Sunday, September 18, 2011


From CounterPunch:

The Sotheby’s Economy

Such is the case with Sotheby’s, the famous art auction house in Manhattan, New York, which reported $680 million in gross profits last year, its largest take in its history. And the company’s assault on the very workers who make it what it is represents one of the darkest aspects of America’s jobless economic recovery.

Sotheby’s abruptly cut off contract negotiations with Teamsters Local 814, which represents its 43 art handlers, demanding that they accept a 10 percent wage cut, caps on overtime and an end to their retirement benefits. The workers have been locked out without pay since August 1. To add insult to injury, the company two days later announced that its net income for the last quarter was up 48 percent from the previous year–the “best quarter in Sotheby’s history,” bragged company president Bill Ruprecht.

“They want to bring in low wage non-union laborers to contribute: no benefits, low wages, no rights on the job, that whole package, and not necessarily people who have art handling experience,” said union president Jason Ide, a former art handler. “We think it’s a risk to put masterpieces in the hands of these replacement laborers.”

More here.

And that pretty much encapsulates the capitalist attitude toward labor: if we can get away with it, we will turn your good job into a low-wage no-benefit shitty service sector job. It doesn't matter if we're enjoying record profits. We will screw you.

Seriously. Your skills don't matter. Your education doesn't matter. All your hard work and experience don't matter. You don't matter. Indeed, if business could get away without paying for labor at all, they'd do it, like with my job, restaurant server: I never see a paycheck at all because the $2.13/hour I make is eaten up by taxes; I completely rely on the customer handouts dubiously euphemized as "tips" in order to pay my rent and bills, but for some reason I'm considered an employee of the people who don't pay me.

So this is a fact. Business does everything it can to minimize labor costs. There is no morality. There is no consideration of the fact that your work very definitely is an enormous part of how business creates wealth for itself. There is no fairness. It's all about maximizing shareholder profit, and fuck you.

Consequently, the only two factors that keeps wages and benefits fair and reasonable, and working conditions safe, are organized labor and the government. Every protection that we enjoy today as workers, the pay we receive, the minimum wage itself, and on and on, came from a combination of organized labor and the government's response to its pressure. But because big business continues to enjoy great success in its multi-decade project to control the government, many of those benefits and protections are being erased. It's pretty much now all about organized labor.

I hope the country begins to understand this, begins to realize that fair compensation is something for which we must fight. Otherwise, we really are screwed.