you would have just about enough to put oneand-a-half kids through a private college before you would be broke. And you’re never going to make what you made at GM again. The now disposable American must confront the fact that: Most of the unfilled jobs pay low wages and require relatively low skill, often less than the jobholder has. … Seven of the ten occupations expected to grow fastest from 2002 through 2012, according to the Labor Department are in the below $13.25an-hour category. A hefty percentage of the high-skilled union workers interviewed by Uchitelle after their layoffs wound up “throwing boxes” for United Parcel Service Inc. for about $13 an hour. Or they wound up in other jobs at comparable low-skill and low-pay levels. Education and training are not the antidote because the highskill, high-wage jobs just aren’t here. They’re gone. U.S. corporations exported them to low-wage countries, and the U.S. government helped them do it. Tax policies encourage foreign rather than domestic investment, so corporations benefit from exploiting workers in low-wage countries while paying lower taxes on their investment abroad. Trade policies allow the import of goods with minimal customs duties. No import restrictions are placed on goods produced by child labor or forced labor. In short, globalization is not a phenomenon that happened “out there,” forcing U.S. companies to compete reluctantly by cutting jobs and wages. U.S. corporations took over the U.S. government, worked tax and trade policies to their own advantage, and suckered us all into accepting their invented version of the inevitable. Maybe it’s not too late quite yet. It is true that we have swallowed the poison of the layoff, and we’ve been through the debilitation and the nausea. But if we’re not yet too feeble-minded, we could still fight the paralysis.1111 A native of Houston, Beatrice Edwards now lives in Washington, D.C. DOCUMENTING DISPOSABILITY Waging A Living, a documentary by Roger Weisberg for the wage service workers in the Northeast and California struggling to make each paycheck last until the next one arrives. The film presents disturbing statistics: Twenty-five percent of American workers earn less than the federal poverty level for a family of four; since 1979, there has been a 50 percent increase in the number of workers in poverty. The minimum wage is now 30 percent lower in real terms than it was 25 years ago. For many American workers without college degrees, this economy no longer provides upward mobility and opportunity. More and more, available jobs for high-school graduates are in the low-paid service sector only, where earnings of $8 to $11 an hour are generous. And while these wages might support a summer-school student whose room and board are paid by parents, they will not provide for a family. The documentary follows workers trying to make it as a nursing home aide, a security guard, a halfway house manager, and a waitressthe jobs still open to them because, at least so far, U.S. corporations have not figured out how to ship old people, delinquents, and food service abroad. All four face similar problems: Their children are sick, and they have no health insurance; two are about to lose their houses and their cars because it’s not possible to cover a mortgage and a car payment on $11 an hour. Without cars, they cannot get to work. Without houses, the kids can’t go to school. None of these workers has any kind of job security, even at the pittances each earns. And three of the four are not unusually hard-luck stories. Two women lost their middle-class incomes in a divorce; one man is a recovering alcoholic. The fourtha “welfare-to-work” single motheris trying to keep her job, earn an associate’s degree, and raise her children alone. The documentary shows what has happened to the American working class as the United States replaced General Motors Corp. with Wal-Mart Inc. as the country’s largest employer. We lost sick leave, health insurance, pensions, and decent wages. In return we gotwhat? Competitiveness and “everyday low prices”? It’s worth pointing out that the people profiled here are ablebodied, literate, sane, high school graduates in their prime. One is a union member. We’re not talking serious “disadvantages” in abilities. Their worst crime was to hit the job market after the decent jobs for the moderately skilled had departed or been automated, and after over 20 years of relentless Reaganism, NAFTA-esque globalization, political meanness, and corporate greed had ripped up the safety net. The three women come to a happy endingalthough as they themselves point out, it’s not necessarily an ending. One finds a generous, understanding boyfriend. An emergency housing subsidy comes through for a woman who has been caring for her disabled daughter and her grandchildren for years. And another manages to reduce her hours and continue her schooling. But there are no guarantees. The worst enemy is insecurity. Whatever they, or any of us, have todaya pay check, a doctor, a roof, a mealit could be gone tomorrow. As Mary Venitelli, the waitress, sums up nicely, “I’ve got no freakin’ money. This can happen to anyone in a heartbeat?’ Beatrice Edwards Note: Waging a Living is scheduled to be broadcast nationally on August 29. Check local listings. AUGUST 11, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31