Are we seeing the beginning of the enslavement of the American worker?

You expect when things are tough in the economy, businesses will take as much advantage as they can of their workers. I think, however, that the current economic downturn has brought out some of the worst parts of this management strategy. A couple of cases to point:

Chrysler has had a hard time of it in the car market, and has been hanging on by it’s fingernails for quite some time. It was purchased last year by Fiat, and as a European concern, you might think it’s attitude towards it’s workers would be more accommodating.

WRONG!

We had a major snowstorm around these parts a couple of weeks ago. Conditions were bad enough that many towns were brought to a standstill for all of the following day, in some cases, more than a day. Schools in many cases ended up closing early on the day the storm hit, Tuesday, and in many cases were closed for the rest of the week. The area saw snowfalls from 13 to over 20 inches, and winds blew in the 30-40 MPH throughout most of the period. Many local companies either closed early or sent their workers home before conditions deteriorated too badly. Chrysler’s plant in Belvedere plant is a major facility, and they run three shifts most days. On that Tuesday, their second shift reported for work as scheduled and worked while conditions outside got worse and worse. Workers began to ask about leaving early, due to concerns that they might not be able to get home if the roads were closed. Company officials came back with a simple message: anyone who left early would be fired. So everyone kept working. By the time the shift ended, conditions were severe enough that all the roads out of town were closed, leaving many workers with no place to go. The company, after the fact, said they had arranged for housing in local hotels for those workers who were trapped in town. Workers on the shift tell a very different story, that when the shift ended, they were left to dig their cars out on their own, and that no one from management passed along word of the hotels being available. This lead to many having to arrange lodgings for multiple days and pick up the cost out of their own pockets. No reimbursement was offered to these employees either, and feelings were hard enough that the company scheduled a meeting to discuss the matter. In a second exhibit of how little the company cared for it’s workers safety, just as the meeting was to start, a gasket on a valve in a fuel line carrying gasoline through the plant ruptured, leading to something around 300 gallons of fuel being spilled. Gasoline fumes are highly flammable, and when ignited, can cause extremely powerful explosions. 300 gallons would be more than enough to generate a very large explosion, and an equally impressive fire. Rather than move the workers out of the plant, though, management moved the employees to a “safe” area. How “safe” it was might be judged by the fact that several dozen eventually ended up going to the hospital complaining of nausea. While they were confined, many workers asked if it might not be safer to just have everyone leave the building. Management’s response? Anyone who left would be fired!

In another instance of ‘We’re in charge, and we can do what the fuck we want!’, there is a story in the papers that the new governor of Wisconsin will ask the legislature to strip all public service employees of their collective bargaining rights. The governor, who is a ‘Tea-Party’ style Republican, says he was talking about this on the campaign trail, and no one should be surprised with this request. He claims that this is the only way the state stands a chance of balancing its budget. In this writer’s mind, whether such a move is even legal should be Question #1 on the minds of those legislatures who might even contemplate such a radical move. If they vote to pass such a bill, they would be unilaterally terminating a contract they agreed to, which in and of itself is legally questionable. Whether it is even constitutional to deny people the right to free association, which is the heart of the right to bargain collectively, is something else they might wish to consider.

What these examples illustrate is a thing to be feared by anyone who works for someone else: the beginning of the enslavement of the American worker. If our employers can tell us to stay on the job, no matter the risk to our safety, what comes next? Will the conditions we work in slowly but steadily get worse as employers decide to save the money “wasted” on workplace safety? Will we be told to work on, regardless of how long we’ve been there, because our replacements can’t make it in? Will the agreements we thought we were working under suddenly become just so much toilet paper for our “betters” to wipe the asses on when it become convenient for them? Where WILL it end?

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