Tag Archives: labor

Thoughts For Labor Day

Labor Day would seem to be an appropriate time to consider the massive changes that have transformed the American workplace and diminished the bargaining power of workers–one major reason for the enormous gap between the rich and the rest. (It may also be an appropriate time to worry about the continuing replacement of human workers by automation.)

The changing face of the workplace–and especially the enormous growth of the “gig” economy– are barriers to organizing; the reality is that it is increasingly unlikely that unions will ever be the guarantors of fair employment practices that they once were.

If it is the case that most labor unions cannot be revived, the question becomes: how do we bring back workers’ power? How do we arrange the economic landscape so that workers can tell their employers to go take a hike if they offer insultingly low wages or dangerous working conditions? How do we level the playing field between employee and employer–especially large employers?

There is one answer, and it is audacious. We could empower workers (and solve a lot of other problems) by enacting a universal basic income. (Alfred Yang won’t be President, but he isn’t wrong.)

As an article in Forbes, of all unlikely places, pointed out, a universal basic income creates bargaining power by increasing all workers’ capacity to refuse a raw deal. The article points out that a UBI acts to increase workers’ “reserve price” — the minimum each worker must be paid before she is willing to accept a given job with particular working conditions.

A UBI is a more flexible means of improving the bargaining power of labor than either unionization or a minimum wage, because it allows workers to drive a harder bargain. It would also have the same effect on the economy as a higher minimum wage–it would increase both workers’ disposable income and economic demand.

A UBI appeals to both liberals and conservatives. Liberals champion it as a better approach than America’s inadequate and demeaning safety net programs; libertarians embrace it because it avoids legally-imposed, one-size-fits-all measures, allowing firms and individuals the freedom to negotiate the terms of their employment.

A Universal Basic Income would allow employees to walk away from bad employers, unsafe work environments, or undesirable jobs. Most importantly, it would restore a balance of power in the workplace–and as one observer has written, employment would no longer be modeled after “a peasant and feudal lord dynamic.”

I did a good deal of research on the merits and problems of a UBI for my recent book, and although I’m not unrealistic enough to think America’s lawmakers are likely to pass anything remotely similar during my lifetime, I was persuaded by the data that the general approach is not only sound, but–thanks to automation– will be absolutely necessary sooner than most people think.

Labor Day isn’t just a good time for a cookout. It’s also a good time to consider how badly labor has been screwed by the GOP’s war on unions and by the changes to the nature of work itself –and a good time to consider how best to repair the damage.

The Death of Satire

I can now officially announce that satire is no longer possible.

It was difficult enough with Sarah Palin–in her famous impersonation, after all, Tina Fey merely recited Palin’s actual responses to questions posed by Katie Couric. Efforts to satirize other political figures of our times–Michelle Bachmann, Peter King, Newt Gingrich et al–are doomed by the fact that their unselfconscious buffoonery is already so far over the top.

And just when I figured we’d reached the outer limits of embarrassing–voila! I give you the Governor of Maine!

From the Lewiston, Maine Sun Journal, we learn that  “Gov. Paul LePage has ordered the removal of a 36-foot mural depicting Maine’s labor history from the lobby of the Department of Labor.”

Evidently, acting labor chief Laura Boyett emailed staff on Tuesday about the mural’s pending removal, “as well as another administration directive to rename several department conference rooms that carry the names of pro-labor icons such as Cesar Chavez.” According to LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt, the administration felt the mural–a pictoral representation of Maine’s actual labor history–and the conference room monikers showed “one-sided decor not in keeping with the department’s pro-business goals.”

That should teach those union goons a thing or two–we’ll just paint out the image of “Rosie the Riveter” and rename the board rooms after the Koch Brothers.

At Political Animal, Steve Benen notes that Governor LePage has been working hard to earn entree to the (ever-growing) ranks of our most ridiculous public figures:

But facts that Paul LePage don’t like apparently have to be shuttered away. Celebrating working people is now, apparently, the kind of thing that might bother business interests. We’re approaching an odd sort of political correctness that restricts messages that might somehow bother the wealthy and powerful.

All of this comes on the heels of the buffoonish, far-right governor vowing to pursue a Wisconsin-like plan to undercut Maine’s public-sector unions

Which was preceded by LePage trying to roll back Maine’s child-labor laws.

Which was preceded by LePage paying for tax cuts for the rich by cutting services for Maine’s middle class.

Which was preceded by LePage picking a fight with the Maine NAACP in which he said, “Tell them to kiss my butt.”

The antics of our elected officials are making me seriously question whether democratic self-government is really possible–not to mention the theory of evolution.

When historians look for an appropriate label for our era, they might consider “The Age of Embarrassment.”