Monday, September 5, 2011

Something on Labor

So the President is going to yabber about "Jobs" now that Labor Day is upon us, and the general consensus is that he has to Go Big -- whatever that means -- or... he's done. Or maybe not, because if the Rs nominate someone as batshit as Perry or Bachmann (or how about both on the same ticket?) of course Americans will have to choose Obama because he might be a disappointing Hooverite, but he's not crazy.

The Obama administration set its labor policy back in its earliest days and shows no sign whatsoever of changing it from the languid indifference to the plight of the unemployed they have always shown. As long as management and the Owners are happy with the unemployment level as it is, there it will stay, as it has for years now.

Until Mitt Romney started campaigning on Obama's left wrt to "jobs", no one in the Obama administration evinced the least bit of interest in -- let alone concern about -- the astronomical unemployment rate. I think it was Larry Summers who opined that there was "nothing to be done about it." Unemployment was an act of God as far as the administration was concerned, and the only thing they were willing to do about it is extend unemployment benefits. Even though half or more of the unemployed at any given time do not qualify for any benefits at all. Then let them go bankrupt, and go on welfare. Psst: there isn't any welfare anymore; psst: bankruptcy is a very expensive and difficult process thanks to Joe Biden, et al. The it is just too bad for them; there is nothing to be done about it.

It was really shocking to me when it became clear that was their policy. They would save certain industries (auto production, banking) and they would support a certain level of state and local government services, but there would be no substantive jobs program. Period. End of discussion. You're on your own, sucker.

Almost as bad from my point of view was the fact that such labor unions as there still are generally caved to whatever demands were made of them "so that there won't have to be any more layoffs." Wages were cut, typically 10% to 15%, though often by much more than that, in both the public and the private sector. Benefits were reduced, and employees were required to pay more for reduced benefits. Pensions became an employer and media hot button, as every trick in the book was used to try to reduce or eliminate pensions for soon-to-retire (and in some cases already retired) employees.

Unions typically went along with all of this and more.

We saw in Wisconsin that the only line in the sand the public employee unions would draw was over collective bargaining rights. They had already conceded to the monetary demands of the governor. But they wanted to be able to hold on to the bargaining rights they'd won a generation before. And they lost. They had already conceded on pay and benefits anyway. Without a fight.

I've seen this happen with public employee unions time and again. They concede on pay and benefits, holding out for something symbolic but relatively minor, sometimes turning it into a big fight, and then... they lose. They take what they are eventually offered, which is sometimes less than they were originally offered.

One has to question the point of a union if the leadership will consistently concede to management demands, leaving the rank and file with a take it or leave it choice, either to do what management says or get nothing at all.

It's little wonder there are so few union members any more. Too often unions don't work for the members. Their leaderships are collaborationists with management.

This has not been a good decade -- or two or three or more -- for the working people of this country. Wages have remained stagnant or declined, despite enormous gains in productivity. Workers are saddled with debt and two (or more) earners in a household are required just to stay in place. Private sector retirement plans are a sick joke; public sector retirement plans are under fierce attacks from all sides. Costs for medical insurance have skyrocketed, working conditions have deteriorated, and since the advent of the Permanent Recession, endless concessions are demanded and gained from those who can still hold on to any employment at all, while the owners and management make out like bandits.

More and more and more is demanded of a shrinking labor force in this country, while any job that can be is uprooted and sent overseas.

The capitalist class is busily disinvesting from the USA, dismissing its workforce, and essentially abandoning the nation to its fate.

And so the President is going to yap about "jobs" -- more free trade and patent reform, yay! -- and nothing will change for the better.


I will say this: when Welfare As We Know It ended under Clinton, there was a tradeoff. If people were going to be thrown off the dole, then there had to be jobs for them, immediately. Sure enough, in most cases, former adult welfare recipients were able to find jobs that had never been there before. It was amazing. Now, however, there is so much discrimination against workers over 50, the long term unemployed, women, minorities, the young, and so on, that finding a job at all, at any pay/benefit level, is nearly impossible except in the upper reaches of the labor pool -- and even then it is difficult.

Yet at the same time, support for the unemployed is disappearing. This situation ought to be volatile, but for some reason, yet to be fully explored, it isn't. Workers are resigned to their lot -- at least they act that way -- while owners and managers continue to live higher on the hog than ever before.

Strikes don't work any more. They're ignored. Scabs are brought in, or jobs held by strikers are disappeared. Protest doesn't work. Protests are ignored or disabled through strategy. Divide and conquer. A general strike might work, at least to get the attention of the Plutocracy, but so far no calls for a general strike have been honored, and no union will actively promote it -- illegal, don't you know.

We need a new and different labor movement, one that combines the interests workers across all the barriers that now keep labor in separate pools often working at cross purposes.

But in order for that to happen, workers have to take charge of their own fate, and that day may be a long time coming.

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