Vol. IX, Bulletin No.6 June 1, 2004
Unions Campaigning for Employee Free Choice Act
Restoring a Freedom Widely Suppressed
According to a national poll, 42,000,000 American workers would form a union if they had the chance, but they can't, because weakened labor laws enable employers to harass, threaten, and even fire workers who try to do so.
Congress now has before it the Employee Free Choice Act, designed to restore the freedom of employees to form unions. Introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative George Miller, the bill has 30 co-sponsors in the Senate and nearly 200 in the House. Two major features of the bill would
How Organized Labor Works for the Common Good
- ensure that when a majority of employees in a workplace decide to form a union, they are able do so without the obstacles that management now commonly uses to block their free choice.
- provide increased penalties for discharging employees or discriminating against them during an organizing drive or during negotiations for the first collective bargaining contract.
If Congress were to adopt these and other needed reforms, the benefits would reach far beyond people in union ranks. What organization does more than the labor movement to fight for the rights of all? In the halls of Congress and the legislatures of 50 States, it is the labor movement that leads the fight for minimum wages, overtime pay, health and safety, unemployment compensation, Social Security, Medicare, civil rights, women's rights, fair trade, and a long string of other protections for all people, not just for union members.
But as union membership has dwindled, so has the power of unions to work for the common good. So it is to the interest of the majority of people, those who don't carry a union card, to rally behind the campaign for the Employee Free Choice Act. One way to do so is send a message to Congress through the AFL-CIO's union-voice initiative at http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/sponsorefca.
Amid all the hype about how the U.S. economy is booming, the cover feature article of the May 31 Business Week magazine documents the existence of mass poverty in America. Having a job no longer gets you out of poverty, the article points out. Today more than 28,000,000 men and women, about a quarter of the workforce between the ages of 18 and 64, form the working poor -- they earn less than $9.04 an hour.
'Most U.S. Employers Fiercely Resist Unionization'
And their prospects for a better life are dim, because they face competition from immigrants and overseas workers willing to work for pennies on the dollar, yes, but also because:
"While labor unions were largely responsible for creating the broad middle class after World War II, bringing decent wages and benefits to even low-skilled employees such as hotel and garment workers, that's not the case today. Most U.S. employers fiercely resist unionization, which, along with other factors, has helped slash union membership to just 13% of the workforce, vs. a midcentury peak of more than 35%."
An increase in unionization would "give the working poor some leverage over wages," according to Business Week's writers, Michelle Conlin and Aaron Bernstein, and would give them "clout to deal with the effects of factors such as globalization, immigration, and technology." But Congress "isn't likely" to reform labor legislation because "employers have body-blocked such attempts since the 1970s...."
All the more reason for Congress to hear from people who agree that the working poor deserve better. To help, check http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/sponsorefca or http://action.citizen.org/pc/issues/alert/?alertid=5932546&type=CO.
An Economist on U.S.'s Economic Problem
"The bubble in high technology, the rise in inequality, the debt build-up of American households, Al Qaeda -- these existed before we got George Bush. Mr. Bush's contribution was to make the problem harder to fix." So writes James K. Galbraith, professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, in the first issue of Intervention, an economics journal published in Darmstadt, Germany.
His article, titled "The American Economic Problem," offers insights such as the following:
U.S. Trade Pacts 'Hollow' on Worker Rights
- "As things are going, quite soon federal taxes will fall mainly on payrolls and on current consumption. Such taxes are paid mostly by the middle class, by the working class, and by the poor."
- "In the near term, more military spending -- the Iraq war, the occupation, and military restocking -- and the portion of the tax cuts that did flow to the middle class are bringing what may best be described as a false dawn."
- "Because of the damage already done, no matter who takes office in 2005, full, effective, and sustainable economic recovery for America will be difficult."
- "The baseline outlook is for a period of strong growth immediately before the election and stagnation afterward."
- "It is true that a group of great wealth holds the levers of power in the country today. But this group, in large measure a coalition of contractors and monopolists, does not have interests in common with the full range of wealthy individuals in this wealthy land. There are many others -- exporters, retailers, the residents of large cities, providers of services to the broad population, and many passive investors -- whose interests align with those of working Americans and who would prosper even more under an economy investing vigorously at home. They are not well served by a program of stagnation and empire, even partially compensated by tax cuts on capital income."
- "Ultimately, nations prosper or decline as a unit. An economy that fails for working Americans cannot work for the wealthy either."
The 10-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and subsequent trade agreements negotiated by the United States have made some progress in "institutionalizing and articulating the free trade/labor rights nexus," but they "offer no real relief and scant hope to workers" struggling for their rights. So write Benjamin Holt and Michael Waller in "International Trade and Worker Rights: Practical Tools for Reading Labor Rights Provisions of Free Trade Agreements" in the Spring issue of Human Rights Brief, published by the Washington College of Law.
In parsing the texts of the Free Trade Agreements, the authors find they all contain "hollow provisions" on protecting the rights of workers, especially compared to the protections granted investors and other groups.
Meantime, at the end of May the United States signed a new trade agreement with hollow provisions on worker rights -- the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), a 2,400-page document (see Trade Pact Flawed: Human Rights Watch). As the Washington Post's Paul Blustein put it, CAFTA is "politically charged," which is media jargon for saying that most voters oppose it.
As a result, the Bush Administration has made some accommodations. On May 28 Robert B. Zoellick, the U.S. Trade Representative, took over the task of formally signing the controversial agreement in place of the President. And, fearing defeat, Zoellick won't ask Congress to vote on CAFTA before the Presidential and Congressional elections in early November. He told a press conference he hopes that there will be a post-election session at which "maybe we can get [it] through."
After the 1994 Congressional elections, President Clinton and Republican allies used a lameduck session of Congress to approve the Uruguay Round trade agreements that, among other things, established the World Trade Organization.
Tanzanian Farmers and Global Markets
The President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Benjamin William Mkapa, raised these questions recently to illustrate the dilemmas facing developing country leaders seeking to integrate their economies into the world trading system. That system, Mkapa wrote in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, is rigged against countries like Tanzania, where almost 80% of the population is employed in agriculture.
- "How can I convince a Tanzanian coffee grower that a more open global trading and investment regime is good for her, if today she earns only a fraction of what she used to earn before the onset of deregulation and open markets?...In the early 1990s, for every dollar a [coffee] farmer earned, traders and firms further up the value-adding chain received three dollars. Today, the ratio is a whopping 1:13."
- "How can I convince a Tanzanian dairy farmer, who keeps a few cows but cannot sell his milk because the market is flooded with subsidized imported milk, that an open market is better than a closed or regulated one? While he sweats to eke out a living from one U.S. dollar a day, cows in [U.S. and European] countries are subsidized by anything between one and seven dollars a day."
Last September's World Trade Organization talks at Cancun, Mexico, collapsed, according to Mkapa, because developing countries disagreed with two major market-opening proposals favoring rich countries: 1) asking poor ones to open up further to foreign investment, competition, and government procurement and 2) asking poor ones to open up their agricultural markets, while at the same time maintaining the agricultural production subsidies and credits of rich countries.
"As a politician," he noted, "I understand the pressures of constituencies. But I do not think that the interests of the small farming base in rich countries should have priority over the interests of much larger agricultural constituencies in poor ones....Governments there [in rich countries] must do more to explain to their farmers that agricultural protection in its present form eats away the already meager incomes of the poor in the developing world."
Ministers, Scale Back Your Ambitions
That is the opening paragraph of a lengthy essay by Dani Rodrik, professor of international political economy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, "Feasible Globalizations," which is published on the school's Website and will be a chapter in a forthcoming book.
Until not long ago, the essay continues, "international policymakers kept their ambitions in check," for example, by pursuing a limited form of internationalization of national economies, and focusing "only on the most egregious of the barriers at the border," excluding large chunks of the economy (services, agriculture, capital movements). He calls this modest strategy "successful, because its architects subjugated international economic integration to the needs and demands of national economic management and of democratic politics."
International Policymakers Switch to 'Deep' Global Integration
During the past two decades, however, "this strategy changed drastically":
"Global policy is now driven by an aggressive agenda of 'deep' integration -- elimination of all barriers to trade and capital flows wherever those barriers may be found. The results have been problematic -- in terms of both economic performance (relative to the earlier post-war decades) and political legitimacy. The simple reason is that 'deep' economic integration is unattainable in a context where nation-states and democratic politics still exert considerable force."
Rodrik devotes the rest of his essay largely to explaining that "there are inherent limitations to how far we can push global economic integration" (e.g., voters tend to object to policies that put foreign obligations ahead of domestic ones) and why, since "the present course of economic globalization is unsustainable," international policymakers need to "scale down" their ambitions.
As the title of his paper indicates, he points out there are alternatives to the present "Utopian" model, and he urges that these should be pursued to achieve healthy economic development.
"Global economic rules are not written by Platonic rulers, or their present-day pretenders, academic economists.....There is considerable politics in agenda-setting and rule-making -- and those who have power get more out of the system than those who do not....Advocates of globalization have a tendency to present their agenda with an air of inevitability, as if it has a natural logic that only economic illiterates would reject. Recognizing that there is a multiplicity of feasible globalizations -- as there is a multiplicity of institutional underpinnings for capitalist economies -- would have an important liberating effect on our policy discussions."
Rodrik is the author of "Has Globalization Gone Too Far?" published by the Institute for International Economics, "The New Global Economy and Developing Countries: Making Openness Work" published by the Overseas Development Council, and "The Global Governance of Trade as if Development Really Mattered," a report commissioned by the UN Development Program (see No Template for Globalization: Economist).
India's Voters Rein in Economic Globalism
An economic growth rate of more than 8% a year, which made India one of the world's hottest economies, did not save its ruling party from a stunning defeat in parliamentary elections last month. India's voters were not swayed by the economic reforms that the government celebrated in the campaign slogan "India Shining."
"Mostly, it's propaganda," a village council chief told a Washington Post reporter. "It only shines for those who have money."
The 350,000,000 Indians who live on less than $1 a day revolted. So did many millions of others untouched by the country's economic boom. True, India's $15,000,000,000 information technology sector employs almost a million people, but 40,000,000 Indians are registered unemployed.
Voter disenchantment arose not just because of the huge gap between the urban rich and the rural poor. In fact, the government's parties fared badly even in most metropolitan centers. So did some urban leaders who practiced an over-internationalized model of development. A New Delhi newspaper editorialized: "As reform pulls more Indians above the poverty line, they are moving the bar of expectations higher."
India now has a prime minister who is not a Hindu, but Sikh, and an economist, but one who favors balanced reform. In accepting the job last month, Manmohan Singh, educated at the Universities of Punjab, Cambridge, and Oxford, said: "We will give to the world and to our people a model of economic reforms [with] a human element," adding that the Congress Party-led government would "create new opportunities for the poor and the downtrodden to participate in development."
Media Watch: Insatiable Thirst for ProfitsHuman Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. IX-6 June 1, 2004
A letter I sent to the Washington Post on May 17:
I know that statistics about trade deficits are dry and need to be analyzed in a colorful and understandable way. But the analysis in the Post's May 13 trade report has a glaring error. First, in a page-one blurb, you write that the record March trade deficit "demonstrates a seemingly insatiable U.S. thirst for imported goods." Then, in the first paragraph of the business section story, you describe the deficit as in large part "propelled by consumers' unending hunger for vast quantities of goods from abroad."
Why blame consumers? Perhaps your staff is unaware of the fact that almost all manufactured goods available to U.S. consumers are imported. Try shopping for something with a "made-in-the-USA" label these days. A major benefit of the free market for consumers is supposed to be freedom of choice. But we are being robbed of the choice to buy products made in our own country. Two powerful forces are to blame:
1) the unending hunger and insatiable thirst of corporations for higher and higher profits that leads them to move more and more production abroad.
2) the complicity of the U.S. government in encouraging and even subsidizing the movement of production (i.e., jobs) abroad. See, for example, the April 30 decision of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a U.S. government agency, approving $90,000,000 in investment guarantees to support the growth of businesses in Asia.
Corporations can, and do, make profits in the United States. But they can, and do, make higher profits by "outsourcing," especially to China, Vietnam, and other countries with very low costs (meaning not just low wages but no health care, no pensions, no safety rules, no overtime pay, no environmental protection, no policies against sexual abuse, no laws against discrimination, no unions, no recourse to the courts, and none of the other protections available to working men and women in the United States, though even here those protections are more and more undermined by the relentless dynamic of globalization and the drive of corporations to "meet the competition").
Although the U.S. government collects mounds of statistics, it does not track the increased profits gained by moving production and jobs out of the United States. But some evidence came to light recently because of a debate between Lou Dobbs, anchor of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, who has a regular feature on "Exporting America," and James K. Glassman, a Washington Post investment columnist and resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Evidence That Firms Increase Profits by Going Overseas
On his Website, Glassman charged that Dobbs is "obsessed" with outsourcing, and suggested exporting him [and John Kerry]. What particularly irritates Glassman is a Dobbs list of American companies that are "either sending jobs overseas or choosing to employ cheap foreign labor, instead of American workers." As a part of his response, Glassman, by culling publicly-traded companies from Dobbs' list, came up with 216 listed on the New York Stock Exchange, which he called "Dobbs' Rogue Fund." Using data from Bloomberg, he then calculated that
"Incredible," Glassman the investment advisor wrote. But his analysis also demonstrates the unsurprising fact that companies that send jobs overseas (and magnify the trade deficit) are the Big Money-Makers.
- over a recent 12-month period, the 216 companies in Dobb's so-called Fund had "a remarkable 72.44%" profit, while the stocks of 42 among them at least doubled in value and only eight fell;
- the average return for Standard & Poor's 500-Stock index for the same period was only 39.11%.
The Post may not wish to mention how the insatiable appetites of those profit-driven corporations swell our country's trade deficit. But, in fairness, would you at least stop dumping on consumers?
Diary: The Joys of Being Mai's Grandpa
We were enjoying ourselves on the deck, my wife, our little granddaughter, and I, chatting and soaking our feet in a big water-filled tub. "You know why you're so pretty?" I asked three-year-old Mai. "Because your Mom is pretty, your Dad is pretty, and your Grandma is pretty."
"Grandpa is pretty too," Mai quickly added, broadening her smile.
This girl will go far. She is already learning much about being kind and considerate to others.
The other day the mailman brought me an envelope with Mai's return address. In it was an attractive home-made greeting card with messages from her, though not in her handwriting. In one corner of the card, I read: "Hello, Grandpa. I hope you are getting better." In another: "Your radishes are getting bigger and bigger." And then: "I love you very much. Lots of bear hugs. MAI."
A few mornings later she brought me a "surprise": a bunch of red radishes she had just plucked from a small garden plot in her backyard. I like radishes. These were fresh, and therefore not only crunchy but a little tart, not tasteless like those you usually get at the supermarket.
At a time when the world that seems hopelessly bent on going to hell in a handbasket, you have to thank the Lord for a granddaughter who braces you with good cheer and fresh radishes.
Robert A. Senser, editor
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