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No cause for celebration
by Jake Highton
Sep 11, 2010 | 1620 views | 5 5 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
American workers marked Labor Day last Monday but they did not celebrate. They have nothing to celebrate.

Wages are being slashed, health care and pension plans cut or eliminated, workers fired, full-time workers reduced to part timers, safety requirements ignored, jobs outsourced and paychecks failing to match inflation for decades.

Unions, which represented 35 percent of the work force in 1954, have shrunk to 7 percent today in the private sector. As a result their political power has eroded.

Moreover the middle class, created by vibrant unionism, has been steadily dwindling.

American labor laws are the most repressive in the industrialized world. Yet President Obama, that great centrist and pragmatist, refuses to push for the Employee Free Choice Act that would help close the inequality gap.

Corporations are spending hundreds of millions for propaganda to defeat the EFCA. The campaign is being led by the reprehensible low-wage Walmart empire.

Walmart sells for less because it can afford to undersell competition: mass purchases of goods, subcontracting overseas for supplies produced for a pittance--and vicious union-busting.

Walmart has mastered the tactic of destroying unions. In new employee orientation the company shows an anti-union video.

It has a hotline for managers to ferret out any union activity and to dispatch a “labor relations team” to squelch it. Captive audiences of Walmart workers are lectured on the “evils” of  unions.

Walmart also conducts surveillance on workers, sometimes disciplining and firing them.    

Populist Jim Hightower rightly calls “corporate personhood,” which is constantly being decreed by the Supreme Court, “a sheer fantasy.” He directs particular anger at Walmart because it is totally lacking in compassion.

In Battle Creek, Mich., a Walmart worker was fired because he tested positive for pot. No matter that he was doing so under the Michigan medical marijuana law.

No matter that he did so to combat a rare form of sinus cancer in order to keep working for Walmart. No matter that that he had given 110 percent to Walmart, often working 12- and 14-hour days. And no matter that he was Walmart’s “associate of the year” in 2008.

The woes of workers were epitomized in a recent article in The Nation. The case: Mott’s apple sauce company versus its striking union workers.

The workers have been out since May. And no wonder. Mott, now part of the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, is insisting on givebacks despite booming profits.

Bosses at the Mott plant in Williamson, N.Y., are demanding $3-an-hour wage cuts for all workers, elimination of pensions for new workers, reduction of the employer match on the 401(k) from 5 percent to 4 percent and institution of a healthcare plan with higher premiums and co-pays.

Ari Paul, writer of the magazine article, makes it clear that gutting worker pay and benefits is simply “to enrich its executives even further.”

Larry Young, CEO of Dr Pepper Snapple, had a compensation package of $6.5 million in 2009.

It is yet another blistering indictment of capitalism and capitalistic greed. CEOs get enormously wealthy at the expense of people who actually produce the product.

Since unemployment is high in the western New York area of Williamson, Mott employers are seeking to cash in on the miseries of joblessness.

Bruce Beal of the union bargaining committee pointed out how inhumane Mott is.

“They said that if we can’t meet our finances on the contract they’re offering us then we should sell our homes,” Beal said.

More inhumaneness: Beal was told by a company official that workers needed to think of themselves as commodities like “soybeans or oil because as supply rises the price goes down.”

Mott has become a nationwide symbol of how workers are being stomped on by management.

Anna Burger, the highest-ranking woman in the labor movement, is quitting in frustration after 38 years of battling for workers’ rights.

She noted that the labor movement has grown smaller and weaker when it should be growing because of stagnating wages. But she pointed out the main reason for the decline: worker intimidation by corporations.

“There’s still a total assault by corporations to stop workers from having unions,” she said.

Burger headed the Change to Win, a federation of 5 million union members, and was secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union representing 2 million janitors and hospital workers.

The anti-union fervor of business is pushed by newspaper chains like Gannett. This is clearly unethical for newspapers supposedly fighting for the common people.

Gannett’s lust for stockholder profits renders ethics classes in journalism schools meaningless.

Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. Contact him at
Comments-icon Post a Comment
September 22, 2010
That's the thing with you Lib's ,You cant stand the truth.

Your kind of govenment is killing this Country
September 22, 2010
These comments suck.

@Sparks345 >"Most of the money spent to help save this country has gone to Union workers and if thats 7% of the jobs how is that helping the 93% of us."

Did you ignore all of the bankers giving themselves billion-dollar raises in order write this ignorant trash?

The other two comments are almost incomprehensible.

Keep going, Jake.
September 12, 2010
Unions are why City's can't pay there bill's

Unions are why job's are going over seas

Reid,Pelosi,Obama and Unions are spending this country down the drain.

Most of the money spent to help save this country has gone to Union workers and if thats 7% of the jobs how is that helping the 93% of us.

NOW is the time for true change before its to late.
September 12, 2010
"clearly unethical for newspapers supposedly fighting for the 'common people'" You must live in a fantasy world. With your constant stereotyping and bizarre logic, one can only conclude that there is no there here!(Stein remodeled) If you bring up something like the EFCA, why not explain that Unions don't want employees to vote in a secret ballot? I'm sure Fidel Castro, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Hugo Chavez agree with you and the AFL/CIO that scrapping a secret ballot is much more fair.
Matt Parris
September 12, 2010
You can think Harry Reid for this too
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