Fire Them All

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GM CEO Wagoner to step down at White House Request (AP via Yahoo! news)

I have the vaguest of recollections of Ronald Reagan firing the air traffic controllers in 1981; I remember it happening, but I had no idea what it all meant. (I was five years old at the time.) I do remember that Dad was deeply upset by it, and it was one of the many things Reagan did that eventually drove Dad to avoid politics and become bitterly cynical about them. I still can’t help but wonder, had Dad lived to see the election of Barack Obama, if maybe he might have picked up some of his old enthusiasm again. Needless to say, as my own political journeys and self-discoveries have gone on through the years, I’ve come to realize what an important event this was in American political and labor history. I know that some on the right will say that Reagan did not, in the strictest definition of the word, "fire" the controllers, and that his actions were legal under the Taft-Hartley Act, but neither of those factors mitigates the fact that what Reagan did was morally reprehensible, and perhaps the single most destructive action in American union history. This was one of the biggest bombs the Republicans have dropped in their open warfare against the lower and working classes, a war that has gone on now for nearly thirty years with little mitigation from the Clinton and Obama presidencies so far.

As the avarice of the upper classes has caused the rapid dismantling of the foundations of our economy, I haven’t been able to stop myself from daydreaming about a president — the daydreams usually involve a President Nader, since I know Obama is both incapable and unwilling of doing so — who comes out to deliver a nationally televised speech on the lawn of the White House, saying that all of the bank and financial and automotive and other CEOs whose greed caused this financial collapse — were fired, effective immediately, and ineligible to serve in management jobs for the rest of their lives, just as Reagan barred the striking air traffic controllers from serving in other federal jobs. Granted, there are no laws on the books enabling a President to do this, but that doesn’t make the proposition any less absurd than what Reagan did under Taft-Hartley. If nothing else, the fact that we, as a country, now have an 80% stake in AIG, should mean that we get to pick who runs the company.

It sickens me to hear pundits say that we need to keep the executives who ran the banks and financial markets into the ground in their current positions because "no one else is capable of running the companies." If they were capable of running their companies, then why have they all cratered, taking the rest of us along with them? Say what you will about the responsibilities air traffic controllers have for making sure that planes don’t crash into one another, but already this financial crisis has hit middle- and working-class America in a nearly catastrophic way, and we’re probably not yet at the worst part of this crisis. This country’s universities churn out MBAs at an alarming rate because if there has been any growth industry in this country since the Reagan days, it’s in unnecessary corporate bureaucracy. Don’t tell me that we don’t have enough people who possess the skills needed to run these companies.

The problem is not a deficit of skills; it is a deficit of morals. No matter how many studies are done to debunk the myth of supply-side economics being good for all classes, the upper classes, and the venal politicans they help elect through their massive infusions of cash and distortions of the public dialogue, continue to push through this idea that helping the rich get richer benefits everyone, despite all of the empirical and anecdotal evidence of how it crushes the wallets, the homes, and the spirits of the working class. If we are going to rebuild our economic foundation, if we are going to climb out of this very deep hole that the upper classes have dug this country into, then we need to take the shovels away from the people who dug the hole (and made themselves plenty rich doing so), and put in charge people who aren’t going to build themselves mansions off of the money they could make charging us for ladders to climb out of the hole. We need moral, responsible executives in finances, banking, and every other industry, who will put the needs of their workers, their customers, and their country, above the needs of their families, their boards of directors, and their shareholders. The executives still in charge of these failed companies have already proven that they cannot do that, so we should throw the whole lot of them out.

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