Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Great Depression’

How “Right to Work Shirk” Laws Kill Jobs – and Hurt All of Us

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Michigan’s recent battle makes this a good time to explain the union movement’s important role in our economy’s overall health. We’re about to explain why today’s war on unions is bad for all of us, no matter what we do for a living, and we’ll do it in four steps.

But first a word about language: “Right to work” is a misnomer for laws which let employees enjoy the benefits of union membership – at least for a little while, until they’re stripped away – without joining or contributing.

So we’ll call them “right to shirk” laws instead. And we’ll call the people who back these laws Shirkers.

And while we’re at it, let’s stop calling the states that have adopted this legislation “right to work.” They don’t give people any new rights. They take rights away, by making it illegal for employees to organize and negotiate together. They even take away employers‘ rights – to sign a certain kind of contract.

So let’s give the other states a name instead: In a nod to the Jim Crow origin of these laws, let’s call the ones which don’t have these laws “free states.”

Free Ride

Right to Shirk laws allow freeloaders to profit from the efforts of others – without contributing to the effort, and in a way that harms the common good. The billionaires and corporations behind these laws wouldn’t deliberately do anything like that, would they? Why, that would be like letting people make billions from the works of government – things like roads, the Internet and publicly-educated customers – without paying their fair share of taxes.

Oh, wait.

Right to Shirk laws are job-killers. Here are four steps to understanding why:

1. Think nationally, not just locally.

Advocates say these laws create jobs. They don’t. Their “evidence” is based on studies which show modest job growth in Right to Shirk states when compared to free states.  But all that proves is that places that are politically hostile to organized labor also offer other types of corporate favoritism.

It also suggests that Right to Shirk states can steal jobs from free states — as long as the jobs last, anyway.

The Shirker movement was started in the late 1940s by a handful of Southern politicians who were in the palm of big textile mills. They were able to draw textile jobs away from free Northern cities like my hometown of Utica, NY – until those jobs left this country altogether.  That’s not “creating” jobs — that’s killing good jobs and replacing them with ones that don’t pay enough.

The concept of “solidarity” has been tarred with McCarthyite smears. But “solidarity” is just another way of saying “We’re all in this together.”  The Right to Shirk crowd wants to stop that kind of thinking so it can pit state against state and employee against employee, shredding our social fabric for personal gain.

It’s no accident that the Shirker movement was started by the reactionary white politicians of the Jim Crow South. Back then they were still pining for the days when they could offer some folks the “right to work” … for nothing.

2. We’re fighting over a shrinking pie instead of making the pie bigger.

Things are bad. We need millions of jobs – and the jobs we do have don’t pay enough.

The graphic which Business Insider likes to call “the scariest chart ever” shows how far we are from creating the number of jobs needed to make this country’s economy grow and thrive again.  Job growth like that we’ve seen recently is always welcome, but it’s not nearly enough to get us out of this ditch. How do we get moving again?

To answer that question we need to know what’s worked in the past.

3. The real “job creators” are people with jobs – good jobs.

How did this nation finally escape the after-effects of the Great Depression and begin its greatest decades of economic growth? Government spending  – on roads, bridges, schools, and other vitally needed services – played a key part.

Unions were a crucial part of this process, too. By fighting for higher wages and better benefits, unions ensure that working people have the means to purchase consumer items, housing, and other goods and services.  Companies have to hire more people to keep up with demand – and the good jobs keep coming.

That’s why the Republican Party platform of 1956 boasted that “unions have grown in strength and responsibility, and have increased their membership by 2 millions” during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first term. Back then Republicans understood that a growing middle class was good for the entire economy.  That party platform also said that “America does not prosper unless all Americans prosper.” Their rule: No shirkers.

But then in those days our economy wasn’t dominated by Wall Street megabanks – institutions that don’t build or sell anything. And politicians weren’t completely in bankers’ pockets back then, because the public wouldn’t have tolerated it.

We shouldn’t tolerate it now.

4. When you kill unions, that reduces consumer income – which kills jobs.

The Shirker assault on unions has taken its toll. Only 25 states remain free to unionize, and union membership has fallen dramatically:

 

Their logic would suggest that the plunge in union membership we’ve seen since 1960 must have led to a rise in good jobs.  Did it? Let’s take a look at manufacturing:

That’s my freehand drawing (and therefore not exact) of the trend line in union membership, superimposed by the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States.  Manufacturing jobs kept on increasing for more than twenty years, even as union membership increased. These jobs experienced periods of decline and stagnation as union membership fell, even before the devastating impact of NAFTA.

Consumer demand is vital to growth. That demand is tied to consumers’ income, and to their belief that life in the future will be as good or better than it is today.  Those are the two things we need to reinforce, and unions are crucial to that effort.

We need to get our economy growing again. Until then most Americans, unionized or not, will continue to struggle with stagnating wages and an ongoing economic drag that can feel a lot like a recession.  As Paul Krugman likes to say (he said it in our radio interview), This isn’t rocket science. We know how to do this.

Destroying unions is just another way for the Shirkers to make sure that we never do.

This post was originally posted on Our Future on December 13, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Richard Eskow is a well-known blogger and writer, a former Wall Street executive, an experienced consultant, and a former musician.  He has experience in health insurance and economics, occupational health, benefits, risk management, finance, and information technology.  He has a somewhat unique perspective on the current financial crisis, since he worked for AIG for a number of years (although not in its infamous Financial Products division). Richard has consulting experience in the US and over 20 countries. Past clients include USAID, the World Bank, the State Department, the Harvard School of International Public Health, the Government of Hungary, as well as corporations and investors. He has experience in financial and data analysis, systems design, operations, and management.

On Labor Day, Work to Save the Middle Class

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Leo GerardThis Labor Day feels gloomy. It’s a celebration of work when there is not enough of it, a day off when too many desperately seek a day on.

America has commemorated two Labor Days since this brutal recession began near the end of George Bush’s presidency in December of 2007. Now the relentless high unemployment, the ever-rising foreclosures, the unremitting wage and benefit take-backs have replaced American optimism and enthusiasm with fear and anger.

Happy Labor Day.

On this holiday, we can rant with Glenn Beck, kick the dog and hate the neighbor lucky enough to retain his job. Or we can do something different. We can join with our neighbors, employed and unemployed, our foreclosed-on children, our elderly parents fearing cuts in their Social Security lifeline and our fellow workers worrying that the furlough ax will strike them next. Together we can organize and mobilize and create a grassroots groundswell that gives government no choice but to respond to our needs, the needs of working people.

We can do what workers did during the Great Depression to provoke change, to create programs like Social Security and achieve recognition of rights like collective bargaining. These changes were sought by groups to benefit groups. In a civil society, people care for one another. And America is such a society – one where people routinely donate blood to aid anonymous strangers, children set up lemonade stands to contribute to Katrina victims and working families find a few bucks for United Way.

The self-righteous Right is all about individuals pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. That proposition – the do-it-all- by-yourself-winner-takes-all philosophy – clearly failed because so many Americans are jobless, homeless and too penniless to afford boots.

Over the past decade, the winner who took all was Wall Street. The banksters gambled on derivatives and other risky financial tomfoolery and won big time. Until they lost. And crashed the economy. After the American taxpayer bailed them out, those wealthy traders returned to making huge profits and bonuses based on perilous schemes.

Still, they believe they haven’t taken enough from working Americans. They’re lobbying to end aid for those who remain unemployed in a recession caused by Wall Street recklessness. And they’re demanding extension of their Bush-given tax breaks. This is the nation’s upper 1 percent, people who earn a million or more each year, the 1 percent that took home 56 percent of all income growth between 1989 and 2007, the year the recession began.

Since 2007, 8.2 million workers have lost jobs. Millions more are underemployed, laboring part-time when they need full-time jobs, or barely squeaking by on slashed wages and benefits. Since the recession began, the unemployment rate nearly doubled, from 5 percent to 9.6 percent, and that does not include those so discouraged that they’ve given up the search for jobs, a decision that is, frankly, understandable when there are only enough openings to re-employ 20 percent of the jobless. Five unemployed workers compete for each job created in this sluggish economy.

And American workers weren’t prepared for this downturn, having already suffered losses in the years before it began. The median income, adjusted for inflation, of working-age households declined by more than $2,000 in the seven years before the recession started.

At the same time, practices like off-shoring jobs and signing regressive international trade deals contributed to the loss of middle class, blue collar jobs. A new report, “The Polarization of Job Opportunities in the U.S. Labor Market,” by the Center for American Progress and The Hamilton Project, says:

“The decline in middle-skill jobs has been detrimental to the earnings and labor force participation rates of workers without a four-year college education, and differentially so for males, who are increasingly concentrated in low-paying service occupations.”

The recession compounded that, the report says:

“Employment losses during the recession have been far more severe in middle-skilled white- and blue-collar jobs than in either high-skill, white-collar jobs or low-skill service occupations.”

What that means is high roller banksters are living large; lawn care workers and waitresses subsist on minimum wage, and working class machinists and steelworkers are disappearing altogether.

The researchers found the U.S. economy is increasingly polarized into high-skill, high-wage jobs and low-skill, low wage jobs. America is losing the middle jobs and with them its great middle class.

No wonder the rising anger in middle America.

But fury doesn’t solve the problem. This Labor Day, we must organize to save ourselves and our neighbors. We must stop America from descending into plutocracy. We must demand support for American manufacturing and middle class jobs. That means terminating tax breaks for corporate outsourcers, ending trade practices that violate agreements and international law and punishing predator countries for currency manipulation that subverts fair trade by artificially lowering the price of products shipped into the U.S. while artificially raising the price of American exports.

We must demand support for American industry, particularly manufacturers of renewable energy sources like solar cells and wind turbines that create good working class jobs, increase America’s energy independence and reduce climate change.

We must insist on policies that support the middle class, including preserving Social Security and Medicare, extending unemployment insurance while joblessness remains high, and enforcing the health care reform law so that every American worker and family can afford and is covered by insurance.

On this Labor Day, we should all have a picnic, invite neighbors, friends and family, and over hot dogs and potato salad, organize to save the American middle class.

Mobilize to end the gloom and restore American optimism.

***

For help: the Union of the Unemployed, the AFL-CIO, USW, Working America. Join the One Nation March for jobs Oct. 2 in Washington, D.C.

About The Author: Leo Gerard is the United Steelworkers International President. Under his leadership, the USW joined with Unite -the biggest union in the UK and Republic of Ireland – to create Workers Uniting, the first global union. He has also helped pass legislation, including the landmark Canadian Westray Bill, making corporations criminally liable when they kill or seriously injure their employees or members of the public.

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