Tag Archive | "Labor Movement"

Who’s Getting Hosed?

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An Open Letter to Bill O’Reilly (Fox News)


The burgeoning file of viewer responses to Bill O’Reilly’s recent “Who’s Getting Hosed” program, is about to gain another addition; namely, my considered opinion.  


In case you missed the program, Bill’s discussion with Ms. Sarah Palin touched upon entitlement reform.  As an 85-year-old survivor of the Great Depression and World War II — in other words, as someone who has seen “the best of times” and “the worst of times” — I believe that my perspective is both relevant and valid.


I remember when FDR (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) mandated Social Security as part of the New Deal (National Recovery Act).  After the crash on Wall Street and the resultant demise of too many American banks, FDR also ushered in other safeguards to protect the American people from another financial disaster.  He based his actions upon the theory that the economy depended upon the purchasing power of its people.  It was a theory that seemed to make a lot of sense.


By implementing shovel ready jobs (the WPA) and restoring trust to financial institutions, our nation slowly moved forward.  FDR also encouraged the growth of the Labor Movement as a tool to compel industry to raise the wages of workers by 93%.  Whether the implementation of this plan would have accomplished recovery, we will never know, because WWII intervened.


The war, as it turned out, solved the unemployment problem; by 1942, the New Deal had been repealed, with one exception.  That exception was Social Security.  In the years that followed the war, our economy grew by leaps and bounds. Enterprising homebuilders, such as Levitt, launched a campaign to supply modest dwellings in suburbia.


The housing boom gave birth to increased sales of household goods and automobiles.  The advent of television and televised commercials elevated consumer demand for these products and thus, further heightened the employment rate.  Wall Street experienced phenomenal growth in the decade spanning 1950 to 1960.  The economy was humming along nicely.  Could it be that FDR was correct in his assumption about the spending power of our citizens?


The Cold War with Russia and the resultant Race to Space added to our economic growth.  Larger paychecks produced record sales.  Merchants invested in shopping malls and thus was coined the phrase, “Shop til you drop.”  It seemed as if, to paraphrase an old song, happy days were here again.


In the midst of this explosive growth, labor unions were riding high.  Collective bargaining agreements produced wage increases that did not translate in terms of dollars in the workers’ paychecks for their 40-hour workweek.   However, these increases paid for fringe benefits: time and a half or double time for working weekends and/or holidays, healthcare insurance, paid sick leave, paid vacations, and paid holidays as well as paid time off for a death in the family.  These benefits were agreed upon by both employer and unions.   Might you call this, “Sharing the wealth?”


Today, these fringe benefits have been removed from the bargaining table.  Unions find themselves giving back hard-won gains in order to keep their members employed.  Through automation and outsourcing, American industry has created the atmosphere ripe to kill the goose that laid the golden egg (Social Security).


Personally, I feel that President Roosevelt was on the right path to national recovery by increasing the purchasing power of our people.  But, his dream died as we decided to become involved in a global society; the same society that has outsourced manufacturing, IT, and so many other jobs overseas.   Social Security emerged from the need to address the American worker once he or she left the workforce.  Call it Socialism or Social Engineering, the bottom line now is, how, as a nation, do we address this problem?


In listening to some of the proposed plans, I have to wonder about the pitch coming from former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.  He wants to have the credit card companies invent a foolproof Green Card for guest workers.  I have to wonder what planet he lives on, given the fact that consumers are in the throes of the greatest period of unemployment since the Great Depression.


As I listen to the rhetoric about reforming Social Security by grandfathering a portion of the recipients and offering bailouts to those that do not qualify, I cannot help but feel that this is a most callous approach proposed by our leaders.   To put this into perspective, how do you think the average person would feel if the insurance provider he endorsed welched on him?  Suppose that provider announced that it could no longer afford to pay out settlements genuinely due him?


Social Security funds have been used and abused by our government to balance budgets and wage wars.  The so-called “lock box” brought to light by the global warming expert, Al Gore, is filled with IOUs.


As our concerned leaders of this nation and representatives of media continue to expound upon the dire straits of our economy, I have not and probably will not hear that similar reforms be enacted upon the endowments/entitlements of our elected officials.  With their hefty pensions, terrific healthcare coverage, and campaign war chests, no wonder our governmental officials die in office.  It doesn’t pay, literally, to die anywhere else!


There is a message circulating on the Internet via Representative Ted Poe (Republican, Texas).  It concerns the squandering of American taxpayers’ money and how the squandering was authorized by the Congress of the United States.  A picture paints a thousand words.  So if you want to see your government in action, play the video below:



 


In answer to Mr. O’Reilly’s question, “Who is getting hosed?”, the answer is, “We the people!


Labor Day Remembered

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As the sun sets earlier each evening and a hint of autumn floats on the cool night air, summer’s final chapter is written on the Labor Day weekend.  Like every holiday, Labor Day immortalizes the events and people it is designed to honor.  Or does it?


Allegedly, Peter J. McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor and General Secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, initiated the Labor Day holiday as a means of honoring American workers.  However, other sources state that Michael McGuire, a machinist from Paterson, New Jersey, proposed the holiday in 1882, while serving as Secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.


Once Labor Day was instituted in New York, other States followed suit.  By 1894, twenty-three more States were celebrating the holiday.  On June 28th of that year, Congress passed an act designating the first Monday in September as a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.


In the ensuing years, the Labor Movement produced positive social and economic change in the American workplace.  Sweatshops and poor working conditions (i.e., the Triangle Fires) were on the chopping block.  To allow workers to enjoy weekends free of their labors, the 40-hour work week was introduced.  By way of collective bargaining agreements, the unions improved working conditions as well as wages, thereby elevating the satisfaction of their members.

 

Contracts were negotiated through which employers provided workers with paid holidays, sick days, pensions in lieu of pay raises, and health insurance benefits for both laborers and their families.  These were called “fringe benefits.”  This all happened during the 1950s, 60s and 70s; in today’s economy, it sounds like Utopia.  But Utopia did not last.  It began to crumble the minute industrialists and manufacturers began to ask themselves, “How can we make more profits?” And the answer came back: “If we replace American workers with machinery and cheaper foreign labor, we won’t have to underwrite “fringe benefits” and we won’t have to negotiate with the unions.”  Thus began the great exodus otherwise known as “outsourcing of jobs.”


Today, little manufacturing is done in America.  Unions find themselves returning benefits hard won just to keep jobs in this country. Is this the American Dream or the American Nightmare?


China, India, Latin America, and the rest of the world are on the road to capitalism at the expense of the American worker, for these countries are awarded the jobs once performed by Americans. Some say that we are a nation of services and technology, but whom are we servicing?


It seems as though America has to sit and wait for the rest of the world to catch up before we can once again realize the American Dream. If this is the plan for the future, then give me the good old days when factories and mills hummed and bustled with activity; the good old days when we were the greatest nation on the face of the Earth.


The history of the American Labor Movement is written in the blood, sweat, and tears of the workers who brought collective bargaining to the table and dignity to the workforce.  But, household-name corporations, such as GE, RCA, Philco, Ford, Chrysler, and so on, have no allegiance to the country that engineered their emergence and success. Power hungry and fueled by greed, Corporate America was bailed out by hard-working taxpayers just to stay afloat.  Yet, Corporate America has not returned the favor to American workers; it has not brought outsourced jobs back to the U.S.  Instead, industry continues to use public funds to finance its foreign endeavors!  Big business has abandoned the American worker in favor of never-ending profits. This is a sad end to a great society.   


During the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated that, “the economy of the country depends on the spending power of the people.”  Without jobs, we have no spending power!


This Labor Day, we will celebrate with picnics, backyard barbecues, and trips to amusement parks, the mountains, or the shore.  The last hoorah of summer will come and go with little or no reflection upon, nor a care for, the sacrifices of the people who gave us this holiday. 

The American Nightmare: Reflections on Labor Day

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Labor Day Nightmare

Who first proposed a day to celebrate the American worker?  History is clouded on this issue.  Some records indicate that it was Peter J. McGuire, co-founder of the American Federation of Labor and general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.  Other data indicates that Michael McGuire, a machinist from Paterson, New Jersey, founded Labor Day.  He proposed the holiday in the year 1882, while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.  Upon acceptance of the proposal, a celebratory picnic and a demonstration were launched to honor U.S. factory workers.

 

By 1885, the idea of a workers’ holiday was accepted by many labor organizations in the country. As time progressed, several States sought legislation to establish Labor Day as an official State Holiday.  Oregon passed the first bill in 1887; later that year, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York followed suit.   Twenty-three other States subsequently adopted the Holiday.  On June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act marking the first Monday in September as a legal Holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

 

As industrialism evolved within the United States, so did the significance of the Holiday.  With the workforce swelling in American factories, the Labor Movement strengthened, sweeping broad social and economic change into the workplace.  The sheer size of the unions, and the criticality of their skill and cooperation in the manufacturing process, gave them a powerful voice.  Exercising this voice in collective bargaining agreements, unions were able to put sweatshops and the poor working conditions therein on the chopping block.  Never again would unionized workers be subjected to the perilous circumstances that sparked the Triangle Fires in New York City that claimed many lives.  Pay scales increased, and laws emerged, prohibiting the exploitation of children as laborers. A humane, 40-hour workweek was introduced so that workers could enjoy two days out of every seven free of their factory duties, thus coining the term “weekends.”

 

Later, contracts were negotiated through which employers paid out health insurance premiums for workers as well as their family members; the employees themselves received paid holidays, paid sick days, and pensions.  When these things were given in lieu of salary increases, they were called “fringe benefits.”   All of this occurred within three decades: between the 1950’s and the 1970’s.  Given the state of the economy today, the workplace of yesteryear almost sounds like Utopia.  And then, greed reared its ugly head, on the other side of the fence.

 

Manufacturers began seeking ways of increasing profits.  With their hands tied in legal sanctions, management found itself in a Mexican stand-off with the powerful and rather expensive unions.  Producers of goods began to shift — not ship! — labor overseas.   Abroad, unions were a foreign concept and so, labor was much cheaper.  Thrilled not to have to fork over those fringe benefits or escalating wages, manufacturing began its great exodus from America’s shores and onto foreign soil.

 

Today, little manufacturing is done in America.  Unions find themselves relinquishing hard-won benefits just to keep jobs Stateside.  China, India, and other once-underdeveloped nations are on the road to capitalism at the expense of the American worker.  We are supposed to be a nation of services and technology, but whom are we servicing?

 

In a strange and terrifying twist of fate, America now sits and waits as rest of the world catches up with our technologies.  If this is the future, then I’ll take the good old days, thank you!  I’d welcome the days when factories and mills hummed with activity from sea to shining sea, and we were the greatest nation on the face of the earth.

 

Our new leader in Washington DC appeared so interested, prior to his election, in taxation as a means of sustaining government.  So why not tax the exportation of American jobs to foreign countries?   This plan would bring at least some measure of employment back to America. During the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated, “The economy of the country depends upon the spending power of the people.”  But you cannot spend without a job! We have awakened from the American Dream to find ourselves in the American Nightmare.

 

Labor Day has gone the route of Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Veterans Day.  Now, it is just another day on the calendar.  I wonder what the McGuire boys would have to say about that. 

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