GOP to Workers: "Why Should They Get What We Took Away From You?"

Was recently listening to the journalists on Slate's Political Gabfest pondering why union density is so much higher amongst public sector workers than the private sector. None of them mentioned the most important difference: It's harder for a government to get away with running a terror campaign against the union. There's more oversight and accountability to restrain public sector management from threatening workers for union activity, implying benefits to keeping out the union or danger with it, holding captive audience meetings against the union, or just firing union leaders. Only some of these tactics are even illegal. And bosses get away with those all the time. (Check out this reportfrom Human Rights Watch, or this one from Prof. Kate Bronfenbrenner). Consultants get very wealthy guiding companies on how to run fear campaigns against employees trying to organize. It's a lot harder for the TSA to cut anti-union consultants a check than it is for Wal-Mart. When it comes to organizing, the fundamental difference between public sector and private sector workers is that public sector workers have a better chance at organizing free from fear. So lots and lots of public sector workers do.

Right-wingers' desire to crush workers' freedom to organize and bargain collectively, whether public sector or private, is old news. But the zeal with which newly elected right-wing politicians are going after public employees is based in a sense of opportunity - one that comes not just from high unemployment or the media's deficit hysteria or GOP electoral gains but from the continuing decline in private sector union density. Republicans are emboldened to go after public sector workers organizing rights because so few private sector workers are organized.

(Resentment towards public sector workers can take on a gendered angle as well, as in some European countries where the public sector is significantly more female than the private sector, giving politicians an easy subtext to wield against public workers.)

If more private sector workers had the right to bargain for pensions, affordable healthcare, and a living wage, conservatives would see less purchase in high-profile fights to shred their rights and benefits for the janitors, firefighters, and teachers who work for us.

You see this in anecdotes like the one in a recent NYT piece where a woman says "I don’t get to bargain in my job, either." This is the chutzpah of the Right: They erode the right for private sector workers to organize for a voice in the conditions of their work and their benefits on the job. They go after all the programs that help people to get jobs or provide protections that don't depend on a job. They attack public education, deny us public healthcare, and deride public infrastructure. They push corporate-dominated "globalization" that privileges the flexibility of capital and further denies people around the world a voice in the conditions of their lives. They throw up barriers to the political participation of the non-rich. They enshrine the rights of bosses to fire without cause, outsource with impunity, escape taxes without consequence, punish pregnancy and lock workers inside buildings. Then, looking out across the wreckage they've created, they tell workers: "Why should that janitor be above the poverty line when your job sucks? Who do you know that has a pension these days?"

In other words, the push on those of us who reject the right-wing future, besides exposing their shell game, is to organize. We need to defend the human right to organize across industries, sectors and countries. And we need to strengthen it and exercise it. Goes without saying that Republican politicians have shown far more zeal about being part of the problem than Democratic ones have shown about being part of the solution.

There's not much future for the American labor movement without turning around the decline in private sector union density. And there's not much democracy if you spend half your waking life under dictatorship.

Weekly Audit: Banks Get Big Bucks, Consumers Get Bupkis

 

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Last week, the Federal Reserve announced a plan to buy an additional $600 billion worth of Treasury bonds in an attempt to stimulate the economy. On Democracy Now!, economist Michael Hudson argues that the $600 billion T-bill buy will help Wall Street at the expense of ordinary Americans.

The Fed justifies the purchase as an infusion of cash into the U.S. economy. The buy-up will certainly be an infusion of cash into U.S. banks. In effect, the Fed will help the government pay back the banks that lent money to finance deficit spending. The hope is that these banks, suddenly flush with cash, will help the U.S. economy by lending money to finance projects that will create wealth and jobs (i.e. opening factories and hiring more workers).

However, as Hudson points out, there’s no guarantee that the banks are going to use the windfall to build wealth in the U.S. On the contrary, he argues, there’s every reason to suspect that they’ll invest the money overseas in currency speculation deals. Why? Because the Fed has also put massive pressure on Congress to push China into raising its currency by 20%. The banks know this because the House voted overwhelmingly to approve such a threat in September.

If the banks convert their extra billions to Chinese currency, and China raises the value of its currency in response to the threat of an across-the-board U.S. tariff on its imports, then banks that bought Chinese RMB when it was still artificially cheap will reap huge profits overnight.

Later in the Democracy Now! broadcast, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz describes how the U.S. employed a similar strategy of currency devaluation to insulate itself against the ravages of the Great Depression, with devastating global consequences:

So, the irony is that money that was intended to rekindle the American economy is causing havoc all over the world. Those elsewhere in the world say, what the United States is trying to do is the twenty-first century version of “beggar thy neighbor” policies that were part of the Great Depression: you strengthen yourself by hurting the others. You can’t do protectionism in the old version of raising tariffs, but what you can do is lower your exchange rate, and that’s what low interest rates are trying to do, weaken the dollar.

Trade war between the U.S. and China

The U.S. and China have a longstanding trade rivalry, but suddenly the two powers seem to be even more at odds than usual.

William Greider of The Nation argues that plummeting global demand has ratcheted up tensions as the two exporting nations fight over a dwindling pool of customers. The U.S. accuses China of artificially deflating its currency to make its exports cheaper. In retaliation, the U.S. imposed tariffs on Chinese tires and tubular steel. China, in turn, imposed a tariff on U.S. poultry. As I mentioned above, the House voted 348-79 in September to impose additional tariffs on nearly all Chinese imports if China doesn’t revalue its currency, though the Senate has yet to vote on this legislation.

The U.S. acts indignant about China manipulating its currency, but Grieder argues that this stance is hypocritical in light of the Federal Reserve’s decision to buy an additional $600 billion worth of Treasury bonds from the federal government to help finance the budget deficit. One effect will be to weaken the U.S. dollar, which will make our exports more competitive relative to those of China.

Voters reject free-for-all trade

In last week’s midterm elections, voters rewarded candidates who oppose unfettered free trade, according to Kari Lydersen of Working In These Times. According to a new report by Public Citizen, 60 congressional races were fought wholly or largely on trade issues in 2010. Only 37 candidates favored NAFTA-style free trade pacts and half of them lost. Not all the candidates who won on a protectionist trade platform were advocating a progressive agenda of fairly compensating trading partners, protecting American jobs, and upholding environmental regulations. Senator-Elect Rand Paul (R-KY) argued that the World Trade Organization is a threat to U.S. sovereignty.

Anti-union ballot initiatives win big

Mikhail Zinshteyn of Campus Progress brings us an update on the anti-union initiatives that appeared on the ballots in many states last week. Voters in Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah approved legislation to preemptively neutralize the already-stalled Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), should it ever become federal law. EFCA, also known as card check or majority sign-up, would allow workers to organize by signing up for a union, instead of going through a grueling National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election process, which makes workers sitting ducks for management threats and propaganda.

Bean there, done that

Move over, Elizabeth Warren. The White House may be poised to appoint one of Wall Street’s favorite Democrats to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Andy Kroll and David Corn report in Mother Jones that Rep. Melissa Bean (D-IL) is a favored contender for the job if her still-undecided race for reelection doesn’t work out. That would be heartening news for Bean’s former chief of staff, John Michael Gonzalez, now a leading lobbyist for Big Finance.

Bean, who serves on the House finance and small business committees, has received over $2.5 million in campaign contributions from the financial sector over the course of her 5-year career. Bean was also a big beneficiary of the Chamber of Commerce, which vehemently opposed the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill that created the CFPB in the first place. Bean ultimately voted for the bill, but not before she unsuccessfully attempted to water down the consumer financial protections therein, the very provisions Bean would be tasked with enforcing.

“The White House needs to beat back the Bean idea, otherwise they’ll look like fools,” one Democratic strategist told Corn and Kroll. “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. She’s a tool of the financial industries.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

The China Blames Game

Cross-posted at River Twice Research.

So bipartisanship isn’t dead. By a vote of 348-79, Democrats and Republicans alike put aside their acrimonious differences and agreed, at least for a moment, to stop blaming each other for the sad state of American economic life. Instead, they agreed to blame China.

The bill authorizes the president of the United States to impose tariffs on Chinese goods in response to what it considers an illegal subsidy of Chinese exports in the form of an undervalued currency. It helps that the supporters in the House know that this bill has precious little chance of becoming law; it will not pass the Senate and it is unlikely that it would be signed into law by Obama if it ever came to that. As a result, the bill is the perfect campaign gesture, bombastic, angry, self-righteous, and without much real-world consequence.

The office AFL-CIO union leader Richard Trumka issued a statement that encapsulated the thinking behind the bill: “the House of Representatives voted to put an end to the Chinese government’s currency manipulation, which has destroyed millions of good American manufacturing jobs. For more than a decade, the Chinese government has deliberately manipulated the value of its currency, ballooning our trade deficit with China and costing American communities good jobs….Working people continue to mobilize to elect candidates who will put America’s workers first and are committed to rebuilding an economy that values working people. This November we will send a powerful message that we will support those who vote for an economy that works for everyone.”

 

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Obama's "Five Worst Nominees"

Over at the Mother Jones blog, Kate Sheppard, David Corn and Daniel Schulman compiled a list of "Obama's Five Worst Nominees." Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner doesn't make the cut, which surprised me until I read the short bios of appointees who are likely to put corporate interests ahead of the public interest. In alphabetical order:

William Lynn, for whom the president made an exception to his policy on lobbyists in government. Lynn was the chief lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon before becoming deputy secretary of defense in the Obama administration.

William Magwood, a "cheerleader for nuclear power" who has "worked for reactor maker Westinghouse and has run two firms that advise companies on nuclear projects." Obama nominated him for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Scott O'Malia, who was apparently suggested by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. O'Malia "was a lobbyist for Mirant, an Enron-like energy-trading firm" and lobbied for weakening the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, to which Obama appointed him.

Joseph Pizarchik, who helped form policies in Pennsylvania to allow disposal of toxic coal ash in unlined pits. Obama named him director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

Islam Siddiqui, whom Obama appointed to be the chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. trade representative. Jill Richardson has been on this case at La Vida Locavore; see here and here on why Siddiqui is the wrong person for this job.

I wouldn't suggest that this rogue's gallery is representative of Obama appointees, but it's depressing to see any of them in this administration.

In the good news column, Obama has decided to renominate Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, along with five other nominees who didn't receive a confirmation vote in the Senate last year.

The U.S. and China - The Defining Issue of Our Day

Cross-posted at River Twice Research.

In his current Asian trip, President Obama visits Japan, then addresses a forum of leaders in Singapore, and eventually ends up in Seoul to discuss nukes and North Korea. But make no mistake, the axis of this week is the time Obama will spend in China, which has catapulted to the forefront of international affairs and is on its way to joining the United States as the alpha and omega of the global economic system.

That China has emerged is secret to no one, but the consequences haven't been fully integrated - either by the United States or by China. The level of intertwinement between the two economies has reached the point where they have effectively merged, forming what I've called an economic "superfusion." But that fusion hasn't yet altered political and cultural mindsets.

The ministers of the world still beseech the United States to "do something" about a weakening dollar, and U.S representatives on the eve of this trip announced that after the financial morass of the past 15 months, the United States "is back." Yes, the United States remains the world's largest economy - though technically the combined income of the European Union is greater. But size isn't everything - just look at Japan, which is still the world's second largest economy but whose influence and impact are substantially less. China may be poor on a per capita basis (perhaps $5000 per person relative to nearly $50,000 in the United States), but it is changing more rapidly and consuming more hungrily that any other society in the world. It is the change factor in the global system.

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