Labor

A Talent for Storytelling

Rick Perlstein tells how Reagan imagined his way into the American psyche.

(AP Photo)
This book review is from the Fall 2014 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here. Simon & Schuster The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan By Rick Perlstein 880 pp. Simon & Schuster $37.50 I n 1959, as the Cold War heated up and the economy cooled down, President Dwight Eisenhower received a letter from World War II veteran Robert J. Biggs. Tired of hearing the president explain the complexities of the modern world, Biggs begged Eisenhower to lead the nation with firm assertions rather than “hedging” and “uncertainty.” The former general responded that such guidance by authority was imperative in a military operation but fatal in a democracy. Self-government demanded that men reject easy answers and instead carefully weigh the often contradictory facts about great issues facing the nation. Just as Eisenhower did, Rick Perlstein’s new book, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan , illuminates the deadly attraction of...

To Check Power of Greedy Bosses, Workers Need to Bargain in New Ways

When workers' power is diminished and people’s voices are shut out of the workplace, job quality and job standards suffer.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman) Tanya Melin of Chicago, right, Service Employees International Union members, home care consumers, workers, and allies rally in support of home care funding at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012 in Springfield, Illinois. W ork looks a lot different today than it did 100, 50, or even 10 years ago: It’s faster, it’s automated, and it’s complex. We used to pin these shifts on globalization; now we’re tying everything to the rise of an on-demand sharing economy. And while it may seem like progress in terms of how quickly and cheaply we can get things, we can’t forget that it’s happening at the expense of regular people and their ability to work full time and earn a decent living. That’s because, for far too long, greedy CEOs have held all of the power, giving those of us doing the work very little room to make our voices heard. Corporate interests have been on a decades-long bender to depress wages, benefits and job standards, trapping you and me and...

Here's How to Achieve Full Employment

If we don't get there, then many communities—particularly those of color—will be left out of the recovery.

(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
iStockPhoto The following is the testimony of Economic Policy Institute President Lawrence Mishel before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing on “Expanding Opportunity in America’s Schools and Workplaces” on February 4, 2014. It originally appeared at the EPI website , where you can also find the source material . I t is encouraging that there is now widespread agreement across the political spectrum that the key economic challenge is middle-class income stagnation. To address this stagnation we must confront two underlying trends. The first is to address the ongoing but incomplete jobs recovery from the financial crisis that Wall Street inflicted on the global economy. The second trend is the stagnation of wages for the vast majority of workers since the late 1970s, an era of “wage suppression.” That wage trends lay at the heart of income stagnation is just common sense. After all, middle-class families rely almost completely on what they earn from their...

Did Koch Brothers Just Doom America to a Future of Crumbling Roads and Tunnels?

First, their minions called for Chris Christie to cancel a much-needed rail project, and he did. Now they've set their sights on Congress to do much the same.

A.M. Stan
It was never going to be easy for the Republican-controlled Congress to pass an increase to the federal gas tax—a tax that finances the Highway Trust Fund and pays for roads and bridges around the country. Last raised in 1993 to 18.4 cents per gallon, the tax has since lost much of its value , especially with the rise of fuel-efficient cars. With the Highway Trust Fund running huge annual deficits, plans for many infrastructure projects and repairs have been left hanging out to dry. But there were signs that raising the federal gas tax was possible, as when Republican Senators John Thune of South Dakota and chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in early January that a gas tax increase couldn’t be ruled out , and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, later agreed with him. Well, forget it. Because last week more than 50 conservative groups, a number of them funded through the Koch brothers’ network, sent a...

We're Jailing the Wrong People. We Need to Jail More of the Right Ones: Corporate Criminals

iStockPhoto/© pkline
(Photo illustration @pkline/iStockPhoto) This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post under the title, "We Should Send More People to Jail." Y ou know the statistic. We incarcerate a higher proportion of the population than any other country does. Russia and South Africa rank respectively second and third. Hundreds of thousands of young, now aging, men, are doing hard time for possession of small amounts of drugs. More and more people find themselves in jail because they got caught with bench warrants for their arrest for exorbitant fines they could not afford to pay. More than a century after debtors prisons were abolished, thousands are again behind bars because of debts. But one category of felon is free on the street. I refer, of course, to corporate criminals. Consider the case of a checkout clerk at Walmart who puts her hands in the till and walks off with a couple of hundred bucks of the company's money. That clerk could expect to face prosecution and jail. Now...

One Big Reason for Voter Turnout Decline and Income Inequality: Smaller Unions

The decline of labor unions has shifted the balance of power not only in the country at large, but within the Democratic Party. Hello Wall Street; bye-bye voters...

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
T wo of the most commonly cited reasons for the lack of more liberal policymaking in the United States are the decline in unions and the rising class bias in voter turnout . In the 2014 midterm congressional elections, the Democrats’ rout was largely attributed to a failure of their coalition to turn out at the polls. What is rarely examined, however, is the relationship between a decline in voter turnout and the dwindling number of union members. And as that turnout has declined, the control of the financial class over the entire political system—Republican and Democrat—has taken hold. Over the last several decades, union membership in the United States has declined precipitously , from 24 percent of all wage and salary workers in 1973 to 11.1 percent today . At the same time, our economy has increasingly begun to favor the wealthiest members of society. The labor share of income has reached the lowest level it’s been since 1929, and that diminished income is distributed incredibly...

Labor at a Crossroads: How Unions Can Thrive in the 21st Century

First, stop the self-flagellation: The labor movement lives, and is getting stronger.

(AP Photo/Long Beach Press-Telegram, Stephen Carr)
This article was commissioned as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our "Labor at a Crossroads" series here . (AP Photo/Long Beach Press-Telegram, Stephen Carr) Local 63 ILWU members form a picket line in the Port of Long Beach, California, on Friday July 9, 2010. Striking clerical workers at the nation's busiest port complex expanded their walkout to a fifth terminal Friday, temporarily shutting down loading and unloading operations when dockworkers at the facility refused to cross the picket line. L abor advocates and scholars often feel like we won’t be taken seriously unless we say how awful things are. The more dire our analysis, the more listeners will nod and say it must be right, with labor insiders so self-critical. But our critical thinking shouldn’t...

Labor at a Crossroads: The Case for Union Organizing

The labor movement has been growing while shrinking—growing through organizing.

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
T he union movement is 3.5 million members smaller than 40 years ago, and the forces that brought that about are as energetically engaged and powerful as they have ever been. From that undeniable fact, it has been wrongly concluded: Union organizing is impossible, futile, or a thing of the past The labor movement is dead, or dying The best hope for workers is through something different from trade unions and collective bargaining. These conclusions are very disconcerting to this organizer. I am upset that there’s so little acknowledgement of the millions of workers who have risked much to try to unionize. Thousands are doing it today. And so little acknowledgement of those who have done it and succeeded. They number a million and a half. How do I know that? I know it from my own experience; it’s the work with which I have been immersed for those 40 years. And I know it by virtue of simple arithmetic. The 3.5 million members by which labor has shrunk is net. I simply added the net...

Labor at a Crossroads: Minimum Wage Fights More Easily Won Than Representation

Unions are investing major resources in organizing drives more likely to yield new laws than new members.

15 Now/Seattle
15 Now/Seattle Activists at an April demonstration demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage in Seattle. This article is originally appeared in the December 7, 2014, edition of the Los Angeles Times . We republish it here as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference to be presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . H altingly, with understandable ambivalence, the American labor movement is morphing into something new. Its most prominent organizing campaigns of recent years—of fast-food workers, domestics, taxi drivers and Wal-Mart employees—have prompted states and cities to raise their minimum wage and create more worker-friendly regulations. But what these campaigns haven't done is create more than a small number of new dues-paying union members. Nor, for the foreseeable future...

Labor at a Crossroads: In Defense of Members-Only Unionism

Allowing members-only unions would protect the rights of those who wish to bargain collectively even if they fail to surmount all the legal hurdles necessary to establish the union as the representative of all employees in the workplace.

(AP Photo/Times Free Press, Danielle Moore)
(AP Photo/Times Free Press, Danielle Moore) In a March 31, 2010, photo, Christian Iosif, an equipment installer with Leoni, programs a welding robot on the underbody dash panel line at Volkswagon of Chattanooga, Tennessee. This article is published as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . S urveys of employee support for unions show a majority want collective representation. Yet, as illustrated by the close vote on union representation at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, union organizing efforts often fail—either before employees have a chance to vote, or at the ballot box, or in subsequent litigation. For decades, scholars and union-side lawyers explained the gap between employee desire for unionization and...

Labor at a Crossroads: Time to Experiment

New organizing will be propelled by committed activists, but will have to be sustained by huge numbers of members and supporters.

Working America
This article is published as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . I love the breadth and gusto of the new labor organizing, which includes plenty of innovation based in old labor organizing as well. This mash-up of practical experiences will help produce breakthrough tactics and strategies. There is also a question of purpose—is our aim to improve working conditions, or is it to build a more powerful working class? These are related, clearly, but suggest different strategies and structures. Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, is a laboratory for change. Here are three areas at the top of our list for exploration in this realm. Changing minds Pollsters call this “the frame”—but really, it’s ideology. Working...

Labor at a Crossroads: How We Know We Haven't Yet Found the Right Model for the Worker Organizations

If we had already found the right model for a powerful, scalable, sustainable organization uniting low-wage workers, then organizers would learn about problems at particular worksites from the workers themselves, not Reddit.

© Phillip Pessar via Flickr
© Phillip Pessar via Flickr The retail chain Wet Seal kept employees in the dark about plans to close 338 stores, such as this one in Miami's Dadeland Mall, even assuring workers that their jobs were not in peril. Employees responded by posting signs in store windows detailing the company's mistreatment of workers, and by creating a #forgetwetseal hashtag campaign that rocketed to the top of Reddit . This article is published as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . O n the first Friday in January, the executives of mall retailer Wet Seal held a conference call to inform hundreds of store managers that their stores were closing—effective just days later. Many workers had noticed extremely low inventories and extremely high...

Labor at a Crossroads: Can Broadened Civil Rights Law Offer Workers a True Right to Organize?

It's one way to allow victims of anti-union discrimination to sue in federal court for compensatory and punitive damages.

(AP Photo/Alex Sanz)
(AP Photo/Alex Sanz) U.S. Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, is co-sponsoring, with Rep. Keith Elison of Minnesota, legislation that would broaden the Civil Rights Act to include workers who are discriminated against for wanting to join a union. Lewis, shown here on December 22, 2014, discusses the historical film Selma and civil rights in the United States during an interview in Atlanta. Forty-nine years after Lewis and other marchers tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, memories of "Bloody Sunday" are still vivid in his mind. It was one of the defining moments of the civil rights era. This article is published as part of " American Labor at a Crossroads: New Thinking, New Organizing, New Strategies ," a conference presented on January 15, co-sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute, The Sidney Hillman Foundation, and The American Prospect . (View agenda here .) Find our Labor at a Crossroads series here . O rganized labor, which represents only 1...

Meet Austerity's Kissing Cousin: A Terrible Trade Deal

(AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
(AP Photo/Martin Meissner) People protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) at the final election party of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) prior E.U. Parliament elections in Duesseldorf, Germany, Friday, May 23, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . E urope is right on the edge of another downward lurch into prolonged deflation. GDP growth is hovering right around zero. Germany, as an export powerhouse, continues to thrive, but at the expense of the rest of the continent—victims of German-imposed budget austerity demands. The euro, which keeps sinking against the U.S. dollar, is now trading at just $1.20, its lowest level in four and a half years. Unemployment outside prosperous Germany remains stuck at over 12 percent. All of this weakens the political center that supports the E.U., and increases the appeal of far-right parties. (You wonder if Europe's leaders bother to read their own history. When there is protracted...

Intrigue: Doth Chuck Schumer Protest Too Much When Called 'Enabler' of Bad Budget Deal?

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, talks on a phone as he walks from the Senate subway on Capitol in Washington, Friday, December 12, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . L ast week, I wrote a piece lamenting the fact that so many Democrats had voted for a budget package that gutted a key provision of the Dodd-Frank Act. The so called swaps push-out provision, now repealed, required banks to separate their speculative business in derivatives from depository banking covered by government insurance and further protected by the Federal Reserve. The broader budget deal, technically a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through next September, also cut a lot of needed public spending and added several odious riders, including one that raises the ceiling on individual campaign contributions to party committees about tenfold. Had Democrats resolutely opposed the deal, I argued, it would have revealed Republicans...

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