Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bishop calls for a ‘new social contract,’ one that honors work and workers

“A new social contract, which begins by honoring work and workers, must be forged that ultimately focuses on the common good of the entire human family,“ Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre says in a Labor Day statement issued in his role as chairman of a committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“This Labor Day,” he writes, “we must seek to protect the life and dignity of each worker in a renewed and robust economy. Workers need to have a real voice and effective protections in economic life.”

Bishop Murphy emphasizes the role of civil society, which he calls “perhaps the most undervalued and overlooked” compared to the state and the market. He asks, “Could a reawakening and new development of the roles of intermediary institutions, including voluntary associations and unions, be a force to call the market to a greater understanding of the centrality of the worker?”

The statement, titled “A New ‘Social Contract’ for Today’s ‘New Things’.”draws heavily on Pope Benedict’s teaching in his encyclical, Charity in Truth. On a central point, Murphy quotes these words of the Pope: “I would like to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world’s economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity.” (Emphasis in the original.)

Bishop Murphy, as chair of the Catholic conference’s committee on domestic justice and human development, has taken the lead in describing the need for a “new social contract.” What’s next?
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A union’s ‘make-over’ for 21st century globaliztion

One of America’s largest unions, the United Auto Workers (UAW), is undergoing a complete make-over, according to its newly elected president, Bob King.

The make-over is from a 20th century union to one geared to the 21st century, King said in a lengthy address on August 2 to ta conference of the Center for Automotive Research. As he sees it, a 21st century UAW is becoming “fundamentally and radically different.” Among the differences he mentioned were these:

• Embraces as its own the mission of producing the highest quality, best-value product for its customers, vs. joining with companies in “the mindset that it was the company’s job to worry about profits and the union’s job to worry about getting the workers their fair share.”

• Makes consumer safety, energy efficiency, and environmental protect a priority, vs. “failing to champion forcefully or effectively enough the goals of preserving our environment for future generations through green manufacturing.”

• Welcomes the openness, collaboration, and creative problem-solving that it has forged with Chrysler, GM, and Ford, vs. the mutual distrust that produced lengthy and complicated contracts “with work rules and narrow job classifications that hindered flexibility, hindered the full use of the talents of our members and promoted a litigious and time-consuming grievance culture.”

• Knows that the only true path to job security is by producing the best quality, safest, and most durable product, vs. relying on ways, such as job banks, that “in the end did not achieve the results that we were seeking”

King stressed that the 20th century UAW “grew in an era of national rather than global economics, in which “employers did not face the intense pressure of global competition,” whereas the global marketplace now makes flexibility, innovation, lean manufacturing, and continuous cost-improvement paramount.

Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm praised this transformation in her August 10 posting titled “Not Your Father’s UAW” on Huffington Post.. “Instead of being blamed for chasing investment away from industrial states, the UAW may be the place to turn to ensure a company’s success,” she wrote.

More to come:
the UAW is developing a set of guidelines called the UAW Principles for Fair Elections, which it will present to the managements of Japanese-owned and other non-union auto and vehicle-parts factories.
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Sunday, August 08, 2010

We wuz robbed!

A study of how corporate America treated its workers during the 2007-2009 recession concludes that the workers could justifiably say “We wuz robbed!”

In the study, published in July, its two authors charge that the latest recession is really a Great Recession for Workers because corporations pocketed unprecedented profits while slashing employment, working hours, and hourly pay.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, told New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. Sum has published research on labor market trends for at least 20 years.

His latest study, conducted with senior research associate Joseph McLaughlin, is titled “How the U.S. Economic Output Recession of 2007-2009 Led to the Great Recession in Labor Markets.”

“The economic recovery in the U.S. over the past 15 months has seen the most lopsided gains in corporate profits relative to real wages and salaries in our history,” the study says.

Also especially noteworthy: “The greatest deterioration in the U.S. unemployment rate took place among men, largely as a result of the great depression in blue-collar jobs.” The U.S. jobless rate, 10.3 percent in 2009, was the highest of ten leading industrial countries.

Herbert, in his column titled “A Sin and a Shame,” commented:

“It doesn’t have to be this way. Germany and Japan, because of a combination of government and corporate policies, suffered far less worker dislocation than the U.S. Until we begin to value our workers, and understand the crucial importance of employment to a thriving economy, we will continue to see our standards of living decline.”

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Saturday, August 07, 2010

‘Making it in America’

-- 63 percent of voters feel that working people who make things are being forgotten while Wall Street and banks get bailouts.
-- 57 percent believe that manufacturing is more central to our economic strength than high-tech, knowledge, or financial service sectors.
-- 78 percent favor “a national manufacturing strategy to make sure that economic, tax, labor, and trade policy in the country work together to help support manufacturing in the United States.”
Those and other results of a recent poll of likely voters are fortifying Democratic leaders' plans to give priority to a pro-manufacturing jobs agenda in Congress prior to the November mid-term elections. The poll and sessions with six focus groups confirm that the electorate is indeed deeply unhappy but unified in the conviction that Congress should take action on a pro-manufacturing agenda.

In reaction, the Wall Street Journal belittled the government’s ability to choose “winners and losers,” apparently wanting a monopoly for Wall Street itself.

From another perspective, President Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman, published a New York Times article on July 31 on the four “destructive changes” responsible for the economic crisis. On one of them “the hollowing out” of the American economy, he wrote:

“Having lived beyond our means for decades by borrowing heavily from abroad, we have steadily sent jobs and production offshore. In the past decade, the number of high-value jobs in goods production and in service categories like trade, transportation, information technology and the professions has shrunk by 12 percent, to 68 million from 77 million. The only reason we have not experienced a severe reduction in non-farm payrolls since 2000 is that there has been a gain in low-paying, often part-time positions in places like bars, hotels and nursing homes.

“It is not surprising, then, that during the last bubble (from 2002 to 2006) the top 1 percent of Americans — paid mainly from the Wall Street casino — received two-thirds of the gain in national income, while the bottom 90 percent — mainly dependent on Main Street’s shrinking economy — got only 12 percent. This growing wealth gap is not the market’s fault. It’s the decaying fruit of bad economic policy.”

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Friday, August 06, 2010

Blog continues, email lists do not

Over the years I have added 481 persons to my Yahoo mailing list. Among these are people who have a special interest in this blog, whom I grouped into four categories of people. I would send out an “alert” email when I published a new issue.

Suddenly the other day, all the names listed under those categories mysteriously disappeared. The categories are still there, but no names. So far no help from Yahoo on correcting the malfunction.

I will continue to write and post articles for Human Rights for Workers even as I work on reconstructing my Blog mailing lists under Yahoo or perhaps some other system. Hint: bookmarks are useful.
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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Campaigning against Korea FTA

South Korea is emerging as the test of whether trade policy under President Obama will be much different from that established by previous administrations, Democratic and Republican.

At issue is the Free Trade Agreement that President George Bush signed with South Korea three years ago. President Obama says he will send it to Congress for approval after negotiating changes with the Seoul government.

A coalition of unions, environmental, family farm, and other civil society organizations is circulating the text of a letter to Obama urging him to seize the opportunity to adopt “new trade rules that create American jobs.” Among the specific changes needed to gain support of a new FTA are removal of these existing objectionable features:
-- the explicit ban on reference to the core conventions of the UN International Labor Organization, which are “the fundamental platform of international labor rights.”
-- the “extreme foreign investor rights and their private investor-state enforcement that you rightly criticized during your campaign” for posing special threats to attack U.S. environmental, financial, health, and other policies in foreign tribunals.
-- the trade barriers harming numerous U.S. industries such as the auto and beef sectors, which undermine the goal of creating two million new American jobs through export expansion.

Instead of approving another trade pact patterned after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the letter encourages the President to correct the most problematic features of the Korean FTA by using this U.S. proposed law as a guide: the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment (TRADE) Act now pending in Congress.

For information about the Korea FTA check and

More than 100 local, state, and national organizations have signed on to the letter expressing opposition to the 2007 deal. To add your organization’s name to the letter, contact
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‘Doubling exports’ would be a big loser as a U.S. jobs policy

The Obama administration’s commitment to doubling U.S. exports in five years is woefully inadequate: it aims to create 2,000,000 American jobs when 22,000,000 are needed. That’s the criticism of by a former CEO, Leo Hindery, writing a guest editorial in the current issue of Manufacturing & Technology News.

A major problem with this export-reliant pledge, says Hindrey, is President Obama’s plan to ratify three free trade agreements negotiated by President Bush – with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia. All “are very poorly negotiated and will cause even more American jobs to be lost overseas.”

He singles out the South Korea FTA as “simply awful,” so much so that, if approved without major changes, “the Obama administration will be giving a major unwarranted victory to America’s multinational corporations and Korean workers at the expense of America’s workers.”

Korean negotiators bested the United States in 2007 and later negotiations, according to Hindery, “especially in automobiles, where the FTA would lock in Hyundai Motor Corp.’s dominance of the South Korean market while locking out American manufactured vehicles, and in beef, where the U.S. would largely be excluded from exporting all but young carcasses.”

In Hindery’s view, President Obama must undertake a series of initiatives in addition to radically amending the three pending FTAs:

-- Decide that job creation is the number-one object of his administration’s economic policy, with domestic manufacturing as the top priority.

-- Line up his entire administration behind that policy. At present, some top officials voice positions that are “complete BS.”

-- Especially level the trade playing field between U.S. and China.

-- Emphasize the primary (not secondary) role of “big business” in creating the bulk of the millions of new jobs, and stop fixating on the ability of small business to do so.

Hindery is the former CEO of Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI) and chairs the U.S. Economy/Smart Globalization Initiative of the New America Foundation.
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