Today is the day we remember all of those who fought and died so we could have the day off for holidays, and the weekend, and child labor laws, and health care and pensions. All of which are now under attack.
On Thursday, the day after the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, thousands of fast-food workers in 60 cities walked off their jobs, the latest in an escalating series of walkouts by low-wage workers demanding higher pay and the right to organize without retaliation.
The parallels, though inexact, are compelling. A half-century ago, the marchers called on Congress to increase the minimum wage from $1.15 an hour to $2 “so that men may live in dignity,” in the words of Bayard Rustin, one of the chief organizers of the march. Today, the fast-food workers also seek a raise, from the $9 an hour that most of them make to $15.00 an hour. That’s not much different from what the marchers wanted in 1963; adjusted for inflation, $2 then is $13.39 an hour today.
The strikers are targeting their employers — profitable companies like McDonald’s, Yum Brands (which includes Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC) and Wendy’s. But Congress could help. Today’s minimum wage is a miserly $7.25 an hour — which is actually lower, adjusted for inflation, than it was 50 long years ago. Raising it would support the legitimate demands of the strikers and underscore the pressing needs of the country’s growing ranks of low-wage workers.
It wasn’t always about the hot dogs. Originally, believe it or not, Labor Day actually had something to do with showing respect for labor.
Here’s how it happened: In 1894 Pullman workers, facing wage cuts in the wake of a financial crisis, went on strike — and Grover Cleveland deployed 12,000 soldiers to break the union. He succeeded, but using armed force to protect the interests of property was so blatant that even the Gilded Age was shocked. So Congress, in a lame attempt at appeasement, unanimously passed legislation symbolically honoring the nation’s workers.
It’s all hard to imagine now. Not the bit about financial crisis and wage cuts — that’s going on all around us. Not the bit about the state serving the interests of the wealthy — look at who got bailed out, and who didn’t, after our latter-day version of the Panic of 1893. No, what’s unimaginable now is that Congress would unanimously offer even an empty gesture of support for workers’ dignity. For the fact is that many of today’s politicians can’t even bring themselves to fake respect for ordinary working Americans.
On Labor Day were supposed to celebrate the economic and social contributions of workers, not just mark the end of Summer. But since the pendulum has swung from labor to corporations, bidness owners, and the one percent, we don’t talk much about workers on Labor Day anymore.
Just ahead of Labor Day, the president of the AFL-CIO, a coalition of 57 labor unions, said Thursday that it will target Texas “like never before” in the coming elections. It also will seek to boost union ranks in the famously pro-employer Lone Star State.
Richard Trumka told reporters at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor that immigration and worker safety are key issues that make Texas an important battleground for progressive groups like his.
He stopped short of saying the group, which represents some 12 million union workers, would specifically support state Sen.Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, whose national profile has risen since leading filibuster in the Texas Senate earlier this summer.
Trumka suggested boasts by Texas leaders about the fast-growing economy there ring hollow when examined more closely. The state’s insistence on keeping at bay regulators of all stripes has hurt the state, despite a job boom often touted by Gov,. Rick Perry and others.
“If you look at the quality of those jobs, if you look at the quality of the education, and look at a number of things, that hasn’t been true,” he said. “Also, if you leave employers to their own devices I know work sites can get pretty nasty. So the lack of regulation works to the detriment of a lot of people.”
“We are also very, very dismayed that there is only one state in the nation that doesn’t have a fire code, and that there is only one state in the country that prohibits its counties to have a fire codes. That would be state of Texas.
“One of my first roles in organized labor,” he said, “was to serve on the health and safety committee. The fact that there are no fire codes jeopardized worker safety.” (The Dallas Morning News has reported that state law prevents 70 percent of its counties from having a fire code.)
This is certainly great news. Getting labor unions seriously engaged in Texas, along with Battleground Texas can only help as we head into 2014. And no state’s workers need more help getting organized then those in Texas. There are several other areas where they can focus, raising the minimum wage and wage theft just to name a couple. But the lack or regulation and worker protections is also a major issue, as the explosion in West showed. What is more troubling is that our current crop of legislators appear to be unable and unwilling to fix the problem, Texas lawmakers hesitant to add new regulations in wake of West explosion.
Texas lawmakers following up on the deadly April explosion in West hesitated Monday to support new regulations for storing, moving and insuring ammonium nitrate in the state.
The reluctance came amid testimony about concrete examples of how companies are allowed to rebuff state agencies, keeping officials and residents in the dark about potential threats.
Ammonium nitrate is a common ingredient in agricultural fertilizer. It fueled the April 17 explosion in West that killed 15 people, injured more than 300 and did an estimated $135 million worth of damage to private and public property. Officials said Monday that more than 140 facilities in the state have the chemical on hand.
Texas House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee members were told that five companies that have the hazardous fertilizer ingredient wouldn’t let the state fire marshal inspect their facilities.
They were also told that one railroad declined to share data about the dangerous chemicals it moves through Texas. The railroad told the state emergency department it already shares the information with the state Department of Transportation. Another railroad hasn’t responded to state requests for information.
Officials said Union Pacific, which runs the line by the West Fertilizer Co. plant, provided information.
West Fertilizer’s $1 million in insurance coverage won’t begin to cover the property, medical and emotional damage caused by the explosion.
Since the blast, the Texas Department of Insurance has asked 95 fertilizer companies and 32 insurers about the level of coverage for other facilities with the dangerous chemical. Ten fertilizer companies and four insurers responded.
Insurance Commissioner Julia Rathgeber testified that some facilities with ammonium nitrate are uninsured because their policies were canceled after the West explosion. Texas law doesn’t mandate the terms for an insurance company to offer policies to plants like the one in West.
But state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, said lawmakers should not add new layers of regulation and oversight as a knee-jerk reaction to the deadly West blast.
“If we’re not careful, we could get like the federal government putting diapers on cows,” he said.
State Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas, a committee member, said burdening companies with more operating costs could affect Texans’ finances.
“It’s a very serious implication,” he said.
The Legislature’s next regular session isn’t until January 2015, so the committee can’t recommend any bills. Gov. Rick Perry did not allow lawmakers to debate chemical safety or oversight in any of the three special sessions he called since the West explosion.
Flynn and Sheets understand that there’s no reason to burden business, aka their campaign contributors, with the price of protecting workers and communities, when they know if something bad happens the taxpayers will pick up the tab.
Until those of us who earn a paycheck for a living start to organize, vote, and make our government hold corporations, bidness owners, and the one percent accountable, none of this will change. The Cheap Labor Conservatives must go. And that is what all of us workers must remember this year on Labor Day.
Texas leads the nation in the percentage of residents who lack health insurance, with more than 1 in 4 people younger than 65 without coverage of any kind, according to new census data released Thursday.
More than 5.7 million people, 26 percent of Texans younger than 65, were uninsured in 2011. The uninsured rate was higher — 31 percent — for working-age adults ages 18 to 64, the data show.
There is no issue more central to what is wrong with our country, and cruel, then the plight of middle class/working class Americans over the last 40 years. It’s mainly come through an assault on labor by lowering wages and increasing inequality. But it has devastating effects on all Americans, because it has turned the dream that once made America great into a nightmare.
This morning I intended to write about “This Town,” a new book about Washington DC by a writer named Mark Leibovich, but last night I got distracted and spent ninety minutes watching “Two American Families,” a “Frontline” documentary that aired on the local PBS affiliate. It’s one of the best, and most heartbreaking, documentaries I’ve seen this year. It’s not about a tragedy or disaster. It wasn’t “hard to watch” because it was about a singularly awful moment in human history or one unspeakable monstrous act — a hurricane or war or even a specific crime committed by specific people — but because it just happened to document the lives of some struggling working-class families beginning at shortly after the point when the ground fell out from beneath the American lower-middle class and ending now, when there’s clearly no hope for a return to economic security.
Bill Moyers began following the lives of two Milwaukee families, the Stanleys and the Neumanns, in 1992, when they were the subjects of a documentary called “Minimum Wages: The New Economy.” In the 1980s both families were supported by union manufacturing jobs. Those jobs have just disappeared when we first meet the Neumanns — Terry and Tony, a white couple — and the Stanleys — Jackie and Claude, black — in 1991. Moyers followed up with the families with additional documentaries in 1995 and 2000. “Two American Families” combines the footage shot throughout the ’90s with follow-up material shot last year.
To use the regrettable cliche, both families “played by the rules.” They are in fact superhumanly devoted to the rules. They both attend church — Claude is actually a minister — and they hate the idea of going on the dole and they take any available work and the kids are boy scouts and their parents are dedicated to their educations. The families are so virtuous, so imbued with the great American work ethic, that it is practically unfair to other struggling Americans; families that fuck up deserve our sympathy, and the support of a social safety net, as well. But as George Packer wrote earlier this month, the film serves as a rebuke to right-wing social critics like the execrable Charles Murray, “who believe that the decline of America’s working class comes from a collapse of moral values, social capital, personal responsibility, and traditional authority….” These people are overflowing with personal responsibility.
Their are not enough jobs available in our country that pay a living wage, with benefits, and enough to save for retirement/or a pension. A living wage as Teddy Roosevelt defined it:
We stand for a living wage.
Wages are subnormal if they fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupations.
The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include:
enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living– a standard high enough to make morality possible,[Emphasis added]
to provide for education and recreation,
to care for immature members of the family,
to maintain the family during periods of sickness,
and to permit of reasonable saving for old age.”
It’s hard to envision how to bring back the American Dream without realizing what happened to it. For that watch Bill Moyers’ recent conversation with Charlie Rose.
And there is another discussion of this from this week’s Moyers & Co.
This is not a left/right or Democratic/Republican issue. Both parties are responsible. Too many of our elected leaders have been driving the policies that have eroded the middle class and overwhelmingly benefitted the wealthy. And most of the rest stood by and watched passively as it happened. It will take a movement of the people to rise up and demand change, before one party – or a new party – takes up the needs of the people as it’s reason to exist.
The videos all come together to show an America that is no longer doing right for it’s people. All it takes is a return to fairness in out country, but that won’t come without a fight. Most don’t want much just a job that pays well enough to take care of their family, educate their children, health care, and allow them enough to retire, you know, what we used to call the American Dream.
On Sunday, the Times reported that C.E.O. pay in 2012 increased by sixteen per cent over the previous year, with the median compensation package now at $15.1 million. The blessings at the top grow more fruitful year by year, in good times and bad. There must be a social or economic theory somewhere that explains why all this is necessary and just.
A tentative agreement that would give Houston janitors a cumulative 12 percent pay raise over the next four years is a “realistic” outcome amid uncertain economic times, labor and legal experts said Thursday.
“We’ve been fortunate here to have a better economy than other parts of country, but it seems to be a deal that reflects the economic realities of the time and that the economic future remains murky,” said A. Kevin Troutman, an employment lawyer at Fisher & Phillips who represents management clients.
On Saturday, the janitors are expected to vote to ratify the tentative deal made with six of the city’s largest cleaning companies this week. The current top wage for most of the 3,200 janitors is $8.35 an hour. The deal would give the workers a 25-cent-per-hour raise each year for the next four years.
The first-year raise would go into effect Jan. 1, for an initial 2.9 percent annual increase.
A spokeswoman for SEIU Local 1, which represents the 3,200 janitors who clean large office buildings in Houston, said the union’s bargaining team and members are excited about the agreement.
“We’ve begun to take steps in the right direction to bring people to a more stable economic situation for themselves and their families,” said Elsa Caballero, state director for Texas for the union’s Local 1.
The janitor strike in Houston—which concluded last night with an agreement between janitors and cleaning companies—was historic and rare for many reasons. Texas is a right-to-work state. That means it’s illegal to require a person to join a union to keep or get a job, making the organization of a protest of this magnitude, which lasted more than four weeks, difficult. The right-to-work law also makes it illegal to fire someone for joining a union, but don’t be fooled, the law was adopted because of a long history of anti-union sentiment in this state. Reasons for anti-union leanings are as amorphous as a child’s fear of the dark, mostly driven by the conservative view that unions spawn unwanted social and political agents. But Texas’ anti-union sentiment also has its roots in the very concrete strategy of attracting outside industries to take advantage of cheap labor—a tactic that has worked well in this border state, with Mexico providing us a steady stream of exploitable employees. New York-based companies like ABM, Pritchard and JP Morgan Chase are all contractors of the Houston janitors that, until yesterday, refused to increase the paltry $9,000 a year average wage for janitors.
Regardless, SEIU is succeeding in Texas where few unions have, organizing a strike of this longevity that even managed to get mayoral support. Houston mayor Annise Parker urged contractors, in a press release on July 20, to return to the negotiating table remarking that, “Their unwillingness to talk has left the union with no other choice but civil disobedience. That is not good for the City of Houston or our economy and it is not how we do business in Houston. We work hard, we work together and we treat each other fairly. The union has made good-faith offers. Now it’s time for the janitorial contractors to sit back down at the table to work out an agreement that is fair and just.”
They began negotiating again on August 3, and late last night, the union announced a deal. As DePrang reports, the janitors will receive a one-dollar-an-hour raise in the next four years. That’s less than the $1.65-per-hour increase the union initially sought, but much higher than the paltry 50-cent raise the companies had offered. In that way, this historic strike proved a success.
Congratulations to the janitors!! Let’s hope their victory shows the rest of us what’s possible.
Houston janitors will strike for the third day in a row. Already this week, janitors have gone on strike against one employer at Greenway Plaza buildings, another at 363 North Belt and tonight the strike will expand to two buildings against the employers charged with cleaning at Four Oaks Place, Wells Fargo Tower and 1330 Post Oak. These contractors have responded to employees’ efforts by interfering with their rights to engage in union activity protected by federal law.
Despite cleaning the offices of some of the richest corporations in the world, including JP Morgan Chase, Chevron, and ExxonMobil, janitors in Houston are paid as little as $9,000 a year, and many work two to three jobs just to survive. A janitor would have to work more than 2,000 years in order to earn what the Exxon and Chevron CEOs make in just one year, and 2,500 years to earn just what JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon took home last year.
“I am paid so little that I have to work two jobs just to make sure my family has what they need. I’m only able to see my two kids about an hour a day,” says Cirilo Solo, a janitor who works for Pritchard. “We spoke up for a better life and now they’re violating our rights.”
This is the second time janitors in Houston have gone on strike—this time to protest unlawful conduct. In 2006, janitors in Houston went on strike and touched off a flurry of activity including multiple days of civil disobedience, marches and rallies that propelled the plight of Houston’s low wage workers into the national spotlight.
Since 2006, the growing gap between the 1% and the 99% has become a pressing political issue as the number of low wage jobs increases, the middle class shrinks and corporations refuse to pay their share of taxes, create good jobs, and reward the hard work of their employees.
The problem is particularly poignant in Houston. Named the nation’s “No. 1 Millionaire City” for annual growth in millionaires; 1 in 5 people working in Houston make less than $10 an hour, and Texas is tied with Mississippi for the highest proportion of minimum wage jobs in the nation.
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa recently released a statement in support of the janitors (via jobsanger).
“If corporations want to be considered people, then they need to accept the belief that we are our brother’s keepers,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, the newly elected chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. “Hard working people in America should not be shamed. Honest work should receive honest pay, but Republicans want to repeal the minimum wage to make people work for $2 an hour. Then Republicans want to whine about paying for heath care for children of American parents who have jobs. It is shameful.”
“Grotesquely overpaid CEOs and upper management expect the men and women who work hard and play by the rules to be forced to beg for public assistance just to support themselves, much less a family. That is a disgrace not only to the America we love, but also to God,” Hinojosa stressed. “These striking workers are seeking a living wage for their work in cleaning the offices of Texas millionaires and one percenters, who not only refuse to pay a decent wage for honest work but are also enlisting Republican support to protect them from paying their fair share of taxes.”
“Democrats, along with labor unions, have been cleaning up corporate messes, both literally and figuratively, for far too long. Corporations are attempting to maximize profits at the expense of the taxpayers who must provide medical care and food assistance for workers’ families, even though the breadwinners are working full time. That is not the America we love,” Hinojosa continued, “and the workers and taxpayers in this country should be enraged about it.”
Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa and The Texas Democratic Party calls upon Texas Democrats and all Texans who support the right to a living wage to make a meaningful stand by helping on the picket line, signing the petition at http://1.seiu.org/page/s/houston-needs-a-raise.
I completely agree with what jobsanger writes:
I may have misjudged the new chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. I had thought he would continue the same old moderate to conservative policies of the last leadership. In the past, the state party leadership avoided any issue that might seem progressive and cost them conservative votes (votes they weren’t going to get anyway). A good example of that would be the union janitor strike in Houston (where the janitors are trying to get a livable wage).
But the new party chairman, Gilberto Hinojosa, has come down squarely on the side of the striking janitors, and he has done so publicly. This is a progressive stand, and one that I wholeheartedly support. I hope this is indicative of future actions Mr. Hinojosa will take. If so, the Texas Democratic Party might once again give Texas voters a real choice (instead of a parade of Republican-lite conservatives that have marked candidates in the recent past).
Texas taxpayer money is regularly given away to corporations that bring low paying jobs to the state of Texas. As Paul Krugman pointed out last year, The Texas Unmiracle. Texas is a cheap labor state, and corporations love that. It increases their profits, which they’re able to hoard because of the cheap taxes for corporations in Texas.
What Texas shows is that a state offering cheap labor and, less important, weak regulation can attract jobs from other states. I believe that the appropriate response to this insight is “Well, duh.” The point is that arguing from this experience that depressing wages and dismantling regulation in America as a whole would create more jobs — which is, whatever Mr. Perry may say, what Perrynomics amounts to in practice — involves a fallacy of composition: every state can’t lure jobs away from every other state.
Thankfully, the local debate over whether to grant Maruchan Inc. of Japan millions of dollars to pay people very little money to make noodles has transcended the mere question of how many workers it would employ.
And it’s heartening — in a depressing sort of way, of course — that some of us are actually worried.
We are worried because the people making the noodles would earn minimum wage: $7.25 an hour, less than a living wage.
At the risk of dampening anyone’s good cheer, here are a few more reasons for us to be worried.
Texas already ranks first in the nation for jobs at or below the minimum wage.
(Go Texas! We’re No. 1!)
In fact, 37 percent of all jobs added in Texas in 2010 paid minimum wage or less. Overall, about a third of all jobs in Texas fail to support a family of four.
Also, the gap between the rich and the poor in Texas is greater than the gap in 40 other states, and it’s increasing. Perhaps this is because Texas workers are more productive than the average American worker, yet they’re also less well-paid.
What are the consequences of a low-wage economy?
Here’s one: Texans carry more credit card debt, ranking among the highest in the nation in 2009 and 2010.
The American city saddled with the highest average credit card debt in 2010?
It was San Antonio, at $5,177
To be fair, Bexar County commissioners preparing to shell out $5.8 million in incentives to Maruchan Inc. are not purporting to lead a pep rally.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Paul Elizondo conceded the deal amounts to a “dilemma,” although he said, “A job is a job. We need to get as many of them as we can.”
And here’s where the American Dream — or the “Texas Miracle” — collides with reality.
“Everybody needs to work, particularly in Texas because the social safety net is so thin,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “And one of the reasons it’s so thin is so when jobs like this become available, there’s a lot of competition for them because Texans have no choice but to work, and to work at whatever job’s available.”
In other words: Low taxes not only create jobs, but also result in low services and low wages.
But low wages, low taxes, (on the wealthy that is), and low services also keeps poor, working, and middle class Texans fighting amongst themselves for an ever-shrinking piece of the pie. Which is an old trick.
Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity. – “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Two key steps are helping to restore May Day to us. First, recent immigrants from the rest of the world — which has continued to celebrate May Day even as we who began it have forgotten it — have brought it back as a day to demand rights for immigrants. Second, the Occupy movement is building a broad movement combining demands for civil rights, economic rights, and peace. And as part of that process, we are studying people’s history instead of the sort of history approved by the Texas School Board and other big buyers of lousy text books.
May Day in year 126 since May Day began is showing signs of out-shining the May Days we’ve seen for many years. May Day is the commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre and the struggle for an 8-hour day in Chicago.[Emphasis added]
May Day had a long history in Europe as a seasonal celebration of rebirth and hope. It was also the first of a month, an ideal time for strikes in industrialized nineteenth-century America where workers tended to be paid at the end of the month. At its 1884 convention the American Federation of Labor adopted a resolution that all labor would strike on May 1, 1886, to demand an eight-hour day. The media, which in this country has always been completely fair and balanced, predicted a violent Communist insurrection. The Chicago Tribune reported oh so responsibly: “Every lamp-post in Chicago will be decorated with a communistic carcass if necessary to prevent wholesale incendiarism or prevent any attempt at it.”
There were 62,000 workers in Chicago who committed to strike on May 1st. Another 25,000 demanded an eight-hour day without threatening to strike. And 20,000 were given the eight-hour day before May 1st. Meanwhile, the Armours, Swifts, Medills, Fields, and McCormicks (Chicago’s royalty, people who would have adored Loyalty Day) mobilized the National Guard, the Pinkertons, and specially deputized police. Rahm Emanuel would have been proud.
Workers marched down Michigan Avenue in Chicago instead of working on May 1, 1886, and 340,000 did the same nationwide.
Leading activists Albert Parsons and August Spies spoke at the rally in Chicago, which ended peacefully. The Communist insurrection proved as real as Saddam Hussein’s long-range missiles.
But two days later, Chicago police shot striking workers outside McCormick Harvester Works, and labor leaders organized a protest in Haymarket Square for the next day. In the meantime, thousands of workers all over the country were winning the eight-hour day and returning to work. If you have an 8-hour day today, you have them to thank for it. Freedom is not free, as the saying goes. It’s not created by wars. It’s created by productive struggle. And if you’ve lost the 8-hour day, you have our collective failure to keep up the struggle to blame.
As the relatively small and peaceful meeting at Haymarket Square was wrapping up, 180 policemen marched on the crowd, and a bomb went off — which many believe was thrown by an agent provocateur. The Chicago Tribune demanded that Parsons, Spies, and two others, Michael Schwab and Samuel Fielden, be hanged for murder.
The police began smashing up labor offices and beating up innocent people. “Make the raids first and look up the law afterwards,” said Julius Grinnell, Chicago’s State’s Attorney.
The four men named above were indicted for murder, along with George Engel, Adolph Fisher, and Louis Lingg. Parsons, who had escaped, became a modern Socrates and turned himself in to face certain death. Testimony from “witnesses” who had been threatened with torture and others who had been paid turned out so contradictory that the prosecution shifted to a focus on the defendants’ thoughts and politics. Fielden and Schwab ended up with life sentences; Lingg died in his cell; the others were hung. Parsons left behind a note to his children that included this:
“We show our love by living for our loved ones. We also prove our love by dying, when necessary, for them.”
In 1888 the AFL set May 1, 1890, as the next major day of action. Workers all over Europe joined in, and a holiday worthy of the name was born.
This May Day, do what you can for Albert Parsons, for those you love, and for those who will come after us. Do not work. Do not be loyal. Do not be silent. Be the change you want to see in the world.
1. The 99 percent are extremely productive workers, but aren’t compensated for their productivity. 2. Corporations don’t notice income inequality, but workers sure do. 3. Workers who don’t organize are getting the short end of the stick.
In the 1950s and 1960s, when the highest marginal tax rates ranged from 70 to 92%, America built the interstate highway system, put a man on the moon, made our education system the envy of other countries — and had a thriving middle class and an economy unparalleled in the world.
Poll after poll after poll shows that most Americans support proposals like the Buffett Rule to have millionaires and wealthiest few pay higher taxes. More than two-thirds of Americans also think the federal tax system benefits the rich and is unfair to ordinary workers.