Making Labor Pay

From Dollars and Sense: http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2012/0912sciacchitano.html

Recent battles in Wisconsin and San Jose show why we need universal pensions.

By Katherine Sciacchitano

This article is from the September/October 2012 issue of Dollars & Sense magazine.

The political economy of the recovery is making the United States even more unequal than it was during the bubble years. Incomes fell across the board during the crisis: median family income is 6.3% below what it was in 2001. But the top 1% garnered 93% of income growth in the first year of recovery. Housing, still the main source of wealth for middle-income families, remains depressed while stocks are close to pre-crash highs. Moreover, the drive for more tax cuts for the wealthy continues. And policy initiatives to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid would weaken the safety net even as it is most needed.

A spate of attacks on state and local public-sector pensions now threatens to make inequality even more entrenched and painful, and to undermine both short- and long-term economic growth.

The power of labor is dead center in this agenda. Despite a long-term decline in workers covered by union contracts, unions have over 16 million members: they are still the social force most capable of combating the assault on workers’ incomes and militating for greater equality. Crippling their political power therefore remains both a tactical and a strategic objective on the right. With only 6.9% of workers in the private sector covered by union contracts, versus 37% in the public sector, public-sector unions are bearing the brunt of the attacks. And public pensions are the battering ram.

Attacking Unions, Eroding Pensions

The trip wire for the assault on pensions was the combined fall in state and local revenues from the bursting of the housing bubble, and the steep losses suffered by pension funds during the resulting stock market slide of 2007-2009: by 2010 there were widely acknowledged public pension funding shortfalls totaling nearly $800 billion

While pension funds are slowly making back market losses, conservative advocates like Andrew Biggs at the American Enterprise Institute are arguing for new measures of shortfalls that would bring them to over $4 trillion, and using this $4 trillion figure to call for a national movement to slash both public-sector pensions and union rights. The implicit threat is that taxpayers will have to pay these trillions now and into the future, even though they themselves may not have pensions. The stated policy objective is to convince taxpayers and politicians that defined benefit pensions are too expensive in the public sector and should be replaced with defined contribution plans.

Defined benefit pensions are a form of deferred compensation—pay for work performed; they provide guaranteed lifetime payments in retirement. Defined-contribution plans give workers tax breaks for individual savings; workers invest these savings and then pray they don’t run out. Over the past three decades, defined benefit pensions have been nearly eradicated in the private sector for non-union workers; their abandonment in the public sector would effectively end defined benefit pensions as a norm for retirement security and shift the burden of retirement savings almost entirely to individuals.

Continue reading at:  http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2012/0912sciacchitano.html

Walmart Workers Issue Black Friday Ultimatum

UK to Use Slave Labor in Hospitals

From Gaia Health:  http://gaia-health.com/gaia-blog/2012-05-21/uk-to-use-slave-labor-in-hospitals/

by Heidi Stevenson
May 21, 2012

The next time you’re in a hospital, how would you like to have your food brought to you by a slave laborer? If you’re in the UK, you may find out, because slave labor has already been trialed in one hospital, and is about to become standard practice there.

The Guardian reports that the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust (SWBHT), a part of the National Health Service (NHS) piloted the program with six unemployed people in consultation with the union. The trust stated that the type of work included:

… general tidying, welcoming visitors, serving drinks to patients, running errands, reading to patients and assisting with feeding patients.

… and justifies it with the statement:

We are situated in a deprived area with high unemployment and we think it is important to help get people back into work. The project gave participants the opportunity to gain confidence, training and experience, under supervision.

So why don’t they simply hire them? You know, the old-fashioned way of getting employees.

Continue reading at:  http://gaia-health.com/gaia-blog/2012-05-21/uk-to-use-slave-labor-in-hospitals/


Rewriting the Rules of the Global Economy – Creating Economics That Improve People’s Lives

From Truth Out:  http://truth-out.org/news/item/8526-rewriting-the-rules-of-the-global-economy-creating-economics-that-improve-peoples-lives

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell, Other Worlds
Saturday, 14 April 2012

Rather than having these people inside the Beltway be the experts on the issue… we ask: How can we empower the people who are actually affected by the issues to be the spokespeople?” – Deborah James

Ask just about anyone about the “99%” these days and, regardless of how they feel about the Occupy movement, they’ll probably acknowledge the increasing concentration of wealth and power that the past few decades have brought. Occupy has successfully propelled issues of inequality and corporate control to mainstream consciousness, here in the belly of the beast, in the nation that has been pivotal to defining the world economic system.

The current popular US dissent over the extreme concentration of wealth and the marginalization of the voices of the majority has long precursors in US social movements. The farmers’ movements of the 1870s, the populist movement of the 1890s, the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) and other militant labor unions from the dawn of the 20th Century through the 1950s, the civil rights and Black, Chicano, and Native nationalist movements from the 1960s on, and many other social movements… all have been rooted in calls for a more equitable division of power and economic resources. Parallel struggles, in many different forms, have occurred throughout the world.

The global justice movement, also known as the anti-globalization movement, exploded around the global South in the 1980s, when new draconian reforms demanded by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), as conditions for loans, destroyed national economies and the lives of those within them. The World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999 and the World Bank and IMF meetings in Washington in 2000, when hundreds of thousands of residents of the US and Europe turned out into the streets to protest the trade and financial regimes, marked something new: active alliance from the global North. Since then, organized populations everywhere have worked in their own countries and transnationally to subvert the rules of the global economy, where the wealthiest citizens, corporations, and counties make the decisions for all of us. The people’s movements have reminded us that economic globalization, which we are told is the only possible economic order, only commenced at the end of World War II, and that we do not have to accept it as it currently exists.

Those who are flooding streets today in Spain, Portugal, and Greece, and the millions who have preceded them around the world, all posit an alternative vision for economies: that they be just, that they provide for all without exploitation, that they place the well-being of human beings and the environment over profit, and that everyone gets to be part of shaping them. They believe that economic relationships should be driven by our desire to nurture each other and our communities, not by the competition and greed often underlying the corporate market. And they have won dramatic victories.

Continue reading at:  http://truth-out.org/news/item/8526-rewriting-the-rules-of-the-global-economy-creating-economics-that-improve-peoples-lives

Posted in Economic Issues, Employment, Uncategorized. Comments Off

The Walmartization of America Redux: How the Relentless Drive for Cheap Stuff Undermines Our Economy, Bankrupts Our Soul, and Pillages the Planet

From Common Dreams:   http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/16-4

by John Atcheson
Published on Friday, December 16, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

If you want to know why the middle class disappeared and where they went, look no further than your local Walmart.  People walked in for the low prices, and walked out with a pile of cheap stuff, but in a figurative sense, they left their wages, jobs, and dignity on the cutting room floor of the House of Cheap.

Welcome to the logical end point of Reagonomics.  Welcome to Ayn Rand’s nightmare vision of morality, where we know the price of everything but the value of nothing; where predatory behavior is celebrated and the notion of community is blasphemy.

In his excellent documentary, Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price, Robert Greenwald carefully documents how Walmart’s giant box stores lower wages across the entire retail sector, impose high social and economic costs on the states and communities in which they operate, and destroy local businesses.

Yet the low prices – which come at such a high cost – are irresistible to American consumers.  Walmart has virtually cornered the retail market and amassed astounding wealth in the process.

But it’s not just Walmart.  Big box stores now rule across the board in the US retail economy in everything from electronics to pet supplies. And it’s not just retail. The entire US economy is now organized around the notion that getting us cheap stuff – the more the better – is the sine qua non of economic policy.

There was a time when corporations understood that paying their employees a living wage had economic and societal benefits.  Henry Ford famously said he wanted his employees to be able to afford to buy the cars they made and launched six decades of prosperity.

Continue reading at:   http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/12/16-4

Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Kids Struggle on the Streets

From ABC NEWS:    http://abcnews.go.com/Health/national-report-16-million-youth-homeless-experts-40/story?id=15147566&singlePage=true#.TuflPPLrHA6

Dec. 13, 2011
Tiffany “LIFE” Cocco has been homeless for seven years, living on park benches, stoops and New York City’s A train.

Her parents died of AIDS in the 1980s and so Cocco was raised by an aunt and uncle who disapproved of how she dressed and led her life — as a lesbian.

“I was kicked out of the house at 15,” said Cocco, a poet whose chosen middle name means “literary, intelligent, forward, engaged.”

She dropped out of high school after being bullied, rebelled and was forced to keep her sexuality a secret. Cocco slipped into a depression so deep she nearly killed herself on an overdose of pain killers, NyQuil and Tylenol PM.

“I didn’t trust anyone at all,” said Cocco, who is now 24. “I tried to tell myself I was strong, but deep down inside I was falling apart.”

A report released this week by the National Center on Family Homelessness, “America’s Youngest Outcasts,” finds one in 45 American children 18 and under — 1.6 million — live on the street, in homeless shelters, motels or with other families last year.

Continue reading at:   http://abcnews.go.com/Health/national-report-16-million-youth-homeless-experts-40/story?id=15147566&singlePage=true#.TuflPPLrHA6

Why I Voted No on the Deficit Deal

From Reader Supported News:  http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/279-82/6911-why-i-voted-no-on-the-deficit-deal

By Sen. Bernie Sanders, Reader Supported News
05 August 11

$2.5 trillion deficit-reduction deal brokered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, and President Barack Obama is grotesquely unfair. It also is bad economic policy. In the midst of a terrible recession, it will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

At a time when the wealthiest people in this country are doing extremely well, and when their effective tax rate is the lowest in decades, the rich won’t contribute one penny more for deficit reduction. When corporate profits are soaring and many giant corporations avoid federal income taxes because of obscene loopholes in the tax code, corporate America will not be asked to contribute one penny more for deficit reduction. On the other hand, working families, children, the sick and the elderly – many of whom are already suffering because of the recession – will shoulder the entire burden.

The corporate media – which, by and large, covered this debate as if it were a baseball game with political “winners and losers” – mostly glossed over the real-life implications of $917 billion in cuts over the next 10 years. Nobody can predict exactly what programs will fall under the knife or say how much they will be cut. Those decisions will be made over the coming months and years by the appropriations committees. But here’s what’s at stake:

  • At a time when there are long waiting lists for affordable childcare and Head Start, it is likely that these programs will be cut significantly.
  • At a time when the United States is falling further and further behind other countries in the quality of our education, it is likely that tens of thousands of teachers and school personnel will be laid off.
  • At a time when working families are finding it harder to send their kids to college, it is likely that there will be cuts in federal student aid programs.
  • At a time when hunger among seniors and children is rising, it is likely that there will be cuts in various nutrition programs.
  • At a time when 50 million Americans have no health insurance and many of them are utilizing community health centers for their medical needs, it is likely that there will be cuts in primary healthcare.
  • At a time when states, cities and towns already laid off over 500,000 public service employees, it is likely that there will be even more police and firefighter layoffs and large reductions in federal support for roads, bridges, water quality, sewage and public transportation.

That’s just for starters. There likely will be cuts in home heating assistance, affordable housing, support for family-based agriculture, and research in finding cures for cancer and other diseases. There likely will be major staffing reductions in agencies charged with protecting the physical health and economic well-being of our people. It is quite likely that the EPA, which enforces clean water and clean air rules, will be cut. The Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates Wall Street, will be undermined. It is also very possible that the Social Security Administration, which assures that seniors and the disabled receive the benefits to which they are entitled in a timely manner, will also be cut.

That is just the first round of $900 billion in cuts.

In the second phase of the $2.5 trillion package, sweeping new powers are given to a 12-member, evenly-divided House and Senate super committee. The panel’s mandate is to look at every federal government program and come up with $1.5 trillion more in savings. With Republicans and an increasing number of Democrats calling for major cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, all of those programs will be in jeopardy.

If the committee is unable to agree, cuts will happen anyway. A sequestration process would require $500 billion in cuts to defense spending and $500 billion more in across-the-board cuts to domestic discretionary spending. In that scenario, Social Security, Medicare benefits and Medicaid would be spared, but even more draconian cuts would occur in programs that sustain working families.

There is a great irony in all this. The deficit deal does exactly the opposite of what the American people wanted. In poll after poll, the American people said they believe in shared sacrifice. Instead of putting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education and environmental protection on the chopping block, overwhelming majorities say the best way to reduce the deficit is to end tax breaks for the wealthy, big oil, and Wall Street and take a hard look at military spending. What President Obama and Congress did, however was to let the wealthy and large corporations contribute nothing while making major reductions in services for working families and the most vulnerable people in our country.

Enough is enough! The American people must fight back. We need a government which represents all the people, not just the wealthy, campaign contributors and lobbyists. In these tough and discouraging times, despair is not an option. This fight is not just for us, it is for our children and grandchildren and for the environmental survival of the planet.

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