But why should, say, construction laborers, who put astounding amounts of energy into their work make so much less than some guy who maybe just went to school longer, who sits easy in his office, at most exerting mental effort, which can be stressful but is not an equivalent to energy (read: life) expenditure. Yet that guy makes more money (read: energy, i.e. life). This is madness.
I also don't see why someone who is sitting in a factory somewhere in China, plugging one wire into one port on a chip all fucking day makes a fifty cents an hour (yes, I made that figure up), while the laptop is sold for hundreds of dollars. The laptop is impossible without the guy plugging the wires in, and he's giving his entire life to this task, for the chance to continue eating. Those profits should be shared-- the labor is the essence of the laptop's creation.
So yes, obviously without unions, labor is devaluated continually. The "race to the bottom." They say the market sets the prices, but it's really the "owner" class. They want to make the most money with as little cost to themselves, and sadly labor is counted a cost. They will pay a worker as little as they can get away with. And when the workforce is over-large (high unemployment), they can get away with ever lower wages. It's an interesting fact that wages (and union membership, hmmm...) have declined since the 1970s, while profits have soared. It's also "interesting" to know that the boom and bust cycles of capitalist economies are in many ways created by the elites via interest rates and such, and are not accidents or strictly inherent.
Well, to answer my initial question, which I've been thinking about almost nonstop for days, is yes, I do feel alienation, I do feel used. Here I am, reboxing files from their damaged boxes into new ones at a storage warehouse, helping keep Bank of America's and EMC Mortgage Company's and tons of other banks', lenders', lawyers' and businesses' files neat and clean and safe, knowing they're making millions and I'm here slaving in the dust and fluorescent lighting of a warehouse for a pittance, straining my back and tired on my feet. So, the first thought I had when I saw the seemingly endless rows of file boxes keeps coming back to me: a fire in here would be... amazing to see. Huge. Spectacular. And perhaps even just.
Now, I'm not terribly unhappy at my job. The people are cool there, I get along well with most of them, especially the guy I work closest with, another guy doing reboxing. The boss is cool, and generally stays in his office, so you don't have anyone breathing down your neck, and the work, though boring and mindless isn't terrible; it gives me time to think as I do this repetitive task. I laugh plenty, and, except for Fridays, the days pass quickly enough. It works for now. (and just to be explicit, to avoid idiotic accusations, I would NEVER set fire to the place. Not my style of bucking the system. I'd rather just live a life less ordinary)
Still, it's sad to be wishing for the day to end. I often half-jokingly refer to wage work as selling my life for money, but that's exactly what it is. I'm just waiting for 4 PM and the weekend (the 8 hr day and the weekend, of course, brought to you by unions). I'm wishing my life away. So yeah, I'm alienated. I don't share in any of Bank of America's profits, though I'm indirectly working for them. As a temp, I'm not even a real employee of the corporation I work for. And of course more than half of the employees are temps, a clever way of cutting costs; that is, for paying people less money than they should be getting. When this happens in France, the students and youth fill the streets of the cities with protests; here in America, we just bend over and say "please sir, may I have another."
So yeah, it actually terrifies me to see the unions so under threat. They were built over grueling decades by the actual blood of courageous men and women who would not be taken advantage of. They stood up to the goons and pinkertons, the police and the bosses, and won their right to a decent wage. That's all it was about. All the rhetoric about "greedy unions" is mostly bullshit. They're not being unreasonable, though I admit there is corruption in them. But the idea of unions is sound, and all they want is a proper value for the life-energy they give an employer. The unions are in a weak shape, but it's the main thing standing between us and full on fascism. It's interesting to note that the first people Hitler sent to the concentration camps were unionists. They are a direct threat to corporate control (fascism being just another word for corporatism).
This is one of the biggest issues facing the nation right now. I pray that the public union members in Wisconsin don't fold over; and if they are stripped of their rights to bargain, I hope the outrage persists and that, whether physically or in terms of "the process," they rage against this corporate machine and fight until they win.