Workshop Talks: Just who are the makers and takers?

December 2, 2012

Workshop Talks

by Htun Lin

The unparalleled billions of dollars spent in the 2012 elections, in the midst of the Great Recession, drowned us in endless ads. Yet Mitt Romney was defeated in no small measure by workers in Ohio and elsewhere. Workers saw through the glaring contradictions in the claims of the Romney campaign that as a seasoned capitalist he would rebuild the economy and help restore jobs.

But Romney hadn’t seen jobs at GM and Chrysler as worth saving, calling President Obama’s Auto Rescue Package “excessive government intrusion.” The biggest lie, however, is shared by both parties. It is the lie that it is capital which creates employment.

Right after the election, the biggest news item reported by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal was that, fresh on the heels of Obama’s victory, the first crisis to greet the newly re-elected president was the “looming fiscal cliff.”


The first concern to greet a newly elected President Obama in 2009 was the looming collapse of the private financial sector. Obama’s Treasury Secretary and Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, both from Wall Street, distributed trillions from the TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) that Bush had signed into law.

TARP saved Wall Street’s hide and the jobs of investment bankers, not the American workers. Now that corporate dollars are called free speech, Wall Street used our very own surplus labor on their candidate from Bain Capital to get him to the Oval Office, to allow the corporate welfare recipients on Wall Street to repeat their financial malfeasance.

Then as now, the first order of the day was to save the banks. Then as now, the big lie is repeated that capital creates jobs. Save the banks first. Workers will follow. Another fiscal cliff looms. But we workers had already been pushed over the cliff a long time ago.


The Service Employees (SEIU) and its Super-PAC may have helped the Obama campaign counter Republican Super-PACs. But it is no small irony that in my shop and other medical facilities, our own union, the SEIU, is concretely implementing management’s program in preparation for 2014, the year Obamacare is to be fully launched.

The CEO of our HMO participated behind closed doors in drafting Obamacare legislation. They now anticipate tens of millions of new HMO customers who will have to sign up or pay a tax. A brand new 350-bed state-of-the-art hospital is scheduled to open, as well as clinics and medical offices.

Meanwhile, in preparation for the new facilities opening, the work force is being trimmed. Many front-line healthcare workers report extreme exhaustion from speedup. Some departments are working at only 50% staffing levels. Many of these workers say the unprecedented speedup by computerized automation is impacting patient care, and they have reported safety violations to the State Department of Health.


Management has responded by closing “problem areas,” shutting down whole wings of the hospital which have experienced repeated citations and inspections from regulators. Workers are then forced to sign up for new positions elsewhere in order to continue working. Many are uncertain what the future holds for them, because looming layoffs will be conducted with SEIU’s Labor-Management Partnership president in secret negotiations.

Workers are saying the facility closings are retaliation for speaking out. We are being pushed over a cliff because we are not “just glad to have a job.” This is the real concrete crisis we are facing.

The truth is we workers create capital’s wealth, not the other way around. Company management will spend billions of dollars of what we have created investing in new facilities.  Yet, in order to do that, they say they have to recover that money by trimming the labor force.

For rank-and-file workers, that crisis is continuously present and real. Nothing will change for us concretely unless and until we defeat the forces of abstract labor and its idea of value production with our concrete labor. The only way to do that is to begin by reclaiming not only our labor-power but the very meaning of our labor.

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