From the 1930s through the 1980s, the United Steelworkers (USW) and its sister industrial union, the United Auto Workers, were the heart of organized labor in America. If the woman in the street or the legislator in D.C. had been asked to name the most powerful union in the country, the USW would have been at the top of the list. And deservedly so: With a membership topping 1 million, correspondingly vast coffers, immense political sway, and industry-wide bargaining power, it won the kinds of contracts and prominence that few other unions ever gained in America's notoriously conservative political economy.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
On Feb. 4, a full year into Barack Obama's presidency, conservative influence over the Department of Labor finally loosened. After a grueling nine-and-a-half-month confirmation process, Patricia Smith overcame the Senate hold on her nomination as Labor Department solicitor, the third ranking position within the department. Her victory had been anything but certain: Fierce Republican opposition had already compelled another Obama Labor Department nominee, Lorelei Boylan, to withdraw her nomination as head of the vital Wage and Hour Division.
North Carolina's fiscal crisis isn't unique, but in a region where tax increases have long been political poison, the way state officials are dealing with it is.
The numbers are intimidating: The 2009–2011 budget showed a $4.6 billion difference each year between the revenues needed to maintain reasonable levels of service and the state's ability to raise those revenues. All told, that is about 25 percent of the state's general fund. In comparison, the state's previous worst shortfall during the 2001 recession was only 10.8 percent. Fierce cuts to public spending were widely anticipated.
At last count, conservatively speaking, 13.2 million Americans were unemployed, and according to Paul Krugman, we can expect the numbers to keep rising through 2010. The spirit-crushing reality of those figures has led several commentators to pen editorials bemoaning the passive state of the American worker. While laid-off French workers bossnap (kidnap their bosses) and the Chinese Commerce Minister warns of unemployment-related unrest, Americans have exhibited few signs of protest.