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Kicking Underdogs When They’re Down

1:00 am in Economy by Leo W. Gerard

Americans love an underdog. Maybe it’s an artifact of the American Revolution, when a rag-tag rabble of farmers and frontiersmen defeated the disciplined and well-provisioned military of the most powerful nation on earth.

Even though the United States has usurped most powerful status, Americans still ally with Davids in contests with Goliaths. They love to see a top dog taken down a notch. They rooted for the perennial loser Red Sox in the 2004 World Series and reveled in the win by America’s unseasoned ice hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

That’s why the sudden surge of right-to-work (for less) legislation is so confounding. Right-to-work (for less) laws are perks for the wealthy, for the top dogs. These laws facilitate destruction of unions. The concerted action of a labor union is a tool that workers use to win fair wages, benefits and conditions from the powerful, from the likes of massive multi-national corporations. At a time of dwindling union membership, at a time when labor union participation is so small as to be nearly negligible, state legislatures across the country are taking up right-to-work (for less) laws that will further decimate union ranks. They’re kicking the underdog when it’s down.

Despite the derisive “big union boss” label that right wingers throw at labor leaders, unions are not the big dogs. Union representation in the United States has declined steadily since the 1950s, following federal legislation in 1947 impeding unionization. Just after World War II, about 35 percent of workers belonged to unions. And those who didn’t benefitted from the higher wages and good benefits that union workers negotiated because non-union employers felt compelled to provide competitive compensation. Last year, the percentage of U.S. workers in unions fell to 11.9, the lowest in more than 70 years.

As unions atrophied and the recession raged, the median income of working Americans declined. Meanwhile, at the top, the big dogs who run corporations continued awarding themselves colossal compensation and bonus packages. Median compensation for executives quadrupled over the past four decades. Last year, most executives got big bumps, whether their companies did well or not. Now, income inequality is greater than at any time since the robber baron days of the 1920s.

Still, somehow, legislatures across the country are rooting for CEOs, the top dogs, and bashing unions. Lawmakers in Ohio, Wisconsin, Arizona, Oklahoma, Idaho, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and South Dakota have attacked public sector unions. Politicians in South Carolina, Minnesota, New Hampshire, even Michigan and West Virginia are pushing right-to-work (for less) legislation. Read the rest of this entry →

Seeking a Trade Rule Enforcer

8:38 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

"10 Yuan Note" by upton on flickr

"10 Yuan Note" by upton on flickr

America is being played.

The U.S. allowed China to join the club of trading partners in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001 under the condition that China observe club rules.

Over the past decade, however, China has profited immeasurably by ignoring, flouting and circumventing the rules barring market-distorting practices. Among the most destructive of these violations is China’s deliberate undervaluing of its currency, which makes Chinese exports to the United States artificially cheap and U.S. exports to China artificially expensive.

This nurtures Chinese industry and poisons American manufacturing.

In the trade contest with China, the referees have been absent or silent or completely craven on the issue of currency undervaluation, even as it kills U.S. factories and jobs. American workers need a trade rule enforcer. With unemployment above 9 percent, the situation is desperate. American workers can’t be played anymore.

Just last week, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a non-partisan think tank, issued a report showing that the trade deficit with China cost the United States 2.8 million jobs since the WTO allowed China into the trading club. Every congressional district in the U.S. lost jobs as Chinese exports to the United States overwhelmed U.S. exports to China.

The trade deficit is the difference between the value of Chinese exports to the United States and U.S. exports to China. It was $84 billion the year China entered the WTO. Last year it grew to $278 billion – a 230 percent increase. Read the rest of this entry →

Colombia FTA: Rewarding Promises Instead Of Performance

7:32 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Uribe protest

Uribe protest by Public Citizen, on Flickr

Tragically, the government of Colombia exhibits the behavior of an addict. And, just as regrettably, the United States is co-dependent, so addicted to so called free trade that it plans to award Colombia an agreement based solely on promises.

Addicts always promise. They’ll stop, they pledge. Their co-dependents desperately want to believe, so they cooperate with the addicts’ demands.

Colombia, the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists, has pledged to try to stop the murders to persuade Congress to approve a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Promises, promises.

And the United States has agreed to accept those promises rather than demand performance before signing an FTA. American’s Wall Street banks and multi-national corporations crave another FTA so badly they will believe anything.

When the Colombia FTA was first proposed, Congress refused to approve it because so many trade unionists are assassinated each year by the Colombian military and paramilitary forces that the murders exceed the number of unionists killed in all other countries of the world combined. In 2007, the year that former President George W. Bush completed the agreement, 39 Colombian unionists were slain.

The Colombian government knew why Congress denied approval. It could have responded four years ago by protecting trade unionists and preserving their lives. It did not.

Instead, the murders increased. In 2008, 52 Colombian trade unionists were assassinated, one a week. In 2009, the number declined by 5 to 47, but it was back up to 52 last year. Six have been slain so far this year, including Hector Orozco and Gilardo Garcia, members of the agricultural union known as Association of Peasant Workers of Tolima, who were threatened by the Colombian military just before they were assassinated. Promises, promises.
Read the rest of this entry →