Common Dreams has published several great posts that link the late Pete Seeger to progressive politics and workers’ rights. Today, it posted a remembrance by David Lindorff, a journalist who talks about Seeger’s impact on his life. While this essay touches on politics, it is more about how an artist can touch us and change our lives. All great art, like politics, is personal.
Today saw a second straight disappointing month for job growth. The number again is positive, but not strong enough. Common Dreams has posted an article by Michelle Chen that looks beyond the monthly numbers. Chen, a writer at In These Times, lays bare the mainstream media lie that workers are to blame for unemployment because they have the wrong skills. Citing a study from the Economic Policy Institute, she finds that workers of all education levels are struggling in the current market. Chen concludes that the real gap is one of understanding. People who claim that skills are the problem do not know how the economy works.
I would add to Chen’s analysis by noting that many fields have been glutted by intense marketing from universities, colleges, and training programs. Professions that once had easy entry know have more applicants than open positions, which lets employers drive down salary costs. My simple take is that good jobs are hard to find and getting harder to find all the time. Employers have the upper hand, and they know it, which means wages will continue to stay flat or go down until real job growth happens. Given the attitude of both business and government, we might be in this negative cycle for a long time to come.
Sarah Lazare, a staff writer at Common Dreams, reports that Detroit’s bankruptcy is not the fault of pension funds. A report by Demos has found that bank deals, including “swaps,” have put the city in its current hole. The deals never should have been made given the city’s shaky standing. It’s almost as if the banks wanted Detroit to go bankrupt, so they could sweep in and clean the carcass. Another factor fueling the city’s failure was corporate subsidies, which the weak city gave to corporations that are flush with cash. Given all this, it makes perfect sense to blame pension funds and the workers who will lose all of their pensions. What’s going on in Detroit is criminal, but as we saw in the Banking Crisis of 2008 and its aftermath, bankers cannot be held responsible for their wrong doing. They get a bail out. Detroit gets the shaft.
Michelle Chen of In These Times (reposted on Common Dreams) reports that workers at musical instrument retailer Guitar Center are striking a power chord for wage justice. Workers at two of the chains +200 stores have unionized. Now others are joining the fight. Chen notes that these employees often are connected through interests outside of work, such as bands, which will give them even more reason to show solidarity when the going gets tough.
Expect the going to get tough – Bain has owned the business since 2007. However, it’s important to note that the unionized stores organized during Bain’s ownership. When workers hang together, they are impossible to stop. Are you listening, McDonald’s? Walmart?
Nurses who work for Sutter hospitals and nursing facility have fought and won concessions from management. However, it took 9 strikes and public pressure for them to move a company that was not above spreading falsehoods to hold back workers. As Rose Ann DeMoro reports in Common Dreams, the company also tried to intimidate workers through pay and benefit cuts. The nurses hung together, and they won, which is a good lesson for workers across the country and throughout the world.
Writing in Common Dreams, Jim Horn, a Professor of Education at Cambridge College, examines Diane Ravitch in the light of her new book, Reign of Error: the Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Horn notes that this book has been widely reviewed and focuses on the author instead, calling her a whistleblower and truth teller. Ravitch, once a champion of education “reform,” has turned against corporate-based philosophies of education “reform.” Horn calls Ravitch, “the single individual who most influenced the eventual outcome if parents and teachers and students continue to heed the call for the restoration and renewal of public schools free of high stakes tests for all children who choose a high quality and free education.”
Horn’s critique underscores Ravitch’s importance not just to education, but to democracy and workers’ rights. A free society needs school systems that will be responsive to citizens, not the corporate elite. It also needs schools that promote more meritocracy, not selective schools or charter schools that cherry pick those students deemed to be “winners.” If we are to live up to the promise of America, we need schools that will be of the people, by the people, and for the people. Diane Ravitch has shown that, for all its flaws, the best vehicle to promote fair education is the public school.
This story began with a brave action when the Washington D.C. City Council refused to give in to Walmart’s pressure over a living wage ordinance. The Council passed a bill requiring that companies like the nation’s largest retailer pay a minimum wage of $12.50 per hour. The less-than-brave, lame duck (and just plain lame) mayor vetoed the bill.
Now, as Laura Clawson reports in Daily Kos, another turn has taken place. Councilman and mayoral candidate Tommy Wells has proposed a city-wide minimum wage of $10.25. At first glance, this sounds good. The wage is higher than that advocated by President Obama, and it is a quarter more than the minimum wage law passed recently in California.
What’s wrong with this proposal? Walmart saves $2.25 per hour. Wells was part of the minority that opposed the original ordinance. Now he offers a compromise that will protect companies like Walmart (large retailers). Washington voters need to ask: “Mr. Wells, which side are you on?”
P.S. Abby Zimet in Common Dream explains how Walmart’s owners, the Walton family, uses loopholes to keep more and more money. Couldn’t just a little trickle down?
What if the shoppers showed up and there were no workers? That’s the dilemma the nation’s largest low wage employer/retailer could be facing on the day after Thanksgiving. Common Dreams has reposted an article by Josh Eidelson of the Nation, who reports that Walmart workers across the U.S are discussing a major work stoppage on Black Friday.
Negotiation is all about leverage. Walmart will never need its works so much as it will on Black Friday. A major walk out on that day will send a message. Hopefully Walmart and other workers will hear it. All workers deserve a living wage.
I don’t have time for a post today, but I would recommend this piece by Canadian union leader Gary Engler. He examines how our self-definition as workers (and I would add citizens) has been replaced by an idea of ourselves as consumers, people who only know themselves by what they buy, not what they make.