Hello all, and happy May Day!
April has now come to a close, and I have decided that in honor of International Workers’ Day (May Day) I would post both on the date of the holiday and the day afterwards. May Day commemorates the anniversary of the 1886 Chicago Haymarket Riot, in which labor strikes were met with deadly fire from the police. The holiday is celebrated in nations across the Earth as celebration of workers’ rights and improvements in labor systems as time has passed. My fellow leftists on the more extreme end use the day to demonstrate and protest against moves by governments that detract from workers’ rights. In the spirit of this day, I have decided to take a look at organized labor’s successes and needed improvements first here in America, and tomorrow in Europe and elsewhere.
We begin my look at labor of course in the U.S.A., a place that doesn’t have a very good record for keeping corporations in line and guaranteeing that workers get correct treatments. Most of our labor hardships come as a result of the Reagan years, when the Reagan revolution removed huge amounts of regulations that kept big companies in line and allowed large income gaps to brew (http://www.emayzine.com/lectures/1980S.htm). Yes, the great orgy of capitalism that Reagan helped to reestablish made the United States into a powerful creditor nation that had significant national pride. But behind this curtain of so-called greatness millions of new homeless roamed the streets, and the lowly blue-collar laborers that had gotten by under former heads of state were now suffering to degrees they hadn’t seen since the laissez-faire policies of the 1920’s. This came as part of a new economic theory that conservatives would trumpet for years to come known as trickle-down economics, the belief that making life and earning money easier for the rich would ensure that the wealth would “trickle down” to the lower classes as a result. At the heart of the theory, the logic seems sound to some degree; in some cases, when richer classes gain more money they can then use their new gains to hire new employees and expand operations, driving capitalism. However, people are not predictable, and the assumption that the upper class would bring prosperity for all failed America in time. When Reagan left office, national debt had skyrocketed to incredible levels, and the lower classes were pleading for help. The reason trickle-down theory failed is because people are greedy, and when Reagan essentially gave the rich more money, they saw the extra break as a reward for nothing. And so, in order to preserve their money and avoid economic risk, they started firing people instead of hiring them. The rich already had extra money, so they could take any hit that may or may not have resulted. By the time the first Bush took office, people were beginning to see their mistake, and at the end of his term Bush was wildly unpopular. Sure, he engaged us in the Persian Gulf War and continued Reagan-like policies. But the damage had already been done before he took office, and while I dislike him the majority of our problems were not a fault of his alone.
Our current problems stem from the fact that the second Bush presidency led to a “second chance” for trickle-down economics, even though it was never officially declared. As Bush cut taxes for everyone and allowed loopholes for rich corporations, he started two astronomically costly wars. He spent government money on two fronts in the hopes that this time conservative economic theory wouldn’t fail him. For a time, it didn’t because trickle-down theory is dependent on active consumerism, which Bush got. But increased costs and wars with no ends in sight defeated this wave of buying, and without that everything was allowed to crash. Bush betrayed a basic principle of economics; speeding up an economy can be helpful, but it must be controlled. If an economy speeds up too much, inflation will skyrocket and a crash becomes highly likely. That’s just what happened. A combination of housing and credit crisis drove us into the dumps within weeks of the first signs of trouble on the stock market (http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/investing/articles/2008/10/17/the-crash-of-2008). With investors on Wall Street and powerful banks doing as they pleased, they put our economy at huge risk. In return, many got just what they deserved. And even now, they are still those that believe deregulation is the key to bring us back to prosperity, even though that got us into this mess. The reason it can’t is because we are in poor economic times, not great. Businesses and people will not take risks with more money or less regulations because the market is not safe enough to do so currently. Only in prosperity can deregulation be used.
But that doesn’t stop us from continuing our heinous labor practices. Wal-Mart and other big companies and banks are under scrutiny by the SEC for illegal practices such as bribery (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/business/at-wal-mart-in-mexico-a-bribe-inquiry-silenced.html?_r=2, http://finance.fortune.cnn.com/2012/04/26/walmart-bribery-investigations/?section=money_topstories&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+rss%2Fmoney_topstories+%28Top+Stories%29, http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/04/25/BUG51O8VB9.DTL&type=business). Yet our banks are still fighting new regulations (http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/27/us-financial-regulation-fed-idUSBRE83Q19Q20120427). It’s been two years since the BP oil spill, but the first arrest was just recently made (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/24/kurt-mix-bp-engineer-oil-spill_n_1449316.html). Big oil corporations are fighting regulations on chemical disclosure (http://www.propublica.org/article/alec-and-exxonmobil-push-loopholes-in-fracking-chemical-disclosure-rules). The Supreme Court has denied workers the right to file class-action lawsuits against corporations in desperate times (http://citizen.org/concepcion-anniversary-justice-denied). We’ve been supporting draconian pension cuts through all of this, even when we need the money the most (http://labornotes.org/2012/04/rhode-island-pension-cuts-set-chilling-precedents, http://labornotes.org/2012/03/unions-seek-regain-foothold-ge). And lastly, not too long ago Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin put to rest collective bargaining rights for unions (http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/robert-schlesinger/2011/02/23/public-dislikes-wisconsin-gov-scott-walkers-union-busting). We have been attacking workers’ rights and needs for years while simultaneously allowing large corporations to get away with paying few taxes and rarely having to answer for poor practices. If you’re looking for an answer as to why our economy’s growth is anemic, look no further. Giving more wealth and power to those that already have it simply increases their greed, and justifies any horrid actions they take to get more wealth and power. We can’t feed these base desires if we wish to grow as a country. The laborers far outnumber the CEOs, and they shouldn’t have to essentially prostitute themselves just to earn a livable wage (by the way, minimum wage is not livable by any standard in America).
I ask that anyone facing attacks by companies on the rights of workers stand up, and call out for help. We cannot allow our situation to worsen. We risk creating an economic environment that may not threaten corporations, but will threaten the common laborer, and they are the true backbone of our country. We can’t keep doing this to our own people or we risk crashing an economy that cannot handle further damage. While a small government that gives states economic powers may sound nice, it creates a lot of unnecessary problems for a nation as a whole. When a nation becomes too decentralized, it cannot handle crises because every part works differently and there is no way to coordinate a response to troubles. We experienced that in a big way, and if you want a more extreme example look to Spain (I’ll get to that case tomorrow, don’t worry). It’s time we reestablish the rights of workers and crack down on risky economic practices that banks and large corporations championed before the economic crisis of 2008. We need regulations to keep the power of wealthy people and organizations in check, and to give that power back to the people who deserve it most, the laborers. And for everyone who says that we’re “punishing success” and hurting the “job creators”, we are not. The fact of the matter is that those with more wealth simply have more resources to spare in times of trouble, and there are things we need to get done. Accept the fact that it’s easier for one percent of the population to fork over some money rather than ask 99 percent to collectively give in while the richest people sit back and watch. If you think this bigger government will lead to corruption because “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, well that quote is completely untrue. That would mean that anyone with any power would be corrupt. Any person that owned a pet would be corrupt. Every postal worker would be corrupt. The pope would be absolutely corrupt. Learn to realize that power corrupts only if we let it. Workingmen of America unite!
That is all for part 1, and tomorrow I’ll take a look at labor in Europe and elsewhere. If you have questions or comments of any kind, simply post them here, anonymously if you have to. My email at firstname.lastname@example.org is still active and checked every day. My Facebook and Twitter are also open, along with my Google+ account. I hope you enjoyed reading, and I am signing off.