Are American unions history?
In the wake of labor’s defeated effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) last week, both pro- and anti-union pundits have opined that unions are in an all-but-irreversible decline. Privately, a number of my friends and acquaintances in the labor movement have voiced similar sentiments. Most don’t think that decline is irreversible but few have any idea how labor would come back.
What would America look like without a union movement? That’s not a hard question to answer, because we’re almost at that point. The rate of private-sector unionization has fallen below 7 percent, from a post-World War II high of roughly 40 percent. Already, the economic effects of a union-free America are glaringly apparent: an economically stagnant or downwardly mobile middle class, a steady clawing-back of job-related health and retirement benefits and ever-rising economic inequality.
In the three decades after World War II the United States dominated the global economy, but that’s only one of the two reasons our country became the first to have a middle-class majority. The other is that this was the only time in our history when we had a high degree of unionization. From 1947 through 1972 — the peak years of unionization — productivity increased by 102 percent, and median household income also increased by 102 percent. Thereafter, as the rate of unionization relentlessly fell, a gap opened between the economic benefits flowing from a more productive economy and the incomes of ordinary Americans, so much so that in recent decades, all the gains in productivity — as economists Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon have shown — have gone to the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans. When labor was at its numerical apogee in 1955, the wealthiest 10 percent claimed just 33 percent of the nation’s income. By 2007, with the labor movement greatly diminished, the wealthiest 10 percent claimed 50 percent of the nation’s income.
Today, wages account for the lowest share of both gross domestic product and corporate revenue since World War II ended — and that share continues to shrink. An International Monetary Fund study released in April shows that the portion of GDP going to wages and benefits has declined from 64 percent in 2001 to 58 percent this year. The survey compared the United States with Europe, where the only other nations in which labor’s share declined were Greece, Spain and Ireland — countries whose economies are at death’s door. Our economy is nowhere near so weak, but as Americans’ ability to collectively bargain has waned, so has their power to keep all corporate revenue from going to top executives and shareholders.
When unions are powerful, they boost the incomes of not only their members but also of nonunion workers in their sector or region. Princeton economist Henry Farber has shown that the wages of a nonunion worker in an industry that is 25 percent unionized are 7.5 percent higher because of that unionization. Today, however, few industries have so high a rate of unionization, and a consequence is that unions can no longer win the kinds of wages and benefits they used to.
Deunionization is just one reason Americans’ incomes have declined, of course; globalization has taken its toll as well. But the declining share of pretax income going to wages is chiefly the result of the weakening of unions, which is the main reason American managers now routinely seek to thwart their workers’ attempts to unionize through legally questionable but economically rewarding tactics (rewarding, that is, for the managers).
The weakening of unions has had a huge political effect as well: the realignment of the white working class. Since the ’60s, exit polls have shown that unionized blue-collar whites vote Democratic at a rate 20 to 30 percent higher than their nonunion counterparts. The decline in union membership has weakened Democrats in such heavily white, increasingly deunionized states as West Virginia and Wisconsin — the main reason Republicans such as Walker have sought to reduce labor’s numbers. Liberals who have been indifferent to unions’ decline will find it difficult to enact progressive legislation in their absence.
Understandably, some liberals are searching for ways to arrest the economic decline of the majority of their fellow Americans in a post-union environment. I fear they’re bound to be frustrated. If workers can’t bargain with their employers, it can’t be done. If and when Big Labor dies — it’s on life support now — America’s big middle class dies with it.
By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 12, 2012
‘”The Indignity Of Mitt”: Romney Says “Dignity Of Work” Only Available To Women In The Paid Workforce
Chris Hayes has turned up the video of a speech made by Mitt Romney in New Hampshire this past January where he spoke of his efforts, while serving as governor of Massachusetts, to force all mothers receiving government aid to get out of the house and into the workforce—or lose their benefits.
It wasn’t about the money. Romney calculates that getting these mothers to leave their kids and enter the workforce would actually cost the state more through the increased costs of providing day care for the children of these working mothers.
No, Romney had a higher goal in mind —he wanted these stay-at-home mothers to know the ‘dignity of work‘.
I know. Was it not Governor Romney who spent this past week exhorting the great dignity and hard work done by moms who elect to stay home and raise their kids? How does that square with his speech which touts his long-held view that certain stay-at-home mothers can only learn the dignity of work by getting out of the house and leaving the daytime care of their children to others?
Speaking to the New Hampshire audience, this is what the Governor had to say:
“I wanted to increase the work requirement,” said Romney. “I said, for instance, that even if you have a child 2 years of age, you need to go to work. And people said, ‘Well that’s heartless.’ And I said, ‘No, no, I’m willing to spend more giving day care to allow those parents to go back to work. It’ll cost the state more providing that daycare, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work.’”
I thought that if anything had been established through the eruption caused by CNN pundit Hillary Rosen’s poorly chosen words earlier this week, it was that there is, indeed, immense dignity in the work of stay-at-home moms. So said the President, the First Lady and the one-time First Lady of Massachusetts—Ann Romney.
And, for what it is worth, so say I.
The Governor’s suggestion that there is dignity in the work done by women who stay home to raise their kids (this week’s meme) but, apparently, only when they have sufficient financial resources to do so, completely proves the point Ms. Rosen sought to make—even if her comments were inartfully uttered.
Rosen was not demeaning the importance of full-time parents and everyone knows that. She was, however, pointing out that Mrs. Romney might not have the best perspective when it comes to the difficulties of wanting to be a full-time mother when forced, as a result of financial reality, to enter the workforce.
Where Rosen appears to have gone wrong is in directing her comments toward Mrs. Romney rather than at her husband, the Candidate. I say that because I strongly suspect that Ann Romney ‘gets it’. I strongly suspect that Mrs. Romney does understand the difficulties faced by many women who want to commit themselves to raising their kids but need to earn a living to put a roof over the kids’ heads.
It’s Ann Romney’s husband who appears to not have a solid grip on what he believes in this regard, or is—yet again—simply changing his pitch to fit what he believes to be the winning narrative of the day.
If you believe that women whose families do not earn enough to support their families without government assistance should enter the workforce, that’s fine. And if you believe that women who choose to stay home and be a full-time mother is certainly a difficult and meaningful job—that’s fine too.
If you further believe, as most sensible people do, that being a full time mother is a noble and hugely worthwhile profession that can be disrupted when circumstances require that mom go to work to pay the bills, then welcome to the real world.
None of these options are the point.
The point is that Governor Romney’s desire to have it both ways on virtually any topic appears to be endless. He simply cannot tout the notion that a woman staying home to raise her children is the work equivalent of going to the office each day (which it certainly is) and then, out of the other side of his mouth, argue that stay-at-home moms with small children must get into the workforce as the only means of experiencing the ‘dignity of work.’
Mrs. Romney has it right on this issue. The experience of women who commit their lives to raising their families most certainly know the dignity of hard work. It is her husband who has it wrong. Unfortunately, it is Mrs. Romney’s husband who would like to be President of the United States.
Maybe we should waste this week in the campaign by asking Governor Romney to explain his contradictory perspectives?
By: Rick Ungar, Contributor, The Policy Page, Forbes, April 15, 2012
As part of Mitt Romney’s ongoing attemptto project all of his weakness onto President Obama, the presumed GOP nominee is accusing his general election opponent of waging a “war on women.”
Democrats have used the same charge to highlight Republicans’ systematic attacks on women’s rights, but Romney flipped the claim at a rally last night night, saying, “The real war on women has been the job losses as the result of the Obama economy.” He continued the attack on Fox News this morning, where he repeatedly went out of his way to attack Obama’s record on women:
ROMNEY: Over 92 percent of the jobs lost under this president where lost by women. His policies have been really a war on women. … Women in particular suffered under this presidency. Watch it: http://youtu.be/F7H_FcJifM0
The “92 percent” statistic that Romney cites is highly misleading. For one thing, it attributes to Obama job losses from January 2009 — a terrible month for jobs — before he was even sworn in as president, and long before his policies were enacted. If you count the entirety of the recession beginning in 2007, 39.7 percent of the jobs lost — less than half — were lost by women.
The reason women’s job losses are skewed towards the end of the recession is that the earlier job losses were largely in male-dominated industries such as construction. Women, meanwhile, tend to work in industries that have been hit harder on the back end of the recession, such as education and health care — public sector jobs that have been decimated by GOP austerity budgeting. Princeton University Professor Betsey Stevenson told Politifact that “in every recession men’s job loss occurs first and most, with unemployment rates for men being more cyclical than those of women’s.”
Meanwhile, Obama has enacted policies to help women, like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, designed to help close the pay gap between the genders. This morning, Romney’s campaign wouldn’t say if their candidate supports the law, which was blocked by Senate Republicans. In fact, the campaign couldn’t offer any coherent explanation for how Obama has waged a “war on women” at all.
On health care — which polls show is women’s number one issue, beating even the economy — Obama’s health reform law includes a number of provisions to help women women, such as free preventive services and better access to contraception, both of which were enacted over opposition from Republican lawmakers. Meanwhile, Romney has called for eliminating Planned Parenthood and restricting access to contraception.
Romney’s concern for women is a new development, likely spurred by very bad polling for him, as just last month he told a college student concerned about losing access to her insurance-covered contraception, “vote for the other guy.”
By: Alex Seitz-Wald and Pat Garofalo, Think Progress, April 11, 2012
According to a recent study by the University of California, 93% of income growth since the economic collapse of 2008 has gone to the wealthiest 1% of American households. Just 20 years ago, the amount of national income growth earned by the top 1% was less than half that.
So, if you are a right wing movement and not even you can justify concentrated economic and political power like that, what do you do? Well, you produce a video that celebrates “freedom” and shakes its fists at “tyranny” and you hope that the gullible will think the plutocratic takeover of our country is as American as apple pie.
The video is called “We the People” and it looks like it’s gone viral on the Right, collecting more than six million hits. I saw it because a friend of my wife’s thought it was just great and was sure we would too. Guess she didn’t get the memo!
The video is organized like an open letter to President Obama and its tone is a perfect replication of the gauzy, abstract vernacular of Fox News.
As the narrator informs President Obama, We The People “have stated resolutely we reject your vision for our country.” We The People “have assembled across America resisting your efforts to subvert our constitution and undermine our liberty.”
The video is filled with the sort of Americana that appeals to Sarah Palin’s right wing “real Americans.” As the Battle Hymn of the Republic plays in the background, scenes of Mount Rushmore, the Lincoln Memorial, a saluting Marine, an Apache attack helicopter, the Preamble to the Constitution, American flags, American flags, American flags and more American flags fill the screen. Even a Bald Eagle makes a guest appearance.
The video claims to speak for We the People but its voice is boilerplate Tea Party Republican: “Our greatest treasure is freedom;” “We believe in the power of the individual;” “Freedom is the capacity of self-determination.”
There are also the Thomas Jefferson-like “long train of abuses” hurled at the President: “you have expanded government, violated our Constitution, confounded laws, seized private industry, destroyed jobs, perverted our economy, curtailed free speech, corrupted our currency, weakened our national security, and endangered our sovereignty.”
And this is why, the video’s producers say, “we” are assembling all across this land, so that “we” can deliver “our” message that: “We will not accept tyranny under any guise;” that the redistribution of “the fruits of our labor is Statism and will not be tolerated;” that “We The People will defend our liberty;” and that “we will protect our beloved country and America’s exceptionalism will prevail.”
At first I thought “We the People” was the kind of parody Saturday Night Live might do as a spoof of right wing propaganda. Even its title was laughhable – “We the People” – as if the 70% of We the People don’t exist who think Democrats are right and Republicans are wrong when it comes to such key questions as whether to tax the rich more, to eliminate subsidies for oil companies or to preserve America’s endangered safety net.
But, at the end of the day, it is also disheartening to see how easy it is for the hard work of raising the level of understanding and debate in this country to all go to waste as vacuous, dishonest, manipulative and utterly content-free propaganda like this is produced to bamboozle even very smart people like those who sent us this insulting piece of reactionary performance art.
Then again, given recent experience, why should we be surprised that so many seem impervious to facts and reason or who now see politics as nothing more than brute force and war — a take-no-prisoners, law of the jungle scramble for survival of the fittest?
But I did like the Bald Eagles.
By: Ted Frier, Open Salon, March 31, 2012
If he weren’t so smug, it would almost be possible to feel sorry for Mitt Romney. Beyond the flip-flopping, has any worse actor ever attempted the role of presidential candidate? It’s beyond Romney’s powers to persuade most people of his sincerity about things he does believe, much less the many tenets of contemporary GOP faith he probably doesn’t share — assuming for the sake of argument that anybody, including himself, knows which is which.
There’s little doubt, however, that Romney believes he deserves to be president, in rather the way the fictional Lord Grantham deserves to preside over Downton Abbey. It’s his inability to conceal that sense of entitlement that makes him such an awkward politician.
The candidate’s cringe-inducing attempts to present himself as a Regular Joe almost invariably end in boasting. Campaigning in his native Michigan, he assured voters that his wife drives not just one $50,000 Cadillac, but two — one at their Boston home, the other at their seafront mansion near La Jolla, Calif., as aides subsequently clarified. No word how Mrs. Romney gets around at their New Hampshire lakeside compound or their Park City, Utah, ski palace.
Visiting the Daytona 500, Romney admitted he’s not a keen NASCAR fan, but does have friends who own racing teams. Defending himself on CNN from the perception that his wealth leaves him “out of touch,” he allowed as how, “If people think that there is something wrong with being successful in America, then they better vote for the other guy, because I’ve been extraordinarily successful and I want to use that success and that know-how to help the American people.”
On the “Today” show, Romney explained that people concerned with income inequality are simply jealous. “You know, I think it’s about envy,” he said. “I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on the 99 percent versus 1 percent—and those people who have been most successful will be in the 1 percent — you have opened up a whole new wave of approach in this country, which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.”
Got that, peasants? God’s behind the 13.9 percent tax rate Romney paid on $43 million he earned in 2010 while technically unemployed. Anybody who thinks differently is merely eaten up with resentment. In my experience, the more money people inherit, the more they’re tempted to lecture others about talent and hard work. And to cry the blues about the indignity of paying taxes.
Romney’s air of personal superiority appears to be the one topic about which the poor dork is absolutely sincere. That’s what makes him such a terrible liar. He’s almost frantic with it, like a golden retriever with his ball. Even with the mute button on the TV pressed, you can almost hear him panting.
Look — modest, humble people don’t run for president. President Obama often appears to have trouble restraining his bemusement at the antics of less intelligent people. Nevertheless, Romney’s unrestrained egotism is the reason I think Paul Krugman (among others) has made far too much of an offhand remark the candidate made seemingly renouncing the central tenet of GOP economic dogma.
“If you just cut, if all you’re thinking about doing is cutting [government] spending,” Romney told a group of Michigan voters, “as you cut spending you’ll slow down the economy.”
Well, no kidding.
To Krugman, Romney’s slip of the tongue revealed him as a “closet Keynesian” who “believes that cutting government spending hurts growth, other things equal.” The columnist added that, after all, “Mr. Romney is not a stupid man. And while his grasp of world affairs does sometimes seem shaky, he has to be aware of the havoc austerity policies are wreaking in Greece, Ireland and elsewhere.”
Oh no he doesn’t.
Or, to be more precise, Romney can be perfectly aware and blithely unconcerned. Krugman left off the next sentence where Romney stipulated that cutting spending alone wasn’t enough. “You have to, at the same time, create pro-growth tax policies.”
Translation: even lower taxes for multimillionaires.
But I’d never presume to argue economics with professor Krugman. My point is that Romney’s tycoon capitalism has only partly to do with jobs, money and the real economy. It’s also about cultural revanchism, putting the right people back firmly in charge and the lower orders back in their place.
Tycoon capitalists like Romney see a prolonged slump as an opportunity to render the workforce more docile and grateful. Remember, this is the same guy who opposed government loans to save Chrysler and General Motors. Better to crush the Auto Workers Union. Who said the best way to resolve the national foreclosure crisis would be to speed it up, so that “investors” could buy people’s houses cheaply and rent them out.
In the end, it’s all about No. 1.
By: Gene Lyons, Salon, February 29, 2012