Monday, September 1, 2014

Happy Labor Day!

John Henry, the steel driving man
I hope that wherever you are and whatever you may be doing that you are having a good Labor Day. Perhaps after your barbecue and/or visits with family or friends or three or four day weekend or mourning period that summer is finally over you might drop by and spare a few thoughts on what you think the state of current labor politics is in the United States. Does this holiday mean anything to you any more? Did it ever? Private sector union membership is at all time lows. Public sector unions are under increasing attack. Wages have been flat for years despite rising worker productivity. There have been inconclusive battles for increased minimum wages. One political party has been making an all hands on deck offensive against unions in particular and labor in general while the other political party appears to take workers for granted and generally ignores their needs. Labor force participation is also at or near record lows. Between outsourcing, increased overseas competition and automation, it appears that the American economy simply doesn't need as many workers as it used to require. This means that we may have to do some serious rethinking about what it means to be an American worker. What does full time employment mean? Many of these questions have been framed in terms of women's work experiences but these issues impact everyone. The economy increasingly is not conducive to people who want to work 30 or 40 years in the same company or same career, getting at least a 3-5% raise each year and a sizable pension and gold watch at retirement. Those days are gone. How do we ensure that the American economy produces enough jobs for every American who needs one? How do we ensure that record corporate profits are translated into higher wages for American workers? 

Can labor unions and other pro-worker organizations remain relevant in the current socio-political environment? Are we all doomed to run faster and faster just to stay in the same place? I don't know the answers to these questions but as a society we need to address them.
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