Anyone familiar with Diane Ravitch’s writing knows she is on the political left. That said, her latest article does a great job of showing how our political and economic decisions are linked to education. Whatever your political views, I recommend that you consider her views and how they impact both students you care about and how they impact your tax dollars. As Ravitch points out, jobs are also at issue. As long as Americans are competing with workers in developing nations that earn much less, jobs will continue to outsourced. Ravitch, like a good teacher, helps us connect the dots.
Common Dreams is one of my favorite websites for understanding our world. Today it reposts an article by Jeff Faux that examines a very hot book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Piketty. The book’s thesis is pretty simple: the rewards of capitalism are now flowing to very few people. After WWII, the opposite was true. Economic expansion built the middle class in America and allowed Europe and Japan to rebuild after a terrible war. Poverty in America shrank. Now the opposite is true. Even though workers are more productive, their pay has declined.
Piketty claims that capitalist growth is fueling income inequality. Looking at capitalist societies over 300 years, he finds that most periods of growth increased inequality. The post-war period in the U.S was an outlier. Piketty refutes the claim that markets are self-correcting. Instead, they benefits most often go to those who do not have to work for a living (big investors, capitalists). Faux is careful to point out that Piketty is not a radical, that he is closer to Keynes than Marx. What excites me about a book like this is that it will challenge the way people think. It will force people to reexamine accepted wisdom, which is often the first step to real change.
PS: In Daily Kos, Mark Sumner criticizes Ross Douthat’s attempt to pooh-pooh Pikkety’s book.
Common Dreams has posted an article by Michelle Chen that examines one reason for wage disparities between men and women. In many states, employers can fire employees who discuss their salaries with other employees. Last week the Senate failed to pass The Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would have prevented this practice (if the bill passed the House, which would not have happened). How serious is this issue? Chen cites a 2003 study claiming that 1/3 of employers have rules that prevent employees from discussing pay with co-workers.
Why isn’t this practice a violation of the First Amendment? Chen explains that employers claim that pay is similar to a “trade secret,” confidential information. She also reminds readers of Lilly Ledbetter’s story. Ledbetter was doing the same job as her male peers at Goodyear Tire, but did not know she was paid less. When she found out and sued, the court ruled that she had not acted in a timely manner even though she did not have the information because of the employer rules described above.
I recommend that you read Chen’s story to get the full sense of this story. Should employers have this right? I don’t think so. Yes, employees should not discuss proprietary information. Salary does not fall in this realm. Instead, employers are bullying employees to control them and keep them afraid. This is another reason why American workers should support stronger labor laws and unions.
According to Common Dreams, McDonald’s employees in California, Michigan, and New York are suing both corporate owned stores and franchisees for wage theft. The employees assert that their pay has been lost due to fraud that includes: doctoring time sheets, preventing employees from taking breaks, making them work off the clock and forcing them to pay for uniforms. The workers in these states are trying to come together in a class action suit that could cover over 30,000 employees. If large companies don’t want to pay their employees and don’t want to let them have union protection, the next step will be courts. What popular companies have to hope is that judgments in courts of law are not followed by a worse fate: conviction in the court of public opinion.
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?