Harold Meyerson

Labor Wins—in China

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Is China moving ahead of the United States on worker rights? According to a report on Monday’s Financial Times , it may be doing just that. The FT reports that Foxconn, which employs 1.2 million Chinese workers who make the bulk of Apple’s products, along with those of Nokia, Dell, and other tech companies, has decided to allow its workers to hold elections to select their union leaders. This is a radical departure from past practice in China, where unions are run by the government—that is, the Communist Party—which customarily selects the union leaders. Often, the leaders selected under this system are actually the plant managers. Under Foxconn’s new plan, workers will cast secret ballots for their union leaders, and no managers will be eligible to run. The company’s proposal, writes the FT , is viewed as a “response to frequent worker protests, riots and strikes and soaring labor costs.” In other words, just as employers in Western Europe and the U.S. once came to prefer dealing...

Employees? Consumers? Feh!

Flickr/Scott Lenger
Should the Supreme Court uphold it, last Friday’s decision by three Reagan-appointees to the D.C. Circuit Appellate Court appears at first glance to rejigger the balance of power between Congress and the president. The appellate justices struck down three recess appointments that President Obama had made to the five-member National Labor Relations Board during the break between the 2011 and 2012 sessions of Congress partly on the grounds that Congress wasn’t formally in recess, since one and sometimes two Republicans showed up to nominally keep it in session for the sole reason of denying Obama the right to recess appointments. Two of the three justices went further, ruling that the president can’t really make recess appointments at all. It’s not that Obama has made a lot of recess appointments. He’s only made 32—compared to the 171 made by George W. Bush; one of Bush’s appointees was John Bolton to the post of UN ambassador. Presidents have been making recess appointments since the...

Equality of Flying Time

Poking holes in the arguments that appear on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages bears a close resemblance, I admit, to shooting fish in a barrel, but an op-ed in Thursday’s Journal makes points so idiotic I cannot restrain myself. Its thesis, as woozily argued by Donald Boudreaux, a George Mason University economics professor, and Mark Perry, a University of Michigan econ prof, is that the decline and stagnation of the American middle class is a myth. Careful analyses of American income distribution by economists like UC Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez—who has found that 93 percent of U.S. economic growth since the trough of the recession has gone to the wealthiest 1 percent of our compatriots—are not even considered in the Boudreaux-Perry manifesto. Rather, they note that Americans’ life expectancy has increased in recent decades (though they fail to grapple with the recent report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, which found that Americans’ lives are...

Equality, Brought to You by U.S. Airways?

Flickr/Robertsharp
Poking holes in the arguments that appear on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages bears a close resemblance, I admit, to shooting fish in a barrel, but an op-ed in Thursday’s Journal makes points so idiotic I cannot restrain myself. Its thesis, as woozily argued by Donald Boudreaux, a George Mason University economics professor, and Mark Perry, a University of Michigan economics professor, is that the decline and stagnation of the American middle class is a myth. Careful analyses of American income distribution by economists like U.C. Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez—who has found that 93 percent of U.S. economic growth since the trough of the recession has gone to the wealthiest 1 percent of our compatriots – are not even considered in the Boudreaux-Perry manifesto. Rather, they note that Americans’ life expectancy has increased in recent decades (though they fail to grapple with the recent report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, which found that...

Labor, and Middle Class, Still Shrinking

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
Can we at least agree to stop using the term “Big Labor?” Whatever else may be said of the American union movement, it’s not really big any more. Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its report on the number of Americans in unions in 2012, and it tells a tale of steady, and in some cases, dramatic shrinkage. In 2011, 11.8 percent of American workers were unionized; last year, that figure dropped to 11.3 percent. The percentage of public sector workers in unions dropped from 37.0 percent to 35.9 percent, while the share of unionized private sector workers went from 6.9 percent to 6.6 percent. For all intents and purposes, collective bargaining in the U.S. private sector has just about vanished. In 1970, there were 17.8 million union members in a nation of 203 million. Last year, 14.4 million Americans were union members (down by 400,000 from the previous year) in a nation of 315 million people. In percentage terms, the 11.3 percent national unionization rate is just...

Solis Steps Down

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File
There has never been a more pro-worker Secretary of Labor than Hilda Solis, who announced yesterday that she’s stepping down from her cabinet post. But for much of her tenure, she was swimming upstream—confronting not just most anti-labor congressional Republicans in modern American history, but also an Obama White House inner circle that she, like many of her fellow cabinet members, never really permeated. Within those considerable constraints, Solis did what she could to get the federal government to intervene on workers’ behalf. Unable to advance many new policies, however, that often meant enforcing established pro-worker policies with uncommon vigor. During her tenure, the Labor Department collected record amounts of back pay for workers cheated by their employers, and moved to strengthen mine-safety inspections. The administration also announced new regulations that would bring nearly 2 million home-care workers under the coverage of the federal minimum-wage law, but,...

Just What Workers Need: More Labor Civil War

AP Photo/Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Rachel Denny Clow
As a rule, most merger or affiliation announcements between two organizations tend to the celebratory: Each group brings a proud history and now have joined together to create an even prouder future, yadda yadda. But not last Thursday’s press release from the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA), which proclaimed its affiliation with the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) in an announcement largely devoted to attacking the presumed perfidy of the Service Employees International Union, with which NUHW has been engaged in a prolonged blood feud that puts the Hatfields and McCoys to shame. Broadly speaking, SEIU and CNA are the nation’s two pre-eminent health-care worker unions, with CNA the leading organization of registered nurses and SEIU representing close to one million hospital orderlies and nursing home attendants. In 2009, after the two groups had waged a number of bitter organizing campaigns against each other for the right to represent the same...

All Hail Wall Street

Flickr/Wally Gobetz, Emmanuel Huybrechts
Flickr/Emmanuel Huybrechts I f the debate around the fiscal cliff and, particularly, the still-impending sequester demonstrates anything, it’s that Richard Nixon’s one plunge into economic theory—“We’re all Keynesians now,” the former president once said—still holds. Everyone acknowledges that laying off hundreds of thousands of government employees, including 800,000 civilian Defense Department workers, and stopping payment to government contractors will, by definition, destroy jobs, at least until the payments resume. It’s still Republican orthodoxy, to be sure, to deny that government spending actually creates jobs, but even they acknowledge that the cessation of government spending destroys them. Which illustrates that the problem with contemporary Republicanism isn’t confined to their indifference to empiricism but also their indifference to logic. Reasoning—either deductive or inductive—is either beyond them, beneath them or above them. A second Republican talking point called...

American Lefties

AP Photo/Henry Burroughs
Two books published in 2012 opened new windows on the history of the American left. Michael Kazin’s American Dreamers looked at social change movements and left parties from the abolitionists to the New Left and concluded that their most significant and enduring contributions came in changing the nation’s social and cultural attitudes. The left in America measurably diminished institutional racism and sexism. What it wasn’t so good at was building a lasting left movement in the United States akin to the social democratic parties of Europe – which has meant that American capitalism has less of a social character than its European counterpart. A less celebrated but eminently valuable book was Peter Dreier’s The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20 th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame. An extension of Dreier’s Nation magazine cover story on the 20 th century’s 50 leading American leftists, his book is an outstanding reference work that provides portraits of movement activists,...

Watching Wal-Mart’s Warehouses

AP Photo/Noah Berger
Friday’s Wall Street Journal reported that Wal-Mart “is planning to monitor subcontractors’ U.S. warehouses, in the same way it tries to police conditions at suppliers’ factories around the globe.” For the more than half-million Americans who work in warehouses like those that supply Wal-Mart—the Labor Department puts their number at 672,000—this is modestly good news. As the Prospect has been reporting since 2009, Wal-Mart and America’s other discount retailers don’t employ their warehouse workers directly. In the Ontario-Fontana exurbs of Los Angeles, where half the imports that come into the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors are trucked to be unloaded, arranged on pallets, and retrucked to Wal-Mart and kindred stores for a thousand miles around, the warehouses themselves are owned by property management companies, and they’re run by logistics companies with which Wal-Mart and other retailers contract. But the logistics companies aren’t the workers’ employers of record. Rather,...

For Unions, It Was a Very Bad Year

AP Photo/Detroit News, Dale G. Young
AP Photo/Detroit News, Dale G. Young Pro-union demonstrators crowd the Capitol Rotunda in Lansing, Michigan to protest "right to work" legislation being considered by the Republican-controlled legislature. A merican labor can begin the new year with thanks that 2012 is over. Not that the unions didn’t win some big victories in 2012. Their political programs in key swing states played a major role in President Obama’s re-election, both by turning out minority voters in record numbers in Ohio, Nevada, and Florida and by winning Obama a higher share of white, working-class voters in the industrial Midwest than he won in other regions. Their efforts also helped liberal Democrats hold key Senate seats in Ohio (Sherrod Brown) and Wisconsin (Tammy Baldwin), and pick up Massachusetts (Elizabeth Warren). In California, the nation’s mega-state, unions beat back a ballot measure designed to cripple their political programs by a decisive 12.5-percent margin, turning out so many voters that they...

Nancy Pelosi, Same Job, Different Coalition

(Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi holds a news conference with newly elected Democratic House members on Capitol Hill. N ancy Pelosi has confounded expectation before. Following the 2010 midterm elections, when Republicans recaptured the House on a wave of Tea Party indignation, Pelosi was widely, and unjustly, criticized for leading House Democrats to debacle. She had played a key role in enacting Obamacare, a program that the Obama administration chose not to defend as Election Day drew nigh. She had not paid enough attention to solving the recession, critics argued, though in fact House Democrats had passed additional stimulus measures that failed to surmount Senate filibusters. It was time, the critics said, for her to go. But Pelosi disagreed, and her House colleagues turned out to be in no mood to challenge her decision. Now, once again, she has surprised the Washington conventional wisdom by signing on for another two years atop the House...

Romney and the 0 Percent

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My favorite exit-poll factoid this year comes near the end of the quadrennial Edison-Mitofsky questionnaire, as reported on the NBC News web site. The pollsters asked people leaving their voting places whether Barack Obama’s policies, and Mitt Romney’s policies, “generally favor[ed]” the rich, the middle class, or the poor—and respondents could give more than one answer. Among Obama supporters, 86 percent said that Obama’s policies favored the middle class, with another 25 percent saying that they favored the poor. Only 12 percent of Romney’s supporters, by contrast, believed that Obama’s policies favored the middle class while a whopping 74 percent said that they favored the poor—not a good thing in Romneyworld. But the interesting numbers come in the answers to the question on Romney’s policies. Not surprisingly, 87 percent of Obama supporters said the Mittster’s policies favored the rich, while 0 percent said they favored the poor. Among Romney’s own supporters, only 10 percent...

Get Out the Union Vote

(Flickr/Wisconsin AFL-CIO/Justin Geiger)
Despite setbacks in several states, the American labor movement came out a clear winner in Tuesday’s elections. Most important, they played a key role in ensuring the re-election of President Obama, and contributed significantly to Democratic Senate victories in hotly contested races in Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Virginia. How effective were the unions’ massive voter-education and mobilization programs in the swing states? This year, for the first time, the network exit polling didn’t ask whether respondents were union members, though it did ask if there was a union member in their household. Historically, while union-household voters are more pro-Democratic than voters with no union members at home, the gap is smaller than that between actual union members and non-members. Also historically, union membership doesn’t make much of a difference among, say, African-American women, who are going to vote Democratic at a 95-percent rate whether or not they belong to a union. Where...

The Future of the White Man's Party

(AP Photo/Nick Ut)
(AP Photo/Nick Ut) Former California governor Pete Wilson with his wife Gayle in 1995. During his tenure, Wilson promoted Proposition 187, which would have denied all public services to undocumented immigrants—a move that is credited with turning Latinos in the state against the GOP. O ver the past 15 years, California’s electorate has changed so dramatically and so quickly that Democrats have often won victories they weren’t even anticipating. In 1998, no one expected Gray Davis to win the governor’s office by 20 percentage points, and the tightly wound Davis, who had no life outside politics, was plainly bewildered by his own emotions during his victory speech on the night of the landslide. This week, no one expected the Democrats to win two-thirds of the seats in the state Assembly (they did expect to win that many in the state Senate, which they did), yet the Democrats won those seats going away. As California law requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative houses to raise any...

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