Companies like Novartis Are the New Meatpackers of America.
Let’s say you’re an executive at a health care company like Novartis Genomics and I came up to you and ask you “how much can I pay you to kill one of your employees?”
You’d probably think I was crazy. But I don’t stop and I ask “Ok, how about just ruin them financially?”
You’d say “get away from me psycho.” But I would follow you and say: “How about both, but not to one but to hundreds and thousands of your employees? Don’t worry, it won’t be a direct murder and ruin, you do it by firing them at a time when they are vulnerable and I then deposit it into the company account as profits and you get a bonus?”
Sounds strange but that is what Novartis did to my family. That is what hundreds of companies do to millions of Americans every year. They bleed them dry for decades, just long enough for them to save a nest egg, enough to help the kids and maybe save some money for the grandkids, and then they fire them, right before they retire, after they helped the company produced hundreds of products that made them millions.
My parents immigrated from Soviet Union where there were free kindergartens, free hospitals and free colleges. We moved because the state took 90% of the earnings. It lied and it stifled those who wanted to be free. So we fled.
We moved to America where there was the freedom to live where you want, buy a house you want and as long as you were young and vibrant, you could find a job and save. They bought a house, put kids through college, survived several lay offs and then reached their sixties. My dad was laid off after he fixed a failing product and looked for a job for two years. My mother was at Novartis Genomics for nearly 20 years helping produce dozens of products that saved thousands if not millions of lives. But a new owner of the company showed up, and she was too old, too expensive and redundant. As thank you for her contribution, she lost her job and insurance as she reached sixty, the most dangerous time to be unemployed and uninsured.
My mother was an engineer who graduated summa cum laude and cleaned toilets when we arrived to make sure we had food. She made sure that I was not put into remedial classes. She and my father worked multiple jobs to afford a modest home in a nice neighborhood so that I could go to a good school. She never got sick but always took care of us. She took care of my grandmother who had dimentia, dealing with her angry spells and helping her with her chamber pot. She took us cloth shopping and chose not to purchase things for her, to make sure we had the better clothes. She worked all day but at night we always had salad, soup and some good salmon or rice, nutritious food.
She worked quietly and diligently, like millions of Americans, believing with every fiber of her being in the American dream. So much so that she voted for Bush, twice and derided anyone who would consider “socialist” policies, reminding them of the freedoms lost in Soviet Union for free healthcare and education.
They were the embodiement of what was possible in America with hard work and dedication. They had a house paid off, they had a 401k portfolio, their kids finished college, debt free and now she had both kids married and a cute as a button grand daughter.
She was also sixty, without a job, without insurance and with an aggressive expensive cancer. The cancer isn’t good. 2–5 years is the general prognosis, 3% make it to 10 years. Most likely, our daughter will know my mother just enough to remember her. It is unlikely that she will get to see her graduate, or get married. My father, who smoked all of his life, who worked as an engineer all of his life, will now have to spend the nest egg they made for retirement to keep his wife alive. His wife who has been his partner for nearly 40 years, who made sure he ate well, rested, and who helped him recover from a heart attack and COVID, will now have to watch her slowly succomb to an incurable death sentence while also watch his nest egg shrink and dissappear. If lucky, she will live to see him retire, but on what shall he live when he does?
In 1905 Upton Sinclair wrote a similar story about a Lithuanian family who came to America with big dreams, got jobs, got a house and saved. That family had their soul and health sapped. Some died, some became poor and all of them realized that this American dream was a hoax that they all fell for. This book was never published. Upton Sinclair had to redact over 1/3 of it that showed the effect of American capitalism on American families. Instead, a shortened version focused on food safety came out. As a result, food laws were enacted, but treatment of workers got better but the ethos didn’t change. Millions of Americans like my parents voted for Trump hoping he would help. Millions of Americans voted for Obama, hoping he would help. And all of them would come to realize just like I did and just like the Rudkos family in The Jungle, that the system was rigged. It was trudging giant crossing a sea of wealth, and the bodes of the wage workers was the bridge. The honest work, but the dishonest get ahead. Those who grease the wheels of the politicians, those who for a million extra in revenue due to cuts in payroll get the extra bonus. It is a nation of voters who vote in different people who uphold the same system.
So in the end, I have one question. What did it cost, to watch my mother get sick and waste away like millions of others in her position? What did it cost to make my parents lose their life savings, like millions of others in their position. I wonder, how much that executive made, on killing my mother, and making my father poor in his old age? How much did firing her with her coworkers save that company so that he could have his bonus. I really want to know, the price of an American worker when they are no longer worth keeping, alive.