I recently reported a TV problem to my server, DirecTV. After fencing awhile with a phone person, I was granted a visit by a technician. He arrived one morning at 8:15 after a two-and-a-half hour drive from Lee, MA, in his DirecTV- emblazoned van. Though he was responsible for servicing a huge geographic area, he said that he was not paid for this drive time and that he would only receive a standard $30 for the service call. He was very knowledgeable, but it still took him two hours to remedy what turned out to be a complicated problem. This meant he was earning $15 an hour for work time. But if you included the drive time he wasn’t paid for, he earned only $6.66 an hour – even less than the paltry legal minimum hourly wage of $7.25.
I asked him if he could reach $40,000 a year at the rate he was being paid. He said no, and that he’d earned only about $36,000 the previous year. He had three kids and a wife who couldn’t work because the cost of child care exceeded what she would have earned. So I asked how he alone could support his family on an income far below the poverty level for a family of his size. He said he couldn’t, and that his income was low enough to qualify his family for government assistance. Even though this included food stamps, it barely helped to make ends meet, and the family lived from tax refund to tax refund. This is a highly trained worker earning next to nothing, putting to rest the myth of our need for “trained” people for whom well-paid jobs are available.
The upshot is that taxpayer money is being used to provide a barely living wage that DirecTV won’t pay its workers – and DirecTV executives and stockholders are pocketing the profits from these savings on wages. This is not an unusual case. Here is an excerpt from the book, “The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism” by Michael Perelman (Monthly Review Press, New York, p.30): The CEO of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest private employer, confessed that a full-time worker might not be able to support a family on a Wal-Mart paycheck. As a result, millions of its employees must rely on government assistance.
In July 2003, California assemblywoman Sandy Lieber released for Medicaid, food stamps, and other public services. According to the Democratic Staff of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, one 200-person Wal-Mart store may result in a cost to federal taxpayers of $420,750 per year – about $2,103 per employee over and above the costs imposed on state and local governments.
Wal-Mart is a company with over $426 billion a year in sales revenues and with six heirs who have more wealth than the entire bottom 30% of the U.S. population combined. Yet taxpayers are paying a portion of its workers’ incomes! Because this taxpayer-supported saving ends up as pure profit in the hands of a few, it is blatant theft of the people’s money. When these corporations rail against “big government” that is a major source of their profit, they mean that government’s only role is to serve capital. Beyond that, everything else – regardless of how it serves the people – must go.
The corporate world is bleeding us dry through every possible ploy, while inequality leaps geometrically. The question is, how long will an intelligent society put up with this impoverishing deceit and manipulation? When will we force our government, through democratic process, to represent the interests of the people rather than the profits of a corporate plutocracy inimical to them?