Category Archives: unions and politics

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: