Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Flint Effect: Will One City’s Crisis Spark A National Awakening?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Jeff Bryant

When news about lead contamination in the water supply of Flint Michigan made headlines across the nation, many compared the crisis to Hurricane Katrina. Even Michigan Governor Rick Snyder called the disaster “his Katrina,” comparing the failure of government leadership in his state to the failure of public officials who left Katrina victims stranded.

But while Katrina was a singular event with a tragically long legacy, Flint is proving to be the beginning of a story playing out over a much longer time period and in more than one place.

It’s the difference between a blockbuster movie and the season opener of a TV serial.

In an update on Flint from the New York Times, we learn the crisis is anything but over. “Reports of rashes, itchiness, and hair loss” are making people fearful of using the city water to bathe in. “Families are going to extraordinary lengths to find places where they can bathe without fear,” the report says

And of course what’s yet to come is evidence of the irreversible damage done to the developing brains and nervous systems of Flint’s children due to the exposure to lead.

But what makes Flint more of a presage is the realization it’s sparking around the country about the conditions being inflicted on our youngest citizens.

Flint Is Everywhere

When New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote, “America is Flint,” he branded the crisis a “wake-up call” to address the national problem of lead toxicity in children’s environments.

Now we know some public officials indeed stirred. As the Associated Press reports, Flint prompted school officials in many places to test classroom sinks and cafeteria faucets for lead.

What they found was alarming: “Among schools and day care centers operating their own water systems … 278 violated federal lead levels at some point during the past three years. Roughly a third of those had lead levels that were at least double the federal limit.”

The reporters found an elementary school in Wisconsin with pipes, buried in the concrete foundation, leaching lead into the tap water and a Head Start center in Missouri whose relatively new building showed up with high levels of lead in the water. These facilities have switched to bottled water at considerable cost.

“No state is immune to the problem,” the article states.

The AP story follows other disturbing reports from big-city school systems plagued with lead in school drinking water. As Mother Jones reports, schools in Boston, Baltimore, Camden, and Newark “have been drinking trucked-in water for years due to lead concerns.” (The writer could have mentioned Philadelphia, too.)

The article calls schools with verified lead levels “the lucky ones” because officials at least know the water is toxic and have taken steps to address that. The much bigger problem is that many school systems simply don’t know the danger flowing through their pipes.

The article quotes a university professor who studied lead contamination in Flint, who observed, “It’s definitely the schools that you do not hear about” that are the most concerning.

It’s The Aging Infrastructure, Stupid

A significant part of the problem is that, according to Mother Jones, “roughly 90 percent of the nation’s schools aren’t required to test their water.”

But the issues go way beyond testing. As the AP reporter explains, in “almost all cases” of lead contamination, “the problems can be traced to aging buildings with lead pipes, older drinking fountains, and water fixtures that have parts made with lead.”

So even when municipal water supplies show no contamination with lead, that’s no assurance schools are lead free. Lead pipes weren’t banned until 1986, AP explains, but the average age of school buildings in America “date to the early 1970s.”

Some communities have addressed their aging school infrastructure by simply closing old buildings down. But taking that option can result in a number of potentially negative consequences.

First, after closing school buildings down, students still need somewhere to go to school, and again school buildings can often be a systemic problem. There are other problems as well.

As Rachel Cohen explains in a report for The American Prospect, closing down school buildings, even aging ones, has proven to be a very controversial issue in communities across the country. Cohen points to a number of cities where school closings have destabilized neighborhoods, devastated small businesses, and lowered local property values.

“Public schools have always impacted communities in ways that go beyond just educating young people,” Cohen writes, citing the benefits of “well-maintained school facilities” to economic vitality and civic life.

Also, old school buildings that are poorly maintained and in need of repair are located disproportionately in low-income communities of color, which has prompted education and civil rights advocates to connect school closings to charges of race and income discrimination.

Further, a majority of schools that are closed aren’t really closed for good. In fact, most find a second life as charter schools, and the problems don’t go away; they just change hands.

“Rather than shutter schools,” Cohen explains, “residents argue districts should reinvest in them.”

The Investment We Need

Where will the money come from?

“Increasing state and federal spending could both help struggling urban schools, and also help fortify communities more broadly,” Cohen says. She quotes an expert on school infrastructure spending who suggests the federal government “start contributing at least 10 percent toward district capital budgets” to low-income communities to Title I funding.

Much better still would be a national program addressing our aging education infrastructure. Congress is currently engaged in budget talks, but so far rescuing school children from their increasingly unsafe learning environments hasn’t been on the agenda, with one exception.

The exception comes from the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose People’s Budgetincludes an investment of $1 trillion to “transition to 21st Century infrastructure, which ensures our roads, bridges, railways, and facilities are strong and that no town experiences the devastating effects of crumbling infrastructure we’ve seen in Flint, Michigan.” The CPC also calls for “greater investments in K-12 education.”

What better investment is there than making sure school buildings are safe and healthy?

The fact that Flint is not only staying in the news, but is also still in conversations in Congress, is testament to how disturbing the story is. But now that we know that Flint is really everywhere, it’s time to go beyond merely being disturbed to taking specific actions. Millions of school children are relying on us.

This blog originally appeared on ourfuture.org on April 14, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Jeff Bryant is an Associate Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and the editor of the Education Opportunity Network website. Prior to joining OurFuture.org he was one of the principal writers for Open Left. He owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C. He has written extensively about public education policy.

Labor Notes Conference Gathers Over 2,000 ‘Troublemaker’ Workers and Organizers in Chicago

Monday, April 11th, 2016

Every two years since 1981, the Detroit- and Brooklyn-based monthly newsletter Labor Notes has rallied union members and wannabe members, as well as some union staff and elected leaders, to join in a long weekend of sharing stories, strategies and wisdom gained in their workplace skirmishes.

They are the sort of people that bosses everywhere—and a few union officials—might call “troublemakers,” and they have adopted the moniker as a badge of honor (including holding “troublemaker schools” and producing tactical handbooks for do-it-yourself organizers).

Last weekend, around 2,200 labor activists, from diverse age groups, industries, personal experiences and nations (about 150 visitors from 22 countries), gathered in Chicago for a packed line-up of workshops and plenary sessions in the largest of these conferences.

Some workshops focused on learning skills (such as how to figure out the cost of a contract to employers) or tactics (including such oldie-but goodie actions as “salting,” that is, getting pro-union workers hired at businesses that are organizing targets). Conference panels also discussed strategies for particular employers or industries, such as the auto industry or postal service, and how to make the best use of different kinds of strikes and resistance inside the workplace, such as “working to rule,” which effectively slows down production.

Other discussions examined the promises and perils of unions forming broader alliances or incorporating social goals in their bargaining and other campaigns (such as teacher unionists opposing privatization or high-stakes testing). Other panels examined global labor developments and socio-economic changes shaping the world of work and new challenges for organized labor, such as climate change.

There were opportunities to gain energy, inspiration and a tingle of solidarity with other struggles in even more difficult circumstances than one’s own. Fiery speakers took the stage on behalf of ill-paid ($6 a 12-hour day), frighteningly abused indigenous workers from the southern part of Mexico, who have migrated to work in Baja California, California and Washington state, picking strawberries that are eventually sold under the Driscoll label. And one of the troublemaker awards went to hunger strikers from the community and teachers’ union who went on a hunger strike to prevent the closing of their neighborhood-based Dyett High School.

Although the Labor Notes conferences rarely discuss union political strategies, this year more than 100 conference-goers attended each of two meetings discussing  the “Labor for Bernie” organizing that is independent of the official Bernie Sanders for president campaign. The Sanders candidacy has generated hope and energy among many unionists, even though many more unions have officially endorsed his Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Labor for Bernie tries to maximize grass-roots support from union members, regardless of the official position of their unions, and to block moves that would increase union support for Clinton.

For example, the electrical workers union (IBEW, or International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) has remained neutral, largely as a result of pro-Bernie advocacy by Carl Shaffer, a former international union representative who returned to his local union in Indiana to seek elected office. In turn, IBEW’s neutrality, according to some labor movement political organizers, played a significant role in blocking an endorsement of Clinton by the AFL-CIO executive council earlier this year.

Sanders stirred enthusiasm not only because of his longtime ardent support for unions but also because most of the people in attendance would probably call themselves “socialists” or “democratic socialists,” as Sanders does (and roughly 40 percent of voters under 30 years old). Like him, they were mostly not the doctrinaire ideologues who reject a socialist candidate running in one of the two “bosses’s” parties, rather than in some wisp of an organization that calls itself a “labor party.” (However, the idea of forming a labor party drew significant support in Labor Notes circles until the latest effort died a few years ago.)

Indeed, many in the group of young workers/intellectuals who started Labor Notes came from the International Socialists, one of the many left splinter groups that identified with the legacy of Leon Trotsky. More than many contemporaneous small left group members, IS members were grounded in significant work within unions (including building one of the more successful union reform groups, Teamsters for a Democratic Union), comparatively open to collaborating with others, and both thoughtful and realistic.

Their relative openness made Labor Notes and its gatherings a common ground for independent-minded leftists and workers seeking to be better troublemakers for a boss that was already making trouble for them. Although often shunned or attacked by some union leaders (such as during the 2008 meeting when Michigan Service Employees International Union [SEIU] brought busloads of members to break up the conference awards banquet), other union leaders have worked with them, including the late Tony Mazzocchi; the immediate past president of the Communications Workers, Larry Cohen; and Amalgamated Transit Union president Larry Hanley.

Mark Brenner, the current director of Labor Notes, is both a realist and an enthusiast regarding the prospects for unions.

“We’ve been on the losing end of the class struggle all my life,” the youthful-looking Brenner told the Labor Notes crowd, ruefully noting the spread of right-to-work laws. “Our labor movement can’t keep going the way it’s going. We’ve got to talk about power.” Yet, he says, “I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been, since a long-time subscriber to Labor Notes is running for president.”

Later, as we chatted in the hallway, Brenner expounded: “What I think is that a couple of things are converging. The institutional labor movement recognizes their misplaced confidence in both ‘Change To Win’ and winning the Employee Free Choice Act, whether the plans came from [former SEIU and Change to Win leader Andy] Stern or [former AFL-CIO president John] Sweeney. These grand plans were flawed partly because they were “hatched in headquarters,” he says, not involving members in their design and execution.

By contrast, he puts hope not only in members who are educated and mobilized but also in the rise of new leaders at various levels in several unions, from the Teamsters and communications workers to teachers’ and nurses’ unions. Many more people have been coming to their schools, and he is especially pleased that “people who have been coming to Labor Notes are running for office and taking over unions,” such as many leaders in the Chicago Teachers Union.

“Our focus,” Brenner continues, “is that we want to build powerful movements” where leaders of unions must answer to the members.

Labor Notes has always strongly advocated union democracy, rank-and-file direct action and more progressive leadership of unions. But Brenner says the goal of Labor Notes is transforming the labor movement, not electing top officers.

“If I could, I would spend all of my time with stewards and local officers,” he says. “It’s hard to transform the labor movement from an elected position.” But it’s also hard to change it when elected leaders are hostile.

The goals Labor Notes sets for itself are admirable and necessary for the labor movement. But they are interrelated in ways that often generate tensions that are difficult to resolve (and Labor Notes does not always acknowledge). For example, sometimes members are less progressive than leaders, who may in some cases want to educate the members to be more assertive and militant (even if the opposite situation is more common).

And even though conditions for elections in unions often offer less than laboratory-perfect democracy, union members sometimes do elect conservative leaders or are reluctant to take direct actions against employers. Also, unions are both institutions and movements, or at least ideally part of both the labor movement and progressive social and political movements. But tensions easily arise among different needs that reflect these varied roles of unions.

Likewise, union staff are often pulled between obligations to the union’s president and to its members, and within all organizations there are different degrees of

access to information. For example, Bill Parker, a Labor Notes stalwart and former Chrysler union local president, described how union staff had much more access to crucial information and discussions between management and union officials than the local elected officials on the bargaining committee that he chaired during national contract negotiations. That imbalance, he said, helped to make it possible for a two-tier wage agreement to be included in a contract even though he and the bargaining committee opposed the two-tier arrangement (which will finally be phased out under the current contract).

The history of unions suggests that organizers with the democratic ambitions of Labor Notes often persevere for long periods with little progress, then surge forwards episodically. But that’s not very helpful as a guide to what to do in the interim. It’s much like the answer Kim Moody, one of the founder of Labor Notes who decamped to England to teach labor history, gave to the question posed for his workshop about how general strikes can be started: “When they start, they start,” he says.

Since he last visited the United States two years ago, he thinks that “the difference is recognizable, more a feeling of desperation, polarization.” He takes heart from the support for Sen. Bernie Sanders, even the apparent lack of voter discomfort with his defining himself as a socialist, and is appalled at the rise of Donald Trump.

“Trump is almost as much a fascist as we’ve seen here, without the funny uniforms,” he says. “The guy’s a thug.” America is beginning to look more like some European countries with political clashes between an anti-immigrant right and populist left movements, like Podemos in Spain or Syriza in Greece, he suggests. And Bernie is America’s counterpart to the new Labour Party leader in the United Kingdom, Jeremy Corbyn. Yet much more is happening in a “subterranean” form in labor and other movements.

“This is the time to do things like [that subterranean organizing],” he says. “We are not on the verge of a major move to the left, but things are changing, and unions have a role to play in it. … We have to deal with race up front. It’s a problem for U.S. labor because of deep-seated racism in American society as a whole.”

Like the Highlander Folk School (now Research and Education Center), founded  in the South by Myles Horton in 1932, or the Brookwood Labor College, founded in 1921 in New York state under the leadership of A. J. Muste, Labor Notes and its conferences are part of a small, almost subterranean effort to educate workers to create a militant and democratic unionism. The labor movement can only benefit from its work and, one can hope, from others taking up the same cause.

This blog originally appeared in inthesetimes.com on April 8, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.

End of Pfizer-Allergan Merger Could Save U.S. Taxpayers Billions

Friday, April 8th, 2016

Kenneth QuinnellThe withdrawal by New York-based pharma giant Pfizer of a proposed merger with Irish company Allergan could save U.S. taxpayers billions. If the merger had been completed under the Treasury Department’s old rules, Pfizer could have dodged paying $35 billion in taxes on $150 billion in overseas profits. In 2014, Treasury revised rules to make it harder for corporations to use the process called “inversion” to avoid paying taxes in the United States. The AFL-CIO recently joined more than 50 organizations that sent a letter to the Treasury calling for stiffer rules on inversion so that companies are required to pay their fair share.

Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, praised the failure of the merger:

The prevention of Pfizer’s inversion is great news for all American taxpayers: individuals, small businesses and large domestic corporations. Pfizer’s inversion would have meant that the pharmaceutical giant could have dodged as much as $35 billion it already owes in U.S. taxes on its offshore profits.

Big corporations like Pfizer must be required to pay their fair share. The government cannot let them run away from their responsibilities to this nation. Treasury has taken an important step to improve the overall corporate tax system. These rules move in the right direction to level the playing field for domestic companies competing with multinationals.

From the letter to Treasury:

Pfizer’s potential tax dodge is a huge sum of money—more than the $30 billion increase in domestic discretionary spending for the next fiscal year that was negotiated in the budget agreement last year, and which House Republicans are now demanding be paid for by cutting Medicaid and other health and low-income programs.

These companies can avoid paying the U.S. taxes they owe on their existing offshore profits through a so-called “hopscotch” loan, whereby the former U.S. firms can loan their offshore profits to their new foreign parent companies. Treasury prohibited such tax avoidance in its 2014 Notice when the new foreign company is at least 60% owned by the original shareholders of the former U.S. firm. But both Pfizer and Johnson Controls structured their mergers so that their shareholders own 56% of the new foreign company.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on April 6, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.

February Trade Deficit Was Enormous, Humongous And Caused Job Loss

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

Dave JohnsonThe February trade deficit numbers are out. Exports were up but imports were up way more than exports. Result: We shipped even more jobs and wealth out of the country in exchange for stuff we could have made here. That means we also shipped out essential components of our manufacturing ecosystem, further harming our ability to make a living in the future.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday that the February goods and services trade deficit was an enormous, humongous $47.1 billion. The February goods deficit was $64.7 billion, offset by an $17.7 billion services surplus.

“February exports were $178.1 billion, $1.8 billion more than January exports. February imports were $225.1 billion, $3.0 billion more than January imports,” their statement read.

Chinese imports accounted for 44 percent of the overall U.S. trade deficit and monthly exports to China ($8.05 billion) were the lowest since April 2011. “The deficit with China increased $1.0 billion to $32.1 billion in February. Exports decreased $0.3 billion to $8.4 billion and imports increased $0.8 billion to $40.5 billion.”

This Is Called “Trading”?

Again: in February we bought $40.5 billion worth of stuff from China but only sold $8.4 billion worth of stuff to China. This goes on month after month, year after year and we don’t do anything about it because it is making a few people really, really rich by driving American wages down. And that’s called “trade”? That doesn’t sound like they’re engaging in “trading” with us at all. It sounds like they’re getting away with a scheme to bankrupt us.

Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul commented on the trade deficit numbers:

“The trade deficit gives us some insight as to why so many manufacturing jobs have been shed over the past year, including 29,000 manufacturing jobs in March — and I worry the worst might be yet to come. The trade deficit with China continues to grow to new levels, and today’s numbers show that our trade weakness is not limited to China alone.”

These continuing enormous, humongous trade deficits are reflected in our country’s loss of good-paying jobs – especially manufacturing jobs. Last week’s post, “Jobs Report Highlights Trade, Manufacturing Problems,” discussed how our trade policies are driving jobs, factories, wealth, key components of our manufacturing ecosystem and overall ability to make a living out of the country,

In an otherwise OK jobs report, America’s manufacturing sector lost 29,000 jobs in March. This comes after a loss of jobs in February as well. So, no resulting upward pressure on wages.

Our country’s “deindustrialization” trade policies, which includes a “strong dollar” policy, are at the root of this problem. Also, our intentional lack of a national manufacturing/industrial/economic policy and plan hold back the growth of good-paying jobs and allow our manufacturing ecosystem to whither away.

Voters have certainly caught on that these disastrous trade policies, resulting in continuing enormous, humongous trade deficits, are driving jobs and wages away.

This blog originally appeared at ourfuture.org on APril 5, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

Another Explanation Why Moving Jobs Out Of The Country Is ‘Good’ For Us

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Dave JohnsonOn Monday, yet another “elite” pundit tells us that moving our jobs and factories and manufacturing ecosystem out of the country is good for us. This time it is Neil Irwin writing at the New York Times’ Upshot, “The Trade Deficit Isn’t a Scorecard, and Cutting It Won’t Make America Great Again.”

The U.S. has had trade deficits every year since the late 1970s, when Wall Street started advertising that “free trade” – moving jobs and factories out of the country — is good for us. Last year we had a goods and services trade deficit of $531 billion, $365 billion of that with China. But services ran a surplus, and if you only measure things we make, the goods deficit was $758.9 billion. On top of that the manufacturingtrade deficit was $831.4 billion, a 13.2 percent increase from 2014.

Imagine our economy if our manufacturers received $831.4 billion in new orders for things they make here. Imagine all the new factories opening, the hiring, the job-training centers, the suppliers booming, the stores near the factories booming, theirsuppliers booming, the taxes paid, and so on. Imagine the raises as employers competed for the workers they would need.

Again, we have had trade deficits every single yearsince the late 1970s, when “free trade” ideology was successfully sold to us. We move jobs and factories and manufacturing ecosystems (the expertise, suppliers, tools) out of the country to places where workers and the environment are exploited – because we were talked into letting that happen so that a few people could pocket the differential.

How were we bamboozled into letting that happen? The Irwin column is one more example.

Trade Deficits Are Good For Us?

Irwin writes:

…eliminating the trade deficit would not, on its own, make America great again, as Mr. Trump promises. And in isolation, the fact that the United States has a trade deficit does not prove that trade agreements are bad for Americans, a staple of Bernie Sanders’s campaign in the Democratic presidential primary. In fact, trying to eliminate the trade deficit could mean giving up some of the key levers of power that allow the United States to get its way in international politics.

Getting rid of the trade deficit could very well make America less great.

The trade-off: Getting rid of the trade deficit might make Wall Street less great because “we” can’t get “our” way telling other countries what to do … But it would mean American employers would have to compete for workers, bidding wages and benefits up.

Irwin continues, explaining even harder how moving jobs out of the country is good for us. Using the example of a trade deficit. Irwin says when there is a trade deficit we get more “stuff” and all the other country gets is our money. Again, last year we bought $831.4 billion more manufactured goods than we sold. Irwin explains this is a free lunch, we got stuff, and the only thing those other countries got was the money to hire millions of people and to maintain and modernize their manufacturing ecosystems, their country’s infrastructure and education.

Irwin explains this is also good for us because China then comes here and buys U.S. companies. “So does a trade deficit mean fewer jobs? It depends on which force is more economically powerful: fewer jobs creating exports or investment dollars flowing into the country.”

Note: In the above, “investment dollars flowing into the country” means buying our companies, land, production capacity, our ability to make a living, out from under us.

Reserve Currency

Irwin further explains the advantage of our trade deficits as being the necessary result of the U.S. dollar’s position as the global reserve currency, and therefore the underpinning of global finance. This is a key part of the equation to get:

There’s no doubt that maintaining the global reserve currency creates costs for the United States, namely a less competitive export industry.

But it also creates a lot of advantages. Lower interest rates and higher stock prices are among them (though they have the downside of also feeding debt-driven booms and busts). Even more important is what the dollar’s prominence in global finance does for America’s place in the world.

Summary: the tradeoff is lower wages for American workers but higher stock prices and low interest rates for America’s investor class. Less for the 99 percent and more for the 1 percent. Less for Main Street, more for Wall Street.

This chart, “Manufacturing vs. Finance as % of U.S. GDP” is from “Why Should We Save American Manufacturing?” by Michele Nash-Hoff. It shows how that trade-off has affected our economy.

Manufacturers and therefore workers used to have more power in our economy. Then Wall Street ascended, and here we are.

Advantages

There are, in fact, real advantages to the U.S. from our reserve currency status. Irwin explains,

It helps ensure that the United States can afford to finance wars, and it gives the government greater ability to fight recessions and panics. A country experiencing a banking panic will see money sent out of the country, causing its currency to fall and its interest rates to rise. All that limits a government’s options for fixing the problem. In 2008, when the United States experienced a near collapse of the banking system, the opposite happened.

But it’s not just economics. “A lot of the benefits of having the reserve currency are more on the foreign policy side than the economic,” said Jennifer M. Harris, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of a coming book, “War by Other Means,” on the use of economic tools in foreign policy.

The centrality of the dollar to global finance gives the United States power on the global stage that no other country can match.

This is all for real and does bring positive results for all of us in various ways. But the power imbalances of Wall Street (capital) vs. Main Street (labor) have reached a point of excess where the power of our investor class has become so dominant over our working people that more and more Americans are struggling just to keep from falling behind – and failing. Ask an American voter if she or he would rather have some money for retirement, good schools, a good infrastructure and well-functioning public services, or a strong financial sector able to threaten countries with military force to get what they want. They’ll vote for retirement security, infrastructure and the rest every time. And they’re just about ready to, even if that promise comes in the form of Donald Trump.

This blog originally appeared at ourfuture.org on March 29, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

So MANY Op-Eds Pushing Corporate “Free Trade”

Monday, March 28th, 2016

Dave JohnsonBernie Sanders’ and Donald Trump’s campaign criticisms of our country’s disastrous trade policies are resonating with voters. In response there has been a flurry – a blizzard – of op-eds from noted celebrity, “establishment” pundits, explaining that moving millions of jobs out of the country is good for us because it means lower prices for those who still have paychecks. They sell these lower prices as a “free lunch” that we will never have to pay for.

These opinion pieces present corporate-negotiated trade as an all-or-nothing proposition, as if there were no balanced, fair-trade alternative approaches we could take instead. In these op-eds, proponents of fair-trade agreements are called “anti-trade,” even “anti-commerce.” Many of them not only repeat the same arguments, they actually even use the same words.

This week’s Fact-Check This: Arrogance Of Elites Helps Drive The Trump Phenomenonexplored Glenn Kessler’s “fact check” that awarded Trump “four Pinocchios” for claiming that our country’s corporate-negotiated trade policies and trade deficit are costing our country jobs, wages and wealth. Kessler wrote that the reason we import so much is that “Americans want to buy these products from overseas” when the reality is that companies move jobs and production out of the country to get around paying our country’s wages, taxes and environmental protection costs. (And we let them do that because … ?)

Last week’s Has The Election Finally Killed TPP And Corporate “Free Trade”? took on a Thomas Friedman op-ed promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP):

It seems as though Thomas Friedman got in a cab driven by the head of the Chamber of Commerce … talking about how great a deal the TPP is, writing, “… if we eliminate 18,000 tariffs we’ll be able to keep more production at home and sell more abroad. [. . .] Our workers can compete if we level the playing field …” They’ll be buying a lot from us for sure with that $150 a month, you betcha. Meanwhile companies here that want to pay $150 a month will be closing factories and moving them there…

A Bunch More

Those were just a couple of examples, a flurry before the blizzard. Here are more.

Mark J. Perry, in “Trump is completely wrong about the U.S. trade deficit” at the Los Angeles Times, argues that our enormous, humongous $758.9 billion goods trade deficit is actually good for us, a free lunch that we will never have to pay for,

When American businesses and consumers voluntarily purchase more products from China than Chinese businesses and consumers buy from us, it does lead to a U.S. trade deficit with China. But the trade deficit can’t accurately be referred to a “loss,” because it’s based on millions of mutually agreeable individual exchanges that took place between a willing seller and a willing buyer.

In fact, you could make a strong case that China “lost” last year on trade with America, not vice versa. After all, we acquired $482 billion of merchandise made in China and they acquired only $116 billion of merchandise made in the U.S., for a net merchandise surplus of $366 billion in our favor. China “lost” a net amount of $366 billion of goods that ended up being consumed and enjoyed by Americans.

This batch of bamboozlement explains that if you’re a baker who makes a deal to “trade” by buying supplies from your neighbor in exchange for providing bread, and you buy flour and sugar from your neighbor who then presents you with a huge bill and says he used your money to set up his own bakery and advertise to your customers, this is a good thing, because now you have to come up with a way to pay that bill. Got it?

Robert J. Samuelson, writing at The Washington Post in Trade myths and realities, explains to us that moving so many jobs out of the country is good for us because the 2.4 million jobs lost to China in the last decade were only 2 percent of total payroll employment. (We lost way more than 2.4 million, but who’s counting?)

Samuelson explains that we export, and exports create jobs, ignoring the huge trade deficit that is the result of so many more imports than exports. Exports are great, but he ignores that trade must be balanced or it drains our country of jobs, wages and wealth. Worse, when imports exceed exports for decades we lose (and have lost) important parts of our overall manufacturing ecosystem. But who’s counting?

Cokie and Steve Roberts offer another rationalization for the lost jobs and wages, in “Don’t discount the benefits of trade.” They wrote, “There are always winners and losers, and the losers are both more visible and better organized.” (Laid-off workers are better organized than the Wall Street billionaires who get to pocket their paychecks?)

Their examples of their winners include, “the mom who buys cheap sneakers from Bangladesh.” Never mind the dangerous, near-slave conditions for workers in Bangladesh, and the downward pull on our own wages as Americans try to compete with that. (We could demand that Bangladesh pay decently and protect workers before we allow imports from there, but how would America’s corporate trade negotiators benefit from doing that?)

The Robertses continue, “Moreover, many of the workers losing manufacturing jobs belong to unions, and organized labor has become the most vociferous foe of new trade deals.” This begs the question, if free trade is so great for jobs and brings with it so many higher-paid export jobs, then why would organized labor be free trade’s “most vociferous foe”?

The Roberts pair offer one that we hear over and over. We should just give up, suck it up, and accept our sorry fate because, “The clock cannot be turned back. Lost manufacturing jobs will not return.”

Speaking of “jobs that aren’t coming back,” Ben Casselman, Chief Economics Writer at FiveThirtyEight, writes that “Manufacturing Jobs Are Never Coming Back.” Casselman explains that we should just give up, suck it up, and accept our sorry fate. “A plea to presidential candidates: Stop talking about bringing manufacturing jobs back from China. In fact, talk a lot less about manufacturing, period.”

He writes that we don’t need manufacturing anyway, because service sector jobs something.

It’s understandable that voters are angry about trade. The U.S. has lost more than 4.5 million manufacturing jobs since NAFTA took effect in 1994. And as Eduardo Porter wrote this week, there’s mounting evidence that U.S. trade policy, particularly with China, has caused lasting harm to many American workers. But rather than play to that anger, candidates ought to be talking about ways to ensure that the service sector can fill manufacturing’s former role as a provider of dependable, decent-paying jobs.

Casselman explains that our economy is already replacing well-paid manufacturing jobs with low-paying service sector jobs. “In 1994 there were 3.5 million more Americans working in manufacturing than in retail. Today, those numbers have almost exactly reversed, and the gap is widening. More than 80 percent of all private jobs are now in the service sector.”

Cassleman says candidates should start “talking about” making a service-based economy “work for workers.” With talk like that, no wonder voters are fed up with America’s corporate-favoring trade policies that sending our jobs, wages and ability to make things – including a decent living – out of the country.

This blog originally appeared at ourfuture.org on March 13, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

Over 100 Years Ago, 123 Young Women Working in a Factory Never Came Home. It Changed Our Country

Friday, March 25th, 2016

Photo courtesy the Kheel Center on Flickr

This post originally appeared at Upworthy.

Watch the video Brandon references.

I have a hard time watching this and not getting terribly angry. Those 123 young women and 23 men who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911, deserve to be remembered. But we’re watching it happen all over again in developing countries that supply Walmart, Gap, and other marketing and retail giants. Sorry/not sorry, I’m mad as hell, and I wish we could live in a world where we didn’t have to take this anymore. Warning: some violent images.

At 2:00, you’ll see the cascading effects that the fire had on workers’ rights and eliminating sweatshops in the United States. But watching it happen all over again in other parts of the world at 3:00 is heartbreaking. It was the same, exact circumstances as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, word for word. At 4:24, how do they calculate the “value” of a human life? And the images at 6:40—really? All for a $26 pair of pants?

Even as recently as 2013, there was the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1,123 garment workers.

It has to end. Right now.

This blog originally appeared at aflcio.org on March 25, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Brandon Weber writes for AFL-CIO on labor and union history.

The Makers of Those Cheesy Anti-Union Movies Will Soon Be More Transparent, Thanks to a New Labor Department Rule

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

The Makers of Those Cheesy Anti-Union Movies Will Soon Be More Transparent Thanks to a New DOL Rule

You’ve probably watched one before.

An anti-union video so painfully corny, you probably had to turn it off after a few seconds.

Anti-union videos—like this one from Target—fliers and other materials are the bread and butter of consulting firms who specialize in “union avoidance.” A nefarious industry that steps in for employers and attempts to squelch workinJackie Tortorag people’s right to a union voice on the job.

 Thanks to a new transparency rule released by the Department of Labor called the “persuader rule,” these firms are no longer allowed anonymity. Employees deserve to know whether these third-party union busters are being employed to influence their decision about forming a union with their co-workers.

Making these union busters more transparent is only fair. While unions are required to file lengthy annual LM-2 financial disclosure reports that detail all receipts and expenditures, the LM-20 form that management consultants will be required to file is two pages, much of which simply requires checking boxes.

Mike Lo Vuolo, a former American Airlines passenger agent, and his co-workers tried three times to form a union at American Airlines with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), under the company’s previous management. In 2012, despite having filed for bankruptcy, American Airlines spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the law firm Sheppard Mullin. Mike recalls high-gloss fliers, video cassettes and DVDs used to discourage and scare employees during organizing drives.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka weighed in on the new rule:

It takes great courage for working people to come together to form a union. Working men and women deserve to know who their employer is hiring and exactly how much they are spending to discourage workers from forming a union.

This blog originally appeared at aflcio.org on March 23, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.
Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at AFL-CIO.

Modernization of Chicago Transit to Be Completed by Chicago's Working People

Friday, March 18th, 2016
Kenneth Quinnell

The Chicago Transit Board awarded a contract this week to CSR Sifang America JV to build the newest generation of Chicago Transit Authority rail cars as part of the city’s modernization program. CSR has pledged to build a new rail car assembly facility in Chicago, the first new assembly of its kind in 35 years. The investment of $40 million is expected to generate 170 jobs, while also reducing maintenance costs and reducing power use through the use of more efficient technology.

The Chicago Federation of Labor has worked with the city to make sure that the modernization program created new U.S. manufacturing jobs. Once the new trains are put into service, the Chicago rail fleet will reduce the average age of cars from 26 (in 2011) to 11. The more than 800 new cars will go into service by 2020.

Jorge Ramirez, president of CFL, explained the importance of the announcement:

>>

It has been over 30 years since the last rail car rolled off the Pullman assembly line on Chicago’s Southside. Today’s announcement is the culmination of nearly two years of collaboration with Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel to bring rail car manufacturing back to Chicago where it belongs. We commend the CTA for including the U.S. Employment Plan in this bid process, leading the way to high road manufacturing jobs, and thank Mayor Emanuel for his ongoing commitment to build a world-class transit system.

“Providing modern trains and buses is a critical part of having a world-class transit system,” said CTA President Dorval R. Carter Jr. “This rail car purchase—the largest in CTA history—will give CTA one of the newest fleets in the United States and provide our customers with state-of-the-art trains providing comfortable, reliable rides.”

CFL worked with Jobs to Move America in moving the deal forward. Linda Nguyen Perez, the national policy director for Jobs to Move America, said:

Chicago is a shining model for the rest of the nation, providing a blueprint for leveraging the billions of public transit dollars spent each year to bring back manufacturing, encourage investments in workforce training and jobs for U.S. workers. We look forward to partnering with CSR to deliver a high road program that prioritizes the creation of career paths for Chicago’s low income and communities of color.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on March 17, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.

Why Virginia’s Open Shop Referendum Should Matter to the Entire American Labor Movement in 2016

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

The douglas williamsmost important election in Virginia this year has no candidates on the ballot.

On February 2nd, the Republican-dominated General Assembly passed the two-session threshold needed to put the open shop before the Commonwealth’s voters in November. You might be asking yourself, “Wait. I thought that Virginia was already an open-shop state?” Your inclinations would be correct: legislation barring union membership as a condition of employment was signed into law by Gov. William Tuck (a later adherent to Massive Resistance in response to Brown v. Board of Educationas a member of Congress) in 1947. As a result, Section 40.1-58 of the Code of Virginia reads:

It is hereby declared to be the public policy of Virginia that the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or labor organization.

So why do this? The easy answer is that Virginia Republicans are fearful that, should the open shop meet a legal challenge in state court, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring would not seek to defend it. The sponsor of the bill and defeated 2013 nominee for Attorney General, State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), stated as much in the deliberations on the bill. In addition, should the Assembly find itself in pro-labor hands in the future, they could overturn the open shop with a simple majority vote. Never mind that the extreme amounts of gerrymandering in the Assembly (particularly in the House of Delegates) makes a unified Democratic state government unlikely for decades to come.

The vote this November will be the first popular referendum on the open shop since 54 percent of Oklahoma voters approved State Question 695 on September 25, 2001. In this, an opportunity presents itself to the labor movement in this country, and it is one that labor unions must take.

In the fifteen years since the Oklahoma referendum, every open-shop law has been passed through state legislatures. This, of course, advantages corporations and anti-worker conservatives as they can flood state capitols with their donations and their lobbyists at a relative distance from public scrutiny. Combined with the gerrymandering described above which ensures that an anti-worker vote will not result in the loss of an election, the deck is often stacked far too high for labor advocates to overcome. The only hope for those who live in the thirty states with a Republican legislature is the presence of a pro-labor governor and legislative procedures that require a higher threshold than a simple majority to override a veto.

West Virginia workers just found out what happens when you have the formerbut not the latter.

There are demographic reasons to feel good about this campaign: 18-34-year olds are the generation most supportive of labor unions, and Black workers have both been more supportive and more eager joiners of labor unions than their white counterparts. Virginia has been a prime destination for young people over the last couple of decades due to the economic boom occurring in Northern Virginia, and the state has always had a large number of Black residents.

But the campaign against the open shop this fall cannot rely on demographics to save it. Given the opportunity that labor unions have with this referendum, the goal should not simply be to win: it should be a realignment of the conversation surrounding the role in labor unions in Virginia’s—and America’s—political economy.

There have been many issues stemming from the precipitous decline in union density in this country. The stagnation of working people’s wages, widening inequality, and a sense of alienation and disillusionment amongst the working class can all be tied back to the decline of organized labor in the United States.

But there’s another thing that declining union membership has produced, and it is, perhaps, the greatest victory of all for capitalism: the sense that, rather than being a representative of America’s working class, unions are no different from any other interest group. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean sought to mobilize this sentiment recently in support of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign when he stated that “[Democrats] don’t go after” political donations from labor unions because “labor unions are Super-PACs that Democrats like”.

(It should be noted, of course, that the only union that has spent any significant money on Bernie Sanders’s behalf is National Nurses United. It appears that only Hillary Clinton will protect us from Big Nursing and the Caregiver-Industrial Complex.)

Part of this has been on the labor movement: too much money, time, and energy has been devoted to electing Democrats at all costs to federal office, even when they are absolutely terrible. But most of it has been a concerted effort by neoliberals in both parties to erode unions’ once formidable approval ratings by associating them with the most unsavory parts of the legislative process. How unsavory? In 2013, Gallup polled Americans on the honesty of several professions. Those who engage in lobbying, a key part of the legislative and policymaking work that any interest group engages in, were at the bottom with a six percent approval rating. By comparison, an August 2015 Gallup poll saw 58 percent of Americans approving of labor unions, with 37 percent believing that they should have more influence.

By making labor unions a creature of politics, working-class Americans begin to process the information that they receive about unions the same way that they receive other forms of political information: in a partisan manner. In his 2013 book The Partisan Sort, University of Pennsylvania political science professor Matthew Levendusky states that:

[W]hen a respondent moves from unsorted to sorted, he is much more likely to move his ideological beliefs into alignment with his partisanship than the reverse, strongly suggesting that party is the key causal variable.

Therefore, when working-class Republicans think about labor unions, they are less likely to consider the fact that union members make 21 percent more than non-union members or that 29 percent more civilian workers have access to retirement plans if they are a member of a labor union. No, they are more likely to think about Democrats receiving 89 percent of the donations given out by unions in 2014. The fact that the last two Democratic presidents have supported trade deals that acted as accelerants on the continued deindustrialization of America certainly does not help matters at all.

But the labor movement has been given a golden opportunity in 2016, and it is one that should not be passed up: the opportunity to engage in the largest labor education program that this country has ever seen.

Over the next eight-and-a-half months, unions should be running ads that focus on the specifics that so many American labor ads skirt around.

  1. We can tell people that it is illegal for union dues to go towards political action at the federal level. While dues money can go towards political spending at the local and state levels, their dues mostly pay for representation, access to the industry-specific research needed to make negotiations more fruitful, and strike funds to support workers when their meeting their demands requires direct action.
  2. We can tell people about the union difference in wages, benefits, and retirement.
  3. But even more important than that, we can talk about the ways that labor unions benefit the communities in which they exist. Not just through increased spending in local businesses, but also through programs that benefit a community’s most vulnerable.

That last point is important, because it is how we will begin to develop the culture of unionism that we so desperately need in the South. It is important to ensure that the positive feeling that today’s youth have towards labor unions does not turn into anti-labor sentiment through a lifetime of one-way conversation dominated by capitalists and their PR lap dogs like Rick Berman.

But for this to be successful, all hands must be on deck. Virginia is one of a couple of states where such a measure could be defeated at the ballot box (the other, for my money anyways, being Kentucky), and it must be. Defeating this referendum must become the labor movement’s number one priority in 2016, even more so than the presidential election. In the piece I wrote about labor’s engagement in party politics, I stated:

If the labor movement must invest in politics, it would be wisest to do so at the community/local/state level. It is there, our ‘laboratories of public policy’, where the labor movement can have the most positive impact on the lives of working people.

There is no time like the present for the labor movement to take this advice to heart.

This article originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on March 3, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Douglas Williams is a Ph.D. student in political science at the University of Alabama, researching the labor movement and labor policy. He blogs at The South Lawn.

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog