Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
September 26, 2011

Getting Enough Jobs
Sharing the Work
One old idea that has been revived during the present jobs crisis is work sharing. Instead of laying off junior workers, this approach would reduce work hours for all, maintaining (smaller) paychecks and benefits for everyone. It is a well intentioned attempt to maintain solidarity through shared sacrifice, making the best of a very bad situation.

This was once a tradition in some industries, such as textile and garment. Of course, the longshore and many building trades unions often rotate available work through hiring halls--good times as well as bad.

But there is no way of devising a fair system for the 93 percent of private sector workers in the USA who aren’t represented by a union. Even in unionized workplaces there are formidable obstacles. Most bosses will prefer layoffs to rid themselves of health insurance, pension, and payroll tax obligations. And many workers with enough seniority to avoid a pink slip are today living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to pay off mortgages, putting kids through college, etc. They see any reduction in their hours as disastrous--making them a tough sell for sharing.

The only effective and equitable way to share the work is through legislation covering everybody. And, at the same time, new laws should also require the employer class to share some of the surplus they have accumulated from the product of working class labor. No matter the color of our collar, we all have a big stake of sweat equity in the largest concentration of wealth in human history.

After decades of bitter struggle, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 finally established the eight-hour day, forty-hour week, as the norm in the USA. Since then worker productivity has soared and has even continued to grow substantially during the Great Recession and Jobless Recovery.

The bosses have used this giant leap in worker output to drastically reduce workforce numbers in traditional industries and to limit their growth in new ones. Fifteen years ago, the Labor Party Program was spot on in saying,

“Each year we become more and more productive at work. In a fair and just economy, increased productivity should allow us to work fewer hours, not more.”

Concretely, the Program proposed,

A 32-Hour, 4-day Work Week
Double-time Minimum for All Overtime
An Hour Off with Pay for Every two Hours of Overtime
20 Mandatory Paid Vacation Days for All
One Year Paid Leave for Every Seven Years of Work

This twenty percent reduction in the standard work week–with a raise in hourly pay to compensate for the fewer hours–and other additional paid time off, would reverse the 73 year trend of chronic job elimination. This would put mlns of jobless back to work. It would also give all of us more family and recreation–or “what we will”–time.

In addition to these long overdue measures we, of course, need to also mobilize against current attacks on Social Security designed to make workers toil til they drop. Raising the bar on retirement age is unjust in many respects–not the least of which is denying job openings to the unemployed and those just entering the labor force. A 1998 Labor Party resolution on Social Security says,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the First Constitutional Convention of the Labor Party oppose all efforts to privatize Social Security in any manner; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Labor Party oppose any effort to cut benefits or increase eligibility thresholds and the Labor Party oppose any effort to use trust fund surpluses for any tax cut;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Labor Party support examining increases in employers’ tax rates and eliminating the payroll tax earning cap as the only acceptable method to improve the Social Security system, provide a guaranteed living income and insure the long-term financial viability of Social Security;

Sharing the work through shorter hours, more paid time off, and earlier retirements, with no loss of pay, will get us started on a recovery with jobs. But even this won’t cure all of our problems. We’ll continue the discussion next time.

Tier-2 Medicare
President Obama’s promise to veto any changes in Medicare that aren’t accompanied by raising taxes on the wealthy was widely hailed--by those only hearing the first part of the sentence. An AP analysis of the President’s Medicare plans offered to the deficit super-committee says,

“.... his administration is borrowing from corporate America's playbook by proposing to raise a range of costs for future retirees, while mostly shielding Medicare's 48 million current beneficiaries.”

Among the future Tier-2 changes,

“Newly signed-up beneficiaries would pay a penalty if they also purchase private insurance that covers all or most of Medicare's copayments and deductibles. Administration officials say such insurance encourages over-treatment.”

There is indeed much “over-treatment” ordered by some greedy doctors but this is little affected by patient out-of-pocket expenses. The allegation that giving folks unfettered access to care encourages them to visit pleasant waiting rooms for every minor complaint real or imagined has been around a long time–and has no basis in fact. Whether we have a “Cadillac plan” or are a charity case, most of us reluctantly make appointments only when clearly indicated–or ordered to do so by our doctor.

Copays and deductibles tend to discourage timely needed treatment. This not only causes unnecessary suffering–it can ultimately lead to later higher treatment expenses that could have been avoided. Even many of the insurance robber barons have learned to waive out-of- pocket charges for some “wellness” programs as a way of keeping more of what we pay in premiums.

At the end of World War II, American labor adopted employer-based private insurance as the model for health care benefits for their members--and became complicit in creating the mess, unique in the industrialized world, we find ourselves in today. British unions, working through their Labor Party, took a different path–socialized medicine. For more than sixty years now, all of Her Majesty’s subjects have received quality care from cradle to grave never once seeing a doctor or hospital bill. They tend to live longer than us Yanks and collectively they spend a little more than half of what we do.

Any genuine effort to reduce the deficit would adopt just such a fundamental reform of the overpriced and under serving health care industry in America or, at the very least, the single-payer Medicare for All approach of our Canadian cousins.

But the actual health of the working class is of no concern to the West Wing or the super-committee. All parties to “reform” are committed to our belt-tightening, chiseling every last penny from entitlements. So suck it up Tier-2 younger generations (including my younger spouse). Work til you drop–then go to the doctor. You’ll be doing your part to lick their deficit crisis.

In Brief...
¶ The
brief strikes for improved patient care and no contract give-backs by twenty-some thousand members of the California Nurses Association and National Union of Healthcare Workers against hospital chains were inspiring and rate a cheer for our side. But the care-givers on the picket lines were shocked and saddened by the news that a patient at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland died from an apparent medical error by a “replacement” nurse brought in by the employer. The union nurses held a candlelight memorial vigil Sunday evening and have demanded a state investigation of safety practices during their absence. As has become typical, the bosses met the unionists with a punitive lockout at the scheduled end of the strike.
¶ An AP follow-up on the 2010 BP disaster says, “Tar balls washed onto Gulf of Mexico beaches by Tropical Storm Lee earlier this month show that oil left over from last year's BP spill isn't breaking down as quickly as some scientists thought it would....The study concluded that mats of oil--not weathered tar, which is harder and contains fewer hydrocarbons-- are still submerged on the seabed and could pose a long-term risk to coastal ecosystems.”
¶ There will be rallies sponsored by the four postal unions at every congressional district office tomorrow, September 27, against draconian cuts proposed for the US Postal Service. In Kansas City, the most convenient will be at 101 West 31 Street from 4-5:30PM. To find a location in your area click

Don’t Forget To Switch
This is the last Week In Review going out to the iContact subscriber list we’ve used since 2004. Beginning with our next edition, which is due out October 10, we will be using a Yahoo Groups list. Current subscribers wishing to continue to receive the WIR should use the Yahoo link below to get signed up for the change if you haven’t already done so.

Taking A Break
Vacations don’t come easy in our household. My wife Mary is self-employed with no paid vacation time but with very demanding clients. To actually leave town we also have to coordinate with a good friend willing to do house and cat-sitting. A precious window of opportunity has now opened giving us a chance to visit friends and family, and an annual huge Planned Parenthood book sale, in Iowa and Illinois. That’s why the next WIR will be two weeks from now, October 10.

That’s all for this week.

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