View as html http://p0.vresp.com/p2idtf Progressive Values e-letter - Labor Day - September 7, 2015 Organized Labor = Economic Justice including the weekend, overtime pay, 8-hour workday, minimum wage, paid vacation, sick days, safety standards, child labor laws, health benefits, retirement security, unemployment insurance... America's Immoral Economy The social contract has become entirely one-sided. by Robert Reich - http://www.alternet.org/authors/robert-reich-0 , RobertReich.org, - http://robertreich.org/ Alternet.org - http://www.alternet.org/media/robert-reich-americas-immoral-economy?akid=13453.125622.XGgWRZ&rd=1&src=newsletter1042001&t=10 , September 6, 2015 An economy depends fundamentally on public morality; some shared standards about what sorts of activities are impermissible because they so fundamentally violate trust that they threaten to undermine the social fabric. It is ironic that at a time the Republican presidential candidates and state legislators are furiously focusing on private morality - what people do in their bedrooms, contraception, abortion, gay marriage - we are experiencing a far more significant crisis in public morality. We've witnessed over the last two decades in the United States a steady decline in the willingness of people in leading positions in the private sector - on Wall Street and in large corporations especially - to maintain minimum standards of public morality. They seek the highest profits and highest compensation for themselves regardless of social consequences...read more - http://www.alternet.org/media/robert-reich-americas-immoral-economy?akid=13453.125622.XGgWRZ&rd=1&src=newsletter1042001&t=10 The Work We Value, The Intelligence We Ignore: Is the Work that Made America Great Valued Any Longer? - http://www.onbeing.org/blog/work-we-value-intelligence-we-ignore-work-made-america-great-valued-any-longer/2590 By Trent Gilliss, executive editor, On Being - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-reyes/how-unions-improve-the-li_b_7640440.html How Unions Improve the Lives of Every Worker by Laura Reyes - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-reyes/ , Secretary-Treasurer, AFSCME, huffingtonpost.com Labor Day's Violent Roots: The Hard-Won Fight for Your 3-Day Weekend - http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fww2.kqed.org%2Flowdown%2F2015%2F09%2F04%2Flabor-days-violent-roots-the-hard-won-fight-for-your-three-day-weekend%2F&h=8AQEOfzBt&s=1 By Matthew Green - http://ww2.kqed.org/lowdown/author/matthewgreen/ , ww2.kqed.org - http://ww2.kqed.org/lowdown/2015/09/04/labor-days-violent-roots-the-hard-won-fight-for-your-three-day-weekend/ , September 4, 2015 The Rebellious Spirit of the First Labor Day Is Spreading Anew - http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.truth-out.org%2Fopinion%2Fitem%2F32648-the-rebellious-spirit-of-the-first-labor-day-is-spreading-anew&h=0AQFUp7Yz&s=1 Jim Hightower, truth-out.org - http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32648-the-rebellious-spirit-of-the-first-labor-day-is-spreading-anew America's grassroots have come alive with organizing campaigns to reverse the inequities and abuses being perpetuated by the plutocratic powers. This Labor Day, let's take heart in this rising rebelliousness, says Jim Hightower. - https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stanley-Aronowitz/107621719267878 Stanley Aronowitz, an expert on organized labor, talks about the problems facing many unions and how they might become a powerful force once again. BillMoyers.com, Sept 5, 2015 "Occupy refused to be programmatic, and it has virtually disappeared. But Occupy revived the old tactics of civil disobedience and direct action. And by still relying on elections and on contracts and grievance procedures rather than engaging in direct action, unions are on the road to doom," he says. "I think the things that unions, and it's not just unions, but progressives need to think about, is who really has the country in a mess? And I think we've been very nervous about really, with red-hot anger, naming who the bad guys are and then talking about it in terms that resonate with people. Not abstractions about trillions of dollars. But talking about this teeny group of people at the top that are pillaging the country. And I think when we start to focus that and then have ways that people can act that's not just about rhetoric." Stephen Lerner - https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stephen-Lerner/113415462073719 , Labor and Community Organizer, Is Labor A Lost Cause? Moyers & Company - http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fbillmoyers.com%2Fepisode%2Fis-labor-a-lost-cause%2F&h=0AQE3Tk_D&s=1 , billmoyers.com For more information about Economic Justice and labor click here - http://progressivevalues.org.s150046.gridserver.com/economicgo%20to%20www . Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: It is a commandment. Pope Francis - http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fmobile.nytimes.com%2F2015%2F07%2F12%2Fworld%2Famericas%2Fin-fiery-speeches-francis-excoriates-global-capitalism.html%3Freferrer%26_r%3D0&h=yAQGdklOU&s=1 In Fiery Speeches, Francis Excoriates Global Capitalism There are folks out there who say, 'it doesn't impact me, I'm not a Union guy, I'm not a teacher, I'm not a civil servant.' Let me tell you how it does matter to you. Wages are going down in this country for everybody. When you destroy unions there will be no standard at all, nobody left to negotiate decent jobs for the middle class. Senator Bernie Sanders - http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thenation.com%2Farticle%2Ftop-ten-labor-day-songs%2F&h=tAQGcE925&s=1 Top Ten Labor Day Songs By - http://www.thenation.com/authors/peter-rothberg/ Peter Rothberg - https://twitter.com/@peterrothberg Twitter, - http://www.thenation.com/article/top-ten-labor-day-songs/ The Nation, September 3, 2015 In honor of Labor Day, here's a stab at the impossible task of naming the best songs ever written about working people. - http://www.upworthy.com/i-will-not-wish-anybody-a-happy-labor-day-until-these-6-things-are-figured-out-there-i-said-it?c=ufb1 The story of how Labor Day began (in cartoons and pictures) By - http://www.upworthy.com/brandon-weber Brandon Weber, Upworthy.com, August 18, 2015 * * * * * Go to - http://www.ProgressiveValues.org www.ProgressiveValues.org for articles, excerpts, quotations and more. 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by Robert Reich, Truthdig, Sep 7, 2015
An economy depends fundamentally on public morality; some shared standards about what sorts of activities are impermissible because they so fundamentally violate trust that they threaten to undermine the social fabric.
It is ironic that at a time the Republican presidential candidates and state legislators are furiously focusing on private morality – what people do in their bedrooms, contraception, abortion, gay marriage – we are experiencing a far more significant crisis in public morality.
We’ve witnessed over the last two decades in the United States a steady decline in the willingness of people in leading positions in the private sector – on Wall Street and in large corporations especially – to maintain minimum standards of public morality. They seek the highest profits and highest compensation for themselves regardless of social consequences.
CEOs of large corporations now earn 300 times the wages of average workers. Wall Street moguls take home hundreds of millions, or more. Both groups have rigged the economic game to their benefit while pushing downward the wages of average working people.
By contrast, in the first three decades after World War II – partly because America went through that terrible war and, before that, the Great Depression – there was a sense in the business community and on Wall Street of some degree of accountability to the nation.
It wasn’t talked about as social responsibility, because it was assumed to be a bedrock of how people with great economic power should behave.
CEOs did not earn more than 40 times what the typical worker earned. Profitable firms did not lay off large numbers of workers. Consumers, workers, and the community were all considered stakeholders of almost equal entitlement. The marginal income tax on the highest income earners in the 1950s was 91%. Even the effective rate, after all deductions and tax credits, was still well above 50%.
Around about the late 1970s and early 1980s, all of this changed dramatically. The change began on Wall Street. Wall Street convinced the Reagan administration, and subsequent administrations and congresses, to repeal regulations that were put in place after the crash of 1929 – particularly during the Roosevelt administration – to prevent a repeat of the excesses of the 1920s.
As a result of that move towards deregulation, we saw a steady decline in standards – a race to the bottom – on Wall Street and then in executive suites. In the 1980s we had junk bond scandals combined with insider trading. In the 1990s we had the beginnings of a speculative binge culminating in the dotcom bubble. Sad to say, under the Clinton administration the Glass-Steagall Act – that had been part of the banking act of 1933, separating investment banking from commercial banking – was repealed.
In 2001 and 2002 we had Enron and the corporate looting scandals. Not only did this reveal the dark side of executive behaviour among some of the most admired companies in America – Enron had been listed among the nation’s most respected companies before that time – but also the complicity of Wall Street. Wall Street traders were actively involved in the Enron travesty. And then, of course, we had all of the excesses leading up to the crash of 2008.
Where has the moral center of American capitalism disappeared? Wall Street is back to its same old tricks. Greg Smith, a vice-president of Goldman Sachs, has accused the firm of putting profits before clients. Almost every other Wall Street firm is doing precisely the same thing and they’ve been doing it for years.
The Dodd-Frank bill was an attempt to rein in Wall Street, but Wall Street lobbyists have almost eviscerated that act and have been mercilessly attacking the regulations issued. Republicans have not even appropriated sufficient money to enforce the shards of the act that remain.
The Glass-Steagall Act must be resurrected. There has to be a limit on the size of big banks. The current big banks have to be broken up using anti-trust laws, as we broke up the oil cartels in the early years of the 20th century.
We’ve got to put limits on executive pay and have a much more progressive income tax so that people who are earning tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars a year are paying at a rate that they paid before 1981, which is at least 70% at the highest marginal level.
We also need to get big money out of politics.
These changes can’t come about unless we have campaign finance reform that provides public financing in general elections and a constitutional amendment that reverses the grotesque decision of the Supreme Court at the start of 2010, in a case called “Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission.”
None of this is possible without an upsurge in the public at large – a movement that rescues our democracy and takes back our economy. One can’t be done without the other. Our economy and democracy are intertwined. Much the same challenge exists in Europe and Japan and elsewhere around the world, where systems profess to combine capitalism and democracy.
Massive inequality is incompatible with robust democracy. Today, in the United States, the top 1% is taking home more than 20% of total income and owns at least 38% of total wealth. The richest 400 people in America have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans put together.
As we’ve already seen in this Republican primary election, a handful of extraordinarily wealthy people can virtually control the election result – not entirely, but have a huge impact. That’s not a democracy. As the great American jurist and Supreme Court associate justice Louis Brandeis once said: “We can have huge wealth in the hands of a relatively few people or we can have a democracy. But we can’t have both.”
by Jon Queally, Common Dreams, April 16, 2014
Ratio of CEO-to-worker pay is ‘unconscionable,’ says AFl-CIO as prominent economist argues this level of inequality proves current capitalist system ‘cannot work’
Here’s the first number to know: 331.
That, according to a new report, is the number of times more the average CEO in the United States made in 2013 compared to the average worker.
Here’s the second number: 774.
That’s the number of times more those same CEOs—some of the wealthiest individuals on the planet—made compared to the nation’s minimum wage workers.
“I have proved that under the present circumstances capitalism simply cannot work.” —Thomas Piketty
These two numbers are central to the AFL-CIO’s latest ‘Executive Paywatch’ report, released Wednesday, which shows the astronomical disparity between the annual pay of the nation’s top executives—which continue to rise year after year—and the stagnant wages that middle class and the working poor continue to suffer.
On average, according to the report, U.S. CEOs earned $11.7 million in 2013 while the U.S. worker earned $35,293. That means CEOs were paid 331 times that of the average worker.
“Many of the CEOs highlighted in PayWatch head companies, like Walmart, that are notorious for paying low wages,” said the AFL-CIO in a statement. “In 2013, CEOs made 774 times more than those who work for minimum wage. And while many of these companies argue that they can’t afford to raise wages, the nation’s largest companies are earning higher profits per employee than they did five years ago. In 2013, the S&P 500 Index companies earned $41,249 in profits per employee, a 38% increase.”
The AFL-CIO says its findings are contained in a “comprehensive searchable online database” which allows visitors the unique ability to compare their own pay to the excessive pay of executives at the nation’s top companies.
As Dave Johnson, a fellow at the left-leaning Campaign for America’s Future, points out, the study shows that as workers continue to scrape by in an economy that has left them out of the so-called recovery, “CEO pay just keeps climbing and climbing and climbing (and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing).” It is this very real and growing inequality, says Johnson, which is “destabilizing” the entire U.S. economy.
The PayWatch report, which uses data from 2013, highlights five companies—Walmart, Kellogg’s, Reynolds, Darden Restaurants and T-Mobile— all of which which continue to reap huge profits and pay enormous executive salaries while exploiting a low-wage labor force.
“America’s CEOs—as exemplified by the individuals of these companies—are cannibalizing their own consumer base. It’s wrong. It’s unfair, and it’s bad economics.” —Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president
“These companies are run by short-sighted business leaders, because people who earn minimum wage, for instance, can’t afford cell phones from T-Mobile or dinner at Red Lobster or the Olive Garden, both of which are owned by Darden Restaurants,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “America’s CEOs—as exemplified by the individuals of these companies—are cannibalizing their own consumer base. It’s wrong. It’s unfair, and it’s bad economics.”
Analyst Jim Lobe, responded to the report by noting the growing national conversation over inequality that soared into popular consciousness during the short-lived rise of the Occupy movement in 2011, but has been increasingly buttressed by numerous studies by academics, economic think tanks, and both labor and social justice groups.
Lobe notes the recent publication of an English edition the “epic” book ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ by French economist Thomas Piketty, “that compares today’s levels of inequality to those of the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.”
Piketty’s book, says Lobe, “is gaining favorable reviews in virtually every mainstream publication” as it highlights the intrinsic perils of capitalism with a focus on the inevitable rise of income and wealth inequality.
In an interview last week, Piketty himself summarized the basic tenet of his book by saying, “I have proved that under the present circumstances capitalism simply cannot work.”
Placing both the AFL-CIO findings and Piketty’s argument in context, Lobe continues:
Piketty, whose work is based on data from dozens of Western countries dating back two centuries and argues that radical redistribution measures, including a “global tax on capital,” are needed to reverse current trends toward greater inequality, is speaking to standing-room-only audiences in think tanks here this week.
In addition, the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this month lifting the aggregate limits that wealthy individuals can contribute to political campaigns and parties has added to fears that, in the words of a number of civic organisations, the U.S. political system is moving increasingly towards a “plutocracy”.
Of all Western countries, income inequality is greatest in the United States, according to a variety of measures. In his book, Pikkety shows that inequality of both wealth and income in the U.S. exceeds that of Europe in 1900.
The 331:1 ratio between the income of the 350 corporate CEOs in the Pay Watch survey and average workers is generally consistent with the pay gap that has prevailed over the past decade.
As the AFL-CIO argues in their report:
America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, a country where hard work and playing by the rules would provide working families a middle-class standard of living. But in recent decades, corporate CEOs have been taking a greater share of the economic pie while wages have stagnated and unemployment remains high.
High-paid CEOs of low-wage employers are fueling this growing economic inequality. In 2013, CEOs of the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index companies received, on average, $11.7 million in total compensation, according to the AFL-CIO’s analysis of available data from 350 companies.
Today’s ratio of CEO-to-worker pay is simply unconscionable.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org
Earlier this month, labor-rights group Working America launched FixMyJob.com.  The text of the site reads a bit like an infomercial: “Tough day at work? Are you feeling overworked, underpaid, unsafe or disrespected by your boss?” But instead of selling a new set of knives, the writers are hawking organizing skills. “Our tool can help you identify problems in your workplace and give you info about what others have done in similar situations.” The famous raised fist of labor is sideways, holding a wrench. The website is yet another attempt by the country’s once-powerful union movement to connect to workers in an increasingly hostile national workplace.
“We also are trying to find new ways for workers to have representation on the job,” writes Working America spokesperson Aruna Jain in an email. “We want to train and educate people on how to self-organize, and to learn collective action—the single most effective way of improving their working conditions. This is one way we can start that process.”
The site, which is being rolled out slowly and in stages, is meant to give workers the resources they need to organize themselves and demand changes—regardless of whether or not an actual union comes together. It tells visitors how to contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for safety issues in the work place. It gives tips and strategies for how best to present a case to the boss or how to convince coworkers to get involved.
“We’re trying something new here—an experiment,” writes Jain. “It’s never been done before. We don’t know what will work and what won’t, but we are trying to provide information, resources to create a fertile environment where organizing can happen.” The website doesn’t charge dues and while the term “organizing” is used extensively, “collective bargaining”—a staple of the labor movement—is nowhere to be found.
Dues-paying members sustained the labor movement for decades, and in return, the unions helped negotiate better pay and better hours. But that relationship has been deteriorating rapidly. For the last several decades, unions and the tools they offered seem far removed from the vast majority of workplace experiences. Around one-fourth of American workers are “contingent workers”—freelancers, independent contractors, part-timers, and temp workers—people with more tenuous relationships to their employers. Meanwhile conservatives have found ways to exploit weaknesses in the National Labor Relations Act, meaning the main legislative defense for unions is increasingly toothless. Labor conditions have gotten dramatically worse as unions have lost power—real wages have stagnated, wealth is increasingly concentrated—but no one seems to know how to connect the old-style of collective bargaining with the new economy. Some held out hope that the Obama administration—coupled with the worst economic crisis in decades—would help resuscitate things.
So when the Employee Free Choice Act failed in 2010, it seemed like a death knell for the American labor movement. The bill, which would have made it easier for workers to collectively bargain and increased the penalties on employers that fired people for trying to organize, was the number one piece in the labor agenda. Unions had poured resources into the 2008 elections, putting in hundreds of millions of dollars and mobilizing thousands of volunteers, and their efforts helped elect a Democratic president, and Democratic majorities in the Senate and House. But despite the concerted effort from labor leaders to push through this key piece of legislation, they simply didn’t have the power. It never got through the Senate.
Faced with the very real threat of extinction, unions have largely put collective bargaining on the back burner, and instead must try to remind American workers of the basic concept of worker solidarity. “We start from the point of view that, because so few people are in unions these days, very few people have personal experience with collective power,” explains Karen Nussbaum, the executive director of Working America. The group is the AFL-CIO’s answer to the “labor problem.” Rather than organizing workers into unions, Working America, an AFL-CIO affiliate, focuses on engaging non-union workers on a number of policy issues, from unemployment insurance and banking reform to education funding and campaign finance. The group uses the same door-to-door, grassroots strategies that have long been the hallmarks of labor organizers. But rather than emphasize relations between workers and their employers, the group focuses largely on policy changes. Members don’t have to pay dues, instead, at meetings and on sites like FixMyJob, they just have to sign up.
The group’s been able to create significant policy changes; with millions of members nationwide, Working America has been able to help mobilize activists for some successful local campaigns. In Portland, Oregon, workers won a battle for paid sick days. In both Albuquerque and Bernallilo County, New Mexico, the group helped organize and win a campaign for increase to the minimum wage. Those are major changes for the people living in those areas. However, emphasis is necessarily on policy changes, rather than helping employees negotiate with their employers.
On more national policy issues, unions have taken lead roles in coalitions to effect change—just not on issues of collective bargaining. Nearly all the major unions have worked together to push for immigration reform, and perhaps more interestingly, the Communications Workers of America have helped spearhead a “democratic reform” movement focused on public financing for campaigns and changing the filibuster rules in the U.S. Senate so that 60 votes would not be needed for anything to pass. The group is working with GreenPeace, the Sierra Club, the NAACP, and the National Education Association in a coalition that calls itself the Democracy Initiative. The group makes almost no mention of collective bargaining at all. But that’s okay, explains CWA president Larry Cohen. “If we don’t’ work on democracy issues, “ he says, “the stuff we started out working on is never going to go anywhere.”
In other words, in order to create a future for collective bargaining and increasing the number of dues-paying union members, labor must start by reforming elections and Senate rules. Similarly, Working America’s Nussbaum explains that unions must start engaging the majority of American workers and then find a structure that suits them. It’s unclear if Working America members will ever become union members—or at least the dues-paying kind. “There’s nothing sacrosanct about the form of the union in the United States,” says Nussbaum. But there’s one requirement she does make: “Any new organizational form has to still be based on workers supporting their organization.” And so far, there’s no clear model has emerged.
In implementing these new strategies, the unions are also taking some major risks. The American labor movement was defined by its unique role mediating between workers and their employers. Together, members’ dues created an enormous well of money organizers could draw on for political and organizing purposes. “Going back to 1855, the idea of a union was people at work get together in some fashion and say we want ‘X,’” explains Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California-Santa Barbara. “If unions [became] just voluntary associations that are politically active, why are they unions?” He points to groups like Our Wal-Mart, a collection of people who work for the retail giant but who do not collectively bargain; instead they speak about conditions and work with activists to push policy changes for the company, like more regular hours.
Such work could lead to a much bigger project: a workers’ solidarity movement, less concerned with the typical lines drawn between different local chapters and instead invested in creating change through a level of class-consciousness. As Harold Meyerson has reported,  we’re already seeing new kinds of organizing, as maids and fast-food workers across a number of industries took part in day-long strikes first in New York and then in Chicago. Last week, there was a similar event  in St. Louis.
While it was a long time coming, unions are more flexible than ever before, and willing to change to survive. The Service Employees International Union has aided the day-long strike efforts, while sites like Working America’s FixMyJob may help connect other dissatisfied workers to one another. We may begin to see more powerful policy changes to protect workers rights.
These new efforts carry potential seeds for the destruction of unions as we know them, and collective bargaining may never be the tool it once was. But in its place may be something more powerful that we just haven’t seen yet.
By Paul Jay, The Real News, March 23, 2013
Bill Fletcher: I hear from workers that have lower-paid jobs, that they resent union-sector high wages thinking it’s better for the economy if all wages were lower -
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
As most people following The Real News know, unionization rates in the United States are heading towards, well, almost nothing. Private-sector unions are something under 7 percent. With public sector, I think it gets up into the 9 or 10 percent, maybe 11. But the issue of where unions are headed doesn’t look very good. One union leader I heard recently said, oh, well, it’s just cyclical. You know, we’ve lost half our membership. And it occurred to me, yeah, in the next cycle you might lose the other half of your membership, because the unions don’t seem to be doing a very good job at messaging why unorganized workers should be in unions.
And whenever I’ve covered strike struggles and I talk to nonunionized workers watching the picket line, often you hear at least two things said. One, these union workers get paid too much, they’re bankrupting the country, it’s not fair that they get paid that much, and it’s making us uncompetitive. And, of course, the other thing you hear is, oh, the unions are all just corrupt, they don’t really do anything for you. Well, now someone’s come along to try to dispel what he calls myths about unionization.
And now joining us from our studio in D.C. is Bill Fletcher Jr. He’s an immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum. He’s a union organizer, an activist. And he has has a new book out titled “They’re Bankrupting Us!” And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Thanks very much for joining us, Bill.
BILL FLETCHER JR., AUTHOR AND ACTIVIST: Thank you.
JAY: So talk about, first of all, what drove you to write the book.
FLETCHER: Well, actually, two things, Paul. One was simply I was asked. Beacon Press in the beginning of 2011 was taken by the upturn in interest in unions, particularly after what was going on in Wisconsin in response to Governor Scott Walker. So they asked me to write it.
But what made it possible for me to write it was an experience I had when I was on a plane about a year before, flying from San Jose and San Diego. And I was sitting next to this woman, a very nice woman in her 30s, and I was reading a book about global union solidarity. And she asked what the book was about, and I explained to her. And she looked at me and said, “What is a union?”
FLETCHER: Now, at first I thought that she was joking with me. And then I realized she was absolutely serious. She had no idea what a labor union was. So I proceeded to explain it to her. As I was explaining it to her, she was nodding her head, and I realized she was nodding her head in that way that someone does when they have no idea what you’re talking about. So when I wrote this book, I was actually writing the book for her. And each chapter dealing with myths or broadbrush criticisms is really written as a conversation with her or people like her who are not necessarily opposed to unions but often have no clue as to what a union is.
JAY: Well, let’s start with the one that’s the title of the book, they’re bankrupting us, because I hear that a lot from workers that have lower-paid jobs, that they resent union-sector high wages. They particularly resent public-sector wages. And instead of them getting organized and trying to get higher wages, they think what would be better for the economy is if the higher-paid workers got paid less.
FLETCHER: That’s true. That is a very common myth. And there’s a few different things I would say about that. One is that at a certain point in the history of the U.S., when unions were much stronger and they were driving the economy in many ways—not controlling, but driving things—what you’d have is with higher-wage jobs, nonunion competitor companies would also feel compelled to raise their wages because they basically wanted to keep unions out. So they wanted to be competitive. As our percentage of the workforce shrank, the nonunion companies felt less compelled to do that, and this gap widened between what unionized workers were facing and nonunion workers were facing.
Second thing is that it’s very common for people to blame others who are weak or actually scapegoated, rather than to identify the real source of the problem. For those nonunion workers you’re talking about, the problem is not unionized workers. The problem is the wealthy, the problem is those that are controlling the economy, who are basically robbing from people like those nonunion workers who maybe 20 or 30 years ago would have actually been at a union.
A third thing is that in the public sector, this notion that the unions are a problem is completely misplaced, because the problem is revenue. The problem isn’t the unions. The problem is revenue. And there have been decisions made by various governments, largely by Republican, but also by Democrats, that instead of raising taxes on the wealthy, they’d instead go after gouging the workers, and therefore to focus on the paid salary of the workers rather than figure out: how do we get more revenue into the economy?
JAY: Well, part of the argument goes, when you talk to some workers who believe this, is they think there’d be more jobs. If only higher-paid workers were paid less, then there’d be more jobs to go around. I mean, what’s the truth of that?
FLETCHER: Well, the truth of that is [incompr.] what happened over the last 30 years in the southern part of the United States with the textile industry. So you [incompr.] textile industry that went from unionized—the pre-unionized of the United States into the South, into largely nonunion facilities, and then kept going south into the Dominican Republic, into Mexico or China or Vietnam. So the issue wasn’t about the existence of the union. These companies were going, trying to find cheaper and cheaper labor. That’s what’s really going on here there. And to the extent to which you have parts of the United States, large parts of the United States now that have no unions, it becomes easier for these companies to play us off against one another.
So these nonunion workers that you’re talking about, they need to understand that the companies are not running into problems because of the unions. Very often they’re running into problems because of their own market strategies, because they refuse to keep up with the technology. A case in point of that would be the U.S. auto industry up through the 1980s, which was not keeping up with technological developments and ended up being outclassed by the Japanese, by the Germans, by the Swedes. Yet it is easier to blame all of this on the unions.
JAY: Now, one of the other myths you talk about in the book—you say is a myth—which is this issue that unions are corrupt and—. But certainly there has been a lot of problem with corruption in unions. So why do you consider that a myth?
FLETCHER: Because in the United States there’s corruption. See, you know, what’s interesting, and particularly if you watch some of these right-wing television programs, they will focus on an example of corruption in the union as a way of saying that unions are the problems. Yet I don’t remember any of these right-wingers talking about when Bernie Madoff carried out his scandal, that maybe we should get rid of capitalism. I mean, maybe that’s a solution to the Bernie Madoff scandal and other such scandals. You see, it’s very hypocritical, the nature of the attack. It is a corruption in unions. There is corruption in any place where there is money.
The question is not whether there’s corruption. The question is whether the institution is doing anything to limit the corruption and to address it directly. So that’s one thing, that in unions as democratic organizations, the most democratic organizations or most democratic unions are the ones that generally are the least corrupt. But the second thing is that there are certain unions that historically were penetrated by the mob, in part because of the nature of the industry itself.
And that was one of the things that I found very interesting when I was doing some research for this, Paul, that there was a—in the 1985-86, there was a president’s commission on organized crime that had a section on unions. And one of the things that they concluded—they concluded two things. One is: the more democratic the union is, the less likely it is to be corrupt and mobbed up. The second is that there’s certain industries that the mob has penetrated particularly because of the nature of the workforce. Where the workforce is transitory, part-time, temporary employees, they’ve been unable to get in.
Now, the way you deal with this is that you have to have a culture within the organization that really is abhorrent to corruption, is constantly struggling for greater democracy and worker control. So of course there’s corruption and there’s been corruption. But what you can see in the union movement is the constant struggle, usually by rank-and-file members, for real democracy and against corruption. That’s more than you can say about Wall Street.
JAY: Now, one of the things which I find hard to understand is I see little to none campaigns by the unions, in a broader way, explaining why unionization is good for unorganized workers. You know, we know the unions have poured tons of money into funding for Democratic Party election campaigns on television, and I guess when they do specific organizing efforts at a specific plant or hospital or whatever, they put money into that. But in terms of general education of the public and the broad section of unorganized workers, I never see anything that explains why a union’s good and, as you’re doing in your book, trying to dispel myths.
FLETCHER: Yeah. Well, yeah. I mean, it’s interesting, Paul. So, first of all, there actually have been over the years, periodically, certain public relations campaigns by unions to talk with the public about why a union’s a good thing. They have happened.
But you see, what I would argue is that that’s not enough, that if you want to convince the public that unions are good, you need a combination of PR, books like mine. But most importantly, you have to position the unions so that they are perceived as organizations that are fighting for the public, for example the Chicago Teachers Union, right, which has an immense amount of parent support. Why? Because parents see in the union that the union is fighting not just for the teachers but for them. Or back in 1997, when the Teamsters went on strike against the United Parcel Service, they had tremendous support from the public because they had built up a lot of goodwill, because they convinced the public and they framed the issue that they were fighting for is that they were fighting on behalf of the need of workers for full-time jobs. And the public loved this. So I think that winning the public is not by any stretch of the imagination impossible, but you need a combination of good PR, good educational books—.
JAY: Yeah, but, Bill, I’m not talking about winning the public. I’m talking about talking to unorganized workers, who as we know is by far the majority of workers, and talking to them about why they should be in a union. And I don’t see that. I mean, when you’re talking about public campaigns, that’s also an issue, of course. I can’t remember the last time I saw an ad for buy union. When I was a kid, I used to see those ads all the time. I talk to union leaders now: why aren’t you guys pushing buy union? And, you know, occasionally you see buy American. But it could be buy nonunion American, buy—if you follow that campaign, not buy union. They kind of—they’ve become so defensive and almost defeatist about their own image, they don’t even try <=”" i=”"> campaigns. But I’m talking about talking to unorganized workers in a broader way.
FLETCHER: In order to talk to workers, unorganized workers, nonunion workers, and to win them, in addition to organizing campaigns you have to position a union movement so it’s perceived on a regular basis as fighting for more than just union workers, whether that is helping unemployed workers get organized and fight for jobs, whether that’s what the Chicago Teachers Union is doing right now. It’s taking up campaigns and positioning themselves to speak on behalf of the 89 percent or 90 percent of the workers—88 percent of the workers that are not unionized.
We need—that’s what we need. We need union leaders that are in fact labor leaders. And that’s the challenge, Paul, and I think that’s what you’ve run up against, where you have union leaders that treat their responsibility as that of the head of a trade association rather than a trade union.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Bill.
FLETCHER: Thank you.
JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a columnist, activist, author and labor organizer. He is an editorial board member of BlackComentator.com, as well as the chairman of the Retail Justice Alliance. He is also the co-author of “Solidarity Divided”; and the author of the newly released book,”‘They’re Bankrupting Us’ – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions.” He is the a cofounder of the Center for Labor Renewal, has served as President of TransAfrica Forum and was formerly the Education Director and later Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO.
The first step is to learn the facts, and then to get angry and to ask ourselves, as progressives and caring human beings, what we can do about the relentless transfer of wealth to a small group of well-positioned Americans.
1. $2.13 per hour vs. $3,000,000.00 per hour
Each of the Koch brothers saw his investments grow by $6 billion  in one  year, which is three million dollars per hour based on a 40-hour ‘work’ week. They used some of the money to try to kill renewable energy standards around the country.
Their income portrays them, in a society measured by economic status, as a million times more valuable than the restaurant server  who cheers up our lunch hours while hoping to make enough in tips to pay the bills.
A comparison of top and bottom salaries within large corporations is much less severe, but a lot more common. For CEOs and minimum-wage workers, the difference  is $5,000.00 per hour vs. $7.25 per hour.
2. A single top income could buy housing for every homeless person in the U.S.
On a winter day in 2012 over 633,000 people were homeless  in the United States. Based on an annual single room occupancy (SRO) cost  of $558 per month, any ONE of the ten richest Americans  would have enough with his 2012 income to pay for a room for every homeless person in the U.S. for the entire year . These ten rich men together made more than our entire housing budget .
3. The poorest 47% of Americans have no wealth
At the other extreme, the 400 wealthiest Americans  own as much wealth as 80 million families – 62% of America . The reason, once again, is the stock market. Since 1980 the American GDP has approximatelydoubled . Inflation-adjusted wages have gone down . But the stock market has increased by over ten times , and the richest quintile of Americans owns 93%  of it.
4. The U.S. is nearly the most wealth-unequal country in the entire world
Out of 141 countries, the U.S. has the 4th-highest degree of wealth inequality  in the world, trailing only Russia, Ukraine, and Lebanon.
Yet the financial industry keeps creating new wealth for its millionaires. According to the authors of theGlobal Wealth Report , the world’s wealth has doubled in ten years, from $113 trillion to $223 trillion, and is expected to reach $330 trillion by 2017.
5. A can of soup for a black or Hispanic woman, a mansion and yacht for the businessman
Minority families once had substantial equity in their homes, but after Wall Street caused the housing crash, median wealth  fell 66% for Hispanic households and 53% for black households. Now the average single black or Hispanic woman has about $100 in net worth .
What to do?
End the capital gains giveaway , which benefits the wealthy almost exclusively.
Institute a Financial Speculation Tax , both to raise needed funds from a currently untaxed subsidy on stock purchases, and to reduce the risk of the irresponsible trading that nearly brought down the economy.
Perhaps above all, we progressives have to choose one strategy and pursue it in a cohesive, unrelenting attack on greed. Only this will heal the ugly gash of inequality that has split our country in two.
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By Eric Liu, Time.com, Jan. 29, 2013
… the share of America’s workforce that’s unionized hit a 97-year low…It’s a vicious cycle: as unions decline, fewer people see their fates as bound up with unions, which just accelerates the decline… Inequality and wealth concentration are at levels not seen since just before the Great Depression…a basic assumption now shapes most Americans’ mindset about labor: the belief that the death of unions isn’t my problem because I’m not in a union. That assumption is wrong in two critical ways. First, the fact is that when unions are stronger the economy as a whole does better…On the flip side, when labor is weak and capital unconstrained, corporations hoard, hiring slows, and inequality deepens. Thus we have today both record highs in corporate profits and record lows in wages. Second, unions lift wages for non-union members too by creating a higher prevailing wage…The weakness of labor is everyone’s problem — and its revival everyone’s opportunity…
Last week came news that the share of America’s workforce that’s unionized hit a 97-year low…It’s a vicious cycle: as unions decline, fewer people see their fates as bound up with unions, which just accelerates the decline… Inequality and wealth concentration are at levels not seen since just before the Great Depression. This would seem as ripe a time in modern memory for a revival of organized labor. Instead, a basic assumption now shapes most Americans’ mindset about labor: the belief that the death of unions isn’t my problem because I’m not in a union. That assumption is wrong in two critical ways.
First, the fact is that when unions are stronger the economy as a whole does better…On the flip side, when labor is weak and capital unconstrained, corporations hoard, hiring slows, and inequality deepens. Thus we have today both record highs in corporate profits and record lows in wages.
Second, unions lift wages for non-union members too by creating a higher prevailing wage…The weakness of labor is everyone’s problem — and its revival everyone’s opportunity.
Last week came news that the share of America’s workforce that’s unionized hit a 97-year low. A mere 11.3% of workers now belong to a union, and a great chunk of those are in the shrinking public sector. In the private sector, unionization fell to an abysmal 6.6%, down from a peak of 35% during the 1950s.
Most Americans yawned at this news. On one level that’s understandable. After all, most Americans aren’t in a union. It’s a vicious cycle: as unions decline, fewer people see their fates as bound up with unions, which just accelerates the decline.
But on another level, America’s non-reaction is striking. We remain in the wake of the Great Recession. Inequality and wealth concentration are at levels not seen since just before the Great Depression. This would seem as ripe a time in modern memory for a revival of organized labor. Instead, a basic assumption now shapes most Americans’ mindset about labor: the belief that the death of unions isn’t my problem because I’m not in a union. That assumption is wrong in two critical ways.
First, the fact is that when unions are stronger the economy as a whole does better. Unions restore demand to an economy by raising wages for their members and putting more purchasing power to work, enabling more hiring. On the flip side, when labor is weak and capital unconstrained, corporations hoard, hiring slows, and inequality deepens. Thus we have today both record highs in corporate profits and record lows in wages.
Second, unions lift wages for non-union members too by creating a higher prevailing wage. Even if you aren’t a member your pay is influenced by the strength or weakness of organized labor. The presence of unions sets off a wage race to the top. Their absence sets off a race to the bottom.
Unfortunately, the relegation of organized labor to tiny minority status and the fact that the public sector is the last remaining stronghold for unions have led many Americans to see them as special interests seeking special privileges, often on the taxpayer’s dime. This thinking is as upside-down as our economy.
This country has gotten to today’s level of inequality because, ironically, those who work for a living think like atomized individuals while those who hire for a living organize collectively to rig policy in their favor. Today’s 97-year low is the result of decades of efforts to squeeze unions and disperse their power.
To be sure, unions bear part of the blame for their own decline. Some of the work rules they’ve achieved through bargaining made their companies and their own unions less adaptive to change. That’s why a few national labor leaders, from Service Employees International Union and elsewhere, have launched a “Labor 3.0″ project to reimagine unions. And it’s significant that innovative forms of worker organizing are now emerging, like Coworker.org or the National Domestic Workers Alliance, that bypass traditional union structures altogether.
Whatever form it takes, though, organized labor keeps an economy healthy. Some conservatives now argue for a higher federal minimum wage on the notion that when companies pay their employees enough to live, the employees will rely less on government assistance and participate more in economic life. Precisely the same case can be made for unions. Consider that workers at non-unionized Walmart constitute in many states the largest bloc of food stamp and Medicaid recipients.
If we want a better economy, then, we need a better story about how the economy works, in which a union worker is not a cost but a customer. The weakness of labor is everyone’s problem — and its revival everyone’s opportunity.
Think Progress, posted on Alternet.org, March 6, 2011
1. Unions Gave Us The Weekend.
2. Unions Gave Us Fair Wages And Relative Income Equality
3. Unions Helped End Child Labor
4. Unions Won Widespread Employer-Based Health Coverage
5. Unions Spearheaded The Fight For The Family And Medical Leave Act
Over the past few weeks, right-wing legislators have unleashed a torrent of radical legislation upon the American electorate designed to gut collective bargaining rights and attack the middle class. As these conservatives have launched their assault, a Main Street Movement consisting of ordinary Americans fed up with living in such an unequal country has fought back.
Conservatives have sought to malign this movement by claiming that it is simply defending the parochial interests of labor unions, who they claim are imposing huge costs on taxpayers with little benefit. Yet the truth is that America’s public and private unions have been one of the major forces in building a robust and vibrant middle class and have fought over the past century to improve the lives of all Americans in a variety of ways. ThinkProgress has assembled just five of the many things that Americans can thank the nation’s unions for giving us all:
1. Unions Gave Us The Weekend: Even the ultra-conservative Mises Institute notes that the relatively labor-free 1870, the average workweek for most Americans was 61 hours — almost double what most Americans work now. Yet in the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century, labor unions engaged in massive strikes in order to demand shorter workweeks so that Americans could be home with their loved ones instead of constantly toiling for their employers with no leisure time. By 1937, these labor actions created enough political momentum to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act, which helped create a federal framework for a shorter workweek that included room for leisure time.
2. Unions Gave Us Fair Wages And Relative Income Equality: As ThinkProgress reported earlier in the week, the relative decline of unions over the past 35 years has mirrored a decline in the middle class’s share of national income. It is also true that at the time when most Americans belonged to a union — a period of time between the 1940′s and 1950′s — income inequality in the U.S. was at its lowest point in the history of the country.
3. Unions Helped End Child Labor: “Union organizing and child labor reform were often intertwined” in U.S. history, with organization’s like the “National Consumers’ League” and the National Child Labor Committee” working together in the early 20th century to ban child labor. The very first American Federation of Labor (AFL) national convention passed “a resolution calling on states to ban children under 14 from all gainful employment” in 1881, and soon after states across the country adopted similar recommendations, leading up to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act which regulated child labor on the federal level for the first time.
4. Unions Won Widespread Employer-Based Health Coverage: “The rise of unions in the 1930′s and 1940′s led to the first great expansion of health care” for all Americans, as labor unions banded workers together to negotiate for health coverage plans from employers. In 1942, “the US set up a National War Labor Board. It had the power to set a cap on all wage increases. But it let employers circumvent the cap by offering “fringe benefits” – notably, health insurance.” By 1950, “half of all companies with fewer than 250 workers and two-thirds of all companies with more than 250 workers offered health insurance of one kind or another.”
5. Unions Spearheaded The Fight For The Family And Medical Leave Act: Labor unions like the AFL-CIO federation led the fight for this 1993 law, which “requires state agencies and private employers with more than 50 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave annually for workers to care for a newborn, newly adopted child, seriously ill family member or for the worker’s own illness.”
In 2007, Australia’s Manic Studios produced a short film titled, “What Have Unions Ever Done For Us?” which satirically portrays a handful of employers asking that question and realizing that unions have actually done a lot for the average person in their country. Although the film deal’s with Australia’s unions and not the United States, many of the rights mentioned by the mock executives — like workers’ compensation and expanded health care — are exactly the same. Watch it:
The Decline of Unions Is Your Problem Too By Eric Liu, Time.com… the share of America’s workforce that’s unionized hit a 97-year low…It’s a vicious cycle: as unions decline, fewer people see their fates as bound up with unions, which just accelerates the decline… Inequality and wealth concentration are at levels not seen since just before the Great Depression…a basic assumption now shapes most Americans’ mindset about labor: the belief that the death of unions isn’t my problem because I’m not in a union. That assumption is wrong in two critical ways. First, the fact is that when unions are stronger the economy as a whole does better…On the flip side, when labor is weak and capital unconstrained, corporations hoard, hiring slows, and inequality deepens. Thus we have today both record highs in corporate profits and record lows in wages. Second, unions lift wages for non-union members too by creating a higher prevailing wage…The weakness of labor is everyone’s problem — and its revival everyone’s opportunity.
Why Americans Need Unions Now More Than Ever by Robert Creamer HuntingtonPost.com, February 23, 2011 — …The central problem facing the American economy — and our society — is the collapse of the American middle class. The incomes of the middle class Americans, and those who aspire to be middle class — 90% of Americans — have been stagnant for almost three decades. This trend, which was briefly interrupted during the Clinton Administration, is the chief defining characteristic of our recent economic history…Virtually all of the increase in our gross domestic product over the ten years before the Great Recession went to the wealthiest 2% of the population. These changes in income distribution are not the result of “natural laws.” They are the result of systems set up by human beings that differentially benefit different groups in the society…
Why Don’t We Pay People Enough? 8 Facts About America’s Struggling Working People By Bill Quigley, AlterNet, January 23, 2012
5 Things Unions Have Done for You By Zaid Jilani,Think Progress, posted on Alternet.org, March 6, 2011 1. Unions Gave Us The Weekend. 2. Unions Gave Us Fair Wages And Relative Income Equality 3. Unions Helped End Child Labor 4. Unions Won Widespread Employer-Based Health Coverage 5. Unions Spearheaded The Fight For The Family And Medical Leave Act
It’s All About the Wages — Our Economy Would Be Fine If Everyone Made Their Fair Share by Robert Reich – Robert Reich’s Blog, Posted on Alternet.org, July 13, 2010
Attacking unions: It’s not about the money, it’s about power By David Schultz, MinnPost.com, Feb. 23, 2011 - Efforts to bust collective bargaining rights inMadisonare not about the money. Money and budget deficits are the pretext for a larger battle to attack government and break public-sector unions for political reasons. In many ways, this is the logical continuation of the union-busting battle that began under the Reagan era. What is really going on here is an effort by corporations and the GOP to dismantle one of the few remaining institutions in America that defy their power. It is the battle to restructure labor markets to serve a broader corporate neo-liberal agenda…the Wagner Act — aka the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) — in 1935 recognized the right to collectively bargain and organize in the private sector. Subsequently, similar rights were extended to workers in the public sector. The NLRA was a success. By the early 1950s private-sector unions constituted approximately 38 percent of the private-sector workers. Wages, income and working conditions dramatically increased, economic inequalities decreased, work place safety improved, and features such as the eight-hour/40-hour work week emerged. ‘A countervailing power’ Yet the 1950s was thehigh pointof unions. Corporations hated them. Unions represented what John Kenneth Galbraith called a “countervailing power” on corporations. Yes, in many cases unions sided with management on protectionist practices (think of the car industry) and had corruption problems (Hoffa and the Teamsters), but they also did a lot of good, by raising the American standard of living. The real problem for corporations, and for Republicans, was that unions supported Democrats. They provided dollars, organizing, and votes for Democrats. But the Vietnam War and the dual oil embargos in the 1970s precipitated a major fiscal crisis that produced decreased corporate profits. It was at this point that corporate and Republican interests converged to attack labor unions….beginning and most visible effort to break unions and limit their power was the decision by President Reagan to dismantle PATCO in 1981. He busted the air traffic controllers’ union and that sent a clear signal that it was OK to go after unions. Together the GOP and corporations waged a terrific battle against unions, claiming thatAmerica’s economic decline was rooted in high union wages, inflexible rules, health care and benefits, along with excessive government regulation and taxation. Big government and unions were the cause of American decline. Of course, not all of this is true…Yet blame the unions because they form a great scapegoat for American industrial decline….The war on private-sector unions and government has been a success. Private-sector unions are now relatively weak. They constitute about 8 percent of the private-sector workforce. Their decline correlates with significant increases in economic inequality, declining wealth for the poor and middle class, and the weakening of the Democratic Party. The one stronghold for unions is the public sector. They constitute a larger percentage of the public sector workforce than do unions in the private sector. They generally support Democrats, and in return for lower wages compared to the private sector they have received greater job security and often better benefits. The job security in part was a consequence to prevent the politicization of the government, to protect from political reprisals, and limit patronage and the spoils system. Public-sector unions are now under attack as governments now face their own version of a fiscal crisis. The battle in Wisconsin is part of a broader agenda to demonize public employees and government. …It is just so easy. It is a great wedge issue — play the resentment and divide and conquer cards with taxpayers and private-sector workers…
Labor Unions’ Fight for the 99% Goes Way Beyond Raising Campaign Dollars By Sarah Jaffe, AlterNet, April 22, 2012