Posts Tagged ‘labor’
[Update: Jerry Davis had a longer piece on this issue at Yale Global Online.]
Jerry Davis objects to my post, accusing me of misreading him because I didn’t read him (allegedly). “I would not summarize my argument as ‘Blame the consumers,’ and tried to be careful not to phrase it this way.” I gather part of the complaint is that ‘blame the consumers’ implies it is solely their fault, whereas (at points) Davis is clear blame is shared. Fair enough.
Let’s start with the original post.
Blame quickly extended from the owners of the building and the factories it contained, to the government of Bangladesh, to the retailers who sold the clothing. But the culpability extends all the way down the supply chain — to us.
Our willingness to buy garments sewn under dangerous conditions, chocolate made from cocoa picked by captive children, or cellphones and laptops containing “conflict minerals” from Congo create the demand that underwrites these tragedies.
I’ll concede he doesn’t actual apply the word blame to consumers – he used culpability (seemingly as a synonym for blame, which is used at the beginning of the sentence, but let’s leave that aside). Where does our culpability come from? “Our willingness” (a phrase I already quoted) to buy such goods. Read the rest of this entry »
[Update: On Orhtheory, Jerry Davis object to my comment (which was the first draft of this post) for claiming that he is calling to blame the consumer.]
[Update 2: Davis also makes his objections in this comments to this post. My response is here]
[Update 3: Jim Naureckas has a good post on this topic: You're to Blame for Factory Deaths. Well, You and Walmart]
[Update 4: You can take the National Consumers' League 10 cent pledge here.]
Speaking of the awful Bangladesh factory disaster that killed at least a thousand people, Brayden King at Orgtheory quotes Jerry Davis in the New York Times who blames consumers for working conditions in the Third World. In essence, consumer demand for cheap products are what forces wages down and makes working conditions so dangerous, so the blame lies with those consumers.
I see a few problems with this. First, if the all-powerful consumer was driving this, we wouldn’t see businesses making high profits, because that too raises costs. This is not the case. Second, even with expensive goods, where consumers are willing and even eager to pay high prices, we see similar working conditions (think Apple products).
Progressives have forgotten how to think about the constitutional dimensions of economic life. Work, livelihood, and opportunity; material security and insecurity; poverty and dependency; union organizing, collective bargaining, and workplace democracy: for generations of American reformers, the constitutional importance of these subjects was self-evident. Laissez-faire, unchecked corporate power, and the deprivations and inequalities they bred were not just bad public policy—they were constitutional infirmities. Today, with the exception of employment discrimination, such concerns have vanished from progressives’ constitutional landscape.
That has to change.
Today, Matt Dimick called attention Williams Forbath’s piece in Dissent, “Workers’ Rights and the Distributive Constitution” which opens with the above quote. It makes a good follow up to my last post on the role of money in putting deeply unpopular Social Security cuts on the agenda, or more simply, the power of the donor class. Forbath notes that conservatives use constitutional language to advance their agenda, while progressives often respond defensively. But Forbath calls for progressives to recapture a constitutional tradition that would insist that government has not only the power but the duty to push back against the conservative assault on the New Deal and Great Society.
The great Mark Price has a piece in the Guardian today, Wealth inequality will keep growing unless workers demand better, that gets to the heart of the problem with our broken economy’s failure to provide the security, opportunity, and basic needs we all deserve. Two points are worth mentioning. First, it’s taken as a matter of faith that conservative prescriptions for the economy are easy to understand and more left-leaning approaches are more complex. I think that’s rubbish. Read Mark here. It’s not difficult at all. If people don’t have jobs, they can’t spend, and we all suffer. If there are way more applicants then there are jobs, there’s no way out of this mess. Inequality is the problem, equality the solution. It’s not that hard. (I made the same point about Robert Reich before). He also discards the silly notion that government has been trying to fix this problem, or that the solutions are unclear. Read the rest of this entry »
In my Inaugural I laid down the simple proposition that nobody is going to starve in this country. It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By “business” I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers I mean all workers, the white collar class as well as the men [sic] in overalls; and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level-I mean the wages of decent living.
Franklin Roosevelt, Statement on the National Industrial Recovery Act (1933)
Lew, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, joined NYU as chief operating officer and executive vice president in 2004. At the time, NYU was the only private university in the United States whose graduate students had a union contract. By the time Lew left two years later, NYU graduate students had lost their collective bargaining rights. In between, picketers hoisted “Wanted” posters with his face on them.
Reached over email, Andrew Ross, NYU professor of social and cultural analysis, charged that “the administration followed every page of the union-busting playbook, as instructed by the anti-union lawyers retained for that purpose.” Ross, a co-editor of the anthology “The University Against Itself: The NYU Strike and the Future of the Academic Workplace,” wrote that despite broad faculty and community support for the union, “students on the picket line were threatened with expulsion. There was no indication that Lew, as a senior member of the team who executed this policy, disagreed with any of these practices. To all appearances, he was a willing, and loyal, executor of decisions that trampled all over the students’ democratic right to organize.”
By the time Jack Lew left his post as NYU COO to become COO of Citigroup Wealth Management, the six-month strike was over, and the union had lost.
When we talked last year – soon after Obama had promoted Lew from his OMB director to his chief of staff — Local 2110 president Maida Rosenstein told me that Lew had acted as “the point person” in “representing management’s position” against GSOC.
Josh’s piece generated some attention, leading Elias Isquith to question whether the Treasury Secretary has anything to do with labor unions. Shawn Gude and Erik Loomis both have responses that I largely agree with. But I wanted to add a couple of thoughts that relate to some of the themes I’ve been talking about here.
Read the rest of this entry »
Here are your top five posts from the last year, based solely on page views. The biggest thing driving traffic – one or two people who have a bigger megaphone than me passing it along. (My thanks to those people). Was there anything else they shared in common? Let’s take a look.
Also, don’t miss Top Five Posts that No One Read: 2012.
A recent case from Iowa has caused a great deal of discussion, and it illustrates an important larger point.
A dentist acted legally when he fired an assistant that he found attractive simply because he and his wife viewed the woman as a threat to their marriage, the all-male Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.
The court ruled 7-0 that bosses can fire employees they see as an “irresistible attraction,” even if the employees have not engaged in flirtatious behavior or otherwise done anything wrong. Such firings may be unfair, but they are not unlawful discrimination under the Iowa Civil Rights Act because they are motivated by feelings and emotions, not gender, Justice Edward Mansfield wrote.
Nelson, 32, worked for Knight for 10 years, and he considered her a stellar worker. But in the final months of her employment, he complained that her tight clothing was distracting, once telling her that if his pants were bulging that was a sign her clothes were too revealing, according to the opinion.
He also once allegedly remarked about her infrequent sex life by saying, “that’s like having a Lamborghini in the garage and never driving it.”
I just asked this question on Twitter, and realized I wasn’t going to be able to explain it in 140 characters. So I thought I’d elaborate here. First, the question:
There has been a lot of talk about how we need to reframe the horribly inaptly named “right to work” laws, which essentially require unions to represent workers who refuse to join or otherwise support the union in any way. Since no one is ever required to join a union, this whole framing in nonsense, a cover for a policy designed to weaken unions that can’t be defended on the merits.
‘Right to work for less’ is a common one, but it is fairly clunky. I like the idea of ‘loafer laws’ or even better, ‘freeloader laws’ (that one is from Matt Bruenig) which emphasize the free rider problem here. I also like ‘no rights at work’ law. Regardless, the question I’m asking is a different one.
What would a real right to work look like? Instead of reframing the right-wing policy with a different name, we could attach a different policy to the name (in fact we could and probably should do both). Rhetorically, we’d respond to the call for a ‘right to work’ by saying, ‘absolutely we need a real right to work, which would mean X’ There are, as I see it, two options.
The first is the one I mentioned in my tweet – just cause employment laws. These laws, which presently exist only in Montana, require employers to have a legitimate reason before firing an employee. This is opposed to at will employment, where employers can fire for any reason or even no reason, as long as they don’t run afoul of various anti-discrimination laws. (It’s worth pointing out that because outside of these laws employers can fire at will, enforcing such anti-discrimination laws is more difficult). In essence, such laws ensure a basic level of due process, and reduce the arbitrary authority of employers while leaving intact legitimate authority.
Another way to reframe right to work would be a federal guarantee of a job, along the lines that Sandy Darity has proposed. ”His National Investment Employment Corps does that, he says, by creating real jobs that pay a minimum of $20,000 a year and $10,000 in benefits, including medical coverage and retirement savings,” along the lines of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. This is a quite literal ‘right to work.’
Does that make sense? And if so, what do you think?
[Update] Richard Yeselson was tweeting about the first question, and offered “right to shirk.” I like that.
I’ve expressed skepticism about the possibility of federal labor law reform, the white whale of organized labor. Instead, I’ve suggested two alternate routes–first, the use of executive orders or other presidential policies to advance labor rights, and second, state level reforms. Obviously, any effort needs to find a way to make a case that goes beyond ‘this will be good for unions’. This is true even through non-union workers and society as a whole benefits from strong unions.
At Just Cause Reform (h/t Corey Robin), Rand Wilson offers a suggestion that meets that criteria and can be pursued at multiple levels–meaning it would not depend on getting a bill through the Senate.
What’s left to achieve that might inspire all workers—union and non-union alike?
“Employment security” could be the remaining frontier. A campaign to pass state laws requiring “just cause” before a worker is fired could also spur union growth, since one of the top reasons workers are afraid of organizing is the knowledge they are likely to be terminated.
Our existing laws have not diminished workers’ fears because the procedures are too uncertain and lengthy (two to three years at the Labor Board and another two years in the courts) to provide any assurance. Winning state “just cause” laws that allow cases to be decided quickly by arbitrators might give workers more confidence.
On the face of it, this proposal seems far more plausible then the alternatives.
Winning “just cause” legislation will certainly not be easy. But building a movement on a similar scale to the effort put behind EFCA would offer union activists an opportunity to champion an issue that would benefit all workers and also help union growth.
A “just cause” campaign could potentially engage working people at many levels. Short of state or federal legislation, local unions, central labor councils, and worker centers could seek to enforce a just cause standard through workers’ rights boards and community pressure.
I don’t see this as a magic bullet. But in terms of finding a way to turn back the tide, both for union rights (and density) and employee rights in general, this holds a lot of promise. I was drawn to the idea of just cause employment before, but thinking about it as labor law reform makes it even more appealing.