Monday, January 19, 2004

Michael Schwartz: Inside the California Grocery Strike

Maybe this is just naive of me but I don't understand why firms should be morally obliged to pay unskilled workers wages suitable to provide a middle class life for them or to provide health benefits. The question isn't, as the author suggests, one of whether people ought to have a decent standard of living or whether health care is a privilege or a right. It's whether Vons, Albertsons and Ralphs are supermarkets or social service agencies.

It is not the case that the employees' only alternative to going on strike was to watch while their wages and benefits were cut to the point where they had to work 2 jobs to make ends meet. They could have used their savings from those middle-class wages to get training that would have given them the skills to compete for better jobs. That would have diminished the pool of unskilled labor and eventually have forced supermarket chains to provide reasonable wages and benefits for their employees.

Eventually--in the long run when we're all dead. In the meantime, instead of rehearsing the Old Left rhetoric about unions, corporate greed and solidarity of the Working Class, activists should be campaigning to get the state to provide the safety nets, social services, income transfers, training opportunities and, why not, help with relocation that would provide a decent life for these people without bullying firms into doing its work.

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