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ATMs, jobs & profits

Published Jun 26, 2011 10:19 PM

Every worker knows that the “economic recovery” has been jobless. President Barack Obama has caught a lot of flak for admitting it.

Obama told Ann Curry on NBC’s “Today Show” on June 14, “There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM. You don’t go to a bank teller. Or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking at the gate.”

Republicans and much of the capitalist media immediately pounced on Obama’s comments. The president was mocked for allegedly being against ATMs and “economic progress.”

What’s the real story? “The economy is producing as much as it was before the downturn, but with 7 million fewer jobs. Since the recovery began, businesses’ spending on employees has grown 2 percent as equipment and software spending has swelled 26 percent, according to the Commerce Department. ... Corporate profits, meanwhile, are at record highs, and companies are hoarding cash.” (New York Times, June 9)

Banks and airlines install ATMs and kiosks not to help people but to cut jobs. In the last three years banks have cut 52,000 teller jobs! (MarketWatch, June 16)

Banks make billions of dollars from rip-off ATM fees that have reached $3 or more at West Coast banks. That’s a 15 percent bank tax for somebody withdrawing 20 bucks.

JPMorgan Chase has been charging 44,000 jobless Tennesseans as much as a dollar for accessing their unemployment benefits. (The Tennessean, June 18)

In many countries, including Brazil, France, Ghana and Sri Lanka, bank workers have unions and play an important role in the labor movement. But in the United States, 99 percent of bank employees don’t have union protection.

That’s why, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average teller’s wage was just $12.01 per hour in May 2010. It’s not accidental that in 2009 women held 87 percent of these low-paid jobs.

Neither President Obama nor the Republican bigots object to JPMorgan Chase Bank CEO Jamie Dimon being paid $41.2 million in 2006. That’s equal to what 1,649 bank tellers were getting four year later.

Black and Latino/a workers had to fight to be hired by banks. Akron’s first African-American Clerk of Courts — Ethel Black — was also the city’s first Black bank teller. Linda Torrence became the first Black teller at First National Bank in Little Rock in 1962.

Under socialism, technology will be used to make work easier and to shorten the work week. Robots will be developed to perform the most dangerous jobs. With socialist economic planning, everybody will be guaranteed a good paying job. There was no unemployment in the former Soviet Union.

So much of capitalist technology was developed to smash unions. Airlines installed kiosks in order to get rid of unionized ticket agents. Karl Marx pointed this out in 1847.

“From 1825 onwards, almost all the new inventions were the result of collisions between the worker and the employer who sought at all costs to depreciate the worker’s specialized ability. After each new strike of any importance, there appeared a new machine,” Marx wrote in “The Poverty of Philosophy.”

Joseph Schumpeter, a capitalist economist, called the wholesale abolishing of jobs to be “creative destruction.” The wealthy strangled Detroit economically in revenge for the militancy of Black workers.

Workers and oppressed people need to creatively destroy the capitalist system. In fighting back against austerity, Greek workers are in the forefront of showing the way forward for poor and working people everywhere.