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Wall Street protests may be confusing ... but not that confusing

October 4, 2011 - Mike Maneval
Thousands have surrounded the financial industry's offices on Wall Street during the past two weeks to protest industry practices. Residents and workers on Wall Street were left in a state of confusion by the protests, they told the Associated Press. Some of the confusion is understandable - the protests were first organized by an arts journal, AdBusters, and never articulated a platform of reforms or policy changes for which the activism advocated.

But some of it isn't. Michael Devaney, who works in information technologies, told an AP reporter, "There are a whole lot of people who make a whole lot of money, but them making less money? I'm not sure what that's going to do."

To which, I only can reply ... really?

For the better part of forty years the U.S. has pursued a trade policy for which the overarching goal is driving down wages in manufacturing. Many of our textiles now are made in Haiti, where the workers earn 25 cents an hour - and where contractors with America's big box stores are threatening to close factories if the minimum wage rises to about 60 cents an hour. When the collapse of non-unionized businesses like Circuit City were followed by instability at General Motors and Chrysler, many pundits and activists were quick to blame the wages of the auto industry's unionized factory workers, recommending cuts to benefit packages, the wages themselves or both. Locally, we saw demands for Verizon's workers to take pay cuts in our comments section on the Sun-Gazette's reporting on Verizon's city strike, and hear a near-constant drumbeat for cuts to pay and benefits for schoolteachers and other workers in the public sector from many quarters.

And so, while I've long been skeptical of the merits of this paycheck-bashing argument, after its application to productive labor for decades with the endorsement of nearly all of one of two major political parties and maybe half of the other, its application to the financial sector should confuse or surprise no one.


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