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.
November 22, 2013
October 26, 2013
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?
October 5, 2013
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.
September 26, 2013
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.
September 17, 2013
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?
September 7, 2013
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.
September 3, 2013
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.
August 4, 2013
Detroit is broke. That’s what the media and the politicians like Governor Snyder tell us. It’s an easy story to tell given the way the city looks. It’s also easy to tell when the politicians and their banker allies only give one alternative. What they don’t say is that unions tried to work out a deal that would have prevented the bankruptcy. The governor and his Emergency Manager (Appointed Dictator) would not talk to them. A cynical person might even think that the governor had some reason for wanting the city to declare bankruptcy.
Common Dreams has reprinted an article by the Nation’s John Nichols that examines how democracy is not working in Michigan’s largest city. Michigan and Detroit voters both rejected Snyder’s Emergency Manager program, only to have the governor revive the program during a lame duck session of the legislature. Nichols interviews experts who point out that several American cities have problems similar to Detroit. As the nation’s industrial base broke down, the federal and state governments responded by cutting funds sent to big cities. Rather than blame local officials as the governor does, Nichols suggests that we look at state government as part of a complex problem.
John Cassidy of the New Yorker looks at the story from the perspective how the city came to the bankruptcy “solution.” He asks the often unasked question: Was this move necessary? Were there alternatives? He points to gentrification in parts of the city. The Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr seems only interested in giving pensioners as little as possible (as little as 20%) while offering bank creditors (as much as 75%). Cassidy ends ominously by quoting a municipal bankruptcy lawyer who calls Detroit, “a test case.”
The same day Detroit declared bankruptcy, Chicago bond rating was hit with a big downgrade. A couple of weeks later, the city’s school system had its bond rating slashed. Do you see a pattern? The same politicians who failed to fund pensions are now using that action to say pensions need to be cut. They robbed Peter (workers) to pay Paul (bankers). And now they’re asking Peter to pay the bill.
What happens in Detroit will be a test case. If working people don’t wake up, they will pay the bill of the bankers while city workers, including those who have already retired, will have to live on a fraction of the pension they should have received as part of their compensation. Pensions are not welfare. Retired workers are not takers. If Americans don’t wake up to this new make-the-rich-richer scheme, we will all lose.
July 30, 2013
Fast food workers stuck in 7 cities across the U.S. today. Common Dreams reports that this could be the biggest strike of its kind ever to take place. Workers, many of whom are only making the minimum hourly wage of $7.25, are calling for a living wage of $15 per hour. At first, it sounds shocking that anyone would ask to have their wages doubled. However, it’s not that big a challenge.
Writing in Huffington Post, Caroline Fairchild reports that it would be fairly to double the wage of McDonald’s workers. The price of a Big Mac would go up by all of .68, which would double the wage of all workers in the company, including CEO Donald Thompson, who takes home $8.75 million per year (probably with a few extra million in stock options tossed in). It wouldn’t take much to help those most in need of a raise.
If we dug just a little deeper and paid a little more, an army of consumers would lift this economy without any government intervention. For this to happen, large companies like McDonalds and Walmart would need to do two things: First raise prices a little. Second, pass the wealth along to their employees. Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.
July 27, 2013
One of my favorite websites, Common Dreams, has reposted an artice by Mijin Cha of Demos that analyzes the career mobility of workers in the fast food industry. As you might expect, the career ladder has only one rung for most employees. Few employees are made manager. Even fewer will ever own a franchised restaurant that requires a net worth of $500,000. Cha points out that the owner of Yum Brands is a millionaire who made $55 million last year. He pays his employees $7.25 an hour. I would add to this that many conservative politicians, following the lead of Herman Cain, are arguing to abolish the minimum wage. Do people like the owner of Yum Brands deserve to be richer while tens of thousands of workers get poorer? Is that a free market – or the road to slavery?
P.S. Laura Clawson of Daily Kos adds to this point. As always, her articles are a must read on issues that affect working people.