Jun 082014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

More Than Just Sizzle
In an excellent posting on Labor Notes about the Seattle 15 dollar minimum wage victory, Paul Bigman recalls the old adage comparing the unpleasant character shared by both law- and sausage-making, “Like the making of sausage, the making of the final plan involved some unsavory additions. Still, it’s the nation’s largest step yet toward establishing an adequate wage floor for the working poor.”

Bigman details the delays and loopholes attached to the unanimously adopted city ordinance. Most were recommended by a Mayor’s advisory committee a few weeks ago and reported in a past edition of the WIR. A couple of new ones–a “training wage,” and pushing back the effective date of the new law from January to April of next year–were inserted at the last minute.

15 Now! resisted these concessions to bosses right up to the vote in the City Council. This grass roots movement, inspired by Fast Food worker struggles for Fifteen and a Union and further nurtured by the successful City Council campaign by Kshama Sawant of the Socialist Alternative Party, will be reviewing the tactical prospects for closing the loopholes through ballot initiatives. This will be democratically discussed and decided at a meeting later this month. For now they are hailing–as well they should–a victory that while incomplete is substantial and inspirational.

In another very good article on the Socialist Action site, Ann Montague gives us a useful nutshell history of how the struggle for 15 unfolded in the streets as well as the ballot box. And she correctly emphasizes the material gains for Seattle workers,

“When the $15 minimum wage is implemented, it will lift the wages of 100,000 workers—two thirds of whom are women. Over the next 10 years, it will also transfer $3 billion from businesses to workers who are at the bottom of the wage scale.”

Continuing our food metaphor–that ain’t chopped liver. It is a welcome, dramatic reversal in the prevailing trend of transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top.

Just as Fast Food workers have mobilized through national–even global–coordination to raise wages in their industry, 15 Now! hopes to build a national network to advance a class-wide minimum wage of 15 through local, state, and national action. Local conditions will vary. Not all will be able to simply replicate the exact same recipe of Seattle. But the general strategy and tactics that built grass roots power in the communities and workplaces of Seattle are applicable everywhere. There are already fifteen 15 Now! Chapters around the country. Exploratory discussions about launching a chapter in Kansas City have begun.

It’s time to wake up and smell the sausage.

Have We Recovered?
Perhaps we have entered a phase of the Great Repetition. The BLS May jobs report showed “little or no change” for the unemployment rate; number of unemployed persons; number of long-term unemployed; civilian labor force participation rate; employment-population ratio; involuntary part-time workers; marginally attached to the labor force. Nor did the jobless rate for any major worker groups change. Black unemployment remains more than twice as great as for whites. The rate for teenage workers still exceeds nineteen percent.

Yet this stand your ground report was hailed by many journalists as Mission Accomplished for Recovery. Their evidence is that the total number of jobs in today’s economy nearly exactly equals the number at the beginning of the Great Recession six years ago. But some expose this bogus claim.

David Cay Johnston, an investigative reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize while at The New York Times, submitted an opinion piece worth reading to Al Jazeera America entitled Americans fared better after Great Depression than today. One of the points he made anticipating the release of Friday’s report,

“….the news will be filled with stories about a record high number of jobs, breaking the old record of 138.4 million civilian jobs set in January 2008. But such stories will be misleading because in the last six years America’s population grew by about 14 million people. With population growth taken into account, America needs more than 145 million jobs to surpass 2008’s employment percentage. Furthermore, the share of working-age people who have work or are looking for a job —the civilian labor force participation rate — has declined. In January 2008 it stood at 66.2 percent but was down to 62.8 percent this April. Bringing the participation rate back up would require a few million more jobs.”

Johnston takes a critical look at last year’s wage gains cited in the 2014 Economic Report of the President and compares them to the early Seventies.

“the increase, after inflation, was just 12 cents an hour — a blip of about six-tenths of 1 percent. More revealing, the average hourly pay of $20.13 last year was smaller than in 1972 and 1973. Back then, the inflation-adjusted hourly average was about 6 percent higher. In other words, people in 2013 worked 52 weeks to make what they would have made in 49 weeks back in 1972 and 1973.”

He quickly tells us,

“Wait, it gets worse. The presidential report shows that in 1972 and 1973 the average private sector worker was paid for 36.9 hours of work per week, but in 2013 this was down to 33.7 hours because a growing share of people can find only part-time jobs. Combine lower pay with fewer hours, and the average weekly gross pay in the private sector dropped by 14 percent in four decades. That’s the equivalent of working 52 weeks in 2013 to earn 45 weeks’ worth of wages in 1972 and 1973.”

We can only hope for a quick end to this “recovery.”

Week One of the War on Coal
The official White House climate change initiative was released last Monday. In the last WIR I reported that it would seek to reduce carbon emissions by twenty percent by 2030. But the administration discovered that by selecting 2005 as the starting point they could boost their goal to thirty percent.

Like ObamaCare, this reform will be implemented by the states. It turns out that at least ten states have already exceeded the thirty percent target by converting coal fired power plants to natural gas. Vermont does not have a single coal plant. The state of Washington has only one. The District of Columbia has one very small coal plant solely dedicated to providing electrical power to Congress at the Capitol.

The common description of the President’s move as an “executive order” is a misnomer. It is actually a draft regulation for the EPA which must go through a lengthy comments period and will almost certainly be challenged in court. It’s unlikely it can become enforceable before the end of next year. The next President could easily undo it all with a stroke of her/his pen.

Getting the other forty or so states in compliance will depend on both their political will to act and natural gas remaining plentiful and cheap. Neither can be counted on. The White House is in effect promoting environmentally destructive fracking to provide an affordable substitute for coal.

Natural gas is hardly clean. It emits only half the amount of greenhouse gases spewed by coal
–but that remaining half means it will be impossible to comply with the call by climate scientists for developed countries to reduce emissions at least eighty percent by 2050.

A plan subject to reversal by the next administration, depending on implementation by the states and decades of cheap gas–what could possibly go wrong?

Most Pale Green leaders, while wishing for more, are again praising their “friend” in the White House. Even Bill McKibben, who has helped organize protests against the Keystone XL pipeline at the President’s home says, “ we obviously should be doing far, far more, but at least we’re finally started, and that’s to Obama’s credit.”

We have all paid dearly for the Affordable Care Act scam used by the President to derail genuine single-payer reform that was the most popular option in all the polls. The stakes are much higher on the climate crisis. I give the President credit as an able servant of the ruling class who groomed and selected him–but nothing more. We need a working class movement for an action plan to do what’s needed to save our biosphere. To be continued.

Fix It, Don’t Nix It
The main reason we are hearing about some chronic problems in Veterans health care is that privateers of both parties see recent scandals in record keeping as an opportunity to shift VA patients and tax-payer subsidies to the private sector. Those of us who must deal with for profit care providers would have to conclude that if what we have would be an upgrade the VA system must be rotten to the core.

A friend with some insight in to the health care industry recently sent me an illuminating article from the not so radical New England Journal of Medicine. The author, Dave A. Chokshi, M.D., writes,

“Beyond access to care, health system performance should be evaluated on the basis of health outcomes, the quality and safety of the care delivered, patient satisfaction, and costs. In many of these domains, the VA has kept pace with or surpassed private-sector health systems. A 2010 systematic review comparing the quality of care in VA and non-VA settings found that the VA generally performed better on quality measures for medical conditions (e.g., blood-pressure control and diabetes management).”

The VA held their own in interventional procedures compared to the much more costly private sector. And what about patient satisfaction?

“On a 2013 patient survey, the American Customer Satisfaction Index, VA health care earned overall satisfaction indexes of 84 (out of 100) for inpatient services and 82 for outpatient care, while the U.S. hospital industry scored 80 and 83 in those categories, respectively. When asked how likely they would be to return to a VA medical center for outpatient care, veterans responded with a score of 95 out of 100, indicating strong likelihood of return for care.”

The core problem with VA services is that their resources have not kept pace with the growing numbers they must serve. The indicated solution is to provide the VA with the resources they need–not to dump Vets in to a private sector that has the world’s worst outcome/cost performance record.

That’s all for this week.

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Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member


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