Archive for the ‘Labor’ Category

Freedom of contract or corporate Big Brother?

March 30, 2015

Freedom of contract begins where equality of bargaining power begins.
    ==Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

No contract that requires someone to give up a basic right should be legally enforceable.

A contract to sell yourself into slavery is not legally enforceable.  A yellow-dog contract, which requires you to give up your right to join a labor union, is not legally enforceable.

So what about Amazon’s practice of requiring even temporary employees to sign 18-month non-compete agreements as a condition for employment?

Noncompete_CartoonThe Verge obtained a copy of the contract that forbids Amazon workers, for 18 months after leaving Amazon employment, from going to work for any company that “directly or indirectly” supplies any good or service they helped support at Amazon.

Such non-complete agreements are required even for temporary warehouse workers, who typically work for three months during the Christmas season, The Verge reported.  In return for that short stint of work, they’re asked to give up any chance of working for an Amazon competitor—and, since Amazon is “the everything store,” that would mean virtually any job in retailing anywhere in the world.

In other words, Amazon workers are asked to give up a basic right that they supposedly have in a free enterprise system—the right to freely seek work from any employer willing to hire them.

A study, based on an on-line survey of 10,000 American workers conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne and the University of Michigan, determined that 12 percent are covered by non-complete agreements,  The Verge reported.  This includes 9 percent of warehouse and transportation workers.

Evan Starr, co-author of the study, told The Verge that the percentages are probably underestimated because workers sign non-compete agreements without realizing what they’ve signed.

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How to give American workers a pay raise

March 24, 2015

incomegrowthdistributionThe majority of American workers are getting less and less benefit from the growth of the American economy.

The pro-labor Economic Policy Institute notes that, since 1979, the U.S. economy (gross domestic product) has grown by 149 percent and productivity has grown 64 percent, but actual wages of most American workers, adjusted for inflation, are flat or declining.

Recently the EPI published an 11-point program for boosting American wages.   Here it is, with my comments.

1. Raise the minimum wage.

2. Update overtime pay rules.

3. Strengthen collective bargaining rights.

Stronger labor unions give workers power over their wages and working conditions independently of laws and regulations.  This is the most important change and a key to all the other changes.

4. Regularize undocumented workers.

Hiring unauthorized immigrants and relocating business activities to low-wage countries are two ways of doing the same thing—escaping the requirements of American labor law.   It is almost like competing with slave labor.  Since it is not feasible to deport the millions of unauthorized immigrants now in the United States, the only choice is to bring them under protection of the law.

5. Provide earned sick leave and paid family leave.

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Stockholders gain at the expense of the rest of us

March 13, 2015
wagesinfographic1200px

Unemployment is now officially below 6%, but the point is still valid.

Large businesses such as General Motors earmark less money for workers’ pay and for investment, research and technology compared to earlier eras.

They do this in order to be able to hand over more money to stockholders in the form of dividends and stock buybacks.

The reason is that stockholders have leverage and workers don’t, and stockholders no longer take the long view. In 1960, the average stockholder owned a stock for eight years, Harold Meyerson reported in the Washington Post.  Now they sell their stocks after four months, and, when high-frequency trading is factored in, it’s 22 seconds.[1]

Passive, short-term stockholders, unlike the original investors, contribute little or nothing to the value of a company.  Why should their interests be paramount?

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Why doesn’t technology make us all better off?

March 11, 2015

epi2

We Americans long enjoyed the world’s highest material standard of living, and we were told that was because of the superior productivity of American industry.  That sounds like common sense.  If you want more, you need to produce more.  Obviously.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

But about 30 or so years ago, this changed.  Our productivity continued to increase, but our wages and salaries didn’t increase along with it.

Why?

Some say that the problem is technology.   Automation means that fewer wage-earners are needed, and our work had less value.   So naturally there are fewer jobs, and employers generally don’t have to pay as much to find people to take these jobs.

Fewer wage earners are needed.  Needed by whom?  Our work has less value.  Value to whom?

They are less needed, and of less value, to the corporate boards and wealthy stockholders who own the technology.  Or, to put it another way:  Capitalists, not workers, own the means of production.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

It’s true that the average factory worker or retail clerk did not personally create the technological innovations that made it possible for them to do more with the same amount of work.  But neither did the average corporate executive or corporate stockholder.

If technology is owned and controlled by a small financial elite, then the applications of technology will be such to benefit that elite.

It is possible that, in acting in their own interest, the elite will do things that are good for society as a whole.  It also is possible that they will do things that are bad for society as a whole.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

When that happens, we the people need to understand that their power and ownership is not based on divine right or impersonal economic laws.   It is the result of corporate structures and legal rights established by law, and laws can be changed.

Some radical thinkers, such as Stanley Aronowitz, David Graeber, Richard D. Wolff and Gar Alperovitz, are reviving the idea of worker ownership and public ownership of the means of production, which is not the same thing as government ownership.

More moderate reformers think it is just necessary to change the balance of power within society.

The important thing, as I see it, is to stop letting priorities be determined by the “job creators,” the ones who own the machinery, the research laboratories and the so-called intellectual property.   The question is not whether they need us.  The question is whether we need them.

LINKS

Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit by David Graeber for The Baffler.

Why Wages Won’t Rise by Robert Reich.

The Great Decoupling of the U.S. Economy by Andrew McAfee on his blog.

Global lessons on inclusive growth by Jason Furman for Policy Network.

The Most Important Economic Chart by Atif Mian and Amir Sufi for House of Debt.

The wedges between productivity and median compensation growth by Lawrence Mishel for the Economic Policy Institute.

 

 

The American middle class is still struggling

March 9, 2015

feed-with-gdp

casselman-feature-income-3

casselman-feature-income-4

Americans historically have thought of ourselves as a middle class nation, a nation in which the majority of people were neither poor nor rich.  That is becoming less true.

The median level of income—that is, the dividing line between the top and bottom 50 percent of income earners—has been falling for 15 years.  This is not a good thing.

At the same time the middle tier of income earners is shrinking.  The middle tier are those who earn more than two-thirds of the median income and less than double the median income.  This is not a good thing.

I think the causes of this trend are the de-industrialization of the U.S. economy, the financialization of the U.S. economy and the upward redistribution of income to a small elite of financiers and corporate executives.

LINK

The American Middle Class Hasn’t Gotten a Raise in Fifteen Years by Ben Casselman for FiveThirtyEight.

 

The U.S. jobless rate is falling [Update: Maybe]

March 7, 2015

MW-DH110_jobs_r_20150306091454_ZHVia MarketWatch.

It’s interesting that the report of gains in jobs and a drop in unemployment was followed by a drop in stock prices.

Conceivably this could be been due to the improvement being less than expected, but analysts quoted in my morning newspaper said investors fear that the apparent recovery will cause the Federal Reserve Board to stop holding down interest rates in order to stimulate the economy.

A certain number of people can be expected take their money out of the stock market and put it in savings accounts in banks, or in bonds, because they would getting actual interest income again.

In other words, stock prices reflect an unsustainable government policy, and not the real health of the economy.

alternativenationalemploymentratesVia TownHall.com.

Still, it’s good news that the unemployment rate is falling, and is falling by every measure.

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Cab Calloway performs “Doing the Reactionary”

February 27, 2015

Hat tip to Bill Harvey

Cab Calloway performs “Doing the Reactionary” and “One Big Union for Two,” both from the musical revue Pins and Needles , which was put on by members of the International Ladies Garment Workers and ran on Broadway from 1937 to 1940.

Scott Walker’s Southern economic strategy

February 25, 2015

right-to-work-2Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is pushing through a right-to-work law, which gives workers protected by union contracts the right not to pay union dues.

It is part of an economic strategy copied from Southern states such as Alabama—to attract branch plants of industries headquartered elsewhere by means of low taxes, low wages and no labor unions.

The price of the strategy is low educational levels, low public services and deteriorating infrastructure—all the things that make a state attractive to entrepreneurial, high-tech and high-wage enteprise.

I think the Walker strategy is a bad one because Wisconsin can’t out-impoverish states like Mississippi, and the USA as a whole can’t out-impoverish nations like Bangladesh.  Even if we could, would we want to?

What we Americans as a nation need to think about is how to add value, and how to distribute the benefits among the working people who create value.

Scott Walker has been a highly successful politician, and looks to be a strong presidential candidate, by distracting attention away from these questions.   Instead he encourages people who are floundering economically to focus their resentment on their neighbors who still have union jobs and good wages, and away from the tiny economic elite who benefit from the low wage, high unemployment economy.

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The changing U.S. economy in four maps

February 22, 2015

The most common job in each state in 1978.

16389997587_0e9959bd23_zThe most common job in each state in 1988.

16574791922_bd081f6292_zThe most common job in each state in 2000.

16574792062_6c7be6e8d6_zThe most common job in each state in 2014

mostcommonjobSource: National Public Radio via Mike the Mad Biologist.

Long story short:  The most common jobs remaining are the ones that haven’t been automated and aren’t being done cheaper overseas.

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Dow Jones firms’ profit is $48,887 per employee

January 31, 2015
Profit-per-employee

Click to enlarge.

The 30 companies that make up the Dow Jones Industrial Averages took in an average profit of $48,887 per employee last year.  It would be interesting to know what those employees’ average incomes were.

LINKS

Five years into recovery, Dow companies squeeze workers as investors thrive by Michael Santoli for Yahoo Finance.

Another image of labor’s broken back: $48,887 in profit per employee! by Daniel Becker for Angry Bear.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism)

Why were Democrats AWOL on minimum wage?

January 26, 2015

President Obama in his 2013 State of the Union message proposed tying the minimum wage to the rate of inflation.

A blogger named Jamison Foser pointed out that the Democrats, who had a majority in the Senate, did not introduce any legislation in 2014 to accomplish that.

minimum_wage_onpagePresident Obama in his 2014 State of the Union message proposed an increase in the minimum wage.

Foser pointed out that the Democrats, who still had a majority in the Senate, introduced a bill in April to raise the minimum wage and, when it failed, they did not try again.

The Republicans who controlled the House of Representatives meanwhile passed bill after bill to repeal Obamacare.

Pundits ridiculed them for this, but in the 2014 elections, the Obamacare mess was a much bigger issue for voters than minimum wage.  Some states that passed referendums to increase the minimum wage still voted Republican.

This is a failure of the whole Washington leadership of the Democratic Party.

What good are politicians who won’t fight for the public good even when it’s popular?

LINK

After the State of the Union by Jamison Foser.  Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist.

American labor unions and the future

January 26, 2015

The New Deal is regarded as the emancipator of the American labor union movement.  By giving Americans a legal right to bargain collectively through labor unions of their own choosing, the National Labor Relations Act gave unions a recognized place in society.

Under the NLRB umbrella, American labor unions in the 1930s and 1940s became greater in size and power than they ever were before or have been since.

But Stanley Aronowitz in his new book, THE DEATH AND LIFE OF AMERICAN LABOR: Toward a New Workers’ Movement (2014), said that the NLRB in the long run proved a trap.

aronowitz.death&lifeamericanlabor03,200_Aronowitz said that unions agreed to restrictions on their only weapon, the strike.  During the course of a contract, unions themselves were responsible for suppressing unauthorized strikes.

Employers became adept at using the NLRB to thwart union organizing.  In the interim between a petition for a union election and the election itself, they could weed out the union supporters (although this was technically illegal) and threaten and propagandize the employees.

Labor leaders gave up the goal of transforming society in return for place at the table where decisions about the U.S. economy were made.  But they didn’t even get a place at the table.

Over the years, new laws weakened union rights and imposed new restrictions.  Union leaders became less and less able or willing to use their basic weapon—the strike.  Union membership is below 11 percent of the American work force, the lowest level since before the New Deal.

Aronowitz, a professor at City University of New York and a former factory worker and union organizer himself, wrote that if the labor movement is to survive, workers and labor leaders must break out of old ways of thinking.

They need to engage in direct action, outside the NLRB framework, as has was done in the recent Walmart and fast-food walkouts.

Aronowitz noted that these actions were taken without union recognition or expectation of a contract, but were effective nonetheless in forcing management to respond to workers’ demands.

Unions should not agree to contracts with no-strike provisions, he wrote.  Or, if they do, only as a last resort and for a limited time.

I always thought that the Walmart and fast-food workers, who are continually at the brink of destitution, showed great courage by defying their employers like that.  I wouldn’t have thought it possible if it hadn’t happened.  Maybe in this case freedom really is just another word for nothing left to use.

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The passing scene: January 4, 2015

January 4, 2015

Scavengers by Adam Johnson for Granta.

Adam Johnson walked down the stairs of his North Korean tourist hotel because he did not trust the elevator, and discovered that most floors of were unoccupied and scavenged for furnishings in order to keep up appearances on the few floors on which the tourists stayed.  This is one of the glimpses his article provides of the reality of life in North Korea.

Remembering the Russian Orthodox Priest Who Fought the Orthodox Church by Cathy Young for the Daily Beast.

Father Gleb Yakunin, a Russian Orthodox priest who died on Christmas, fought for democracy, Christian values and freedom for all religions against Communist totalitarianism and Putinist corruption.  He was defrocked twice for protesting and exposing the ties of the Russian Orthodox church with the Soviet government.

Religion in Latin America by the Pew Research Center.

Pentecostalism is on the rise in a historically Roman Catholic region.  The worldwide spread of Pentecostalism may be the most significant religious development of our time.

Tayloring Christianity by Matthew Rose for First Things.

A Secular Age? by Patrick J. Dineen for The American Conservative.

Secularism in the USA does not war on religion, the way anti-clericalism has done in France, Mexico and other countries.  American secularists simply want religion to be an individual matter rather than the organizing principle of society.  In a way, American secular liberals are the ultimate Protestants.

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More police union job actions like this, please

December 31, 2014

Police in New York City are conducting a job action by only enforcing the law when strictly necessary.  They’ll ignore minor traffic violations, public drinking and drug possession by people not bothering anybody else.   That is to say, they’ll do exactly what their critics want them to do.

MADIronically, if they had been conducting such an action several months ago, Eric Garner would still be alive and there would be no showdown between the Police Benevolent Association and Mayor De Blasio.

A labor union job action, for those who’ve never been a union member, consists of “working to rule”—doing exactly what the job requires, no more and no less, without exercise of any judgment.

Years ago police job actions consisted of enforcing every law, no matter how trivial, without exercising any discretion.  But what once was a form of harassment is now standard procedure in the poor neighborhoods of New York and many other cities.

I think New York City’s current police job action is a worthwhile, even if unintentional, social experiment.  It will be interesting to see the results of minimum rather than maximum policing.

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Hat tip to The Banality of Blue by B Psycho on Psychopolitik.

 

Can Democrats win back white working men?

December 12, 2014

From Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic Party was the party of white working men, with all the good and bad things that phrase implies.

Now a majority of white Americans vote Republican and the Republicans are especially strong among blue-collar white working men with high school educations—people who in FDR’s time would have been the backbone of the Democratic Party.

which-side-are-you-onI think there is a very obvious way that the Democrats (or, for that matter, the Republicans) could win the votes of the majority of white working people, and it is the same way they could win the votes of the majority of black, brown, yellow and red working people.

It is to put the United States on the path to a full employment, high wage economy.   I admit I do not have a blueprint on how to accomplish this, but there are a number of obvious things that would be both popular and beneficial to the vast majority.

Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans favor (1) a higher minimum wage, (2) prosecution of financial fraud, (3) breakup of “too big to fail” banks and (4) higher taxes on millionaires and billionaires and lower taxes on middle class and working people.

Polls also show a majority of Americans are opposed to (1) NATA-style trade pacts and (2) chipping away at Social Security and Medicare.   In all these cases, the American people are wiser than the decision-makers in Washington.

I think the AFL-CIO has some good ideas.  But I don’t think the problem is lack of good ideas, or even the inability to convince the public of good ideas.

The problem is that certain financial institutions and corporations are so entrenched in the federal government, in lobbying and in the political parties’ nominating process that they have the power to block good ideas.

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Hillary Clinton Presidency Could Have the Same Problems as Obama’s by Norm Scheiber for The New Republic.

Can We Talk?  Here’s Why the White Working Class Hates Democrats by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

Have Democrats Failed the White Working Class? by Thomas Edsall for the New York Times.

Our real white male problem: Why Fox News beats Bruce Springsteen and liberal moralizing every time by Jim Sleeper for Salon.


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