Sunday, December 16, 2012

THE MYTHOLOGY OF "RIGHT-TO-WORK" PERSISTS


Harry Targ
The Michigan legislature and Governor Richard Snyder passed a new “right-to-work” law on December 11, 2012. Such laws, authorized by the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, allow states to prohibit union locals from requiring workers who choose not to join the union that represents them at the work place and who receive union services from having to pay for them.
Social scientists refer to the dilemma this creates as the “free-rider” problem. Why pay for bargaining and negotiation, support for worker grievances, and other services if you can get them free? In the long run, supporters of right-to-work laws hope to reduce union membership and weaken organized workers as an economic force in the workplace and a political force in the electoral arena.
The Michigan Governor reversed his earlier declaration that he would not support this controversial legislation. Michigan is a state where the modern labor movement was formed in the 1930s during the sit-down strikes in auto plants. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels also promised labor leaders that he would not support such legislation. They both changed their minds because the prospects of defeating labor at this critical juncture seemed too good to miss. So Michigan, like Indiana, dusted off its copy of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model legislation and passed it.
As the Economic Policy Institute states, right-to-work provisions have negative consequences for workers. In right-to-work states workers earn significantly lower wages than workers in states without such laws. Also, they are less likely to benefit from employer-sponsored health insurance plans. Some studies note that health and safety at workplaces in right-to-work states fare poorly compared with workers in states without such laws. In short, Section 14 (b), the right-to-work provision of the Taft-Hartley Law of 1947, was designed to weaken the burgeoning new and militant labor movement of that day and as a result to increase corporate rates of profit.
On December 12, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (soon to be Purdue University president) announced that nine companies were “expected” to make investments in his state creating 2,552 new jobs. These included such companies as Angie’s List, BidPal Inc, and Mitsubishi Engine North America.  The Indianapolis Star indicated that the nine companies who “expect” to add these jobs by 2016 will receive over $27 million in tax credits. It was likely that the Daniels announcement was designed to support Michigan Governor Snyder’s claim that he was inspired by the alleged economic boom Indiana experienced since adopting right-to-work legislation last winter.
Governor Daniels indicated that “…we have seen a significant surge of new interest in the past several months.” Again, Governor Snyder was inspired by the Indiana story not because of the tax giveaways but because he claimed it was Indiana’s right-to-work law which was passed ten-months ago that spurred this “economic miracle” in the Hoosier state.
In a recent article on the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) website written by political scientist Gordon Lafer, economist Marty Wolfson, and Indiana state AFL-CIO President Nancy Guyott, it was pointed out that investment decisions require a lengthy process of study. Since the law was passed last January, became effective in March and is being challenged in court, the authors argued, it was unlikely that the new law would have affected decisions to invest in Indiana.
Further Lafer, Wolfson, and Guyott point out that none of the nine companies the Daniels’report referred to claim that the new right-to-work law had anything to do with their plans to invest more in the state. Some of the nine already had major facilities in the state. In addition, the authors examined companies that were courted by the state but chose to go elsewhere. Their research indicated that right-to-work was not a criteria for choosing before 2012 to invest in other states.
Perhaps the most significant facts gleaned from recent research on the Indiana economy were published by the Indiana Institute for Working Families in their study entitled “Status of Working Families in Indiana, 2011.”  (http://www.incap.org/statusworkingfamilies.html). Among their key findings are the following:
-the state had 231,500 fewer jobs as 2012 began than pre-recession employment.
-21,200 state and local government jobs were lost from August, 2008 through February, 2012 (22 percent of jobs lost).   
-in 2012, 19 percent of unemployment is among youth.
-Indiana is among 17 states continuing to experience absolute declines in the labor force since the recession began.
-only 14.6 percent of Hoosiers over the age of 25 have bachelor’s degrees.
-Indiana ranks 41st in average wages earned; economic inequality in the state has grown since 2000 but worker productivity has increased by 14 percent.
-median family income fell by 13.6 percent over the past decade.
-since 2000 poverty has increased by 52 percent.
The figures on the devolution of the Indiana economy over the last decade, as its state government has shifted to the right, are staggering. This is the model to which the Michigan Governor and legislature aspire.
Several conclusions can be drawn from the data and the contemporary political context in the industrial heartland of America.
First, economic decline has been a characteristic feature of workers’ lives before, during, and since the recession.
Second, during much of the last decade, particularly in states like Indiana, the political environment has been increasingly shaped by the rightwing economic agenda of the Republican Party.
There is no evidence, historical or contemporary, that right-to-work laws will reverse the severe economic decline workers experience. But there is evidence that the wealth and power of the super-rich will increase, while workers’ wages decline at the same time that their productivity rises.
Third, looking at capital/labor relations since the onset of the twentieth century, the strength of organized labor matters for all workers. Right-to-work, rather than attracting new investors, primarily enriches the current corporations in right-to-work states and weakens unions. 
Finally, as President Obama stated in a visit to Detroit just before the Michigan legislative vote, the resurgence of right-to-work campaigns is “political.” Why? Because the labor movement is the only financial and grassroots base of opposition to the shift to pre-New Deal economic policy. This was demonstrated in the “ground game” of the labor movement in key battleground states during the last election. It also was reflected in campaigns to reverse assaults on public employees in Ohio and mobilizations of teachers in Chicago to protect public education. In general organized labor represents the front-line of defense against shocking inequalities in wealth and power, opposition to the privatization of virtually all public institutions, and the protection of programs that have given modest economic security to large portions of the population.
The Michigan story and the mythology about Indiana are just part of the ongoing struggle of the financial/corporate class and their rightwing politicians to destroy the last movement that can save Americans from destitution. While weakened labor appears to be mobilizing to protect the interests of the broadening working class.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"IN TIMES LIKE THESE"


Harry Targ

In times like these when night surrounds me
And I am weary and my heart is worn
When the songs they’re singing don’t mean nothing
Just cheap refrains play on and on


When leaders profit from deep divisions
When the tears of friends remain unsung
In times like these it’s good to remember
These times will go in times to come
 
I see the storm clouds rise above me
The sky is dark and the night has come
I walk alone along this highway
Where friends have gathered one by one

I know the storm will soon be over
The howling winds will cease to be
I walk with friends from every nation
On freedom’s highway in times like these.

(From Arlo Guthrie, “In Times Like These,”


All year we have been celebrating the 100 year anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie. “This Land is Your Land” has become the new national anthem, particularly for the 98 per cent of the population, mostly the American working class. Singers now sing the forbidden verses challenging the rights of private property and choruses of cheering people, young and old, black and white, straight and gay, join in. It is a song of struggle, pride, and recognition that this world belongs to everybody.
 
Although the song has inspired us all as we sing it, sometimes we forget that the trajectory toward progressive change is not smooth. Guthrie’s friend and voice of our times, Pete Seeger, reminds us that “it is darkest before the dawn.”
 
Perhaps the anthem of these times, after hundreds of domestic instances of violence from Columbine to Newtown, from Trayvon Martin to Jordan Davis, to the streets of Chicago, is most poignantly articulated by Arlo Guthrie. And it is an anthem that peace activists should sing as we struggle against bombings, drones, economic blockades, covert interventions, assassination lists, killer teams, wars on drugs, huge appropriations of human resources to kill, violent video games, war toys, endless television shows and films that portray and normalize killings, as well as the tragedies such as at Newtown.
 
Major targets of violence and murder are educational institutions and particularly students. It is ironic that it is in these institutions that some of the most creative debates ensue around direct, or physical, violence and structural, or economic, sexual, and racial, violence. After World War II, scholar/activists concerned about atomic war, arms races, and war on poor countries introduced Peace Studies into university and public school curricula. Educators and activists had studied and advocated for peace for hundreds of years, but in the environment of the Cold War distinguished academics demanded that the tools of modern research and education be applied to war, the social cancer of our time.
 
Peace Studies programs since the 1950s have taken many forms. Some concentrate on the “war problem” and engage it through studies of philosophy, social theory, and theology. Others, using modern statistical techniques, gather data on war and other forms of violence and test hypotheses about causes. And finally, others, the “radical peace educators” argue that research and teaching should use all available techniques to study violence. In addition, we should include in our study of violence, the violence of exploitation, discrimination, the prerogatives of institutionalized power, and the manipulating of minds as well as bodies. These latter peace research/educators also argue that a connection needs to be made between theory and practice, reflection and action, studying causes and working to eliminate them.
 
Today there are some 250 peace studies programs. Some emphasize one or another or all of the three approaches. Despite efforts of rightwing political forces to eliminate Peace Studies programs, they persist. They persist because university alums, professors, teachers, and students remain committed to addressing the problems of violence in the 21st century. So researchers continue to learn more about the problem of violence, teachers (kindergarten through college) try their best to develop curricula that celebrate the preciousness of all human beings, and activists continue to struggle to eliminate institutions and cultures of violence.
 
In sum, in the midst of our deep sorrow, we remember Arlo Guthrie’s words. “In times like these,” despite the emotional energy and time spent achieving some electoral, labor and Occupy victories, we get weary and our “heart is worn.” While we see the “storm clouds rise above,” we should remember that “the storm will soon be over.” Why? Because “I walk with friends from every nation, on freedom’s highway in times like these.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

2012 ELECTIONS:THE CONTRADICTORY REALITY OF THE PROGRESSIVE MAJORITY AND REACTIONARY FORCES


Harry Targ
By many measures progressive forces seeking to defend the rights of women, workers, Latinos, African-Americans, youth, and the elderly won major victories in the 2012 election. President Obama was reelected with strong support from those to his political left. Democrats, some identifying with populist policies such as Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin, increased their control of the Senate. And in the House of Representatives, Democrats gained a few seats including those for progressives such as Alan Grayson. The House remained in Republican control despite the fact that Democratic candidates out-polled Republicans nationwide by about 200,000 votes.

Most importantly, the coalition of progressives who increasingly see connections between the interests of workers, women, people of color, and those passionate about the environment, immigration reform, and peace have vowed to stay mobilized. They see the danger of “grand bargains” which might make Beltway politicians weaken Medicare, Medicaid, and/or Social Security. Progressives also are wary of deals that could sacrifice the environment to big oil, maintain the grotesque economic inequalities through tax breaks for the rich, and continue budget-busting military expenditures.

However, challenges to a progressive future do not come just from Washington, Wall Street, or the Pentagon. In 2012, state election results led to single-party control of 37 state governments: 24 Republican and 13 Democratic. Think Progress reported that only 12 states will have evenly contested, two-party government as the 2013 legislative sessions open. This much one-party dominance at the state level has not been seen since 1952.
In many of the Republican controlled states, legislatures and governors are controlled by Tea Party advocates seeking to privatize public education, reject key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, install or expand Right-to-Work and anti-collective bargaining legislation, end support for Planned Parenthood, put creationism in science classes, and cut college programs not tied to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curricula. The states where Republicans dominate governorships and state legislatures are for the most part states in the South and across the Plains.
One of the few Midwest states where one party rule will prevail in 2013 is the state of Indiana. Despite public perception, Indiana has a history of competitive government. Democrats have controlled bigger cities and industrial areas whereas Republicans dominated in rural and small towns of Central and Eastern Indiana. Democrats held the governorship from 1989 to 2005, and elected former governor Evan Bayh as Senator in 1998. He retired from that post in 2010. Democratic candidate, Joe Donnelly, with strong labor support, won the 2012 Senatorial race over Tea Party candidate Richard Mourdock.
In Indiana legislative politics, the Republicans and Democrats each controlled one legislative body from the outset of the new century until the 2010 elections.  Then Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives (60-40) and in 2012 won “supermajorities” in the House (69-31) and the Senate (37-13). Meanwhile Indiana elected Tea Party Congressman Mike Pence to serve as Governor. Pence will replace two-term Tea Party “light” Governor Mitch Daniels who was selected the new president of Purdue University by a Board of Trustees mostly appointed by him. In total, Indiana politics which had been shifting to the right over the last decade will become a “blood red” state in 2013. Republican spokespersons promise to complete the economic and political agenda they began to institute since the early years of the new century.
Paradoxically, Indiana voters solidly rejected the reelection bid of Superintendent of Public Education, Tony Bennett, who has radically transformed education from a public to a private institution. He has opened the door for taxpayer support for private religious schools. And he has introduced ill-advised “performance” standards to determine financial support for public schools. To increase the possibility of incorporating markets and religion into what used to be a public education system, he and his colleagues have worked vigorously to destroy teachers unions.
Glenda Ritz, an award winning teacher and media specialist, defeated Bennett by a 52-48 percent margin. Tea Party legislators have indicated that they will move to make the Superintendent’s position an appointed one in the future. Outgoing Governor Daniels, a key advocate of educational privatization, proclaimed that teachers used improper means to campaign for Ritz, as if the 1 million voters for Ritz who were not teachers were not relevant to the outcome (in Indiana there are 40,000 public school teachers). So if the people make the wrong choices, the Tea Party legislators imply, their right to make those choices must be restricted.
In 2011 the Indiana Institute for Working Families issued a report on the status of working families in Indiana. The report presented economic data on the condition of Indiana’s working families suggesting that workers in the state have suffered above and beyond the level of the national recession of 2007 to 2009. They suggest that contrary to the public image promoted by outgoing Governor Daniels and his Tea Party legislative colleagues, the conditions of Hoosier working families have worsened as a result of their legislative agenda:
“In fact, the data shows a recovery in Indiana marked by a weakened labor market, an unprecedented decline in wages, and dramatic increases in poverty. Due to across-the-board state budget cuts, a significant loss of public-sector jobs, and low uptake rates in work-support programs due to a public policy environment that’s not been conducive to working families, tens of thousands of Hoosiers are unnecessarily experiencing the human toll of this recession.” (Indiana Institute for Working Families, “Status of Working Families in Indiana,” 2011, page 1).
Indiana progressives have a difficult task ahead. They must reverse the rightward drift of Hoosier politics and public policy and in the long run build a progressive political movement that can fight for and win a new People’s Agenda based on justice, prosperity, and peace.