Week In Review
A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
April 16, 2012
Work Is Paid
Leslie Morgan Steiner sparked a brief but heated “conversation” with her 2006 book, Mommy Wars. It brought to light the divide between mothers who work outside the home and those choosing to stay at home. Of course, that was before millions of moms–and dads too–became involuntarily stay-at-home during the Great Recession and Jobless Recovery.
Many headline writers have been borrowing from the title of that once popular book to describe the latest strange gaffe of the election season. The Obama campaign has been counting on an offensive against what they convincingly call a Republican War on Women to help overcome discontent about the economy, war, and other unpopular issues that have dogged them throughout the current administration. They have had some success. Obama leads in the polls primarily because of lopsided support from likely women voters. But, as you undoubtedly heard, a hip shot by Hillary Rosen aimed at the GOP ricocheted in to the White House.
Ms Rosen, often described in the media as a “Democratic strategist,” is a big shot in a high-powered political consulting firm as well as a paid analyst for CNN. On that cable network, she disparaged Ann Romney, wife of the presumptive Republican nominee for President, and mother of their five children, as having “never worked a day in her life.”
Now this proved to be poor strategy on at least two counts. First, one of the few ethical rules in American presidential politics is that, while slanderous vilification of candidates is part of the game, their spouses and children are out of bounds. The White House immediately denounced Rosen’s breach of this protocol.
More than that though, the Obama supporters who are “stay-at-home moms” felt insulted and many in the other “mommy wars” camp shared their outrage at Rosen’s remark. The Administration hopes that this is merely an embarrassing “process story” that will fade from attention as quickly as it flared up.
Perhaps it will. Certainly the principal women’s advocacy groups, such as NOW and Planned Parenthood, are every bit as committed to reelecting Obama as the unions and Pale Greens. I was drawn to a Kansas City Star article by two writers I respect entitled Another front in the ‘mommy wars’: A teachable moment about work. But it didn’t teach very much either.
With perhaps a few exceptions of those born in to rich families, whether urban or rural, whether it be on the farm, in a factory, office, store, classroom, restaurant, hotel, hospital, aboard airplanes, or self-employed, most women have always worked in the labor market for at least part of their lives–and all have worked in their homes without being paid.
During the Fifties and Sixties glory days of the American Middle Class, and the now obsolete stereotype nuclear family, it became possible in many–though certainly far from all--homes to live comfortably on the pay of one breadwinner. Millions of women became known as “housewives,” responsible for nurturing children, cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc, as part of a division of labor with husbands who worked for wages. In the spirit of Ms Rosen’s candid dismissal, their toil is seldom recognized as real work and receives no monetary compensation. Nor do they get any Social Security or pension credits. Such labor so essential to the functioning and reproduction of the working class never shows up in the GDP.
As many of the Middle Class joined in the Urban Sprawl to new suburban housing, that they perceived to offer better schools and environment for their kids, one paycheck usually was no longer enough. The real value of work performed by full-time “homemakers” began to become more apparent as the housewives went to work outside the home.
Two paychecks didn’t mean double discretionary income. Wages for women then and now average only about three/quarters of men’s pay. There were additional transportation expenses. Often child care had to be paid for. Food costs went up with the increase in restaurant and take-out meals. Some even hired help with housework, laundry, lawn care to keep up.
Elizabeth Warren, in collaboration with her daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi, wrote an illuminating book in 2003, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke. They demonstrate that two-income families today usually have less real disposable income, more debt, and diminished savings than single-paycheck families forty years ago.
My emphasis on recognition of household labor doesn’t mean I believe a woman’s place is in the home. A woman’s place is wherever she aims to be. This half of the population is not a homogeneous group. Women have the same divisions along class and skin color as men. They have differing intellectual and recreational interests. Many love kids, others prefer cats. As far as I can tell, women are united only in two respects–they share the same anatomy and they all are subject to discrimination to one degree or another because of their gender. Even the new CEO of IBM can’t get in to the Augusta Country Club.
Subjugation of women has been promoted by religion and governments through different social systems over millennia. Since the rebirth of the feminist movement in the Sixties, women in North America and Europe have made considerable progress in knocking down barriers to full participation and equality.
But even these limited gains are now coming under an often vicious counterattack. This is not only because old prejudices die hard. Both the right-wing’s War on Women, and the cynical co-optation of women’s issues by perfidious Democrats, continue to thrive with the blessing of the ruling class–including female CEOs. That’s because the politicians serve their super-exploitation of lower paid women in the workplace and unpaid women in the household. Gender discrimination means big bucks for the One Percent.
Recognition of this truth should be included in the lesson plan of a “teachable moment.”
Reuters reported from Cartagena,
“Unlike the rock-star status he enjoyed at the 2009 Summit of the Americas after taking office, Obama has had a bruising time at the two-day meeting in Colombia of some 30 heads of state. Sixteen U.S. security personnel were caught in an embarrassing prostitution scandal before Obama arrived, Brazil and others have bashed Obama over U.S. monetary policy and he has been on the defensive over Cuba and calls to legalize drugs. Due to the hostile U.S. and Canadian line on communist-run Cuba, the heads of state failed to produce a final declaration as the summit fizzled out on Sunday afternoon.”
In fact, most countries indicated they would not attend another summit that excluded Cuban participation.
Parting Gift to the Host
While the Obama Administration continues the embargo and travel ban imposed on Cuba a half-century ago, the White House announced they were satisfied with progress on human and labor rights in Colombia and the new free trade agreement with Bogotá will begin next month.
Many congressional Democrats joined the GOP in passing the Colombia agreement only after inclusion of a provision the deal would not be final until a “Labor Action Plan” to guarantee worker rights had been certified by the President. Earlier in the week, Steelworkers president Leo Gerard .wrote,
“The slaying of one Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin, roiled anger and outrage in this country among citizens who believe the killing was unjust and unwarranted. Similarly, the torture and killing of one labor organizer in Bangladesh last week provoked an outcry there and a half-page story in the New York Times. Americans don’t countenance murder, particularly when it’s racially or politically motivated. Americans are justice-seeking and fair-play-believing. And that is why we, as a country, cannot certify that Colombia has fulfilled its obligations...For us to do so would be to turn our backs on the 30 trade unionists slain in Colombia last year and the six that Justice for Colombia reports have been murdered already this year.”
It’s estimated that more than 3,000 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia over the past 25 years--easily giving them recognition as the deadliest country in the world for workers trying to organize. The police and military are often implicated in these deaths. Suspects were charged in only about five percent of these cases.
Perhaps the President relied on more recent sources on the ground for his decision so at odds with his labor friends–such as the advance contingent of Secret Service who reportedly conducted in depth under cover investigation of the conditions of the hospitality sector of the Cartagena labor force.
¶ The film, Brothers on the Line, about the Reuther brothers who played such a prominent role in the UAW, will be shown in Kansas City this coming Saturday, April 21, 7PM at UMKC Royall Hall, 800 E. 52nd Street. The film’s producer, Sasha Reuther, will be interviewed on the Heartland Labor Forum radio show, 6PM this Thursday, on KKFI-FM, 90.1.
¶ U.S. workers’ earnings officially fell 0.4 percent in March after adjusting for increases in prices.
¶ President Obama has been stumping for the Buffet Rule. The billionaire ruffled some One Percent feathers when he proclaimed no CEO should have a lower income tax rate than their secretary. But, it turns out the CEO at the White House paid only 20.5 percent on his taxable income–less than his secretary.
¶ From the New York Times, “A federal judge in South Carolina ruled on Friday that the National Labor Relations Board did not have the authority to order most private employers to post notices telling workers about their right to unionize under federal law. “
¶ More justice reported by AP, “The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that employers are under no obligation to ensure that workers take legally mandated lunch breaks in a case that affects thousands of businesses and millions of workers.”
That’s all for this week.
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