Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘free market’

The Price of Cheap: Slave Labor, No Jobs

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Cheap. Low prices. Bargains. It’s the American way of recent decades–a promise we’ve been given by everyone from politicians to corporate marketing campaigns. And most people find it hard to see the devastating cost to us as a society. But, sometimes things happen at once that can give a very clear picture, if you look. For your consideration.

First, a now well-known episode:

While Twinkies have a reputation for an unlimited shelf life, the company that makes the junk food may not.Hostess Brands, the bankrupt maker of cream-filled pastries like Twinkies and Ho Hos, said on Friday that it planned to wind down its operations. The decision comes a week after one of the company’s biggest unions went on strike to protest a labor contract.

Richard Trumka has it exactly right:

“What’s happening with Hostess Brands is a microcosm of what’s wrong with America, as Bain-style Wall Street vultures make themselves rich by making America poor,” Trumka said in a public statement. “Crony capitalism and consistently poor management drove Hostess into the ground, but its workers are paying the price.”…“These workers, who consistently make great products Americans love and have offered multiple concessions, want their company to succeed,” Trumka said in the statement. “They have bravely taken a stand against the corporate race-to-the-bottom. And now they and their communities are suffering the tragedy of a needless layoff. This is wrong. It has to stop. It’s wrecking America.”

Second, some of those cheap goods people snap up at Ikea were made by slave labor:

Ikea has long been famous for its inexpensive, some-assembly-required furniture. On Friday the company admitted that political prisoners in the former East Germany provided some of the labor that helped it keep its prices so low.A report by auditors at Ernst & Young concluded that Ikea, a Swedish company, knowingly benefited from forced labor in the former East Germany to manufacture some of its products in the 1980s. Ikea had commissioned the report in May as a result of accusations that both political and criminal prisoners were involved in making components of Ikea furniture and that some Ikea employees knew about it.

And, lastly, Black Friday is approaching–and Wal-Mart workers are asking for people to assist in their fight back against the Beast of Bentonville, the paragon of low-cost.

So, the lesson:

If we pull all those strands together–the destruction of the lives of thousands of workers who made Twinkies; the sweat that brought people the couch or bed they picked up in their car at Ikea; and the hard times hundreds of thousands of people have to endure to eke out a tiny paycheck from Wal-Mart–it tells the tale of America.

Cheap means the end of the middle-class, not to mention the mythical American Dream because cheap means minimum wage jobs, no health care, no pensions.

Low-cost means paychecks that don’t make it possible for a worker to get through the end of the month without seeing her or his financial debt grow larger.

Bargains are only beneficial to the fat-cat CEOs who pocket obscene paychecks because hidden behind that “bargain” price is an endless cycle of poverty and despair: to give millions of people “bargains”, CEOs manufacture products in low-wage countries or low-wage factories, and, the, they pay–or fire, in the case of Twinkies–workers every declining wages…and, then, those same workers don’t have enough money to buy much–so they are forced to, then, shop at the very low-wage stores–Wal-Mart being the prime example–that are the engine for the destructive cycle.

Just something to think about everytime we are assaulted by a TV ad, or coupon or billboard promising a bargain.

It isn’t more than a bargain with the devil of the bankrupt so-called free market.

This article was originally posted on Working Life on November 16, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is is a strategist, organizer, activist, commentator and writer, primarily focusing his energies on the topics of work, labor, and economy. In 2006, he unsuccessfully challenged incumbent U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary.

Kiss The Jobs and Wages Goodbye: Hello "Free Trade" Again

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Jonathan TasiniYesterday, I wrote about the disastrous state of labor in the wake of the elections. Suffering from either a lack of sleep or simple brain lock, I neglected to include one of the most dangerous coming debacles: we have lost much of the ground built opposing so-called “free trade” agreements, which have played a central role in undermining jobs and wages here–and have caused the decline in wages across the planet. And it is now about to get worse, thanks to “bi-partisanship”.

I can almost guarantee–if I was a pollster, I’d use a fancy chart and put the certainty of this happening at 99 percent–that, in searching for areas of “bi-partisanship”, to show the voters and the country that the two parties have “heard” the message of the election, that so-called “free trade” will be one of the first things on the cooperation agenda. I would not be surprised to hear that declared within the next few weeks.

Here is my long-held view: our so-called “free trade” agreements are directly connected to the decline in wages–both because they encourage the movement of high-wage jobs to lower-wage countries (though, let’s be clear that such movement can happen without these trade deals–the deals just make it easier) AND because so-called “free trade” is based on the fundamental principle of the race to the bottom on wages.

The world of trade today is not based on the best product. It is based on wage and regulation arbitrage. That is, worldwide corporations are simply looking for the places to do business where they can get the cheapest wages and the lowest level of regulation possible (as in lax environmental standards, no labor standards and no protection for anything–except for capital and corporate intellectual property right). And they are clear: they do not care about creating jobs here.

And, simply on the question of do they work, Public Citizen destroyed the idea that so-called “free trade” agreements live up to their claims of increasing trade.

To outline what we face legislatively: First, the Nancy Pelosi-led House (and I invoke her name positively because she deserves credit for this) was the finger in the dike preventing the passage of the so-called “free trade” agreements with South Korean and Colombia (and Pelosi did that even when there were senior Democrats like Charles Rangel who were trying to do the bidding of corporate lobbyists). You can bet your life that the John Boehner-led Lobbyist Convention (what we once used to call the “House of Representatives”) will now press for the passage of those deals. While a smattering of Republicans in the past did oppose so-called “free trade”, their numbers have never been consequential. These deals will now pass the House. Absolutely guaranteed.

Take no comfort about the Senate. On trade, the Senate Democratic caucus has been, as a whole, much more inclined to support so-called “free trade”. I am not even sure whether Sherrod Brown–the main Senate sponsor of the TRADE Act, which would try to usher in a new sane era on trade–could muster enough votes to filibuster a so-called “free trade” deal. The House has been the bulwark. With the House gone, it’s over in the Senate. There will be no reason for the Senate leadership to hold these deals back.

And the president has not been an ally in this area. He has consistently, going back to the 2008 presidential primaries, referred to himself as a “free trader”. In his last State of the Union address, he said:

And that’s why we’ll continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea and Panama and Colombia.

As important, this is also terrible politics. I think it is understandable why people are angry. The truth is the people have been robbed by the entirely bankrupt system of the “free market”–and so-called “free trade” has been an important oil in that robbery. Rather than focus on the phony deficit “crisis”, the president and the Democrats should be talking about how to stop the robbery–and approving more so-called “free trade” agreements is, to put it mildly, off message.

If we want to “hear the message”, it is that everyone is sick and tired of being screwed by the big corporations and the top one percent of the wealthy in this country who care only about draining more of our national wealth into their own pockets.

Stan Greenburg and James Carville demonstrated, in an otherwise useless memo, that opposition to so-called “free trade” was an electoral winner:

There is a second message that centers on made in America, creating American jobs and opposing the Republicans who supports trade agreements and tax breaks for companies that ex-port American jobs. The message is strongest with older women and seniors and with inde-pendents. These can be used in a targeted way, while working in our next poll and focus groups to bring these two messages together.

My passion is “made in America,” working to support small businesses, American companies and new American industries. (REPUBLICAN HOUSE CANDI-DATE) has pledged to support the free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea and protect the loophole for companies outsourcing American jobs. I have a different approach to give tax breaks for small businesses that hire workers and give tax subsidies for companies that create jobs right here in America.

This message framework for the election is helped by an attack on the Republican candidate for supporting trade agreements and tax breaks that lead to lost American jobs. Those at-tacks are very strong with white older women and seniors.

I am not for a message that opposes trade by targeting workers abroad i.e., “[Fill in the blank] is taking our jobs and we have to build everything here because we’re better” or words to that effect. In my humble opinion, that leads us down the same track that fosters anti-immigrant feelings and a moral superiority that does not do our country well.

I am for–and I believe many Americans will respond to–a message that says, “No more greed in American–whether it’s on Wall Street or in corporate trade. Vote against any candidate who will vote to let corporations attack our wages and pensions and the American Dream by forcing workers everywhere to work for slave wages.”

Over the past few election cycles, opposition to so-called “free trade” was an electoral winner. Public Citizen showed how in 2006 and 2008 Democratic gains came partly because of a rejection of the so-called “free trade” model.

In a new analysis by Public Citizen released today, the organization says:

House Democrats that ran on fair trade platforms in competitive and open-seat races were three times as likely to survive the GOP tidal wave than Democrats who ran against fair trade, according to a comprehensive 182-race, 70-page report released today by Public Citizen. The GOP tsunami obliterated many candidate-specific features of the midterm contests, but trade, job offshoring and/or government purchases of foreign-made goods were a stunningly persistent national focus of midterm election campaigns, with 205 candidates campaigning on these issues. A record number of 75 Republicans adopted some fair trade messaging as well, 43 of whom won their races. More than sixty races became “fair trade offs,” where both the Democrat and Republican ran on fair trade themes. Only 37 candidates campaigned in favor of more North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)-style trade agreements – about half of these candidates lost.

I have no reason to doubt the analysis–Public Citizen is quite on top of the issue and has done incredible work. BUT–

I think we are whistling in the dark here. We should be afraid–very afraid: The votes are not there to stop these deals from going through.

UNLESS:

We can make the real argument that the American Dream–and a decent livelihood for workers all across the planet is at stake. And that unless the Democratic Party understands this, it will not win elections in the future–and will not deserve to.

This article was originally posted on Working Life.

About the Author Jonathan Tasini: is the executive director of Labor Research Association. Tasini ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York. For the past 25 years, Jonathan has been a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981).He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors.

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