Friday, February 6, 2009

Women's Economic Agenda Project

I have an enormous affinity for those who climb steep hills. Those who swim upstream, as difficult as may be. These others include advocacy groups, and activists- others who fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

Recently, I've learned about another organization that contains such courageous and passionate people. Called, "Women's Economic Agenda Project" (, this group is doing what clearly needs to be done, which is close the enormous gap between the rich and poor- focusing on those who need this gap closed the most, which are women and their families.

The following is a very clear illustration from the perspective of one person on the pathetically intimate relationship that exists between the U.S. Government and Corporations, and the corruption of others as a result.

Corporations, as with viruses and bacteria, strive to achieve existence, and implement the most efficient way to achieve the most profit, as this is paramount to their survival, just as reproduction is with the low life forms mentioned. They, the corporations, are not human, but are rather entities, void of a soul or any intrinsic qualities people have the free will to adapt and express.

As a result, people are often harmed and suffer greatly due to the corporate objective that has become more overt as time progresses, and has resulted in the atrophy of the livlihood of others.

Please read this very well-written composition:

Looking at History to See Our Future
By Sheilah Garland-Olaniran
December 2008

(Editor’s Note: Sheilah Garland-Olaniran is from Flint, Michigan and currently resides in Chicago, IL. She works as an organizer for Registered Nurses. She believes that now to save our planet and that working people will soon figure out that if they want to save the earth they must assert their vision of a world that nurtures and cares for all.)

Like most Americans I continue to be stunned at the unraveling of the American economy and the impact of that unraveling on the world economy. And, I suppose like most everyone else, I want to understand not only why this is happening but more importantly what do we do about this ongoing instability. I believe many folks are beginning to understand that it will take a collective effort to bring about the changes we will need to save our society. I will take this discussion to the core of the issue; that we are in a period in history where we do need a redistribution of wealth along with moving the ownership of the necessities of live into the hands of the public; that is government.

While I am no expert when it comes to knowing what to do about the state of our country I feel a strong need to tell my story, which is the same as millions of other working class Americans. What I have come to know is that the economic crisis will not be solved through fighting the symptoms of the crisis but rather from demanding our right to the necessities of life. Much has changed in how we produce what we consume in the last 40 years. I have witnessed these changes first hand and been impacted by these changes just like everyone else.

I was born and raised in Flint, MI, which places me in a rather unique position to start a discussion about what has happened to our economy and what we must do to fix it. Folks from Flint and many other cities across the Rust Belt have been in a recession for more than 15 years. And those who have been wiped off the unemployment rolls because they have been out of work so long that our government has stopped counting them would say we’ve been in a depression. We knew it was just a matter of time before our pain would hit the rest of the country. We witnessed first hand the incredible shift from an industrial based economy to one based on technology, robotics, and just in time, production. We witnessed our friends, families and neighbors move around the country, following the work like migrant workers. We were dismayed as we watched formerly stable friends and family slide into drug or alcohol abuse, lose their marriages, move back with parents or tragically disappear into the world of the homeless.

In early 1990’s, a girlfriend, who also works at GM as an electrician, had a GM advertisement poster displaying a gang of about 400 men struggling to move an 800 pound transmission in one shot and in the next shot, that same 800 pound transmission was being moved by a robotic arm…missing from the advertisement was where those 400 workers went and what happened to their families. That poster put in bold relief the future of production facing our industrial society.

My parents immigrated to Flint in 1950 looking for work. The south had been going through its own economic revolution in technology in the 1930’s and 1940’s. With the use of combines, cotton picking machines and other mechanical machinery applied to farming, the small farmers, share-croppers and tenant farmers found themselves pushed off the land. The former use of huge gangs of blacks to work in the fields was made obsolete by the new mechanical farming machinery. Indeed, that same mechanized technology applied to industrial production resulted in literally hundreds of thousands of American workers not only joining with the technology to become more productive, but rapidly moved the United States into position as a world leader.

Prior to meeting and marrying my mother, my father, at age 17, moved to Arizona in hopes of finding work, but was soon drafted to fight in WWII. His experience in the segregated army, peeling so many potatoes until nothing could persuade him to eat another one, shaped his views of America and the challenges of being working class and black in this country. But, he gained a sense of black pride and pride as a worker during those years. While my father did not join the Black Liberation Movement like many others, he did pass on to us notions of worker solidarity and black pride. That movement paved the way for the consolidation of the black bourgeoisie into full participation into the political and economic life of the country. Indeed, Bill Clinton, in my estimation, had the most integrated administration since reconstruction.

My father eventually landed at General Motors-Chevrolet where he worked until 1989, and then retired after 35 years. He and my mother raised me and my three siblings in a stable home sent us all to college and he died five years after his retirement of stomach cancer. When I think about now as millions of Americans struggle to have health care I have no doubt that with my father’s UAW hard-fought for health care, he and mother were able to focus on the quality of his life as he approached death as opposed to how to get medical care and pay the bills as so many Americans do today.

It seemed that as many workers found themselves struggling harder to stay above water, the water levels were raised higher by the taking over the functions of our government by corporations. Clinton eliminated “welfare as we knew it” just as autoworkers and hundreds of thousands of other workers were being thrown out of what we believed were jobs we would have for a life-time. It is not surprising to me that government services that kept workers moderately healthy and relatively educated were thrown to the corporations and financial speculators. And at the same time workers who could least afford to buy these former government services have been convinced that this is their choice as an individual and corporations provided competition which meant better quality. Americans are finding out that corporations have off-shored most of these services.

I, for one, and I am sure the millions of other Americans losing their homes to foreclosure or who are losing their jobs, think our government is supposed to be responsive to the needs of the people they were elected to represent. And if our government thinks we should sleep on the streets, go without needed health care or medication, or be forced to choose food over medicine, then I think we need a completely different form of government

I was just a child but I remember a conversation my mom and dad had when John Kennedy in 1961 declared 4% unemployment was full employment. Now I can’t help wonder about those people who made up that 4%. Those were the first folks who were not quite absorbed into the industrial revolution and were permanently replaced by new technology, but became the subject of study after study asking why this shifting class of people couldn’t get the hang of things and realize the American Dream like the rest of us. I submit that this class of people make up a new class of poor; permanently unemployed, contingency, part-time workers whose relationship to the system will never be the same. It is around the demands of this growing class of people that America must remake itself. Many of the people making up this core were initially African American but today many Americans from all cultural and ethnicities find themselves joining this group of workers.

New technologies were replacing workers in the auto plants in Flint; these folks were replaced never to return to the plants again...Poof…gone! UAW at the time bargained agreements including re-education, college tuition, a pay out if a job was lost due to it moving overseas (this was called the TRA-Trade Re-Adjustment Allowance-my brother received about $20,000 when he was laid off and spent a number of years searching for work, and an equal number of years trying to maintain his mental health), bans on foreign cars parking on city property, all in an attempt to forestall the inevitable. Industrial workers were being replaced by technologies and those industries were becoming global corporations who could go any and everywhere to speculate, produce or sell. The government cleared the way so that US globalization could move about unfettered by state, nation, people or property.

I am no economist, but I don’t have to be to know that the recent UAW agreements that cut new hire autoworkers earnings to $11-$14 per hour results in less money circulating because less is going to the worker/consumer to buy back the goods that are produced increasingly without human labor or with labor whose wages are falling to the level of the robot. And amazingly the brightest minds can’t seem to figure this out.

Labor replacing technology eliminates profit on surplus labor, but production capacity increases with the use of robotic and other digitalized technologies. Stagnant or falling wages means less money for workers to buy back the commodities they produce. Having witnessed the impact of these new production methods in Flint, I know from first hand experience that it has resulted in a tremendous break in the essential core of capitalism; the buying and selling of labor at a surplus and then workers buying back the commodities they produce. When workers are permanently replaced and must compete with the falling global wages of all workers, then they are unable to buy which results in the present general crisis that will only deepen.

So, then, what is the solution? The revolution in technology will proceed whether we do anything or not. Corporations have no other choice but to employ more efficient methods of production or face being non-competitive or becoming obsolete. Production will no more go back to the large, sprawling industrial factories of the past then housewives or laundries will go back to pounding clothes on a rock. History shows that when the method of production changes, people will get together and fight for a political solution that meets the needs of society. Isn’t the purpose of government to protect the people who elect and support it? We must hold the government accountable and demand that rather than bailing out the rich they come up with a plan to make the necessaries of live affordable and accessible to all. In other words, the method of distribution must be in line with the method of production. Essentially, since workers have less and less money for commodities produced in such abundance, we must demand distribution of the necessaries of life without money since workers find themselves with less and less money to buy them!

In my relatively short life-time, an amazing change in how the necessities of life are produced has occurred. Health care like housing can no longer be owned by corporations. With profits from surplus labor and surplus for distribution and sale of commodities made less and less possible, corporations must make profit by pricing the necessities of life higher than their value and most importantly by financial speculating on basics such as health care, electricity, water, education testing, housing, etc. None of these things should be owned by corporations; they must be publicly owned and publicly distributed.

If one agrees that the history of human societies has been characterized by our fight to provide abundance in the face of scarcity, then we have truly entered a new epoch where we can create in abundance even during times of scarcity. I think our only recourse is to take a look at what history and human innovation has brought us and make that innovation public in order to create a truly humane society.

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