Monday, December 21, 2009

The rise of the temp proletariat in the US

The US is the bastion of capitalism at its brutal worst. Consider the rising tide of the unemployed which is almost 20 per cent, although the BLS [Bureau of Labour Statistics] say that it's 10 per cent and falling unevenly through the land. Among blacks and Latinos, especially the young, it has gone beyond 40 per cent with hardly an end in sight.
The global recession sparked by America's finance capitalists, have done much to destroy the US middle and the working classes, which since the reign of the Reagan administration has lost ground in earning power and social benefits.
Although the tax payers have put financial capitalism on a more steady course, the industry has repaid them by cutting them loose for the dole and erosion of savings and the titanic burden of paying for medical care. The corporate sector has followed suit.It is not uncommon to hear of a company 'divesting' itself of 20.000 employees or more. And this is not an extreme case!
Financial capitalists look after their kith and kin, but hardly anyone else. They cynically care for nothing but lust and greed. They hold a tight hand on the purse, denying small and medium businesses the wherewithal to hire and expand and give a vitamin B12 shot into the arm of a very anemic economic recovery. More, through manipulations and hedge funds and junk bonds, they prefer to invest abroad, for quick returns on the US dollar. The devil be damned for the US workers!
The full flowering of free market capitalism which is sending the superpower which is the US on the slippery slope to its ruin, which finds its embodiment in today's finance capitalism, has long sucked the blood out of the corpse of the labour unions and other non governmental organisations which once did but no longer act as countervailing restraints on unbridled power of the one per cent who own the lion share of wealth and manipulate like puppet masters the strings of power.
With a growing and very large army of the unemployed, among whom one finds the flower of say Harvard, the better and less educated, the skilled and the unskilled, the fat cats have found a way of keeping it on a tight leash through 'temporary jobs'.
As temporary employees or 'temps', they will earn enough to keep skin on bones, demoralised, running on a treadmill in order to not drown in the ocean of the permanently unemployed, the homeless, so on and on. As temps, they will remain docile, but disciplined as the employer whoever he may be, will bleed they white, getting every penny and more out of them, and for a miserable hourly wages.
For yes!, temps are hourly wage slaves, like the satanic mills of yore, but today with a more benevolent but hardly less 'Gradgrind face', referring to a Dickens' character in 'Hard Times'.
The hourly wage appears high compared to the average state or federal minimum wage, but this is a facade. For the temp, he has no health benefits, sick time, holiday leave. If sick, he does not get a Yankee dollar in compensation. And of course, he can be dismissed without cause and for talking out of line, if he complains of poor working conditions, abuse by the employer, and the like. Out on his ear, the logic is compelling, there are hundreds who will take his place, and probably for less money.
The temp is doubly exploited, for his employed does not remunerate directly. He is hired through an agency, like Manpower, who will take care of the cutting the temp's cheque, talk to him as the boss' representative, and do the employeer's bidding gladly. For the incidental services, the temp agency takes off a cool third of what the company that uses it. Consider the following example: temp x is hired by a financial institution's back office doing some sophisticated software manipulations. He earns say us$36 an hour, for 36 hours a week. Lunch or dinner is on his dime.
The temp agency gets at least us$54 or usually more per man hour, for its services.
After a year on the temp agency's books, if the temp is lucky, he is offered a Cadillac health plan with high premiums for himself, and even more if he wishes to cover his family, which is more unlikely since he may not have enough to pay rent, put food on the table, etc.
More like than not assignments will be 10 months or less with no renewal. The temp may reapply after a two or three month interval, but there is no guarantee, he will find a job.
So, we find a new twist to the brutal and naked power of capitalism. Something analogous to pages in Karl Marx's 'Das Kaptial'.
The temp has no union to defend him. Perhaps, he may find some lawyers with a social conscience to defend him. In the longer run, he will try to organise other temps. The employer and the temp agency will resort to firings, blacklists, use of infiltrators, spies, and the use of police to protect their big share of the pie of exploitation. The history of the US working classes are filled with such tactics, but should enough temps shout 'Basta ya!', we've had enough!, and come together in a strong organisation, the employer will blink.
Today, in a bleak down of demoralisaiton, the capitalists rule the roost...but time is not always on their side.

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