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An Encounter With Hogs On The Road To Alabama

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"An Encounter With Hogs On The Road To Alabama"

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Our guest blogger is Barry Nolan, a veteran TV journalist who was fired by Comcast Cable’s CN8 channel in Boston for protesting an award honoring Bill O’Reilly.

smithfield.jpgAccording to an article in the New York Times, a typical salary in the Smithfield Packing slaughterhouse in Tar Heel, NC is $11.90 per hour, or $476 for a 40 hour week. Because I am a considerate person, I will spare you any description of the grisly jobs performed by those workers in that slaughterhouse.

The base salary of a U.S. senator is $169,300 a year or $3,255 a week. Because I am a considerate person, I will spare you any description of the job some of those senators are doing on us these days.

The slaughterhouse story in the New York Times looked back on the 16-year long struggle to bring union representation to the 5,000 or so workers in Tar Heel, which ended up in court at one point. In 2006, after seven years of litigation, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that Smithfield had engaged in “intense and widespread” coercion and ordered Smithfield to reinstate four union supporters it found were illegally fired, one of whom was beaten by the plant’s police on the day of the 1997 election.

The court also said Smithfield had engaged in other illegal activities: spying on workers’ union activities, confiscating union materials, threatening to fire workers who voted for the union and threatening to freeze wages and shut the plant.

But the big news in the Times story, especially if you pack meat, was that after the long struggle with Smithfield, the union finally won. The slaughterhouse is going union.

On the same day MSNBC had a story about a GOP memo titled “Action Alert,” which went out to the Republican senators just before their “No” vote on the Big Three Auto Makers bailout bill. The GOP memo contained this pithy paragraph:

This is the democrats first opportunity to payoff organized labor after the election. This is a precursor to card check and other items. Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor, instead of taking their first blow from it.

It has been a longstanding part of the conservative’s core philosophy that unions are simply bad for business. That is why is why conservatives who are making $169 K per year for standing around arguing, just can’t understand why someone who is making the princely salary of $24,752 for working 40 hours a week in a slaughterhouse would ever want to join a union. It could eat into a company’s profits. Never mind that as a non-union hog butcher, you may bring home a little bacon, but good luck sending your kids to college.

The Federal Poverty guideline for 2008, sets $22,200 as the poverty level for a family of four. Those who do the hard spirit killing, tendon ripping work of slaughtering hogs, forty hours a week, 52 weeks a year, are just barely, faintly above the poverty level.

So just who are these people the GOP sees as the enemy? These awful, greedy, lazy Union people?

If you take a look at the largest unions in the U.S., you will see that they are teachers, hotel workers, truck drivers, laborers, electrical workers, machinists, communications workers, letter carriers, firefighters, nurses, sheet metal workers, bakers and bricklayers. They are all people who shouldn’t have to listen to lectures from men in expensive shoes about the American work ethic.

And, given the recent global meltdown, no one is particularly interested in taking advice on an economic plan from the people who have been steering the Titanic for the past 8 years. Especially since the news on the availability of lifeboats does not appear to be happy news.

I also suspect it must be especially galling for the people of Michigan to hear the senator from Alabama go on and on about how Detroit needs to get more in line with Alabama. That’s because ‘Bama ranks 47th in median household income in the U.S, 47th for Infant mortality rates and 47th in fourth graders who scored at or above the proficient level in math. I could go on, but you get the picture.

Yes, the mantra for the conservatives this in this past election cycle was more or less: “At least you aren’t all dead!” It looks like moving forward it going to be along the lines of: “Dream of an America like Alabama – only colder!” Good luck with that.

– Barry Nolan

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