Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
September 19, 2011

Envied No More
Before I keep my promise to discuss how we can get enough good jobs, I want to highlight a few of the findings in recently released reports from the
Census Bureau, BLS, Kaiser Family Foundation, and others. They demonstrate empirical verification of what most working people have long felt in our bones --we are getting poorer in almost every aspect of our social and economic lives.

* Real median household income in the United States in 2010--49,445 dollars–was a 2.3 percent decline from the 2009 median. This is about the same inflation adjusted level as 1996. Male full-time wage workers are back to where they were in 1978.

* The national poverty rate is up to 15.1 percent--the highest in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published. And when they say poverty they mean it. The cut-off for poverty is 22, 314 dollars a year for a household of four–well less than half the median household income.

* The number without any health insurance in 2010 was just under fifty mln. In 2000, 69.2 percent of workers under age 65 were covered by employer-based insurance. By 2010 that figure had slipped to 58.6. The average employer plan premium for family coverage more than doubled over the last decade–now 13,770 a year. 29 mln who have insurance lack adequate coverage, still leaving them vulnerable to financial ruin if they encounter serious health problems.

* The number of 25- to 34-year-old men and women living with their parents totaled 5.9 mln --a 25.5 percent increase since the Great Recession began in 2007. It’s not possible to get precise counts of the out-and-out homeless but certainly at any given time there are hundreds of thousands. More in both categories will soon be coming. Banks resumed aggressive measures in August with foreclosures surging 33 percent over July.

* Workers of color, who never caught up with the colorless during the “middle class” glory days, have been hit harder than ever by job eliminations in unionized manufacturing, construction, and transportation industries. African-Americans are taking the brunt of the cuts now ravaging the public sector and will be dealt a particularly severe blow if the USPS is allowed to carry out their proposed massive postal cuts.

Even the well-massaged monthly Consumer Price Index rose 3.8 percent over August 2010. But of particular interest to most workers and retirees, groceries went up 6.0, used cars 5.4--and gasoline 32.4 percent over last year. We clearly are far from bottoming out the decline in real income–any way the statisticians slice it.

These various components of collapsing living standards--that were once the envy of the world--are inter-related--but jobs occupy the center stage. Workers depend on their jobs for income and health care to support themselves and dependents. Those not working don’t consume enough goods to keep others working and don’t provide enough in taxes to support the needed public sector, schools, Social Security and Medicare. Workers without jobs become willing to work for less–depressing wages and benefits throughout the economy. Jobs are key.

Last week I offered criticism of the President’s jobs plan–which, in any case, appears DOA in Congress. But I don’t want to slight the track record of our labor statespersons who preach partnership with the boss–and eagerly support both the Obama plan and more concessions to employers.

 As I write, details of the tentative agreement reached late Friday night by the UAW and General Motors are only partially available. UAW president Bob King’s initial public statement said,

“First and foremost, as America struggles with record levels of unemployment, we aimed to protect the jobs of our members - to guarantee good American jobs at a good American company. And we have done that. This contract will get our members who have been laid off back to work, will create new jobs in our communities and will bring work back to the United States from other countries...”

This hype is reminiscent of when then UAW president Owen Bieber, after negotiating a landmark concessionary 1987 General Motors contract that codified Team Concept, crowed that the GM settlement would “make stable employment a part of the way this corporation does business.” At that time GM employed 335,000 UAW members. This year’s UAW deal at GM covers about 49,000 working members.

Exactly a year ago I wrote this in the WIR,

“Harley-Davidson stock is listed as HOG. That should make any self-respecting swine wince. After the iconic motorcycle maker threatened to abandon their 107-year old home base, a truly horrible agreement was approved by a relatively close vote of workers at their plants in Milwaukee and Tomahawk, Wisconsin. 1,350 workers making engines, transmissions, windshields and sidecars are now locked in to a seven-year contract that not only freezes wages but also replaces hundreds of present full-time workers with part-time casuals--called in like any other just-in-time components. The casuals will get half-pay and next to no benefits. But while job security went down the tubes ‘union security’ was preserved–the casuals will pay union dues to either the Steelworkers or Machinists, depending on their fleeting job classification.”

Harley followed up by getting a virtually identical–and early--deal last February with the same unions in Kansas City. Per that agreement, 145 senior workers are being laid off, their work re-distributed among the “casuals.”

Since the same old, same old of government “stimulus” and union give-backs have failed to preserve and create jobs it’s high time to look at different alternatives. I have no original new ideas to offer. But I will explain and advocate old ones that have greater relevance than ever. Many of these were part of the program and campaigns of the presently dormant Labor Party initiative.

When 1400 mainly union activists gathered in Cleveland in the summer of 1996 to launch the Labor Party we adopted a comprehensive working class program. While, of course, it could use some expansion and updating to reflect what’s happened in the world since, it remains a valuable guide for action.

The very first point of that program was entitled Amend the Constitution to Guarantee Everyone a Job at a Living Wage. It began,

“Corporate America is systematically destroying millions of decent paying jobs for working people. At the same time, the rich and the powerful are leading an assault on the public sector and demanding cutbacks in government jobs that provide services for us all. As a result, there are not enough good jobs to go around and our public services are crumbling.”

Commenting on stimulus to business packages such as the President’s current jobs plan,

“Since World War II, the government has been committed on paper to a full employment economy. But Corporate America and its army of pliable politicians have made a mockery of that idea. In the name of creating jobs they give the rich and powerful more tax breaks, more subsidies, and less government regulation. But trickle-down economics doesn't work for us. It only works for them.”

It goes on to declare,

“First and foremost everyone, both in the private and public sectors, needs a guarantee of a right to a job at a living wage — one that pays above poverty-level wages and is indexed to inflation. And in today's world that comes to a minimum of about $10 an hour. [In current dollars that would be about 13.50.] We want this right written directly into the U.S. Constitution. The Declaration of Independence affirmed our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Preamble to the Constitution promised ‘to establish Justice,... promote the General Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.’ But for working people all this means nothing if we don't have the right to a job.”

This approach is how we should frame a discussion about creating jobs–a project that far exceeds what can be done in a single WIR. In coming weeks, I’ll contrast other sections of the Labor Party program to the failed and failing efforts of those who try to disguise or ignore the class character of the jobs crisis. And I will also offer some of the newer ideas being developed by the Alliance for Class & Climate Justice, and others, for utilizing efforts combating climate change to achieve full employment.

In Brief...
¶ Six-thousand CUPE Air Canada flight attendants have filed an official strike notice and could be free to shut down the carrier as early as Wednesday. The cabin crew have been without a contract since March 31. They earlier rejected a tentative agreement recommended by their bargaining team. Meanwhile, talks have resumed between the employer and 8,000 campus support workers on strike at Ontario Colleges since September 1. And, after 3,000 Quebec medical residents went on strike at 8AM Saturday--they had a new contract by Noon the same day.
¶ Only selective scuttlebutt is available about the UAW deal at GM. It is known that Tier 1 workers (hired before the 2007 contract) who haven’t had a raise in seven years still don’t get one. Instead they will have to make do with a 5k signing bonus and slightly enhanced profit-sharing formula. Tier 2 currently making 14 dollars per hour will get to 16 over the life of the four-year contract; Tier 2 presently making 16 dph will get boosted to 19. (The average blue collar wage in manufacturing is 19.47)
¶ 54,000 UFCW grocery workers in southern California may soon be on the picket line. The union has withdrawn its day-to-day extension of a contract that expired eight months ago. Just as in a 141-day strike/lockout in 2003, the central issue at the Ralph’s, Von’s, Pavilion, and Albertson’s chains is health care.

Our Schedule and Mail
Our next WIR will be posted Monday, September 26. After that I will be taking a couple of weeks off for a mini-vacation trip and catching up on some personal chores. The WIR will resume Monday, October 10.

Next week’s (9/26) WIR will be the last we send out through our long-time e-mail service, iContact. Beginning 10/10, we will be using a new Yahoo list. In order to keep the character of “double-opt-in,” I cannot simply automatically transfer our old list to the new. Some current subscribers have already signed up with Yahoo but many have not. To avoid interruption you must be signed up before 10/10. You can easily sign up at the Yahoo link below.

That’s all for this week.

Click to join Yahoo KCLaborWeekInReview

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

KC Labor Home Past Weeks In Review Sign Up For E-Mail List

Site Meter