Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Labor”

Do Republicans Hate the Unemployed? – Tom Rossi

Why are Republicans so intent (and finally successful) on limiting unemployment benefits? Are they unsatisfied with low crime rates? Is the misery level not high enough? Are not enough houses being foreclosed upon? Well, I’m kidding (mostly) about those, but they are side-effects of the real goal.

What most in the 1% want is to lower labor costs. That’s basically what this all boils down to. The general population is not seen by these people (or at least their corporate identities) as human beings, we are seen as the term in the production equation that we represent – “labor power.”

Labor costs (in other words, wages and salaries) fall as the number of applicants per job rises. Also, as alternatives disappear – other jobs or the prospect of survival on unemployment checks.

There is some confusion as to what “labor power” is. First of all, labor power is not labor. It is the labor of many people aggregated and commodified. Think of a cow vs. “beef.” This labor power could be picking fruit, or selling insurance, or anything where actual, human work is performed in order to accomplish a specific task.

Once a group (either an “enemy” or a group which is to be subordinated) is dehumanized, it becomes easier to simply think in terms of “problem – solution.” If leaders in another country oppose your economic hegemony, either bomb them, assassinate them, or at least work for their overthrow behind the scenes. If it’s a subordinate group such as laborers that’s acting up, threaten their well-being, make it clear to them how lucky they are to have a job at all, cut off all alternatives, make life a living hell until your terms are accepted.

Then, you will get what you want – compliance, acquiescence, capitulation, and conformity. This is not hatred nor even ill will. It’s simply “good” business and the prioritization of profit above all other values. They want workers to accept lower pay and fewer benefits, period.

The classes that contain America’s workers are seen simply as the providers of the commodity, labor power. As I said, this group is not made up of individual humans. It is simply, as a group, a factor in an equation. As a group they are dehumanized, which makes any sort of treatment acceptable.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Is the Tea Party Taking Over… Again???? – Tom Rossi

Here we go again. The press is all excited about the Tea Party because they ousted Richard Lugar as the Republican candidate for the Senatorial race in one of America’s reddest states, Indiana.

The Tea Party has garnered support from plenty of everyday Americans. These are mostly the people who look at their paychecks and see the amounts subtracted for various taxes and get extremely upset. All they can see is money being taken away from them and this is their primary concern.

What if, just for the sake of argument, we were to grant the idea that taxes are good for nothing and simply represent a “taking” by a government that is totally detached from the people? Then, what if taxes suddenly disappeared, with no measurable effects on daily life (somehow). Would people keep that money that had once gone to taxes?

The answer is no. Labor (whether it be skilled, unskilled, blue-collar, white-collar, or whatever) is a rare example of a principle of conventional economics that actually describes the truth. Labor works on supply and demand.

To keep the numbers simple, let’s just say that Joe the software engineer gets a salary of $100,000 per year. Under the “old” way, he paid $25,000 in taxes, after taking a few deductions, and so takes home $75,000. But now, after taxes have been done away with, he gets to keep the whole $100,000, right?

Wrong. Why would Joe’s company, Frustrating User Interface Incorporated, continue to pay him $100,000 when he used to be willing to work for $75,000 in take-home pay? They wouldn’t because they wouldn’t have to.

Companies pay the minimum that they can to get the labor that they need. It would be incredibly foolish to do otherwise. Workers determine the level at which they will accept a job by their calculated take-home pay – the net, not the gross. That’s the “supply” price for a worker’s labor.

Because of this, if taxes were eliminated, corporations would use the usual tricks, eliminating (then re-creating) positions, claiming hardship, etc., to knock their workers salaries down to the same old, “willing to work” levels. Joe used to take home $75,000, and now, without taxes, it’s the same.

Of course, the real story would be much worse than this. If taxes are significantly decreased, lots of people who work in the kinds of services that would be poorly provided by purely private enterprise would lose their jobs. This would flood the market with available labor (the REAL plan of the corporate masters) and salary levels would be pushed down even further than in the previous example.

And we would have no libraries, a lot fewer schools, little fire protection, and so many other deficits in our way of life.

If you’re proud to be an American, proudly pay your taxes. You are contributing to something imperfect but great.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Unions, a Necessary Evil

The public employee union situation in Wisconsin (and now Ohio and elsewhere) got me to thinking about the reasons that unions came into existence in the first place. Before the advent of labor unions in America, typical working conditions at factories, mills, and many agricultural operations were very harsh: twelve-hour work days, six- and sometimes seven-day work weeks, extremely dangerous workplaces with frequent serious injuries and even deaths, and all this for wages that kept most workers in or near poverty. The situation was the same for women and children, except that these groups received much lower wages.

Many large employers in remote locations were themselves the only providers of housing, food and supplies, and shower facilities – all priced such that workers would actually fall deeper and deeper in debt to the company even as they continued to work. This amounted to slavery, but the workers had no alternative as there have always been more workers than jobs.

So why are things different now? It’s because labor unions formed, battled with employers, their often brutal “henchmen”, and sometimes governments, went on strike, and demanded changes in employer policies and in the law. It’s because of labor unions that child labor is illegal. Because of unions, most people work 40 hours per week and get paid extra for overtime and work in conditions many times safer.

Of course, once any entity becomes powerful, it starts to make unreasonable demands on the system. Once gains were made, the unions had to justify their collection of dues from the workers. So, union organizers regularly fired up the members to demand higher and higher pensions and things like “job security”, which brought inefficiencies to the workplace and raised long-term operating costs for employers.

The working conditions of the past would probably never fly these days, but one thing would return without unions with no doubt – downward pressure on wages and salaries. And make no mistake, when union workers’ wages fall, non-union wages will fall as well.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

People Making A Difference: Peter Allen

Peter Allen will stand for Attorney General of California on November 2nd. He is the Green Party candidate and, in the interest of disclosure, a friend of mine.

As a college student in London, I crossed the line from the Labor Party to the Green Party. The Ecology Party, as it was known then, was just forming. I was met with derision from my fellow left wing students and smirked at by students who supported the Conservative Party.

In the end, it was all my fault that Labor failed to win a working class constituency back from the Tories (They actually doubled their majority). It had nothing to do with the fact that the Conservatives had bribed the people renting government houses by offering them the chance to buy their houses even though many could not afford the costs. Sounds familiar?

There is a lot that makes sense on Peter’s website. As I made my way through it I couldn’t help feeling that there is little in his agenda that people would disagree with. The main challenge is making the decision to vote outside of Democratic/Republican lines. It is a tough one and I can offer very little.

However, at some point, we need to send a message to the main parties that their complacency is what is breaking the system, and keeping it broken.

More on Peter’s policies in future posts, but for now, might I suggest you check out his blog at http://peterallenforag.blogspot.com/.

Hear Peter on KQED along with all the other candidates except the Republican who declined to be on the broadcast (Kamala Harris gets the first half hour and is also impressive). Whatever his reason, I wish to share my admiration for Michael Krasny as a moderator. I have listened to radio moderators all over the world and Mr. Krasny stands head and shoulder above the rest.

Finally, for those of you wondering if you are brave enough to leave the two party system (and everyone else), enjoy this song from Billy Bragg (the song begins at 1 minute 20 seconds if you want to skip the intro).


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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

Promotional Materials – What Works?

To promote my book, Oilspill dotcom, I have designed business cards, fridge magnets, postcards, a big magnet on the door of my car, and now T-shirts. It is not clear to me what works and what does not, but I’m sure having a lot of fun with them.

I believe I can attribute at least one sale to each of these promotional tools, but my favorite so far happened on Labor Day. A dear couple that lives around the corner has kindly taken it upon themselves to create a neighborhood community. We get together every few months and celebrate living in Berkeley. In a world of intense social networking, of full calendars and work deadlines, it is refreshing to get together with people with whom you share nothing other than geography, and with whom there is no particular agenda.

So come Labor Day, this wonderful couple invites the neighborhood to a potluck in their garden. Armed with a salad of locally grown vegetables, my family and I stroll to our hosts’ house.

I just so happen (well, strategically planned a week beforehand) to wear my Oilspill dotcom T-shirt. One of the guests asks me what I am wearing and I begin to explain. Our host, upon hearing our conversation, promptly returns inside his house and brings out his copy, which he then makes sure everyone sees, while exhorting my novel.

For 10 minutes or so, I am the main attraction: me, Alon Shalev, the author. And best of all, someone walks us back home when we leave, to purchase a copy.

Now I devour marketing books, especially those ‘guerrilla’ or ‘grassroots’ marketing books. But if I learned anything that Labor Day weekend, it is that there is nothing as powerful as word-of-mouth, and no asset like a friend who believes in you.

In these days of detachment, when the mass media and Internet control so much of our social connections, all transpiring through a screen, the question I have is how can we facilitate more face-to-face opportunities to pass on the message we want to share? Or to change the world? Or even to promote something that we believe in…like a struggling author’s work?

Good Writing,
Alon
http://www.alonshalev.com/

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