"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Unions’

A Question Of Labor: How Do We Help Workers Connect The Dots To This Larger System Of Oppression?

In Uncategorized on September 3, 2012 at 4:33 pm

https://i0.wp.com/www.addictinginfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/labor.jpgOldspeak:”There’s been a fifty-to-sixty year campaign in this country to destroy the reputation of unions. We don’t have a labor page, we have a business page in every newspaper. We get a one-way view from the American capitalist media every day, and it drums into people these horrible lessons. There is a total lack of understanding of what the real purpose of a union in this country really is and what it does. Unless and until labor leaders are willing to take some responsibility for rebuilding the relationship internally to the rank and file, we are in trouble because I think this is where the dot-connecting has to happen.” –Jane McAlevey
The death of the American Middle class is directly correlated to the death of the American Labor Unions as community organizing/educating powerful bulwarks against corporate hegemony. The  Labor unions has largely been co-opted, adopting the practices of the interests they were created to balance against.  Owners.  Top-down management, disconnection of rank and file workers from decision-making.  Mobilizing instead of organizing. Integration into the hopelessly corrupt “Pay-To-Play” system of governance, that has crippled representative government. “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Laura Flanders @ Truthout:

You could choke on the irony in Charlotte this Labor Day. The United States’ faux labor holiday falls on day one of the Democratic National Convention. While the Democrats will no doubt tip their hat to working people and imbibe a beer or two on labor’s campaign tab, the ragged edge of organized labor’s relationship with the Democratic Party will be on painful display. After all, it’s supposed to be a holiday.

Will Barack Obama win this November? Probably. In 2008, the unions spent at least $300 million to elect him president. As will be obvious in Charlotte, they’re likely to spend even more this year. The Democrats are up against far bigger spenders – men like Sheldon Adelson and the brothers Koch – but it’s hard to believe the GOP bankrollers will ultimately hoodwink enough of the American electorate to win, while Republican extremism, on everything from women to wages, gives moderate voters every reason to be rattled by Romney and Ryan. What’s harder to see is how working Americans actually benefit from the situation that will likely squeak Obama back into the White House.

Which brings us back to Labor Day. President Grover Cleveland signed the legislation declaring the first Monday in September a national holiday just days before he sent 12,000 troops to brutally break the Pullman Strike of 1894. The concession wasn’t what international socialists (who observed May 1) wanted in the way of a labor holiday. In fact, it was the opposite, but Cleveland and his successors excelled at dusting repression with just enough reform to defuse industrial workers’ organizing.

Fast-forward to the most bitterly split era since those Robber Baron days of the industrial age and we find ourselves in a rerun. Having free traded our manufacturing jobs to other countries and deregulated our economy to labor death, more than half of all jobs in the US today pay less than $34,000/year, a quarter pay less than $22,000 (the poverty line for a family of four.) Six million people exist on food stamps as their only income – and American labor unions are the weakest they’ve ever been. Gloating from the stage of the RNC in Tampa, we saw Republican Govs. Chris Christie and Scott Walker from the formerly labor-dominated states of New Jersey and Wisconsin, trumpet their success in scapegoating public-sector unions.

As organizer/author Jane McAlevey points out, “We get a one-way view from the American capitalist media every day [that] drums into people … a total lack of understanding of what the real purpose of a union in this country really is and what it does.”

What will turn this around? Not another four years of an Obama in office with only the radical right on the offensive. Labor has failed to win any of the legislation it was promised by the Democrats four years ago, yet the rightward rush of the Republican Party has kept unions in quiescent lockstep behind the Democratic Party.

The great, loud, Labor Day party we need is not at the Democratic National Convention.

Jane McAlevey has a book coming out this fall from Verso called “Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement.” I started by asking her to introduce herself, and then to talk about hell-raising in Wisconsin and the lessons the labor movement might draw from that experience, with relevance to the elections that loom just ahead of us.

Jane McAlevey; I’m Jane McAlevey and I am an organizer. I worked in the non-union part of the social justice movement for many years and made a transition into the labor movement on the heels of [John] Sweeney’s election [to be president of the AFL-CIO.] At the AFL-CIO in 1995 – when we had the first contested election in the history of the merged institutions (the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations) – there was a lot of promise in the labor movement, and people like me signed up in droves.

Laura Flanders: You wrote a piece in the June 26 issue of The Nation magazine with Bill Fletcher about the lessons from Wisconsin. Talk about hopes and disappointments, the top lessons, in your view?

JM: I think the top lesson in our view is that there is not enough internal radical, political education taking place inside of America’s unions. If there was one thing we had to do differently, it’s actually trust that our rank and file can handle a lot of the information and that the rank and file will know what to do with real facts, real information, and what’s really happening.

I should back up and say in terms of the introduction, I worked at a place called the Highlander Center for three years when I was young, and I’m quite sure that my bias as an organizer towards intense levels of education with the rank and file comes from being in my mid-20s and working at the most prestigious adult education center in this country. It was the heart of the civil rights movement, and (most people don’t even know) Highlander was the CIO’s official labor education school in the 30s and 40s. With that background to my early years of work, by the time I hit the labor movement, I had a very strong philosophy that I trusted the workers. If you trust the workers, and you actually present a framework for education that helps workers begin to understand that this isn’t just about the boss on the third shift, by the way, it’s the corporation you’re working for, and then … you help workers connect the dots to this larger system of oppression that’s taking place in this country dressed up as free enterprise and freedom.

I was trained by someone named Jerry Brown who is now retired, formerly the head of 1199 [the New England Health Care Employees Union – SEIU] in New England which was a communist-based union by origin that continued (even though they broke with Stalin, etc.) the organizing tradition that came out of the Communist Party in the ’30s – which is deep organizing. It starts with trusting the workers. So when I became a union organizer and I had been organizing already, I thought, what do I need to know? Jerry Brown, who I credit enormously for a lot of brilliant labor work in his time, said to me “trust the workers McAlevey, treat them like grown-ups and teach the workers to run the unions.”

LF: But still, going back to the June election in Wisconsin, one-third of all union members voted for Scott Walker –

JM: That’s right.

LF: … The anti-union governor, to stay in office.

JM: Yes, but I think that’s symbolic of what happens when you don’t trust the workers to be able to make wise decisions once we’ve provided the educational settings that enable radical, participatory, education. I’ve seen some arguments in Wisconsin where people said, “Well, one-third of union members are Republican and always vote Republican,” and I think that’s a bad analysis. The question is what’s the relationship between the leadership of the union and the rank and file members? The 38% that voted for Scott Walker is reflective of a lack of real, consistent, ongoing relationship-building with the rank and file of the union.

When we don’t engage the workers and treat them like grown-ups and say we have to have some really hard conversations – things are looking really bad right now and here’s why – and then explain how Scott Walker connects to what’s happening to the second shift manager or whatever it is; if we don’t do that, we’re going to continue to have 38% of union members voting against their self interests even though – I think Bill Fletcher and I say in our piece – in our own experience, we’ve both done a ton of radical, political education with thousands and thousands of workers, when we do our work right as labor leaders – when we really share what’s happening to these workers around them, give them the space to learn it on their own – to explore the system called capitalism in a way that’s not coming “to” them in some doctrinaire one-way messaging – I think that you would find that they’re not going to vote against their self interests. We’re not helping people connect the dots anymore – and we desperately need to.

LF: The dots in Wisconsin … when I was out there covering the uprising a year ago, were pretty broadly laid out. We interviewed grassroots activists from the world of farming, education, teaching assistants, young people of color fighting against cuts in social services, and more. It wasn’t just about “workers.” What has happened since when it comes to capitalizing (for the lack of a better word) on all those dots that are not in the “work place”?

JM: There’s been a fifty-to-sixty year campaign in this country to destroy the reputation of unions. We don’t have a labor page, we have a business page in every newspaper. We get a one-way view from the American capitalist media every day, and it drums into people these horrible lessons. There is a total lack of understanding of what the real purpose of a union in this country really is and what it does. Unless and until labor leaders are willing to take some responsibility for rebuilding the relationship internally to the rank and file, we are in trouble because I think this is where the dot-connecting has to happen.

It’s through our rank and file in the labor movement that the relationship to the so-called external allies needs to be built. It should not be a professional staff operation. And by the way, it’s not just unions, it’s in all of our movements – whether it’s the feminist movement, the environmental movement, or the labor movement. (I don’t like to just blame labor here – I have organized in all these movements and the same tendency has been taking place.) From the time [Saul] Alinsky published “Rules for Radicals” in 1972, there has been a fairly fast transition away from the deep organizing that characterized American left movements in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s. In the ’70s we take a turn from what we would call deep organizing and into what I call shallow mobilizing where you replace staff for leadership engagement and radical rank and file, participatory education (and I mean rank and file whether it’s environmental, conservation, women, etc. The rank and file meaning the grassroots, the people, ordinary Americans …)

We’ve replaced doing real leadership development and empowering people and trusting that they can figure out what’s going wrong in this country with communications, messaging, pollsters, lawyers, lawsuits and a bunch of staff and a bunch of advocacy organizations that sort of do the work for people. All staff do nowadays is “turn out,” turning out people for a rally. Our movement has become “go turn out bodies for a rally” and that’s why 38% of union household voted for Walker.

LF: You have a book soon coming out in the fall from Verso and we’ll go into this in more depth then, but to give us a taste right now, what happened in the 1970s to make the shift?

JM: So, we had tremendous success in the 30s, 40s, and 50s and that success came from brutally hard work. Brutally hard work: people were shot, killed, etc. I think we got to the height of power, the environmental movement passed all of its biggest legislation in ’71 and ’72 under Nixon. We had won Medicaid, we had won the Civil Rights Act, the National Labor Relations Act; we won a series of very structurally powerful changes that happened from the 30s, 40s and 50s culminating in the early 1970s. So people in the movement thought, HA! We’ve won. We now need to set up highly professionalized, very bureaucratized, nationalized organizations in Washington D.C. Let’s just hire a bunch of lawyers to implement our laws.

By the way, most of those laws have never even been fully implemented because there was a failure to understand that the reason that we passed the laws was because from the 1930s through the late 1950s, there was extraordinary movement in this country, grassroots everywhere. Every movement understood that the odds were against them, we had to build to majorities in the field to win. So they did incredible work, sacrificed so much, built huge majorities, built movements, and passed legislation not from professional staff and lawyers in Washington but from activism at the base, and then we made the fundamental mistake of thinking all we had to do was move to Washington and implement the agenda. We fail the minute we forget that the power is outside of the capitol, outside of every state capitol, certainly outside of the nation’s capitol. We have let our base whither and at the exact same time the right-wing in America begins to realize, ah, it’s the base, stupid, and [with Phyllis Schlafly, the Business Round Table et al] the right begins to build this hugely powerful base.

LF: What would you have done in the last 12 months of Wisconsin or in any other struggle you want to focus on? Concrete steps of how you do this differently.

JM: Step 1: Start having an extraordinary number of meetings. (I’m going to talk about this from a union perspective.) Have one-on-one conversations with every rank and file member there is. People say, well how do you do that? People think that would take a lot of staff. No, I’m not talking about staff, that’s the thing. I’m talking about trusting workers, bringing them in, going to trainings, talk to everyone. Then they begin to systematically map every single relationship they have. What church are they in? What farmers do they know? So that the strategy of the work is not professional staff to other constituencies, it’s rank and file members, doing inventory with them, really tapping what all the union members themselves have in their own community. And instead we sort of drop these layers of artificial coalition building on top as the best source we have.

LF: What about what their lives are like? How much does the workplace organizer know about what their member’s life is like outside?

JM: Exactly, very little. So one of the models of work that I have had the pleasure of using in the labor movement is – we start with these basic discussions. We get through the initial election victory in the union (a hard fought-fight) now we’re heading into our big first contract fight and we know it’s time to build serious allies. We’re looking effectively to build and win what labor folks call “neutrality.” What the labor movement wants is fair rules (which they can boil down to the Employee Free-Choice Act or EFCA, which sounded like some kind of social disease), but what we are trying to get to is, how do we blunt the instrument of the employer? That’s what all the tactical warfare of labor is engaged with.

The model that I worked on and worked with for the last fifteen years in the labor movement was that we said screw labor law, forget thinking we’re changing labor law, forget it, it’s not happening in our lifetime; the odds aren’t there. So instead, how do we create neutrality on the ground? We create neutrality on the ground by having the workers tap their own existing relationships to their own community. To go out themselves, not as I’m the union coming in to have a conversation about why we’re so good, but it’s Sally who goes to Reverend George’s church, and Sally, very nervously by the way (it takes about four rounds of work with Sally because workers aren’t just going to go talk with their religious leader, they are scared of them. Note to Labor movement – the workers are more scared of the house of faith and God than they are of the union or the boss). You have to do training work, you have to get the workers in role plays, they actually have to practice, but once they go and have that conversation you can see their shoulders relax, when they go in and get support from their religious leader it’s like, well, God’s on my side now.

LF: It’s kind of like the reverse of Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Take Your Worker Back Home.

JM: [Laughs] Yes, exactly.

LF: Where do you see it happening? Are there any models right now that are exciting to you?

JM: The places I see it happening most consistently are on what we would call the margins of the former labor movement. Which is in a lot of the immigrant organizing, whether it’s domestic workers … guest workers, the fight we are seeing now in Louisiana around the shrimp house, so there are places where it’s happening, but the big problem of it is – going back to the piece Bill Fletcher and I wrote on it is – these strategies (they’re not tactics, not games), these strategies are not being embraced by main line labor.

LF: What’s your advice to union organizers heading into the 2012 elections?

JM: I think we are in that customary, awful situation we normally are in this country, which is of course we’ve got to get Obama elected. It’s not funny. I find it actually not funny to think about what the alternative is. However, (pause,) if we do anything during the election period from now to November, it’s got to be that everything we are doing is additive, it’s building towards getting ready to launch serious fights the minute the election is over and I don’t care if it’s Obama, and with Romney it’s going to be a different kind of fight, but either way we have to be doing additive work. When we’re out building a base for an election too much of it is tactical, we want one vote out of them, we want to drive them out on Election Day. For organizers it [should be] how are we building for the long haul? How can we not make the same mistake in December of 2012 that we made in December of 2008, which was to be gloves off, access is cool, “We’re back in the White House!” That didn’t get us very much in four years. So, Democrat or Republican, we need to get Obama in, then we need to fight like hell to get an agenda through that’s not two-tiering any benefits that exist in this country, but fighting the next administration, whoever they are, that’s what we have to be building towards in this election period.

Jane McAlevey is, among other things, the author of the forthcoming “Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement” that we’ll talk to her about when it comes out from Verso.

Secretive Corporate-Legislative Group ALEC Holds Annual Meeting To Rewrite State Laws Favoring Corporations

In Uncategorized on August 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Oldspeak: Ever heard of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council)? Probably not. This clandestine corpocratic cabal of overwhelmingly conservative Republicans has brought you such legislative gems as SB 1070 (Arizona’s “Papers Please?” Law) mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders, “three strikes” laws, Prison Industries Act (Prison Labor), drafed bills to change tax laws, attack worker rights, roll back environmental regulations, privatize education, deregulate major industries, and pass voter ID laws. And the bills ALEC task forces usually favor the corporations and industries they’re meant to regulate and affect. “It is in fact the case that politicians and corporations are voting as equals on “model legislation” through ALEC task forces, and corporations have the right to veto, through this process, legislation that even a majority or—a majority of politicians within those meetings would approve. Those meetings cover every area of law, including the rights of Americans killed or injured by corporations, as well as healthcare, pensions—you name it, basically it’s covered.” –Lisa Graves “More than 98% of ALEC’s revenues come  corporations, corporate trade groups, and corporate foundations. Each corporate member pays an annual fee of between $7,000 and $25,000 a year, and if a corporation participates in any of the nine task forces, additional fees apply, from $2,500 to $10,000 each year. ALEC also receives direct grants from corporations, such as $1.4 million from ExxonMobil from 1998-2009. It has also received grants from some of the biggest foundations funded by corporate CEOs in the country, such as: the Koch family Charles G. Koch Foundation, the Koch-managed Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Scaife familyAllegheny Foundation, the Coors family Castle Rock Foundation, to name a few.” –Center for Media and Democracy So basically, as was grotesquely demonstrated by the passage of the wildly unpopular “debt deal” by the U.S. Congress, corporations’ votes count more than the elected officials who supposedly represent you, and introduce them as legislation to be made law. Some the results of this legislative alchemy? An explosion in the prison population and by extension a vastly expanded prison-industrial complex (U.S. accounts for 4% of world population and 25% of world prison population), an explosion in prison labor (to the detriment of unionized, and public sector workers) which constitutes unfair competition with corporations and small businesses who don’t use slave -er… prison labor. deregulation, reduced safety, reduced taxes on the richest americans & corporations, failed school privatization policies…. etc etc etc. More concrete evidence that the U.S. Government, has been captured by the Corprotocracy. It is obvious to any one paying attention that your government no longer works for we the people. Oligarchy In Action.”

Related Links:

The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor


New Exposé Tracks ALEC-Private Prison Industry Effort to Replace Unionized Workers with Prison Labor

Alec Exposed


Center for Media and Democracy 

By Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

AMY GOODMAN: Hundreds of state legislators from all 50 states have gathered in New Orleans, Louisiana, for the 38th annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC. The meeting’s top donor? BP, followed by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Takeda Pharmaceutical Company. Critics say the Washington-based group has played a key role in helping corporations secretly draft model pro-business legislation that’s been used by state lawmakers across the country.

Unlike many other organizations, ALEC’s membership includes both state lawmakers and corporate executives. At its meetings, the corporations and politicians gather behind closed doors to discuss and vote on model legislation. Before the bills are publicly introduced in state legislatures, they’re cleansed of any reference to who actually wrote them. However, the chair of ALEC, Noble Ellington, insisted in an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross that he works for the tax-paying public. Ellington is a Republican member of the Louisiana State Legislature.

REP. NOBLE ELLINGTON: We represent the public, and we are the ones who decide. So the tax-paying public is represented there at the table, because I’m there.

TERRY GROSS: I understand that, but you’re there at the table with corporations. But at the table—

REP. NOBLE ELLINGTON: Can I interrupt you again?


REP. NOBLE ELLINGTON: It’s not just corporations. I’m there, and members of ALEC is the Americans for Tax Reform, the National Taxpayers Union, National Federation of Independent Businesses. Those are people that we represent, as well, and those are people who are members.

TERRY GROSS: But those are—those are all pro-business, anti-tax groups. People not represented at the table include workers, union members, teachers, students—

REP. NOBLE ELLINGTON: No, ma’am. No, ma’am. You are—

TERRY GROSS: —patients, patients who can’t pay medical bills.

REP. NOBLE ELLINGTON: You are completely wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: That was, an exchange between NPR’s Terry Gross and ALEC chairman Noble Ellington.

In recent months, ALEC has come under increasing scrutiny for its role in drafting bills to attack worker rights, roll back environmental regulations, privatize education, deregulate major industries, and pass voter ID laws. Nonetheless, this year’s annual ALEC meeting boasts the largest attendance in five years, with nearly 2,000 people in attendance. The conference features speakers like, oh, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, Wall Street Journal contributor Steve Moore, and the president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks.

Now, a new exposé in The Nation magazine called “The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor” details ALEC’s instrumental role in the explosion of the U.S. prison population in the past few decades. According to the article, ALEC pioneered some of the toughest sentencing laws on the books today and paved the way for states and corporations to replace unionized workers with prison labor.

We’re joined now by the one of the reporters who wrote the article, Mike Elk, contributing editor to The Nation magazine. We’re also joined by Lisa Graves. She’s in New Orleans right now, where the ALEC conference is taking place. She’s executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. Last month, the Center for Media and Democracy released 800 model bills approved by companies and lawmakers at recent ALEC meetings. We invited a member of ALEC to join us, but they denied our request.

Mike Elk, Lisa Graves, welcome to Democracy Now! Lisa, talk about what’s happening right now in New Orleans. Are you getting into this conference? What are you seeing? What are the seminars, these sessions about?

LISA GRAVES: Well, the Center for Media and Democracy was denied access to the convention with one of our cub reporters, and he was required to leave the convention hotel, the Marriott. But we have received reports, from behind closed doors, from those meetings, at which corporations and politicians are voting on model legislation. And one of the reports we received yesterday from insiders is that corporations vetoed model legislation that politicians had voted for. And so, it is in fact the case that politicians and corporations are voting as equals on model legislation through ALEC task forces, and corporations have the right to veto, through this process, legislation that even a majority or—a majority of politicians within those meetings would approve.

Those meetings cover every area of law, including tax, environment, workers’ rights, the rights of Americans killed or injured by corporations, as well as healthcare, pensions—you name it, basically it’s covered. And we’ve even seen coverage from inside about sessions with ALEC, in which they had one session called “Warming Up to Climate Change: How Increased CO2 Can Benefit You.”

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Terry Gross of NPR speaking with the national chair of ALEC, Noble Ellington, the Republican member of the Louisiana State Legislature. Terry Gross asked Ellington why ALEC gives corporations such a big say in drafting legislation. This is an excerpt of their exchange.

TERRY GROSS: Why give corporations such a big say in drafting legislation?

REP. NOBLE ELLINGTON: Well, partly because they are one of the ones who will be affected by it. And you say “a big say,” but as I expressed to you earlier, and I think it needs to be made perfectly clear, that they have—they do not have the final say about model legislation. It is done with work with task forces, which is both public and private sector working together. But before it ever becomes model legislation or ALEC policy, it has to go through the public sector board, not the private sector. So only the public sector had the final say as to whether or not something becomes model legislation.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the ALEC chair, Noble Ellington. Lisa Graves, your response?

LISA GRAVES: Well, it’s interesting, because what we saw and what we heard from inside yesterday is that, quite clearly, corporations can veto things before the public board that Noble Ellington sits on have a chance to approve it. So, in essence, if the corporations disagree on proposed legislation at the task force level, it never makes it to the board that Senator Ellington sits on.

The fact is that corporations exert extraordinary influence and control over this process. They can veto legislation through the task forces. They are the bankrollers of ALEC. Over 98 percent of the money that funds ALEC’s operations come from everything except for legislative dues, which are 50 bucks a year. Some legislators are so cheap, they don’t even pay it themselves; they have the taxpayer pay it for them. Meanwhile, corporations can pay $7,500 or $25,000 a year for membership, and then some corporations, like BP, a year after the disaster in the Gulf, is now the headline corporation underwriting this convention. They’re the top corporation listed in the President’s Circle for ALEC’s convention this year.

AMY GOODMAN: Taking place, of course, there in New Orleans. What has the debt deal negotiations and this whole crisis that has happened in Washington meant for this conference and for ALEC? What are they saying about it?

LISA GRAVES: Well, they haven’t—they haven’t mentioned a lot about it directly, at least in the sessions that we’ve heard reports from. However, we do know that Governor Jindal spoke sort of extensively about the power of being stubborn, the importance of being stubborn and the power of that, which I think was a direct reference to the debt negotiations. The fact is that ALEC alums include Congressman John Boehner, who’s the speaker of the House, as well as Congressman Eric Cantor, who’s the Republican leader of the House. ALEC legislation parallels legislation that has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to cap spending by government, to reduce taxes on the richest of Americans and the richest corporations, and so that agenda is moving both through Congress and through the states, and it’s an agenda whose ideas are made concrete through model legislation that ALEC produces every year. These politicians who sit on the board with Senator Ellington and others, they have approved over 850 pieces of legislation or resolutions, that we’ve made available to the public and have analyzed, and that the public is joining us, along with reporters, in analyzing. And so, we know what this agenda looks like. It looks like the same sort of deal that was pushed through in Congress this week.

AMY GOODMAN: Lisa Graves, the significance of holding this conference in post-Katrina New Orleans? I mean, you’ve talked about BP sponsoring it—of course, the huge BP oil spill. But also, all the teachers fired in New Orleans. It’s known as a Petri dish for policy in this country, and not as many people may be aware—as aware of that.

LISA GRAVES: Well, that’s right. Well, on the one hand, we certainly are happy to see money coming into the New Orleans—the New Orleans economy, even from a convention like ALEC’s, where these corporations and politicians are engaged in this sort of unprecedented joint voting.

The fact is that we had a press conference earlier this week with local school board representatives, including a Republican on the school board, as well as local teachers, who have talked about the failure of policies that basically privatize public education in New Orleans to push money out of the public school system into not-well-regulated charter schools, charter schools that have had severe problems, and how those policies have failed at the ground-floor level here in New Orleans. People who were part of that conference said they wondered where the push was coming for these proposals to just massively change the school system. It turns out these proposals are echoed in ALEClegislation that’s being pushed across the country. It’s a one-size-fits-all, McBill sort of factory within ALEC, and it serves the interests of ALEC corporations, including the ALECEducation Task Force, which is co-chaired by an online school company, a for-profit company.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything else you think is critical to understand about this organization that not that many people know about by name, ALEC, but may know about by laws that are passed in their states, with them not knowing where they are coming from?

LISA GRAVES: Well, we think that fellow reporters and citizens can make a lot of use of our website, alecexposed.org. We have lists of politicians. We’ve added over a thousand politicians over the past few weeks since the site was launched. We have profiles and links to profiles on some of the corporations that are the leading players withinALEC, including Koch Industries. And we also are discovering new corporations every day. For example, today, Dick Armey, who is the leader of FreedomWorks, who basically is one of the leaders of the Tea Party effort, is speaking at a luncheon, and that is sponsored by Visa. I say to Visa: “Not priceless.” The fact is that what we’re seeing here is an extraordinary influence of corporations on our policy. And we do know—and I would say, with respect to your next segment, we understand from other reporters that ALEC is denying that the Corrections Corporation of America is a member or leader of ALEC, but we have proof that Corrections Corporation of America, which has been involved in pushing this prison privatization agenda, was a member of ALEC as of at least last month.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. “The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor” is our next segment. Lisa Graves, of the Center for Media and Democracy, in New Orleans.




Nearly $2 Trillion Purloined From U.S. Workers in 2009

In Uncategorized on July 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Oldspeak:”The U.S. ranks 39th in the world in income inequality, behind such Economic Juggernauts as Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Kenya, Armenia, Vietnam and Yemen. Understand that this massive transfer of wealth from workers to managers and owners via ‘bonuses, bloated salaries, elephantine stock options, padded consulting fees, outsized compensation to boards of directors, sumptuous conferences, palatial offices complete with original artwork, retinues of superfluous “support” staff, hunting lodges, private corporate dining rooms, regal retirement agreements, and so on—defy exact categorization.’ And has been happening steadily over the past 30 years. It has directly contributed to the withering of the middle class and the extreme concentration of wealth in the hands of the top  .01% of the population at levels not seen since the great depression/glided age. The signs are all there, the danger is clearly ahead. We’ve seen what happens under these extreme economic conditions, yet our elected officials have lead feet on the accelerator, plunging the U.S. Economy toward the cliff. Why? How can so many supposedly educated people lack such basic common sense and appreciation of past history? Makes you wonder if they all know something we don’t.”

Richard D. Wolf: When Capitalism Hits The Fan:

By James M. Cypher @ Dollars and Sense:

In 2009, stock owners, bankers, brokers, hedge-fund wizards, highly paid corporate executives, corporations, and mid-ranking managers pocketed—as either income, benefits, or perks such as corporate jets—an estimated $1.91 trillion that 40 years ago would have collectively gone to non-supervisory and production workers in the form of higher wages and benefits. These are the 88 million workers in the private sector who are closely tied to production processes and/or are not responsible for the supervision, planning, or direction of other workers.

From the end of World War II until the early 1970s, the benefits of economic growth were broadly shared by those in all income categories: workers received increases in compensation (wages plus benefits) that essentially matched the rise in their productivity. Neoclassical economist John Bates Clark (1847-1938) first formulated what he termed the “natural law” of income distribution which “assigns to everyone what he has specifically created.” That is, if markets are not “obstructed,” pay levels should be “equal [to] that part of the product of industry which is traceable to labor itself.” As productivity increased, Clark argued, wages would rise at an equal rate.

The idea that compensation increases should equal increases in average labor productivity per worker as a matter of national wage policy, or a wage norm, is traceable to the President’s Council of Economic Advisors under the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. This macroeconomic approach was anchored in the fact that if compensation rises in step with productivity growth, then both unit labor costs and capital’s versus labor’s share of national income will remain constant. This “Keynesian Consensus” never questioned the fairness of the initial capital/labor split, but it at least offered workers a share of the fruits of future economic growth.

As the figure below shows, both Clark’s idea of a “natural law” of distribution and Keynesian national wage policy have ceased to function since the onset of the neoliberal/supply-side era beginning in the early 1970s. From 1972 through 2009, “usable” productivity—that part of productivity growth that is available for raising wages and living standards—increased by 55.5%. Meanwhile, real average hourly pay fell by almost 10% (excluding benefits). As a group, workers responded by increasing their labor-force participation rate. To make the calculation consistent over time, employment is adjusted to a constant participation rate set at the 1972 level. Had compensation matched “usable” productivity growth, the (adjusted) 84 million non-supervisory and production workers in 2009 would have received roughly $1.91 trillion more in wages and benefits. That is, 13.5% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product in 2009 was transferred from non-supervisory workers to capitalists (and managers) via the gap of 44.4% that had opened up between compensation and “usable”productivity since 1972.

As expected, neoclassical (or mainstream) economists offer tortured justifications for the new status quo. The erstwhile dauphin of neoclassical economics, Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw agrees with Clark’s formulation. But he says that even though “productivity has accelerated, workers have become accustomed to the slow rate of wage growth since the 1970s.” Why “accustomed”? Well, believe it or not, neoclassical economists claim that today’s workers suffer from “low wage aspirations.” Mankiw equates the wage that workers aspire to with the wage they consider fair. So, according to this very strange formulation, workers consider that they are getting a fair shake today, even though their compensation increases lag behind their productivity increases. Yet a few decades earlier, they considered it fair (as did Clark and Mankiw) for compensation growth to keep up with productivity increases.

Some economists simply deny that any change has occurred. Noted neoclassical conjurer Martin Feldstein believes that the “productivity-compensation gap” is merely a matter of bad measurement: by dropping the Consumer Price Index as the appropriate yardstick, Feldstein alchemically transforms the way wages are adjusted for inflation. His soothing Panglossian recalibration raises workers’ “real” income; et voilà!—the productivity-compensation gap all but disappears.

Leaving aside such statistical prestidigitation, a vast upward transfer of income is evident. That transfer is directly related to the rupture of the so-called “Treaty of Detroit”—an understanding between capital and labor, pounded out during the Truman administration, wherein employers accepted the idea that compensation could grow at the rate that productivity increased. In 1953 union strength was at its high point; 32.5% of the US labor force was unionized. With the profit squeeze of the early 1970s and the onset of Reaganism, unionization rates began to fall—to 27% in 1979, then to 19% in 1984. By 2010 the rate was down to 11.9% (and only 6.9% in the private sector). Off-shoring, outsourcing, vigorous (and often illegal) corporate tactics to stop unionization drives, and an overall political climate of hostility to free and fair union elections have deprived workers of the countervailing power they once held. The result is that without unions struggling to divide the economic pie, non-supervisory and production workers (78% of the private-sector workforce) have been deprived of a minimal level of economic distributive justice.

The upward redistribution has remained as hidden as possible. The forms it has taken—as bonuses, bloated salaries, elephantine stock options, padded consulting fees, outsized compensation to boards of directors, sumptuous conferences, palatial offices complete with original artwork, retinues of superfluous “support” staff, hunting lodges, private corporate dining rooms, regal retirement agreements, and so on—defy exact categorization. Some would appear as profit, some as interest, some as dividends, realized capital gains, gigantic pension programs, retained earnings, or owners’ income, with the remainder deeply buried as “costs of doing business.”

In the final analysis, the $1.91 trillion figure is only an approximation, designed to make more concrete a concept that has lacked an important quantitative dimension. Of course, had compensation increases matched “usable” productivity increases, workers would have paid taxes on the wage portion of their compensation, leaving them with much less than the $1.91 trillion in their pockets. Meanwhile, as these funds are shifted over to capital (and management salaries), federal, state, and local taxes are paid on the portion which appears as declared income. This results in a considerable drop in the net after-tax transfer amount actually pocketed by capital through their appropriation of the productivity increases of non-supervisory workers. Even so, their haul remains a staggering—even astonishing—sum.