Thursday, July 19, 2012

Take control

For the downtrodden, the story remains the same. Poverty robs the underprivileged of their basic dignity, respect and human rights. We see mansions built by construction workers who retire at night to their slums if lucky. After record foreclosures, layoffs and budget cuts that hit poor families the hardest, America is a country where one out of 45 kids doesn't have a home. That totals 1.6 million children in 2010 without a permanent place to live, an increase of 448,000 in just three years. Forty percent of the kids are under 6. State-of-the-art luxury hospitals are erected by those who have no access to health care and are guaranteed to be shooed away from these de-luxe hospitals the moment they become operational. Wealth is being produced at a pace that surprises business journalists and stimulates private fund managers; yet, it remains concentrated within a few hands. Working people are stung by the recession, juggling multiple jobs to pay medical bills or tuition, unable to take time off. And even elites have realized that their institutions and workplaces force them to de-prioritize their families and their sanity.

When it comes to protection of workers, America remain behind every other Western country. Unions pushed for the foundations of work-life balance we have now, and they continue to enable workers to fight back when they are, for instance, fired for refusing overtime, being pregnant, or taking care of a sick family member. Pensions allow workers to retire and open the workforce to younger workers while healthcare benefits and of course, vacation time and sick/family leave policies can also be secured via collective bargaining.

The US is the only developed country without mandatory paid maternity leave. Even Pakistan, Mexico and South Africa,  have paid leave requirements. Out of 178 nations, the U.S. is one of three that does not offer paid maternity leave benefits, let alone paid leave for fathers, which more than 50 of these nations offer. In comparison, Canada and Norway offer generous benefits that can be shared between the father and mother, France offers about four months. American women are essentially punished for having children. But it doesn't stop with having children. The US have no real policies in places on a national level for allowing time off to care for an aging or ailing relative, no clear policies for what happens if we ourselves get sick.

The United States is practically the only developed country in the world that doesn't require companies to give their workers time off. In Germany, workers are guaranteed a month. In the UK, they're guaranteed more than five weeks of paid vacation. In the U.S. there is no such guarantee.

According to Shlomo Breznitz, cognitive psychologist,  "Stress has gotten worse because people are working longer hours and because the intensity of the work has increased," Breznitz tells us. "Hours were increasing even before the economic downturn. Now companies are asking people to do their jobs plus work that used to be done by others." 

 Barack Obama has not been a good president. On a host of issues, he has been a bad president. Obama has cast himself as a defender of the working and/or middle class (depending on the audience), and accuse the Republicans as being the patsies for the idle rich or whatever. There was a huge effort by the labor movement to get him into office but the first thing he did was kick them in the face.They had worked really hard to put Obama into office. He broke all his promises to them. He betrayed core constituencies. While the president has been happy to include populist rhetoric in his speeches, his policies and campaign has remained absent in key workers’ rights struggles around the country. The president and his staff believe supporting Houston janitors and other struggling workers would be a political negative.

If you were a Martian, the animosity of America’s many in the 1 percent toward Obama might seem a bit odd and  rather mysterious. Although those at the bottom and in the middle are still suffering from the downturn that began in 2008, with unemployment above 8 percent, the affluent economy has bounced back quite smartly. The stock market has recovered, corporate coffers are overflowing with cash, and the luxury goods market is booming. Even Wall Street has reason to be grateful. Bankers got the biggest government bailout of all – much more than laid-off workers or beleaguered homeowners received from this Democratic administration – and the president resisted calls from the left to nationalize the banks he rescued. Obama’s most extreme critics delight in accusing him of being socialist and sometimes communist but Obama has insisted that “we love folks getting rich.”
If the president’s coolness toward working Americans surprises you, it shouldn’t, given the businessmen Obama has chosen to cast his lot with, such as Honeywell chief executive Dave Cote, a member of the president’s Jobs Council and debt commission. As Mike Elk of In These Times has reported, under Cote, Honeywell “has lately distinguished itself as clearly anti-union,” with many workers accusing the company of bad-faith negotiating and tactics. But Obama, his administration and other Democrats have been happy to work with Cote and (at least tacitly) support its anti-union tactics. In June, for example, just a few weeks after Honeywell indefinitely shut down its Metropolis, Ill., uranium conversion plant and immediately cut off all union workers’ health care, President Obama held a jobs-for-veterans event at a Honeywell plant. (Honeywell must be happy with the relationship: During the mid-terms, the company was the largest corporate PAC donor to Democrats.)

Negotiators from the United States and eight other nations concluded the latest round of secretive talks over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. But a leaked chapter suggests that this new agreement “would allow corporations from TPP countries to bring suit before a multinational tribunal when laws or regulations in another member country harm their profits,” bypassing the diplomatic process. The language in the leaked chapter is broad enough that corporations could use the agreement as a back door to invalidating labor and environmental regulations. The unions are being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations — like Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast and the MPAA — are being consulted and made privy to details of the negotiations.

 But by now, it should finally have dawned everyone that the politicians who presume to guide the economy have no bloody idea what they’re doing. We’re long past the time when knowledge of economics was required to see that the government is impotent when it comes to creating economic recovery. If you want evidence of that impotence, just look around. There is a limit of their powers. Politicians will promise the moon. They will blame everything and everyone for their failures. Obama and former president George W. Bush directed over a trillion dollars in spending increases and tax cuts toward stimulating the economy. What’s to show for it? Most Democrats and union leaders have absorbed Keynesian economics and hold the view that if the government would just spend enough borrowed money on infrastructure and public works, all would be well. Repair the roads, bridges, and schools, and unemployment will disappear. Hire the idle construction workers, pay them to do this work, then watch them spend that money and put other people to work. It’s so simple. Government must think big! It may seem plausible, but it’s wrong. Every penny the government spends comes from the capitalists' profits. Government is a parasitic organization with no resources of its own, no power of its own to produce. An economic strategy of robbing mine-owner Peter to pay factory-owner Paul.

All this is not to say that Mitt Romney is a better candidate for the American worker; he isn’t. And on select issues, such as appointees to the National Labor Relations Board, Obama has been much better for workers than a President Romney would be. Nevertheless, it is hard not to conclude that in 2012 there is no major-party candidate who enthusiastically supports the American worker.


Anonymous said...

The future and well being for Britain and Europe is to let itself loose from the USA's strong facist grip, which has only caused harm for our people and society.We want to start living our european dream, where together we could build a more just society giving each individual their freedom and rights to live with dignity. No more hunger for our people! No more poor education for our children! No more homeless families! No more unfair healthcare treatment! I truely believe that together we can build a better world for tomorrow, but we must be willing to put up with a fight. Capitalism only causes injustice, misery and shame. We must fight against the large corporations that control powerful countries like the USA. We must say NO to their offers. We must turn back to our roots, recover what is left and build up new. We have history, we have culture and most of all we have the guts and the know how of how to do things right. We are millions that hate the poor situation we are living in but we are lost like sheep without a shepherd. It's time to embrace each other and form a strong union in order to demolish this society and rebuild a new one. Long live Socialism

Anonymous said...

It looks like no one's going to continue my last comment so I might as well do so myself. Has anybody ever stopped for a minute and asked themselves,'What the bloody heck's going on?' Well, I'll answer that question for you. From the depths of hell,the fourth reich has reawakened into the shape and form we could call Angela Merkle and her beastly friends (banks and corporations). What's happening now my friends is what happened during post war years. America lent us money and in exchange we gave them our freedom turning ourselves into their slaves for many decades. Germany's got control over the EU's money and is busy getting most of europe into dept, turning poor countries poorer still. It will take decades for Greece,Portugal, Spain and Ireland to pay back the depts they're getting into, which is just fine for the Germans who will be reaping in the benefits and get richer and richer. This is the beginning of a division turning europe into two or three class states. The question is, do we have a choice? The answer is NO. It'll be just pure luck if you were born in a first class country.So while a few will be living it up, the rest of us will be slaving away making sure the first class continue living it up. Europe's going to be more class devided than ever, which is why we can't just sit back and watch, can we? WE all come to this world empty handed and we all go empty handed. We are all of flesh and blood and the only difference that lies between the rich and the poor is the thickness of their wallets. Most of the wealthiest people on this planet got rich ripping off the poor. Strip the rich culprits of their wealth and you take away their power turning the world into a better place. We must act now and move towards a better future.If you feel you're not a sheep, then maybe you're a shepherd. If you're a shepherd, then it's time to gather the sheep around you and guide them away from the wolves.

My name's Kaveh J ,and I'm a shepherd.

ajohnstone said...

Kaveh, only sheep need a shepherd.

We are not sheep. Malcolm X said "...the only way that you will voluntarily run to the fox is to show you a wolf. So they create a ghastly alternative..."

You seem to discuss the problem in terms of nations, not class. Are the enemy of the Irish working class the German working class? or the enemy at home?