Fascism is the union of government with private business against the People.
"To The States, or any one of them, or to any city of The States: Resist much, Obey little; Once unquestioning obedience, at once fully enslaved; Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, ever afterward resumes its liberty." from "Caution" by Walt Whitman

Friday, November 30, 2012

anti-Fascism: Low-Wage Workers are Organizing for Freedom

2012-11-30 "Organizing McDonalds and Walmart, and Why Austerity Economics Hurts Low-Wage Workers the Most" by Robert Reich
What does the drama in Washington over the “fiscal cliff” have to do with strikes and work stoppages among America’s lowest-paid workers at Walmart, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Domino’s Pizza?
Jobs are slowly returning to America, but most of them pay lousy wages and low if non-existent benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that seven out of 10 growth occupations over the next decade will be low-wage — like serving customers at big-box retailers and fast-food chains. That’s why the median wage keeps dropping, especially for the 80 percent of the workforce that’s paid by the hour.
It’s also part of the reason why the percent of Americans living below the poverty line has been increasing even as the economy has started to recover — from 12.3 percent in 2006 to 15 percent in 2011. More than 46 million Americans now live below the poverty line.
Many of them have jobs. The problem is these jobs just don’t pay enough to lift their families out of poverty.
So, encouraged by the economic recovery and perhaps also by the election returns, low-wage workers have started to organize. 
Yesterday in New York hundreds of workers at dozens of fast-food chain stores went on strike, demanding a raise to $15-an-hour from their current pay of $8 to $10 an hour (the median hourly wage for food service and prep workers in New York is $8.90 an hour).
Last week, Walmart workers staged demonstrations and walkouts at thousands of Walmart stores, also demanding better pay. The average Walmart employee earns $8.81 an hour. A third of Walmart’s employees work less than 28 hours per week and don’t qualify for benefits.
These workers are not teenagers. Most have to support their families. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of fast-food workers is over 28; and women, who comprise two-thirds of the industry, are over 32. The median age of big-box retail workers is over 30.
Organizing makes economic sense.
Unlike industrial jobs, these can’t be outsourced abroad. Nor are they likely to be replaced by automated machinery and computers. The service these workers provide is personal and direct: Someone has to be on hand to help customers and dole out the burgers.
And any wage gains they receive aren’t likely to be passed on to consumers in higher prices because big-box retailers and fast-food chains have to compete intensely for consumers. They have no choice but to keep their prices low. 
That means wage gains are likely to come out of profits – which, in turn, would affect the return to shareholders and the total compensation of top executives.
That wouldn’t be such a bad thing. 
According to a recent report by the National Employment Law Project, most low-wage workers are employed by large corporations that have been enjoying healthy profits. Three-quarters of these employers (the fifty biggest employers of low-wage workers) are raking in higher revenues now than they did before the recession.
McDonald’s — bellwether for the fast-food industry — posted strong results during the recession by attracting cash-strapped customers, and its sales have continued to rise.
Its CEO, Jim Skinner, got $8.8 million last year. In addition to annual bonuses, McDonald’s also gives its executives a long-term bonus once every three years; Skinner received an $8.3 million long-term bonus in 2009 and is due for another this year. The value of Skinner’s other perks — including personal use of the company aircraft, physical exams and security — rose 19% to $752,000.
Yum!Brands, which operates and licenses Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, has also done wonderfully well. Its CEO, David Novak, received $29.67 million in total compensation last year, placing him number 23 on Forbes’ list of highest paid chief executives.
Walmart – the trendsetter for big-box retailers – is also doing well. And it pays its executives handsomely. The total compensation for Walmart’s CEO, Michael Duke, was $18.7 million last year – putting him number 82 on Forbes’ list.
The wealth of the Walton family – which still owns the lion’s share of Walmart stock — now exceeds the wealth of the bottom 40 percent of American families combined, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.
Last week, Walmart announced that the next Wal-Mart dividend will be issued December 27 instead of January 2, after the Bush tax cut for dividends expires — thereby saving the Walmart family as much as $180 million. (According to the online weekly “Too Much,” this $180 million would be enough to give 72,000 Wal-Mart workers now making $8 an hour a 20 percent annual pay hike. That hike would still leave those workers making under the poverty line for a family of three.)
America is becoming more unequal by the day. So wouldn’t it be sensible to encourage unionization at fast-food and big-box retailers?
Yes, but here’s the problem.
The unemployment rate among people with just a high school degree – which describes most (but not all) fast-food and big-box retail workers – is still in the stratosphere. The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts it at 12.2 percent, and that’s conservative estimate. It was 7.7 percent at the start of 2008.
High unemployment makes it much harder to organize a union because workers are even more fearful than usual of losing their jobs. Eight dollars an hour is better than no dollars an hour. And employers at big-box and fast-food chains have not been reluctant to give the boot to employees associated with attempts to organize for higher wages.
Meanwhile, only half of the people who lose their jobs qualify for unemployment insurance these days. Retail workers in big-boxes and fast-food chains rarely qualify because they haven’t been on the job long enough or are there only part-time. This makes the risk of job loss even greater.
Which brings us back to what’s happening in Washington.
Washington’s obsession with deficit reduction makes it all the more likely these workers will face continuing high unemployment – even higher if the nation succumbs to deficit hysteria. That’s because cutting government spending reduces overall demand, which hits low-wage workers hardest. They and their families are the biggest casualties of austerity economics.
And if the spending cuts Washington is contemplating fall on low-wage workers whose families are under the poverty line – reducing not only the availability of unemployment insurance but also food stamps, housing assistance, infant and child nutrition, child health care, and Medicaid – it will be even worse. (It’s worth recalling, in this regard, that 62 percent of the cuts in the Republican budget engineered by Paul Ryan fell on America’s poor.)
By contrast, low levels of unemployment invite wage gains and make it easier to organize unions. The last time America’s low-wage workers got a real raise (apart from the last hike in the minimum wage) was the late 1990s when unemployment dropped to 4 percent nationally – compelling employers to raise wages in order to recruit and retain them, and prompting a round of labor organizing.
That’s one reason why job growth must be the nation’s number one priority. Not deficit reduction.
Yet neither side in the current “fiscal cliff” negotiations is talking about America’s low-wage workers. They’re invisible in official Washington.
Not only are they unorganized for the purpose of getting a larger share of the profits at Walmart, McDonalds, and other giant firms, they’re also unorganized for the purpose of being heard in our nation’s capital. There’s no national association of low-wage workers. They don’t contribute much to political campaigns. They have no Super-PAC. They don’t have Washington lobbyists.
But if this nation is to reverse the scourge of widening inequality, Washington needs to start paying attention to them. And the rest of us should do everything we can to pressure Washington and big-box retailers and fast-food chains to raise their pay.

2012-11-21 "Why You Shouldn’t Shop at Walmart on Friday" by Robert Reich
A half century ago America’s largest private-sector employer was General Motors, whose full-time workers earned an average hourly wage of around $50, in today’s dollars, including health and pension benefits.
Today, America’s largest employer is Walmart, whose average employee earns $8.81 an hour. A third of Walmart’s employees work less than 28 hours per week and don’t qualify for benefits.
There are many reasons for the difference – including globalization and technological changes that have shrunk employment in American manufacturing while enlarging it in sectors involving personal services, such as retail.
But one reason, closely related to this seismic shift, is the decline of labor unions in the United States. In the 1950s, over a third of private-sector workers belonged to a union. Today fewer than 7 percent do. As a result, the typical American worker no longer has the bargaining clout to get a sizable share of corporate profits.
At the peak of its power and influence in the 1950s, the United Auto Workers could claim a significant portion of GM’s earnings for its members.
Walmart’s employees, by contrast, have no union to represent them. So they’ve had no means of getting much of the corporation’s earnings.
Walmart earned $16 billion last year (it just reported a 9 percent increase in earnings in the third quarter of 2012, to $3.6 billion), much of which went to Walmart’s shareholders — including the family of its founder, Sam Walton. The wealth of the Walton family now exceeds the wealth of the bottom 40 percent of American families combined, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.
Is this about to change? Despite decades of failed unionization attempts, Walmart workers are planning to strike or conduct some other form of protest outside at least 1,000 locations across the United States this Friday – so-called “Black Friday,” the biggest shopping day in America when the Christmas holiday buying season begins.
At the very least, the action gives Walmart employees a chance to air their grievances in public – not only lousy wages (as low at $8 an hour) but also unsafe and unsanitary working conditions, excessive hours, and sexual harassment. The result is bad publicity for the company exactly when it wants the public to think of it as Santa Claus. And the threatened strike, the first in 50 years, is gaining steam.
The company is fighting back. It has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board to preemptively ban the Black Friday strikes. The complaint alleges that the pickets are illegal “representational” picketing designed to win recognition for the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. Walmart’s workers say they’re protesting unfair labor practices rather than acting on behalf of the UFCW. If a court sides with Walmart, it could possibly issue an injunction blocking Black Friday’s pickets.
What happens at Walmart will have consequences extending far beyond the company. Other big box retailers are watching carefully. Walmart is their major competitor. Its pay scale and working conditions set the standard.
More broadly, the widening inequality reflected in the gap between the pay of Walmart workers and the returns to Walmart investors, including the Walton fammily, haunts the American economy.
Consumer spending is 70 percent of economic activity, but consumers are also workers. And as income and wealth continue to concentrate at the top, and the median wage continues to drop – it’s now 8 percent lower than it was in 2000 – a growing portion of the American workforce lacks the purchasing power to get the economy back to speed. Without a vibrant and growing middle class, Walmart itself won’t have the customers it needs.
Most new jobs in America are in personal services like retail, with low pay and bad hours. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average full-time retail worker earns between $18,000 and $21,000 per year.
But if retail workers got a raise, would consumers have to pay higher prices to make up for it? A new study by the think tank Demos reports that raising the salary of all full-time workers at large retailers to $25,000 per year would lift more than 700,000 people out of poverty, at a cost of only a 1 percent price increase for customers.
And, in the end, retailers would benefit. According to the study, the cost of the wage increases to major retailers would be $20.8 billion — about one percent of the sector’s $2.17 trillion in total annual sales. But the study also estimates the increased purchasing power of lower-wage workers as a result of the pay raises would generate $4 billion to $5 billion in additional retail sales.
This seems like a good deal all around.

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