Laura Clawson of Daily Kos helps us plan our holiday cook outs by presenting food that is produced by union labor. Her shopping list includes many large brand names, which should be easy to find. I would add to this list that we should try to shop at stores that have union employees - not an easy task.
Common Dreams features John Nichols of the Nation who links labor rights to human rights. What is he talking about? Primarily that workers should be allowed the protection common in any democracy: freedom of speech and association. Representative Keith Ellison and John Lewis are sponsoring the Employee Empowerment Act to help workers organize without retaliation. The problem in our current political culture is that this bill has no immediate chance of being debated much less passed into law.
Non-union workers at Market Basket won a battle when their strikes led to the reinstatement of a CEO they respect. However, this victory does not lead to any secure future for the workers. If the CEO they fought for decides to turn on them, they have no recourse in the form of a contract or collective rights. As Kate Aronoff notes, it is a victory, especially in demonstrating the power of any group of workers when they can join together to demand better working conditions.
Finally, Al Jazeera America’s Gregg Levine considers the holiday in light of the Pullman Strike and the recent Market Basket labor victory. He reminds us the President Grover Cleveland first declared Labor Day a holiday during the Pullman Strike. As he concludes, politicians once feared the American working class. Maybe the time is coming when labor will again have that power.
Have a happy Labor Day. Take a minute to think about what we have as working people, what we have lost, and – most importantly – what we should fight for in the future.
Common Dreams reports that much of the good news about job growth hides more troubling economic news. The article cites research by the National Economic Law Project that shows most workers have lost ground on wages. It also quotes economist Robert Kuttner, who notes that more new hires face part-time work schedules, including on-call jobs that give no set hours. We want more jobs. But they need to be good jobs, not work schedules that let employers make more money by making workers more insecure. America needs a raise and better working conditions.
Common Dreams offers a great essay by Laura Flanders that explores the success of worker-owned cooperatives. Flanders links a successful coop for home healthcare workers with New York City’s recent investment in promoting such business models. Workers in coops share the profits and collaborate to decide how the business will run. How does this benefit workers? In one case, a worker was able to move from a $6.25 minimum wage job to making $25 an hour as part of a coop. There are only 300 coops currently operating in the U.S. Hopefully we will see many more in the future.
Anyone familiar with Diane Ravitch’s writing knows she is on the political left. That said, her latest article does a great job of showing how our political and economic decisions are linked to education. Whatever your political views, I recommend that you consider her views and how they impact both students you care about and how they impact your tax dollars. As Ravitch points out, jobs are also at issue. As long as Americans are competing with workers in developing nations that earn much less, jobs will continue to outsourced. Ravitch, like a good teacher, helps us connect the dots.
Common Dreams is one of my favorite websites for understanding our world. Today it reposts an article by Jeff Faux that examines a very hot book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Piketty. The book’s thesis is pretty simple: the rewards of capitalism are now flowing to very few people. After WWII, the opposite was true. Economic expansion built the middle class in America and allowed Europe and Japan to rebuild after a terrible war. Poverty in America shrank. Now the opposite is true. Even though workers are more productive, their pay has declined.
Piketty claims that capitalist growth is fueling income inequality. Looking at capitalist societies over 300 years, he finds that most periods of growth increased inequality. The post-war period in the U.S was an outlier. Piketty refutes the claim that markets are self-correcting. Instead, they benefits most often go to those who do not have to work for a living (big investors, capitalists). Faux is careful to point out that Piketty is not a radical, that he is closer to Keynes than Marx. What excites me about a book like this is that it will challenge the way people think. It will force people to reexamine accepted wisdom, which is often the first step to real change.
PS: In Daily Kos, Mark Sumner criticizes Ross Douthat’s attempt to pooh-pooh Pikkety’s book.
Common Dreams has posted an article by Michelle Chen that examines one reason for wage disparities between men and women. In many states, employers can fire employees who discuss their salaries with other employees. Last week the Senate failed to pass The Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would have prevented this practice (if the bill passed the House, which would not have happened). How serious is this issue? Chen cites a 2003 study claiming that 1/3 of employers have rules that prevent employees from discussing pay with co-workers.
Why isn’t this practice a violation of the First Amendment? Chen explains that employers claim that pay is similar to a “trade secret,” confidential information. She also reminds readers of Lilly Ledbetter’s story. Ledbetter was doing the same job as her male peers at Goodyear Tire, but did not know she was paid less. When she found out and sued, the court ruled that she had not acted in a timely manner even though she did not have the information because of the employer rules described above.
I recommend that you read Chen’s story to get the full sense of this story. Should employers have this right? I don’t think so. Yes, employees should not discuss proprietary information. Salary does not fall in this realm. Instead, employers are bullying employees to control them and keep them afraid. This is another reason why American workers should support stronger labor laws and unions.
Common Dreams has posted an article by the great labor writer Michelle Chen, who examines the growing practice of “on call” work schedules. In this labor model, the employee works only when the employer offers hours. There is no set schedule. As Chen notes, there are several disadvantages to this model: no set schedule, getting sent home early, being called in the same day to work, and having no control over free time since you can only work when it is available. This model is becoming more common in retail stores and restaurants, industries where the minimum wage or tip wages are often the norm.
Chen ends her article: “While it purports to optimize workplace efficiency, the Just-in-Time system exploits work-time as a commodity. A just schedule takes into account the true value of a worker’s time, on and off the clock, and it’s the only way to truly ensure a fair day’s pay.” True words. But in a world where so many working people have bought into the argument that business is always right, I’m afraid that on call schedules are going to be just one line on a long and growing list of workplace concerns that workers are going to have to fight to change.
According to Common Dreams, McDonald’s employees in California, Michigan, and New York are suing both corporate owned stores and franchisees for wage theft. The employees assert that their pay has been lost due to fraud that includes: doctoring time sheets, preventing employees from taking breaks, making them work off the clock and forcing them to pay for uniforms. The workers in these states are trying to come together in a class action suit that could cover over 30,000 employees. If large companies don’t want to pay their employees and don’t want to let them have union protection, the next step will be courts. What popular companies have to hope is that judgments in courts of law are not followed by a worse fate: conviction in the court of public opinion.
The former Secretary of Labor takes on those who claim that a raise in the minimum wage would be a “job killer.” Instead, Reich, a trained economist, points out a simple fact: economies grow when people spend. People living on $7.25 an hour can only cover essentials, and often can only do so with the help of safety net programs, which are being cut. Reich points out that Walmart could have raised the wages of its $9 an hour employees to $15 by using the money spent buying back stock on salary.
If we want more jobs and higher wages, we need more spending (and less billionaire greed). Raising the minimum wage (and extending unemployment benefits) would give working class people discretionary income. As they spend more, companies will need more workers to make and sell things. Reich is outlining common sense. Opponents of the minimum wage have no good data to support their claims, so they rely on fear-based rhetoric like “job killer.” They used the same language to demonize the Affordable Care Act. I’m with Reich and President Obama: “America needs a raise.”
Three cheers to Common Dreams for giving thinkers like Reich a platform that is not found in the corporate media (which includes PBS).
Common Dreams has published several great posts that link the late Pete Seeger to progressive politics and workers’ rights. Today, it posted a remembrance by David Lindorff, a journalist who talks about Seeger’s impact on his life. While this essay touches on politics, it is more about how an artist can touch us and change our lives. All great art, like politics, is personal.
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