I frequently cite articles by Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos because she is one of the best writers on labor issues. Today Clawson looks at two stories in which bosses support workers. In one case, workers struck in support of Arthur T. Demoulas, who directed the supermarket chain, Market Basket, in a worker-friendly manner. Demoulas was reinstated. Clawson also tells the story of Arthur Burse, the President of Kentucky State University, who cut his pay so lower wage workers could get a raise. She points out that these stories are not what normally goes on in the work place. Every benefit workers have received over many decades has come from their collective action. As Clawson puts it, we don’t need stories of good bosses who are heroes; we need movements. I agree with her 100%. There are great places to work and great bosses. However, most companies don’t meet that standard. The only way for working people to have security is to work together and demand justice. Hopefully the fast food workers are just the first step in organizing the American workforce.
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.
Malcolm Harris, writing in Aljazeera America, explores a new law that would force employers to make the status of their workers transparent. I urge you to read Harris’ editorial and consider the law he is discussing. It has no chance of passing in the current make up of Congress. However, it should be part of what workers demand. It’s not just a matter of increasing wages, which I support. We need to advocate for workers’ rights.
I was on vacation and have been unable to post for a few days. I was going to skip today as well, but there is a great article in today’s Huffington Post. It describes how children are made to work throughout most of the world. The two main exceptions: Europe and North America (plus the lightly populated Australia). What do these areas have in common? Workers joined together in unions, often allying with religious reformers and advocates for children, to fight for laws that protected children from exploitations. The next time someone speaks against unions, remind them that there are many places in the world where there are no unions. Those are places where wages are very low and an adult can be working next to a child.
In the April issue of Psychology Today, Joann Ellison Rodgers reports on new psychological research on anger. Traditionally anger has been seen as a negative emotion that hurts both mental and physical health. Rodgers cites several experts who have found another side of anger. They argue that anger can lead people to make changes. People who are upset are more like to try to change something.
This article made me think about many of the clients I’ve encountered over the last ten years. Of those who were currently employed, most had some grievance against their company or boss. Since the Crash of 2008, many clients have made me share their anger by telling stories of increased workloads that are reward by salary freezes or cuts. One of my recent clients is a production manager who also has a sales function. Last year he put in extra hours to help the company where he has worked for more than 10 years. While maintaining all of his production duties, he also doubled his sales numbers. He expected to receive a bonus at his annual review in December. Instead, the owner told him “times are tough” and cut his pay by 10%. That made him angry enough to look for a new job.
His story makes me angry as well, which is why I’m telling it. Too many people are working too hard and not being properly rewarded. That’s why many workers in the U.S. are very, very angry. Hopefully, they will come together and change things to make their lives better.
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.
Aljazeera America reports that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is backing a plan that will help Detroit workers save their pensions. That’s great news if it is true. Snyder is the man who brought emergency managers to strip out public wealth from poor cities throughout the state. Now he’s promising $350 million to offset what his own emergency manager in Detroit claims is an $18 billion debt. As Scott Walker in Wisconsin is promising voters big tax cuts, Snyder is trying to show that he really cares about poor people. What is this about? It’s time to run for re-election. If working people are gullible enough to elect leaders that work against their interest, they will get what they deserve.
Timothy Eagan of the New York Times has written a great editorial on the current declining state of the middle class. Corporations get tax breaks from the government. Then they do whatever they can to drive down wages. Eagan looks at the case of Boeing, which received an $8.7 billion tax break and then asked its unions to make concessions. The Machinists Union said, “No.” Now Boeing is threatening to leave the state for one where wages are lower (“Right to Work for Less State”).
Is Boeing in trouble? Eagan writes: “Boeing is on a roll, its stock at a record high despite the troubled rollout of its 787 Dreamliner, and the pay of its C.E.O. boosted 20 percent to a package totaling $27.5 million last year.” If Boeing can give its leader such a raise, why doesn’t it want to compensate the people that build its planes? That’s the magic question, and the answer is that executives and boards of directors do not care about their workers or the health of the national economy. All they know is that they want more and more, which means working people have to make less and less.
Michelle Chen of In These Times (reposted on Common Dreams) reports that workers at musical instrument retailer Guitar Center are striking a power chord for wage justice. Workers at two of the chains +200 stores have unionized. Now others are joining the fight. Chen notes that these employees often are connected through interests outside of work, such as bands, which will give them even more reason to show solidarity when the going gets tough.
Expect the going to get tough – Bain has owned the business since 2007. However, it’s important to note that the unionized stores organized during Bain’s ownership. When workers hang together, they are impossible to stop. Are you listening, McDonald’s? Walmart?
According to a Gallup Poll cited in today’s Redeye, workers across the world are not engaged in their jobs. Only one in six people polled claimed to find meaning in their work. Results were slightly better in the U.S. and Canada where a whopping 29% called themselves engaged.
What do these numbers mean for us as individual workers? First, it indicates that much work available today is not stimulating or challenging. I would add as a second point that the people on the job help make it good or bad. When we work for a bad company or a tyrant boss, the type of work doesn’t matter. The job will suck, and we hate going to work. I’ve been there, and so has everyone I know.
Many workers in the U.S., especially those with higher education or specialized training, at least have some choices and options. I recommend that clients try to align the type of work they do to their gifts, the type of skills they most like to use. It’s not always easy to find such jobs, but the pay off is worth the effort. Here’s a first step: Don’t stay in a job that makes you feel miserable. According to Gallup, about one in three Americans are happy in their jobs. Do everything you can to be part of that group.
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