Article 43


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fast Food Forward


In Drive to Unionize, Fast-Food Workers Walk Off the Job

By Steven Greenhouse
NY Times
November 28, 2012

Fast-food workers at several restaurants in New York walked off the job on Thursday, firing the first salvo in what workplace experts say is the biggest effort to unionize fast-food workers ever undertaken in the United States. 

The campaign backed by community and civil rights groups, religious leaders and a labor union - has engaged 40 full-time organizers in recent months to enlist workers at McDonalds, Wendy’s, Dominos, Taco Bell and other fast-food restaurants across the city.

Leaders of the effort said that workers were walking off the job to protest what they said were low wages and retaliation against several workers who have backed the unionization campaign. They said it would be the first multi-restaurant strike by fast-food workers in American history, although it was unclear how many workers would walk off the job.

The first walkout took place at 6:30 a.m. at a McDonald’s at Madison Avenue and 40th Street, where several dozen striking workers and supporters chanted: “Hey, hey, what do you say? We demand fair pay.” An organizer of the unionizing campaign said that 14 of the 17 employees scheduled to work the morning shift had gone on strike.

Raymond Lopez, 21, an aspiring actor who has worked at the McDonald’s for more than two years, showed up on his day off to protest. “In this job having a union would really be a dream come true,” said Mr. Lopez, who added that he makes $8.75 an hour. He said that he, and fellow fast-food workers, were under-compensated. “We don’t get paid for what we do,” he said. “It really is living in poverty.”

Over the decades there have been occasional efforts to unionize a fast-food restaurant here or there, but labor experts say there has never before been an effort to unionize dozens of such restaurants. The new campaign aims in part to raise low-end wages and reduce income inequality, and is also an uphill battle to win union recognition.

Ruth Milkman, a sociology professor at the City University of New York, said there had been so few efforts to unionize fast-food workers because it was such a daunting challenge.

“These jobs have extremely high turnover, so by the time you get around to organizing folks, they’re not on the job anymore,” she said. Nonetheless, she said the new effort might gain traction because it is taking place in New York, a city with deep union roots where many workers are sympathetic to unions.

Christine C. Quinn, the speaker of the New York City Council who has struggled with various measures intended to improve wages and working conditions in the city, expressed support for fast-food workers.

“I support fast food restaurant workers rights to organize and fight for decent wages,”’ Ms. Quinn wrote in a Twitter message on Thursday morning.

Jonathan Westin, organizing director at NEW YORK COMMUNITIES FOR CHANGE, a community group that is playing a central role in the effort, said hundreds of workers had already voiced support for the campaign, called Fast Food Forward.

“The fast-food industry employs tens of thousands of workers in New York and pays them poverty wages,” Mr. Westin said. “A lot of them can’t afford to get by. A lot have to rely on public assistance, and taxpayers are often footing the bill because these companies are not paying a living wage.” The minimum wage in New York State is $7.25 an hour.

Mr. Westin said the campaign was using techniques that differed from those in most unionization drives, and was still developing overall strategy. He declined to say whether it would pursue unionization through elections or by getting workers to sign a majority of cards backing a union.

McDonald’s issued a statement about the incipient unionization push. McDonald’s values our employees and has consistently remained committed to them, so in turn they can provide quality service to our customers, the company said.

It added that the company had an “an open dialogue with our employees and always encouraged them to express any concerns so we can continue to be an even better employer.” McDonald’s noted that most of its restaurants were owned and operated by franchisees who offer pay and benefits competitive within the industry.

But workers demonstrating outside the McDonald’s on Madison Avenue said their employer paid them wages that made it difficult to pay for basics.

“We can’t pay rent, pay bills,”’ said Hector Henningham, 40, an employee who said he has worked for McDonald’s for eight years and made $8 an hour. “We need change.’”

One customer drinking coffee inside the McDonald’s said she supported the organizing effort. If anybody deserves to unionize, it’s fast food workers, said the customer, Jocelyn Horner, 35, a graduate student.

Even with a union, it might be hard to obtain wages of $15 an hour, and many employers say they would most likely employ fewer workers if they had to pay that much.

Mr. Westin’s group, New York Communities for Change, has played a major role in the recent uptick in unionizing low-wage workers in New York, many of whom are immigrants. In the past year, his group, working closely with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and other organizations, has helped win unionization votes at four car washes and six supermarkets in New York.

The sponsors of the fast-food campaign also include UNITED NEW YORK, the Black Institute and the Service Employees International Union, a powerful union that is playing a quiet but important role behind the scenes.

Several religious leaders are backing the effort. I’ve become involved because it is primarily a matter of justice, said the Rev. Michael Walrond of the First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem. ԓWe seek to protect those who are the most vulnerable in our culture, and some of the most vulnerable people in the city are fast-food workers who work for poverty wages.

According to the State Labor Department, median pay for fast-food workers in the city is around $9 an hour - or about $18,500 a year for a full-time worker.

After three years of working at a McDonalds restaurant on 51st Street and Broadway, Alterique Hall earns $8 an hour - and is yearning for something better.

So when he heard about the unionization campaign, Mr. Hall, 23, was quick to sign on.

“It’s time for a change,” he said, “Its time to put on the gloves.”

Linda Archer, a cashier at the McDonalds on 42nd Street just west of Times Square, said she wished she earned that much. She earns $8 an hour after three years there and averages 24 hours a week, she said, meaning her pay totals about $10,000 a year.

“I feel I deserve $15 an hour,” said Ms. Archer, 59. “I work very hard”. She said she hoped a union would deliver affordable health insurance and paid sick days.

“My hope is we can all come together in a union without being intimidated,” she said.

TCB Management, the franchisee that operates Mr. Hall’s McDonald’s, and Lewis Foods, which runs Ms. Archer’s, did not respond to inquiries.

Tim McIntyre, a Dominos Pizza spokesman, said the few efforts to unionize its stores and drivers had fallen flat.

“It’s a fairly high-turnover position, so there’s never been a successful union effort,” he said. “People who are doing this part time, seasonally or as they work their way through college don’t find much interest in membership.”

Richard W. Hurd, a labor relations professor at Cornell, said the organizations backing the fast-food campaign seemed intent on finding pressure points to push the restaurants to improve wages and benefits.

“But it’s going to be a lot harder for them to win union recognition,” he said. “It will be harder to unionize them than carwash workers because the parent companies will fight hard against it, because they worry if you unionize fast-food outlets in New York, that’s going to have a lot of ramifications elsewhere.”

Nate Schweber contributed reporting.


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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Union Free America


What Happens If Labor Dies?
The only way unions can regain their strength and provide a counterweight to corporate power is if liberals join the fight.

By Harold Meyerson
American Prospect
November 27, 2012

Imagine America without unions. This shouldn’t be hard. In much of America unions have already disappeared. In the rest of America they’re battling for their lives.

Unions have been declining for decades. In the early 1950s, one out of three American workers belonged to them, four out of ten in the private sector. Today, only 11.8 percent of American workers are union members; in the private sector, just 6.9 percent. The vanishing act varies by regionin the South, it’s almost total - but proceeds relentlessly everywhere. Since 1983, the number of states in which at least 10 percent of private-sector workers have union contracts has shrunk from 42 to 8.

Following the 2010 elections, a number of newly elected Republican governors and legislatures in the industrial Midwest, long a union stronghold, moved to reduce labors numbers to the trace-element levels that exist in the South. A cold political logic spurred their attacks: Labor was the chief source of funding and volunteers for their Democratic opponents, and working-class whites, who still constitute a sizable share of the electorate in their states, were far more likely to vote Democratic if they belonged to a union. The fiscal crisis of the states provided the pretext for Republicans to try to take out their foremost adversaries, public-employee unions.

In Indiana, Governor Mitch Daniels signed a “right to work” law giving nonunion members who enjoyed the benefits of a union contract - the right to withhold dues to the union, making Indiana the first Midwestern state to pass such legislation. In Ohio, Governor John Kasich signed a bill repealing collective-bargaining rights for all public employees, but voters overturned that law at the polls. In Wisconsin, which had been the first state to extend those rights to public-sector workers, Governor Scott Walker also repealed those rights, but more selectively than Kasich: He kept them for police and firefighters. When outraged unionists and their allies mounted a recall campaign against him, Walker beat them back handily. In the nation’s capital, Republican senators and congressmen refused to confirm President Barack Obama’s appointees to the National Labor Relations Board, which adjudicates labor-management relations in the private sector.

Coming on the heels of the failure of the Democratic Congress of 2009-2010 to amend the National Labor Relations Act so that private--sector workers wouldn’t risk their jobs by forming a union, the Midwestern setbacks struck a growing number of commentators as labor;s death knell. Losing jobs as technology transformed workplaces, losing both jobs and middle-class wages as globalization transformed the economy, and blocked by statute and employer opposition from expanding unions, some concluded, were history.

Within the labor movement, a number of leaders and activists quietly shared the same pessimism. They had invested in organizing with little to show for it. They had invested in politics but found that the Democrats they’d helped elect could not - or worse, would not - come to their aid. In 2008, they had seen the entire edifice of deregulated capitalism totter and almost collapse, plunging the nation into its deepest and most intractable recession since the 1930s. But unlike the 30s, when workers flocked to unions, the current recession has only intensified labor’s downward spiral and businesss ascent. “What would it take for labor to come back?” one senior union staffer asked earlier this year. “This was the crisis we were waiting for, and it didn’t do it.”

For many Americans, the death of labor would doubtless seem the natural order of things, the dinosaur finally shuffling off to the graveyard. Unions have no presence in the hottest and hippest sectors of the economy, in high-tech, fashion, and finance. The public’s image of labor is a memory of a memory that’s anywhere from 50 to 100 years old - the Yiddish- and Italian--speaking seamstresses of the Lower East Side, the goons in On the Waterfront, and, for the historically sentient, George Meany puffing a cigar and damning the Vietnam peaceniks.

It doesn’t seem to matter that these images don’t conform to PRESENT REALITY. Today, there are millions more unionized teachers than unionized truckers. Of the six unions with more than a million members, two are headed by lesbians and one by an African American, a level of diversity in these troglodytic institutions not to be found on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley. A number of unions, particularly the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), play a central role in the political mobilization of Latinos, the group most likely to transform the American electorate. The AFL-CIO opposed the Iraq War and last year provisioned Occupy Wall Street.

But labor’s anachronistic image persists, and for a reason: It stubbornly represents blue-collar workers long after they’ve gone out of style and their numbers have diminished. It speaks for autoworkers and steelworkers, for the cutting-edge industries of 1935. To the young, even to most campus activists, unions are a holdover from their great-grandparents’ generation, speaking a language as incomprehensible as Old English: solidarity, shop stewards, seniority, strikes. Where are unions in the NEW ECONOMY? Can a union do anything for a temp? A part-timer? A software writer? A barista? Will anyone under 30 - will anyone over 30 - even notice if unions cease to be?

II. A Union-Free America

Here’s what happens if the dinosaur dies. When unions vanish, ordinary Americans lose their right to bargain collectively for their pay and benefits. Even those who have never bargained collectively will feel the loss. Some years ago, when unions were big enough that their effect on the larger economy could be measured, Princeton economist Henry Farber concluded that the wages of nonunion workers in industries that were 25 percent unionized were 7.5 percent higher than theyd be if their industry were union-free. When unionized companies were common, firms that were nonunion had to mimic the wages and benefits of their unionized counterparts for fear that their employees would leave or, worse, organize. That was certainly the practice at General Electric and other largely nonunion giants.

Nonetheless, union workers generally maintained a 20 percent wage advantage over nonunion workers. The key to the wage advantage is the percentage of union membership in a given industry or market. In cities where nearly all the class-A hotels are unionized, as they are in New York and San Francisco, housekeepers make more than $20 an hour. In cities where roughly half of such hotels are unionized, such as Los Angeles, their hourly wage is about $15. In cities where all the hotels are nonunion, such as Phoenix, housekeepers make little more than the minimum wage, if that.

From 1947 through 1973, when union density in America was at its peak, real wages for nonmanagerial employees rose by 75 percent. From 1979 through 2006, as union density collapsed, real wages for nonmanagerial employees rose by only 4 percent. Unable to get a raise, American households maintained their standard of living during those years by women entering the workforce and by going into debt.

Density is just one element of union’s ability to raise wages, however. The other is strikes. We look back now at the three decades of broadly shared prosperity that followed World War II as a time of union-management concord, when executives made their peace with unions and unions didn’t rock the boat. In fact, more strikes occurred from the late 1940s through the early 1970s than before or since. When union contracts expired, workers and managers fought pitched battles over the terms of the next contract. The largest strike in American history came in 1959, amid the sleepy Eisenhower years, when 500,000 steelworkers stayed off the job for 116 days. It was through such expedients that workers compelled management to let them share in their company’s proceeds. But as density declined, unions ability to win strikes declined with it. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, unions were striking less to win raises than to resist management proposals to freeze wages and cut benefits. The weaker unions grew, the fewer their strikes. In the early 1950s, there were roughly 350 strikes in the United States every year. Over the past decade, there have been roughly 10 to 20 per year.

As unions shrank, inequality grew. From 1947 through 1972, productivity in the United States rose by 102 percent, and median household income rose by an identical 102 percent. In recent decades, as economists Robert Gordon and Ian Dew-Becker have shown, all productivity gains have accrued to the wealthiest 10 percent. In 1955, near the apogee of union strength, the wealthiest 10 percent received 33 percent of the nation’s personal income. In 2007, they received 50 percent.

Today, wages and benefits make up the lowest share of Americas gross domestic product since World War II. Wages have fallen from 53 percent of GDP in 1970 to 44 percent today. Profits have been growing at wages’ expense. Michael Cembalest, J.P. Morgans chief investment officer, has calculated that reductions in wages and benefits were responsible for about 75 percent of the increase in corporate profits between 2000 and 2007.

What’s causing this decline in workers ability to claim more of the nation’s wealth? It’s not that they’re less productive. According to a Wall Street Journal survey of the S&P 500, the nations largest publicly traded companies, revenues per worker, which were $378,000 in 2007, grew to $420,000 in 2010. Businesses now produce more with fewer employees, but even those workers who’ve kept their jobs haven’t seen their wages rise.

Elite opinion insists that workers’ educational shortcomings are the root cause of declining incomes. In the years since 1979, however, the share of American workers with college degrees has increased from 19.7 percent to 34.3 percent, according to a new study by John Schmitt and Janelle Jones at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Even so, the percentage of college graduates with good jobs, which Schmitt and Jones define as jobs paying at least $37,000 a year that provide health insurance and any kind of retirement plan, has fallen from 43 percent in 1979 to 41 percent in 2010.

So workers are better educated and more productive. What they lack is power. The current recovery is different from previous recoveries because few unions remain to press workers demands, and the unions that do remain lack the industrial or geographic density they need to win any gains or just hold the line for their members. This is most apparent in the Midwest manufacturing belt, where unions struggle to preserve at least some of the wage and benefit levels they enjoyed before they found themselves in competition with workers abroad and in the nonunion South. While veteran workers in unionized plants still make $26 to $32 an hour, new hires in companies like General Motors and Caterpillar make between $12 and $19 hourly, with contracts that lock them into these lower levels no matter how long they may work there. In 2008, average hourly wage and benefit costs in the Midwest were $7 higher than they were in the South; by 2011, they were $3.34 higher.

An entire region is downwardly mobile. An entire nation, but for the wealthiest 10 percent, is downwardly mobile. The share of jobs at the bottom of the economy grows as the jobs at the middle vanish. The United States now has the highest percentage of low-wage workers - that is, workers who make less than two-thirds of the median wage of any developed nation. Fully 25 percent of all American workers make no more than $17,576 a year.

That’s what the disappearance of unions and the loss of worker bargaining power means to the economy.

Politically, it means that the liberal house loses its anchor tenant. Since the 19th century, and more particularly since the 1930s, unions have brought new groups into the American electorate. In the mid-1930s, as the organizers of the fledgling CIO fanned out across hundreds of mill towns, they also turned out those workers to vote for Franklin Roosevelt. That’s why Pennsylvania, which had not voted for a Democratic presidential nominee since 1856, moved into the Democratic column in 1936 and for most elections thereafter. In Southern California, beginning in 1997, labor brought so many new Latino voters to the polls that they flipped almost all of Los Angeles’s suburban congressional and legislative districts from Republican to Democratic, converting a purple state into a blue one.

Perhaps the unions greatest contribution has been their success at keeping their own white working-class members voting Democratic. Ever since the mid-1960s, when Democrats supported laws and programs to help African Americans, white working-class voters began to turn away from the party. Only the unions kept them in the Democratic fold. In exit polls dating back to the early 1970s, white working-class union members have voted Democratic at a rate 20 percent to 30 percent higher than their nonunion counterparts; among white working-class men, the margin is even higher. Unions’ election-time messages, whether conveyed by mail, e-mail, phone, or at the worksite, offer a persuasive counter-narrative to the Rush Limbaughs and Bill OReillys, who also focus their attention on white working-class men. The de-unionization of the white working class lets Limbaugh and O’Reilly go unanswered. It makes it harder for Democrats to win states like Ohio and Wisconsin.

Unions also lobby the presidents and members of Congress they help elect not just for their own causes but for progressive legislation generally. In 1965, the AFL-CIO played a crucial role in persuading both Democrats and Northeastern Republicans, whose districts were then home to tens of thousands of union members, to vote for Medicare, the Voting Rights Act, and anti-poverty programs. More recently, labor threw its weight behind the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law.

Labor’s other main contribution to the liberal cause has been - well, its contributions to liberal causes. Over the course of their history, to be sure, many unions have been estranged from progressives. The resistance of the building trades to racial integration and the support most unions gave to the Vietnam War are well known. But the most powerful union in the era of union powe - rthe United Auto Workers under Walter Reuther from 1947 to 1970 - functioned almost like a European social democratic party, seeding virtually every movement that emerged in the 1960s. The UAW supplied the money and the buses for the 1963 March on Washington, and provided financial assistance to Cesar Chavez’s nascent farmworker union, and its grape boycott. It gave start-up funds to Students for a Democratic Society, the National Organization for Women, and the first Earth Day. Today, the Service Employees International Union supports the immigrant-rights movement, while the AFL-CIO contributes to a range of progressive organizations.

No other progressive movement has anything approaching the level of resources that unions enjoy through their collection of member dues. In 2008, SEIU spent more than $60 million in its campaign for Barack Obama and congressional Democrats. This year, labor is likely to spend about $400 million on the election. Without assistance from unions, many liberal organizations will find themselves with severely reduced resources. They will be compelled to seek even greater support from foundations, which cannot legally fund overtly political activity. If unions fold, liberal America will not merely be weakened. It will be crippled.

III. Union Decline - A Whodunit

As conventional wisdom has it, unions declined because the industries in which they’d been strong could no longer afford them once globalization opened American markets to foreign competition. Unionized autoworkers and steelworkers couldn’t defend their pay levels against workers in China and Mexico who could turn out comparable products at a fraction of the American wage.

Indeed, during the past ten years, the growth of global markets has loosened the bonds between many of Americas largest corporations and the entire American economy. In 2001, 32 percent of the revenues of the S&P 500 came from abroad. By 2008, that figure had risen to 48 percent, as the rapidly growing middle classes of nations like China and Brazil began purchasing more. With rising markets abroad, U.S. businesses can afford to be less concerned with maintaining the purchasing power of American consumers - which means the wages of American workers.

But globalization by itself doesn’t necessarily lead to a weakened labor movement and declining worker income. If it did, unionized German manufacturing workers would not enjoy pay and benefits that exceed those of Americans even as their country has become the export giant of the Western world. Because unions are more powerful in Germany than they are in the U.S., and because German law requires large companies to divide their corporate boards equally between workers’ and management’s representatives, multinationals like Siemens, Daimler, and BMW have kept their most highly productive and best-paid jobs at home. Only where corporations have been free to structure globalization to their workers; - disadvantagethat is, in the United States - has it led to massive union decline.

Even so, globalization accounts for only a portion of labor’s descent in the U.S. Five years ago, economist Alan Blinder, a former vice chair of the Federal Reserve, calculated that roughly 30 million to 40 million American jobs could be offshored. People can make iPhones and blueprints and writecontracts anywhere. Although most of those jobs wouldn’t be offshored, Blinder argued, anyone with such a job would sooner or later see his wages held down.

This still leaves more than 100 million American jobs that can’t be shipped abroad, whose wages can’t be undercut by the going rate in Shenzhen or Mumbai. Carpenters, cooks, supermarket clerks, and truckers have jobs that can’t be relocated. Yet unions have lost members in these place-specific sectors as well. In 1973, 40 percent of construction workers were union members. In 2004, just 15 percent were.

What drove this decline wasn’t offshore competition. It was growing employer opposition to unions, which was also the primary reason why unions could not expand into the growing service sector. Beginning in the 1970s, American businesses realized they could defeat unionization campaigns by exploiting the weaknesses of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the 1935 law designed to protect workers right to organize, or by violating the act altogether, since the penalties for such violations were minuscule.

When a company fires a worker in the middle of an organizing drive, which the labor relations act explicitly deems illegal, the worker can file a complaint with the local office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). If the board upholds her complaint, however, the most it can do is order the employer to rehire the worker and pay her back pay, minus anything she may have earned elsewhere during the months or years (the process is notoriously slow) since her firing. To get some perspective on how negligible such penalties may be, one just has to look at the 2007 unionization campaign at the YaleҒNew Haven Hospital, conducted outside the framework of the NLRA. An independent arbitrator ruled that management had committed numerous fair-practice violations and fined the hospital $4.5 million. During the decade of 20002009, by contrast, the total of all fines levied nationally by the NLRB for illegal punishment of workers for their union activity came to $36 million, or $3.6 million a year.

Richard Freeman, the Harvard professor who is the dean of American labor economists, has found that in 1950, for every 200 workers who voted to join a union, only one was fired during the organizing drive. By the early 1990s, that figure had grown to nine. American businesses had figured out that illegally firing workers to deter their unionization might be the single greatest deal they’d ever find.

What had restrained business in 1950? In part, companies held back because America was a different country then. Its population and most of its major industries were concentrated in the heavily unionized Northeast and Midwest. The Sunbelt boom had yet to take place. When the South and Southwest began to grow in the 1960s, unions couldn’t gain entry there, impeded by right-to-work laws that the federal government had allowed states to adopt when it passed the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947.

But there was another factor. In the years following World War II, leading American businesses believed in or were resigned to Fordism, the doctrine that calls for compensating workers well enough that they can consume well enough, too. It took its name from Henry Ford’s 1913 decision to pay his workers an unheard-of $5 a day so they could afford to buy the cars they were making, although it actually required the great unionization campaigns of the 1930s and 1940s to raise workers incomes to the point where they could make such purchases.

But as the Sunbelt grew, the nonunion South gave birth to a harsher economic order. Wal-Mart replaced General Motors as America’s largest private-sector employer. Instead of paying its workers enough to buy new cars, Wal-Mart paid its workers so little they had to shop at discount stores like Wal-Mart. Founded in 1962, the company grew to the point that it could compel - on penalty of exclusion from its shelves - the companies that made and transported the goods it sold to slash their own costs, which invariably meant their workers wages went down as well. It was a system as all-encompassing as Fordism, but it was Fordism in reverse.

One way Wal-Mart, its suppliers, and many other companies lower those wages is to hire workers not as employees but as independent contractors and temps. Businesses thereby evade any obligation to provide workers with benefits and make it still more difficult for unions to organize. How do you unionize workers who aren’t employees of the company you’re organizing? Such employment relations arenҒt generally covered by the labor relations act, and such employment arrangements are increasing. By most estimates, roughly 25 percent of all American workers fall into this contingent--worker category. In many cases, this is an employer ruse. FedEx, for instance, dictates the schedules, routes, pay rates, and conditions of work for its drivers but calls them independent contractors to thwart any attempts to unionize them.

IV. Whodunit (continued): We Done It

The dysfunctional state of labor law and the shifting practices of American business, however, aren’t the only reasons for labor’s decline. The shifting beliefs and practices of American liberals must take some responsibility for this decline as well.

Liberalism, like business, has changed since the middle of the last century. In the late 1940s, both liberals and leftists, thrilled by the advances in worker incomes and workplace democracy that unions had recently brought about, still viewed labors battle with capital as the linchpin of liberalism’s concerns. “Class conflict is essential if freedom is to be preserved” historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote in his 1949 book, The Vital Center, “because it is the only barrier to class domination.” To Schlesinger’s left, sociologist C. Wright Mills extolled the labor leaders then guiding the nation’s new industrial unions in his 1948 book, The New Men of Power. Both Schlesinger and Mills were partisans of Walter Reuther and his associates at the UAW, who in 1946 had struck General Motors over the question of the control of capital. Reuther wanted GM to let both the union and the government have a co-equal say with management over wages, prices, and technology - a scaled-down version of the system then being put together in postwar Germany. GM rejected it out of hand, and the UAW settled for a hefty raise instead. But for Schlesinger no less than Mills, class conflict - and working-class advances - was central to the liberal project.

And then, it wasn’t. Unions, even Reuther’s mighty autoworkers, lacked the power to raise the question of corporate control ever again. Instead, the UAW’s subsequent strikes wrested from the auto industry a series of agreements that entitled workers to benefits, insurance, and vacations and that saw their wages rise with increases in productivity and the cost of living. Other unions followed suit, but the grand drama, the question of whether America would be a more social or more capitalist democracy, was off the table. Labor relations had been reduced to dollars-and-cents agreements between powerful companies and powerful unions. “It was the end of ideology,” wrote sociologist Daniel Bell. “It was a matter of administering prices and wages in a stable oligopolistic economy,” wrote economist John Kenneth Galbraith. It was, truth be told, a yawn.

The workers had power and prosperity - or so middle-class liberals believed. But millions of Americans didn’t. Indeed, they still lacked fundamental rights. Young African Americans began sitting in at Southern lunch counters and rode integrated buses into segregated cities. Liberals turned their attention and moral energy to the battles for equal rights. So, for that matter, did the more progressive unions, which were among the few racially diverse large American institutions.

This, in fact, is liberalism’s enduring achievement of the past half-century - the revolution in rights for the previously excluded: blacks, women, Latinos, and, increasingly, gays and lesbians. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act permits workers fired or discriminated against due to race, religion, gender, or age to go to court and collect damages far in excess of those a worker fired for joining a union can collect through the NLRA. As one labor activist puts it, They can’t fire you for your skin color or your sex or your age. They can just fire you if they want to.

Liberalism eliminated an entire edifice of privilege. But by thinking the labor question had been settled during the decades of postwar prosperity, and then by not thinking about the labor question at all, liberals ceased to address the issue of power: the economic and political power that capitalism concentrates at the top when unions are weak and regulations watered down.

Liberals and leftists had their reasons for dismissing labor. Throughout the Cold War, the AFL-CIO looked like, and to some degree was, an adjunct of America’s imperial power, an aging politburo that supported every administrations overseas adventures. It reviled the New Left and the liberals who supported the anti-Vietnam War presidential bids of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern. It was hostile to feminist and environmental causes. Of course, any number of unions - not just Reuther’s worked to advance those causes, but they didn’t capture the imagination of many mainstream liberals.

Unions had a problem even closer to home than the indifference of liberals. For decades, labor was complicit in its own demise. The same union leaders who helped create the rift in the 1960s and 1970s between labor and liberals were also largely indifferent to organizing workers in the growing service sector - indeed, to organizing workers at all. As convinced as Daniel Bell that the balance of class power in America had reached a permanent equipoise, George Meany, who presided over the AFL-CIO from 1955 until 1979, told an interviewer in 1972, “Frankly, I used to worry about the size of the membership. But quite a few years ago, I just stopped worrying about it.”

So, alas, did many of Meany’s peers. Lulled during the years of labor’s power into thinking they’d attained sufficient numbers to keep on winning better contracts, they largely stopped organizing, devoting only 4 percent of their budgets to recruiting new members. As the economy began to grow in regions and sectors where unions had few if any members, and as employer opposition to labor increased, unions were caught flat-footed. For some years, the fact that the raw number of union members didn’t drop masked the decline in their share of the workforce, as did labors success in organizing public-sector workers in states and cities under Democratic control. During Ronald Reagan’s presidency, however, the actual number started dropping, too. SEIUs decades-long drive to organize the janitors who cleaned the office buildings in big cities outside the South and the Hotel and Restaurant Workers’ unionization of the mega-hotels on the Las Vegas Strip were brilliant successes, but such campaigns were rare.

In time, unions awakened to the growing impediment that labor law placed in their path. Beginning in 1965, every time there was a Democrat in the White House and a heavily Democratic Congress on Capitol Hill, labor endeavored to have the law amended so workers could join unions without fear of being fired. They could never convince quite enough Democrats, however, to overcome the Senates requirement for a supermajority. Efforts to change the law during the Johnson, Carter, and Clinton presidencies all came up short.

In 2010, with Barack Obama in the White House and Democrats in control of the Hill victories to which labor had contributed about $400 million and the efforts of hundreds of thousands of volunteers - unions tried again. This time, they pushed legislation that would authorize the NLRB to recognize a union if a majority of workers simply signed affiliation cards - a process called “card check” - rather than go through an election that management had learned how to game. Once more, the effort died in the Senate.

It didn’t matter that without a change in labor law, private-sector unions might fade to oblivion. “We didn’t move a single Democrat who wasn’t already with labor to move on our behalf,” says Andy Stern, SEIU president during the 2010 battle. Though the rifts between labor and progressive movements had long since healed, unions couldn’t convince mainstream Democrats that their survival was a matter of existential importance, not just for labor but, given labor’s ability to turn out Democratic voters, for the party as well.

What explains this indifference to labors fate? Some leading Democrats believe their party can build an enduring majority that doesn’t have much of a place for unions. Their strategy is based on demographythat through the growing numerical strength of Latinos and Asians and the steady support of blacks and highly educated white professionals, Democrats can put together an electoral coalition that will sweep them into power for many decades. Single black women, the theory goes, vote at a 98 percent rate for the Democrats whether they’re in unions or not. As for unions ability to deliver white working-class votes to the DemocratsҒits not going to matter. The white working class is shrinking as a share of the electorate, and the union share of the white working class is shrinking alongside it. Who needs גem?

But this strategy falls short in two particulars. First, its the unions on whom Democrats count to turn out much of the working-class black and Latino vote. Second, and more fundamentally, a coalition based chiefly on demography cannot stand, at least not for long. The New Deal coalition put together by Franklin Roosevelt, which lasted until 1968, may have been initially based in rising minority groups - Catholic and Jewish immigrants and their children - who were often as suppressed and reviled by Republican Protestant voters of that time (and Southern Democratic whites as well) as blacks and Latinos are today. But Roosevelt’s coalition, while incorporating these new groups in its circles of power, also bettered their economic lot in life.

Can a new Democratic coalition all but devoid of a union presence and subject to the growing influence of corporate America and the financial elite do the same? Can it restore equitable growth? That would be squaring a circle. Already, some Democratic mayors, among them Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel and Newark’s Cory Booker, are building coalitions that array their city’s corporate elites and minority communities against their cities’ unions. The irony here is that their cities unions are largely responsible for expanding the middle class within those minority communities. Nonetheless, this municipal version of the Democrats’ top-bottom coalition could prove to be the model for the Democratic Party of the future. By ceding control over taxes, trade, and worker rights to the party’s corporate funders, however, this model omits a plausible vision of how to reconstruct broadly shared prosperity. Absent worker power, you can’t get there from here.

V. The Murky Road Back (Or anyway, to someplace)

Washington teems with liberal think tanks that produce plausible policy papers on how to rebuild the economy, and magazines like the Prospect that publish articles suggesting remedies for our economic woes. What Washington and America, what liberals and Democrats lack are institutions with enough power to rekindle class conflict and challenge class dominance. The ideas in both the labor movement and liberal America on how to build such institutions - be they unions or some new entities that do the work that unions have done - are few and fledgling. “If the next big idea was readily at hand,” says Wilma Liebman, who chaired the National Labor Relations Board between 2009 and 2011, “someone would have thought of it.”

Nobody has yet, but here are some provisional approaches.

One set of ideas derives from successful campaigns waged by workers and their allies in liberal cities and states over the past 15 years to win increased wages, inner-city hiring agreements, union recognition, new parks, and clean-air standards. The laboratory for this experiment has been Los Angeles, once an anti-union town that was transformed into labor-friendly terrain by the mobilization of the city’s vast immigrant community. There were two primary architects of this transformation: First, Miguel Contreras, who headed the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, an association of more than 350 local unions, from 1996 until his death in 2005. Second, Madeline Janis, an attorney who at the behest of Contreras and his wife, hotel union leader Maria Elena Durazo, established what was first known as Los Angeles’s living-wage coalition, and today is the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE).

Janiss thesis was that businesses that operate on government-owned or -assisted properties or that have government contracts should repay the city by bettering the lives of the workers they employ and the communities in which they operate. LAANE’s first major victory was persuading the city council to require cleaning companies with which it had contracts to pay their workers a living wage - a sum several dollars higher than California’s minimum wage (or a bit lower than that if they provided their workers with health coverage). Over the years, the scope of such ordinances was broadened to encompass card-check unionization at hotels and sports arenas that received redevelopment funds; local-hiring requirements for developers of major projects; and clean-air standards for trucks at the Port of Los Angeles. Some of these ordinances have served as models for living-wage and other laws in more than 140 other cities. “A bank that makes an investment wants a return for its money, and so does the public,” Janis says. “The returns to the public should include good jobs, child-care centers, cleaner air, affordable housing.”

Realizing such returns, of course, requires political heft. That’s where Contreras came in. A few months after he took control of the federation, he turned to some immigrant-dominated local unions and asked them to do something that no one had really done in far-flung Los Angeles: walk precincts, lots of them. The federation soon developed an extensive, permanent field operation, particularly in Latino and black neighborhoods. It recruited its own candidates to run for office, authored its own platform for elections (including support for the programs LAANE promoted), and won election after election in a majority of council districts.

The premise behind the Los Angeles model is that liberal cities can enact pro-worker reforms that are more difficult to pass in statehouses and all but impossible in Congress. Which raises a question: What if, the next time we have a Democratic president and Congress, labor didn’t return to the Sisyphean challenge of reforming the National Labor Relations Act but instead advocated scrapping it altogether? The act preempts states and cities from establishing labor-relations statutes of their own (with the exception of Taft-Hartleys provision allowing states to pass right-to-work laws). Suppose more liberal states were free to regulate labor relations in their jurisdictions. They might let workers win union recognition though card check or require companies that refuse to sign a first contract with their workers to submit to binding arbitration after six or nine months have elapsed. (These were all provisions in the labor-reform bill that failed to clear the Senate in 2010.)

Labor economist Richard Freeman has estimated the gains and losses unions would experience if labor law were left to the states. In industries like manufacturing, where businesses could relocate to anti-labor states, unions would suffer a decline in members, which Freeman calculates at around 500,000. But the gain in industries like construction, hotels, and retail - sectors where businesses can’t relocate - could total four million in union-friendly states.

Freemans suppositions about union--friendly states, which he defined as the 27 states that haven’t passed right-to-work laws, are probably too optimistic, however. Many of those states don’t have liberals or Democrats in power. Even in such progressive bastions as California or New York, there’d be no guarantee that Governor Jerry Brown, who vetoed a card-check bill for California farmworkers last year, or Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has cultivated an adversarial relationship with many of New Yorks unions, would be inclined to make it easier for workers to organize in the private sector. Few states, far fewer than 27, are home to labor movements strong enough to persuade state government to pass legislation, in the face of the almost-certain outrage from business, that would make organizing easier.

Another approach to reversing labor’s decline is to broaden the scope of unions demands and, with that, their potential to connect with a larger public. One leading proponent of this idea is Stephen Lerner, the veteran union organizer and strategist who devised and ran SEIUҒs Justice for Janitors campaign. Of late, Lerner has been working with community organizations and citizens action groups, advising them in a set of campaigns directed against the countryҒs leading banks. He argues that worker and community-organizing campaigns should target the public and private banks that control an increasing share of the economy as well as corporations like Wal-Mart rather than the multitudes of small firms that make up its supply chain. Going after the 1 percent, Lerner says, is a way unions can take the battle to the economys commanding heights and expand the coalition of engaged activists beyond those involved in traditional union campaigns. (If LernerҒs rhetoric sounds like Occupy Wall Streets, thatҒs because he laid out a similar battle plan some months before the protests at Zuccotti Park.)

Lerner envisions four sets of protagonists: beleaguered homeowners waging a campaign to renegotiate mortgages; student organizations demanding a reduction in college debt; municipalities suing banks that devised dubious deals for them; and bank tellers seeking unionization. Its a strategy reminiscent of the 1930s, when tenant rent strikes and armed farmers stopping foreclosure sales were common occurrences. Such campaigns would require acts of civil disobedience. In fact, groups with which Lerner is working have already disrupted shareholder meetings and occupied banks and homes facing foreclosure.

Could such campaigns be scaled up to a level that compels banks to accede to their demands? Lerner argues that itҒs possible: The movements of the ғ30s and 60s were successful because they were disruptive.Ғ Todays unions may not be able to practice large-scale civil disobedience, he says, but they can certainly encourage the activities of other groups.

Lerner is far from alone in believing that unions can no longer confine their organizing to workers they hope to represent in collective bargaining. For the past half-decade, AFL-CIO canvassers have gone door to door in white working-class neighborhoods in a notably successful campaign called Working America, enrolling more than three million nonunion swing voters to persuade them to support union-backed candidates at the polls. In the past few months, the group has also begun to talk to its members about their workplace concerns and how they might address them. In an even more radical move away from organizing workers, SEIU last year suspended its unionization drives and instead invested tens of millions of dollars in community--organizing projects in 17 cities. The union hoped to create a massive network of minority voters that could move American politics leftward, but the campaign proved largely unsuccessful.

A problem of labor’s own making afflicts such projects: the lack of a unified labor movement. In 2005, SEIU and several other major unions left the AFL-CIO to form a mini--federation of their own, Change to Win, that focused on unionizing workers in industries that could not be offshored. Seven years later, Change to Win has yet to claim any victories. The fragmentation of the movement has kept initiatives like the AFL-CIOs and SEIUҒs from reaching critical mass. Such efforts require funding from the whole of organized labor, since they dont produce dues-based revenue even when they succeed. Labor’s fissures remain an impediment to its prospects for fighting bigger battles with potentially bigger rewards.

Larry Cohen, the president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), has been a leading proponent of labor’s reunification. He also believes American unions can learn from the successes that labor has experienced in other nations when they helped form broader social movements. In recent decades, he points out, unions in Brazil, South Korea, and South Africa have flourished by becoming linchpins in campaigns for democracy, much as European unions did 100 years ago.

Having played a major role in the unsuccessful 2010 battle to persuade Congress to reform labor law, Cohen is convinced labor needs to build a movement of 50 million Americans for democracy. If labor wants to win more rights for workers, he argues, it must first break the stranglehold that big money and conservatives have on our politics by winning campaign--finance reform, abolishing the Senate’s supermajority requirements, outlawing voter suppression, and legalizing undocumented immigrants.

Beyond some visionary officials and activists, does labor recognize how radically it has to change? Too many leaders, says one union veteran, still think that labor is selling toothpaste, something that’s always needed, that’s not going to go out of business. But we’re not selling toothpaste. We’re selling landline telephones. There won’t be a market for landline phones ten years from now.

Can unions move beyond landlines? Even if they can, will our corporate-dominated political system still indulge their existence, let alone permit their rebirth? Labor can’t win this fight by itself. It not only needs to make common cause with the broader liberal community; it needs the liberal community to understand and embrace Schlesingers dictum that the only alternative to class dominance is class conflict. Heightening that conflict and strengthening unions, or whatever new institutions emerge to fight for working people, must now become liberalism’s primary task.



Right to work

By Gordon Lafer
Economic Policy Institute
September 15, 2011

Large sums of money have been devoted to backing so-called right-to-work bills in numerous state legislatures. Lobbyists for these misleadingly named laws claim that they significantly improve both job growth and the wages people earn. The evidence shows that these claims are completely without scientific foundation.

The most rigorous scientific analysis shows the exact opposite is true:

Right-to-work laws have no impact in boosting economic growth: research shows that there is no relationship between right-to-work laws and state unemployment rates, state per capita income, or state job growth.

Right-to-work laws have no significant impact on attracting employers to a particular state; surveys of employers show that “right to work” is a minor or non-existent factor in location decisions, and that higher-wage, hi-tech firms in particular generally prefer free-bargaining states.

Right-to-work laws lower wages - for both union and nonunion workers alike - by an average of $1,500 per year, after accounting for the cost of living in each state.

Right-to-work laws also decrease the likelihood that employees get either health insurance or pensions through their jobs again, for both union and nonunion workers.

By cutting wages, right-to-work laws threaten to undermine job growth by reducing the discretionary income people have to spend in the local retail, real estate, construction, and service industries. Every $1 million in wage cuts translates into an additional six jobs lost in the economy. With 85 percent of Michigan’s economy concentrated in health care, retail, education, and other non-manufacturing industries, widespread wage and benefit cuts could translate into significant negative spillover effects for the states economy.


Lawmakers in several states are being told that they can solve their states’ unemployment problems by adopting right-to-work statutes.

Right-to-work laws do not, as one might think, confer any sort of right to a job. Nor do they have anything to do with people being forced to join a union or pay dues for political causes they do not support. Federal law already guarantees that no one can be forced to join a union, and no one can be required to pay union dues that fund political causes they oppose.

What is permitted under federal law is for a group of employees to propose - and if their employer agrees, to write into a contract - that all employees who benefit from the terms of a union contract are required to pay their fair share of the costs of administering that contract. Right-to-work laws make it illegal for employees and employers to negotiate such a contract.

By making it harder for workers organizations to sustain themselves financially, right-to-work laws aim to weaken unions; bargaining strength. When unions are weaker, wages and benefits decline for all workers, because nonunion employers face less competitive pressure to meet union wage standards. Indeed, right to work is promoted as a strategy for attracting new businesses to locate in a state precisely because it lowers wages and benefits, weakens workplace protections, and decreases the likelihood that employers will be required to negotiate with their employees.

Because service industries are not mobile - schools and hospitals have to be sited near the kids and sick people they serve - right-to-work laws primarily address manufacturing. Essentially, right to work is a strategy for attracting out-of-state manufacturers by undermining union strength and therefore lowering wages and benefits.

Proponents of a right-to-work law in Michigan suggest that it would increase job growth and incomes in the state. The Strategic Task Force on Jobs of the 2010 Michigan House Republican Caucus suggests that states with right to work laws have the fastest growing economies (Michigan House Republican Strategic Task Force on Jobs 2010). Freedom to Work creates prosperity, says the Michigan Freedom to Work Coalition, adding that the Freedom to Work Act would make Michigan a jobs magnet (Michigan Freedom to Work Coalition 2011). Mackinac Center-affiliated scholar Stephen Moore echoes this conviction, calling right-to-work the single most important thing that could help turn around the states economic fortunes (Kersey 2011).

These assertions appear to be based, in large part, on information supplied by advocates in the National Right to Work Committee, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and other anti-union organizations. The National Right to Work Committee, for instance, claims that there is overwhelming evidence indicating that Right to Work laws are economically beneficial (Kesari 2011).

However, the economic claims made by the National Right to Work Committee are without any scientific foundation. If the committee’s arguments were presented as evidence in civil litigation, they would be dismissed as what the courts call junk science. If a college student presented such an analysis for their thesis, it would be rejected for faulty methodology.

In an economy the size of the United States, it is always possible for advocates to selectively choose a few numbers that seem to illustrate their viewpoint. But legislators should not rely on anecdotes or misleading numbers when rigorous, statistically scientific analysis of the impact of right-to-work laws is available.

The scientific - as opposed to ideological - analysis of right-to-work laws shows that right-to-work laws lower wages and benefits for both union and nonunion workers alike, while having no positive impact whatsoever on job growth.

Michigan’s economy is one of the most challenging in the country. Lawmakers are looking for all potential ways to improve economic performance. The track record of right-to-work laws clearly shows that they are not a good candidate for that role.



The Shift From the Unions

By Seth Ackerman
December 13, 2012

A Twitter-friend and I have been batting around an analogy between the 1920s and the era were living through now. There’s the brief rise of a white Protestant right-populist movement (the KKK then, Tea Party now). There’s the likeness between Obama’s conservative brand of progressivism and that of Herbert Hoover an analogy that was drawn out at length by Kevin Baker in an essay in Harper’s a couple years ago.

But what got that ball rolling was this comment from the economics blogger Noah Smith:

The country is becoming more liberal, but unions are losing more and more battles. This should tell us something.

It was in reply to that aperu that I retorted, Sounds like the 20s - and it went from there. Of course, the 1920s came on the eve of a great labor upsurge, as Jacobins own Shawn Gude noted - which was kind of my point, in a snarky way. And it reminded me of a little bit of history I came across recently and thought Id share. Amidst the events in Michigan, and the trend stories about the inevitable decline of labor, it’s worth putting in your pocket.

From an editorial in the New York Times:

The Shift From the Unions

June 27, 1926

Samuel Gompers used to declare that the American Federation of Labor “never would surrender the advantages gained through the war.” Yet in the six years 1920-25 it fell off in mere numbers from its peak of over 4,050,000 to 2,877,297. According to a writer in Current History, there has been an even greater decline in prestige. As Research Director of the Pennsylvania Old Age Commission, Abraham Epstein lately inspected “1500 of the larger concerns of the United States.” Almost everywhere, he found a shift away from the unions. “If the labor movement is doomed,” he asks, “what then?”

Mr. Epstein pays high tribute to the achievements of the Federation. Not only to its own members but to American labor in general it has brought shorter hours, higher wages, improved working conditions. But he quotes its very leaders as attesting that its “vitality and missionary zeal” are in decadence. In the Pennslvania Federation twenty-two out of twenty-six officials “unequivocally declared” to this effect. Some of them conscientiously took the blame upon themselves. Others found refuge in current patter - the automobile, the radio, the movies, the good times, the bad times, President Coolidge, the ignorance of the workers, the Communists, the gross materialism of the labor movement, the capitalism of the labor movement, the capitalist press, the lack of a labor press. Our younger members, especially, have gone jazzy.” Mr. Epstein finds, rather, that the hopes and aspirations of the rank and file are in process of being transferred from outside union leaders to the managerial forces within the workers several shops.



The right-to-work dilemma

By Charles Krauthammer
Washington Post
December 13, 2012

For all the fury and fistfights outside the Lansing Capitol, what happened in Michigan this week was a simple accommodation to reality. The most famously unionized state, birthplace of the United Auto Workers, royalty of the American working class, became right-to-work.

Its shocking, except that it was inevitable. Indiana went that way earlier this year. The entire Rust Belt will eventually follow because the heyday of the sovereign private-sector union is gone. Globalization has made splendid isolation impossible.

The nostalgics look back to the immediate postwar years when the UAW was all-powerful, the auto companies were highly profitable and the world was flooded with American cars. In that Golden Age, the UAW won wages, benefits and protections that were the envy of the world.

Today’s angry protesters demand a return to that norm. Except that it was not a norm but a HISTORICAL ANOMALY. America, alone among the great industrial powers, emerged unscathed from World War II. Japan was a cinder, Germany rubble and the allies - beginning with Britain and France - an exhausted shell of their former imperial selves.

For a generation, America had the run of the world. Then the others recovered. Soon global competition - from Volkswagen to Samsung - began to overtake American industry that was saddled with protected, inflated, relatively uncompetitive wages, benefits and work rules.

There’s a REASON Detroit went bankrupt while the southern auto transplants did not. This is not to exonerate incompetent overpaid management that contributed to the fall. But clearly the wage, benefit and work-rule gap between the unionized North and the right-to-work South was a major factor.

President Obama railed against the Michigan legislation, calling right-to-work “giving you the right to work for less money.” Well, there is a principle at stake here: A free country should allow its workers to choose whether to join a union. Moreover, it is more than slightly ironic that Democrats, the fiercely pro-choice party, reserve free choice for aborting a fetus while denying it for such matters as choosing your child’s school or joining a union.

Principle and hypocrisy aside, however, the presidents statement has some validity. Let’s be honest: Right-to-work laws do weaken unions. And de-unionization can lead to lower wages.

But there is another factor at play: having a job in the first place. In right-to-work states, the average wage is about 10 percent lower. But in right-to-work states, unemployment also is about 10 percent lower.

Higher wages or lower unemployment? It is a wrenching choice. Although, you would think that liberals would be more inclined to spread the wealth i.e., the jobs - around, preferring somewhat lower pay in order to leave fewer fellow workers mired in unemployment.

Think of the moral calculus. Lower wages cause an incremental decline in ones well-being. No doubt. But for the unemployed, the decline is categorical, sometimes catastrophic - a loss not just of income but of independence and dignity.

Nor does protectionism offer escape from this dilemma. Shutting out China and the others deprives less well-off Americans of access to the kinds of goods once reserved for the upper classes: quality clothing, furnishings, electronics, durable goods from the Taiwanese-manufactured smartphone to the affordable, highly functional Kia.

Globalization TAKETH AWAY. But it giveth more. The net benefit of free trade has been known since, oh, 1817. (See David Ricardo and the Law of Comparative Advantage.) There is no easy parachute from reality.

Obama calls this a RACE TO THE BOTTOM. No, it’s a race to a NEW EQUILIBRIUM that tries to maintain employment levels, albeit at the price of some modest wage decline. It is a choice not to be despised.

I have great admiration for the dignity and protections trade unionism has brought to American workers. I have no great desire to see the private-sector unions defenestrated. (Like FDR, Fiorello La Guardia and George Meany, however, I dont extend that sympathy to public-sector unions.)

But rigidity and nostalgia have a price. The industrial Midwest is littered with the resulting wreckage. Michigan most notably, where its formerly great metropolis of Detroit is reduced to boarded-up bankruptcy by its inability and unwillingness to adapt to global change.

It’s easy to understand why a state such as Michigan would seek to recover its competitiveness by emulating the success of Indiana. One can sympathize with those who pine for the union glory days, while at the same time welcoming the new realism that promises not an impossible restoration but desperately needed and doable - recalibration and recovery.


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Ten Numbers The Rich Would Like Fudged


By Paul
Us Against Greed

The numbers reveal the deadening effects of inequality in our country, and confirm that tax avoidance, rather than a lack of middle-class initiative, is the cause.

1. Only THREE PERCENT of the very rich are entrepreneurs.

According to both MARKETWATCH and economist EDWARD WOLFF, over 90 percent of the assets owned by millionaires are held in a combination of low-risk investments (bonds and cash), personal business accounts, the stock market, and real estate. Only 3.6 percent of taxpayers in the top .1% were classified as ENTREPENEURS based on 2004 tax returns. A 2009 KAUFFMAN FOUNDATION STUDY found that the great majority of entrepreneurs come from middle-class backgrounds, with less than 1 percent of all entrepreneurs coming from very rich or very poor backgrounds.

2. Only FOUR OUT OF 150 countries have more wealth inequality than us.

In a world listing compiled by a reputable RESEARCH team (which nevertheless prompted double-checking), the U.S. has greater wealth inequality than every MEASURED country in the world except for Namibia, Zimbabwe, Denmark, and Switzerland.

3. An amount equal to ONE-HALF the GDP is held untaxed overseas by rich Americans.

The TAX JUSTICE NETWORK estimated that between $21 and $32 trillion is hidden offshore, untaxed. With Americans making up 40% of the world’s Ultra High Net Worth Individuals, that’s $8 to $12 trillion in U.S. money stashed in far-off hiding places.

Based on a historical STOCK MARKET RETURN of 6%, up to $750 billion of income is lost to the U.S. every year, resulting in a tax loss of about $260 billion.

4. Corporations stopped paying HALF OF THEIR TAXES after the recession.

After paying an average of 22.5% from 1987 to 2008, corporations have paid an annual rate of 10% since. This represents a sudden $250 billion annual loss in taxes.

U.S. corporations have shown a pattern of tax reluctance for more than 50 years, despite building their businesses with American research and infrastructure. They’ve passed the responsibility on to their workers. For every dollar of workers’ payroll tax paid in the 1950s, CORPORATIONS PAID three dollars. Now it’s 22 cents.

5. Just TEN Americans made a total of FIFTY BILLION DOLLARS in ONE YEAR.

That’s enough to pay the salaries of over a million nurses or teachers or emergency responders.

That’s enough, according to 2008 estimates by the FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION and the UNITED NATION’S WORLD FOOD PROGRAM, to feed the 870 MILLION people in the world who are lacking sufficient food.

For the free-market advocates who say “they’ve earned it”: Point #1 above makes it clear how the wealthy make their money.

6. Tax deductions for the rich could pay off 100 PERCENT of the deficit.

Another stat that required a double-check. Based on RESEARCH BY THE TAX POLICY CENTER tax deferrals and deductions and other forms of tax expenditures, (tax subsidies from special deductions, exemptions, exclusions, credits, capital gains, and loopholes), which largely benefit the rich, are worth about 7.4% of the GDP, or about $1.1 trillion.

Other sources have estimated that about two-thirds of the annual $850 billion in TAX EXPENDITURES goes to the TOP QUINTILE of taxpayers.

7. The average single black or Hispanic woman has about $100 IN NET WORTH.

The Insight Center for Community Economic Development REPORTED that median wealth for black and Hispanic women is a little over $100. That’s much less than one percent of the median wealth for single white women ($41,500).

Other studies confirm the racially-charged economic inequality in our country. For every dollar of NON-HOME WEALTH owned by white families, people of color have only one cent.

8. Elderly and disabled food stamp recipients get $4.30 A DAY FOR FOOD.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) has DROPPED SIGNIFICANTLY over the past 15 years, serving only about a QUARTER of the families in poverty, and paying less than $400 PER MONTH for a family of three for housing and other necessities. Ninety percent of the available benefits go to the elderly, the disabled, or working households.

Food stamp recipients get $4.30 a day.

9. Young adults have lost TWO-THIRDS OF THEIR NET WORTH since 1984.

21- to 35-year-olds: Your MEDIAN NET WORTH has dropped 68% since 1984. It’s now less than $4,000.

That $4,000 has to pay for student loans that AVERAGE $27,200. Or, if you’re still in school, for $12,700 IN CREDIT CARD DEBT.

With an UNEMPLOYMENT RATE FOR 16- to 24-YEAR OLDS of almost 50%, two out of every five recent college graduates are living with their parents. But your favorite company may be hiring. Apple, which makes a profit of $420,000 PER EMPLOYEE, can pay you about $12 per hour.

10. The American PUBLIC PAID about FOUR TRILLION DOLLARS to BAIL OUT the banks.

That’s about the same amount of money made by AMERICA’S RICHEST 10% in one year. But we all paid for the bailout. And because of it, we lost the opportunity for jobs, mortgage relief, and educational funding.

Bonus for the super-rich: A QUADRILLION DOLLARS in securities trading nets ZERO sales tax revenue for the U.S.

The world derivatives market is estimated to be worth A QUADRILLION DOLLARS (a thousand trillion). At least $200 trillion of that is in the United States. In 2011 the Chicago Mercantile Exchange reported a trading volume of over $1 quadrillion on 3.4 billion annual contracts.

A quadrillion dollars. A sales tax of ONE-TENTH OF A PENNY on a quadrillion dollars could pay off the deficit. But the total sales tax was ZERO.

It’s not surprising that the very rich would like to fudge the numbers, as they have the nation.



The 6 Economic Facts of Life in America That Allow the Rich to Run off with Our Wealth

By Les Leopold
December 5, 2012

Do you ever wonder why it takes the average family 47 years to make as much as a hedge fund honcho makes in one HOUR?

Does it bother you that in 2010, after the crash, the top 25 hedge fund chiefs made as much as 685,000 teachers who educate 13 million children?

Are you worried that cutting government debt means raising your social security eligibility age and cost of living adjustment, so that you have to work longer and receive lower retirement benefits?

Have no fear. The super-rich are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to sell you their economic fabrications. Why so much inequality? They say because the rich have the most important skills and you don’t. Why so much unemployment? They say it’s because our skimpy unemployment insurance keeps people from looking for work. Why so much government debt? They say it’s because you have too many “entitlements.” Why the Wall Street crash? They blame poor people for buying homes they couldn’t afford.

In short, the super-rich want us to believe that any effort to tax them a bit more or control Wall Street will only kill more jobs and harm our economic well-being. And most of all they don’t want us to know the six economics facts of life that explain how the super-rich are running away with our nation’s wealth.

1. The super-rich are stealing our fair share of productivity. The U.S. economy is enormously productive. Since 1947, the amount of goods and services we produce per hour of labor has risen by nearly 300 percent. That’s because as a nation, we blend together a potent mix of effort, skills, technology and organizational capacities. Our enormous productivity is why we are the richest nation on earth.

Yet, why don’t we feel that rich? Why are we told we must tighten our belts?

Until the mid-1970s, the more productivity increased, the higher the real wages of the average working person (after taking out the impact of inflation). As a result, our standard of living doubled in 25 years. But, as you can see from the chart below, after the mid-1970s, productivity (the red line) continued to boom, but the average wage stalled.

t wasn’t an accident, or market forces, or an act of God. It was a result of human polices designed by and for the rich. Tax cuts for the rich, financial deregulation, support for moving jobs overseas and union-busting combined to give the super-rich more and more of our economy’s productivity gains. In 1970, the top 100 average corporate executive earned $45 for every $1 earned by the average worker. By 2006 it had jumped to a whopping $1,723 to $1. That’s the very definition of greed run wild.

Think about this: If the average wage had continued to rise along with productivity as it did after WWII, your real wage today (after inflation) would be twice as high!

We’ve been had.

2. Americans really want a wealth distribution more like Sweden’s. Here’s a nightmare fact of life the super-rich don’t want you to know. Two researchers recently tried to find out just how much economic inequality Americans were comfortable with. Michael Norton of Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University conducted a nationwide poll with more than 5,000 respondents to see how Americans saw our current level of equality, and what level they wanted to see. (Building a Better America - One Wealth Quintile at a Time)

The results were startling. First, virtually all Americans greatly underestimated the degree of inequality in our economy today. They had no idea how extreme the U.S. wealth distribution really is—which goes to show you what a good job the super-rich have done in mis-educating us.

Second, when asked to construct an ideal distribution of income, 92 percent of Americans preferred radically more equality Ԗ on a par with the social democratic state of Sweden! Whats more, it didnҒt matter whether the respondent was a Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, black or white, male or female. Everyone wanted more economic fairness.

Imagine that! Americans, even Republicans who voted for Romney and Ryan, would rather live with the Scandinavian distribution of wealth. Little wonder that the super-rich and their minions do all they can to belittle so-called “Euro-socialism.” They don’t want us to know that maybe we are hard-wired for fairness instead of the staggering inequality that helps no one but the super-elites.

3. Everything we hear about government debt is wrong. Right now, the biggest target of public mis-education is the government debt debate. And the biggest spender on the mis-education of the American public is billionaire Pete Peterson (who personally has added to the government’s debt by dodging hundreds of million in taxes through the 15 percent “carried interest” loophole that blessed his private equity fund). Having no sense of shame, he and other super-elites want to convince us that government spending and debt will ruin us all. Unfortunately, very little of what they claim is true:

China owns our all our debt? Wrong! There’s a chilling ad put out by a Peterson front group that features a Chinese lecturer in the year 2030 addressing (with English subtitles) a packed audience of Chinese students about the rise and decline of the U.S. The confident, smirking teacher describes how the U.S. abandoned its principles as it “tried to spend and tax its way out of a great recession” and then crumbled beneath its “crushing debt.” He then provides the kicker: “Of course we owned most of their debt...ha ha ha, and now they work us,” he says to the raucous laughter of the students. The ad is a complete Peterson lie. China owns only 8 percent of our debt. Most of our debt is actually owned by our own quasi governmental agencies like the Federal Reserve and Social Security.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are bankrupting the country? Wrong! The current deficits are the result of two unfunded wars, the Bust tax cuts for the super-rich and the Wall Street crash of the economy that killed 8 million jobs, and led directly to the ensuing bailouts, lost tax revenues and increases in unemployment insurance payments.

We will become like Greece if we don’t balance our budget? Wrong! Greece can’t print money to pay back its debt because it no longer has its own currency (and neither does Mississippi). The United States does. Also, our economy is more than 50 times larger that Greece’s. The chances of the US ending up in a Greek debt crisis are about the same as finding a Martian in your bathtub.

We have to solve the “debt crisis” right now or the economy will crash? Wrong! We have an unemployment crisis, not a debt crisis. Interest rates are at all-time lows because the world wants to park its money here in dollars. In fact, this is the time to borrow more to put our people back to work by rebuilding our crumbling, fossil fuel-dependent infrastructure and educating our children. If our people go back to work, the economy grows, unemployment costs go down, tax revenues rise, and the debt ratio shrinks without paying back one penny of it.

Why so many lies? Because financial elites like Peterson don’t want to pay their fair share of taxes. They don’t believe in funding a safety net for all Americans. They don’t want to the government to help put Americans back to work. Instead, they want an economy by and for the elites.

4. We are under-taxed, not over-taxed. The super-rich want us to believe that taxes are too high and that those taxes are harming job creation and economic growth. It’s a fabrication. First of all, taxes for most Americans have declined, according to a recent New York Times analysis:

..... most Americans in 2010 paid far less in total taxes federal, state and local ח than they would have paid 30 years ago. According to an analysis by The New York Times, the combination of all income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes took a smaller share of their income than it took from households with the same inflation-adjusted income in 1980.

Second, we have much lower tax rates that our chief European competitors. For example, Germany, an economic powerhouse, has an average tax rate of 40.6 percent while the U.S. rate is only 26.9 percent. Germany uses that money to rebuild its infrastructure, invest in education and find creative ways to nearly eliminate unemployment.

Third, the super-rich use a sleight of hand to make middle-class taxpayers believe that lower-income people are moochers. Like Mitt Romney, they are found of saying that 47 percent of Americans don’t pay income taxes and that the rich pay most of those taxes. But income taxes are but a small portion of the tax bite on lower-income people who pay through payroll tax deductions, sales taxes and property taxes.

Finally, because our taxes are declining, it means that our public services are decaying as well. This creates a downward spiral the super-rich want to encourage: the more services decline, the less we want to pay in taxes, the more services decline. If you’re really wealthy you don’t care about public services since your life is entombed in private services—private schools, private airports, private planes, private gated villas and so on.

5. Government jobs are just as good as private sector jobs. Another major con job concerns the attack on public employees. The greedy rich are trying to pit public and private sector workers against each other in large part because public employees still seem to have benefits the rest of us have lost (and they have unions and vote mostly Democratic). Corporate greed demands that we snuff out those benefits so workers won’t demand them in the private sector. To further denigrate government, elites want us to believe that a private sector job is somehow more righteous that a public one—that public employment is sort of like being on the dole because government workers are immune to the rough and tumble of competitive pressures that drives the private sector.

It’s another hoax.

The truth is that some jobs are better done by government on behalf of the public. We learned almost 200 years ago that it didn’t make sense to have competing fire and police departments. We also learned that if we wanted the average person to go to school, we needed public school systems, and not just private ones. Most countries (but not ours) have learned that much of the healthcare system runs better when it’s publicly financed and controlled—that for-profit hospitals and clinics do not provide the best care. In short, every modern economy is a combination of private and public sector jobs that are valuable to our society.

6. Wall Street needs to be shrunk (until we can drown it in a bathtub). The function of finance is simple: moving our savings into productive investments. By doing so, money supposedly moves to where it will do the most good for our economy. This function is considered so simple that most economics textbooks ignore Wall Street entirely.

However, when Wall Street is left to its own devices, it tends to create vast casinos that dramatically increase financial profits at the expense of the real economy. Worse still, as the speculative casinos grow and grow, the economy as a whole is endangered. Wall Street’s grew rapidly just before the great crash of 1929 and just before the Great Recession of 2008-’09. It was stock manipulation during the 1920s and it was the housing casino over the last two decades. But in both cases it happened because Wall Street was deregulated and got too damn big. As the chart below shows, Wall Street is gobbling up more and more of our country’s profits.

We learned after 1929 that economic stability required severe financial regulation. We sat on Wall Street for nearly 50 years and it worked beautifully, especially between WWII and the 1970s. There were virtually no financial crashes anywhere in the world. But once we deregulated finance again, all hell broke loose as the world suffered through more than 150 smaller financial crashes. Finance grew and grew until it took down the entire U.S. economy. Along the way, Wall Street offered the easiest path to great riches for the few.

The simplest solution is the one hated by the super-rich: a small sales tax on each and every financial transaction involving stocks, bonds and every kind of derivative. By taxing the casino, we shrink its size and make it less dangerous to the rest of the economy. We also create new revenues for our economy, nearly all of it coming from the top fraction of the top 1 percent. No wonder they don’t want us to know that.

Is Knowledge Power?

It’s not enough for the greedy rich to buy politicians. They also need to buy our minds. That’s why they pay for all this misleading economic education. But if we master the basic economic facts of life, we won’t get conned. And we will have a much better chance at building a more just and healthy economy.

Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute and Public Health Institute in New York, and author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperityand What We Can Do About It (Chelsea Green, 2009).


Posted by Elvis on 11/28/12 •
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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Value Of Unions


America Waking Up To Value Of Unions

By Dave Johnson
March 1, 2011

As Abraham Lincoln famously said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” When you put enough dots in front of people sooner or later they will connect the dots. And Americans are connecting the dots.

Dots: Trade deals close factories, outsource jobs and pit workers against each other, then wages decline and unemployment is really high, while all the money goes to a few at the top. Then calls to cut the wages and benefits of the rest.

Dots: Unions squashed, then pensions disappear, then calls to get rid of public-employee unions because they have pensions.

Dots: Tax cuts for the rich, then panic over resulting deficits, then calls for cuts in the things government does for We, the People.

People are connecting the dots: Unions mean better wages, benefits and working conditions.

There is a joke circulating that goes like this:

A unionized public employee, a member of the Tea Party and a Big Corp CEO are sitting at a table. In the middle of the table there is a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches across and takes 11 cookies, looks at the tea partier and says, “Look out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie.”

Americans are waking up to the value of unions and government of, by and for We, the People.

The situation in Wisconsin is waking America up to the value of unions. At a time when so many of us are hurting, seeing this naked attempt to strip from Wisconsin’s public employees the ability to bargain for a better life is resonating. A CBS/NY Times poll finds that “a majority of Americans say they oppose efforts to weaken the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions and are also against cutting the pay or benefits of public workers to reduce state budget deficits.”

Further down in the story, “Americans oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions by a margin of nearly two to one: 60 percent to 33 percent.”

On how to fix budget deficits, “those polled preferred tax increases over benefit cuts for state workers by nearly two to one.”

Union Information Blackout In Corporate Media

Interestingly, though, from the polling story, “Labor unions are not exactly popular, though: A third of those surveyed viewed them favorably, a quarter viewed them unfavorably, and the rest said they were either undecided or had not heard enough about them.”

Wow! More than 1/3 of the public hasn’t heard enough about unions to know if they like them or not! This is not surprising: When was the last time you read, saw or heard from a union in the major media, explaining the benefits of joining a union? There has been a virtual blackout of information about unions in the corporate media.

So this Wisconsin story is bringing home to people that there is this thing called “collective bargaining” that can help them in their own jobs!

Strategery FAIL

The plan was to spend a year claiming that public employees and their pensions were responsible for state budget deficits, then go after the unions. The strategy also threw in a dose of resentment: People were reminded that their pensions were stolen in the 80’s, but these uppity gubment workers still had pensions, so their pensions should be stolen too! But people are smarter then the plutocrats think, and they connected some more dots:

Dot: People in unions have good wages and benefits including pensions.

Well, that’s only one dot, but it doesn’t take a lot of neuron connections to realize this means that you should join a union, not be against unions! The resentment argument backfired, and people are waking up to the value of unions.

Unions Vital To Economy

Since the Reagan Revolution crushed unions wages for everyone except a few at the top have been flat. In the ‘W’ Bush decade even before the financial crash wages were declining and job growth was anemic. And wages have been stagnant since this “recovery” began. This wage stagnation is the result of of the loss of the bargaining power of working people.

Working people’s share of the benefits from increased productivity took a sudden turn down when the Reagan Revolution crushed unions:

Unions are vital to a middle class society. Corporations and the wealthy behind the corporate mask have so much power. The only forces that can counter that power and fight for the rest of us are the unions and democratic government. The Reagan Revolution began the elimination of both, bringing instead plutocracy—government of, by and for the wealthy. The resulting weakness in the power of working people to bargain for a fair share has left us with an economy that didnt work when it was “recovering” under Bush, and now canҒt get out of the recession. To lift the economy we have to lift wages.

Families are not sharing in the rewards, but they are waking up and connecting the dots. America is waking up to the value of unions.


Posted by Elvis on 11/27/12 •
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Thanksgiving 2012


About a month ago I wrote THIS:

If I told you I’m not suffering DEBILITATING DEPRESSION and numbing fear from the hopelessness and painful awareness of the lack of job prospects for LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYED, middle-class, baby boomers, or emptiness and deep sadness of LOSS and loneliness from being single with no wife or kids for support, and DISAPPEARING FRIENDS that shun me like I’m a leper - I’d be lying.

If I told you I can rise above this mental and emotional anguish like the Buddhists who claim suffering is a result of temptation - I’d be lying too.

Next stop in life for this HOPELESSLY UNEMPLOYED American is to be shed AGAIN of all DIGNITY, self-esteem and attachments - cause NO JOB = no money to pay the mortgage, and the ultimate failure of not being able to provide for one’s self, loved ones, or the greater good.

Just in time for another THANKSGIVING AND CHRISTMAS.

Thank God I don’t have kids.

But I wish I had some hope.


When one looses the will to struggle, and the capacity for hope, one is no longer living.

I applied for about 50 jobs since writing that post just a few short weeks ago - hundreds - if not thousands - over the year - clinging to the possibility my LUCK WOULD CHANGE, and a meaningful job appear.

But one hasn’t.  In the coming year our GOVERNMENT will most likely continue and accelerate it’s ASSAULT on everyone BUT THE RICH AND INFLUENTIAL by squeezing us with EUROPE-LIKE, society-killing AUSTERITY programs - stalling job growth, and cutting social programs that made this country great. The rich will get richer, the poor will get poorer, LONG-TERM UNEMPLOYMENT will GET WORSE, and ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY will shrink.

There comes a time in life when a person stops moving forward, and looks back.

Maybe that’s what it means to give up.

I took my last trip to visit my elderly mom this Thanksgiving. 

No more money.
No more HOPE.
No more HEART.

When I told mom I still don’t have a job, and don’t have the money to fly up to see her anymore, and may not have a house for her to come live out her old age - she started crying.

I didn’t.

The inner pain is so bad, it’s like my emotions turned to ice after over eight years of DEALING with the economic realities THAT HIT middle-aged TECHIES LIKE ME real HARD.

I’m too angry inside, and feel too worthless to experience love or compassion.

My heart.
My soul.
Every cell of MY BEING.
Is almost DEAD.


The association between suicide and unemployment is more important than the association with other socioeconomic measures. Although some potentially important confounders were not adjusted for, the findings support the idea that unemployment or lack of job security increases the risk of suicide and that social and economic policies that reduce unemployment will also reduce the rate of suicide.
- Suicide, deprivation, and unemployment: record linkage study

Unemployment is Killing People

By Jeff Kaye
The Dissenter
August 17, 2011

When considering the effects of unemployment, and the desultory, really uncaring response of the current Democratic administration, as well as Republicans in Congress, to the human devastation of joblessness, it is important to consider the terrible emotional and psychological effects of such unemployment. Such effects are well-documented, but rarely mentioned in articles or blog postings.

A well-regarded 2010 STUDY by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, “The Anguish of Unemployment,” quantified the tremendous emotional suffering engendered by unemployment. “The lack of income and loss of health benefits hurts greatly, but losing the ability to provide for my wife and myself is killing me emotionally,” wrote one respondent to the survey. (See PDF for Powerpoint presentation of results.)

Just last April, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a study that showed that suicide rates rise and fall in tandem with the business cycle. The study covered the years 1928-2007. According to the CDC PRESS RELEASE:

The overall suicide rate rises and falls in connection with the economy, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released online today by the American Journal of Public Health. The study, “Impact of Business Cycles on the U.S. Suicide Rates, 1928-2007” is the first to examine the relationships between age-specific suicide rates and business cycles. The study found the strongest association between business cycles and suicide among people in prime working ages, 25-64 years old.

“Knowing suicides increased during economic recessions and fell during expansions underscores the need for additional suicide prevention measures when the economy weakens,” said James Mercy, Ph.D., acting director of CDCs Injury Center’s Division of Violence Prevention. “It is an important finding for policy makers and those working to prevent suicide.”

As a practicing psychologist, seeing clients for almost 20 years, I can say that the current economic depression has had a terrible effect on the people I see. I have also heard about more suicides in a short period of time than I have in years actually, ever. While this could be a statistical fluke, and I myself would never draw stark conclusions from the sample of one clinician, the spike in reported suicides is certainly something that fits the known epidemiological risks that accompany high unemployment.

Because of confidentiality issues, I can’t talk about my own clients, but let’s consider some other academic studies over the years about the effects of economic stressors, such as unemployment.

“After unemployment, symptoms of somatization, depression, and anxiety were significantly greater in the unemployed than employed.

Controlling for a number of individual characteristics, unemployed individuals are found to suffer significantly higher odds of experiencing a marked rise in anxiety, depression and loss of confidence and a reduction in self-esteem and the level of general happiness even compared with individuals in low-paid employment. This finding highlights the involuntary nature of unemployment.”

“Unemployment was associated with an increased risk of suicide and death from undetermined causes. Low education, personality characteristics, use of sleeping pills or tranquilizers, and serious or long-lasting illness tended to strengthen the association between unemployment and early mortality.”

“Unemployed individuals had lower psychological and physical well-being than did their employed counterparts.”

“SPRC conducted a literature review of relevant research published in the past two decades. The review shows that a strong relationship exists between unemployment, the economy, and suicide. A common ‘chain of adversity’ can begin with job loss and move toward depression through financial strain and loss of personal control. In fact, this chain leads to myriad financial, social, health and mental health outcomes - all of them negative. The most common (but by no means the only) mental health outcome is depression, which significantly increases suicide risk. The associated financial outcomes (such as mortgage foreclosures and loss of retirement security) have not been researched with respect to suicide. However, the potential link is that for vulnerable individuals, losses (whether real or anticipated) that result in humiliation, shame, or despair can trigger suicide attempts.

“There was a strong independent association between suicide and individuals who were unemployed (odds ratio 2.6; 95% confidence interval 2.0 to 3.4) and permanently sick (2.5; 1.6 to 4.0). The association between suicide and unemployment is more important than the association with other socioeconomic measures.”

“Socioeconomic events are known to produce important fluctuations in suicide mortality. Unemployment, in particular, seems related to suicide risk along direct and indirect pathways. Blakely and co- workers paper in this issue adds to evidence indicating a causal association between unemployment and suicide. Their results indicate that this association is not attributable to confounding factors linked to the socioeconomic status and that it is only partly related to health selection or mental disorders.”
- UNEMPLOYEMENT AND SUICIDE. Journal of Epidemiological Community Health, 2003.

Anemic Jobs Help from Washington Assures More Suffering

According to news reports, President Barack Obama has announced that he will be proposing in September a “jobs package” meant to stimulate job growth. The program, which reportedly will include yet more tax cuts, along with some infrastructure spending, appears yet another tepid approach to a problem that is seriously affecting millions of people. In fact, the government has sat and twiddled its thumbs while millions have languished in despair.

Unemployment is deadly. The effects of the capitalist boom-and-bust system seriously damage millions of lives. But with an almost daily bombast of propaganda about terrorism, the populace lives in fear, while wondering how they will make their bills, ground down between anxiety over ghostly terrorists and eviction, or how to put gas in their car, or afford a bus pass. Hopelessness stalks the land, not Al Qaeda. And yet the politicians in D.C. care little or nothing about the suffering their policies cause. Indeed, their pockets are lined with campaign donations from corporations that routinely layoff hundreds of thousands, and ship many thousands more jobs overseas.

Callous disregard for human lives is what links the terrible policies of war and torture with the policies of neglect and indifference towards the jobless. Such callousness is the by-product of a get-rich-quick ethos that worships profit over all else, over worship of a capitalist system that has brought about terrible world wars, massive depressions, colonial atrocities, and even genocide. U.S. society awaits its turn through the meat-grinder of history.

Meanwhile, the politicians only care about getting re-elected. Indeed, the blogosphere is too infected with following the minutiae of the fake political campaigns, while daily, minute by minute, people’s lives are destroyed. Somewhere today, perhaps while you were reading this, someone has taken their life because they felt useless, with no hope of gainful employment, their self-esteem ground down, the sense of meaning and connection severed by redundancy and societal disconnection.

We need dramatic, radical change in this country, and we need it now. For many thousands, however, it will come too late. How many more individual lives, how many more families lives will be shattered by mental illness and suicide due to joblessness? The right to a job is the most fundamental of human rights.



Japan: ending the culture of the ‘honourable’ suicide
Reducing the growing suicide rate in Japan will require tackling the cultural interpretation of it as a noble act

By Andrew Chambers
The Guardian
August 3, 2010

A recent REPORT by the Royal College of Psychiatrists has noted “strong evidence of a link between economic hardship and suicide”. In 2009 there was a 24% year-on-year increase in suicides in the Republic of Ireland, while the most recently available FIGURES IN THE UK show that the beginning of the economic downturn in 2007-8 resulted in a 6% rise.

With the SAMARITANS’ warning that it is “vital that the government is committed to a suicide prevention strategy”, it is worth considering Japan’s experience. JAPANESE SUICIDE RATES rocketed following the Asian economic crisis in the late 1990s and, despite recent initiatives, Japan has struggled both politically and socially to fully address the problem.

For at least a decade now there have been MOE THAN 30,000 ANNUAL SUICIDE CASES - equating to almost one every 15 minutes. In 2007, cabinet minister TOSHIKATSU MATSOUKA killed himself while facing investigation over an expenses scandal. Later that year the Japanese government launched a WHITE PAPER to radically reform how suicide was perceived and treated, promising better counselling and helpline services.

NAOTO KAN, who recently became prime minister, has repeatedly spoken about the suicide rate - seeing it as indicative of the social decline of the nation. He has stated that his primary political goal is to “minimise unhappiness” in the country.

In 2009, Japan’s SUICIDE TOTAL rose 2% to 32,845, equating to nearly 26 suicides per 100,000 people and significantly higher than for any other OECD country. As a comparison, the UK RATE is about nine per 100,000, and the US rate around 11. In Japan, suicide is now the leading cause of death among men aged 20-44 and women aged 15-34.

This elevated suicide rate is the result of a complex interplay between healthcare provision, social attitudes, cultural influences and economic factors. YUZO KATO, director of the Tokyo Suicide Prevention Centre, explains: “The most common factor behind suicide in Japan is depression caused by a failure to cope with [social pressure] either because of poverty or the demands of work.” The stockmarket crash in 1997 precipitated business failures, loss of savings and unemployment. In 1998 the Japanese suicide total rose by 35%, and has remained above 30,000 a year ever since.

The National Police Agency records financial motivations in about a quarter of all suicides. Many of these are described as inseki-jisatsu (so-called “responsibility-driven” suicides), where people hope to take responsibility for outstanding debts through a life insurance payout. Finance companies regularly have the borrower take out an insurance policy in case of death. In 2005, MORE THAN 3,600 insurance payments to the big five finance companies were actually from suicides.

The financial crisis coincided with the longer-term market-driven restructuring of the Japanese economy. Japan remains a patriarchal society with strong familial and social expectations - however the economic upheaval that accelerated the end of the jobs-for-life culture has left men in particular struggling to cope with job insecurity or the stigma of unemployment. In this period, social inequality (measured on the GINI COEFFICIENT) has also increased - which has been shown in studies to have affected the suicide rates in Japan proportionally more than in other OECD countries.

In Japan, suicide does not have the Judaeo-Christian connotation of sin. Indeed, the inherited cultural notion of romanticised, noble suicide still lingers, especially among the older traditionalists. It would be a mistake to overplay this, but nevertheless the mindset is still apparent. Shintaro Ishihara, the right-wing governor of Tokyo, remarked that cabinet minister Matsuoka was a true Samurai because HE HAD COMMITTED SUICIDE to preserve his honour. Ishihara also recently WROTE THE SCREENPLAY for a film entitled “I go to die for you” which glorified the kamikaze pilots’ self-sacrifice in the second world war.

Mental health provision also needs to improve. Although Japan has a modern and well-equipped health service, the WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION assesses that it still has an “inadequate number of mental health staff providing community care”. Research published in the BRITISH JOURNAL OF CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY demonstrated that patient access to the latest anti-depressant drugs is still restricted. Meanwhile, a Lancet article noted that with counselling at private clinics not covered by national health insurance, many people are still not getting the help they need.

The Japan Times reports how the country’s LARGEST SUICIDE HELPLINE, Inochi no Denwa (literally, “the telephone of life") struggles to attract enough funding to maintain a free phone number. With 300 volunteers it takes 27,000 calls a year. When this is compared with the 2.4m phone calls the Samaritans in the UK receive it is clear that it needs to become more culturally acceptable to ask for help.

In 2009 the government pledged a further ֥15.8bn (115m) towards suicide prevention policies. However, Andrew Grimes, director of Tokyo Counseling Services warns that with economic problems persisting the government’s aim to reduce suicide rates to 23,000 by 2016 will be difficult to achieve “unless very proactive and well-funded local and nationwide suicide prevention programmes and initiatives are taken immediately”. Reducing the suicide rate will require tackling the cultural interpretation of suicide and mental health conditions, improving work environments, providing better access to mental health services, increasing welfare provision and driving economic growth. These measures also need to be undertaken in the UK - which has seen its own suicide levels increasing following the economic downturn. In Japan, reducing the suicide rate remains a huge task, but at least now there is a real political will to make it happen.


Posted by Elvis on 11/27/12 •
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Today's Diversion

Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the the presence of great art or music or literature, or of acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. - Carl Sagan


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