Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson is the editor-at-large at The American Prospect and a columnist for The Washington Post. His email is hmeyerson@prospect.org

Recent Articles

Labor's Civil War

By harold meyerson On Tuesday, May 3, 167 of the AFL-CIO's 426 employees reported to work to find that their positions had been eliminated. Whole divisions were being scrapped, publications abolished, programs terminated. Some departments were being consolidated, and 61 new positions being created within them, but the house that Federation President John Sweeney had built was, by Sweeney's own decree, being partially torn down. The Field Mobilization Department -- a nebulous division that employed 67 field reps for disparate assignments across the nation -- was being merged into the political program, with 30 positions eliminated outright. The federation's monthly magazine, America @ Work , was being discontinued. The policy office was being reduced in size and merged into a joint operation with the legislative office. The International Affairs Department, which director Barbara Shailor had transformed from the planet's last bastion of Cold War vigilance into its most effective proponent...

The Man Who Changed L.A.

When Miguel Contreras became leader of the Los Angeles labor movement back in 1996, he inherited a set of time-honored axioms about life and politics under the Southern California sun. The first was that nobody actually worked in campaigns -- walking precincts, making phone calls. The state and the city were too big for anyone to mount a significant field operation. Campaigns consisted of fundraising and advertising: money in, message out, no activists need apply. The second was that it would take years, perhaps decades, for the wave of Latino immigrants sweeping the state to have an impact on its politics. Republican governor Pete Wilson's Proposition 187 two years earlier, which denied public services to undocumented immigrants, may have riled the Latino community, but the payback, if any, would be a long time coming. And the third was that the labor movement, in Los Angeles as everywhere else, was shuffling off to Jurassic Park -- a dinosaur incapable of saving itself, much less...

Cuts and Fissures

“Yesterday was a motherfucker,” one AFL-CIO staffer commented this Wednesday, referring to Tuesday's announcements that the federation would eliminate 167 of the AFL-CIO's 426 positions (61 new positions will also be created). And in a bitterly divided labor movement, that sentiment might be one of the few statements on which all sides can agree. It's a season of blood and knives -- and still, some cautious hope -- within American labor. Under pressure from its critics within labor to bolster its political and organizing programs, the administration of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney on Tuesday unveiled the most far-reaching restructuring in decades. For leaders of the coalition of dissident unions, however, the change in program is not enough: They want a change at the top of the AFL-CIO as well. “They're trying to co-opt as much of our program as possible,” one prominent critic said Wednesday morning, “but it's the same old team.” “John Sweeney and the people around him are not...

Yip's Rainbow

A man and his rainbow appeared Thursday on a new 37-cent stamp. "Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue," reads the text, alongside the portrait and name of its author: Yip Harburg. There was no reference to a rainbow in L. Frank Baum's classic novel, "The Wizard of Oz." But Harburg, the lyricist whom producer Arthur Freed had hired along with composer Harold Arlen to write the score for the MGM picture, was trying to square the demands of the character ("a little girl who had never seen anything beyond an arid Kansas," he was to say later) with those of a production that began in black and white and segued into glorious Technicolor. As if that weren't challenge enough, Arlen then presented him with a melody of exquisite yearning, in emotional overdrive. Arlen had been agonizing over the song for weeks. When the melody finally came to him, he called Yip to hurry over -- it was midnight, but that's standard for songwriting hours -- and Arlen "played it," Yip later recalled, "with...

Remember the Raise?

The markets are anxious. There's every sign that the world's investors have grown nervous about the continued ability of the American consumer to keep the economy perking along. Companies that sell big-ticket items are floundering: General Motors reported a $1.1 billion quarterly loss yesterday. Conversely, drug and utility stocks are doing all right; companies that rely on nondiscretionary spending remain a safe bet. Part of the problem is that gas prices are siphoning off a bigger share than usual of Americans' incomes. But the bigger problem is that Americans' incomes are stuck or even in mild decline. Though the economy grew by 4.4 percent last year and added 2.2 million jobs, real wages fell by 0.9 percent. The last time U.S. wages fell was in the recession year of 1991. Now they're falling in the middle of a recovery. Time was when wage increases tracked gains in productivity and profitability -- but that time is long gone. Since 2001 yearly productivity growth has averaged 4.1...

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