Saturday, September 02, 2006

Remembering Labor Day

Harold Meyerson's Washington Post column Devaluing Labor is a must-read for Labor Day, particularly for folks who came of age after the mid-seventies. Meyerson explains:
The young may be understandably incredulous, but the Great Compression, as economists call it, was the single most important social fact in our country in the decades after World War II. From 1947 through 1973, American productivity rose by a whopping 104 percent, and median family income rose by the very same 104 percent. More Americans bought homes and new cars and sent their kids to college than ever before.

Since those not-so-long-ago days, American productivity has continued to rise, but American wages have fallen. It is no accident that corporate profits make up a higher share of the US Gross Domestic Product than they have since the mid '60s, while the share going to workers is at its lowest since 1947 (when measurement began). Meyerson quotes Goldman Sachs economists who report that "'the most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor's share of national income.'" "Globalization" can take some of the blame for the degradation of American workers' wages and benefits, but only some: as Meyerson points out, "productivity gains have outpaced median family income by 3 to 1" since 1973.
"Globalization," in any event, is not a force of nature; it is a deliberate and highly successful strategy to undermine the power of American Labor through ruthless exploitation of powerless workers outside the US. American multi-national corporate employers commit globalization; it doesn't just happen. And maybe it wouldn't happen in the form it has taken, at least not without more resistance from the American public, if it weren't for another change since the mid-20th Century alluded to by Meyerson: a "generosity of spirit" that made both the Civil Rights movement and the Marshall Plan (I would add, the Great Society) possible. It seems to me that that generosity (qualified as it was) has been replaced, through the assiduous efforts of the mainstream media in service to the political right, by a cramped paranoiac suspicion of the world around us. (We always thought we had enemies, but now it seems we have no friends--no human ones, anyway). Our corporate masters steal from us all alike and in plain view, but we are too distracted by the shadowy human boogey-men we see on TV--undocumented aliens, single mothers, drug addicts, terrorists, greedy trial lawyers, taxes--to notice. We have to close our borders, build and fill prisons, check IDs, slash welfare, raise armies and drop bombs, or they will get us. Generosity, hospitality, cooperation, it seems, are too dangerous, too expensive, and naïve to boot.
Meyerson correctly says: "Devaluing labor is the very essence of our economy." Devaluing humankind generally makes devaluing labor, and the exploitation of everyone who has to work for a living, easy.
Happy Labor Day.


Clampett said...

Happy labor Day.

I wish I could say the same to those who suffer in the third world, as well as those who build our consumer products under explotiative state capitalist 'second' world' nations such as the PRC.

As long as the workers in those nations are prevented from organizing as to protect the price of their labor; firms who exploit those people will continue to have the comparative advantage over their counterparts.

sidenote: You sound like Angela Davis here. Any insights on her 'prison-industrial complex'?

Quentin tarantino's rewrite of ezekiel 25:17 comes to mind:

"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee."

again, Happy labor day.

grace said...

KC, Thanks for your comments and for your blog. Adding it to my blogroll.

I have no immediate plans to be in L.A., however I do have to make my way to the west coast on occasion for work. I'll drop you a note and while I can't promise complete inebriation, I'll certainly toast the concept of smart women blogging on the things that really matter to humanity.

As an aside; I ran across this tagline on another blog recently... and it seems appropriate;

"Practice Liberty like you really mean it."

...So, go do that. And I will try to as well.