Monday, September 5, 2011

A very sad Labor Day

Labor Day was never a day of joy and anticipation in my life.  Mostly, it meant that school was about to start and even though (or maybe because) I have loved learning all my life, this was an event that filled me with dread.  And once school started, could the cold of winter be far behind?

Then there was this problem that even though I grew up in a family that had a powerful labor history—especially on my mother's side—we now lived in small farming towns where unions were mostly considered a part of organized crime.  The Mennonites who ran my school taught that joining a union was a sin covered under the Bible verse, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14).

By the time I got to college, unions were considered these backward organizations that supported the Vietnam War (and beat up on antiwar protestors) or hated environmentalists.  The "Left" had abandoned the very idea that workers were supposed to be the "vanguard of the revolution" because in truth, Marxism appealed to very few workers.  The Students for a Democratic Society even wrote a plank into their Port Huron Statement that "youth" now was a class that would replace workers as the lost vanguard.

Because I had to work my way through school, I had jobs like taxi driver that involved being forced to join a union that did almost nothing for the drivers and quite a bit about enriching some corrupt local thugs.  That was always the built-in flaw of unions—they were organizations of Producers run by Predators.  The idea was that Producers needed their own Predators to counter the predations of management but in fact, what usually happened is that union wolves and management wolves discovered that as wolves, they had a LOT in common.

Kinda makes me wonder how I came to believe that unions are absolutely necessary for the operation of a well-run economy.  But I do.  Not only did I learn my grandfather's beliefs that there are issues worth organizing (and perhaps dying) for, I learned John Kenneth Galbraith's theories that progress only came when the economic countervailing forces were roughly equal.  Only honest unions could accomplish that.

So here's to organized labor—it is as necessary as oxygen for the successful operation of a complex society.

The fallacy of post-industrial prosperity
By Harold Meyerson, Published: September 4

Of all the lies that the American people have been told the past four decades, the biggest one may be this: We’ll all come out ahead in the shift from an industrial to a post-industrial society. Yes, we were counseled, there will be major dislocations, as there were during the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy, but the America that will emerge from this transformation, like the America that emerged 100 years ago, will be one whose citizens are ultimately more prosperous and secure than their industrial-era forebears. 
What a crock.

On Labor Day 2011, the America that’s replaced the vibrant industrial giant of the mid-20th century is a basket case. We’ve lost the jobs that created the broadly shared prosperity that made us the envy of the world. In their place, when we’ve created jobs at all, they’ve generated neither prosperity nor security. 
The most prescient writer on post-industrial America offered a sobering perspective. In his 1972 book “The Coming of Post-Industrial Society,” sociologist Daniel Bell predicted a future of service jobs, rising consumption, compensatory entitlements and wars over taxes. 
Even as Bell’s prophecies began to be borne out, though, the champions of the new economic order — from General Electric’s Jack Welch to every New Democrat and any old Republican — assured us that America would flourish as a post-industrial innovator in the new global economy, crafting the cutting-edge technologies whose actual assembly we could relegate to less-skilled workforces on distant shores. Thirty years ago, when defenders of American manufacturing first suggested that the nation commit to a “domestic content” standard in the goods we bought, they were howled down by nearly every economist and editorial writer in the land. (A friend counted 98 newspapers that editorialized against it, and none that wrote in favor.) 
Today, the economy that arose on manufacturing’s ashes has turned to ashes itself. The Wall Street-Wal-Mart economy of the past several decades off-shored millions of factory jobs, which it offset by creating low-paying jobs in the service and retail sectors; extending credit to consumers so they could keep consuming despite their stagnating incomes; and fueling, until it collapsed, a boom in construction. more
The last Labor Day?
By E.J. Dionne Jr., Published: September 4

Let’s get it over with and rename the holiday “Capital Day.” We may still celebrate Labor Day, but our culture has given up on honoring workers as the real creators of wealth and their honest toil — the phrase itself seems antique — as worthy of genuine respect. 
Imagine a Republican saying this: “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” 
These heretical thoughts would inspire horror among our friends at Fox News or in the Tea Party. They’d likely label them as Marxist, socialist or Big Labor propaganda. Too bad for Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president, who offered those words in his annual message to Congress in 1861. Will President Obama dare say anything like this in his jobs speech this week? 
As for the unions, they are often treated in the media as advocates of arcane work rules, protectors of inefficient public employees and obstacles to the economic growth our bold entrepreneurs would let loose if only they were free from labor regulations. 
So it would take a brave man to point out that unions “grew up from the struggle of the workers — workers in general but especially the industrial workers — to protect their just rights vis-a-vis the entrepreneurs and the owners of the means of production,” or to insist that “the experience of history teaches that organizations of this type are an indispensable element of social life.” more

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