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Posted on Feb 22, 2010
By Chris Hedges
“I think we have to honestly ask ourselves, why is Federal Express being given preferential treatment in this body now?” Sen. Simon said at the time. “I think the honest answer is Federal Express has been very generous in their campaign contributions.”
Following the Senate vote, a company spokesman was quoted as saying, “We played political hardball, and we won.”
What happened to our historical memory? How did we forget that those who built our democracy and protected American workers were not men like Smith, who use power and money to further the parochial and selfish interests of the elite, but the legions of embattled strikers in the coal fields, on factory floors and in steel mills that gave us unions, decent wages and the 40-hour workweek. How was it possible in 1947 to pass the Taft-Hartley Labor Act, which, in one deft move, emasculated the labor movement? How is it possible that it remains in force? Union workers, who at times paid with their lives, halted the country’s enslavement to the rich and the greedy. And now that unions have been broken, rapacious corporations like FedEx and toadies in Congress and the White House are turning workers into serfs.
UPS is unionized. It is the largest employer of the Teamsters. Labor costs, because of the union, account for almost two-thirds of its operating expenses. But Smith spends only a third of his costs on labor. There is something very wrong with a country that leaves a worker like Henderson sitting most of the day in a tiny apartment in excruciating pain and fighting off depression while his billionaire former boss is feted as a man of vision and invited to lunch at the White House. A country that stops taking care of its own, that loses the capacity for empathy and compassion, that crumples up human beings and throws them away when it is done with them, feeds dark ideological monsters that inevitably rise to devour the body politic.
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FedEx is busy making sure Congress keeps unions out of its shops. It has lavished $17 million, double its 2008 total, on Congress to fight off an effort by UPS and the Teamsters to revoke Smith’s tailor-made ban on unions. Smith, again thinking “long term,” plans to continue to hire thousands of full-time employees and list them as independent contractors. If his workers are listed as independent contractors he does not have to pay Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance taxes. And when they get sick or injured or old he can push them onto the street. Henderson says FedEx treats its equipment as shabbily as its employees. There’s no difference between trucks and people to corporations that view everything as a commodity. Corporations exploit human beings and equipment and natural resources until exhaustion or collapse. They are cannibals.
“The trucks are a liability,” Henderson said. “They are junk. The tires are bald. The engines cut out. There are a lot of mechanical problems. The roofs leak. They wobble and pull to one side or the other. The heating does not work. And the company pushes its employees in the same way. The first Christmas I was there I worked 13 hours without a break and without anything to eat. It is dangerous. I could have fallen asleep at the wheel and injured someone.”
If you have to send packages do not be a scab. Send it with UPS or the U.S. Postal Service. They have unions. Every step, however tiny, we take to thwart the corporate rape of the country and protect workers counts. We would have to do more, much more, but this would be a small start. Like Smith, our politicians have sold their souls. They will not help us. We must help ourselves. And the longer we stand by and permit the Democrats and the Republicans to strip American workers of their jobs and their dignity the less we will have to say when the day of angry retribution arrives.
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