Sunday, September 05, 2004
This is a sticky post written the day we first appeared on the internet: Welcome to article43.com - a memorial to the layed off workers of (PRE SBC MERGER) AT&T, and the disappearing MIDDLE CLASS citizens of America. It is NOT endorsed or affiliated with AT&T or the CWA in any way.
In addition to INFORMATION, resources and opinion for former AT&T workers DEALING WITH the EFFECTS OF LAYOFF and looking for meaningful employment, some articles here are meant to bring into awareness the LARGER PICTURE of corporate dominance of the UNITED STATES’ political and economic policies which brazenly DISREGARDS, disrespects and EXPLOITS worker, citizen and HUMAN RIGHTS under masks like FREE TRADE and the PATRIOT ACT - resulting in a return to a society of very rich and very poor dominated by a few very rich and powerful - whose voices are anything but - for the people. If left UNCHALLENGED, the self-serving interests of those in control may result in the end of DEMOCRACY, the end of the middle class, irreversible ENVIRONMENTAL damage to the planet, and widespread global poverty brought on by exploitation and supression of the voices of common people EVERYWHERE, while the United States turns into a REINCARNATION of the ROMAN EMPIRE. Author Thom Hartmann shares some history and outlines some basic steps to return our country to “The People” in his two articles TEN STEPS TO RETURN TO DEMOCRACY and SAVING THE MIDDLE CLASS. I support CERNIG’S idea for a new POLITICAL MOVEMENT - if not a revolution to cleanse our country of the filth ruling it - as we EVOLVE into a GLOBAL community - assuming we learn the THE LESSONS OF OUR TIME and don’t DESTROY CIVILIZATION first.
Everything here can be viewed anonymously. Inserting or commenting on articles requires a free user account (for former AT&T employees with a real, non throw-away, email address.) Requests to the new user registration page are redirected to BLOGGED DOT COM’S site because most new signups I get are from COMMENT SPAMMERS and their ilk, so if you want to contribute, contact me through email, phone, or some other way.
There’s no third-party scripts here like privacy-eroding WEB COUNTERS, hidden datamining widgets like Pay-Pal donation boxes, or AMAZON DOT COM tracking stuff. The RSS feeds are pulled by the server, and have no relation to anything you may be doing here. Standard Apache WEB LOGS of info like IP, and pages visited are rotated every few days, and used internally to check the web server’s performance. Logs of suspicious activity may be shared with law enforcement, or other ISPs, to deal with troublemakers. Nothing here is for sale, and donations are not solicited.
If you get an email that claims to be from somebody here that’s anything but a request to post your article, or report suspicious activity (like logs sent to an ISP to report an attack) - it’s SPAM. I do not, and will not - ever - join the junk mail sender community. There are no mechanisms to prevent anyone from forging anyone elses email address in a “from” or “reply-to” mail header. For those of us whose email addresses are fraudently used, the best we can do is filter out NDR REPORTS.
Per U.S.C. COPYRIGHT LAW - TITLE 17, SECTION 107, this not-for-profit site may reproduce copyrighted material not specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such articles will either have a web link to the source, home page, and/or show credit to the author. If yours is here and you have a problem with that, send me an EMAIL, and I’ll take it off. Stuff I wrote carries a CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE permitting non-commercial sharing. In addition, this site’s owner forbids insertion and injecting data of any kind - especially advertisements - into ours by any person or entity. Should you see a commercial ad that looks like it’s from here, please report it by sending me a tcpdump and/or screenshot in an EMAIL, then READ UP about how the PARTNERING OF INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS and companies like NEBUAD are DESTROYING INTERNET PRIVACY.
Resumes of layed off AT&T workers are posted for free HERE.
Links to some Telecom companies’ career pages are HERE.
Click HERE to learn a little about Article 43 and why I loathe the CWA.
Click HERE or HERE to learn what the CWA did when given a chance to do the right thing.
Click HERE for a glimpse of undemocratic and hypocritical CWA practices.
Click HERE for an article on Corporate Unionism.
Click HERE for an article of AFL-CIO’s undemocratic history.
This site can disappear anytime if I run out of money to pay for luxuries like food, health care, or internet service.
Discernment of truth is left to the reader - whose encouraged to seek as much information as possible, from as many different sources as possible - and pass them through his/her own filters - before believing anything.
...the Devil is just one man with a plan, but evil, true evil, is a collaboration of men…
- Fox Mulder, X Files
No matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth.
- John F. Kennedy
Today my country, your country and the Earth face a corporate holocaust against human and Earthly rights. I call their efforts a holocaust because when giant corporations wield human rights backed by constitutions and the law (and therefore enforced by police, the courts, and armed forces) and sanctioned by cultural norms, the rights of people, other species and the Earth are annihilated.
- Richard L. Grossman
Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.
- Albert Einstein
He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust.
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
- Bishop Desmond Tutu
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
- Martin Luther King Jr
Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
- Benjamin Franklin
If we do not hang together, we will surely hang separately.
- Benjamin Franklin
We must be prepared to make heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace that we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war.
- Albert Einstein
Solidarity has always been key to political and economic advance by working families, and it is key to mastering the politics of globalization.
- Thomas Palley
The impending credit crisis cant be avoided, but it could be mitigated by taking radical steps to soften the blow. Emergency changes to the federal tax code could put more money in the hands of maxed-out consumers and keep the economy sputtering along while efforts are made to curtail the ruinous trade deficit. We should eliminate the Social Security tax for any couple making under $60, 000 per year and restore the 1953 tax-brackets for Americans highest earners so that the upper 1%-- who have benefited the most from the years of prosperity---will be required to pay 93% of all earnings above the first $1 million income. At the same time, corporate profits should be taxed at a flat 35%, while capital gains should be locked in at 35%. No loopholes. No exceptions.
Congress should initiate a program of incentives for reopening American factories and provide generous subsidies to rebuild US manufacturing. The emphasis should be on reestablishing a competitive market for US exports while developing the new technologies which will address the imminent problems of environmental degradation, global warming, peak oil, overpopulation, resource scarcity, disease and food production. Off-shoring of American jobs should be penalized by tariffs levied against the offending industries.
The oil and natural gas industries should be nationalized with the profits earmarked for vocational training, free college tuition, universal health care and improvements to then nations infrastructure.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Letting Go of the Older Employee
If you know me, you know my story. I was happily employed for 21.5 years at a company that I loved and respected and doing the kind of work that I absolutely adored and was very good at (Im not bragging; I have the performance appraisals to show it). My co-workers and internal clients were top notch and I smiled a lot because I liked coming to work.
One day (Ok, it was June 8th) our entire group was called into a conference room and told that some of us would be receiving termination papers. We were to go back to our work stations until we were summoned one by one to the conference room to learn our collective fates.
After several long and agonizing minutes it was my turn. My manager silently led me to the conference room where I learned that the program that I taught was being eliminated. But what about other programs? No. Im a professional learning and development expert and can writenew programsԅ No. But what about? No, no, no.” I was later told that I slammed the door on my way out. To this day I don’t remember that.
One thing that I failed to mention is that it was 2008, a year after the beginning of the Great Recession. I was also 53 years old.
Today I met with an intelligent, articulate, youthful-looking woman for a coaching session. While she has a high level job and feels very lucky about that, she is starting to feel subtle nudges of isolation and ageism. Knowing that organizations look for ways to pare down the work force, she continues to stay current in her industry. She refreshes her skill set, reads about current trends and has learned to appreciate the parts of her job that were changed when upper management brought in fresh, young talent to take over. Her story today reminded me so much of my own.
Just because someone is over the age of 45 does not mean that they are obsolete. Of course if someone is not pulling his or her weight and not meeting organizational goals, then by all means, do what is necessary to coach that person or terminate their employment. Termination is “at will” in many states so organizations have every right to eliminate people for whatever reason. Still, that doesn’t always make it right.
This is what happens when an older person is let go:
1. They have a harder time finding new, meaningful work. (Up to a year and longer for the long-term unemployed).
2. No one wants to pay them their former salaries. (Earnings may be up to 19% lower than their former salaries).
3. They may take a couple of part time positions to make ends meet. Those positions may have absolutely nothing to do with their skill set and are mostly lower level (lower paying) positions.
4. They wait many more weeks than their younger counterparts to find work.
5. Many times they just give up and never return to work.
One of the things that personally bothers me about being released is that I didn’t get a chance to retire. That sounds kind of silly but it’s true. Some of the work friends that I’ve remained close with talk about their retirement packages and retirement events. For a person who personally aligned with the company values and who allowed my career to be one of the things in my life that brought me happiness and fulfillment; not retiring with them was a huge disappointment.
I’m not naive, I know about profit and loss, changing skill sets and making do with less. I know that many organizations are young and energetic (I give job search coaching to young adults too). Still, it is so much harder for people at this later stage in their careers and in my very humble opinion, the folks who are doing the hiring and interviewing should take into account the skills, knowledge and better yet, Wisdom of the older job seeker.
Section Dealing with Layoff •
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Monday, June 29, 2015
Two More Companies I’ll Never Do Business With Again
Both companies lost a 20 year customer for good.
Here’s two more that recently did:
Why? The last thing I bought from them arrived broke. What was inside the box was smashed. I got an RMA from their website for hidden damage, and spent $27 of my own money mailing it back, What did they do? Sent me an email they won’t accept the return because they got it back damaged. What did I do? Called and explained over and over again to half a dozen people what happened, who all told me they won’t accept a return damaged, insisting that I file a claim with the shipper. I finally filed a claim with the credit card company to get my money back.
Why? Because they sold me a refurbished Dell computer with a OEM copy of Windows and a restore partition instead of reinstall disk. I used the restore partion to reinstall the OS, which erased the restore partion, leaving me no way to reinstall again. Discount Electronics refused to send a reinstall disk, and Dell told me to call Discount Electronics for one.
Section General Reading •
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Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Why So Many Americans Feel So Powerless
By Robert Reich
April 26, 2015
A security guard recently told me he didn’t know how much he’d be earning from week to week because his firm kept changing his schedule and his pay. “They just don’t care,” he said.
A traveler I met in the Dallas Fort-Worth Airport last week said she’d been there eight hours but the airline responsible for her trip wouldn’t help her find another flight leaving that evening. “They don’t give a hoot,” she said.
Someone I met in North Carolina a few weeks ago told me he had stopped voting because elected officials don’t respond to what average people like him think or want. “They don’t listen,” he said.
What connects these dots? As I travel around America, I’m struck by how utterly powerless most people feel.
The companies we work for, the businesses we buy from, and the political system we participate in all seem to have grown less accountable. I hear it over and over: They don’t care; our voices don’t count.
A large part of the reason is we have fewer choices than we used to have. In almost every area of our lives, it’s now take it or leave it.
Companies are treating workers as DISPOSABLE cogs because most working people have no choice. They need work and must take what they can get.
ALTHOUGH jobs are coming back from the depths of the Great Recession, the portion of the labor force actually working remains lower than it’s been in over thirty years—before vast numbers of middle-class wives and mothers entered paid work.
Which is why corporations can get away with firing workers without warning, replacing full-time jobs with part-time and contract work, and cutting wages. Most working people have no alternative.
Consumers, meanwhile, are feeling mistreated and taken for granted because they, too, have less choice.
U.S. airlines, for example, have consolidated into a handful of giant carriers that divide up routes and collude on fares. In 2005 the U.S. had nine major airlines. Now we have just four.
It’s much the same across the economy. Eighty percent of Americans are served by just one Internet Service Provider—usually Comcast, AT&T, or Time-Warner.
The biggest banks have become far bigger. In 1990, the five biggest held just 10 percent of all banking assets. Now they hold almost 45 percent.
Giant health insurers are larger; the giant hospital chains, far bigger; the most powerful digital platforms (Amazon, Facebook, Google), gigantic.
All this means less consumer choice, which translates into less power.
Our complaints go nowhere. Often we can’t even find a real person to complain to. Automated telephone menus go on interminably.
Finally, as voters we feel no one is listening because politicians, too, face less and less competition. Over 85 percent of congressional districts are considered “safe” for their incumbents in the upcoming 2016 election; only 3 percent are toss-ups.
In presidential elections, only a handful of states are now considered “battlegrounds” that could go either Democratic or Republican.
So, naturally, that’s where the candidates campaign. Voters in most states won’t see much of them. These voters’ votes are literally taken for granted.
Even in toss-up districts and battle-ground states, so much big money is flowing in that average voters feel disenfranchised.
In all these respects, powerlessness comes from a lack of meaningful choice. Big institutions don’t have to be responsive to us because we can’t penalize them by going to a competitor.
And we have no loud countervailing voice forcing them to listen.
Fifty years ago, a third of private-sector workers belonged to labor unions. This gave workers bargaining power to get a significant share of the economy’s gains along with better working conditions—and a voice. Now, fewer than 7 percent of private sector workers are unionized.
In the 1960s, a vocal consumer movement demanded safe products, low prices, and antitrust actions against monopolies and business collusion. Now, the consumer movement has become muted.
Decades ago, political parties had strong local and state roots that gave politically-active citizens a voice in party platforms and nominees. Now, the two major political parties have morphed into giant national fund-raising machines.
Our economy and society depend on most people feeling the system is working for them.
But a growing SENSE OF POWERLESSNESS in all aspects of our lives—as workers, consumers, and voters—is convincing most people the system is working only for those at the top.
A traveler I met in the Dallas Fort-Worth Airport last week said she’d been there eight hours but the airline responsible for her trip wouldn’t help her find another flight leaving that evening. “They don’t give a hoot,” she said.
Section Dying America •
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Friday, March 20, 2015
Bad Moon Rising Part 68 - Why Workers Wont Unite
By Kim Phillips-Fein
March 16, 2017
Globalization and technology have gutted the labor movement, and part-time work is sabotaging solidarity. Is there a new way to challenge the politics of inequality? Tackling inequality is clearly going to require more than technocratic fixes from above. It isnt likely to succeed unless workers themselves can reclaim some bargaining power, and the sense of political and social inclusion that can go with it.
The Ludlow Massacre, as it became known, was but one skirmish in a protracted, often violent conflict that raged throughout the United States during the early years of the 20th century. A radical social change was at stake: Would the miners, meat-packers, silk workers, garment makers, and steelworkers of the newly industrial nation be able to join labor unions in order to bargain over the terms of their worktheir wages, their hours, the safety of their jobs? One contemporary journalist described the tent colonies as the outward sign of civil war.
The labor movement helped create the confidence in mobility that we associate with being middle-class. Almost 100 years later, the attention of the country was once again galvanized by a tent city - this one in Zuccotti Park, a few blocks away from the New York Stock Exchange. Initially the inspiration of a few activists determined to call attention to poverty in the midst of New Yorks extreme wealth, Occupy Wall Street - like the early labor movement - tapped into a widespread sense of dispossession and fear, this time in the wake of the 2008 financial panic and the recession.
The Ludlow strikers, were they able to time-travel to Lower Manhattan in 2011, would have found much that seemed familiar, starting with the statistics about economic inequality: the richest 1 percent of the nation controls 40 percent of the wealth and earns 20 percent of the national income, proportions similar to those in the early 20th century (and up from about 25 percent and 9 percent, respectively, in the 1970s). The miners would have recognized, too, the anger about widespread unemployment, the spectacle of lavish upper-crust consumption, and the increasing influence of private money in politics.
But they might well have wondered: Where are the unions? Even though it got some support from labor groups, Occupy Wall Street was more directly focused on unemployment, student-loan and consumer debt, and the generous terms of the 2008 bailout for the financial sector than on specific issues related to working conditions. The Occupy movement has unquestionably had an influence on activism in New York and elsewhere (even helping to mobilize demonstrations in response to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner). It has also played a key role in revitalizing debates about income inequality. But these accomplishments have not translated into a revival of workplace organizing.
The rolling one-day strikes staged last year by low-wage workers at fast-food restaurants and convenience stores demanding $15 an hour and a path to union recognition were a reminder of what’s missing. In 2014, only 6.6 percent of the private-sector workforce belonged to a union - about the same rate as in the era of Ludlow. Among public-sector workers the figure is higher (about 35 percent), but a lower proportion of the total workforce is unionized than in any other period since the late 1930s, shortly after the signing of the National Labor Relations Act. In 1914, the labor movement stood at the beginning of what would be a long upswing; now its gains have been almost completely reversed.
Today, the labor movements decline is widely considered an irreversible reality. As anxiety about inequality and the erosion of the middle class rises, so does awareness that still more seismic changes are ahead in a landscape of work where long-term employment is on the wane. Today, both PROFESSIONAL and low-wage jobs are dominated by an IDEOLOGY OF FLEXIBILITY and by a reality of transient relationships between employers and employees. Those ties are getting only more tenuous as the “on-demand economy” takes off, with the spread of Uber-style instant consumer services. A media beat that had all but disappeared seems to be making a tentative comeback. Politico has started a section devoted entirely to labor issues in response to reader interest. The Huffington Post now employs a full-time labor reporter.
So far, though, the fraught future of labor in the U.S. has notably failed to generate public protest on a significant scale. Nothing in American politics compares with the civil-rights crusade, the movement against the Vietnam War, or the labor wars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Could that change? Might the future possibly hold a resurgence of the indignation about class disparities - and about the labor and economic circumstances they reflect - that was once focused on the workplace?
Today, the labor movementҗs decline is widely considered an irreversible realitythe inevitable outcome of globalization and automation, and the norm for a postindustrial economy, hardly worthy of comment. When discussions turn to the glaring and still growing imbalance of power between working-class and elite interests in our political system, Republicans celebrate the free market and certainly donҗt invoke a return of unions. But neither do most Democrats. Why this is so, why its a problem, and what if anything might be done to revive the politics of workҒthese issues are the subject of two very different books: the historian Steve Frasers The Age of Acquiescence and Only One Thing Can Save Us, by Thomas Geoghegan, a longtime labor attorney.
Fraser offers a sweeping, forcefully argued comparison between, on the one hand, the economy, ideology, and politics of the first Gilded Age and, on the other, the contemporary political scene. Geoghegan undertakes a far more personal assessment. In the disarming style of a self-deprecating lawyer in a beleagured field, he describes his experiences representing workers in Chicago, which he treats as a microcosm of the problems that labor faces across the nation.
Both authors make a case that grappling with inequality in a meaningful way will require more than overhauling taxes on the rich or government programs that aid the poor. The current liberal roster of solutions for income stagnationגThomas Pikettys notion of a global wealth tax, Elizabeth Warrenגs push for cheaper college loans, the economist Austan Goolsbees proposal to direct 3 percent of GDP to educational opportunities, from preschool to community collegeҒcant help sounding wishful in the current political climate. In any case, Geoghegan emphasizes, a narrow focus on skill building is an inadequate approach to tackling inequities, especially in an economy increasingly premised on short-term employment.
In a system as skewed as ours currently is toward elite interests, he and Fraser urge a return to גthe labor question as the key to confronting not just the economic gap but its political and cultural consequences. To begin to restore some semblance of the democratic culture and values that inequality erodes, we need to pay attention to work itself, and to the economic leverage and the political and social solidarity that can grow out of the workplace.
Fraser and Geoghegan are well aware of the paradox theyӔve set for themselves: the very place they herald as a potential crucible of power for Americans struggling for security has been hollowed out, and the realm of work has been transformed in ways that the Ludlow miners likely wouldnt recognize. Those strikers, a diverse array of colliers from around the world, were exploited in the crudest physical way and still forged a common culture in the dark spaces of the mines. The absence of such a shared sensibility is a hallmark of todayҒs workforce of temps, freelancers, and would-be entrepreneurs. Yet without it, as Fraser and Geoghegan are not alone in wondering, where is a crucial impetus for challenging the politics of inequality going to come from? The story of the rise and fall of the labor movement offers unsettling insights, and no assurances, about a revival. Then again, as both authors would hasten to say, gauzy nostalgia is not what the country needs.
Class warfare, Americas exceptionalist credo holds, is something that happens elsewhere. This is, after all, the country that likes to take credit for inventing the idea of the middle class. With no history of royalty and no hereditary social orders, everybody is supposed to have an equal opportunity to rise. In the 1950s, the political theorist Louis Hartz wrote that because the United States had never known feudalism, it was immune to socialism. The historian Richard Hofstadter suggested that open class conflict went against the grain of the American political tradition. Even Karl Marx (while acutely aware of racial slavery as a class system) didnҒt bet on the emergence of an impoverished proletariat in the U.S., given the countrys abundance of land.
As notable as the collapse of union membership is the rapid rise of workers who have only an attenuated connection to their jobs. Fraser and Geoghegan donҒt envision a sudden surge of socialist sentiment in the U.S. either, but Fraser takes pains to point outdrawing on the scholarship of a generation of labor historiansҗthat the story of Americas industrializing era in fact features plenty of class struggle. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw fierce confrontation over the economic future of the nation. Workers had no protected right to organize, and employers were not compelled to recognize unions. Yet workers in voluntary organizations (and sometimes even nonmembers) were able to stage strikes that shut down much of the national rail system and roiled the largest factories. Strikers were frequently confronted by employersג private armies as well as by state militias and the National Guard. Industrial sabotage wasnt uncommon. Although the class contest raging in the workplace was only intermittently felt in national elections, from New York CityҒs Lower East Side to Colorados coalfields it fueled a radical culture openly skeptical of capitalism. All of this, Fraser argues, is markedly absent today. We live in an Ғage of acquiescenceӔunhappily facing similar problems, but no longer believing that we have any power to create or even imagine an alternative to the ascendancy of elites in an era of global competition.
To explain whats changed, Fraser turns to the very structure of the American economy. A century ago, the United States was a developing nation, eagerly devouring the raw materials of the natural world. It was turning trees into lumber, iron into steel, the expanse of prairie into cash crops of wheat and corn. Many of its laborers were barely a generation removed from preindustrial life. They (or their parents) had been self-sufficient artisans, peasants, or small farmers before being swept into the massive new factories of the Gilded Age. The emerging capitalist system shattered their traditional communities, and thus seemed גintolerable to many of those violently uprooted by its onrush. Accustomed to their independence, they were haunted by the nightmare of becoming wage slaves. The fear of disempowerment, as other labor historians have argued, drew partly on an embattled masculinity, but women, too, were active in building unions and striking to challenge the authority of their employers; the famous ӔUprising of the 20,000 among garment workers in Lower Manhattan began 16 months before the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911.
The new proletarians longed to restore the economic autonomy they had once taken for grantedӔand, not yet steeped in the culture of the marketplace, they believed this was possible. The factories, corporations, markets, and banks that they viewed as their oppressors were still so new that their endurance hardly seemed assured. Many workers imagined that sweeping transformations would continue. They felt that the horrific world they saw around them could not last, that they had the power to help usher in a more humane and egalitarian social order.
Frasers key insight is that their preindustrial heritage, combined with an acute awareness of the dynamism of the new economy, may have left the workers of the last century far more גaudacious in envisioning a noncapitalist future than people are now. Moved by their utopian hopes, the growing ranks of workers in the fast-developing industrial system found the courage to challenge the inequities surrounding themӔa spirit of bravery that Fraser suggests has now largely evaporated.
He and Geoghegan emphasize a pragmatic, rather than a romantic, perspective on a labor movement that proceeded to grow and that, despite its roots in a culture fiercely critical of the market, ended up firmly entrenched within capitalism. The campaign for better conditions in the workplace slowly made inroads on the state level in the early 20th century. Many of the crucial goals of the Progressive yearsthe rights to a minimum wage, a limit on hours, unemployment insuranceחwerent enshrined at the national level until the 1930s. Other benefits - health insurance, pensions, paid vacations - were won only through collective bargaining between employers and the newly recognized unions in the 1940s and 50s.
By the early 1950s, more than one-third of all workers were union members. Any company at which a majority of employees voted to form a union in a federally supervised election had to sit down at the bargaining table. Unions also guaranteed a measure of real independence on the job: the clear rules and procedures of the contract protected workers from the arbitrary power of managers.
This institutional regime meant that companies were compelled to share a greater proportion of the wealth they generated with the people who contributed to its creation. The leverage exerted by unions may have helped keep executive pay in check. Union clout made possible regular wage increases that allowed factory workers to purchase their own homes, as well as some of the expensive goodscars, refrigerators, television sets - they helped produce. As the scholar Jack Metzgar wrote in his memoir of growing up as the son of a union steelworker in the 1950s, If what we lived through in the 1950s was not liberation, then liberation never happens in real human lives.
Unions also mobilized people to vote in support of government measures that served to redistribute wealth (such as notably high taxes on the upper income brackets in the postwar years, and regular increases in the minimum wage). To a large degree, the labor movement created the economic stability, social independence, and deep confidence in the promise of mobility that we associate today with being middle-class.
Fraser and Geoghegans recognition of the accomplishments of postwar labor doesnגt blind either of them to the movements shortcomings. The ҒNew Deal order, as Fraser calls it, was very regionally defined (bypassing most of the South) and excluded large numbers of people. Many nonwhite workers, in particular, were left out of the postwar social bargain. Service-sector industries that employed disproportionate numbers of women were never well organized. Postwar unions fully accepted the culture of mass consumption. That meant rejecting the morally charged politics of the earlier labor movement, which emphasized democratic participation and the dignity of work. After years of struggle, labor leaders were thrilled to have won a proverbial seat at the table at last. But the new ethos also helped to produce a union culture that made inclusion in the Establishment a higher priority than continuing to fight for weaker social groups.
At its worst, self-interested complacency encouraged corruption within the Cold War labor movement. The Teamsters were the most famous example, but not the only one. The United Mine Workers, the union that the Ludlow strikers had once fought to build, descended into autocracy; its disastrous low point arrived in 1969, when the dissident Jock Yablonski was murdered in his home, along with his wife and daughter - victims of hit men hired by the union president. (As a college student and then as a young labor lawyer, Geoghegan worked with Miners for Democracy, an organization created in the wake of Yablonskis death to fight for reform - an experience he chronicled in his 1991 memoir, Which Side Are You On?)
Labor’s sclerosis left it ill-prepared to grapple with the structural and political changes of the 1970s, as the global position of American manufacturing faltered. The country’s industrial infrastructure was already on weakening ground by the 1950s. As Fraser argues, the late 20th century brought its steady disassembling. Intensifying competition from Europe, Latin America, and Asia in the 1970s and 80s pressed companies to move abroad in search of workers who lacked the protections common in the United States, continuing trends that had begun in the postwar years. Corporations in which labor had made modest inroads now mobilized against unions. The use of professional union-busters spread. So did automation and production speedups. Retail and service companies (such as Walmart) built their economic plans around cheap prices, made possible by easy access to low-wage, nonunion labor both in the stores and at suppliers.
Unions could do little to assuage a mounting, very realistic fear among working-class people. Labor pushed an alternate agenda: expanding public-sector jobs to fight unemployment, developing training programs for laid-off workers, making sure trade policy favored industry. There was a wave of strikes in the early 1970s. But years of defeats and a declining base left unions struggling to gain much support in this defensive stance. (A few prescient unions had earlier made various proposals to discourage capital flight - none of which gained much traction.) At the same time, new business groups, such as the Business Roundtable, were blaming the labor movement for inflation, and the new right attacked unions and government with equal fervor. President Reagan’s breaking of the AIR-TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS strike in 1981 symbolized the beginning of a new era. The use of strike breakers - once rare - became common.
Even unions less crippled by internal conflicts would have been challenged by the sheer scale of the economic transformation in the late 20th century, which turned once-vibrant industrial cities into ghost towns. The dynamism and expansion 100 years earlier, which had stoked workers sense of their own strength and capacity, gave way to stagnation and fatalism, and a resigned timidity at work. Today, strikes have almost vanished from our economic landscape: in 2013, a scant 15 strikes involved more than 1,000 employees each (down from 187 in 1980, the year Reagan was elected). Unionization has fallen sharply even in parts of the economy where it was once ubiquitous, such as the manufacturing sector.
Many of the unions that are hanging onғincluding those in the auto industry, once the standard for union powerhave adopted two-tier contracts, so that new hires are paid according to a different pay scale. Geoghegan suggests that such bargains, though they may rescue unions from extinction in the short term, generally serve to erode whatever workplace solidarity might remain: to have workers earning $14 an hour toil beside those making $28 an hour does not promote a sense of common interest. De-skilling in industrial companies, he observes, undermines workplace mobility, too: where foremen were once drawn from the rank and file, today they are college-educated supervisors, monitoring workers who have no chance of ever moving up.
Meanwhile, the unions that have managed to remain strongҗmost notably in the public sector, which was organized amid civil-rights ferment during the 1960shardly enjoy the role of vanguard. Civil servants such as firefighters, postal workers, and teachers have found it difficult to counter the widespread perception (fed in large part by constant attacks from the right) that they are protecting their own wages and comfort at the expense of others. In the context of economic decline, whatever limited power labor might possess breeds resentment more than admiration.
By now, as notable as the drop in union membership is the rapid rise of workers who have only an attenuated connection to their jobsחbecause they are on temporary contracts, work fewer than 35 hours a week on ever-changing schedules, or are defined as independent contractorsח rather than employees. One way to think about whats happened in recent years is that the precarious economic position of nonwhite or female workers in postwar America has become closer to the norm for all workers.
About one in 10 American workers is self-employed (the most rapidly growing groups in this category are maids and housekeepers, carpenters, landscapers, and hairdressersӔa far cry from the farmers of yesteryear). Part-time workers make up 17 percent of the labor force. Workers hired as independent contractorsas are many at FedEx, for exampleҗarent eligible for unemployment insurance, donחt have the right to organize a union, arent guaranteed overtime pay or the minimum wage, and lack access to the employment protections afforded by the Civil Rights Act. Their employers donҒt have to contribute to Social Security. (Some FedEx drivers have successfully challenged this employment classification in court.)
With the on-demand economy thriving, the ranks of freelancers are growingone can now hire a lawyer, doctor, computer programmer, or run-of-the-mill office worker for short-term service via the Internet. They, too, generally lack the basic perks of stability, such as a retirement plan and health insurance. Describing one boss who compelled his workers to set themselves up as legal corporations so the company could avoid the cost of employee benefits, Geoghegan writes, ҒSometimes I think: one day, every American worker will be a John Smith, Incorporated, every cleaning lady, every janitor, every one of usit will be a nation of CEOs in chains.ד His bleak vision captures the culminating challenge facing a labor revival. That hurdle is rooted in the contemporary ethos of work itself, never mind global and technological factors: how to liberate wage slaves who are, however perversely defined, their own masters.
In the 19th century, anger at lost autonomy brought workers together to organize, to reassert a sense of independence and dignity threatened by the rise of giant corporations and new workplace hierarchies. Key to claiming rights and clout for themselves was solidarity with others. Just as important for them, and for their successors, was an experience of group bargaining power, not only in their companies and factories but also in a democracy: participating in the labor movement was inseparable from becoming actively engaged more broadly in political life.
Today, even as jobs get more precarious, the ideal of independence endures, and a seductive language of artisanship flourishes, promising opportunities for self-realization and freedom from the routinized, bureaucratic workplace of yore. What todays workers are missing is the pull of collective action. The rising generation grew up not with the memory of laborהs early tenacity and vigor, but with the reality of unions under attack from without and in disarray within.
Tackling inequality is clearly going to require more than technocratic fixes from above. It isnt likely to succeed unless workers themselves can reclaim some bargaining power, and the sense of political and social inclusion that can go with it. For Geoghegan, that cultural shift is the crucial goal, though he is also armed with economic arguments about the importance of unions in achieving structural change.
Drawing on Keynes, he makes the case that worker organizations, exerting pressure from below within corporations, will more effectively contribute to the redistribution of wealth than rejiggering taxes or government spending can hope to. Such an approach could create new domestic markets, fueled by rising incomes rather than by debt-driven spending. (Even today, despite the weakness of organized labor, median weekly earnings for unionized workers are about $200Ғor 27 percentmore than for nonunion workers.) The result would be an economy less prone to destructive boom-and-bust cycles. Expanded markets might, he suggests, lead to lower trade deficits as investors put money toward productive uses, rather than toward financial speculation. Higher incomes for working-class Americans might also reduce the intense antagonism toward taxes; the government could more easily invest in infrastructure and social programsҗeven education.
But the heart of Geoghegans case isnחt his upbeat, Keynesian vision of union-catalyzed economic change, which will inevitably prompt debate. (So will his celebration of Germanys economyҒ17 percent of the workforce is unionized and labor is represented on corporate boardsgiven that he barely mentions the countryҗs role in enforcing austerity throughout the rest of Europe.) Above all, he looks to worker organization as a force for political change. He heralds it as the route to counterbalancing the power of elites by spurring democratic participation, and securing representation for the interests of workers (and the middle class).
Burnishing his credentials as a critic of an older unionism focused only on collective bargaining, Geoghegan invokes as models unions like National Nurses United and the Chicago Teachers Union. Both have sought to position themselves as leaders in social movements, not just as the representatives of their members immediate financial interests. Each aims for a broad political coalition and embraces a big agenda.
For National Nurses United, that means urging a greater say for nurses in how hospitals operate. The Chicago Teachers Union, which staged an unexpectedly popular strike in 2012, connected teachersג concerns about health benefits and the ways in which their work would be evaluated to larger questions. The union broached the topics of funding for education, privatization of public schools, overly large class sizes, and the lack of support for art, music, and special education. At stake was the whole question of teachers role in determining educational policy. ItҒs no accident that such unions represent service-sector professionals, disproportionately women, whose labor serves a greater public good; trained in professions that have their own ethical codes, these workers are pushing for more socially engaged autonomy. Such unions weigh in with confidence against corporate interests, committed to the idea that participatory activism counts.
Nurses and teachers might seem to have little in common with low-wage, blue-collar, or temporary workers, whether farmhands or clericals. Still, Geoghegan sees these unions as important and relevant examples of a willingness to depart from the mid-century template for collective bargaining. Any real revival of organizing, in his view, is bound to require a jettisoning of older models. There is little alternative, given the right-to-work laws on the books in 24 states and the hostility toward union-election campaigns: winning a majority vote is an uphill battle even if many in the workplace want a union.
Geoghegan suggests that unions could give up on the old insistence on exclusive representationҒthe idea that a majority of workers must vote to support a union, which then must represent everyone in the workplace in collective bargaining. Instead, workers could jockey to form organizations that would be empowered to bargain for any who chose to join and pay dues. To counter employer discrimination against union supportersӔwho are often threatened with being fired or demoted for wearing a union button or talking about organizingGeoghegan proposes a push to get union allegiance defined as a civil right that deserves legal protection, like race and gender. Workers punished for their pro-union sentiments would be enabled to sue through the courts rather than be limited to an appeal to the National Labor Relations Board. Or unions could stop focusing on their contracts and aim for more say over corporate management. State governments, he suggests, could offer tax breaks for firms that allow union representation on their boardsחanother weapon in the arsenal of incentives that states already use to attract business.
Where there are union stirrings, workers are indeed experimenting with new strategies. At companies such as Walmart, employees have struggled to join forces to advocate for better pay and more-stable schedules so that they arent forced to rely on food stamps and public assistance to supplement their low wages. Aware of how hard the company will fight formal union recognition, they arenחt seeking to hold an election anytime in the near future. Instead, they welcome whoever wants to join them in pressuring the company through demonstrations, strikes, and Black Friday protests. The Fight for $15Ғ campaign by fast-food workers, airport employees, and home health aides (supported by the Service Employees International Union) has adopted similar moves. Participants have simply taken to the streets to make a moral appeal to the public and demand change. For the moment, theyve bypassed the lengthy, often futile process of filing for an election, winning union recognition, and bargaining over a contract.
Geoghegan knows full well that some leaders in the larger world of organized labor may be reluctant to adopt such confrontational tactics in their own unions, and that employers generally have met them with fierce resistance. Despite tentative signs of life, the prospect of a new labor movement sweeping the country - unions fought for by baristas and waiters, janitors and temps, day-care workers and grad students - still seems as remote and romantic as imagining the steel mills reassembled from their ghostly remnants on the South Side of Chicago. But neither Geoghegan nor Fraser has given up on a spirit of rebellious imagination, because the alternative, as their clear-eyed accounts refuse to gloss over, is immersion in a different kind of dream.
Today, the expectations associated with a middle-class identity - homeownership, a college education, and health care, as well as the secure social position that they make possible - linger on, even though the historical context that once made those markers realistically attainable for many has long since disappeared. The political culture of equality engendered by the New Deal and the postwar order no longer exists. Nor do the economic institutions that thrived during those decades - more-affordable higher education, labor unions, and a growing social safety net. But those markers of middle-class arrival continue to beckon as integral hedges against losing ground (which indeed they are, perhaps even more now than in the past). And when they prove out of reach, people feel aggrieved enough to take on risk in a gamble for security: they are willing to borrow heavily on credit cards, take out chancy mortgages, or borrow against their homes if that’s their only recourse.
Economically, some may argue that a nation so starkly divided between rich and poor is prone to frequent recessions, high levels of unemployment, and debt-driven panics and crises. But the deeper problems, as Fraser and Geoghegan suggest, are moral and political. The stark hierarchies of the material world generate a culture of defeat and paralysis. At every level of our society today, the idea that only people with money matter is confirmed daily. From the kind of health care that we receive, to the schools our children attend, to the parks near our houses, our segregation by wealth renders a common social experience nearly impossible.
Organizing in the workplace isnt enough, alone, to close those gaps. It can, though, give people a way to see themselves as something other than disempowered individuals. It can help instill the sense that they are part of society, linked to others around them, bearing mutual responsibility for the circumstances they inhabit, not just as workers but as citizens. WhatӔs at stake is more than paid vacations or even health insurance or higher wages. When people organize at work, they alter something larger than any particular policy. They change the balance of power itselfon their jobs, and also potentially in their cities and states, and in Washington.
Without this larger vision of workplace democracy and political engagement, unions stand no chance of revival. A claim on the moral imagination has always been crucial to laborҒs success. Hard though it may be to grasp in retrospect, the labor movement of 100 years ago, as Fraser writes, was as much a freedom movement as the abolitionist movement had been or [the] civil rights movement would become.ג
Whether it is possible to animate work with this meaning today is an open question. Near the end of his book, Geoghegan commits the equivalent of heresy for a labor lawyer: totally committed though he is to fending off the destruction of those unions that still exist (and represent 16.2 million people), he admits that a small part of him cant help hoping that the right will continue its legal assault on organized labor until the entire rickety apparatus born of the New Deal collapses.
Unions would then be forced back into the streets, into relying on the active support of the people they seek to represent, as well as of the larger public. People might be jolted into recognizing that they’ve forgotten how to insist on their rights and freedom as workers. They would need to find waysas people did a century agoӔto speak about their aspirations in a political language that lays claim to democratic principles and counters the illusion that the world must be divided between a superelite and those whose mission is to serve it.
Labor has grown so weak by now that whatever form of organizing might come next will have to start almost from scratch anyway, to build something entirely new. Such an idea may seem dauntingbut no more so than it must have appeared to the miners in Ludlow. What that something might be - what it will look like, and how it might help us remake our society together - is an unavoidable question of the 21st century.
Section Bad Moon Rising •
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