In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt got in the middle of a coal mining strike because he believed the United Mine Workers of America was a respectable organization with reasonable demands and because he knew that the east coast needed anthracite to stay warm in the winter. But what really pushed him over the edge was the complete indifference of the capitalists to settling the strike, including blowing off UMWA leadership while Roosevelt was in the room. That really angered him and Roosevelt wasn’t a man you wanted to anger when he was on his high horse. So finally, Roosevelt went up the ladder. The anthracite miners were part of a huge corporate landscape and at the top of that mountain was J.P. Morgan. So Roosevelt basically told Morgan to settle the thing or he was going to nationalize the mines. Morgan finally did so.
We often see Warren Buffett as less bad than Morgan or any number of contemporary capitalists because he donates to Democrats. But when the rubber meets the road, Buffett and Morgan are basically the same person.
There’s presently a strike among steelworkers at the Special Metals plant in Huntington, West Virginia. Like the anthracite mines 120 years ago, this is a small link in a huge corporate chain that leads right up to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. So Bernie Sanders has publicly called for Buffett to settle the strike. And he has publicly rebuked Sanders’ call.
“At a time when this company and Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) are both doing very well, there is no reason why workers employed by you should be worrying about whether they will be able to feed their children or have health care,” Sanders wrote. “There is no reason why the standard of living of these hard working Americans should decline. I know that you and Berkshire Hathaway can do better than that,”
His letter said employees were offered a contract with no pay raise the first year, only a $2,000 signing bonus, and then pay increases of 1% the second year and 2% a year the following three years. It said the company wants to raise the cost of health coverage for workers from $275 a month to $1,000. And it reduced vacation time they have already accrued.
Sanders called the offer “outrageous and insulting.”
But Buffett responded with a letter quoting Berkshire’s annual financial filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which tells investors that the management of its different companies is left up to the executives at each subsidy — not Berkshire itself (or Buffett).”Our companies deal individually with their own labor and personnel decisions (except for the selection of the CEO),” he said in his response to Sanders, which was released by Sanders’ office. “I’m passing along your letter to the CEO of Precision Castparts, but making no recommendations to him as to any action. He is responsible for his business.”Unlike many other of the nation’s richest people, Buffett has positioned himself as someone concerned workers and income inequality. He has called for higher taxes on the rich and pledged to give away most of his fortune, which now stands at just over $100 billion according to a real time billionaire tracker by Forbes. Buffett doesn’t have the anti-union reputation of many other billionaires, such as Amazon (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos or Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk, who have both battled with union organizing efforts.
In short, Buffett is as full of shit about his support for progressive causes as Musk is about fighting climate change. Of course Buffett could intervene if he wanted to. He could at least put pressure down the line. But he’s not going to do that. He has other priorities. That’s making money. Making money for a man like Buffett means putting downward pressure on workers. What is a little bad publicity in comparison to this?
In short, there are no good billionaires. There may be different shades of evil between them. But they are all evil, no matter who they donate to.