Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

16 February 2017

Republican Labor Hypocrisy

[For a note on what the Exclusion-Order fiasco says about Trump’s competence, click here. For some popular recent posts, click on the links below: How easy it is to swindle the American working stiff!

There was Andrew Pudzer, the über-wealthy CEO of the holding company that owns Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants. Pudzer had been an enemy of workers all his life. He opposed raising the minimum wage. He opposed changing the law that required so-called “managers” in businesses like his restaurants to work 60, 70, 80 hours a week for slave wages, without overtime pay. He lauded robots because they work tirelessly and never complain.

For him, workers are not people. They are commodities of labor, much like the stacks of raw hamburger meat that his restaurants cook and sell. And this was the guy Trump picked to protect the rights and interests of working people as Secretary of Labor!

Even more bizarre was what brought Pudzer down. He had hired an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper and, until caught, didn’t pay her Social Security or other proper taxes. Those taxes build a social safety net for her, others like her, and millions of legal workers all across our nation.

Why was that the straw that finally broke the camel’s back for this most obvious and flaming enemy of workers?

The answer is devilishly simple. But somehow, some way, the GOP has managed to keep it secret from working people for two generations.

More than any other political force in recent history, the GOP itself is responsible for the wave of illegal immigration that President Trump now promises to stem with his mass deportations and his ridiculous for-show Wall.

Here’s how the system works. Perhaps we can all agree that the GOP, as it even styles itself, is the “party of business.” Well, business needs cheap labor so it can sell products and services cheaply and (according to the law of supply and demand) sell more of them to make more profit.

How much cheaper workers can you get than those that are here illegally? For two reasons, they won’t raise a peep about low wages, miserable working conditions, or harsh treatment at work. First, a simple phone call can get them deported. Second, they come from countries where wages are even lower and treatment of workers is even worse than here.

By allowing eleven million “undocumentented” workers to remain in our country, the business-friendly Republicans created a huge class of exploitable, low-paid workers to man their businesses. It has been as close to a class of serfs as anything we Americans have had since we fought our bloodiest war ever to end slavery.

The great Republican idol, Ronald Reagan, wanted to free these serfs by giving them “amnesty.” He actually used that word. He didn’t want our nation to best nineteenth-century Russia by having and maintaining a huge class of serfs.

But later GOP strategists had a better idea. By keeping the eleven million serfs as a political football, the GOP could have it both ways. It could have its cheap labor and, at the same time, have a great way to fool workers who are here legally, especially American citizens.

“Look at all those illegals!” GOP operatives cried. “They’re breaking the law simply by waking up and going to work each day. They’re taking your jobs and free-riding on your welfare payments. (The GOP never seemed to notice the inherent contradiction between work and welfare, but never mind.) They are bringing crime and drugs, and some of them are rapists. We are going to rid you of them by deporting them all and building a Wall to keep them out.”

In this way, the GOP had it both ways for almost two generations. It kept its class of eleven million serfs to do the worst jobs in its businesses—slicing bloody carcasses in slaughterhouses, making beds and cleaning toilets in hotels, and chopping vegetables and cleaning toilets and floors in restaurants. The upper middle class—people like me!—had cheap eats. The bosses got big profits. And the big class of serfs gave the GOP a potent political issue, which it could use to win elections all across the nation. And so it did: that’s how we got Trump.

But here’s the deal. What do you think would have happened if the GOP really wanted to get rid of all those illegal immigrants? Could it have done so simply, cleanly, efficiently and without all the drama, the way its bosses run most of their businesses?

You bet. Just pass a law making any employer who hires an illegal immigrant liable to pay a fine equal to five years’ wage savings. Then enforce that law strictly. The job magnet that pulls illegal immigrants here would vanish overnight. We wouldn’t have to hire more immigration enforcers or build a Wall. We wouldn’t even have to deport people. Lacking jobs, a few might turn to crime. But the vast majority would deport themselves, going back to Mexico or to other countries with more and better jobs for them.

Andrew Pudzer had a lot of strikes against him. He had squeezed his workers for decades. He had exploited women relentlessly, with photos of scantily clad women eating his hamburgers. (Think hamburgers are the best things to eat to keep that sexy figure?) He had reportedly abused his wife and threatened her, reportedly telling her, “I will see you in the gutter. It will never be over, you will pay for this.”

So Andrew Pudzer is not a nice guy. He was and is a ruthless boss-man who lived by accumulating obscene wealth and obscene power over others—a good Republican.

But when it came to appointing this fox to guard the hen-house of labor in our nation, none of this seemed to matter. He might have surmounted all of it and stayed to crush working people even more thoroughly, from the highest official position ostensibly designed to protect them.

What brought him down was a single act of mammoth hypocrisy. This supposed foe of undocumented immigrant labor had hired and exploited an undocumented laborer himself.

Why did he hire her? For the same reason that every employer does likewise: for lower pay and a chance to avoid the paperwork and the tax and social-security payments that make our social safety net work, and so makes life barely bearable for the people working on the bottom of the ladder.

In the end, Pudzer’s own life and actions laid bare the gross hypocrisy that lies at the heart of the GOP enterprise. For almost two generations, the GOP has maintained a class of eleven million serfs as cheap labor, while at the same time demagoguing its presence as a political issue and wining elections by promising to clean them out.

The longer the GOP can maintain this contradiction, the longer it can stay in power and the richer its bosses will become. The higher Trump can build the Wall—the greater the display of useless “show”—the longer he can fool workers at the bottom and get them to vote against their own economic interests.

By hiring and keeping an undocumented housekeeper personally, Pudzer had highlighted the contradiction and the diabolical plan for all to see. That was one bridge too far for the GOP propagandists, and so this inveterate boss man had to go.

Yet the game of three-card monte will almost certaintly continue. “Look at that Wall, you wage slaves! See how strong and tall it is! See the illegal immigrants ripped from their children’s arms and sent back to Mexico! We are making America Great Again, and keeping it for Americans.”

But behind all the show is hard nugget of truth. There are jobs, right here in America, that American citizens will not do. At least they will not do them for the low pay and under the miserable conditions that instantly deportable Mexican serfs will accept.

So you can bank on one thing. That eleven million number will never get anywhere close to zero. Millions, eventually, may be deported. But they will be the criminals, the marginal ones, the expendable. They will be the workers waiting around the corner from every Lowe’s and Home Depot for day jobs.

But when all the show is over, and voter anger has been sated, when the useless Wall is gleaming tall and strong in the evening sun, there will still be millions of undocumented workers in America, living like serfs in the shadows. My guess is at least five to seven million.

They will remain for one simple reason: they can’t organize and would be deported if they tried. So they make a perfect class of serfs for our bosses—for men like Andrew Pudzer who build obscene wealth on their backs. If push ever comes to shove, it will be the show, not these workers, that GOP operatives jettison. The last things the GOP wants is all eleven million replaced by American workers who will demand their rights as American citizens, organize and form unions.



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