Harold Meyerson

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?

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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...

Who's Got the Political Will to Save the Middle Class?

Demonstrator blocks traffic at December fast-food workers' protest in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak I t’s not easy being president during an epoch of downward mobility for the American people. The shrinking of the middle class--a phenomenon to which Americans are historically unaccustomed, most particularly during recoveries-- depresses the president’s popularity, drags down that of his party, and generally plays hell with incumbents’ election prospects. That the American people are downwardly mobile was underscored this weekend by a report from the National Employment Law Project demonstrating that while lower-wage jobs accounted for just 22 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, they account for 44 percent of the jobs created since the recession ended in 2010. Middle-wage jobs, by contrast, accounted for 37 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, but just 26 percent of the jobs created since. Median annual household income is still roughly $4,000 beneath its level before the recession started. Indeed, the most alarming polling for the...

We Hate Obamacare (But Like What It Does)

The word on Americans—one bit of conventional wisdom that is nonetheless true—is that they are ideologically conservative and operationally liberal. They are opposed to big government but support actual universal government programs like Social Security and Medicare. Confronted with Obamacare, conservative Americans have taken this paradox to new heights. They intensely dislike the program, but they like what it actually does. The New York Times has a poll of four Southern states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina) out today, undertaken in conjunction with the Kaiser Family Foundation. It shows that most of those states’ residents “still loathe the law,” but that majorities in three of those states and a plurality in the fourth don’t want Congress to repeal and replace it. They just want Congress to improve it. In Kentucky, which established its own exchange under Obamacare’s stipulations, a majority believed that the exchange was working well. In Arkansas, which has...

Cuomo's Wedge

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O n Monday, Mary Fallin, Oklahoma’s Republican governor, signed legislation forbidding her state’s cities from enacting ordinances that set their own minimum wage standards or that entitle workers to paid sick days. Even in hard-right Oklahoma, citizens were collecting signatures to put initiatives raising the minimum wage and mandating sick-day on the Oklahoma City ballot. Fallin has now put an unceremonious end to such egalitarian frippery. As an increasing number of cities have considered setting their minimum wages higher than those of their states, conservatives in state government have moved to strip them of that power. Most Southern states explicitly forbid their municipalities from indulging in such displays of egalitarian economics. In Washington, a Republican state senator has introduced legislation that would keep Seattle from raising its wage. In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker is backing legislation that would strip cities of the right to enact living wage...

The Death of an Employer Scam

One of the most pervasive scams that employers use to lower their workers’ wages is misclassification—that is, turning their workers into independent contractors or temps when they are actually employees. Misclassification shouldn’t be mistaken for the whim of an errant employer. On the contrary, it’s a strategy that has been used to transform entire industries. From an employer’s perspective, the benefits of misclassification are clear. Turning a worker into a temp or a free agent obviates any need to provide him with benefits. It shields the employer from legal liability for health and safety violations, for industrial accidents, or from wage and hour violations. It invariably lowers such workers wages as well. It makes it impossible for workers to form unions. Over the past decade, misclassified workers have turned up in more and more industries. The Nissan employees who assemble cars at the company’s plants in Mississippi and Tennessee work alongside temps who do the same work as...

How to Raise Americans' Wages

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O nce upon a time in a faraway land—the United States following World War II—workers reaped what they sowed. From 1947 through 1973, their income rose in lockstep with increases in productivity. Their median compensation (wages plus benefits) increased by 95 percent as their productivity increased by 97 percent. Then, abruptly, the rewards for greater productivity started going elsewhere—to shareholders, financiers, and top corporate executives. Today, for the vast majority of American workers, the link between their productivity and their compensation no longer exists. As economists Robert Gordon and Ian Dew-Becker have established, the gains in workers’ productivity for the past three decades have gone entirely to the wealthiest 10 percent. The portion of the nation’s economy that went to workers’ pay and benefits—which had held remarkably steady from 1947 through 1973 at 66 percent or 67 percent—last year fell to a record low of 58 percent, while profits reached a postwar high...

Chattanooga Showdown

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T his week—from Wednesday through Friday—employees at Volkswagen’s factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee may well make history. Actually, they may make it twice. If a majority of the roughly 1,500 workers vote to recognize the United Auto Workers as their union, their plant will become the first unionized auto factory in the South. It will also become the first American workplace of any kind to have a works council—a consultative body of employees who regularly meet with management to jointly develop policy on such work-related issues as shifts, the best way to use new machinery, and kindred concerns. Mandated by law in Germany, works councils do not bargain over wages and benefits, but they do provide a way in which workers can have input into policies that affect their lives. They also have led to countless productivity increases in German manufacturing. The vote at Volkswagen marks the latest stage in the UAW’s decades-long campaign to organize auto plants in the South. In recent...

Investing in Stock Buybacks, Not People

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One fundamental reason why the American economy continues to limp along is that no one—at least, no one with major bucks—is investing in it. The Obama Administration countered the collapse of private sector investment in 2009 with its stimulus program, which, alas, was partially offset by all the cutbacks in state and local government spending. It’s not been able, however, to get any subsequent investment projects through the Republican House. The private sector—the corporate sector more particularly—returned not just to profitability but record profitability by the middle of 2010, but its profits have neither resulted from nor led to increased investment. To the contrary, American corporations have never sat on so much unexpended cash. Right now, their cash piles total more than $1.5 trillion, and that’s not counting the assets of the banks. The cash is concentrated in the coffers of our largest corporations, many of them tech companies. Apple leads the list with $150 billion...

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