Harold Meyerson

A Happy Labor Day—Really

(Photo: AP/Lynne Sladky)
(Photo: AP/Lynne Sladky) Protesters, part of the national Fight for 15 movement, applaud in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour at a church in Miami in April. An earlier, shorter version of this article appeared in The Washington Post . L abor Day is upon us, marking an end to summertime, when the livin’ is easy and Americans take their well-earned vacations. Well, some Americans. About 56 percent of American workers took weeklong vacations last summer—a new low-point in a steady decline that began in early 1980s, when more than 80 percent took weeklong vacations. That depressing bit of news is of a piece, alas, with everything else we know about the declining fortunes of American workers. As the Economic Policy Institute documented in report released Wednesday, productivity rose by 72.2 percent and median hourly compensation (that’s wages plus benefits) by just 8.7 percent between 1973 and 2014. As the National Employment Law Project reported in a study released the...

No Time for Tone

AP Photo/John Minchillo
AP Photo/John Minchillo Republican presidential candidates from left, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and John Kasich take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena Thursday, August 6, 2015, in Cleveland. W ell, now at least we know where the Republican candidates stand on the minimum wage, paid sick days, student debt, climate change, CEO pay, and four decades of American wage stagnation. Just kidding. Somehow, the Fox News questioners never quite got around to asking the candidates what they planned to do to help actual existing Americans cope with a profoundly rigged economy and a climate growing annoyingly inhospitable to living things. Then again, the candidates were asked what God would want them to do on their first day in office, other than repeal Obamacare and invade Iran, and they could have used the occasion to talk about minimum wages and heat waves,...

Today's GOP: The Party of Jefferson Davis -- Not Lincoln

(Photo: Mathew Brady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo: Mathew Brady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons) Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, as captured by photographer Mathew Brady in 1861. This essay originally appeared in The Washington Post . O ne hundred and fifty years ago Thursday, after Union infantry effectively encircled the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee sent a note to Ulysses S. Grant proposing a meeting to discuss terms of surrender. With that, the Civil War began to end. And at some point in the future, it may yet. The emancipation of the slaves that accompanied the North’s victory ushered in, as Abraham Lincoln had hoped, a new birth of freedom, but the old order also managed to adapt itself to the new circumstances. The subjugation of and violence against African Americans continued apace, particularly after U.S. Army troops withdrew from the South at the end of Reconstruction. Black voting was suppressed. The Southern labor system retained, in altered form, its most distinctive...

Raising Wages From the Bottom Up

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(Screenshot of video from International Brotherhood of Teamsters) A picket line of truckers in Long Beach, California, in 2014. This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . I n 1999, while he was working at a local immigrant service center in Los Angeles, Victor Narro began encountering a particularly aggrieved group of workers. They were the men who worked at carwashes, and their complaint was that they were paid solely in tips—the carwashes themselves paid them nothing at all. At first, the workers came by in a trickle, but soon enough, in a flood. Narro, whose soft voice and shy manner belie a keen strategic sensibility, consulted with legal services attorneys and discovered that while every now and then a carwash was penalized for cheating its workers, such instances were few and far between. “There were no regulations overseeing the industry,” Narro says. The state’s labor department conducted no sweeps of the carwashes to...

Squeezed By Austerity Imposed By Germany, Greece and Spain on Verge of Revolt

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(Sipa via AP Images) Supporters of Greece's main opposition leader, Alexis Tsipras from the left-wing Syriza party, during a pre-election rally in central Athens on May 22, 2014. This article originally appeared in the Washington Post . A New Left is rising in Europe as the new year begins. And despite the fears it engenders in polite society, this New Left is less Marxian than it is—oh, the horror—Keynesian. Keynesianism is a complex economic theory, but its central insight is simple enough: If every institution stops spending, economic activity will decline. Self-evident though this may be, this insight has eluded such global economic institutions as the International Monetary Fund, as well as Europe’s economic hegemon, Germany, when dealing with the depression that has devastated southern Europe, and Greece in particular. In confronting the economic crisis that began with the 2008 implosion of Wall Street, nations such as Greece and Spain were unable to bolster their economies by...

Obama's Immigration Move About Much More Than Politics

(Protest: Esther Yu-Hsi Lee for ThinkProgress)/Obama: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
(Esther Yu-Hsi Lee for ThinkProgress) Demonstrators at a protest on the national Mall in Washington, D.C., on October 8, 2013. This essay originally appeared on the op-ed page of The Washington Post , where the author has a column. T he commemorations of the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s fall have thrust into the public spotlight the border guard who ordered the gates opened. The subject of both a new German-language book and film, one-time Stasi Lt. Col. Harald Jäger has recounted why he defied his orders. And his story couldn’t be more relevant to the debate consuming our own nation. On the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, prompted by an erroneous announcement from an East German Politburo spokesman that his compatriots would be free to cross the border, thousands of East Berliners flocked to the checkpoint Jäger supervised. His superiors told him to keep the gates closed, though he could let a few people through, provided he marked the passports of those he determined were...

The Democrats' Catastrophe and the Need For a New Agenda

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, joined by his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, celebrates with his supporters at an election night party in Louisville,Tuesday, November 4, 2014. McConnell won a sixth term in Washington, with his eyes on the larger prize of GOP control of the Senate. The Kentucky Senate race, with McConnell, a 30-year incumbent, fighting off a spirited challenge from Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, has been among the most combative and closely watched contests that could determine the balance of power in Congress. D emocrats had ample reason to fear that this year’s midterm elections would not go well for them, but bad doesn’t begin to describe what happened to them—and the nation—yesterday. Catastrophic is more like it. Democrats didn’t just lose the Senate; they lost statehouse after statehouse. They didn’t just lose the red states; they lost the purple and the blue. They lost the governorships of Maryland...

When Guns Trample Speech, Do We Have a Democracy?

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) People protest on the campus of Utah State, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014, in Logan, Utah. Utah's campus gun laws are in the spotlight after a feminist speaker canceled a speech at Utah State University once she learned the school would allow concealed firearms despite an anonymous threat against her. School officials in Logan were set to go ahead with the event with extra police after consulting with federal and state law enforcement who told them the threat was consistent with ones Anita Sarkeesian receives when she gives speeches elsewhere. D on’t look now, but I think the Second Amendment just stomped on the First. Last week, the New York Times reported on the death and rape threats to which Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist cultural critic, has been subjected to for challenging the stereotyped images of women in video games. A number of the malignant little dweebs upset by her criticism of the violent sexism that characterizes some games have waged what the Times...

Labor's New Groove: Taking the Struggle From Streets to Legislatures

(AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
(AP Photo/Paul Beaty) Demonstrators rally for better wages outside a McDonald's restaurant in Chicago, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. Demonstrations planned in 100 cities are part of push by labor unions, worker advocacy groups and Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25. L abor Day, 2014, comes at a time when Americans have concluded—correctly—that their country is downwardly mobile. In a Rutgers University poll released last week, 71 percent of Americans said they believed the changes to the economy caused by the Great Recession are permanent. (Asked the same question in November 2009, just 49 percent chose the “permanent” option.) Only 14 percent agreed with the description of American workers as “happy at work,” while 68 percent said American workers were “highly stressed” and 70 percent agreed they were “not secure in their jobs.” The economic data released last week confirm Americans’ pessimism. In a study for the Economic Policy Institute, economist Elise Gould reported...

Hillary for Liberals: A Conversation With Walter Shapiro

AP Photo/Randy Snyder
AP Photo/Justin Hayworth Campaign buttons are ready for distribution at an Iowa kickoff event for the national Ready for Hillary group led by Craig Smith, senior adviser to the Ready for Hillary group, in Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014. Ready for Hillary is a so-called super PAC building a national network to benefit Clinton if she decides to seek the presidency in 2016. The gathering of Iowa Democrats included the state chairs of both Clinton and President Barack Obama's 2008 campaigns. A s a reporter and columnist for Time , Newsweek , the Washington Post , USA Today , Esquire , Salon , and other publications, Walter Shapiro has covered nine presidential elections and the nation’s politics for four decades. He is currently a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University and a lecturer in political science at Yale while he finishes a book about his great-uncle, a vaudevillian and con man who once swindled Hitler. Shapiro is also an accomplished Hillary-...

Listen to Harold Meyerson Analyze the Supreme Court's Big Anti-Union Decision on 'To the Point'

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Harold Meyerson, The American Prospect 's editor at large, appeared on the June 30th edition of Public Radio International's To the Point , analyzing the Supreme Court decision in Harris v. Quinn , which allows home health-care workers in Illinois to opt out of paying their union dues. Listen here . Read Meyerson's essay on the Harris case here: Supreme Court Rules Disadvantaged Workers Should Be Disadvantaged Some More

Supreme Court Rules Disadvantaged Workers Should Be Disadvantaged Some More

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DVA.gov The United States Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. T he 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. The case concerned some 28,000 home care aides in Illinois whose paychecks come from Medicaid. Before the state agreed in 2003 that they could form a union, they made the minimum wage. (It’s the state that sets their wage rate, since their pay comes entirely from Medicaid.) Currently, as a result of their union contract, they make $11.85 an hour rather than the minimum of $7.25. Tomorrow, by the terms of their contract, their hourly rate is raised to $12.25, and on December 1 st to $13. The right to hire and fire these workers remains solely, of course, that of their home-bound patients and their...

Why China Has Strikes Without Unions

AP Photo/Vincent Yu
Protesters from labor organizations hold banners and placards during a protest to support workers on strike at Yue Yuen Industrial ( Holdings ) Ltd, at an Adidas office at a shopping mall in Hong Kong, Thursday, April 24, 2014. Workers on strike at a Chinese factory owned by the world's largest maker of athletic shoes had rejected management's latest offer in a labor dispute that crimped production for brands such as Nike and Adidas. H an 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...

Four Fundamental Econ Facts Missed By Economist Cantor-Slayer David Brat

AP Photo, P. Kevin Morley/Richmond Times-Dispatch
AP Photo, P. Kevin Morley/Richmond Times-Dispatch Dave Brat speaks to hundreds of supporters after beating Republican Congressman Eric Cantor in Tuesday's Republican primary for the 7th Congressional District in Virginia, June 10, 2014. O n MSNBC Wednesday morning, Chuck Todd asked David Brat, the Eric-Cantor-slayer, Ayn Rand acolyte, and chairman of the economics department at Randolph-Macon College, about his viewpoint on the minimum wage. Here’s their exchange: TODD: S hould there be a minimum wage in your opinion? BRAT: I don't have a well-crafted response on that one. All I know is if you take the long-run graph over 200 years of the wage rate, it cannot differ from your nation's productivity. Right? So you can't make up wage rates. Right? I would love for everyone in sub-Saharan Africa, for example— children of God—to make $100 an hour. I would love to just assert that that would be the case. But you can't assert that unless you raise their productivity, and then the wage...

Seattle's $15 Minimum Wage Agreement: Collective Bargaining Reborn?

15 Now/Seattle
15 Now/Seattle Activists at an April demonstration demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage in Seattle. W e have seen the future of collective bargaining, and it just may work. It should work brilliantly in Seattle if the city council doesn’t screw it up. Last Thursday—May Day, for the nostalgic among you—Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced that a business-labor task force he appointed had agreed on a plan to raise the minimum wage in the city to $15 per hour, over four years (with annual incremental increases) for businesses with more than 500 employees, and up to seven years for smaller businesses. By the end of the process, tipped employees would have an assured hourly income of $15, not counting whatever tips they received on top of that, and the wage would thereafter be indexed to the rise with the cost of living. Business, labor and the mayor having agreed, the plan now goes before the city council, whose members, like Mayor Murray, have backed the $15 hourly rate, but who may yet...

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