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Can American Labor Unions Be Relevant Again?

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      “I believe leaders of the business community, with few exceptions, have chosen to wage a one-sided class war today in our country — a war against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old, and even many in the middle class of our society.”

      “I would rather sit with the rural poor, the desperate children of urban blight, the victims of racism, and working people seeking a better life than with those whose religion is the status quo, whose goal is profit and whose hearts are cold. We intend to reforge the links with those who believe in struggle: the kind of people who sat down in the factories in the 1930’s and who marched in Selma in the 1960’s.”

      – UAW President Douglas Fraser in 1978

Jerry Tucker Labor Leader and ActivistFor decades, American workers have progressively watched their incomes and working conditions decrease and their opportunities lowered. As a result, Americans continue to view the economy and their families’ prospects negatively. Every American knows why these reduced expectations are occurring, but no one seems to have a definitive answer.

On March 12, 2005 at the conference on “Work and Social Movements in the United States” at University of Paris – Sorbonne, the late Jerry Tucker, labor leader and activist, told the audience,

”America’s 21st century workers need a labor movement committed to fight alongside them against those ‘who would destroy us and ruin [their] lives’ and leaders who have the courage to launch a strategic counter-offensive against the aggression on all fronts. If there are such leaders, they can start by openly ‘speaking truth to power’ and denouncing corporate America’s war on workers and working class communities, naming the ideological nest the perpetrators swarm out of, and condemning the overwhelming government backing they receive.

Yes, today many American workers are cynical and, collectively, do have reduced expectations. They know all too well that their quality of life is under attack and, for many of them, that unionism has not held up its end in the struggle. That was also true in the early 1930s. But that does not mean now, as then, that the willingness to fight back, the urgency to resist injustice, and the desire for dignity have been driven from the consciousness of our sisters and brothers. They have it in them to engage in struggle when they perceive the struggle has immediacy in their lives, when the injustices are real, and when they know they will not be alone. There are among them good and even great leaders for the struggle to come. A program that reconnects with workers built around their needs at the base, not just the notions of distant bureaucrats, is the way to start rebuilding the labor movement.

With history as our guide, the revitalization of the labor movement also cannot occur without a revitalization of an independent left within labor. U. S. labor as we know it today, and as is demonstrated by the narrow limits of the AFL-CIO debate, lacks the credibility to form the multi-lateral and multi-racial relationships for a new, dynamic social movement. A revival of progressive, socially-conscious left thinking internally could alter that reality and open up many new options.

U. S. labor needs a counter-offensive. And, the centerpiece of labor’s counter-offensive, with or without all current labor leaders, should be derived from a new vision of America based on justice and the creation of a new social intersection for all of those abused by the nexus of corporation and state and today’s neoliberalism.

A true crisis-resolution strategy must re-introduce a culture, and shared vision, of struggle and of common defense, through worker-to-worker, union-to-union, and social-movement-to-social-movement solidarity. Under one broad social banner, we need to declare war on poverty, racism, sexism, imperialism, and the denial of the fundamental right to affordable health care for all, full employment, shorter work-time, and many others of the true values due all participants in a just society.

Crisis-bound, U.S. labor is at a crossroads. The direction it takes will impact, for better or worse, the lives of a majority of all Americans.” [my emphasis]

Romney and Republicans Are Wrong Again

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Heck, we are all wrong on how well the economy has come back since the financial crash and Obama’s election. See for yourself.

The U.S. Economy Pre-stimulus/Post-stimulus by Michael Norman, John Thomas Financial Chief Economist

Look at the charts first…then think about how our assumptions and opinions have been molded in the media by politicos and pundits. I, for one, was highly surprised by this data.

Share it with your friends, coworkers, and neighbors.

Written by Valerie Curl

June 12, 2012 at 9:36 AM

Why Listening to Politicians Leads to Perceived False Economic Data

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Budget Cuts in 2011 Sign

One of the most well respected economics writers is David Leonhardt. His NY Times Economix blog is among the most well read and most non-political. This week, he clarified where the nation’s economy stands – and why it is as it exists. Rather than indulge in ideological talking points as so many politicians do, let’s deal in facts.

[O]ne of the major drags on growth has been the budget-cutting that has been going on at all levels of government for the past year and a half:

    The public sector has been shrinking for the last year and a half — mostly because of cuts in state and local government, with some federal cuts, especially to the military, playing a role as well. In the fourth quarter, government shrank at an annual rate of 4.5 percent.

    Over the last two years, the private sector grew at an average annual rate of 3.2 percent, while the government shrank at an annual rate of 1.4 percent.

    The combined result has been economic growth of 2.3 percent.

“The obvious conclusion seems to be that economic growth, and employment growth, would have been significantly stronger over the last two years without government cuts,” Leonhardt noted.

2011 Economy - Private Sector vs Public Sector Employment

As Leonhardt writes:

The private sector began to recover in 2009. The recovery slowed in 2010 and again in 2011, as the dips in the red line show. But by the end of last year, the private sector was expanding at a healthy 4.5 percent annualized pace.

Why, then, wasn’t economic growth in the most recent quarter better than the 2.8 percent that the Commerce Department reported today?

Because the economy is the combination of the private and public sectors. The public sector has been shrinking for the last year and a half — mostly because of cuts in state and local government, with some federal cuts, especially to the military, playing a role as well. In the fourth quarter, government shrank at an annual rate of 4.5 percent.

Over the last two years, the private sector grew at an average annual rate of 3.2 percent, while the government shrank at an annual rate of 1.4 percent.

The combined result has been economic growth of 2.3 percent.

As a result, when employment and economic data are used by politicos, one should remember that significant private sector employment gains, especially after a devastating financially caused recession as opposed to a business cycle recession, are being offset greatly by a significant loss in the public sector. Thus, no one should listen to politicians regarding economic conditions without seeking politically independent, expert data.

Written by Valerie Curl

February 3, 2012 at 9:25 AM

Putting America First

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Manufactruring workerFor several years, even before the Great Recession hit as a result of the collapse of the financial markets and credit crisis in 2009, I’ve been searching for the best ideas from across the spectrum of political and social ideas to revitalize America’s manufacturing economy.

Frankly, I never bought into the idea that the US should become a service economy. I don’t know why, but intuitively it felt wrong. It appears history has borne out my intuition correctly.

Detroit and the great manufacturing centers of the Midwest did not become the Rest Belt overnight in 2009. The slow loss of manufacturing began as early as 1979, accelerating to rapid proportions by 2006. Today only 9 out of every 100 workers work in manufacturing as opposed to the forty years leading up to the Second World War, when the percent of U.S. employment in manufacturing was a fairly consistent 30% or so, and followed by the three decades thereafter, when, despite the introduction of new service sector jobs as post-War manufacturing incomes rose, the percentage of manufacturing jobs still consistently hovered at around 25%.

As Leo Hindery, Jr., Chairman of the US Economy/Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, writes:

In sum, America, with just 9% or so of its employees working in manufacturing, suffers economically in multiple ways when it competes against large-scale trading partners which, percent-wise, have multiples more workers in the sector. We suffer in the magnitude of our trade deficit, the progressiveness of our average wage, the extent of income inequality, the amount of our federal indebtedness, and the pressures put on our nation’s state and municipal budgets.

However, the U.S. can develop trade and training policies that mimic best practices from other countries. In Germany, for example, 22% of its workers are engaged in manufacturing, with 25% of GDP coming from that sector. Today, manufacturing in the U.S. only amounts to 11% of GDP.

From the Washington Post:

In 2009, the German government created a job-sharing program called “Kurzarbeit” in which companies agreed that instead of laying off workers, they would cut back their hours, with the government making up the difference in pay. Germany replaced lost income for at least 1.4 million workers. While they were off the job, many of them took training classes.

The program saved nearly 500,000 jobs, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The result was that as the global economy began to pick up speed again last year, German companies were ready to ramp up with the right workforce in place. The government budgeted about $7.5 billion for the program.

But that’s not all Germany did to protect its manufacturing base. It instituted a trade policy that demanded for every shipload of imports, an equal shipload of exports. That kind of trade policy bolstered its manufacturing sector and supported the nation’s economy and its workers. Inflation-adjusted average hourly pay has risen almost 30 percent since 1985 in Germany, the kind of gains American workers have not enjoyed since the ’50s and ’60s. In this country, hourly pay has risen a scant 6 percent since 1985.

China, likewise, demands certain benefits to its economy when pursuing trade about which much has been written, including its lack of meaningful environmental and labor standards, currency manipulation and other subsidies, highly restrictive limitations on foreign goods purchases, and demands that countries seeking to do business in China first make massive transfers to it of their intellectual property.

Nineteen of the G20 countries have precise manufacturing and trade policies, and most bounced back faster and are doing far better economically than the U.S.

The United States simply cannot afford to have nearly 18% of its workforce either working part time at low wage jobs or unemployed for the next two decades as currently predicted. If the U.S. is going to attain historic employment levels of previous decades, Congress and the Administration must develop our own manufacturing and trade policy that puts America first.
That doesn’t mean isolationism or the 1930s Smoot-Hawlings trade protectionism that led to trade wars, but a rational trade policy that put American manufacturing on an equal footing with our international competitors…and provides the kind of job training and security that Germany smartly instituted a couple of years ago.

Written by Valerie Curl

July 3, 2011 at 5:33 PM

Creating a Low Wage America

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Ikea StoreNathaniel Popper’s account in the LA Times of labor disputes at Ikea’s factory in suburban Danville, VA, points out the decline of non-highly educated workers, especially when compared to similarly skilled and educated workers at the same company in Europe:

Laborers in Swedwood plants in Sweden produce bookcases and tables similar to those manufactured in Danville. The big difference is that the Europeans enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-mandated five weeks of paid vacation. Full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days — eight of them on dates determined by the company.

What’s more, as many as one-third of the workers at the Danville plant have been drawn from local temporary-staffing agencies. These workers receive even lower wages and no benefits, employees said.

Swedwood’s [Ingrid] Steen said the company is reducing the number of temps, but she acknowledged the pay gap between factories in Europe and the U.S. “That is related to the standard of living and general conditions in the different countries,” Steen said.

I wonder if these low wages and benefits is what politicians and pundits mean when they talk about creating jobs in America? It sounds like a strategy for turning America into Europe’s Mexico.

Written by Valerie Curl

April 11, 2011 at 12:14 PM

A sign of the times…

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A little noted article in the NY Times today shows how this economy is negatively affecting the court system:

Few people like jury duty. But for many people squeezed by the recession, a jury summons holds a new fear: financial ruin.

Judges and court officials around the country say they are seeing the impact of the recession in their courtrooms. While no one keeps overall statistics on juror excuses, those closest to the process say that in many parts of the country an increasing number of jurors are trying to get out of service, forcing courts to call an ever larger pool of jurors to meet their needs.

Ranae Johnson, the jury commissioner for Bonneville County, Idaho, said that she typically summoned 400 people for each two-week term of service, but that lately she “had to pop it up to 500” because of rising numbers of economic hardship claims. “We’re hearing it more than we used to,” Ms. Johnson said. “A lot more.”

These stories and statistics alone should give American pause to reflect on the need to upgrade financial regulations. When courts can no longer find jurors, as a result of economic hardship caused by a financial system that rewards outrageous risk, something is seriously wrong and needs to be corrected.

Written by Valerie Curl

September 2, 2009 at 3:06 PM

In case you missed it…

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The Washington Post today reported

The Institute for Supply Management reported Tuesday that manufacturing expanded in August for the first time since January 2008. The institute’s index of business activity rose to 52.9, from 48.9. Any number below 50 signals a contraction.

[…] Separate reports showed that construction spending on residential real estate rose 4.5 percent and that pending home sales increased for the sixth consecutive month, supporting other recent indications that the decline in the housing market is leveling off.

Taken together, the reports show that two of the hardest-hit sectors have, at the very least, ceased to be a drag on growth. The new indicators, in fact, suggest that manufacturing and housing could drive the incipient recovery, accounting for an unusually large share of growth and stimulating a rebound in more sluggish areas such as consumer spending.

“The key we’re looking for is consistency,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group. “The more we see of these types of indicators all sending the same message, the more confident we are that the worst is over and the economy is on track to recover.”

Jobs recovery still remains a few months in the future, but businesses are signaling their desire to begin hiring in the coming months as business volume picks up. Surveyed businesses report they expect to begin hiring – expanding their staff – in the next few months.

So the worst is over…but we still have major endemic problems to solve which cripple our national competitiveness. If anti-competitive costs, such as the increasing costs of health care, are not solved, US businesses will never be able to compete, domestically or internationally, with companies that do not have to account with those costs in their prices.

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