2007-12-28 / Columnists

The Progressive

Labor Pains
Commentary By John Paul Culotta

American politics often ignores the working man and woman. Professions, especially law and medicine, have powerful lobbying groups. Industries are often capable of securing economic incentives and favorable legislation from localities, states and our congress. Organized labor unions except for a few representing public employee unions are weak and often confused about how to achieve economic gains for their members. American employees have the longest work week in the world, logging 1,800 hours, annually. In all European countries, employees work far fewer hours than Americans. Japan, noted for a labor force willing to work long hours and for loyalty to their employers, recently showed average yearly decline of 300 hours of work since 1979. Since 1979, our nation's workers are working double shifts, overtime, and flexible hours that usually suit only the employer's needs, and as independent contractors, or as freelancers.

Employers are seeking increased productivity from labor and have achieved their desires. At the same time, foreign imports and undocumented foreign labor floods our nation with cheap goods and inexpensive compliant workers.

A powerful labor union movement may prevent the numerous industrial accidents, unsafe working conditions, illegal activities, and other abuses that occur in our factories, mines, offices, stores, schools and hospitals.

American workers are among the most productive workers and have not been rewarded with any sufficient monetary or social improvement. The average worker's wages since 1980 have increased 15 percent and the average worker's productivity has increased 67 percent, according to The Economic Policy Institute (www.epinet. org). According to the same source, the ratio of earnings of the average CEO to the average worker in 1980 was 42:1. In 2007, the ratio is 411:1. Who benefits from the increased productivity? Corporations and the more privileged.

Working families cannot maintain a decent family life without sufficient economic resources, steady employment, and sufficient time to devote to family and friends. All Americans need access to health care, an education that is free and adequate, and an opportunity to use their talents to the fullest. These are true family value issues. At this time, we have a president who vetoes health care coverage for children, increasing college tuition fees, and a troubled economic future.

American workers need a powerful lobbying voice that will ensure a more equitable society that values family life. If our workers do not achieve a decent standard of living based on true wealth and not on credit card debt and subprime mortgage lending, all of our social covenants may unravel. We need a strong, honest, organized labor movement. After World War II, our nation made sure Germany, Italy, and Japan had strong labor unions. It was believed that this would prevent the spread of communism, secure an economic future for the less privileged that would prevent turmoil, and promote democratic changes from their nations' racist fascist, pasts.

On November 16, 2007, unions in the U.S. staged mass marches in more than 20 cities, demanding reforms at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It was the unions' contention that the NLRB, set up during the New Deal to protect workers' rights to organize, is corporate-friendly. Unions are weak because our political, social, businesses, academic, and religious leaders who operate hospitals and educational institutions desire compliant, inexpensive labor. Although unions have had some success organizing in the hospitality and health care fields; other types of employees are difficult to organize, freelancers, and employees at construction sites in many parts of our nation, financial institutions, and universities. The Financial Times of December 12, 2007 mentioned the Freelancers Union which helps obtain health insurance and pensions for this type of worker. This nation needs a strong labor movement to secure economic security and the high standard of living we have become accustomed to. The New York Times of December 12, 2007 wrote that many European manufacturers like FIAT and Airbus are considering locating plants in the United States because the Euro's strength and compliant, cheap, non-union labor force makes it attractive to locate in many parts of our nation. Is this a positive sign? I for one do not want workers in this nation to be considered a source of cheap labor without health care costs and pensions.

Good News

Often, the Progressive is critical of Bush and Rice's foreign policy. It is with great joy that I wish to congratulate the administration on a positive development. On December 11, 2007, the New York Times reported: "The United States, the world's leader in international adoptions, will join more than 70 nations committed to standardizing policies, procedures, and safeguards to reduce corruption in the largely unregulated adoption marketplace." The Progressive has advocated this for a few years; now the United States is becoming a positive force for change and hope, that adoptions can be viewed overseas not as baby buying or child abduction. It is also noteworthy that this development and the unions' marches regarding the NLRB did not receive much attention from the popular press or the network and cable news departments.

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