News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Workers, the GOP is just not into you. Except when it wants to screw you.

The November job report indicated that the U.S. had gained 120,00 jobs for the month, but it downplayed the fact that 315,000 dropped out of the labor force because they could not find jobs.  In all the chatter about jobs, hardly anyone has confronted the fact that the jobs which were lost in the crash of 2008 are not coming back.  The economy has changed.  It can no longer utilize the American work force, largely because the corporate world has no interest in labor outside of finding the cheapest source.  
Outsourcing has been the largest force in diminishing the job market in the U.S., but other factors have contributed, such as automation, down-sizing, industrial failure as occurred with the automobile industry, and the massive grab of wealth and earnings by a corporate system that concentrates the wealth and power of the country in a very small upper economic class.    There has been a huge reversal of democracy from a government of, by, and for the people to a government that operates like the feudal royalties of the Old World.  The Occupy Wall Street protests have defined the problem with their 99 percent slogan, but the real forces needed to restore democratic liberty, equality, and justice have not been martialed.  

Jobs can return in abundance only when the primary producers are put to work, and that means in large part a restoration of the manufacturing sector of our economy.  That restoration  is not possible without dismantling the current economic and governmental structure.  The shifting of the work economy from production to service was an official policy announced by Ronald Reagan, and it is the policy the corporate world has adhered to ever since.  There is acknowledgment of the forces that have changed the economy by the Occupy movement, but it has been peaceful and nonviolent on the part of the protestors so far.  It seems like nothing short of the indiscriminate and vicious guillotining of the French Revolution will produce the kind of change needed for a true realignment of the economic forces within the country.  The Occupiers realize that the ballot box does not provide any means for change, and that the country will be deadlocked as long as the current level of partisan bickering distracts the leadership from addressing the real circumstance our country finds itself in.

The November job report produced just the reaction that shows why America has become incompetent and impotent in regard to bolstering the economy.  While the Democrats took up bragging rights about dropping the unemployment rate below 9 percent, the Republicans crowed and chortled with glee about the numbers of those who have given up on finding work.  The fact is that on the political front, the jobless rate is just another pretext for the idiotic partisan prattling.  No one really gives a shit about people who are out of work because they can't find any or those who work multiple jobs and still can't make enough money to afford basic needs like healthcare.  They just provide occasion for the inane and insane rancor that has descended from the puerile malevolence of a grade-school playground to the raging fury of the asylum.

But the Republicans do take first place in the disparagement and defamation of the working class.  The OWS confuses many people, but it shrewdly recognizes that the  only chance for young people to accede to something like the middle class expectations of the past is to dismantle the government AND the social structure it reflects and to start over.  

America is still the strongest economy in the world, with China and India coming up quickly, but those who control the resources, the wealth, and the power are interested only in denying working people equality and reducing them to a mob that grovels and snarls for any economic morsels that power and wealth  deigns to throw them.  America is hell bent on diminishing its workers back into an expendable serfdom, and it is pushing them toward the angry excesses of the French Revolution--which is not pleasant or constructive to think about.  The anti-union, anti-labor measures in Wisconsin and other states are the most obvious measures in the pogrom to subjugate the working middle class, but the constant blaming of unions and teachers for the deficiencies of public education, the creation and protection of special privileges for the extremely wealthy and the corporations through which the wealth is laundered and distributed, and the anti-labor propaganda gushing from the right wing are all indicators of the anti-worker mindset that has caused the American economy to seize up.  The discourse repeats the stances of the French Revolution ("let them eat cake") and what emanated from the fascist and republican factions during the Spanish civil war. GOP candidates are unequivocal about their attitudes toward American workers.  Mitt Romney said at the Huckabee forum last Saturday that he would reduce the role of, or even eliminate, the National Labor Relations Board. He also said the federal government does have a role: attacking teachers' unions.

The circumstances of jobs in America is laid out by David Bornstein in The New York Times:  

Today, some 42 million people — about a third of the United States work force — do not have jobs in the traditional sense. They fall into a catchall category the government calls “contingent” workers. These people — independent contractors, freelancers, temp workers, part-timers, people between jobs — typically work on a project-to-project basis for a variety of clients, and most are outcasts from the traditional system of benefits that provide economic security to Americans. Even as the economy has changed, employment benefits are still based on an outdated industrial-era model in which workers are expected to stay with a single company for years, if not their whole careers.

He writes about a new union movement that addresses the changing circumstance of jobs in America.  Some new ideas and new forms of leadership in the union movement might be an alternative to the wholesale deconstruction of the American system.

Some matters of full disclosure:  

I grew up in an industrial town where strikes were common and the image of union members was projected by the media of the time as unruly goons.  When I was released from active duty from the Army, I quickly took a job with International Harvester Co., which operated as a closed shop under the labor laws of Illinois.  That meant that after a 90-day probation period with the company, one automatically became a dues-paying union member.  My ideas of what the union actually did began to change.  Seven men in the department I worked in had been company production executives during World War II.  When production shifted from wartime armaments to the production of peacetime farm equipment, the men were all laid off.  Over time they were hired back in much lower positions, but they were the ones who made the company work.  They were constantly under pressure from the company to accept promotions back into executive positions, but they refused to leave their jobs which were covered by the collective bargaining contract.  The reasoning they explained to me was that they preferred to be in positions where they could do honest, productive work rather than be bound up in the charades of the corporate culture.  The department I worked in was called Materials Control and was responsible for all the  production planning, scheduling, purchasing, and product distribution (marketing) for the plant.  These men were the key employees who determined the success and future of the plant, and the company fully acknowledged that, and created a working relationship that made full use of their experience and expertise.  That, and some experiences I had on grievance panels, changed my perception of what unions actually did.

As a professor, I quickly joined the faculty union when I came to South Dakota.  NSU was under a sanction for violating principles of due process in firing a professor.  (Eventually, the system paid some compensation to the professor to get itself removed from the sanction list.)  Over time, I served many offices--secretary, treasurer, president, and grievance officer of the local, contract negotiator, and  president of the statewide faculty union.  After serving one term as state president, I declined to run for that office again and shortly after dropped my membership in the faculty union.  I did so because I realized that the union was not effectively representing the college faculty.  I did not suspend my union activities, but quit the NEA affiliated union while retaining my membership in the Association of American University Professors, which represents the interests of college faculty on a more professional level.  After I gave up my membership in the local union, I was still consulted and asked to advise faculty on grievances and personnel actions, which pissed off everybody except the faculty members with whom I consulted. 

Unions have earned and deserved harsh criticism.  In education, they simply did not know how to represent a profession and function as collective bargainers for it.  The largest teachers union, the National Education Association, was a professional organization that worked primarily in promoting and advancing the professional developments of education.  When teachers were allowed to organize and collectively bargain, the NEA became a collective bargaining agent, but had no idea of how to fulfill its new role.  So, it borrowed the tactics and policies of industrial labor unions.  The second largest teachers union, the AFT, was part of a large industrial union, the AFL-CIO, and simply embraced its established ways of doing labor union business.

Many states, such as South Dakota, prohibit teachers from striking, which leaves the collective bargaining agencies without any power at the bargaining table.  In South Dakota, the custom is for school boards to dismiss union proposals, and then to impose the contract the school board has proposed.  Without the ability to strike, the teachers have no way to require a fair and honest consideration of their proposals.  However, teacher strikes are horrendously bad public relations, as the teachers are accused of ignoring the welfare of children in their self-interest.   Strikes do conflict with a basic premise of care and nurture for students,  but there are alternatives to strikes that the unions, except for the American Association of University Professors, have  not developed or utilized.  Sanctions against administrations and boards with records of incompetence and perfidy are matters that can be solved either at the bargaining table or made matters for the public to address.  There is a constant stream of complaints about under-performing teachers, but the public is kept unaware of administrators and board members who accrue records of incompetence, negligence, and dishonesty in the discharge of their duties. 

At one point, the South Dakota faculty organization undertook to evaluate administrators and officials in regard to their performance of their assigned duties.  We used the same instrument that the Board of Regents and administrations used to assess the performance of officials and administrators with one big difference:   we required that the judgments made about individuals be supported with factual evidence and accounts of performance, and the individual evaluation forms had to be signed by the faculty members.  The results were released to the faculty and the lead administrators on each campus, and they caused some consternation that rose to the level of panic.  A number of administrators objected to being under such scrutiny and said it interfered with their ability to do their jobs.  The end result was that the criteria used in faculty evaluations were refined to require factually-based assessments and to  limit personal judgments that could not be supported by factual evidence.   The administrators were alarmed and disturbed at how they were perceived from the professional viewpoint of the faculty.  The administrative evaluations were valuable assessments, but they involved so much effort and work that few qualified faculty thought they had time to work on them.

Nevertheless, unions have not taken the opportunity to let the public know where some of the real problems in education exist.  Many of the problems in education developed as school boards changed their role from being the conduit and mediator of information between the public and professional staffs and assumed the role of corporate boards of directors that dictated the standards and the rules.  In assuming that role, the voices of the teachers, the people who work the front lines of education on a daily basis, were eliminated from education decision-making.  The many studies which have raised problems about education include hardly any information from the classroom workers.  Rather than using their professional judgments and creative resources, teachers are expected to just do what they are told, and what they are told comes from people who have little knowledge and experience about the tasks that teachers undertake.  The dominant ploy is to blame the teachers and their unions for the short-comings of education.  That placing of blame has all but eliminated any consideration of the social and bureaucratic factors that have eliminated professional standards in teaching and reduced it to a servile nannyism.

Teachers represent just one segment of a workforce in America that is being misused and abused as a despised lower class of workers.   The anti-union, anti-worker movement  does more than force a status of inequality on the workforce and reduce the middle class; it excludes the creativity and energy of people who are willing and know how to work from participation in building and sustaining the nation. In Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana, that reductive humiliation of workers has become the governing policy in the level of regard those states have for their own employees.  

When the issue of economic inequality is raised, the conservatives in the U.S go into paroxysms of incensed offense and shout class warfare.  It is a gross perversion of language to call that label disingenuous.  It is a revival of the medieval class system that ruled society in the Dark Ages.  As Whitman said, the business of democracy is to surmount the gorgeous history of feudalism.  Mark Twain satirized that old fascination with a society that operated by designating the privileged and unprivileged in each of his works.  That fascination has been revived in the 21st century by the right wing in America.

Workers have to understand that the inequality that possesses the American economy is driven by people who want to feel that they are better than everyone else and want to concentrate wealth and power in an increasing smaller power-elite.  The observation that came from civil rights battle is strongly operative today:  the worth and sense of accomplishment of this social segment is measured by how many people they fuck over.  

One thing that might head off the seemingly inevitable excesses of the French Revolution is that resurgence of the union movement along the lines of the Freelancers Union, which operates closely to how the guild halls did in moving western society toward democracy.  America is coming to a time when it decides whether it will resolve its social and economic inequities through a weapon-wielding fury in the streets or through a return to rational and measured negotiation at bargaining tables.  But first, the American working class has to come to a full realization of who it includes and what ill and ignominious plans the self-designated ruling class has for it.  

Rational and respectful discussion and resolution, however, are not looming on the horizon as having much possibility.  The deadlock in Congress indicates the choice the  country seems to be making. 

1 comment:

Douglas said...

Perhaps you have seen how Fox News presented the graph information. They mislabled it and moved data points to make job gains appear as stable loses. If right wingers are fed the right distortion, they can support nearly any kind of lunacy.

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