2009

29 April: Employee Free Choice Act would restore dignity to workers

Employees Free Choice Act would return dignity to workers

First, I’d like to apologize for being absent last Wednesday, which was Earth Day. My column was to be about the cryosphere, the realm of frozen water.

Its message: if you’re permafrost, you are in defrost; if you’re an ice shelf or glacier, the sea is your future; if you’re sea ice, you’re like the cubes in my Scotch; and if you’re a polar bear or any other life form dependent upon them, your days might be numbered.

Also, last week’s storm served as a miniscule intervention in Earth’s continual warming since snow reflects up to 90 percent of the suns rays, while the opposite is true for snow-free surfaces.

Second, I want to thank Bruce Ables for his correction to the information I gave on March 11 regarding the number of watts that constitute a kilo-, mega-, and gigawatt. It’s important, as he notes, to “be clear of the quantities and terms being discussed.”

But with May Day on the horizon, thoughts turn elsewhere.

For pagans, May 1st is Beltane, the midpoint between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice, so a sacred date.

In the mundane world, it is Law Day in the United States, established by President Eisenhower in 1957 and codified into law in 1961 to distract us from May Day celebrations around the world by workers and the Soviet Union, which used the day to boast of its military power.

Modern workers’ rights efforts share a common root in the 19th-century struggles, in which one refrain was “eight hours to work, eight hours to recreate, and eight hours to sleep.”

For many Americans today, that would be an act of going to Valhalla or performing a hat trick.

From the rise of the Industrial Revolution, workers fought to reduce their sometimes 20-hour workday to 12, to 10, and finally to 8 hours with the result of Americans considering the eight-hour workday the norm.

The struggle took over a century. Through organizing, workers of the world threw down their chains—for the most part—and fought to bring about a measure of dignity for those who actually brought about a higher standard of living for much of the Western world.

In other places such as China from where the Wal-Marts of the world secure their cheap merchandise made by slave labor, it is another matter.

Here the fight goes on in the form of the Employee Free Choice Act.

The reason the bill has been dubbed “free choice” is that over the past several decades forming a union has been anything but a free choice.

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman of Princeton claims, “During the late 1970s and early 1980s, at least one in every twenty workers who voted for a union was illegally fired.”

History shows initial worker gains—the workday length, safety, wages, and benefits—were not freely given by kind-hearted management but wrought through confrontation with corporate goons and henchmen at times in the form of police and troops.

Until FDR, union busting was often a bloody affair. Over the past 50 years, it has morphed, aided and abetted by the corporate media—note the Denver Post’s opposition to the bill—from head-busting to a more subtle “you’ll be fired for trying to organize.”

Beginning with FDR’s New Deal and through World War II, a period labeled the Great Compression by economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo, Krugman points out “the rate of unionization nearly tripled” with “more than one in three American workers belong[ing] to a union.”

As a result, post-WW II America witnessed the apogee of the American middle class.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to detect the absolute correlation between the rise of the American middle class and union membership, which not only improved standards for members but also for non-unionized workers by elevating the floor.

As Krugman puts it, “The rich got dramatically poorer while workers got considerably richer.”

The right regrouped and the campaign was on to convince Americans union membership was nearly equivalent to being un-American. Union membership has dropped to 12 percent while the share of high-income groups in total income returned to the Roaring Twenties level: 17.3 then to 17.4 now for the top one percent.

Hopefully, we’re in a new day, or at least have returned to a day from the past when Americans who “shower after work” are accorded the level of dignity as those who shower before.

Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act will affirm that, and the vote by Sen. Bennet, Gov. Bill Ritter’s appointee, will be key to its success as well to a future term in the Senate.

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