Nel's New Day

September 5, 2016

Successful Labor Days Need the Middle Class

Filed under: Unions — trp2011 @ 10:30 PM
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Labor Day, the first Monday in September, became a “holiday” 122 years ago in 1894, a few days after government killed 30 striking workers in Chicago. Labor unions slowly developed in the decades before Labor Day but didn’t rapidly grow until the Great Depression and the New Deal of the 1930s. By the 1950s, unions had begun to achieve its goal of the 40-hour workweek, overtime pay, minimum wage, safer workplaces, Social Security, and the prevention of child labor. Medicare was added in the 1960s. Unions were responsible for the growth of a healthy middle class that provided a strong infrastructure, public services, and educational system.

Republican presidents and leadership from 1968 through 1992 led to the decline of union and the stagnation of wages. A half century ago, almost one-third of U.S. workers belonged to a union; now it’s below ten percent and would be far less if it weren’t for the 35 percent of government workers who belong to unions. The refusal of the South, always the most impoverished region of the U.S., kept the percentage of union membership down. Even at the peak of unions during the 1960s, the South had only half the share of union workers as in the Northeast, Midwest, and West.

During the past few decades the economy in the nation has grown to double what it was in the late 1970s. In contrast to the late 1940s when income went up for everyone in the United States, 90 percent of workers earn about the same now as in the early 70s with the top ten percent seeing a sharp rise in real incomes. People in the top ten percent turned their wealth into power used to break labor unions, halve the taxes that they pay, eliminate safety nets, deregulate Wall Street, and increase costs. George W. Bush’s recession made the income inequality worse as shown by this graphic.

income inequality

As the U.S. comes close to the end of President Obama’s last term, there are glimmers of hope for the 90 percent. A Gallup Poll, usually very conservative, indicates that 50 percent of the people think that they are better off than eight years ago. The percentage of people—across all ethnic groups—who say they are “thriving,” 55.4 percent, is over double that of people in 2008. Donald Trump’s pitch to get votes from black voters is “what do you have to lose.” Many blacks respond with losses of civil rights, employment, income, and education under a Trump presidency.

Since 2010, businesses have added 15.1 million jobs, and that time period is the longest streak of total job growth on record. The unemployment rate has been cut in half since Bush’s recession. President Obama has finished the Fair Pay & Safe Workplaces Executive Order to hold accountable the federal contractors who repeatedly violate worker safety and labor laws. One in five U.S. workers are employed by these contractors. The Labor Department extended overtime protections to 12.5 million additional workers by increasing the overtime salary threshold $47,476. Graduate students at private universities may now unionize.

Unions are often defeated by business because employers have almost unrestricted union-busting. The Labor Department has closed a loophole, created in 1959, that allowed businesses to hire anti-union consultants, “persuaders,” without reporting this practice.

When union membership falls, wages fall for everyone. The 32.9 million full-time nonunion private-sector women and 40.2 million full-time private-sector men suffered a $133 billion loss in annual wages because of weakened unions. If unions were as strong in 2016 as they were in 1979, nonunion men with a high school diploma would earn an average of $3,016 more a year. Workers in unions earn, on average, 27 percent more than their nonunion counterparts. Unions close the pay gap for women, and black workers see outsized gains from union representation. At the same time while unions have declined, the pay gap between CEOs and workers has gone from 20:1 in 1965 to up to 331:1 today.

President Eisenhower bragged about unions in the 1950s, but every GOP president since then has been anti-union. Donald Trump pointed out that the economy is better with Democratic presidents in 2004 and said that Hillary Clinton would make a good president. He repeated the same thing in a recent interview, omitting the part about Clinton.

Now the GOP is pushing the myth of the “sharing economy.” People are forced to rent out rooms in their homes or drive their own cars for pay in the new “Uber” philosophy. Conservatives blame poor people on their moral failure.

On this Labor Day, plan ahead. Vote for people who support unions and a strong middle class.

Trump Watch: Donald Trump is definitely not in favor of unions. He blocks them in his businesses and refuses to pay overtime and some of his contractors although he signed contracts with them.

During the weekend, Trump had several “interesting” conversations with reporters. His surrogates and staff spent the weekend trying to figure out what his position actually is after his anti-immigrant speech last Wednesday, and they’re wrong again. Asked today about his immigration policy, he refused to rule out amnesty for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Last week, he said they all had to leave the country; today he said, “I’m not ruling out anything. We’re going to make that decision into the future. OK?”

Approached the about the fine for his illegal foundation contribution to Florida AG Pam Bondi, Donald Trump repeated several times that he had never spoken to her. Marc Reichelderfer, Bondi’s reelection consultant, had said in June that Bondi personally asked for the donation. Later he indicated that he didn’t talk to Bondi about dropping the fraud investigation against Trump University. She dropped the case after she got $25,000 from the Trump Foundation.

In discussing debate strategy with reporters today, Trump said that he didn’t plan much preparation and definitely no mock debates:

“I’ve seen people do so much prep work when they get out there, they can’t speak. I’ve seen that.”

Asked if he would definitely debate, Trump said, “As of this moment, yeah.” He added that only “hurricanes and natural disasters” would stop him from debating Hillary Clinton. Trump commended that he had done the other debates, forgetting that he had skipped one of the GOP debates and backed out of one when he challenged Bernie Sanders.

Trump also declined to say whether he believes President Obama was born in the United States. “I don’t talk about it,” he said. Despite his desperate attempt to woo black voters, he has never apologized for his birther campaign or said he believes in the legitimacy of President Obama’s birth certificate.

Trump showed his inability to be diplomatic when he said that he’ll order Air Force One to leave if countries don’t roll out the red carpet. His statement came from an incident in China when there was no stairway prepared for President Obama to exit his airplane in China last Saturday. The president instead used an exit customarily used for high-security trips. He suggested his Chinese hosts might have found the size of the US delegation “a little overwhelming.” One difference of opinion between the two countries might be China’s concern about “America’s unwavering support for upholding human rights.”

Saudi Arabia was another issue on which Trump keeps changing his mind. He slammed Hillary Clinton for taking money from Saudi Arabia for the charitable Clinton Foundation, but it was recently discovered that he has made millions of dollars from that country which bought the 45th floor of Trump World Tower for $4.5 million. Since 2001 he has been paid $85,585 a year for building amenities. Osama Bin Laden’s half brother also lived in the Tower for four months in 1986. Trump recently told Sean Hannity that he would not take money from the Saudis, but last year he bragged that Saudi Arabia spends “$40 million, $50 million” for his apartments. “I like them very much,” Trump said.

After endorsing the GOP presidential candidate for the past 9 elections, Virginia’s Richmond Times-Dispatch has endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson Saturday. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said that Donald Trump’s candidacy might turn Arizona blue in this election.

Hillary Clinton is ahead in the polls on Labor Day. History shows that the losing presidential candidate at that time is the losing candidate in November. We can only hope, but we’ll make that decision nine weeks from tomorrow.

March 11, 2015

Walker Supports ‘Takers’ in Wisconsin

Gov. Scott Walker has created a new category of “takers” in his state of Wisconsin. Opposed to people getting something for free, he has signed the misnamed “right to work” law that allows people not to join the unions at their places of employment. To some people, this is “freedom,” but unions are not free to protect and negotiate for only their members. They must do this for all workers in places that unions cover. That means employees who don’t join unions but still benefit from the hard work of the organization are actually taking something free from the people who do pay for these services.

The law makes Wisconsin the 25th “right-to-work state” and the first state since Michigan and Indiana in 2012. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) provided wording, also used by Wisconsin, for this bill and those being pushed through legislatures in other states. The takers of Wisconsin are funded by ALEC backers such as the Koch brothers, the Coors family, and Exxon Mobile. This law follows Walker’s stripping collective-bargaining rights from many state workers in Wisconsin.

Although the ALEC-worded RTW bill may succeed in Missouri, it has run into problems in Montana, Colorado, West Virginia, New Mexico, Kentucky, and New Hampshire—at least for now. Michigan has introduced a RTW extension for police, fire, and public safety unions. Kentucky is passing RTW on the local level, and billionaire GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner has issued an executive order for RTW in Illinois public unions. On the federal level, Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced a “National Right-to-Work Act,” and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) introduced its companion act in the House.

Walker said, “This [law] sends a powerful message across the country and across the world.” His message is his move to the right as he prepares for a presidential campaign. His email message immediately after he signed the bill is that he wanted money for his campaign when he asked for donations of $10, $100 and $1,000.

Walker consistently reneges on his statements. Until a few weeks ago, he denied that he would make Wisconsin a RTW state and claimed throughout his reelection campaign, “Private-sector unions are my partner in economic development.” Before his 2010 election, he told newspapers that he would negotiate with public sector unions; his anti-collective bargaining bill was introduced immediately after he took office in 2011. Two years ago, he was in favor of giving undocumented workers a chance at citizenship if they obeyed the law. Now he reversed that opinion to join another possible presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

The governor’s position on abortion has also reversed. Before last fall’s election, he told voters, “I support legislation to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options.” He claimed he supported a bill that “leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor.” Now he plans to sign a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks in constitutional violation of Roe v.Wade and removing the decision from a woman and her doctor.

Wooing Iowa, he switched his opposition to mandating ethanol and other renewable fuels. Now he wants to continue the Renewable Fuel Standard. Iowans might want to use caution in believing him. Walker will no doubt flip his promises for any personal gain.

ALEC has been helped by the 60-year-old National Right to Work Committee (NRTWC), led by fundamentalist Christian Greg Mourad, that also receives huge donations from the Koch brothers. The organization was co-founded by right-winger Fred A. Hartley, who co-sponsored the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act restricting unions and also co-founded the John Birch Society. The NRTWC has been behind the skyrocketing income inequality in the United States. CEOs who earned 20 times a worker’s pay 50 years ago, now receive at least 300 times the worker’s pay. Between 1973 and 2014, public-sector union membership dropped by 78 percent. Unionization and minimum wages helped equalize the distribution of wages. That’s why the Koch brothers are determined to get rid of both.

In a comparison of the share of income going to the middle 60 percent of population, the workers in the ten states with the lowest rates of union membership brought home 46.8 percent of total income, and the ten states with the highest rates of union membership brought home 47.4 percent of total income. It may sound like a small percentage, but the difference is equivalent to billions of dollars.

Abdur Chowdhury, professor of economics at Marquette University in Milwaukee, explained why Walker’s legislation could annually cost Wisconsin $4.5 billion in lost income and revenue: “If our income goes down, we spend less money on groceries.” Walker also loses money for his state: less income means less tax revenue, at least $234 million. The state won’t get this back from the wealthy and corporations because of the massive tax cuts that Walker gave them.

Despite claims from ALEC “economists” that RTW laws boost per capita personal income, average wages for all occupations in RTW states were about $4 an hour lower compared to non-RTW states in 2013. In RTW states, workers have $5,971 lower wages and fewer employers offering pension benefits or health care. Employers looking for skilled workers or a well-developed infrastructure will most likely not go to RTW states because these are less likely to have these advantages. That’s a reason that 400 businesses formed a coalition to oppose the law.

Oklahoma, the first state to pass a RTW law in 2001 for 25 years, was also the first state to do so in the post-NAFTA era of globalization. There has been no positive impact on employment in Oklahoma in the last 14 years. In addition, the number of companies relocating to the state and the number of manufacturing jobs both fell by a third in the first decade after the law was enacted.

Walker is not finished with trying to lower wages for workers. He’s trying to restrict the role of administrative law judges in workers comp disputes and take authority for the system away from the state Department of Workforce Development, a move that has been found unconstitutional in Florida. Also, Wisconsin is one of 32 states with a wage law to “prevent lowball bids from depressing wages,” something that Walker wants to repeal. The third reduction of wages would come from prohibiting “project labor agreements” that bars non-union contractors from working on publicly-funded projects.

Unions in Wisconsin are fighting Walker in creating his new category of takers. The Wisconsin state AFL-CIO with chapters from the International Association of Machinists, and United Steelworkers unions have filed a suit on the basis that the law “deprives the unions of their property without just compensation by prohibiting the unions from charging non-members who refuse to pay for representative services which unions continue to be obligated to provide.” In other words, Walker’s permission for employees to free-load off the unions is unconstitutional.

When Walker was elected, he promised a massive increase in jobs in his state. He failed. Since Walker became governor, job growth, GDP, and decline of unemployment have all lagged behind neighboring states and the nation as a whole. He may fail again with his new RTW law. Seven of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates are RTW. After stopping RTW laws in 2012, Minnesota’s average weekly wage is $877.81, almost ten percent higher than its RTW neighbor Michigan that has a 6.3 percent unemployment rate compared to Minnesota’s 3.6 percent. Indiana, another RTW state, has an average weekly wage of $788.70 and a 5.8 percent unemployment state. Minnesota is one of the five fastest-growing states in the nation since 2012.

RTW Michigan also has a huge budget deficit and no industry coming into the state. Gov. Rick Snyder has had to lower the number of jobs that businesses need to create in order to receive massive tax credits. The worst is yet to come because workers are still operating on contracts made before the 2012 law, something that won’t happen in Wisconsin because the law goes into effect immediately.

Quality of life in RTW states is measurably worse with eight of the worst states in the nation having RTW laws, and eight of the best being non-RTW. RTW states have poorer life expectancy and infant mortality, higher homicide rates, worse pollution, lower voter turnout, less broadband access, lower educational levels, and poorer housing. The 24 RTW states have 34 percent higher rate of deaths on the job in the construction industry. During the 20th century, the middle class grew as unions grew; it began to shrink when unions were weakened through the so-called “right-to-work” laws.

Walker’s legacy will be the bodies that he leaves strewn along his path toward the White House.

September 13, 2013

U.S. Exceptionalism All Negative

Many in the U.S. have taken exception to Russia’s president Vladimir Putin taking exception at President Obama’s statement “I believe in American exceptionalism.” So how is the United States exceptional?

The health care in this country is exceptional because it’s costly with poorer outcomes than other countries. People in the U.S. spend almost 18 percent of the country’s GDP on health care, one and half as much as any other OECD country and twice as much as the average. 

health care expenditure

At the same time, about 50 million people in the U.S., almost 15 percent of the population. In other developed nations, 100 percent of the people have health care. In addition, many other people in the U.S. who have health insurance put off getting healthcare because of high deductibles and copayments. Obamacare  won’t solve the problem, but it attempts to remediate it. Personally I take exception to GOP members of the House who waste my taxpayer money by continually voting against helping people as they did again yesterday afternoon.

The U.S. is 33rd in life expectancy and 34th in infant mortality. This nation has the highest first-day infant death rate out of all the industrialized countries in the world—68 other countries. It is estimated that 45,000 people died each year because lack of access to medical care. People in the U.S. pay twice as much for medications as people in Canada or Europe, and 30 percent of every healthcare dollar is spent on administrative costs. In comparison, Taiwan spends a little over 6 percent of GDP on healthcare with better outcomes in some key indicators. Medicare in the U.S., a single-payer system similar to that in most other developed countries, has administrative costs of about 3 percent.

Adolescents die at higher rates from car crashes and homicides, and they have the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections. People in the U.S. have the highest incidence of AIDS, the highest obesity rates, the highest diabetes rates among adults 20 and older, the highest rates of chronic lung disease and heart disease and drug-related deaths.

The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in which workers are not legally entitled to paid leave—even vacation time. European nations typically provide five weeks; Germany gives almost seven weeks. Almost one-fourth of the U.S. workers get no time at all. Germany’s decreasing unemployment rate is 5.4 percent, and the average hourly wage has gone up more than 4 percent in the last three years. Wages in the U.S. have barely gone up, and the 7.4 percent unemployment rate is unhealthy for the economy. U.S. workers put in 1,800 a year while German workers work an average of 1,400 hours per year.

U.S. productivity rose by 80 percent from 1973 to 2011 while compensation went up barely 12 percent with no increase since 2000, despite a 23-percent productivity increase in that time.

The United States provides no maternity leave, compared to most of the other countries in the world.

paid-maternal-leave-by-country With a child poverty rate of 20-25 percent, the United States rates 34th out of 35 countries. (Romania is below the U.S.) Map

 child-poverty-rates

The United States is exceptional in having the most millionaires and billionaires who have collected more of the planets assets than any other country. Yet the U.S. is #27 in middle-class wealth. Adding all assets such as homes and bank accounts before subtracting liabilities such as loans and other debts gives the best indicator of individual and family prosperity. As the following chart shows, 26 other countries have a higher media wealth than the U.S.

Middle Class wealth

Incarceration is higher in the United States than in other countries such as Russia, Cuba, Iran, or China. The lock-up rate is ten times what it is in Norway and more than that in Japan and Iceland. Several states in this nation lock up people for debt, and private corporations count on “growth” models to increase their profits. In Arizona, for example, the state guaranteed full prisons when private companies built them.

 The U.S. has the highest gun ownership rates in the world and the second highest rate of gun deaths among industrialized nations. These two things are related, looking at developed nations shows that the higher the rate of gun ownership, the more people die from gun wounds.

The U.S. ranks 23rd in wage distribution, 22nd in gender equality, and 29th in intellectual property protection. The U.S. ranks 10th in purchasing power of minimum wage and 11th in minimum wage. The nation also ranks 125th in GDP growth per capita. Out of 24 nations, the U.S. ranked between 19th and 23rd in critical areas of health, education, and material well-being.

The United States is now 9th in the world in Internet speed, down one place from last year. South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Netherlands, Latvia, Czech Republic, and Sweden are above the U.S. Yet this country charges more for Internet use that these other countries.

The United States does rank first in the world in death by violence. The U.S. is also exceptional among the industrialized world for having the only president who claims the right to execute citizens without due process in the U.S. post-constitutional philosophy. For other ratings, check out the Global Competitiveness Report for 2012-2013.

In lashing out at Putin’s response to President Obama’s threatened attack on Syria, Putin wrote that claiming the exceptionalism of America is “dangerous”:

“We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Because of Russia’s vicious anti-LGBT laws that cause physical harm and death to those perceived to be LGBT, Rep. Nancy Pelosi used Putin’s words to attack him when she said:

“He says that we are all God’s children. I think that’s great. I hope it applies to gays and lesbians in Russia as well.”

In the nationalistic craving for U.S. exceptionalism, Pelosi and many others forget that LGBT people can be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity in over 30 states, they cannot be married in 37 states, and the federal government is denying Social Security benefits to all married same-sex couples who do not live in one of the jurisdictions that have not yet legalized marriage equality. By comparison 14 countries in the world have legalized same-sex marriage.

Before getting into a contest about whether the United States is “exceptional,” people might work toward making it so—in a good way and not just in high rates of mortality, bad health, hunger, poverty, income inequality, and incarceration.

July 25, 2013

U.S. Needs To Bring Back the Middle Class

“This growing inequality isn’t just morally wrong; it’s bad economics. When middle-class families have less to spend, businesses have fewer customers. When wealth concentrates at the very top, it can inflate unstable bubbles that threaten the economy. When the rungs on the ladder of opportunity grow farther apart, it undermines the very essence of this country.” –

President Obama made the above statement yesterday in an address about fixing the U.S. economy.  Capitalism is like playing Monopoly: when all the money is the hands of one person, the game is finished. That’s what’s happening in the United States.

Investments in growing the middle class include investment in education, infrastructure, energy, and innovation; closing loopholes for the wealthy and huge corporations; retirement and health care security; affordable housing; and a higher minimum wage.

  • Income inequality in the United States is higher than at any other time since the Great Depression.
  • Between 1979 and 2007, the income of the richest top 1% of American households almost tripled while middle class incomes remained largely stagnant.
  • The income of the average CEO rose nearly 40% since 2009, but the average person in the country earns less than he or she did in 1999. Last year the average CEO pay went up 16 percent; in the first quarter of 2013, hourly wages dropped 3.8 percent.
  • Both Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy; they saw slower economic growth and job growth during their presidencies than President Clinton, who raised taxes in 1993.
  • The years following the Bush tax cuts were the worst for job creation since the government began keeping records and the worst for business investment since World War II.
  • About 62% of the wealth recovered during this recovery has come in the form of higher stock prices, which overwhelmingly benefits the wealthiest Americans but does little for the middle class and almost nothing for those living in poverty.

Growing research indicates that the strength and size of the middle class has a strong effect on the all the key factors that propel an economy forward. Deregulation promoting home ownership loses its sustainability when the bubble burst, saddling millions of families with mortgages they could no longer afford. The trend for the last 40 years has been to build the wealth of the top while tearing down that of everyone else, a reversal of the previous 30 years.

The premise of Daron Acemoglu’s How Nations Fail is that politics and government determine economic institutions of a country and these economic institutions determine whether a country is poor or prosperous. Economic power is hampered if political power is concentrated in an economic elite with a policy that works to their advantage.

In the 1970s, the United States moved toward an exclusive institution when unions lost power, states limited voter rights, and the Supreme Court gave record-breaking campaign spending rights to corporations. Lost were the political support for public education and infrastructure, vital to economic growth. More and more, children’s opportunities are being limited by their parents’ incomes.

A common complaint is that businesses have a shortage of skilled workers. Decades of rapidly increasing higher education costs have reduced the pool of these workers. China is now making a $250 billion annual investment to create the next generation of skilled workers; the United States wants students to pay for Bush’s deficit. A narrow interest group that monopolizes political power is rapidly eliminating innovation and investment in this country.

Eighty-two percent of people in the U.S. support a raise to $10.10 an hour, including more than 90 percent of Democrats and even two-thirds of Republicans, as well as nearly 80 percent of those who make more than $100,000.  Voters also decided to raise the wage in three cities in November, and in fact when ballot initiatives include a raise, voters nearly always approve it by substantial majorities.

Fifty-six percent think that raising the minimum wage will help the economy. They know that a federal minimum wage worker who works a standard 40-hour week cannot afford fair market housing in any one of the 50 states. [See map below for the number of salaried hours necessary for a minimum-wage earner to rent a two-bedroom apartment.] Thirty million workers would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage to only $9 would give an additional $48 billion into the economy by next year and ease the income gap for 15 million low-wage workers.

healthmap-e1374240125936

The elite tells falsehoods in order to keep increasing their already obscene wealth. Charles Koch, worth $43 billion, said that the minimum wage is an obstacle to economic growth. Although he opposes government-run health care, he lists countries with this security as examples of leaders in economic freedom. Ironically, he refers to assistance for low-wage workers as a “culture of dependency” on the government while his own industries receive oil subsidies, government contracts, and bailouts.

False arguments against raising the minimum wage:

  • It will decrease jobs. No, studies show that this is not true. In fact, it will increase jobs because people have more money to spend, and they will spend it. The states with higher minimum wages than the federal minimum don’t have higher unemployment rates.
  • It will hurt small businesses and force increases in prices. No, two-thirds of businesses employing minimum-wage workers have more than 100 employees. Companies like Walmart and McDonald’s force wages down so their CEO’s can take the money. Modest increases in the minimum has little effect on total corporate costs.
  • Most minimum wage workers are kids, working in the summer or part-time while going to school. Definitely not. Ninety percent of minimum wage workers are adults; most of those are long-term employees who rely on their job to support themselves and families. Approximately two-thirds of those working minimum wage jobs are women.  “Kids” can also use a raise to pay for college and/or specialized training—or to help their families survive .

Today corporate profits are a record high, and workers wages are at a record low. If the minimum wage were equal to 1968 dollars, it would be $10.71 instead of the current $7.25. In the past 45 years, minimum wage has shrunk by one-third.

In the last 22 years since the tipped wage was set at $2.13 and gas cost $1.10 a gallon, Congress has raised its own salary 13 times. In the last two years of recession recovery, the top 1 percent of people in the United States gained 110 percent of income growth while the bottom 99 percent lost ground. Thirty million people in this nation would benefit from increasing the minimum wage to $10.10. If workers don’t get fair pay, they can’t buy. When they can’t buy, the economy can’t grow. And if they get more money, they pay more taxes.

Conservatives are wasting dozens of votes in the House to take health care security from millions of people in the nation. Conservatives constantly threaten to shut down the government if progressives refuse to vote for the failed, trickle-down, austerity policies. Conservatives want to cut even more from education, medical research and infrastructure in order to give even greater tax cuts to the rich and huge corporations.

The wealthy are not the job creators. The real job creators are the middle class consumers who buy what businesses sell.

The looting class believes that there is no threat of democracy breaking out when people are poor and focused on meeting their basic needs. In March, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) introduced The Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour over the next three years. Once it reaches $10.10, the minimum wage would be raised automatically each year to account for inflation and ensure that it never loses its purchasing power. The bill also raises the wages of those who rely on tips, phasing in an increase until the “tipped minimum”–currently stuck at $2.13 an hour—reaches 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.

Miller’s bill went to the House committee yesterday. We need to support it and bring back the middle class.

September 3, 2012

Labor Day, NOT a Time to Celebrate Management

On this Labor Day, my partner and I sat outside the local Fred Meyers’ grocery store and discussed the importance of labor unions. I told her that they are much like bees, that people might complain about getting stung but without unions that society would disappear. In a more optimistic fashion, she maintained that the super-rich would pay the workers just enough to keep buying what the corporations sell so that the wealthy could keep making more and more money. My response was that they weren’t that smart, that they were perfectly willing to kill the golden goose to get all the eggs immediately rather than receiving them piecemeal.

The entire battle regarding labor and labor unions is about power. Workers think that they should have certain rights, and conservatives want the control with the company or the people who pay taxes. If conservatives had their way, they would do away with the minimum wage, child labor laws, the 40-hour week and any overtime, workers’ compensation, workplace safety, pensions, health care insurance, leave for illness, vacations and holidays, equal treatment for the workers, any kind of anti-discrimination laws, etc. Conservatives are intent on accomplishing this race to the bottom.

A tweet from Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) today shows how little regard conservatives have for labor: “Today we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built their own business, and earned their own success.” No mention of people who build roads, nurse the sick, put out our fires, keep us safe, pick our food—those people who worked at Fred Meyers today so that I could buy groceries.

When a group of laborers celebrated the first Labor Day 130 years ago, working conditions were deplorable, but people could still to West to get land and work for themselves. In 1887, Oregon (do you detect my pride?!) was the first of 30 states to declare the day a holiday before the federal government took the same action 12 years later. Tragedies in the early 20th century led to the anger that resulted in the growth of labor unions. From that action and the benefits of President Roosevelt’s New Deal came a strong middle class that had a much more comfortable life in the mid-20th century than people have now.

The percentage of workers in unions peaked in 1954 at almost 35 percent of the workers. Since that time, union membership has grown in the public sector while drastically shrinking in the private sector, now down to 7 percent, the same as in 1932. Private sector workers resent public sector employees having more benefits, including pensions and health insurance; private sector workers prefer to tear down the benefits of public sector workers rather than attempting to build up their own situation. More race to the bottom!

One complaint from conservatives is that unions can require its members to campaign for a political candidate. The truth is that corporations have the same right. That’s why the miners were required to watch a speech by Mitt Romney recently and be photographed while having their wages docked because they weren’t working while attending the event. Rob Moore of Murray Energy Company, which owns the mine, admitted that the workers weren’t paid for the day. He said, “Our managers communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend.” Even unions don’t do that.

In states without right-to-work laws, the union must represent all workers if the majority of workers in a private company vote for a union because all workers must then pay dues. In right-to-work states, however, the majority does not rule. Statistics about “right-to-work” states show that the workers are worse off than in other states. Workers have lower compensation in RTW states than in other states. Average wages for nonfarm workers in RTW states are $57, 732, compared to $65,567 in other states. Even when compensation is adjusted for cost of living, those in RTW states lose out by 3.5 percent. This figure doesn’t take into consideration the salaries of federal employees whose wages would be the same in all the states, meaning that salaries are probably even lower in these states.

RTW states lose companies that provide better wages. In one right-to-work state, Oklahoma, the number of new companies coming into the state has shrunk by one-third since it passed its RTW law, and the state has lost one-third of its manufacturing jobs during the same time period.  Idaho has the same problem as Oklahoma. Before it became a right-to-work state in 1985, Idaho was ranked 35th for per capita income. Now it is 49th because the only industries coming into the state are those seeking cheap, unskilled labor.

lRTW states also suffer from more problems than lost wages. The occupational-fatality rate in the construction industry—one of the most hazardous in terms of workplace deaths—is 34 percent higher in right-to-work states than in states without such laws. Workers in RTW states also have less health care and pensions.

Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy signed the Executive Order that brought bargaining rights to most federal workers for the first time. Public sector union rights had no controversy for 20 years; even Ronald Reagan presided over the extension of collective bargaining rights to California state and local workers in 1968 when he was governor. He also caused the shift against public sector unions when he broke the air traffic controllers strike in 1981 although he kept their right to bargain. Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) was the one who stripped government workers of their bargaining rights.

Despite claims that public sector unions are at fault in today’s budget deficits, conservatives, as usual, lie about this. North Carolina with a 10-percent budget shortfall for next year has no collective bargaining. Budget problems in New York, a highly unionized state, are only one-third those of North Carolina. Conservatives’ worship of Ronald Reagan ignore the fact that his position on workers’ rights is much closer to that of Kennedy than to today’s rabid hatred of public “servants.”

Tomorrow the Democratic convention starts in Charlotte (NC). Today the North Carolina State AFL-CIO helped kick off the event with its “hug-a-thug” booth, referring to the Republican use of the term “union thugs.” MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer for the organization, said, “Union members take care of you in the hospital, deliver your packages and sit next you in church. We are just average folks.” Union members run the Guide Dogs of America program and rebuilt the World Trade Center.

As Nathaniel Downes said:

 “No man is an island. We all live and work in a community. We do better when the community is thriving. Our nation did its best when we had a strong concept of community, of society. Those who made the most paid to support that system, paying ahead for the next generation. Those who fell behind were caught in the safety net and given a ladder with which to climb back out of the pit of poverty. The concept of greed and selfishness has sapped society of its strength. The pursuit of wealth at all costs has created a catastrophe in the making, for once enough people fall into poverty the consumer market will seize up. Once that happens, no money in the world will help those at the top as they find their empires crumbling beneath them.”

Although the road to prosperity is now paved with poverty of the vast majority, the wealthy don’t understand what will happen without a strong middle class. It’s a cycle: the worse off that people get, the more that their anger and resentment builds, and they use unions for scapegoats. As these angry and resentful people attack and weaken unions, the economy worsens. Then the angry and resentful are far worse off and trying harder to destroy their scapegoats, which only worsens the economy. In essence they destroy themselves.

Respected Republican presidents of the past understood the importance of labor, not management:

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”–Abraham Lincoln

“Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.”–Ronald Reagan

“It is essential that there should be organization of labor. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize.”–Theodore Roosevelt

“Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join the union of their choice.”–Dwight D. Eisenhower

“If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool.”–Abraham Lincoln

The Republican goal of destroying the public sector unions comes from the GOP desire to destroy the middle class, because this is the group that organizes opposition to conservative ideology that only wants to provide more wealth for the rich. After the public sector unions are gone, the GOP will go after the few private sector unions that remain. Organization means resistance to the GOP objective of taking freedom from everyone in the country except the super-rich.

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