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Circling the Drain

We’re circling the drain, going faster and faster until the American economy drains away.  This failure is due to the rapid widening inequality between profits and payout to those who do the work. A recession is grinning like a fleshless skull because consumers have no more money to buy goods and services. Median hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, are no higher than what they were three decades ago and in many cases have actually fallen. Unlike the past, most of what is being earned in America is going to the richest 5 percent. They don’t need to spend; they have what they need so the money piles up as power and does not run our economy.

There’s no easy fix to stop one way flow to the rich. Bringing back our middle class by providing better schools and colleges for students from poor and lower-middle class communities is part of the answer. Paying bonuses to companies to bring jobs back to the U.S. and not rewarding outsourcing is another. Raising the minimum income before any taxes are taken is another piece of the solution. Financing these programs is not a problem; a higher marginal tax rate on the rich would provide the funds without harming the rich. A higher tax rate can be achieved immediately by cancelling the tax breaks put in by Bush. Billionaires paying lower tax rates than a janitor is the definition of obscenity.

A rarely talked about part of the solution is a return to strong labor unions. As shown by the success of the SEIU after organizing low-paid workers in local service occupations, such as retail workers, janitors, hotel and restaurant employees, and hospital workers. After organizing these groups have gained the bargaining leverage needed to get better wages. They gained a place at the table to suggest better ways of delivering services, improving productivity enough to cover the higher pay.

The past seven years have been difficult for workers attempting to organize themselves into unions. Employers often fire or intimidate those who take the lead. The Bush administration has handed out no more than wrist slaps for the illegal techniques. Laws have been passed to prevent recouping back pay. If the worker wins after years, the worst penalty to the company is that they must rehire and give back pay that was lost. Not benefits and no compensation for any suffering.

Up until the 1950’s most employers obeyed the law allowing workers to organize. In the 1950s, the board found only one of every 20 union elections tainted by illegal firings. As employers feel the increasing pressure to increase profit at any cost, the first attempt is always to cut wages. Union-busting became common and has grown to a multi billion dollar industry. In the early 1990s illegal firings happened in one quarter union elections. In 2008 polls show most workers would organize a union if they could, the process is so complicated that it’s rare they even get to choose.

Management and labor often have different views. A Union can be helpful to management by providing the security the employee needs to share their insights. In hospitals such as Eastern Maine Medical Center such sharing would be good for hospital patients, after all who knows more about how people are being treated, and how treatment can be improved, than the nurses and medical assistants on the floor? Yet management continually fights against giving a Union a place at the table.

Workers in the service industries and hospitals are among the lowest-paid and hardest-working people in America but the NLRB will never get them a fair hearing because it’s so broken. The NLRB is broken because corporate America has wanted it broken and George Bush has tried to give them everything they asked for. That is why workers in Maine like so many other workers across America want a fairer process for union elections.

The “Employee Fair Choice Act,” which passed the House of Representatives, would let workers have a union if a majority wants one, in a simple up-or-down vote. The Republicans and George Bush have killed it for now, but we will not have a third Bush term, and McCain’s “another hundred years” in Iraq is not a stirring election theme.

The American economy is rolling over not only because we have spent three trillion dollars that could have provided alternative energy and put us on the road to energy independence. It is in trouble because lower and middle-income workers no longer have the buying power they need to keep it going. The gap between rich and poor is wider than it’s been in over 70 years. Unions could help reverse this trend.

But if even strong Union households voted for Bush for two elections we have a lot of organizing to do.

March 8th, 2008 Posted by narsbars | MSEA, MSEA contract, MSEA-SEIU, Maine State Employees, msea maine | no comments

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