Category Archives: Labor Day

Pay Your Dues

It is another Labor Day, a day when we celebrate American workers. America is a country that believes in work. Hard work will pay off. Hard work will win you a better life. People who don’t work hard are lazy and un-American. Even Labor Unions are suspect to some, as we know. They are organizations that target employers and try to milk concessions from them that slurp up profits and kill businesses. They are sops for lazy workers who can’t suck it up and do their jobs. They are the mommy that kisses boo boos and tucks possible sources of worker injuries away, ‘nickel and dime-ing’ employers until they have to keep building new bookcases to house the books of regulations and hire new lawyers to protect the wealth of business owners. Many say that Unions drove business out of America by making it too expensive to do business here. It is the fault of the Unions, they say, that Americans now languish in sloth, making impossible demands on the Federal Government and still managing to reduce the profits of serious men of business (who have obviously earned their rich and luxurious lifestyles).

We, the workers of America and the former workers of America, recognize that this is a ridiculously one-sided view of Unions and/or the American worker. The very reason Unions exist is to protect workers from employers whose only interest is their bottom line (which, most likely, is not all employers). We learned about corporate greed the hard way and if we keep an eye on Southeast Asia and on China and other newly industrialized nations we see that they are learning those tough lessons that we learned decades ago. Workers must have a way to protect themselves from businessmen who practice a ruthless form of Capitalism. These new workers are in a far worse state than American workers were. There was pushback against unionizing; it was sometimes a bloody and brutal war, but we lived in a Democratic nation where people who believed in the ideals of the American nation offered support to unionizing and a counterpoint to stubborn business owners. How difficult will it be for people living in dictatorships to ever do anything to protect workers?

People are trying to bust our unions in these divisive days when our economy looks somewhat bleak. They are having some success by using ‘right to work’ laws which say that unions cannot charge dues to non-members. It seems logical that someone who is not a union member should not have to pay a fee to the union, but it robs the union of the power to bargain, and when a union bargains with an employer and succeeds the benefits accrue for all workers, not only union workers. We also have seen how employers can use non-Union employees against Union employees. ‘Right to Work’ laws only ‘seem’ to benefit workers. The laws are a tool of the owner class used to break up unions.

There is another aspect of Union busting which should concern us. Union busting is being used by Republicans and their wealthy corporate donors to suppress the vote and to rob Democrats of the very powerful support they have received from Labor Unions. With our factories gone we may not need our Unions right now as desperately as we once did, but we should not let them be disemboweled by Big Business and their minions in Congress. Whatever your connection to your union, continue to pay your union dues if you can. We at least need our unions to offset the huge injections of cash into elections by the donor class. We need unions to insure that American workers still have a say in elections.

By Nancy Brisson

Labor Day, 2013: Reflections on American Workers

 
 

It’s Labor Day, and if you read Paul Krugman’s editorial in the New York Times today (9/2/2013) he tells us that Labor Day was a political construct of Grover Cleveland after he antagonized American workers by intervening on the wrong side of an argument. It’s an interesting story that I had never heard before. Krugman (see link below) also goes on to sum up the current tendency to denigrate low and middle class people as losers and takers who don’t pay taxes and who don’t understand how to succeed in America or how to earn enough money so that they can live lives independent of government programs. We have reached a new nadir when it comes to national respect for workers and there is actually little to celebrate this year.

Good paying jobs are scarce and unemployment is high. Union busting is considered good policy and, although government promised pensions to public worker, these pensions are now considered excessive and possibly optional. Corporations decided to please stockholders and stop appeasing workers who asked for more and ever more. Imagine expecting your wages to rise every year or at least periodically.

Unions meddled in politics and became powerful lobbying groups in their own right and this did not please Washington which favors business owners rather than mere workers. There is an undercurrent of satisfaction among some of our legislators in Washington that workers have now been chastised for their temerity to believe that they were anything other than merely workers. They may have believed that they were partners in a productive enterprise, but there was never a partnership agreement in the minds or legal files of the owners. They were simply workers, not individuals, totally expendable and absolutely interchangeable for other workers anywhere. This has been quite shocking to American workers as have the attacks on the entire fabric of the American culture as it was constructed before the great corporate migration (emigration).

Attacks on unions are the rule rather than the exception these days. Twenty-three states have become right-to-work states, which sounds quite friendly to workers but is actually not. In a right-to-work-state unions must represent workers who do not belong to the union and who do not pay dues to the unions in the same way that they represent dues paying members. This clever strategy is designed to turn dues paying members into opponents of those who don’t pay dues, to shove payers towards a decision to stop paying dues to the union, and to eventually break the union by forcing the union to go, literally, broke. Other strategies involve campaigns to make workers jealous of the unions that are still functioning and which are still offering some job security (case in point, teachers’ unions) by pointing out the flaws (and there are always flaws in any system) such as the inability because of tenure arrangements to fire “bad” teachers, and it is always effective to hint at the back-breaking pensions that must be furnished these teachers out of our taxes during the long years of their retirement.

None of these developments bode well for the American worker.  Will we give up all of the progress America has made since the early abuses of the Industrial Age because the fortunes of American workers are a bit on the down low right now? We should never slide backward into less enlightened times. We should always at least try to hold the line during the bad years so that if and when the good years return we won’t have to start from scratch.

Another article in the New York Times this morning discusses one man’s interesting take on what unions could become in these “stingy” times so that they can at least hang on to their function as a political force in our society. This writer, Benjamin Sachs, a Professor of Law at Harvard concludes his piece with these words,

“Campaign-finance reform has failed because it does nothing to address the underlying disparities in wealth distribution that produce political inequality in the first place. Legal reforms that enable political organizing are fundamentally different because organization, like wealth, is its own source of political power.

Allowing workers to organize for politics, even when they decide not to organize for collective bargaining, would help restore balance to a democracy that wealth has so badly skewed.”

Joseph Huben of Upstate, NY writing a comment after Mr. Krugman’s commentary gives us a manifesto that workers in America could live with and strive to move towards in order to insure that the American lower and middle classes are not trampled in the stampede to return to the Capitalism of the 1890’s, a total laissez-faire, tooth-and-claw free for all that will leave workers without protection against rapacious, grasping business owners and managers whose only motive in life is to stockpile wealth.

”Raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, provide all children with healthy federally funded school lunch. Issue all workers, who qualify for earned income tax credit, SNAP cards (food stamps). Erase the ceiling on Social Security and Medicare taxes and provide Medicare for all. Restore the rights of students to declare bankruptcy resulting from education debt. Provide loan forgiveness to healthcare workers who actually work with patients. Direct all energy subsidies and related tax credits to renewable energy development. Tax all beneficiary companies for military protection of the natural resources exploited in foreign lands. Tax all businesses that produce environmentally degrading products and health hazardous products to pay for the estimated cost of remediation and healthcare.
Some will argue that raising minimum wage will decrease employment. Where’s the evidence? If 20% lose their jobs and 80% get a 100% raise we are far better off.
Feeding people healthy food is a national security issue, ask the Defense Department and cost effective, ask HHS.
Paying for social programs is a requirement of the Social Contract. Hoarding even more while some have nothing must end.
Healthcare costs rise to meet the cost of education debt.
Hydrocarbons cause global warming, pollution, disease, war, corruption and extraordinary military spending. We must end our use hydrocarbons. We cannot do this until we do.
Harm done in the pursuit of profit must be taxed until it stops.”

Here a few other links:

 

 

 

 

A Blue Labor Day

It’s Labor Day. Labor Day is the day we celebrate workers. Usually every able-bodied person who is old enough to meet a country’s legal work requirements is expected to work. Most people want to work. Even a menial job gives the laborer self-respect and a positive place in a culture, and an income to use in support of her/his life. Some workers believe that certain jobs are better at providing these things than other jobs are and, of course, especially in the area of income, this is true. But when a time such as the one we are living through right now comes along, where it seems as if there are not enough jobs to go around, any job becomes more valuable, even if the job does not provide an income equal to life’s expenses.
So Labor Day, 2012 is sort of a “blue” labor day (closely following the “blue” moon) because so many Americans are unemployed. Many have been unemployed for an extended period of time. People who search and search and cannot find a job experience the usual benefits of a job but in reverse, as negatives; they lose self-respect, they feel they have lost their positive place in their culture, and they experience financial difficulties. As they lose confidence they often find it more and more discouraging to leave their home base to look for employment. They experience depression in varying degrees depending on the person, the length of time unemployed, the effects on their families and friendships.
In such a time, when the job market is so tough and people are so disillusioned, I am not sure that it helps to call people who need financial assistance deadbeats; lazy, dependent citizens who are falling back on the resources of government, and who lack the motivation to break free of government support. I’m sure that there are people like this, but lots of people have lost jobs through a shift in our economy and cannot find new jobs due to these same shifts. Perhaps it helps some of the unemployed when they are shamed and they are then prodded into action to change their state from dependent to independent. Perhaps there is some validity to the argument that extending unemployment just allows people to stay unemployed longer, robs them of the initiative they need to rejoin the labor force in some capacity. Or you could look at those who use this type of rhetoric as people who just sound mean; people who are kicking someone when they are already down. Aren’t true malingerers a totally separate problem?
Labor unions are often celebrated on Labor Day. For many years unions protected American workers, first, from the very real abuses of business owners or managers; and then just to remind owners that they were there as watchdogs over workers. Labor unions are being attacked in this 2008-2012 recession as the cause of the flight of businesses from America. They are criticized for shielding workers who do not perform as they should (which they have sometimes done). They are criticized as greedy; always negotiating raises and better benefits until they just destroyed the American labor market. Even though there is no way American workers can actually compete with Asian workers, the unions still were and are targets of vitriol and legal backlash. This logic and our economic troubles are being as an excuse to do something that certain people have desired to do all along, a little union busting.
This all sounds an awful lot like “blame the victims” to me. This makes it difficult to be proud on this Labor Day in 2012, although we still are proud of our country and we still love being Americans, we can still wish that by next Labor Day there will be more jobs in America than there are this Labor Day. Take your choice; will stimulus and some tax increases help create jobs, or will cutting taxes for the wealthy give us jobs? Vote your choice. I don’t think there is a magic bullet. We may not be back in the red, white and blue by next Labor Day, but we may be able to see that things are headed up and our pride will rise accordingly.