Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day

Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times

Having grown up in a union town that was near a large city that relied on union labor, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the people who most hate unions are folks who think that it is unconscionable that workers should have the same rights as the managers and the owners of the company. How dare they demand a living wage and safe working conditions. Who do they think they are?

Yeah, yeah; in every large group there are bad apples and examples of bad faith and extremism. Welcome to the human race. The Republicans hold the unions up as the boogeyman of the Western world and label them as thugs… and give tax breaks to the corporations because they know that if they don’t, the corporations will kneecap them. Not literally; they’ll just stop giving them money, which, in corporate circles, is thuggery. The people who whine about “class warfare” always turn out to be the ones who are winning the war.

Perhaps one of the reasons that union membership is down is that unions have accomplished a lot of what they set out to do 100 years ago. Factories are safer, working hours are reasonable, wages are better than the minimum, and pensions provide some security. The unions have learned, however awkwardly, to accept that they have been successful, but they also know that if some people had their way in the world, they would turn back to clock to 1911, put children to work, take away the healthcare, and demand more production. After all, it works for the Chinese, and look how they’re doing.

By the way, not all union workers are Democrats; they certainly weren’t were I grew up. A lot of them are hardcore Republicans or conservatives — including police officers — who don’t care about the politics; they just want to be treated fairly. And a lot of people who are not union members are working under union contracts; in most places there is no requirement to join a union to benefit from their efforts. So while actual union membership may be down to 15%, the number of people who are part of the union is far greater. That includes public sector jobs as well as private. So the next time someone feels the urge to union-bash, be sure you’re not peeing in your own campfire.

Full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of a union of sorts; I belong to the Dramatists Guild. It provides services for writers and lyricists and makes sure that when our works are produced, we have a fair contract and get paid our royalties. The joke among us is that we don’t go on strike; we just get writers’ block.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

VW Backfire

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was very proud of his role in getting the workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga to narrowly vote against joining the UAW by warning that if they did, it could mean fewer jobs and perhaps plant closings.

He may be right, but not in the way he intended.

Volkswagen’s top labor representative threatened on Wednesday to try to block further investments by the German carmaker in the southern United States if its workers there are not unionized.

Workers at VW’s factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last Friday voted against representation by the United Auto Workers union (UAW), rejecting efforts by VW representatives to set up a German-style works council at the plant.

German workers enjoy considerable influence over company decisions under the legally enshrined “co-determination” principle which is anathema to many politicians in the U.S. who see organized labor as a threat to profits and job growth.

Chattanooga is VW’s only factory in the U.S. and one of the company’s few in the world without a works council.

“I can imagine fairly well that another VW factory in the United States, provided that one more should still be set up there, does not necessarily have to be assigned to the south again,” said Bernd Osterloh, head of VW’s works council.

“If co-determination isn’t guaranteed in the first place, we as workers will hardly be able to vote in favor” of potentially building another plant in the U.S. south, Osterloh, who is also on VW’s supervisory board, said.

The 20-member panel – evenly split between labor and management – has to approve any decision on closing plants or building new ones.

Nice going, Senator.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day

Having grown up in a union town that was near a large city that relied on union labor, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the people who most hate unions are folks who think that it is unconscionable that workers should have the same rights as the managers and the owners of the company. How dare they demand a living wage and safe working conditions. Who do they think they are?

Yeah, yeah; in every large group there are bad apples and examples of bad faith and extremism. Welcome to the human race. The Republicans hold the unions up as the boogeyman of the Western world and label them as thugs… and give tax breaks to the corporations because they know that if they don’t, the corporations will kneecap them. Not literally; they’ll just stop giving them money, which, in corporate circles, is thuggery. The people who whine about “class warfare” always turn out to be the ones who are winning the war.

Perhaps one of the reasons that union membership is down is that unions have accomplished a lot of what they set out to do 100 years ago. Factories are safer, working hours are reasonable, wages are better than the minimum, and pensions provide some security. The unions have learned, however awkwardly, to accept that they have been successful, but they also know that if some people had their way in the world, they would turn back to clock to 1911, put children to work, take away the healthcare, and demand more production. After all, it works for the Chinese, and look how they’re doing.

By the way, not all union workers are Democrats; they certainly weren’t were I grew up. A lot of them are hardcore Republicans or conservatives — including police officers — who don’t care about the politics; they just want to be treated fairly. And a lot of people who are not union members are working under union contracts; in most places there is no requirement to join a union to benefit from their efforts. So while actual union membership may be down to 15%, the number of people who are part of the union is far greater. That includes public sector jobs as well as private. So the next time someone feels the urge to union-bash, be sure you’re not peeing in your own campfire.

Full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of a union of sorts; I belong to the Dramatists Guild. It provides services for writers and lyricists and makes sure that when our works are produced, we have a fair contract and get paid our royalties. The joke among us is that we don’t go on strike; we just get writers’ block.

In honor of the holiday, I’m taking the rest of the day off.  See you tomorrow.

12 Beach and Ocean

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Short Takes

Yet another shooting in public — this time in Oregon — leaves three dead.

North Korea launched another rocket.

U.S. will recognize Syrian rebels.

Michigan passes right-to-work.

Cliff Report — President Obama and Speaker Boehner trade offers but no progress reported.

Hugo Chavez is recovering from cancer surgery.

R.I.P. Ravi Shankar, 92, virtuoso of the sitar.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In The Thick Of It

President Obama went to Michigan yesterday to visit a truck plant.  And somehow the state’s imminent vote on right-to-work came up.

President Obama railed against right-to-work laws Republicans are currently trying to pass in Michigan, arguing that they constitute a “race to the bottom,” during a speech in Redford, Michigan Monday.

Right-to-work laws are “giving you the right to work for less money,” Obama said in his speech at the Daimler Detroit Diesel Plant.

“What we shouldn’t be doing is try to take away your rights to bargain for better wages or working conditions,” he said, arguing for the need for high-skilled, well-payed workers. “We don’t want a race to the bottom. We want a race to the top.”

Michigan Democrats are promising “chaos” if the bill passes.  And it will.  As for the chaos, there are a lot of lawyers in Michigan and Washington who are about to make a lot of money, and this will play a very big part in the election in 2014 when Gov. Snyder is up for re-election.

Short Takes

A U.N. panel says Cuba’s jailing of Alan Gross was “arbitrary.”

A U.S. Navy SEAL was killed in the rescue of the American aid worker kidnapped by the Taliban.

Poll — 60% of Americans support raising taxes on incomes over $250,000.

The Michigan legislature will vote today on right-to-work.

Highway deaths in U.S. hit a 62-year low.

Gas prices fall 10 cents in three weeks.

The Strauss-Kahn case has been settled out of court.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Railroading Right-To-Work

Laura Conaway at The Maddow Blog has a good summary of the rush by the Michigan legislature to pass right-to-work in the state where the modern labor movement was born.

Right to Work legislation has moved through so quickly that one Republican lawmaker voter against it because, he said, “We literally weren’t given the legislation to read until minutes before voting.” From experience with Right to Work in other states, conservatives and liberals agree that the rule is catastrophic for unions, with significant cuts in membership, and lower wages and benefits.

What’s all the more interesting is that up until about twenty minutes ago, Gov. Rick Snyder had no interest in passing right-to-work and he was bragging about how well the state was doing in terms of the economic recovery (i.e. GM and Chrysler’s rebound).  Now all of a sudden the economy is on the edge of going under unless this law passes.

If, as the Republicans are always telling us, the labor union movement is dying and has no power left to wield, why do they suddenly need this kind of legislation in the first place?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Short Takes

Secretary of State Clinton is in Israel to try to broker a truce in Gaza.

Eurocrisis — Leaders fail to agree on aid to Greece.

Mediation talks between Hostess and their labor union fail.

A 13-year-old girl was fatally shot on a school bus in Homestead, Florida; 15-year-old boy charged.

San Francisco approves a ban on public nudity.

Church of England votes against women bishops.

R.I.P. Warren Rudman, former senator from New Hampshire.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Short Takes

Gaza: Attacks continue as diplomats try for peace.

President Obama makes historic visit to Burma.

Feds crack down on shady mortgage ads.

Indianapolis house explosion seen as homicide.

The Twinkie may yet survive: bankruptcy court orders mediation between labor and management at Hostess.

South Florida home sales and prices were up in October.

Miami-Dade teachers and staff approve new contract.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Reading

Putting Down the Pen — Philip Roth retires from fiction writing.

On the computer in Philip Roth’s Upper West Side apartment these days is a Post-it note that reads, “The struggle with writing is over.” It’s a reminder to himself that Mr. Roth,who will be 80 in March and who has enjoyed one of the longest and most celebrated careers in American letters, has retired from writing fiction — 31 books since he started in 1959. “I look at that note every morning,” he said the other day, “and it gives me such strength.”

To his friends the notion of Mr. Roth not writing is like Mr. Roth not breathing. It sometimes seemed as if writing were all he did. He worked alone for weeks at a time at his house in Connecticut, reporting every morning to a nearby studio where he wrote standing up, and often going back there in the evening. At an age when most novelists slow down, he got a second wind and wrote some of his best books: “Sabbath’s Theater,”“American Pastoral,”“The Human Stain” and “The Plot Against America.”Well into his 70s, the books, though shorter, came uninterruptedly, practically one a year.But over the course of a three-hour interview — his last, he said — Mr. Roth seemed cheerful, relaxed and at peace with himself and his decision, which was first announced last month in the French magazine Les InRocks. He joked and reminisced, talked about writers and writing, and looked back at his career with apparent satisfaction and few regrets. Last spring he appointed Blake Bailey as his biographer and has been working closely with him ever since.

Mr. Roth said he actually made the decision to stop writing in 2010, a few months after finishing his novel “Nemesis,” about a 1944 polio epidemic in his hometown, Newark.

“I didn’t say anything about it because I wanted to be sure it was true,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute, don’t announce your retirement and then come out of it.’ I’m not Frank Sinatra. So I didn’t say anything to anyone, just to see if it was so.”

On a table in his living room was a stack of photographs he had just been sent by a cousin: his mother in her bridal gown, the veil trailing down a flight of stairs; a very young Mr. Roth with his parents and his older brother, Sandy, outside their home in Newark; a handsome teenage Roth sitting on a sofa with his first serious girlfriend; Private P. Roth in his Army uniform and helmet.

Nearby was an iPhone he had bought recently. “Why?” he said. “Because I’m free. Every morning I study a chapter in ‘iPhone for Dummies,’ and now I’m proficient. I haven’t read a word for two months. I pull this thing out and play with it.”

Then he corrected himself: “I haven’t read during the day. At night I read. I read for two hours. I just finished a marvelous book by Louise Erdrich, ‘The Round House.’ But mostly I read 20th-century history and biography. I lived then. I was either a child or at school or at work. It’s time I caught up.”

Free Stuff — Ta-Nehisi Coates on what everyone wants.

There was a great deal of talk after the election of the “fever” breaking around the GOP, and the party coming to their senses. Perhaps Bobby Jindal’s aggressive rebuttal evidences some of this.

At any rate, I think it’s worth noting that all political parties organize around their interests, around pay-outs, as Romney calls them. Mitt Romney, for instance, represented a coalition whose stated interests lay in expanding the policies of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, outlawing national protection for abortion, doing nothing about climate change, and decreasing the tax burden on the “makers.”

This is interest-group politics. It is not a nefarious evil. It is the practice of American democracy. At least that’s what it is when taken up by interest groups who are predominantly white, predominantly male, and rooted, electorally, in the old Confederacy. When the practice is taken up by a coalition of women, gays, the young and people of color, many of them tax-payers, it is suddenly deemed a “pay-out” or “stuff,” as it was so recently put.

But they too want “stuff.” They want the right to discriminate against gay families. They want the right to enact poll-taxing. They want the law to force all pregnant women into labor. That many Americans disagree can only be the result of Chicago-style bribery. I win or you cheated.

Who Killed the Twinkie?  — James Surowiecki on the struggle for labor and management to adapt.

Hostess’s management certainly bears some of the blame for its failure to successfully adapt, though the company made numerous (and failed) attempts to introduce healthier products. But the simple truth is that this kind of failure is endemic to the system—there are always going to be companies that are unable to change in response to the marketplace. And those companies are supposed to go out of business. Not to be too clichéd about it, but this is what creative destruction is all about.

The problem, of course, is that that destruction is going to upend the lives of thousands of workers. And to the extent, then, that Hostess’s demise shows us something important about the plight of organized labor today, it’s not that greedy workers have precipitated their own demise. It’s rather that one of organized labor’s biggest challenges over the past four decades has been that union strength was concentrated in industries and among companies that, though once dominant players in the postwar American economy, have often ended up in a slow slide to obsolescence, employing fewer and fewer workers and having less and less money to pay them with. In theory, unions could have made up for this by organizing those companies and industries that have become ascendant since the nineteen-seventies, but for a variety of reasons (including a tougher corporate approach to union-busting, a less friendly legal climate, the difficulty of organizing many small enterprises as opposed to a few big factories, and a tendency to protect existing members rather than put real money into organizing) they haven’t. And the paradox is that as unions have gotten smaller and less influential, they’ve also gotten less popular. That’s why it’s so easy for Hostess’s management to spin the anti-union narrative.

The real issue here is that people’s image of unions, and their sense that doing something like going on strike is legitimate, seems to depend quite a bit, in the U.S., on how common unions are in the workforce. When organized labor represented more than a third of American workers, it was easy for unions to send the message that in agitating for their own interests, union members were also helping improve conditions for workers in general. But as unions have shrunk, and have become increasingly concentrated in the public sector, it’s become easier for people to dismiss them as just another special interest, looking to hold onto perks that no one else gets. Perhaps the most striking response to the Hostess news, in that sense, was the tweet from conservative John Nolte, who wrote “Hostess strikers had pension. PENSIONS! What is this 1962?” It was once taken for granted that an industrial worker who worked for a big company for many years would get a solid middle-class lifestyle, and would be taken care of in retirement. Today, that concept seems to many like a relic. Just as Wonder Bread does.

Doonesbury — Invisible Men.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Monday, September 17, 2012

Short Takes

Libya says they’ve arrested 50 in connection with the attack on the consulate.

Police find 17 bodies dumped in Mexico.

President Obama is leading in several key polls.

Chicago teachers remain on strike.

They’re counting calories at McDonald’s now.

Tropical Update: Invests 92L and 93 L are brewing up in the North Atlantic.  Typhoon Sanba is about to hit South Korea.

The Tigers lost to Cleveland, fall two back.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Short Takes

The U.S. orders embassy staff to leave Tunis and the Sudan.

Four more troops killed in Afghanistan by insiders.

China deals with protestors against Japan over disputed islands.

Chicago teachers could vote to end their strike as early as today.

Curiosity finds some strange-looking rocks on Mars.

Hockey: No deal reached; the NHL locks out their players.

Tropical Update: There’s a new disturbance east of the Antilles; in the Pacific, Typhoon Sanba is heading for Korea.

The Tigers beat the Indians; stay one game out of first in the division.