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Respecting the Dignity of Labor

In her interview with Bill Moyers, lifelong activist Grace Lee Boggs, a champion of labor and civil rights, says:

Well just don't expect the system to catch up, the system is part of the system! What I think is that, not since the 30s have American have the American people, the ordinary Americans faced such uncertainty with regard to the economic system. In the 30s, what we did, was we confronted management and were able, thereby to gain many advantages, particularly to gain a respect for the dignity of labor. That's no longer possible today, because of the ability of corporations to fly all over the place and begin setting up all this outsourcing. So, we're gonna have people are finding other ways to regain control over the way they make their living.

This Labor Day the news is filled with coverage of gas prices, the home loan meltdown and college costs. Take stock of the state of American labor and the American dream through the BILL MOYERS JOURNAL stories below and tell us what you think.


In June, Bill Moyers talked with Andy Stern, the President of Service Employees International Union, the fastest growing union in the nation about the challenges facing unions in the 21st century:

"Well, the good news is this isn't Rwanda or Darfur or some impoverished country. This is the greatest country on earth with the greatest amount of wealth. The problem isn't about the wealth. It's about distribution. And the truth is we are seeing America's growing apart instead of growing together. Because for all this wealth, for the last five years according to the Census Bureau, American workers have not seen a raise, the longest period of economic stagnation in the history of our country. That is not the future. We have to figure a better way to share in the wealth of a successful society."-- Andy Stern

In August, Bill Moyers talked with Barbara Ehrenreich who has been writing about issues of inequality in America for years as one of our foremost independent journalists. When she reports, Ehreneich steps into the real-life shoes of the people she's writing about. For the bestselling book, NICKEL AND DIMED, Barbara Ehrenreich spent months working as a waitress, a cleaning woman, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk, among other low-wage jobs. And tried to make ends meet for $7 an hour.

"I didn't start the class war that's being gone on here. The class war that's been coming from the side of the extremely wealthy. Iit's been happening for a while. But it's a class war which has been very one-sided. Unions are weak in our country. They should be leading, you know, the charge against this. But the squeezing of people on wages and then on benefits and that's a big thing in the middle class too, you know, that your health insurance package shrinks, your pension is gone. College tuitions are rising. You know, that kind of squeeze...this has not been enough fight back. " - Barbara Ehrenreich


In June, THE JOURNAL took a look at high-flying airline executives. Northwest Airlines dodged the bankruptcy bullet. But while a $1.4 billion a year cut in labor expenses has ensured lower costs for Northwest, why are airline executives still flying high on salaries, stock options and benefits while workers and retirees see cuts in pay and compensation?

"Let me tell you in 1980 a CEO made 40 times the average worker; Today they make about 400 times. This is wrong."
- Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)

"You know, we know what's right. And when the rest of society catches on that this isn't just about your flight attendant, it's about your daughter. And it's about your son. And it's about what kind of life and fairness and compensation you expect for your children that they will see that this is everyone's fight. This is not about a flight attendant contract, or a pilot contract or a mechanic contract. It's not any more even about the money. It's about what's right in our culture. What's right?"
- Kate Day, flight attendant


The crisis in the mortgage market has only worsened since late June when Bill Moyers talked with financial writer Gretchen Morgenson., who covers the financial world for the NEW YORK TIMES. A former stockbroker, she's now a columnist and assistant business and financial editor at the Times. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for her trenchant and incisive coverage of Wall Street. Find out what's behind the meltdown.

"And it's been a policy of the government to try to encourage home ownership. And under-- with this mania, with the subprime loans that were going on, we did reach a peak in home ownership of 69 percent...The highest in history. But I would ask you, 'What's the good of getting people into a home if they can't afford it and they're then going to have to go into foreclosure?' It goes back to the idea of suitability. Are these loans suitable to the people that you're giving them to? Are these investments suitable to the investors who are buying them? There seem to have been a breakdown in that question." -Gretchen Morgenson


The JOURNAL has covered the ins and outs of Congressional negotiations on trade deals in recent months -- taking a look at what trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA mean for American workers and consumers.

Lori Wallach is Director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.

"Trade doesn't affect the total number of jobs in the economy. It affects the kinds of jobs." - Lori Wallach


"I realize that every time somebody says, 'We're helping the poor' or 'We're helping the foreigners' or 'the poor foreigners,' what they really mean is, 'We're going to exploit the hell out of them. This is a way we're going to lock in cheap labor in any country you can think of and exploit them.' And it's a union killing movement in the United States. You cannot form an union in the United States anymore without risking your plant being closed, sent overseas, or other kinds of intimidation. That's why union membership has now fallen to eight percent of the workforce." - John R. MacArthur


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I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

I think that we should pull back are troops from the war in Afganistan.

I agree, pure, unfettered Democracy does not produce equality, and this fact, has historically been its downfall. This is why the US is actually a Republic based on democratic principals. This is why it is, and has always been, the debate that is the key to American success. The balance and struggle between the rights of individuals/ minority and the masses/majority. This is why we must not allow one side of the argument to annihilate the other. Democracy, to be sustainable, has to be restrained with protections for both sides “the balance of power” or it self-destructs into totalitarian elitism as the majority obliterates the minor voices.

Globalization, and the new technological infrastructure that allows it to take place, is not going away. We are at a major shift not unlike the industrial revolution. Globalization is not evil within itself anymore than industrial manufacturing was. Just as at the dawn of the industrial age, Globalization has the potential of being a positive and/or negative force in the progress of humanity. The key is finding where the new balance is. The challenge is shaping the new world we live in so that true progress is made. We actually need to look at the past so that we can identify the patterns of such periods of History. We must be proactive to avoid the pitfalls and turmoil that are inherent in these fundamental shifts of power. Repeating the past is as much a constant in human history and the fact that change is inevitable.

Below are three quotes from an American Philosopher from the turn of the 20 Century. I think they speak to us today as we are in the midst of similar change.

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted, it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in which instinct has learned nothing from experience.
George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905

Intolerance itself is a form of egoism, and to condemn egoism intolerantly is to share it.
George Santayana, Winds of Doctrine (1913) ch. 4

Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.
George Santayana, Life of Reason (1905) vol. 1, Introduction

I believe we must embrace the fact that the world is changing, we must redouble our efforts to work diligently for progress, tolerance and fight fanaticism by remembering our aim.

We must not enter this new era as infants without the benefit of experience but take with us all the lessons of the past.

Andy Stern for President!

"That's no longer possible today, because of the ability of corporations to fly all over the place and begin setting up all this outsourcing."

This has not only destroyed many formerly well paid union jobs in US, but also destroyed many formerly well paid jobs in China with benefits. The stuffs you bought at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc., with "made in China" label are most likely produced in sub-sub-...sub-contracted factories newly erected in southern China which do not follow even China's Labor laws with assistance of corrupt local officials/mafia complex. These factories also often routinely violating Chinese environmental and safety laws.

The US multinationals use the sub-contract factories to avoid direct responsibility of violating labor/safety/environment laws, local or US. (Remember where they point their fingers for those Lead-paint toys.) One small but powerful first step is asking for label that certifying the imports are made in accord with local labor and environment laws. Some European countries have their imported toys labeled. This would increase the cost of made in China, thus, help tipping the balance of globalization a little bit favorable for US workers. Interestingly, by such labeling and our purchasing of only labeled imports, manufacturing workers in both US and China would benefit.

Helping Chinese workers with their labor rights who are powerless in a country without real right to union, becomes necessary for US labors in today's world. Our government constantly pushes on behalf of US companies in China in the framework of the WTO. If the US companies have won right to operate in China, it may also be the time to allow US unions to operate in China.

When Grace Lee Boggs was asked to comment on her husband's letter to Bertrand Russell Words to the effect that “Negroes of the United States still think they are struggling for democracy, in fact, democracy is what they are struggling against…” I felt Grace, as dear as she is, missed the mark. What the quote says to me is that Negroes of the United States account for nearly 10% of the population and in a democracy the majority, the other 90%, will tend to oppress that minority. In other words, democracy does not equal equality, and in and of itself, never will accomplish that. Equality springs from respect for individuals and dignity.

sorry about the repete letter....just a beginner on this end .....may you forever be with us....bye

common workers please no longer be afraid it is of no value now.....fear is laid from the far right.....always has been.....the spirit of good is in all humans.....if they allow it to be.....fear of the unknown......only healty fear is for all.....thanks for new beginings..........

bill thanks again....after i read the book ...the perverse economy....the adam smith of 1776 and how he did not follow through .....the worker got left out of the plan.....farmworker paradox.....nixon and bush a matched set....add a cheney for topping on a already moist cake.....please always be there for the humble workers of america .....they told me in far right churches that we should not say anything because there is a war going on......i think in georges mind the war never ends....oil talks...texas biles up more green......does everybody just take care of their own groups......kind of selfish mr. bush.....preaching morals means you look like the good library i pray for tis man....seperate church and state now....propaganda to fight v. s. inviroment again ....the grand chuckle from the far right.....humans will do anything to get what they want.....another helping of humble pie please ....should i continue.....later bye bill

bill thanks again....after i read the book ...the perverse economy....the adam smith of 1776 and how he did not follow through .....the worker got left out of the plan.....farmworker paradox.....nixon and bush a matched set....add a cheney for topping on a already moist cake.....please always be there for the humble workers of america .....they told me in far right churches that we should not say anything because there is a war going on......i think in georges mind the war never ends....oil talks...texas biles up more green......does everybody just take care of their own groups......kind of selfish mr. bush.....preaching morals means you look like the good library i pray for tis man....seperate church and state now....propaganda to fight v. s. inviroment again ....the grand chuckle from the far right.....humans will do anything to get what they want.....another helping of humble pie please ....should i continue.....later bye bill

great job again bill

"That's no longer possible today, because of the ability of corporations to fly all over the place and begin setting up all this outsourcing. So, we're gonna have people are finding other ways to regain control over the way they make their living." -Grace Lee Boggs
Beginning in the Great Depression, we followed Keynes and Galbraith for thirty-five years, with progressive taxation, that ended in the greatest, most widely distributed prosperity this country has ever known. Then came Milton Friedman and the Chicago boys. In 1970, before Friedman was influential, a new Ford or Chevy cost less than $3000. T-bone steak was 89 cents per pound. A starter home cost $25000 and the standard mortgage rate was 4%. A union construction worker earned $10 to $12 per hour. One worker could support a family, own a home, have two cars and send his children to a local state university on that income. After more than 35 years of the corporatist’s perverse notion, (they believe the rich must be free to reap the profits of our work - ala Friedman) it takes two incomes to have 75% of the buying power of one in 1970. Instead of more than 50% of the population with a shot at the American Dream, less than 20% can be said to be successful. Increasingly greater debt makes the success of the dwindling number of sellouts, sycophants and wannabees more illusory than real. The freedom of the rich to coerce our service by forcing US to work for them to make them richer, or the choice to starve instead, is a pretense to reason that a perverts the concept of liberty. -- It’s interesting that the same conservatives of the freedom of the rich and their corporations to own most of the property, the government and the rest of the community, especially including US, are the first to want to abridge our civil liberties in order to protect US from the morally depraved, criminals, tyrants and terrorists . . . excluding themselves, of course.

Grace Lee Boggs is a vigorous inspiration. She speaks truth to power, and your questioning, Bill, gets at the core of the issues. Collective action is much needed in our society but we privileged first-worlders don't seem to know where to start, ironically, in spite of our education and our purse. Noam Chomsky once said that the folks in the distressed world never ask, "What can we do?"; they already know. We privileged are the ones who seem to be stymied. Perhaps by the glitz of campaigning that goes on for 2 years while nothing changes. Grace is a good example of how to move out of the limited (in so many ways) electoral paradigm into consensus activism. Her story should be in the history classrooms; perhaps they are in some. She is encourages by telling us that leadership is all of us...and lives it. Thanks for all of that. (A grateful Canadian.)

Of course Grace is right about doing small local things. But for God's sake, why is NO ONE talking about using the power of OUR purses? If we all stopped buying this crap and demanded what human beings need for a true and righteous qulity of life, the system would respond. Has everyone forgotten the days when we didn't buy Saran Wrap or grapes? Vidal is right: the Unired States of Amnesia. The power of the purse is second only to the power of a great idea. When it comes to giving unscrupulous businesses your money, take a page from old Nancy Reagan's book and just say NO. Bill, I love ya, but you seem to suffer from the same sense of powerlessness that nation suffers from; when in fact we all have enoromous power, but only if we deny our materialistic "nafs" their way. My experience has been that people don't want to hear it. They want the pill, the denial, the colorful withitness that absolves them of their complicity in the global crime. You gotta hand it to Grace. At least she tried to say her piece, as did Bly. Those edits were so obvious and truly disapponting. Come on, Bill, You're a powerful guy. Stand up for their right to say it. /Thanks.

Will a real Republican please stand up?

Now that the Democrats finally have some power, I hope the Democrats didn't actually take August off again like our "wartime" Vacationer in Chief. Bush's sloth, his treatment of the most important job in America as a sinecure, and his low mental ability to the point where he jokes he can't even speak English, are giving the Dems an opportunity. Especially now that Bush's brain, aka Turdblossom, has been excreted from the white building.

And one of these replacements is going to finally realize that doing the right thing with his newfound power is the only non-morally treasonous thing to do that won't make him go down in infamy with the rest of the Bush Fox Republican bunch.

Maybe it will be Acting Attorney General Paul Clement. He's actually an impressive guy. He's one of those guys who got into Harvard on merit, as opposed to as a legacy seeking to avoid Vietnam like our Chickenhawk in Chief. And he was on the Harvard Law Review. Okay he clerked for Scalia, but even Scalia is not corrupt. Clement excelled in private practice at K&E arguing many cases before the Supreme Court. Does Clement want to be seen as a continuation of one of the most crooked Attorney Generals in American history? There are some hopeful signs he doesn't. I'd give it even odds Clement sticks his neck out for Justice as the head of that department. That is if he has the chance before Bush can shove in another one of his lackeys.

Grace Boggs is right, we need a paradigm shift (a mutation if you wish) in our thinking - that is what mental evolution means.

I agree with her example of a garden. Growing healthy food is a small shift in one's idea about food - the care of the plant makes one have another idea about time, space and economics.

Perhaps we do not need to struggle with the power structure. Perhaps we should look carefully into the basis of that power structure and provide an alternative to it.

Instead of struggling for luxury in things, we could relax and provide another model for human existence -such as honoring relationships. It may sound simple minded but the ideas that changed the world were very simple in their basis. That is why they survived and prospered.

In a time of mass suppression, Christ simply said "all humans have a soul". That was a revolution in thinking when the vast majority of the world lived as slaves and didn't even conceive of an identity.

To try my hand at answering some of Bill’s questions to Grace Lee Boggs (she did an excellent job):

Could Martin Luther King Jr have been more radical?

He departed from organizing the Poor People’s Campaign to support the Memphis sanitation workers, an act of courage and compassion. That’s radical. He was one of the first national leaders to challenge the Vietnam War, radical for sure. And most importantly he was embarking on a struggle to close down federal government until it responded positively to the call for economic and social justice, the Poor People’s Campaign. I’m not sure how he could have been more radical. Let’s recall that he was assassinated—possibly with involvement of the US government if the Memphis trial held a decade or so ago is any indication—as a danger to the empire.

Do you see signs of a national turning, a national movement?

Definitely in the US Social Forum held this summer in Atlanta, drawing over 10,000 grassroots activists, at least 60% of them under the age of 30, a racial and economic mixture unlike anything I’ve witnessed recently. True to form, the media (including the Moyers’ Journal, as far as I know) has not given it much attention. Likewise, for other aspects of national grassroots movements. Another example: a small lay Catholic non-violence community I’m part of in central Massachusetts, Agape. We now draw many-fold more college and university age students than ever before to our retreats, workshops, gatherings, and volunteer opportunities. I suspect Agape is one small example of numerous pockets of significant change.

And finally, where are the leaders?

I’m so pleased Grace answered that essentially they are you and me, not from government and not high profile. The venerated Buddhist monk and poet, Thich Nhat Hahn, has repeatedly taught that the next Buddha will not be a single character, but instead the Buddhist community, the sangha. This speaks to the truth that what we need is not individuation but collectivization.

Thanks to Bill for plunging into tough topics. May he continue for many years. And reach an ever-widening audience.

I am young, gay, and Afro American. It isn't easy for me and so many other men of African descent and color who are part of a larger gay community that is only a microcosm of a larger society in so many prejudices that are hushed in the name of political correctness.

Mrs. Boggs review reinited my hope that I can make a difference for my brothers of color, especially to those of African descent who stereotyped and treated as second class by "the community."

With determination, even with my just being largely one lone voice in protest, at the start of a hopeful revolution and evolution into change for the better, I can hope to make a difference.

Thank you Mrs. Boggs. When I was about to give up in disillusionment, your words fed my spirit and gave me strength.

you are both, both of you...great songs!
thank you, thank you, thank you...

Thanks very much for this inspiring program! I am thankful for revisiting Rumi and so appreciate Grace Lee Boggs' comment that we are all the leaders! My immediate thought on labor is that one of the reasons I am supporting Dennis Kucinich for president is his commitment to canceling NAFTA and withdrawing from the WTO. I'm a union member and an 'environmentalist'. I believe that for both of those interests, we need new, progressive trade policies in the U.S.

Thanks again for a most invigorating program. It illustrates how we all must regain our respect for our elders. The most profound statement was right at the end of the show.

“I think we need to appropriate, embrace the idea that we are the leaders we've been looking for.”

I think I will print this out and tape it on my mirror next to another statement I read every morning.

"Take responsibility then take action, these equate to personal power."

If we want to modify this new word order of un fettered greed and power, with a return of reason, compassion, then we need to all take the lead in each our own way. Such a collective movement will change the world. God give each of us the courage to act.

Grace Lee Boggs spoke to the beginnings of a change... I have seent the same thing. This past summer in Atlanta, GA. was the first US Social Forum. There, for the first time in my life of over 30 years of activism... I witnessed exactly what Grace was talking about. Those community groups that get little to no media, came together to share and strategize under the banner, Another World Is Possible, Another US is neccesary. It was the most hopeful experience and the work continues. Bill, I hope you will consider following up with this. Thank you for Grace Lee Boggs and thank you for being a voice for what is possible.

Grace Lee Boggs' insight and wisdom is electric. There was not one atom of despair in her assessment of where we are and where we need to go, and it I began to think that there might be hope for us, even in a world without Grace Lee Boggs.
But under the barrage of distraction and cynicism we are subject to these days, it will take some effort. Thankfully, we have the example of Ms. Boggs to show us how.
Lastly, I hope to someday be posting a comment in this blog on the occasion of the interview with the 92-year-old Bill Moyers. Thanks for an inspiring show.

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