Category Archives: Labor

Chart of the day: How much do Americans earn?


From the U.S. Census Bureau, a look at how much Americans earn, and how much those earnings differ by age, gender, and education for those who year 12 months a year:

blog-earnings

Disabled Greeks oppose new austerity regime


We should give austerity a new name: Call it the Reverse Robin Hood Doctrine.

Austerity is the regime imposed on the world’s debt-ridden poor nations to qualify them for loans to pay the corporations and banksters of the world’s richest nations.

To make those payments, the debt-plagued countries are forced to slash programs designed to help the nation’s afflicted, poor, sick, and otherwise afflicted.

The latest crisis, the Great Recession, brought Greece to its knees, and the government sought loans from the Troika, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission.

Needless to say, austerity was imposed, forcing drastic cuts in the national healthcare system, the selloff of public assets [including power companies, transit systems, ports, and much more], as well as drastic cuts in public pensions and paychecks, as well as reduced social benefits payments imposed on those who could least afford the loss.

The austerity regime prompted voter to elect a government which promised them an end to austerity, but Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has knuckled under, and new rounds of deprivation are underway.

Some of those most deeply impacted are now expressing their outrage.

From Kathimerini:

Disabled people and patients with chronic illnesses from around Greece protested in central Athens Friday against austerity measures as the government races to clinch a new deal with bailout lenders.

Protesters in wheelchairs carried black balloons while deaf demonstrators wore white gloves as they used sign language to join chants of anti-government slogans.

Disabled groups are seeking exemptions from budget austerity measures imposed under the country’s international bailout agreements.

Unemployment among people with disabilities was more than double the national jobless rate of 23 percent with poverty levels also sharply higher, according to Yannis Vardakastanis, head of the National Confederation of Disabled People of Greece.

“We want to live in dignity,” Vardakastanis, who is blind, told the AP. “It’s the obligation of the government and European institutions to stop us from being further isolated, impoverished and discriminated against.”

Greece is currently finalizing a new package of economic measures that would make home foreclosures and business firings easier. The measures are required in exchange for new bailout loan payouts and talks on debt relief measures.

Shame on the Troika, and shame on Tsipras.

Trump and his allies want to kill organized labor


And given their impending control of all three branches of the federal government, they just might accomplish it, warns Raymond Hogler. Professor of Management at Colorado State University, in an essay for the open source academic journal The Conversation:

I’ve written before on how the decline of organized labor beginning in the late 1970s gave birth to the backlash that fueled Donald Trump’s election.

Labor’s deterioration weakened worker protections, kept wages stagnant and caused income inequality to soar to the highest levels in over eight decades. It also made workers feel they needed a savior like Trump.

In other words, his unlikely victory follows a straight line from the defeat of the Labor Reform Act of 1978 to the election of 2016. That bill would have modernized and empowered unions through more effective recognition procedures accompanied by enhanced power in negotiations. Instead, its death by filibuster became the beginning of their end.

It’s a sad twist of irony that Trump’s election and Republican dominance across the country may finally destroy once and for all the institution most responsible for working- and middle-class prosperity. It will likely be a three-punch fight, ending with a fatal blow: the expansion of right-to-work laws across the country that would permanently empty the pockets of labor unions, eroding them of virtually all their collective solidarity.

How we got here

In 1980, union membership density stood at 23 percent of the work force; some 40 years later, just over 11 percent of American workers belong to unions. During the same period, wealth inequality in the U.S. continued to accelerate largely on a social class basis.

White males without college degrees reacted to their ongoing misery in 2016 with a political transformation unrivaled since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s electoral victory in 1932. The election’s postmortem pundits offered differing explanations for Trump’s victory, including racism, sexism and the ennui of Hillary Clinton supporters.

A popular narrative argues that deteriorating economic conditions provided the fuel for the Trump conflagration as it swept through the former union strongholds of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio.

Three blows for labor

Despite the enthusiasm of his working-class supporters, Trump’s economic policies would bring them a raw deal, not a New Deal. Three key areas will play a crucial role in union diminution and workers’ bargaining power during Trump’s administration, with further declines in real hourly earnings.

The first is regulatory. On his inauguration, Trump has the opportunity to appoint two new members to the National Labor Relations Board now controlled by Obama appointees with administrative discretion to implement pro-labor decisions. With their new majority, Republican appointees will have a smorgasbord of past cases and regulations to repeal and replace. Trump’s future replacements undoubtedly will promote a business-friendly agenda, and the board’s shift in emphasis will be immediately apparent.

The second is the Supreme Court. If Trump fills the vacant seat with someone in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia, the new court will likely uphold what in my view is the rickety constitutional theory of union dues put forth by Samuel Alito in Knox v. SEIU. Alito’s rule holds that public sector union members have a constitutional right to decline dues payments unless they consent to do so. Or, in Alito’s words, dues payers will be deemed to “opt out” of dues unless they “opt in.”

In early 2016, the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, which would have mandated a constitutional right-to-work rule, stalled out with Scalia’s demise, but a similar case is moving through the lower federal court system that raises the matter once more. The litigation will eventually work its way back to the Supreme Court, and the new Trump justice can affirm the undoing of public sector union dues.

The third and most lethal blow against unions, along with board and court hostility, is the expansion of right-to-work laws as a by-product of Trump’s victory.

Trump ran on a platform of making America great again by restoring incomes through innovation and deregulation.

Continue reading

Chart of day: Rich gain most during post-crash


Click on the image to enlarge.

Click on the image to enlarge.

From the latest Income Inequality Report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report on growing income disparities in the 36-nation group:

Between 2007 and 2010, average real income fell by 2.1% on average, with a stronger decline at the bottom (-5.3%) and the top (-3.6%). While the recovery since 2010 improved average incomes, more rapid growth of top incomes (2.3%) and weaker improvement at the bottom and at the middle (1.1% and 1.3%) increased inequality, although only marginally.

By 2013/14, incomes at the bottom of the distribution are still well below pre-crisis levels while top and middle incomes had recovered much of the ground lost during the crisis.

During the economic downturn, low- and high-income households lost the most. During the recovery, high-income households gained more due
to unequal growth of labour incomes and changes in redistribution.

El País reports on the growing income gap in Spain, one of the nation’s hardest hit by the Great Recession:

Inequality is one of the biggest consequences of the economic crisis in Spain. The latest Income Inequality Update by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that between 2010 and 2014, Spanish workers with the lowest salaries suffered the greatest wage cuts of all OECD member states after Portugal.

“In Spain, despite the prolonged period of strong job creation, stimulated by the 2012 labor reform, persistently high levels of long-term unemployment, falling real wages and persisting labor market segmentation translated into a sharp fall of labor incomes, especially at the bottom,” reads the report, which was released on Thursday.

Spain also has the highest rate of poor workers after Turkey and Chile.

“Higher-income households benefited more from the recovery than those with middle and lower incomes,” states the study. “The fruits of the economic recovery have not been evenly shared.”

In Spain, inequality grew in 2014 even though the economy was growing at a rate of 1.4%. The reports finds that the average Gini coefficient of disposable household income – “a standard measure of inequality that takes the value of 0 when everybody has the same income and 1 when one person has all the income” – reached 0.346. In 2007 that figure was 0.324 while in 2012 it was 0.335, according to the OECD.

In 2014, the bottom 10% of workers in Spain earned just 2% of all income in the country while the top 10% earned 24.7%.

Troika demands another pound of Greek flesh


Greek’s debt crisis, brought about by a combination of the Wall Street-greed-created Great Recession and expensive military contracts, most with German companies [many won with hefty bribes], the fragile Greek economy has relied on loans to keep marginally afloat.

The loans, from the neoliberal Troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission, came with draconian demands, including massive public sector layoffs, pension and pay cuts, imposition of more taxes on those least able to afford it, and severe cuts to the national healthcare system, also mandated the sale of public assets, including ports and public transit systems as well as the sale of major shares in national power systems.

And now they want more, including additional impositions on workers and a further selloff of the public energy grid,  if they’re to fund another round of bailout loans.

Meanwhile, unemployment remains at staggering levels.

First up, the latest hitch from To Vima:

The latest talks between the Greek government and the representatives of the institutions on the second bailout review, which concluded at 5:30am on Tuesday, did not result in an agreement between the two sides. As the representatives leave Athens, to continue talks via teleconference, a series of critical issues remain unresolved.

Greek officials commented that the two sides were closed on the fiscal gaps for 2018 and out-of-court settlements for non-performing loans. Technical talks on the gap will continue, as well as on energy and financial issues. As for the primary surplus targets after 2019, they will be discussed at the 5 December Eurogroup in conjunction with measures to be taken for the Greek debt.

Some progress was achieved in the joint collection of taxes and contributions, which will later be refined based on the road map that must be agreed upon between the Ministry of Labor and the General Secretariat of Public Revenue, as well as implementing the OECD’s “toolkit”.

A high-ranking Finance Ministry official estimated that the timetables have not changed and that the goal of reaching a political agreement by the Eurogroup remains. The same official noted that the government intends to reinvest a portion of the one billion euros above the surplus targets towards social benefits.

Some particulars from Kathimerini:

Finance ministers of core European Union countries are expected to meet later this week in Berlin to discuss the possible concessions Brussels could offer to secure the participation of the International Monetary Fund in Greece’s third international bailout, paving the way for debt talks.

Government officials suggest that the IMF, which has yet to decide whether to join Greece’s third bailout, is to blame for the slow process of talks between Greece and its creditors.

In a media briefing on Tuesday, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos acknowledged that the differences between Greece and its creditors remain too great for an agreement on all prior actions to be reached by the December 5 Eurogroup meeting and said that Athens was aiming for a political agreement by that time.

There is enough time until December 5 for agreements to be reached in talks on labor laws, fiscal issues and the overhaul of the Greek energy sector, Tzanakopoulos said, noting that the government has shown the political will necessary to achieve a breakthrough by the deadline.

Quote of the day II: The fuel for populist outrage


Populism is a truly democratic force, a rising up of the people to seek what the Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States term a redress of grievances.

And the people have plenty of grievances.

In the general election, of the only two candidates to draw the attention of the mainstream media only one addressed those grievances. and it was the candidate of the right.

In the primaries, the Democrats had one candidate who addressed those grievances, though from a diametrically opposite perspective, but,m as those Wikileaked emails reveal, his opponent was the hand-picked minion of the same forces that had raised popular outrage.

And in our gerrymandered political landscape, the populist won, albeit a populist whose subsequent actions have proven him to be the opposite of what he had professed, with his appointments coming from the same sectors he had excoriated during the campaign [or at least some of the pronouncements, given the utterly self-contradictory nature of many his his avowals].

An interesting take of the forces generating that populist outrage comes from political scientist and sociologist R.W. Johnson, emeritus fellow of Magdalen College at Oxford University, writing in the London Review of Books:

Between 1948 and 1973, productivity rose by 96.7 per cent and real wages by 91.3 per cent, almost exactly in step. Those were the days of plentiful hard-hat jobs in steel and the auto industry when workers could afford to send their children to college and see them rise into the middle class. But from 1973 to 2015 – the era of globalisation, when many of those jobs vanished abroad – productivity rose 73.4 per cent while wages rose by only 11.1 per cent. Trump argued that this was caused by unrestricted illegal immigration and the off-shoring of jobs, though these were only partial causes: the erosion of trade unions probably accounts for 25 to 30 per cent of the net loss in earning power. The 11 million unauthorised immigrants in the US form only part of the vast mass of non-unionised labour competing for jobs.

In any mass democracy, this would spell trouble, but it was masked for some time by more women going out to work, creating two-income households, and later by many workers taking two or three jobs. Sooner or later the stress of such a downward spiral had to be felt and the results are more and more visible. Drive across America and you will notice who operates the pumps at the gas stations. Over and over again it is white men and women in their seventies, pensioners eking out a few more dollars. Such people were unlikely to be impressed by the parade of celebrities at Hillary Clinton’s rallies – Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Bruce Springsteen etc. The French use the expression ‘la richesse insultante’. What does it mean for someone on social security to walk past shops with watches or shoes or dresses marked in the thousands of dollars? Each price ticket says: ‘You’re just nothing, you’re a loser.’

There is no sign of any halt in the trend towards greater inequality (and a Trump victory, bringing tax cuts for the rich, will only increase it). Since 2000 the wages paid to college graduates have fallen. For men wages have risen slightly but for women they have plunged, producing an overall fall. The situation at the bottom is more serious still: the worst paid 10 per cent saw the biggest drop in wages between 1979 and 2013. At the same time, employers have slashed health benefits. In 2011, only 50 per cent of high school graduates – the peculiar America-speak for those who didn’t have a higher education or enter the middle class – got them (down from 67 per cent in 2000) and only 76 per cent of college graduates, down from 84 per cent.

Another telling figure. On average in 1965 an American CEO earned 20 times what a worker did. By 2013, on average, the number was 296 times. Marx foresaw ever greater concentrations of capital accompanied by the pauperisation of the working class. But the result has been the opposite of what Marx predicted: the rise of right-wing demagoguery. The elemental nature of this working and middle-class revolt explains why much of Trump’s support was impervious to his crass behaviour and his wish to give offence. Things that might have sunk earlier candidates did not sink him. Clinton spent scores of millions of dollars on negative ads about Trump, with no apparent effect at all.

Map of the day: Working years longer in Europe


blog-eurowork

The explanation, from Eurostat:

The expected duration of working life in the European Union (EU) stood at 35.4 years on average in 2015, up by 1.9 years compared with 2005. In detail over this 10-year period, duration of working life has increased more rapidly for women (32.8 years in 2015 compared with 30.2 years in 2005, or +2.6 years) than for men (37.9 years in 2015 vs. 36.7 years in 2005, or +1.2 year). Among the EU Member States, working life in 2015 was expected to be longest on average in Sweden (41.2 years) and shortest in Italy (30.7 years).

This information is issued by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. This indicator “duration of working life” measures the number of years a person aged 15 is expected to be active (either employed or unemployed) in the labour market throughout his/her life.

Working life more than ten years longer in Sweden than in Italy

Across the EU Member States, the average working life was in 2015 expected to be the longest in Sweden (41.2 years), ahead of the Netherlands (39.9 years), Denmark (39.2 years), the United Kingdom (38.6 years) and Germany (38.0 years). At the opposite end of the scale, working life was expected to last less than 33 years in Italy (30.7 years), Bulgaria (32.1 years), Greece (32.3 years), Belgium, Croatia, Hungary and Poland (32.6 years each) as well as Romania (32.8 years). In all Member States except Lithuania, duration of working life was expected in 2015 to be longer for men than for women.

Largest increase of duration of working life in Malta, smallest in Denmark

Between 2005 and 2015, the expected duration of working life has increased in all EU Member States, albeit to different extents. It has risen the most in Malta (+5.1 years), followed by Hungary (+4.2 years), Luxembourg (+3.1 years), Estonia (+3.0 years) and Lithuania (+2.9 years), while it remained nearly the same in Denmark (+0.2 year), Portugal (+0.3 year) and Ireland (+0.4 year). The overall increase in duration of working life is generally driven across Member States by the change in women’s duration of working life. This latter has increased between 2005 and 2015 in all EU Member States, notably in Malta (+8.6 years), Spain (+5.1 years), Luxembourg (+4.7 years), Hungary (+4.0 years), Cyprus (+3.6 years), Lithuania (+3.5 years), Germany and Austria (+3.4 years each). In contrast, duration of working life for men has dropped in five Member States: Cyprus (-1.9 years), Greece (1.4 years), Ireland (-1.0 year), Spain (-0.7 year), and Portugal (-0.6 year).