Happy May Day!

by Steve, May 1st, 2007

Today is a good day to reflect on all the good tidings brought to us by the labor movement. The eight-hour work day. The weekend. Child labor laws.

We should also reflect on the fact that in much of the world, workers do not enjoy these benefits. And let’s not forget that workers’ rights in the US have been under siege over the last few decades, with serious erosion of the right to organize in the work place, as well as in pay and benefits. We work longer hours for less pay than we did 30 years ago, and job security is non-existent.

The gap between obscene salaries paid to CEOs and regular workers just keeps getting wider, and is mirrored by the gap between take-home pay and bills most of us are accustomed to.

So consider this, working people of the world: We are the vast majority of humanity. The wealthiest two percent of the world, the idle rich, cannot control things without our consent (witting or subconscious). The power is ours, but only if we gather our voices in solidarity and cry “ENOUGH!”

Here’s a little history lesson from the IWW on this International Workers’ Day 2007. Have a great day, but take a moment to remember the people who died so that you can enjoy your weekend, send your kids to school instead of the factory, and be home in time for supper.

17 Responses to “Happy May Day!”

  1. Comment from JustaDog:

    Socialism and all its forms – including worker’s unions – eventually destroy economies. Just ask France, their having to return to private enterprise!

    the idle rich – where do you get these idiotic phrases? They don’t work with people that are informed. By idle rich are you referring to the few ultra-rich that have over $100 BILLION targeted for charitable causes?

    How much do you contribute?

  2. Comment from Himself:

    France has to “return to private enterprise”? I wasn’t aware they had ever departed from it. But no matter.

    Ask any French worker, with their 35-hour work week and what the WHO in 2000 called “best health system in the world” (free choice of private practitioners, with 85% reimbursement by the single-payer government insurer), if they’d be willing to trade for our broken system.

    The fact that the idle rich toss back a fraction of a penny for every dollar they skim from our labor doesn’t make them productive. It just helps them avoid taxes.

    But thanks for playing!

  3. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Funny, I was thinking of the French twice this month — both times while we were making visits to the emergency room. Our medical emergencies (one for me, one for Wacky Girl) didn’t happen during the “acceptable hours” of nine to five, Monday through Friday. Damn you, unpredictable bodies! For my visit: we got there a little before five p.m. and got home at 11 p.m. We’ve paid $200 so far for that visit — and that’s with our “good” insurance. (More bills to follow, unfortunately.) For my daughter — shorter time frame — 5 p.m.-ish (this is our witching hour, apparently) and home a little after 8 p.m. Ditto: bills to follow.

    A friend of mine was in France last year (for the school year) with her spouse and their three kids. Ear infection for one kid, in the middle of the night. No problem — doc came to house, diagnosed, prescribed medicine, left. Total cost was $25. And they weren’t even citizens. Damn, that rocks.

  4. Comment from Matt:

    I hadn’t planned on commenting on this one, but after the previous 2, I thought I’d take the opportunity to be a centrist (a rare thing for me).

    I cannot say that I am a supporter of organized labor as it is constituted in the US today, but I do have immense respect for those who stood up against the Mafia-style ownership of industry that existed 150 years ago. Currently the union rolls are becoming increasingly dominated by public employees unions while the unions of industry, service and others are decreasing. The labor movement has served its purpose (and I DO give them credit for work-week limitation, child labor laws and weekends) as a counter-balance to management, but its increasingly left-leaning political activism is doing a disservice to those it claims to represent. I do not see how a teacher should be asked to pay dues to fund an organization that lobbies for the right to abort the very children they are expected to teach (sorry about the dreaded anti-abortion reference, but this is the example with which I am most familiar). If the UAW was only interested in doing right by its members, it wouldn’t saddle the “Big 3” with the untenable compensation packages that are crippling the auto industry. I know that right know you are either thinking or shouting, “What about the CEOs and their huge salaries and bonuses?” and I must say you’re right. However, that is business model problem, not a social issue. As Thomas Sowell states so cleverly, “If high-quality CEOs were a dime a dozen, no one would pay 11 cents a dozen for them.”

    As for the French example; I am not so sure that given an opportunity, many of that utopian society’s members would not choose to come to the true land of opportunity. I would venture that many of the unemployed youth that have rioted several times in past few years would jump at a chance to come here and work 45-50 hours/week at the national average $17+/hour (more than I make at this point). They would likely find a job easier in our sub-5% unemployment-rate economy than in France where it’s closer to 10%. Plus, they would be able to keep more of what they earn with a tax rate that allows the working classes keep a much greater percentage of what they earned with this hard work. It checking these numbers I also found that France has a lower tax rate on evil corporations (and presumably the semi-evil ones) than the US while taxing their workers at a significantly higher rate. See http://www.worldwide-tax.com/index.asp#partthree.

    Disagreements aside, this is a great post in its stimulation of thought and discussion.


  5. Comment from Matt:

    Oops! I referred to “the previous 2 comments” and while writing another one snuck in. I guess now it should read “the first 2 posts”. Record corrected.

    Per Wacky Mommy’s sneaky comment, I will say that $25 socialist co-pays would be nice (God knows I could use them), but remember that nothing is free.

    Just because I don’t celebrate the holiday myself, I can still wish you all a happy May Day!

  6. Comment from Matt:

    I’m NOT saying I told you so, but as a corollary to my previous commentary I must point out that it seems that (per the election results) not even a majority of the French are on board with French socialism. The center-right candidate Sarkozy’s victory seems to indicate that most of his nation desires a more open, capitalistic economy and possibly a less adversarial stance in regard to the US. I have no illusions that he will send troops to Iraq or grovel at the alter of Uncle Sam (he is French after all), but he has made some very un-Chirac type statements which probably led to his election.

    I thought, based on the thread discussion, that this was an interesting news item. Thanks for your blog and its always well-expressed opinions.

  7. Comment from Himself:

    A couple of points.

    Just for the record, I didn’t bring up France. The first commenter made an inane comment about France “having to return to private enterprise,” something they never left. I responded.

    France is not socialist; the state does not own the means of production. France, like most of Western Europe, is a social democracy. This means that normal working people have some basic guarantees against getting screwed over.

    Sarkozy is “center-right” by European standards, but he’d be considered liberal by contemporary American standards — to the left of many of the Democrats running for the presidential nomination, anyway.

    His election probably has more to do with his tough stance on immigration (ironic, since he is the progeny of immigrants) than on him wanting to “end socialism”. In fact, despite Sarkozy’s overwhelming victory, the French people may still deliver a split decision and elect a Socialist (with a capital ‘S’) National Assembly, severely limiting how far Sarkozy can go in picking away at the vaunted French social safety net.

    There can be no doubt that the French people are dissatisfied in general and want change. But a lot of this is a product of xenophobia. The French will tolerate sweeping changes in immigration policy, but they will not tolerate a wholesale dismantling of their hard-won social contract. Stay tuned for the June elections.

  8. Comment from Matt:

    Points well made. I’m going to respond and risk dragging this pseudo-debate out longer than regular guys like us probably should. Don’t feel compelled to address my points as I’m sure we’ll run into other items about which we can argue.

    Obviously you didn’t address France initially, but the thread seemed to be heading that direction by the time I showed up to comment. I am aware that France is technically not socialist, however – at least on my side of political spectrum – the term is often used as shorthand for European social democracy (note that I did differentiate “French socialism”). It’s not very precise, but since there are no true socialist nations on the planet, I’m not that worried about it being misunderstood.

    I was interested to note that despite being a self-avowed socialist, you stated, “France, like most of Western Europe, is a social democracy. This means that normal working people have some basic guarantees against getting screwed over.” May I infer that full-blown socialism does screw over the working people? Obviously this is true historically, but do you concede that it is an intrinsic characteristic of socialism? Just a thought…

    As to Sarkozy, you are probably right. Even if his belief system was in lock-step with American conservatives, he would probably not be able to move policy very far, particularly not until UMP’s likely victories next month give him a solid parliamentary majority. I am not so sure about your assertion that though conservative by European standards, Sarko is to the left of the Democratic presidential candidates. Let’s review the platform that got him elected.

    Law Enforcement/Immigration
    You contend that the popularity of this issue stems from xenophobia, but when the great city of Paris has dozens of cars burned on a slow night and entire suburbs into which the police don’t dare venture, I think they have a real problem. The suffix –phobia implies an irrational fear and I don’t see concern about nearly perpetual rioting as irrational.

    Sarkozy stated that he wants to encourage people to work longer hours by making overtime pay tax exempt. He also wants to lower the inheritance tax, wealth (read redistribution) tax and business taxes.

    Social Programs
    He wants to tighten restrictions on unemployment benefits, cut public spending and reduce (through attrition) the number of civil service employees.

    Wow! Tough on crime, close the borders, tax cuts (for the rich even), welfare reform and smaller government. At least on the surface he sounds like Newt Gingrich! Ok, that was childish, but my point is that his alleged position to the left of the Dems on the political spectrum is certainly debatable.

    You are right that some of the key changes to the safety net necessary to invigorate their stagnant economy would not be touched even if Ghingis Khan were elected president and supreme ruler. Last year the youth rioted and demonstrated simply on the suggestion that regulations preventing their being fired for incompetence might be loosened. Plus France’s health care/guaranteed retirement/cradle-to-the-grave-nanny-stateism is as sacred as cows get.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond and sorry for my long-windedness.

  9. Comment from Himself:

    You could argue that Sarkozy’s platform sounds a lot like what Bill Clinton achieved in his eight years in office. (Remember it was Clinton who “ended welfare as we knew it”, not Gingrich or Reagan or Bush I.)

    Even if Sarkozy wants to chip away at the French social contract, he’s not proposing moving it anywhere close to the embarrassment of a “system” we have here. Meanwhile, you’d be hard pressed to find a Democrat who wouldn’t hack away at the tattered remains of our social safety net in the name of a balanced budget.

  10. Comment from Matt:

    The other take on that portion of history say that Clinton was able to ride the tide public sentiment to a good start on welfare reform, and after vetoing 2 Republican welfare bills finally succumbed to the pressure and signed the 3rd. Let’s recall that those who write the story of Bill Clinton’s Camalot contend that he was an American moderate (did he not perfect the art of triangulation?) and by extension so is Sarkozy, no?

    Plus, I don’t give Clinton high marks on immigration, crime, cutting taxes and shrinking government. It appears that you’re not a staunch partisan so I doubt it hurts your feelings for me to say so.

    We may have to agree to disagree on socialized medicine

    As always, thanks for the interchange.

  11. Comment from Himself:

    Make no mistake, Clinton is a staunch neoliberal (as is his wife). He did, in fact, balance the budget partially on the backs of the poor.

    Though the right loves to tar the Clintons as liberals, in the context of the 20th century they are clearly center-right. Casting them as leftists has the unfortunate effect of skewing the starting point for political dialectic to the right.

    In an honest reading of 20th century political history, Nixon was arguably the last “liberal” president in terms of economic policy.

  12. Comment from Matt:

    Wow, that is quite a statement!
    You are clearly better read (or at least can fake it masterfully) than I am so I will ask for your source for those assertions – for educational rather than argumentative purposes. I have literally never even heard the term neo-liberal. I can guess its meaning, particularly in reference to Hillary, but can you define it as you understand it?
    Strict conservatives use the neo- prefix as a pejorative. Does this mean that you come from a perspective that is further to the left (not intended as an insult) than nearly anyone in US government outside of maybe Bernie Sanders? If so, that makes you even more intriguing than I originally thought.

    As on the other thread, we may have reached a conclusion. You have backed me into defending either Clinton or Nixon which is not going to happen.

  13. Comment from Himself:

    Neoliberalism is a term used describe the departure from Keynesian economics in favor of liberal market policies and monetarism. Planted by the IMF and World Bank in Latin America in the ’70s and ’80s, the seeds of neoliberalism didn’t fully flower in the US until the ’90s.

    Neoliberal policies favor privatizing state industries and balancing budgets by cutting social spending. Ironically, there has been a notable backlash in Latin America, even as this school of thought has come home to roost.

    Jimmy Carter was the first U.S. president to embrace neoliberalism, but it took Reagan, Bush I and Clinton (with the help of Gingrich) to drive the final nails in the coffin of New Deal liberalism. Historically speaking, Nixon was indeed the last president of the Liberal era. No president since him, Republican or Democrat, “liberal” or “conservative”, has strayed far from the monetarist path.

    I will concede that the term is not generally accepted by its practitioners. “Economic liberalism” is the more broadly accepted term, as espoused by Hayek, Friedman, et al. See also globalization and corporatism.

  14. Comment from Anne:

    Do you have any good books to recommend critiquing neoliberalism?
    I co-wrote something criticizing the Broad Foundation. We called its agenda right wing. Susan Ohanian pointed out that the Broad Foundation, and its push to privatize public schools is a neoliberal organization.
    Now I want to learn more about neoliberalism, because I believe we are awash in it here in Portland, that the school system is a little lab for these neolibs.
    There are parallels to the situation in Latin America. Bill Gates money is like the WMF. We are supposed to be grateful, but we will be paying for this for a long, long time.
    Thanks for the political science lesson.

  15. Comment from Matt:

    HS, thanks for the sourcing; I’ll check it out. I guess that means you have done your good deed for the day. Have a good one and thanks for taking the time to comment over at my place, even if it was only to correct an obvious and brainless editorial error.

  16. Comment from Matt:

    Due to the constraints of my 9-5 job (actually 8:15 to 4:45, but that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue), I am forced to do my economic homework via Wikipedia and its source materials during my lunch break.

    Through reading I found that I was not as woefully under informed as I originally felt. Part of the disconnect was due to a difference in terminology (recall our abortion v. sanctity of life divide from the Che post). In reading up on Keynesian Theory, I was interested to see that I was relatively familiar with the debate, its historical underpinnings and the economic elements involved. I’m sure that you will be disappointed – though not surprised – to hear that we are on opposite (though maybe not polar opposite) sides of yet another issue. It seems to me that the effect of laissez-faire/supply-side economic policies have done more good for more people (at least in the US) than any other system. This is real-world affect as opposed to theoretical benefit. I still have more to read, but I have a hard time buying into an economic theory that was spawned by the chaos of Versailles and virtually debunked within barely a half-century. There is something to be said for cumulative experiential wisdom.

  17. Comment from Himself:

    Anne, I should apologize for using the term. It is generally used by critics on the left to describe liberal capitalism that puts the interests of the ownership class above the interests of normal working people. It’s only “liberal” in the way it allows corporations to do what they want (and in the way “liberals” like Clinton and his DLC acolytes have adopted it.)

    The Nation has been running a series of articles outlining a progressive alternative to what they call “Rubinomics,” named for Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. The first article, published in the March 5 edition, was by James K. Galbraith. The second, which appears in the latest issue (May 21), and is by Thomas Palley. Coincidentally, there is also a great discussion of No Child Left Behind by Stanford Education prof Linda Darling-Hammond.