Monday, September 5, 2011

Once a Year Speeches Do Not Mean Support for Workers

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Today is Monday, September 5, 2011. Since it is the first Monday of September, it is the national holiday known as Labor Day. Supposedly, it is the day when our politicians and pundits proclaim their unrelenting love for all things worker related - even as they spend the other 364 days a year doing all in their power to destroy the lives of workers by cutting salaries, limiting benefits. Just today, the Washington Post's Robert Samuelson had a column decrying the state of labor in the US:

On this Labor Day, there is little good news about labor. We have entered a long period of crushing unemployment and downward pressure on wages that may well transform the nation’s economic and political landscape. There was no job growth in August, and the overall numbers are stupefying: 14 million unemployed; nearly 9 million part-time workers wanting full-time jobs; 6.5 million who want jobs but have given up looking and are, therefore, not counted in the official labor force. People are only gradually recognizing the magnitude of the problem.


It’s not only the jobless who will be affected. No one has yet repealed the law of supply and demand. At last count, there were 4.5 unemployed workers for every job opening. Bargaining power has shifted from labor to capital. Sure, some workers will get promotions and seniority raises. Otherwise, gains will be slim. Since September 2008, annual wage and salary increases have averaged 1.6 percent, the slowest pace in 30 years, reports EPI’s Lawrence Mishel.


Still, the harshest effects of joblessness fall on the jobless. “We’re creating a bifurcated society,” worries Harvard economist Lawrence Katz. “We’re talking about a lost generation of younger workers and displaced workers.” Younger workers have a harder time starting careers. Because many skills are developed on the job, long unemployment spells can lower lifetime earnings. The same is true of older workers. Even when those who lose stable jobs get new work, they often suffer a 20 percent earnings loss for 15 years or more, reports economist Till von Wachter of Columbia University.
I find it somewhat interesting that Samuelson felt the need to write his column given how many times over the years he has extolled the death of unions, called for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and called for leaving the minimum wage age at $5.15 per hour. As I noted here, trying to do much more than survive on minimum wage for one person is not really possible and that's when it is at today's $7.25 an hour.

Some folks in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania did actually tell anti-worker/anti-union politicians that they were not welcome at some local Labor Day parades and celebrations (although the folks in Wisconsin may have backed down from their initial non-invitation - I hope the folks in Wausau do have plenty of rotten tomatoes available for their oh so poor US Representative who cant make ends meet on $174K per year.)

Now I realize that to some folks there is no equating the attack on Unions as an attack on individual workers. Yet all those benefits that are available to individual workers are there precisely because of the unions. Whether it is the eight hour day/forty hour work week or paid sick time or worker safety, it is the action of unions that led to these worker benefits available to all. While recognizing that "correlation does not equal causation," the flatness of wages in the US since the '70s has at least been a companion to the attacks on unions. CEO and senior executive salaries have exploded while the wages for workers have gone down.

On this Labor Day 2011, we have millions of long term un and underemployed. In an economy that has to create roughly 90K jobs per month to stay even, August 2011 had zero jobs in total. Businesses are profitable so the economy appears to be growing even as the underside of the economy gets larger. Self-employed individuals are not counted among the unemployed nor are new graduates. State and local governments are cutting jobs while those folks with jobs worry that their jobs will be gone tomorrow..

This Thursday evening, President Obama is scheduled to give a speech to Congress on jobs. Yet for all the vaunted interest in creating jobs that has supposedly captured the attention of the Beltway Village Idiots Politicians, Pundits, and Courtiers (finally), all the proposals likely to receive attention are warmed over re-hashes of previously failed policies. Massive tax cuts in place since 2001 have not created jobs so why would further tax cuts create job? Regulations and taxes do not stifle small businesses yet we continue to hear how all regulations must be done away with in order for small businesses to thrive.

Short sighted actions by politicians and global businesses will eventually be their downfall. It would almost be fun to watch it happen if it weren't causing so much pain and suffering for all the world.

And because I can:

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