Category: From Harold Meyerson

NAFTA Negotiators Send Corporate Whiners Back to Swamp

Leo W. Gerard

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

Giant corporations, loyal to coin and faithless to country, staged a public display of blubbering in the run up to this week’s fourth round of negotiations to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Whaa, whaaa, whaaaa, groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sniveled into the swamp from which they crawled to conduct their press conferences. President Trump isn’t doing what corporations want, they wailed.

The President’s trade priorities, which he repeatedly stated on the campaign trail, do not include groveling to the whims and whining of corporations or their toady, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. President Trump said he would create good, American jobs. To do that, he wants more stuff made in America and less stuff made in factories off-shored by greed-motivated American corporations. 

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Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, Candidates in the Age of Anxiety

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson Editor-at-Large, The American Prospect

One of the mysteries attending the eclipse of the political center and the rise of left and right, both in the United States and in Europe, is why it has taken so many by surprise. When economies fundamentally alter their course, to the detriment of most, a radical shift in nations’ politics — for both better and worse — shouldn’t be so astounding, particularly when an economy’s dysfunctions have been clear for many years.

The United States’ economic dysfunctions have been apparent for decades: The decline of manufacturing, which provided middle-income jobs to millions, and the burgeoning of the low-wage service sector were visibly underway by the 1980s. So, too, was the shrinking of unions, and with it, the ability of workers to bargain with their employers. By now, it’s clear that long-held beliefs about how an economy works — for instance, that declining unemployment should be accompanied by higher wages — need to be altered, or at least qualified. Since the depth of the Great Recession, in 2009, the unemployment rate has been cut nearly in half, but despite its decline over the past year to roughly 5 percent, wages haven’t budged, while median income and the rate of poverty, according to Tuesday’s Census Bureau report, have remained unchanged. A different litany of economic woes vexes most European nations, but on both sides of the Atlantic the belief that the economy generally produces broadly shared prosperity has been shaken, if not shattered.

Under these conditions, voters respond, and should respond, to political leaders who offer compelling explanations and solutions for the harsher economic realities. They respond to those who identify the culprits behind their troubles and say how they’ll diminish their sway. That’s why Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have connected with millions of voters, and why politicians who haven’t gauged the depth of voters’ anger over the economy’s betrayal of their prospects and expectations have failed to connect.

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A Democratic Socialist Campaign? It’s About Time

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson Editor-at-Large, The American Prospect

A Democratic Socialist Campaign? It’s About Time

Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign is the first such effort by a democratic socialist since Norman Thomas waged the last of his six such campaigns on the Socialist Party ticket in 1948.

It’s about time.

Historically, the role of the two great American socialist standard-bearers Eugene Debs and Thomas, and such socialist members of Congress as Meyer London and Ronald Dellums, was to advance ideas that their progressive compatriots were sometimes able to enact — partially — years or decades later, or that later were transformed into common sense. Running for president in 1904, Debs campaigned for the eight-hour workday, social insurance and women’s suffrage. Representing New York’s Lower East Side in Congress during the 1910s, London introduced legislation to create paid maternity leave, something Congress still has yet to get around to. In 1942, Thomas was virtually the only prominent American to publicly oppose the internment of Japanese Americans.

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A Trade Deal at What Cost?

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson Editor-at-Large, The American Prospect

A Trade Deal at What Cost?

So what gives with the American people? Don’t they realize, as my colleague Charles Krauthammer argued last week, “that free trade is advantageous to both sides”?

The sides to which Krauthammer referred, of course, are nations. But perhaps those who’ve experienced such free-trade consequences as factory closings and lower-paying jobs are thinking about two entirely different sides — capital and labor. Trade promoters cite David Ricardo’s 200-year-old assessments of trade’s benefits to nations, but skeptics can mine a rich vein of mainstream economics that demonstrates how trade deals can, and frequently do, benefit major investors at workers’ expense.

As a letter to The Post noted this week, future Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson wrote in 1955 that, under free trade, “national product would go up, but the relative and absolute share of labor might go down.” More pointedly still, another Nobel laureate, Bertil Ohlin, showed that as a result of trade, a nation’s workers could see their wages decline even if none of them lost their jobs.

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Germany Shows the Way on Labor

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson Editor-at-Large, The American Prospect

Germany Shows the Way on Labor

“Policy,” says David Rolf, the Seattle union official chiefly responsible for the first successful campaigns for a $15 minimum wage, “is just frozen power.” By which measure, the problem with U.S. trade policy for the past quarter-century is that it reflects the growing imbalance of power between investors, able to profit from global markets, and workers, who have lost the institutions that once enabled them to improve or at least maintain their jobs and incomes.

Beyond question, the entry of China, India and the former Soviet bloc into the world labor market has exerted downward pressure on jobs and wages throughout the advanced industrial world. In the United States, that pressure has been particularly intense and widespread. As one paper published last year in the Review of Economics and Statistics concluded, U.S. workers forced out of their jobs by globalization between 1984 and 2002 saw their wages decline by between 12 percent and 17 percent. And that was before the full weight of Chinese competition descended on American manufacturing and an additional 55,000-plus U.S. factories shuttered their gates.

But globalization has not had so grim an aspect in every advanced economy. Like the United States, Germany is home to a large number of iconic manufacturers — Volkswagen, Daimler, Siemens, to name a few — that have factories all over the world. Yet Germany frequently has the world’s largest trade surplus while the United States perennially runs the world’s largest trade deficit. More remarkably, German manufacturing workers make a good deal more than their American peers: Their hourly compensation averaged $46 in 2012, $10 more than the U.S. average, according to a Labor Department survey.

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The AFL-CIO Is on Sound Political Ground to Push for Wage Increases

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson Editor-at-Large, The American Prospect

“Raising wages is the single standard by which leadership will be judged,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka announced Wednesday at the federation’s conference unveiling labor’s political agenda. To that end, he said, the AFL-CIO would launch projects this year in the four states that hold the first four presidential primaries and caucuses of 2016 — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — as a way to make presidential candidates spell out exactly what they would do to boost Americans’ increasingly anemic wages.

The focus on wages is hardly new to U.S. labor, of course. In 1996, Trumka’s predecessor as federation president, John Sweeney, co-authored a book with David Kusnet titled “America Needs a Raise.” Since Sweeney’s book appeared, however, the raise has all but disappeared from the lives of U.S. workers. As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) noted in addressing the conference, the bottom 90 percent of Americans, who received 70 percent of the income growth between 1935 and 1980, have gotten precisely zero percent of the income growth since 1997.

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Labor's New Reality -- It's Easier to Raise Wages for 100,000 Than to Unionize 4,000

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson Editor-at-Large, The American Prospect

Haltingly, with understandable ambivalence, the American labor movement is morphing into something new. Its most prominent organizing campaigns of recent years — of fast-food workers, domestics, taxi drivers and Wal-Mart employees — have prompted states and cities to raise their minimum wage and create more worker-friendly regulations. But what these campaigns haven't done is create more than a small number of new dues-paying union members. Nor, for the foreseeable future, do unions anticipate that they will.

Blocked from unionizing workplaces by ferocious management opposition and laws that fail to keep union activists from being fired, unions have begun to focus on raising wages and benefits for many more workers than they can ever expect to claim as their own. In one sense, this is nothing new: Unions historically have supported minimum wage and occupational safety laws that benefited all workers, not just their members. But they also have recently begun investing major resources in organizing drives more likely to yield new laws than new members. Some of these campaigns seek to organize workers who, rightly or wrongly, aren't even designated as employees or lack a common employer, such as domestic workers and cab drivers.

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Economic Inequality, Not Just Wages at the Bottom, Needs to be Addressed

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson Editor-at-Large, The American Prospect

Economic Inequality, Not Just Wages at the Bottom, Needs to be Addressed

“The question is, ‘How do we help people at the bottom rather than thwart people at the top?’” Harvard economics professor Gregory Mankiw, who served as a leading adviser to President George W. Bush and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, recently asked. The set of beliefs behind this question — that economic inequality isn’t the problem we should address; that we should focus instead on better educating the poor so they can earn more — has increasingly become the fallback position of conservatives in the debate over rising economic inequality.

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Why China Has Strikes Without Unions

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson Editor-at-Large, The American Prospect

Why China Has Strikes Without Unions

Han Dongfang believes that China’s workers may one day compel the country’s Communist Party to actually become social-democratic. I’m not sure if that makes Han the most credulous of China’s democracy activists or the canniest strategist now working to democratize that nation. I am sure, however, that he’s had more successes than anyone else in empowering Chinese workers.

Speaking last week to a Washington conclave sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, Han recounted the victories that striking Chinese workers have won over the past four years. In 2010, workers at a huge Honda plant shut off the power and walked off the job to win a living wage. They made clear their intent to stay out—and not to damage the factory. Surprisingly, the local government didn’t send in the police. Eventually, a mediator came in to meet separately with both workers and management, and persuaded Honda to give its employees a 32 percent wage increase. “This was the first collective bargaining in China,” Han said.

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Supreme Court Rules Disadvantaged Workers Should Be Disadvantaged Some More

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson Editor-at-Large, The American Prospect

Supreme Court Rules Disadvantaged Workers Should Be Disadvantaged Some More

The conservative majority on the Supreme Court today took up the case of some of America’s most disadvantaged workers, and ruled that they should be disadvantaged some more. The five-to-four ruling in Harris v. Quinn goes a long way to crippling the efforts that unions have made to help these workers get out of poverty.

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Union Matters

The Big Drip

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

A rash of water main breaks in West Berkeley, Calif., and neighboring cities last month flooded streets and left at least 300 residents without water. Routine pressure adjustments in response to water demand likely caused more than a dozen pipes, some made of clay and more than 100 years old, to rupture.

West Berkeley’s brittle mains are not unique. Decades of neglect left aging pipes susceptible to breaks in communities across the U.S., wasting two trillion gallons of treated water each year as these systems near collapse.

Comprehensive upgrades to the nation’s crumbling water systems would stanch the flow and ensure all Americans have reliable access to clean water.

Nationwide, water main breaks increased 27 percent between 2012 and 2018, according to a Utah State University study.  

These breaks not only lead to service disruptions  but also flood out roads, topple trees and cause illness when drinking water becomes contaminated with bacteria.

The American Water Works Association estimated it will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years to upgrade and expand water infrastructure.

Some local water utilities raised their rates to pay for system improvements, but that just hurts poor consumers who can’t pay the higher bills.

And while Congress allocates money for loans that utilities can use to fix portions of their deteriorating systems, that’s merely a drop in the bucket—a fraction of what agencies need for lasting improvements.

America can no longer afford a piecemeal approach to a systemic nationwide crisis. A major, sustained federal commitment to fixing aging pipes and treatment plants would create millions of construction-related jobs while ensuring all Americans have safe, affordable drinking water.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work