Labor Wrestles With Its Future

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

By Harold Meyerson,

Since the emergence of capitalism, workers seeking higher pay and safer workplaces have banded together in guilds and unions to pressure their employers for a better deal. That has been the approach of the American labor movement for the past 200 years.

That approach, however, has begun to change. It’s not because unions think collective bargaining is a bad idea but because workers can’t form unions any more — not in the private sector, not at this time. There are some exceptions: Organizing continues at airlines, for instance, which are governed by different organizing rules than most industries. But employer opposition to organizing has become pervasive in the larger economy, and the penalties for employers that violate workers’ rights as they attempt to unionize are so meager that such violations have become routine. For this and a multitude of other reasons, the share of unionized workers in the private sector dropped from roughly one-third in the mid-20th century to a scant 6.6 percent last year. In consequence, the share of the nation’s economy constituted by wages has sunk to its lowest level since World War II, and U.S. median household income continues to decline.

Unions face an existential problem: If they can’t represent more than a sliver of American workers on the job, what is their mission? Are there other ways they can advance workers’ interests even if those workers aren’t their members? Continue reading

Don’t Mourne, Organize! : Harold Meyerson on the Labor Movement

by David Kaib

Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson has a substantial and important piece (“If Labor Dies, What’s Next?”) surveying the problems of the union movement, and the problems of a liberalism facing a disappearing union movement, in the Prospect.  It’s well timed, given the inspiring Chicago Teachers’ Union strike that happening as I type this.  Meyerson notes, as he has in the past, a pessimism among unnamed leaders of in the movement – although it seems clear this includes top people at SEIU (see below)

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The press gets the story wrong- don’t blame unions

Bankrupt cities? Don’t blame unions

Stockton and San Bernardino, California  were brought down by the most severe housing busts in the nation, and by banks peddling subprime mortgages to poorly paid workers.

Harold Meyerson

By Harold Meyerson.  July 25, 2012

The reporting and commentary on the bankruptcies of California cities over the last month haven’t been journalism’s finest hour. From reading the voluminous accounts of the fiscal woes of Stockton and San Bernardino, you’d think that municipal unions and feckless city officials are primarily what led these cities down the path to fiscal ruin.

But you’d be wrong. What bankrupted Stockton and San Bernardino were the most severe housing busts in the nation. What bankrupted those two cities were banks peddling subprime mortgages to poorly paid workers.

That story has been missing from most accounts of the debacle, which instead focus on the preferred narrative of the right and center-right: that of fiscal irresponsibility and overpaid public employees. “Another city sinks in pension morass,” the Orange County Register editorialized. The problem common to the cities, wrote Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters, is that “elected leaders and appointed managers succumbed to hubris and political pressure, particularly from their employee unions.”

Read the entire op-ed. latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-meyerson-city-bankruptcies-foreclosure-20120725,0,6443912.story

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Occupy Wall Street: Seattle Redux?

Harold Meyerson’s Nov 17 column is still  well-worth reading about week later.–Talking Union
by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

As in the anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle in 1999, today’s [Nov 17] nationwide Occupy Wall Street actions come in many shapes and sizes. There’s the enraged confrontations we’ve seen around Wall Street itself. There are the pre-arranged arrests we’ve seen in the banking district of downtown Los Angeles. There are permitted rallies sponsored by unions, which, as evening falls, will shift their locales to bridges around the nation in an attempt to loop the rebuild-the-decaying-infrastructure issue into the mélange of progressive causes that OWS champions. There’s an action for every mood and strategy – though some strategies make a lot more sense than others.

This afternoon, activists from unions (most particularly, SEIU) will march across bridges in Chicago, D.C., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Miami, Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, L.A., New York (the granddaddy of all urban bridges, the one-and-only Brooklyn), and damn-near any American city that has a creek, an overpass, and union members. As with this morning’s action in Los Angeles, there may be some decorous, pre-arranged arrests. Clearly, these actions have been conceived to win the allegiance of constituencies such as the hard-hats, who may support OWS’s message but be less than thrilled by OWS itself.
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What Americans Make

by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Last Friday, the Social Security Administration released its figures on how much money Americans made in 2010 from wages, salaries, and tips (but not from capital gains, dividends or rents). Turns out that the 150,398,796 Americans for whom employers issued W-2 forms made just over $6 trillion in net compensation. If you calculate the raw mean average, that comes out to $39,959.30 per worker. But 66 percent of wage earners actually made less than that (or that amount exactly)—which means, the high level of pay for upper-income workers produced a much higher mean average than the average American worker actually makes. The median wage—the dollar amount that 50 percent of wage earners made more than, and 50 percent made less than—was $26,363.55. Twenty-six thousand bucks is what the average American worker makes on the job. That’s right in line with the figures for median household income, which hover around $49,000 once you total the income for everyone at home who has a job.

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It’s hard to hate these occupiers

by Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

By the hoary conventions of American politics, Americans should fear and loathe Occupy Wall Street. The occupiers are vaguely countercultural, counterculturally vague. They are noisy. They are radical. They offer no solutions, though they are prey to the damnedest ideas. (Anti-consumerism! Anti-leaderism!) They are an extra-parliamentary menace, mocking the very possibility of liberal reform. They are anarchists or, worse, McGovernites. Some of them appear genuinely nuts. For all these reasons and a hundred more, real Americans should hate their guts.

And yet, they don’t. Despite the best efforts of trained pundits, working feverishly to convince the public that these are not people you’d want running the republic or dropping by for lunch, Americans seem remarkably unperturbed by the menace of Occupy Wall Street. In fact, the majority supports the protesters. According to a National Journal poll, 59 percent of Americans agree with Occupy Wall Street, while 31 percent disagree — a level of support comparable to that found by a Time magazine survey last week. The Post’s Greg Sargent has thoughtfully broken down the data and found that the group that should resent the occupiers most — working-class whites — doesn’t resent them any more than anyone else does. In the National Journal poll, 56 percent of non-college-educated whites back the demonstrators, though the right-wing media continually depict them as trust-fund babies gone wild.

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Rescuing America from Wall Street

By Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson

Better late than never, the movement to take America back from Wall Street has arrived. On Wednesday, the ranks of the Occupy Wall Street encampmentwill swell as Move­On.org members, union activists and ordinary disgruntled citizens join the demonstration against our financial sector’s misrule of the American economy. What’s more, long-planned anti-bank demonstrations in major cities this week are growing beyond their organizers’ fondest hopes as the Wall Street protest movement catches fire.

The anti-bank campaign has in fact been incubating for years — a “seed beneath the snow,” as the Italian novelist Ignazio Silone once termed the slow-to-arrive left. The sit-ins, teach-ins and street demonstrations popping up in Boston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles are formally the handiwork of a coalition of community groups that recently gathered together as the New Bottom Line. Many of these groups have focused on immediate goals — such as stopping particular banks from foreclosing on more homes. They, along with unions, have demonstrated on Wall Street many times since the 2008 financial crisis. But only now, as Occupy Wall Street — an organization that they didn’t create — has grabbed the public imagination the past few weeks, are the myriad mobilizations commanding the media’s attention.

“It’s a confluence of planned and unplanned demonstrations,” says Stephen Lerner, a longtime organizer for the Service Employees International Union who once spearheaded the union’s successful campaign to organize big-city janitors and today helps guide the groups in New Bottom Line.

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