Blogging my thoughts: We Should All Share in the Sacrifice
Blogging my thoughts:
“Under Chinese, a Greek Port Thrives: An Overhaul in Piraeus May Be a Model of What Greece Must Aspire To.” (New York Times, Business Day, Thursday, Oct, 11, 2012, pages B1 and B7.)
Reading this article today made me realize that the Third World-ization of the Greek workers (and of course our own) was going on. The Greeks leased half of the Port of Piraeus to the Chinese and kept the other half for themselves. They sold the container freight business to the Chinese and they kept the other half, a third of which is more lucrative passenger traffic with the rest for containers. The state-run port which had been languishing has now seen its Chinese portion of the port flourish. They have hired 1,000 employees, while the Greek side has hired only 800. The Chinese company Cosco paid Greece $500 million for their half of the port and made a profit of $6.47 million on sales of $94.2 million, while plowing a great deal of their profit into the expansion of their side of the port, which will make it into one of the 20 largest container ports in the world. The Greek side is also trying to modernize in its own way, but previously they have had three debilitating labor union strikes.
Some of the Greek long-shore men and dock workers made $181,000 a year with overtime, while the workers on the Chinese side, as if they are in another country, make less than $23,000 per year. The union demands that nine people work a gantry crane, while the Chinese company uses only four. Way up in the cab of the crane, 49 feet in the air , should the heater break down, even if the operator’s hands become stiff from the cold, the worker is expected to continue working, even if a life threatening accident could result. One Greek worker came down to warm his hands and was fired.
No use repeating every detail in this article. If some union workers with overtime were receiving $181,000 a year, the management was certainly getting many times that sum in salaries. It would be interesting to know what the Chinese management and CEO was receiving in salary compared to the workers who “received typically less than $23,000.” The Cosco CEO noted that thousands of workers were applying to Cosco for jobs, even though “they work 24-7, 365 days a year.”
“Casting a glance at the Greek side, [the CEO] added, ‘Maybe in other terminals people work less. In any case, if it’s so bad, thousands of people would not be applying to work for Cosco.’”
What he fails to mention is that 24% of Greek workers are unemployed and workers are desperate and powerless. On the Greek side, the union agreed to a 20% pay cut.
The point of my rehearsing these economic facts is that the whole society ought to share in the lowering of a standard of living and not only the workers. There is a painful conversion of the worker taking place, in which hard work will not bring in a living wage, while the management and owners multiply their profits many-fold because of their saving on labor. Now the Greek European workers are not merely competing with Third World workers of other countries, but those workers right in their own country working for Chinese wages. I’m sure that the Chinese workers in China make even less. But remember that those that own the corporations and their management are pocketing huge profits that come out of the pockets of workers, who cannot compete with Third world workers. Huge profits accrue when corporations can pay them 23 cents an hour, when they had to pay the European worker $23 an hour.
Unions were always a stop gap fighting against that kind of exploitation and sometimes what they fought for represented all workers: week-ends off, time and a half for over-time, child labor laws, paid holidays, sick leave, etc. Now unions cannot even help the unionized, because in their dis-empowerment, they split the labor force here and cannot compete with global capital’s exploitation of divided and immobile local and national labor forces. Capital has no trouble crossing borders, while workers are arrested for illegal entry.
Third World workers ought to have jobs with living wages and benefits just like our workers. That huge profit from the wage differential between 23 cents and $23 an hour that goes into the pockets of the super-wealthy should be taxed for the sake of ameliorating the decrease in the western workers’ standard of living and another portion should be added to the Third World workers’ income in order to improve their wages and the conditions in which they work. They should not have to live in barracks away from their wives and children. Then they would also not be locked up in factories as if in prisons, being burned to death when fires break out. Fortunes should not be made by visiting misfortune on so many people. In a time of recession, in a time of war, all should have to sacrifice and not just the poor workers. During a war, of course, soldiers sacrifice their lives, while munitions and armament producers make a killing!