Monday, September 3, 2007

Labor Day piece work

Labor was the first price, the original purchase-money that was paid for all things. It was not by gold or by silver, but by labor, that all wealth of the world was originally purchased.

No man can call himself liberal, or radical, or even a conservative advocate of fair play, if his work depends in any way on the unpaid or underpaid labor of women at home, or in the office.
Gloria Steinem, in the New York Times, 1971

Today I send this message to every emerging global corporation: "justice; family, community, and union" are the same in every language and, wherever you go and whatever you do, a new global labor movement is coming to find you.

At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth.
Theodore Roosevelt, "New Nationalism Speech"

Now fewer than 8 percent of America's private sector workers are in unions, median wage gains have fallen far behind productivity gains, and for most of us Labor Day means a long weekend.[…]

But don't blame Ronald Reagan or corporate greed. Blame us - you and me. You see, starting about 30 years ago and with increasing efficiency, technologies have given us consumers a world of choice - low priced goods and services that often depend on low wages here and elsewhere.

Four-lane federal highways and long-haul trucks linking non-unionized manufacturers in the South to the rest of us. Container ships and cargo planes linking us to foreign producers. Big-box retailers using computers to find the best deals anywhere around the world. And now the Internet letting us find the best deals for ourselves from anywhere, too.

In other words, we as a nation have traded off lower priced goods and services, in place of a unionized workforce with the bargaining clout to get higher wages. So now, a lot of us get good consumer deals and lousy paychecks.

No one trumpeted this choice. It's happened gradually. But is it the right choice? That's what we ought to be asking ourselves -- at least once a year, on Labor Day.

Cross-posted at Loaded Orygun.

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