Friday, March 23, 2007

i don't know about you, but i could use a raise

When did the media become so uniformly anti-union, free-trade, and pro-business? Maybe I'm waxing nostalgic, but it seems to me that there was a day when at least a few of the world's magazines didn't read like dumbed down, slapdash versions of The Economist. Anyway, if that day ever existed, it's gone now. The irony is that journalists are among the worst paid white collar workers in the world, and their jobs are under as great a threat as any. Look at me: I'm working for Newsweek and other magazines without a contract, so they don't have to pay any health benefits or a salary, instead paying only for my work product. And despite the wide-eyed statements on various freelancers web sites and in "Writers' Market" type publications, there's no way to extort pay rates that cover extras like insurance and your equipment & utilities (e.g. Internet fees). The guys who have a full-time job are getting paid a little better, but the more people that newspapers and magazines fire, the more freelancers they create, making the guys on staff more and more superfluous. Does that give editors any sympathy for organized labor? Hell, no. Unions are still demonized for demanding $50 an hour to pull levers and refusing to work during breaktime. And even for a country like India, where perhaps 1 in 10 workers is even employed in the "organized sector" (which as I understand it does not necessarily mean a union shop, simply, more or less, an outfit that operates on the books), where the minimum wage is shockingly low and rarely enforced, and where working conditions range from lax to frighteningly inhumane and dangerous, unions are still trotted out as one of the biggest forces holding back so-called "development." It wasn't the good will of the Carnegies and Rockefellers that brought America's workers along for the ride during the great rise of the 20th Century. On the same lines, I find it hard to believe that the "voluntary efforts" to erase caste discrimination and provide decent wages and working conditions often touted by India's leading capitalists will be enough to do the job here.

Folks, you can have it one way or the other. Either India has a huge, unskilled, unorganized labor force. Or it has a small, skilled, unionized labor force. But Goldman Sachs and company--i.e. those of the "India's demographics will make it the world's second largest economy by 2050 blah de blah" school--can't have it both ways. Can they?

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