OPINION: Your American Dream is an elite nightmare

UAW Local 2250

Clocking in and clocking out may be the bookends to your daily grind but does it feel like you have been sentenced to prison? To the richest people in America, it looks like doing time and the daily grind are one and the same.

Warren Buffet wants CEOs of failed banks to live like they “work on a Ford production line” and give back their pensions and salaries is the title of a recent article in Fortune magazine. The article focuses on Mr. Buffet’s belief that bankers who led their organizations into bailouts and bankruptcy have put their customers, shareholders, and our economic system at risk should be held accountable. That “there must be consequences to the people who make the decisions.”

Many would agree with him that there should be consequences. However, the proposed punishment reveals an attitude that may be common among the upper crust of our society and corporate CEOs when he stated the guilty bankers should “go back to living like a person that works the production line at Ford or something like that. They do not deserve anything special.”

This is insulting to every worker in America that does their best to make a living in this economy. 

How did this country get to the point that CEOs and those at the top of the economic food chain view going to work every day to make a living in the same light as going to jail?

The Economic Policy Institute provides a possible answer:

  • CEO pay is now 399 times that of a typical American worker.
  • CEO pay has grown 1,460 percent since 1978.
  • During that same time worker pay has increased 18.1 percent.

To be fair, taxpayers would benefit from having bankers that threaten our economy get a “real job” and produce something as opposed to spending time in jail. The ACLU estimates a year in jail would cost taxpayers $20,000-$50,000.

There is no doubt the massive gains in income for the rich combined with stagnant or small gains for most Americans has created a more unequal society.

That said, there is no reason it has to continue.

There is no reason for middle class productive jobs to be seen as a punishment. These are the jobs that build lives, families, and communities. These jobs are the foundation of the American Dream. The American Dream of a house and a car is not a bridge too far.

This fall, autoworkers, like those on the Ford assembly line, have a chance to negotiate their wages, hours, and working conditions.

These workers, unlike failed bankers, won’t be looking for a “Get out of jail free” card.

Ford workers will join other Americans in collective bargaining to make their lives better by negotiating a contract that:

  • Uplifts the middle class.
  • Helps set the standard so other workers get their fair share of what they produce.
  • Creates a more equal nation.

A nation that doesn’t view labor as punishment but as the value that built America.

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