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July, 2007



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Skeptic's Journal for July 2007
'The 2 R's'
By Jeanette Pontacq,

The Race to the Bottom
A local store had Mr. H as an employee for 17 years, through one ownership change and numerous world events. After working for 17 years at this one place, supporting his family and seeing his kids go through our schools, he was suddenly fired, even with a sheriff's deputy in attendance to 'protect' the store mgr, I suppose. He had worked up to making $19.50 an hour. His immediate replacement, who only recently arrived in our area, now makes $12 an hour.
Both gentlemen are Latino, both came across the border illegally, one 17 years ago and the other recently. One speaks English, the other does not. One has become part of West Marin and the other gets paid $12 dollars an hour, saving the store $7.50 an hour, or an average of $60 a day (for eight hours) or up to $300 a week (for 5-day week). This, of course, does not include any possible perks, such as partial health insurance, or whatever. The newer employee would not be eligible for a while to share in anything but his salary.

Another story: In Petaluma, the hourly rate for day labourers has been going down and more down. The reason, although almost never talked about, is that more and more new migrants from Mexico are coming across the border and coming to our larger area. The laws of supply and demand have worked well for employers of such workers because the newer arrivals often take the jobs of those here longer because the newer arrivals are willing to work for less in a saturated market.

Why should we care? After all, the less expensive worker at the local store may allow the storeowners to reduce the cost of their products for us. And the spillover of day workers from Petaluma potentially offers the savvy homeowner in West Marin a cheaper rate to work in their garden or on other sweaty tasks. Before I even comment on why we should indeed care, let me say that there is a 1 in 1 million chance that the local store will reduce their too-high prices, and most homeowners will not be savvy enough to save money via this issue, but businesses will be.

We should care because this common phenomenon of 'turning over employees to pay less' is daily practice not only right here in West Marin, but across the country. In my opinion, it is neither moral nor efficient. Using Mr. H as an example - he is now unemployed in a place his kids think of as home. Mr. H is not lazy or incompetent; he is personable and hard working, but a continent is on the move at the behest of the corporate personas, and he is being out-maneuvered by the mass of available new workers so that a local store can increase profits.

What I would like to express via these stories is that those of us in West Marin need to stop congratulating ourselves on our 'enlightened' approach to the current illegal immigration fiasco as we enjoy our protected cocoon, thinking ourselves above the fray, above the angst felt by others losing jobs or not being able to feed their families. Our very ease of existence out here on the edge of the North American continent is based on cheap labour, on the race to the bottom for workers' salaries, and on the so-called blessings of globalization and "one world." It really means a race to the bottom for the salaries of working people and the end of meaningful democratic input for all of us!

Next time you eat in a local restaurant, or hire a Latino day worker via a contractor, or even buy a fruit or vegetable out here, let's all be honest enough to admit that we are the problem in demanding cheap prices and driving down the living wage. Which of us will forego the cheap labor syndrome supported by the Bushies and their types -- and start a new trend -- of both paying a living wage for labour and stopping our tacit acceptance of the destruction of what-was-once a vibrant working class in this country?

If it walks like a duck....
I live in Point Reyes Station, on the Mesa. I have come to love this small town, its history, ambience and most characters, past and present. I am here for the long haul, forever. I would not like to see my little town become either a tourist trap or a venue for the glorification of gourmet things and new-age 'improvements.'

I am tired of being told by well-meaning friends that I need to get over the fact that change happens and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Change is not always good or even kind of good. In fact, define 'good!' Is this 'thing" good for YOU? Why? What's your agenda? And who are YOU? I would like to be asked first before anyone messes with my town, especially if that' anyone' lives elsewhere, but even if they live next door to me.

I bring this up because of Jonathan Rowe's Commons Group. Although I consider many of the participants good friends, including dear Jonathan, I have to say that I am not sanguine about the new-age activism to change the town via ad-hoc "committees." Unfortunately, as always, the organization is "representing the community," and 'improvements' are afoot. I await my conversion to the process. In the meantime, I am skeptical and worried that people of good heart and thought will be the means of the final gentrification of the town. With no historical perspective respected. This is not an idle worry, as the same methodology (and many of the same people) was used to give us the faulty EAH project, always with a good heart.

I would suggest that it may be time to incorporate. Maybe. Or at least start a discussion. Just so that people will stop saying they are 'representing the community,' with no reality behind it. Maybe it is time to actually find out who lives here and should have a voice. I am not one who subscribes to the idea that, because PRS is larger than Inverness or Olema, that everyone around Tomales Bay should have a voice in redesigning the town or deciding what should be built here. Been there, done that during the EAH fiasco. I'd like at least a modicum of respect for the residents of Point Reyes Station, and ALL their voices heard. And please don't suggest that they all need to go to Commons meetings to express themselves. Maybe those in the Commons who want to make changes need to knock on doors and go face-to-face with the town's residents, every last one of them.

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