Epiphanyblog

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Posts Tagged ‘workers

Film Can Change the World…

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And Produce Better Outcomes

 

I hardly know where to start or what to write coherently. I have so many thoughts running through my mind as a result of my studies of history and my current fondness for So. Korea and love of its people as well as the current American political scene that I hardly know where to begin.

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I guess I should start off by saying that I will never forgive Obama, Geithner, and Holder for allowing all the banksters who perpetrated the 2008 financial meltdown. Those bankers, both those who headed their financial companies and those who conned the public, should have been held responsible, regardless of how long the investigation continued. I lost a quarter million dollars in my retirement funds as a result of financial institutions greed and lies at a time when I was nearly ready to retire. I’ve never recovered. As a society, we should never have stood for what happened to us at the hands of a bunch of greedy, amoral bankers. As a Democratic voter, I can honestly say Obama’s Admin was wrong!

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If I’d been younger, I might have recovered…but at 61 already? Not bloody likely. Added to my anger and frustration were the actions of Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner following the passage of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Bill. The bill itself was relatively meek, but Wall St, nevertheless, hated it because it required them to be more responsible for their actions, ie. larger reserve amounts, better reporting, etc. Hoping to win major donations from Wall St. firms, McConnell and Boehner went to Wall St. They specifically said we’ll overturn Dodd-Frank if you donate to the Republican Party. Pure quid-pro-quo.

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Republican Teddy Roosevelt, the first progressive president, witnessed the political corruption that infected politics. He wrote in his autobiography his experience in the NY Legislature, looking around at his fellow lawmakers either bribing companies for funds (if you don’t give to me, I’ll vote for this bill against you) or being blackmailed (if you don’t vote as we want, we’ll use our resources to defeat you). As a result of his changing views, TR believed the entire system…among many other areas of the economy to benefit workers…needed to be reformed. Although a firm believer in capitalism, he understood that the rules of road could and would be violated by greedy miscreants which could and would create revolution as they had in Europe. For example, he brought into being monopoly laws that stopped the consolidation of entire industry sectors into the hands of one or two companies. Moreover, he grasped that capitalism could not survive if workers revolted against the entire system as a result of their poor treatment by companies.

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He understood what Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, wrote in his two books. Being a great reader, he also understood the theses of Edmund Burke. Using both of their ideas, he set about changing American society in a way that reduced greed as well as increased workers’ ability to demand respect for their labor, working conditions, and lives. History books and writers of that era filled libraries with the conflicts of workers against greedy employers…and newspapers of that era were filled with reports of the failure of employers to protect workers.

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All of this leads us to what occurred prior to the last election in So. Korea. Many commentators stated that So. Koreans were so used to corruption that they, by the millions, weren’t holding protest vigils against the corruption of the Park Administration so much as its incompetency. Nevertheless, So. Koreans voted en masse against the conservative government led by Park. Since Moon Jae-In became president, he and his government have worked tirelessly to root out corruption, bribery, and influence buying. I applauded the Moon Administration for its efforts, even as I worried that the change in Administrations signaled another governmental purge that became almost institutionalized throughout Korea’s [Joseon’s} history. But the Moon Administration, thus far, has proven itself to stand by the rule of law (most of which accords to and has been adopted from the USA). In previous generations, those who had money and power could bend the law in their favor. But, I posit, the modern Korean dramas helped changed that dynamic.

Modern Korean dramas highlight, even as a subtext, the corruption of a system that failed to protect ordinary people in favor of the greedy and wealthy. I must add that greed as defined by Korean culture is not just greed for money but also greed for power, prestige, influence, recognition, and overwhelming personal and ego driven desire. Thus, the dramas highlighted the conflict between honest, compassionate people against corrupt, greedy people. In every case, greedy people failed in their schemes, even with the often painful help of their children to overthrow the evil greed of their fathers and family. The essence is that honor and respect for everyone wins over selfish greed, regardless of whether the drama was a historical drama or a modern drama.

What is little noted is how that subtext of continuous and historic corruption has influenced So. Koreans thinking today. In the 1930s, Hollywood produced many movies plainly showing how the corruption on Wall St, added and abetted by government, led to the Great Depression and its’ devastating affects on average Americans. As a result, Americans were broadly supportive of FDR’s policies, including Ronald Reagan.

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That is not the case today. While So. Korea dramas, especially over the last decade, exhibit how greed affected its’ society and eventually changed how people thought, American TV has perpetuated the comic book myth of a strong leader who would save society from the bad guys. Pure insanity!

There is no strong man who will save average Americans from the depredations of a greedy, self-serving corporate America and their abettors in Congress, much less bring justice to all. Super Man, Batman, and all the other comic book heroes are pure myths. The only thing that will save America is the hard work of rooting out greed in all its forms…and returning the nation to its roots: a nation founded on the belief that governments are “for and by the people”. Yes, everyday people who work hard, save, struggle to survive, have compassion for those less fortunate, and believe in equal justice and the rule of law.

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Today’s So. Korea struggles to achieve those honorable, equitable ends even as much of the USA marches backwards in ways that would stun Teddy Roosevelt….

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Written by Valerie Curl

June 12, 2018 at 4:31 PM

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]

In The 21st Century, A Replay Between Two Visions: Coolidge or TR/FDR

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Contrary to pundit analysis, the first half of Obama’s speech today in Cleveland reminded me of his old inspiring self. While the second half of his speech delved down into the weeds of policy differences between the current GOP and Democrats that became somewhat boring, even though completely true.

The first half of Obama’s speech clearly laid out his vision for the future of America. I might add, it’s a vision with which I completely agree, the essence of which is increased global competitiveness in every sector of the economy and greater economic rewards for labor – or actual work.

American Plutocrats take over the Economy for their own benefit

Nevertheless, the two visions of America going forward in this election replay the visions of Coolidge and of TR and his distant cousin, FDR.

Yes, it does seem strange that we’re even discussing the visions of presidents from a hundred or more years ago; yet, we are discussing the same essential policy visions again today.

While Coolidge, according to Wikipedia, had an essentially laissez-faire, hands off attitude towards business, believed that few regulations were needed and taxes should remain as low as possible, TR and FDR had another view based on their experiences with the so-called free market.

During the early 1900s when TR became President, the renowned Robber Barons dominated industry. Numerous books and magazine articles were written decrying the poor and often deadly state of American worker conditions under the heavy hand of corporate ownership: the high rate of deaths and physical dismembership among employees; the high rate of deaths in coal mines; and the overall low wages which prevented workers from rising above stark poverty and barely managed to provide roofs over their heads. Cold water flats, as cheap housing accommodations were known in the late 1800s, were not only common among workers but were miserly at best, providing only cold water and no heat except when the renter provided the coal to heat water and for cooking.

Yet, corporate businesses and Wall St boomed. Commodore Vanderbilt’s family regularly gave extraordinarily gaudy and lavish week-long parties. Wall St. magnates and other corporate leaders sought to compete in extravagance with the Vanderbilt’s.

In response to this disparity of wealth and opportunity, workers revolted. Street corner advocates called for massive worker revolutions against the corporate system. Unions formed. Workers struck, effectively shutting down businesses.

Businesses fought back with strike breakers and hired private police and army forces. Socialism and even Communism were on the rise amongst workers who saw the capitalistic system as supremely unfair and failing to live up to the promise of real democracy.

Violence was common…and threatened the country.

Into this era of violence, poverty and excess stepped Teddy Roosevelt. A rich kid from upper New York, TR quickly realized that to save capitalism he had to initiate reforms to save it from its worst excesses. That broadly spread economic benefits not only enabled the country to grow but maintained domestic order.

Thus, the GOP-created progressive era began as a consequence of unbridled free market capitalism that destroyed millions of families and businesses throughout the 1800s into the early 1900s.

TR realized that only the government could pull up on the reins of capitalism to prevent its largest horses from crushing underfoot the opportunities of millions of other citizens. He realized that if he and Congress did not put limits upon how trusts and other companies behaved, the likelihood of free market capitalism surviving was slim or, at the very least would fail to prevent revolution amongst the millions of American workers. After all, workers’ unions were the direct result of corporate management’s failure to address the wage, health and safety needs of workers.

FDR sought additional worker and consumer protections as well as for Social Security to lighten the burden on workers while enabling companies to grow. He understood that without a healthy, thriving middle class, real capitalism was doomed.

In 1936, GDP growth had reached a steady 45% degree angle upward throughout FDR’s Administration; yet, unemployment remained very high – even though accurate figures were not available. (The Fed. government did not begin keeping accurate unemployment data until the ’50s.) In 1937, the Fed. Government reined in its spending to balance the budget, thinking the economy had sufficiently healed. Those austerity policies sent the nation back into depression, increasing unemployment and federal deficits. Only the extraordinarily massive Federal spending for WWII, pulled the nation completely out of the Depression.

Oh, I know, some say that if FDR had not intervened the Depression would have ended much sooner. To them I say, read Rogoff and Reinhart’s book covering a century of global financial crises in which they report that financially caused recession takes up to 10 years before the economy returns to normal. Moreover, I would ask them to research what happened following each banking crash throughout the 1800s. What were the results for working Americans? How many working families lost everything? How many small business died? How much did the overall economy suffer as a result of banking crashes every 10 years. There is a reason why bankers asked for the Fed and the FDIC.

In between TR and FDR was Calvin Coolidge. His basic philosophy was hands off. He believed in light regulation, an almost unencumbered free market, and very low taxes. Business boomed under his administration during the 1920s. Unfortunately, his hands off approach led to massive speculation very similar to what occurred in the last decade. Hoover followed Coolidge’s economic philosophy and became the inheritor of a policy legacy that led to the worst depression in modern American history. When FDR was elected, the estimated unemployment rate was over 25%. Millions of businesses had shuttered. Millions more had lost their homes.

When FDR was elected the first time, he won all but 59 electoral college votes. In the 1936 election, he lost only 8 electoral college votes.

It’s that knowledge of history, including economic history, that informs my politics. You cannot have a thriving, broad-based economy without a thriving middle class who shares in the economic benefits of commerce. This nation has not had that sharing for at least the last 12 years – actually it’s been declining for 30 years as even Reagan acknowledged in the ’80s.

Right now, I think we’re once again caught up in a fight between the vision of Calvin Coolidge and TR/FDR. These are two very disparate visions of America. For myself, I fall on the side of a modernized version of TR/FDR because I believe their visions work better for America on the whole. And, indeed, because the TR/FDR model relies upon a muscular – even a Hamiltonian model – of a strong central government and the tax revenues need to meet the costs of government we need and over the last 100 years have chosen.

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