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Category Archives: Labor

Hazel Dickens, R.I.P. 1935-2011

Hazel Dickens, folk singer extraordinaire, has passed away at the age of 75. Renowned for her sharp, high-pitched singing voice that ran through the ears of many workers, as well as fans of folk and country music, she died of complications from pneumonia. Dickens added several magnificent tracks, and made a brief appearance during the funeral scene, in John Sayles’s masterpiece “Matewan,” which was set in her native West Virginia.

For an excellent obituary from John Pietaro and his terrific blog The Cultural Worker, go here.

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Maine, National Efforts to Roll Back Child Labor Laws

Much attention has rightly been devoted to recent orders by Governor Paul LePage to remove murals and the names of figures such as FDR Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins (the first woman to hold that position) from the Maine Department of Labor office. These represent nothing short of an attack on working-class culture and people’s historical memories, as well as just how extensive the right’s assaults on workers and their rights have become. Yet legislative efforts in Maine and around the nation extend even beyond these attacks, and now include broad efforts to roll back protections for another group of workers–children–whose history of exploitation in the US is well established, and the images of which were ironically removed from the Maine labor murals.

From Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress:

Maine State Rep. David Burns is the latest of many Republican lawmakers concerned that employers aren’t allowed to do enough to exploit child workers:

LD 1346 suggests several significant changes to Maine’s child labor law, most notably a 180-day period during which workers under age 20 would earn $5.25 an hour.

The state’s current minimum wage is $7.50 an hour.

Rep. David Burns, R-Whiting, is sponsoring the bill, which also would eliminate the maximum number of hours a minor over 16 can work during school days.

Burns’ bill is particularly insidious, because it directly encourages employers to hire children or teenagers instead of adult workers. Because workers under 20 could be paid less than adults under this GOP proposal, minimum wage workers throughout Maine would likely receive a pink slip as their twentieth birthday present so that their boss could replace them with someone younger and cheaper.

And Burns is just one of many prominent Republicans who believe that America’s robust protections against the exploitation of children are wrongheaded:

Republicans’ contempt for workers is hardly news. GOP governors throughout the country have declared war on collective bargaining, and the national minimum wage remained stagnant for nearly a decade the last time Republicans controlled Congress. Nevertheless, the GOP’s increasingly widespread assaults on child labor laws is a significant escalation from their longstanding war on adult workers.

There are no bounds to the shame of this. If anyone disagrees, please ask yourself whether or not you wish your children to work longer hours, in tougher conditions, for less than the minimum wage, and at an earlier age. Such bills would literally turn back child labor and aspects of labor law back a century.

–Jason Kozlowski

 

SEIU Informational Picket Monday, April 4 and Tuesday, April 5

Courtesy of Ricky Baldwin of SEIU Local 73:

TWO PICKETS IN TWO DAYS:

SEIU Picket for A Fair Contract
Monday April 4 at 7:30AM-9AM
FAR (Florida Ave Res Hall, 1001 College Court)
(We’ll meet with the mediator one more time for Food Service, 9AM-5PM, to see what they have to offer.)

SEIU Picket for A Fair Contract
Tuesday April 5 at 7:30AM-9AM
FAR (Florida Ave Res Hall, 1001 College Court)
(We’ll meet with the mediator one more time for Building Service, 9AM, to try to work out a contract without walking out.)

Join our union sisters and brothers of SEIU Local 73 fighting for a fair contract with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

–Jason Kozlowski

 

Stiglitz and the Disconnect in Discourses on Political Economy

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote a good column in Politico March 28 detailing why he refused to sign on to the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Commission recommendations, which he characterizes as a “near-suicide pact” for our economic future. It is well worth reading, and I won’t recount all the details here. Rather, I’d like to discuss several points that he brings up, and a couple he did not, that reveal both the depths of our current economic and political crisis (and this stagnation is indeed every bit as political as it is economic) and the growing chasm between sound, reasonable economic policy prescriptions on the one hand, including from a highly respected economist, and major segments of both political parties and their backers on the right on the other hand. In sum, what Stiglitz proposes is increasing taxes on the wealthiest citizens who, as he rightly says, are the one class “in the country that has prospered for the last decade,” in order to stimulate the economy and reduce the growing, yawning gap between rich and poor.

Why this proposal? Because the top 1% of Americans haul in over 25% of all income–to say nothing of the vast majority of assets they control. This concentration of wealth at the top stifles economic growth in our consumerist society and at the same time disincentivizes business investment in employment and infrastructure. On broader infrastructure, Stiglitz frames his argument in terms that would, in theory, attract pro-business people and interests by contending that significant opportunities exist for businesses, government, and people alike through a renewed focus on our long-ignored infrastructure:

Years of underinvestment in the public sector—in infrastructure, education and technology—mean that there are ample high-return opportunities. Tax revenues generated by the higher short- and long-term growth will more than pay the low interest costs, implying significant reductions in deficits. Any firm that could borrow at terms similar to those available to the U.S., and with such high return projects, would be foolish to pass up the opportunity.

While he immediately shifts his arguments to cover taxes, certainly vital to rectifying the flagging American (and global) economy, Stiglitz’s proposal has clear implications and benefits for workers that he should have accentuated. Such projects have enormous potential to employ people for years to come in both the private and public sectors, across scores of occupations. They can improve areas of our economy and society that segments across the political spectrum agree have been blatantly, dangerously overlooked, even if they differ on some of the reasons and what recommendations for remedies they have.

That public works, as just one aspect of a more expansive investment in broadly construed economic infrastructure such as schools, telecommunications especially public-access Internet, in addition to bridges, roads, levees, and more, does not receive far greater focus for economic and employment growth is in good part a testament to attacks from the right wing on the legacy of the New Deal. While the New Deal did not end the Great Depression (which had multiple phases including one in the late 1930s that economists such as Paul Krugman argue returned in force because of reduced government jobs investments), its aggregate programs did reduce unemployment, ameliorate the worst effects of the crisis for millions, spur vast economic investments in infrastructure, and importantly construct what became a fairly expansive social safety net encompassing labor rights, modest long-term economic and social security for the at-risk, and more. Some form of New Deal-like spending and programs are just what the US needs, but is exactly where politicians and political discourse will not go.

Nor have there been any serious discussions or efforts in mainstream political circles to implement another of Stiglitz’s proposals–reducing the deficit through reductions in the country’s vast military expenditures including two enduring wars and occupations. Says Stiglitz:

The Cold War ended more than two decades ago, but we continue to spend tens of billions on weapons that don’t work against enemies that don’t exist. Fruitless wars have not increased our security and our military’s credibility. Rather, they have undermined both.

One could certainly include in this analysis the vast sums Americans through their tax dollars spend on a more privatized system increasingly dominated by contractors. Yet asking crucial questions about the efficacy, need, and cost-effectiveness of steering hundreds of billions of dollars into this privatized, largely unaccountable, and under-regulated contractor system is off the political radar.

Stiglitz concludes with a critique of the vast web of corporate tax loopholes that deprive the treasury of hundreds of billions every year. It is hard to describe just how out of control the problem of corporate tax avoidance has become, but Allison Kilkenny did an admirable job in her piece in The Nation. How bad has corporate tax avoidance become? Kilkenny writes that two-thirds of US corporations, frequently dubbed “job creators” in right-wing circles despite profit levels of about $1.659 trillion in the third quarter of 2010, pay no federal taxes, with many profitable corporations actually receiving rebates. These include banks, such as Bank of America, which received back $1 billion despite having already taken $45 billion from American taxpayers as part of an enormous bailout of investment banks.

Yet what dominates right-wing circles and much of mainstream discourse is not just an utter avoidance of these long-standing problems, but is an attack on workers’ union and political rights, and threats to shut down the federal government should the right wing not receive sufficient cuts in social spending for what they derisively term “entitlement programs.” This is despite some steep cuts that President Obama’s budget has already proposed, including to cut heating assistance for elderly and low-income citizens, and community service block grants.

In sum, attacks on everyday people through austerity prescriptions, while the wealthy have never been wealthier or more financially distant from everyday people in America, hold political sway over sober, moderate assessments from award-winning economists like Stiglitz who have long studied such problems and their ramifications. Without effective, countervailing arguments and proposals among our political leaders, and popular pressure to support such, it appears unlikely that our nation will anytime soon bridge this gap between the needs and wants of most Americans living day-to-day on the economic and political margins on the one side, and the power of few, wealthiest Americans who dominate our bleak landscape on the other.

–Jason Kozlowski

(Note and Disclosure: The similarity between this post’s title and that of the AlterPolitics post to which I linked in the text is strictly coincidental. In fact, I was unaware of it until I searched for some good references to Republicans’ more frequently employing the term “job creators” recently to refer to the business community as a whole. In fact, the post to which I refer is much more economics-oriented than mine, is quite good and worth reading in its own right.)

(Additional Note: Kilkenny has a strong article at truthout that makes strong connections between the country’s infrastructure, political economy, and the recent tragedies in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in Japan. Read it here. This makes tax policy and infrastructure issues all the more prescient.)

 

Recent Labor Hour Shows Available

Thanks for reading, everyone. Various things that have kept me quite busy have also, unfortunately, kept me away from actively blogging in the last couple weeks. That will change, however, with a spate of posts on myriad labor, economic, and political items to come today.

This one includes links for a couple recent shows. The March 19 show features an interview with Leighton Christiansen, a GEO activist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who has twice visited Madison during the height of the protests, and whose excellent, stirring observations of life in the capitol rotunda I posted here on March 1. The March 26 show featured a discussion of and materials related to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which occurred 100 years ago on March 25, 1911. I read a stirring, first-hand account by William Shepard. Thanks to WEFT factotum, blues mavne, and all-around good guy Bob Paleczny, Illinois World Labor Hour shows are archived at http://www.radio4all.net.

Be sure to tune in to the Illinois World Labor Hour every Saturday at 11 a.m. CT to WEFT 90.1 FM Champaign, IL, also available online at www.weft.org.

–Jason Kozlowski