by Bill Onasch
Writer Solidarity Knows No Borders
Everyone defends the right of expression of views they support. The litmus test for those purporting to favor democracy is whether they also fight for the rights of those with whom they differ, maybe even detest. I join my sisters and brothers in the National Writers Union, journalists spanning the ideological spectrum around the world, and millions who rallied in the streets of Paris, declaring
Je Suis Charlie
The formulation “I am,” or “we are all,” connected to individuals or groups under attack is more common in Europe than North America. There have been mass, diverse past demonstrations proclaiming We Are All Muslims, or We Are All Jews for example. It’s a way of saying “if you come after them you have to go through us first.”
In the same sense, I am Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger condemned to ten years in prison, and a thousand lashes—essentially a sentence of protracted, agonizing death–for allegedly insulting the state’s theocracy.
And I stand with Al Jazeera English journalists Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste who are starting their second year of imprisonment by the Egyptian military dictatorship for doing their job as reporters.
Just as every life is precious regardless of the character it supports every hard won freedom is just as dear and merits our vigilant defense.
Closing out the biggest year of job growth since 1999, the BLS monthly employment situation report for December released Friday announced 252,000 more new jobs were created last month.
Sounds pretty good but, being a glass mostly empty kind of guy, I always look at the caveats dutifully included along with the hype. So does the Wall Street Journal who noted it had been a year “marred by softer wages and a rise in workforce dropouts.”
When you add the official unemployed numbers to those listed as “marginally attached to the workforce,” along with those “involuntary part-time,” there are still nearly eighteen million workers who want full-time jobs but can’t find one. And that doesn’t include millions more who have simply given up looking for work and are no longer being tracked. It was only these “dropouts” that have brought the official unemployment rate to 5.6 percent—down from the Recession peak of ten percent.
But it isn’t just the job numbers that are disturbing. Even with retailers sometimes staying open around the clock, and UPS and FedEx workers putting in enormous overtime during the holiday season, the average work week for private sector production and nonsupervisory employees edged up only one-tenth of an hour to 33.9—reflecting the effect of part-time jobs.
For the second time in 2014, average wages for the same category actually declined, falling six cents an hour in December to 20.68.
But few of the 44,000 new hires in food and beverage, or the nonprofessional majority of 34,000 new jobs in health care, nor the 7,000 added in retail (following 43,000 in November,) will see anywhere near 20.68 an hour and most won’t get close to 34 hours a week either.
The work may not be subprime but the reward sure is. At least a third of these new jobs don’t pay enough to live on. The more sympathetic of the Job Creators—including the world’s biggest private employer—explain to their working poor how they can sign up for government low income assistance programs like Food Stamps and Medicaid.
David Cooper and Lawrence Mishel put together a useful analysis of the decline in wages for the union backed Economic Policy Institute, The Erosion of Collective Bargaining Has Widened the Gap Between Productivity and Pay. They show that from 1948-1973 productivity increased 96.7 percent and wages went up 91.3. It’s been a far different story since. From 1973-2013 productivity still soared 74.4 percent while hourly pay gain was an anemic 9.2 percent over those four decades.
The conclusion to their updated analysis is not ground breaking but retains some validity,
“Any effort to reestablish a link between pay and productivity growth will need to promote policies that enable workers to once again join unions and bargain collectively. This conclusion is central to any debate about how to address ongoing income inequality or limited income mobility. It is only once workers have the ability to bargain for higher wages that we will see the broad-based wage growth necessary to remedy these problems.”
It is still true that unionized workers earn more than the unorganized in any industry you care to compare. That’s a big reason why bosses want to be union-free while we want to organize the unorganized.
But we can’t ignore the inconvenient truth that wages have been stagnant—often even slashed—for unionized workers as well.
The gains of 1948-73 were based on kinetic energy lingering from the great adversarial union upsurges of the Thirties and the immediate postwar period. The decline from the Seventies on results from the consolidation of a union bureaucracy seeking “partnership” with employers and ever increasing dependence on perfidious “friends” in the two boss parties. While there are a few honorable exceptions to this class collaboration there has been no positive movement at the mainstream top—even by one time reformers.
The release of the EPI study was timed to coincide with last week’s Summit on Wages initiated by the AFL-CIO. The participants cheered the featured speakers Senator Elizabeth Warren, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, and actress Piper Perabo. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka–who thirty years ago led some militant struggles by coal miners—boldly summed it all up at the end,
“I am announcing that the AFL-CIO is launching an ambitious Raising Wages Call to Action. The foundation, and first call to action, is simple. It’s something I said earlier – Raising Wages is the single standard by which leadership will be judged. That means accountability, and it starts with something we all understand – presidential politics. In 2015, the AFL-CIO and state partners will hold Raising Wage Summits in the first four presidential primary states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. And we’re not waiting around. The first State Summit will be in Iowa this spring.”
Wow, doesn’t that sound like a battle about which stories will be told and songs sung for generations to come? Or, some cynics might put it another way–a new format for the time honored attempt to get a friend nominated by the Democrats. Senator Warren would be their first choice though it is unlikely that she will seek nomination and much more unlikely that she will be sworn in as the first woman President in 2017. But rest assured, who ever gets the nod at the Donkey convention next year will be certified by brother Trumka as accountable and a friend.
Most national level union bureaucrats accept salaries qualifying them for membership in the One Percent. But—again with some honorable exceptions–in return they offer a vision, strategy and motivation that is as meager as the the take-home pay of a Walmart associate.
If that’s all there was to today’s labor movement I would take my retirement to the next level and dig in to that stack of unread books in my office and catch up on movies I have missed on Netflix.
But there are real, potentially game-changing fights going on to raise wages that are not relying on marching orders from Trumka’s Summits. Around the demand of Fifteen Dollars and a Union, thousands of fast food workers are learning how to carry out selective strikes; gain public attention and sympathy through dramatic marches, rallies, and civil disobedience, and even win some legal battles that have included monetary awards and reinstatement of unjustly fired workers.
The fast food example has rekindled a similar strategy among retail workers and inspired fresh efforts among home care, airport service, and warehouse workers. And the exploited in higher learning—the adjunct faculty—are also beginning to stir.
Since the stunning victories of grass roots movements in winning local minimum wage of fifteen in Seatac and Seattle, 15 Now efforts involving both unionists and community allies have spread across the country, some registering important achievements.
The catalyst for the formation of the CIO and the rapid spread of union success in the 1930s was early victories of the low wage, unskilled workers of that period who had been long ignored by the AFL. I’m not predicting we’re on the eve of such a revival—but I wouldn’t exclude the possibility of an upsurge using innovative tactics in the foreseeable future either. The 1934 strike victories in Minneapolis, Toledo, and San Francisco were only recognized as Labor’s Turning Point retroactively. Our class can be painfully slow in getting our act together—but once in motion we’re hard to stop. A shove from the bottom may be the push needed to start rolling.
* The Rev. Nelson “Fuzzy” Thompson passed away early Sunday at age 70. Fuzzy was the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City for decades. He played a major role in making the Kansas City celebration of Martin Luther King Day one of the largest in the nation and was a stalwart in the local peace movement as well. He will be missed.
* Now assured of heat, the East Side Freedom Library in St Paul has begun assembling its book collections. They also have a free film showing tomorrow, January 13, 6PM—Freedom Writers. They say, “This feature-length dramatic film tells the story of a class of supposedly ‘low achieving’ Los Angeles high school students who discover their voices and become empowered through a journal-writing project inspired by reading Anne Frank and a the journal of a Serbian teen, Zlata Filipovic. These monthly films and discussions are intended to bring teachers, parents, students, and community members together to discuss the challenges — and possibilities — of public education.” If you are one of our readers in the Twin Cities, drop by for the free flick—and maybe volunteer to help catalog the book collection. The Library is at 1105 Greenbrier Street in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood.
* 29 Vermont single-payer health care advocates were arrested for disrupting the inauguration of Democrat Governor Peter Shumlin who reneged on his pledge to implement a state single-payer plan.
* Like said in the last WIR, a Guardian story begins, “Vast amounts of oil in the Middle East, coal in the US, Australia and China and many other fossil fuel reserves will have to be left in the ground to prevent dangerous climate change, according to the first analysis to identify which existing reserves cannot be burned. The new work reveals the profound geopolitical and economic implications of tackling global warming for both countries and major companies that are reliant on fossil fuel wealth. It shows trillions of dollars of known and extractable coal, oil and gas, including most Canadian tar sands, all Arctic oil and gas and much potential shale gas, cannot be exploited if the global temperature rise is to be kept under the 2C safety limit agreed by the world’s nations. Currently, the world is heading for a catastrophic 5C of warming and the deadline to seal a global climate deal comes in December at a crunch UN summit in Paris.” More follow up next time.
That’s all for this week.
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