Thursday, 29 August 2013 00:00
1. In 2003, the U.S. government hired one of our country’s largest law firms to create a new legal system for Iraq, in our own system’s image. Almost all of Saddam Hussein’s laws were tossed out or rewritten, except one: Iraqi laws retain, in the original wording, Saddam’s 1969 prohibition on workplace organizing or protest of any kind in the pubic sector. Arrests have been made.
2. I no longer know what to make of Labor Day, a federal holiday created to celebrate the contributions of the American workforce to our freedom and prosperity. In large part, it has degenerated into one of summer’s Mattress Sale bookends.
3. Milwaukee’s labor council cancelled its annual Laborfest celebration, which includes a parade that has attracted U.S. Presidents, while they “regroup.” A council officer is “pretty sure” they will hold the event again next year.
4. There is something particularly hinky about an official holiday that says one thing when a very large chunk of officialdom is doing something completely different.
5. The Obama Administration is pushing Congress to grant it “fast track” authority on the ultra-secret Trans-Pacific Partnership with Japan and 11 other countries representing about 40 percent of the world’s economy. Through 16 rounds of negotiations, much of it based on the recommendations of 600 “Corporate Advisors,” all agreed-upon texts have been hidden from the public, except for what has been leaked. One of the apparent key TPP principles: Corporations would have the right to sue national, state and local governments over laws, regulations or court rulings that may “interfere” with profits.
6. The Answer: Environmental protection and pharmaceutical price regulations; food safety requirements; Internet freedom; laws governing workplace conditions, child labor, minimum wages, overtime pay and worker rights to organize.
7. The Question: Name things some corporations might perceive as interfering with profits.
8. In 1975, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union launched its famous “Look For the Union Label” campaign. If you’re my age or older, you can probably hum the theme song. That campaign was supported by numerous manufacturing companies. Labor and capital working together, their fates entwined.
9. Today, U.S. corporations are working to defeat “Buy American” bills that have popped up in some state legislatures. In May, Governor Perry of Texas vetoed a bill that required state agencies to give preference to goods manufactured in Texas.
10. State governments brag about their ability to allow corporations to operate unmolested by safety regulations or organized employees. The American public is being systematically instructed that worker benefits, public sector or private sector, are never affordable.
11. Classic headlines: “Cuomo Vows Offensive Against Labor Unions” (New York Times, 2010). “Newsday Bosses Get Raises After Union Members Accept Pay Cuts.” (Poynter.org, 2011). We aren’t getting the whole story from our leaders or from our news media. It isn’t a conspiracy. You don’t need a conspiracy when everyone at the table sees things the same way.
12. Perhaps, as Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone recently suggested, High Tech is the answer. Unfortunately, a higher percentage of recent “information science” (computer) graduates are unemployed (14.7 percent) than archeology (12.6 percent), sociology (9.9 percent) and English (9.8 percent) majors, according to a major study out of Georgetown.
13. Kelly Services, the “temp” agency for which I worked college summers for extra cash, is now America’s second largest employer, behind Walmart.
14. And the ILGWU is gone, merged with other unions in 2004.
15. Before we can celebrate Labor Day, we need to have a very frank, sometimes disturbing national conversation about what exactly we even mean by “labor” or “jobs” or “employment” in the 21st century. A lot of Americans will not like what will be said. So we’re probably not going to have that conversation.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org