Posts Tagged ‘Labor’

People vs. money: the playing field is tilted

June 9, 2014

A labor union is a group of working people working together for a common purpose.   A corporation is a pool of money which has been combined for a common purpose.

In American history, going back to when Thomas Jefferson was Secretary of State and Alexander Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury in George Washington’s cabinet. there have been two sources of power—people and money.

People power is irresistible when it has been mobilized, but people are prone to be apathetic and short-sighted.   Money power is constant.   It never is bored and never is blind to its own interests.  It is able to tilt the playing field.

Public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans want policies that are the opposite of what millionaires want, yet Washington officials and pundits accept the corporate agenda and treat those who represent public opinion as a lunatic fringe.

minimum_wage_onpageGovernment strictly regulates the internal workings of labor unions to make sure that they are operated honestly and democratically.   No such regulation applies to corporations.

Attorney-General Eric Holder has admitted that the Obama administration has not investigated financial fraud in the biggest banks and Wall Street investment firms because they are too important to the economy.   Imagine someone in the Kennedy administration saying this of Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters!

Right now a battle is going on for the rights of low-wage workers who frequently are, among other things, victims of wage theft.  Owners of fast-food restaurants commonly withhold pay for hours worked.  This is illegal.  Progressives are trying to put a stop to it.   Corporate executives are trying to change the laws to make it more difficult to sue.

The big problem for organized workers is that their immediate employer is not always the source of the problem.  Fast-food franchisees operate on extremely narrow profit margins, because of the conditions set by the franchising companies, and (arguably – I don’t really know) may not be able to afford to pay more than they do.  But the battle of the unions is with the franchisees, not with the real decision-maker.

Contract manufacturers in Asia operate under the same conditions.  Their profit margins, as set by their customers in North America and Europe, are so small that (arguably – I don’t really know) they may not be able to pay more than they do.   This is another way that the playing field is tilted against workers and their unions.

Another corporate abuse is the use of private equity to loot corporations at the expense of workers.  The basic idea of private equity is that investors buy out a company’s stockholders and operate it themselves.  In principle, there is nothing wrong with this, if they think they can manage the company better than the previous owners.   Sometimes they succeed in doing this, which is fine.

In practice, private equity investors frequently are looters.  The investors have the company pay themselves or their other companies big fees for management services, consulting services and other fees.  Typically they buy the company with borrowed money, so their own cost is small.  They sell off assets for a quick profit, lay off employees and pocket quick profits while leaving the company a mere shell.   Jimmy Hoffa would never have been allowed to get away with stuff like this.

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Poverty-wage professors and higher education

September 24, 2013

Hat tip to corrente.

The passing scene: Links & comments 9/18/13

September 18, 2013

Longshore Union Got a Raw Deal from AFL-CIO by Carl Finamore for Counterpunch.

Labor Leaders, Obamacare and the Fate of the Unions by Shamus Cooke for TruthOut.

I was disappointed that President Obama did not support a public opinion for health insurance, as he promised during the 2008 campaign. But for a long time I hoped that the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, would be an improvement, despite its flaws. I now think my hope was misplaced.

Many labor union members are turning against Obamacare, but AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is trying to soften criticism because he is committed to supporting the Democratic Party. This is one of the reasons (not the only one) that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union decided to leave the AFL-CIO.

Larry Summers: Goldman Sacked by Greg Palast.

When Larry Summers was Deputy Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton administration, one of his common questions was, “What would Goldman think of that?”—referring to Goldman Sachs, possibly the most predatory and dishonest of the Wall Street financial firms. Summers’ boss, then Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, came out of Goldman Sachs.

So it’s no wonder that there was a public outcry against his appointment as chair of the Federal Reserve Board, and that, as a result, he withdrew his name from consideration. The wonder is that President Obama considered him in the first place.  In the article above, Greg Palast reviews Summers entire record of negative accomplishment.

Banks Are Manipulating Gold and Silver Markets by Washington’s Blog for The Big Picture.

A lot of people acquire gold and silver because they believe it has intrinsic value, unlike stocks and bonds.  But writers for The Guardian and The Telegraph in London report that the prices of gold and silver are manipulated by the big banks and trading companies, just like interest rates.

 The post provides a link to that article and links to other articles detailing just about every way the big financial firms rip off the public.

How Detroit went broke: The answers may surprise you—and don’t blame Coleman Young by the Detroit Free Press.

The Detroit Free Press ran a good article about the history of the Detroit city government’s financial mismanagement.  But the key reason Detroit went broke is that the auto industry abandoned the city, and the city’s political and business leaders never developed a strategy for diversifying the city’s economy.  Detroit’s location at the junction of two Great Lakes and a land bridge between the United States and Canada ought to give it some comparative economic advantage.

 

U.S. corporate profits and Chinese sweatshops

September 17, 2013

chart290813a
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chart290813b

Costs and profits for Apple’s i-Phone

Defenders of sweatshop conditions in China say that low wages are the result of the impersonal workers of a hypothetical free market.  But a recent study (links are below) shows the real cause is the structure of the supply chain linking components producers such as Foxconn to customers such as Apple Computer.

When I hire a painter to paint my house, and he hires a helper, the free market works the way it ought to work because there is a rough equality of buying power.  But no such equality exists when individual workers are dealing not just with corporations, but with networks of corporations.

The corporate supply chain represents a concentration of power and a diffusion of responsibility.   When workers try to negotiate with Foxconn, managers can say that there is as limit to what they can do based on Apple’s requirements.   But Apple managers have no direct responsibility.  They can say there is a limit to what they can do based on their fiduciary responsibility to maximize return to stockholders.

You could say government should step in and set minimum wages and labor standards, but at the present time the governments of China and the USA are aligned with management, not workers.  Governments will not heed workers until they organize and create a base of power that governments must heed.  The workers of the world should unite.

Click on A Suicide Survivor: The Life of a Chinese Migrant Worker at Foxconn for a picture of working conditions at Foxconn by Jenny Chan.

Click on The politics of global production: Apple, Foxconn and China’s new working class for the text of the study by Jenny Chan, Ngai Punan and Mark Selden for their full paper.

Click on Apple et al create new working class for a duplicate copy of the study in Asia Times.  This is where I first came across the study.

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Who are the real makers and takers?

September 12, 2013

takers

Hat tip to Jobsanger.

The future of labor unions

September 3, 2013

I think workers will always need to organize to protect their own interests.  Labor unions are a structure that exists for that purpose, but it is nothing more than a structure, just as a corporation, a government agency, a charitable organization or a church is a structure.  The people within the structure may or may not be faithful to carrying out the organization’s purpose.

Labor unions are much more democratic and much less corrupt than other institutions in American society, partly because corruption is much less tolerated in unions than in other institutions.  Corrupt labor leaders go to prison; corrupt bankers retire to enjoy their ill-gotten gains.  Under law, the government can, and has, appointed trustees to take over corrupt labor unions and clean house.  Nothing of the sort exists for labor unions.

I think there always will be a need for labor unions, but future labor unions may not be like those of the present day.  In the 1930s, the American Federation of Labor, consisting predominantly of skilled workers organized by craft, did not respond to the discontent of workers in great industries.  Workers acted on their own, and the CIO (Committee for Industrial Organization, later Congress of Industrial Organizations) was formed in response.

The Wagner Act of 1935 recognized the right of unions to exist and to make contracts through collective bargaining, but imposed on them the obligation not to strike for the duration of the contract.  Further restrictions on labor unions were imposed by the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 and the Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959.

The one-day work stoppages by Wal-Mart and fast-food workers remind me of what I read about the history of the 1930s, with workers taking their fate into their own hands and the recognized labor unions rushing to keep up with them.  These actions could represent a new direction for American workers.  I hope they do.

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Those were the good old days

September 2, 2013

youngGOP.unions

Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist.

The labor scene: Links and comments 8/30/13

August 30, 2013

graph-the-1-percents-jobless-recovery-01Here are some good articles for reading on Labor Day weekend.

Our Sad, Misunderstood Labor Unions by David Macaray for Counterpunch.

Labor unions are the only organizations whose purpose is to defend the rights of working people.  Why, then, have they gotten such a bad name?

Reversing the Labor Movement’s Free Fall by Stanley Aronowitz in Logos.

Aronowitz argues that labor unions must go beyond collective bargaining and champion the interests of working people across the board.

The AFL-CIO’s New Strategy by Shamus Cooke for Counterpunch.

While the AFL-CIO leadership recognizes the need for new strategy and tactics, it is limited by its commitment to the Democratic Party and the anti-union Obama administration.

unionincomeProductivity Rose 7.7 Percent Post-Recession; Workers Have Seen None of It by David Dayen for Naked Capitalism.

The decline of labor unions is turning the United States into a low-wage nation.

Workers Greatest Power Over Owners and Bosses? The Ability to Stop Work and Walk Out by James Cersonski for AlterNet.

Largest fast food strike ever: 58 cities will be affected by Joseph Eidelson for Salon.

Workers in the fast-food industry use strikes to protest unfair treatment and low wages rather than waiting until they can negotiate contracts.

Fast Food, Retail Worker Strikes Do Honor to King Legacy by David Dayen for Naked Capitalism.

Martin Luther King’s 1963 speech was given for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and he was murdered while in Memphis, Tenn., to support a strike by municipal garbage collectors.   If he were alive, he would support union organizers of low-wage workers and strikers against low-wage companies.

Click to view

Five reasons for optimism about labor unions this Labor Day by John Logan for The Hill.

The economic scene: Links & comments 8/23/13

August 23, 2013

Here are links to articles I found interesting and you might find interesting, too.

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber for Britain’s Strike! magazine.

Some 80 years ago the great economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that advances in technology would make it possible to do all the necessary work of society without people having to work long hours at low pay.

David Graeber said that this, in fact, has happened, but the necessary work of society is being crowded out by unnecessary work.  He knows people who say frankly that their work serves no useful purpose, and they do it only to earn an income.

How do you distinguish between necessary and unnecessary work?  Simply imagine what would happen if all the people doing a particular job went on strike?  Society would be seriously inconvenienced if nobody taught school or staffed fast-food restaurants.  But if all tele-marketers ceased work, most people would be glad.

Graeber wrote that it is the people who are doing the meaningful work—teachers, factory workers, health care workers—who are under attack in the current economic struggle, and that they are targets of resentment by people trapped in meaningless work.   This is a good instrument of social control, he thinks.

An Open Letter to President Barack Obama by Ani McHugh, a high school English teacher in New Jersey.

Ani McHugh appealed to President Obama to abandon corporate school “reform” which, she says, prevents teachers from doing their jobs.  She would be an example of people with meaningful and important jobs who are under attack.

How to Become a Part-Time Worker Without Really Trying by Barbara Garson for TomDispatch.

The trend to part-time work is not just a result of fewer factories and more fast-food restaurants.  Barbara Garson described how companies are switching from full-time to part-time work, with the same work requiring the same skills and sometimes by the same people, but with less pay, fewer benefits and no job security.

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Chris Hedges on the failure of the liberal elite

August 21, 2013

Click on Death of the Liberal Class (and scroll down through breaks in the text) for more from Chris Hedges.


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