Robert ReichBack to OpinionRobert Reich

This Labor Day, we need protests

Hunter Ribarchak, 7, rides on the Iron Workers of America's float during the annual Labor Day Parade in Pittsburgh, Pa., Monday, Sept. 1, 2008. Photo: AP Photo/John Heller

Labor Day is traditionally a time for picnics and parades. But this year is no picnic for American workers, and a protest march would be more appropriate than a parade.

Not only are 25 million unemployed or underemployed, but American companies continue to cut wages and benefits. The median wage is still dropping, adjusted for inflation. High unemployment has given employers extra bargaining leverage to wring out wage concessions.

All told, it’s been the worst decade for American workers in a century. According to Commerce Department data, private-sector wage gains over the last decade have even lagged behind wage gains during the decade of the Great Depression (4 percent over the last ten years, adjusted for inflation, versus 5 percent from 1929 to 1939).

 
Big American corporations are making more money, and creating more jobs, outside the United States than in it.
 

Big American corporations are making more money, and creating more jobs, outside the United States than in it. If corporations are people, as the Supreme Court’s twisted logic now insists, most of the big ones headquartered here are rapidly losing their American identity.

CEO pay, meanwhile, has soared. The median value of salaries, bonuses and long-term incentive awards for CEOs at 350 big American companies surged 11 percent last year to $9.3 million (according to a study of proxy statements conducted for The Wall Street Journal by the management consultancy Hay Group.). Bonuses have surged 19.7 percent.

This doesn’t even include all those stock options rewarded to CEOs at rock-bottom prices in 2008 and 2009. Stock prices have ballooned since then, the current downdraft notwithstanding. In March, 2009, for example, Ford CEO Alan Mulally received a grant of options and restricted shares worth an estimated $16 million at the time. But Ford is now showing large profits – in part because the UAW agreed to allow Ford to give its new hires roughly half the wages of older Ford workers – and its share prices have responded. Mulally’s 2009 grant is now worth over $200 million.

The ratio of corporate profits to wages is now higher than at any time since just before the Great Depression.

 
The ratio of corporate profits to wages is now higher than at any time since just before the Great Depression.
 

Meanwhile, the American economy has all but stopped growing – in large part because consumers (whose spending is 70 percent of GDP) are also workers whose jobs and wages are under assault.

Perhaps there would still be something to celebrate on Labor Day if government was coming to the rescue. But Washington is paralyzed, the president seems unwilling or unable to take on labor-bashing Republicans, and several Republican governors are mounting direct assaults on organized labor (see Indiana, Ohio, Maine and Wisconsin, for example).

So let’s bag the picnics and parades this Labor Day. American workers should march in protest. They’re getting the worst deal they’ve had since before Labor Day was invented – and the economy is suffering as a result.

Published by arrangement with RobertReich.org.

Robert Reich is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written 11 books (including his most recent, “Supercapitalism,” which is now out in paperback).

 

Comments

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Carvin/100001033684440 Andrew Carvin

    Artificial Scarcity occurs when the supply of X is controlled to make it scarce on purpose when the reality is that the supply of X is virtually unlimited. This is usually done to make X worth more than it really is, and thus increase profits for those who are the purveyors of X.

    The easiest example of this is food. Every year millions of tons of food end up in landfills because the stores that bought it were not able to sell it. They rather throw it away to keep food scarce/expensive than give the food to those who need it for free. By doing so they create an artificial scarcity of food.

    The largest example of artificial scarcity is the supply of money. Money is nothing more than metal/paper with fancy pictures on it, and has no intrinsic value accept what we give it. If we are experiencing financial problems we should either print more, or throw the entire concept of money in the garbage. 

    How morally bereft do you have to be to openly advocate the needless suffering/deaths of millions of people over the artificial scarcity of metal/paper with fancy pictures on it?

    You cannot rely on private business to take care of society. 

    Private business is not for the people by the people. Private business is for the money by the company. Private business will take your money, and give you nothing in return whenever they can get away with it. See private health care for examples.

    Huge government is great because as long as it is run properly it protects the people it represents from private business that will murder them for their money if they can get away with it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Carvin/100001033684440 Andrew Carvin

    Artificial Scarcity occurs when the supply of X is controlled to make it scarce on purpose when the reality is that the supply of X is virtually unlimited. This is usually done to make X worth more than it really is, and thus increase profits for those who are the purveyors of X.

    The easiest example of this is food. Every year millions of tons of food end up in landfills because the stores that bought it were not able to sell it. They rather throw it away to keep food scarce/expensive than give the food to those who need it for free. By doing so they create an artificial scarcity of food.

    The largest example of artificial scarcity is the supply of money. Money is nothing more than metal/paper with fancy pictures on it, and has no intrinsic value accept what we give it. If we are experiencing financial problems we should either print more, or throw the entire concept of money in the garbage. 

    How morally bereft do you have to be to openly advocate the needless suffering/deaths of millions of people over the artificial scarcity of metal/paper with fancy pictures on it?

    You cannot rely on private business to take care of society. 

    Private business is not for the people by the people. Private business is for the money by the company. Private business will take your money, and give you nothing in return whenever they can get away with it. See private health care for examples.

    Huge government is great because as long as it is run properly it protects the people it represents from private business that will murder them for their money if they can get away with it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Carvin/100001033684440 Andrew Carvin

    Unemployment will continue to grow as the job pyramid shrinks.

    People with no income cannot buy stuff because they have no money.

    The economy will die because people can’t buy anything.

    Rich people will end up broke because their money/investments will be worthless after the economy dies.

    Stop believing the lies of greedy stupid people. Giving more money to the rich will NOT solve Americas problems. It will just make things even worse.

    People who are on government assistance are not losers. I don’t know what kind of over privileged distorted reality you live in, but it obviously has no basis in this reality. The “losers” as you so kindly put it are made up of people whom circumstance has dealt a bad hand.

    These days all it takes is one natural disaster, one accident, one hospital bill, one bounced check, one anything happening to a family struggling to get by to end up as one of the people you so heartlessly label as being a “loser.”

    I really hope you have the opportunity to become a victim of your own narrow mindset someday soon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-Carvin/100001033684440 Andrew Carvin

    Unemployment will continue to grow as the job pyramid shrinks.

    People with no income cannot buy stuff because they have no money.

    The economy will die because people can’t buy anything.

    Rich people will end up broke because their money/investments will be worthless after the economy dies.

    Stop believing the lies of greedy stupid people. Giving more money to the rich will NOT solve Americas problems. It will just make things even worse.

    People who are on government assistance are not losers. I don’t know what kind of over privileged distorted reality you live in, but it obviously has no basis in this reality. The “losers” as you so kindly put it are made up of people whom circumstance has dealt a bad hand.

    These days all it takes is one natural disaster, one accident, one hospital bill, one bounced check, one anything happening to a family struggling to get by to end up as one of the people you so heartlessly label as being a “loser.”

    I really hope you have the opportunity to become a victim of your own narrow mindset someday soon.

  • Anonymous

    Well it’s not on Labor day but there’s this: http://www.usdayofrage.org/

  • guest

    “Big American corporations are making more money, and creating more jobs, outside the United States than in it”? The so-called Call Centers by the Commercial Banks, AOL, Airline Industry, and other Mortgage Firms go outside USA due to cheap Labor and the Time Difference. Unfortunately even the Medical Billing and Tax Returns are prepared outside the United States, and not by Medical Billing
    Technicians nor CPA Firms from here. That shows our Corporate America is not willing to spend money or create jobs in this country. That is why we see a higher unemployment rate in this country.

  • guest

    Just by talking about Labor Day is not going to solve the unemployment problem here We need to create jobs in the first place rather than talking about it.
    That is a real Labor Day. Unfortunately nothing concrete is happening in the City of Los Angeles. If at all anything happens, it is very minimal – like a flash on news headlines and does not have any dramatic impact on the economy..

  • guestmc

    How does the Protest or Strike change the Economy?
    There are many issues with this economy as a whole. The Unemployment Rate remained stagnant in August That means No New Jobs have been created.
    How could anyone possibly create something out of a vacuum? We have problems everywhere from banks, mortgages, healthcare firms, hospitals, etc…
    The list goes on and on, on ….There is no One Size fits ALL solution.
    Deregulation might help. Private Enterprises do not create or manufacture anything in this country. We must take a hard look at the current economy and adopt different methods.

  • Gerry

    Gerry Collen There’s
    not many of us Union folks left. Were getting spread pretty thin.We are
    having our battles as usual & that always takes our time.. Not much
    time for a picnic. Most American workers are being worked to death in
    fear they may lose there job if they complain. We need your support to
    survive. Unions went from 30 plus percent of the american workers to 6 %
    today. Our demise is there goal. Been that way for 125 years. — Happy
    Labor Day.Gerry Collen 3rd generation ILWU Union Man.

  • Gerry

    Gerry Collen There’s
    not many of us Union folks left. Were getting spread pretty thin.We are
    having our battles as usual & that always takes our time.. Not much
    time for a picnic. Most American workers are being worked to death in
    fear they may lose there job if they complain. We need your support to
    survive. Unions went from 30 plus percent of the american workers to 6 %
    today. Our demise is there goal. Been that way for 125 years. — Happy
    Labor Day.Gerry Collen 3rd generation ILWU Union Man.

  • Hloveless2001

    Self-preservation is the first law of nature. (Samuel Butler) One would think that this quote by Samuel Butler is obvious, instinctual even – but is it?
    Did you happen to catch a recent episode of Survivor? They are down to
    6. Three are “firmly aligned” and are considered to be the ‘power
    alliance’. The other three are on the chopping block, one after another.
    They know this. Jeff reminds them of
    this. All three of the weak agree that it would make sense to vote out
    the one power broker that does not have immunity. Yet two of the three
    weaker players voted to eliminate one of their own instead. Why
    do people vote against their own best self interest? What goes on
    inside the minds of folks like this? Is the desire to be accepted
    stronger than the survival instinct? Is it the hope of becoming one of
    the elite if they vote with the elite? Is it the “sheeple effect”,
    following the loudest (therefore authority?) voice? 80% of
    American households have had virtually no economic gains in the past
    thirty years. The top 20% have seen a meager increase. The top 1%? They
    have seen their annual income grow from about a half million dollars per
    year to nearly 2 million dollars per year. Yup, their income has grown
    4x in 30 years. Has yours? The national debt, as a percentage
    of GDP, declined during the Eisenhower years, the Kennedy years, the
    Johnson year and, the Carter years. The Reagan and Bush I years pushed
    the debt to a point where the government was paying an extra $300
    million/day in interest payments. Clinton brought the debt curve back
    down (and would have done it even faster without that $300 million/day
    interest cost!). Bush II managed to put us ‘into the red’ at an
    unbelievable rate, leading us to where we are today. Our
    current economic crisis has been blamed on Wall Street bankers, too much
    government regulation, not enough government regulation, too many
    taxes, not enough taxes, corrupt politicians, too much pork, not enough
    earmarks….but the historical facts show us that the Republican
    policies of trickle down economics, the policies of making the rich
    richer so the middle class can also thrive, just don’t work. Each
    presidential cycle of Republican leadership has widened the gap between
    the have and have-nots. Each Republican leader has encouraged economic
    principles that virtually guarantee the eventual destruction of the
    middle class. So, what does the middle class do, in 2010, when they
    see that they are losing ground? Vote Republican! Because somehow, the
    tea baggers and the extreme right have convinced the sheeple that the
    reason for the current blight is because of the current administrations
    efforts to clean up the mess caused by the bankers and by the previous
    administration. Somehow the super rich have managed to convince the 98%
    of the rest of us, that by allowing the tax breaks that the elite 2%
    have been enjoying the last couple of years to expire, that our entire
    economic system will collapse. That by trying to even the playing field,
    re-establishing a solid footing for the majority of Americans, we will
    be slipping into a Soviet like socialist state. They have convinced most
    of America that it is in their best interest to vote against their own
    self interest. Amazing. And I thought all the idiots were on reality TV.
    “Many have dreamed up republics and principalities that have never in
    truth been known to exist; the gulf between how one should live and how
    one does live is so wide that a man who neglects what is actually done
    for what should be done learns the way to self-destruction rather than
    self-preservation.” (Niccolo Machiavelli).

  • NoN-Victim

    You are the only victim here

  • NoN-Viktim

    So you are a drug dealer, that makes you an expert?

  • IgotThis

    There are plenty of Jobs but no pay for them. Quit war-monging and we could use that money to pay down the deficit and rebuild the country’s infrastructure   

  • I Got This

    Cause you chumps want to get paid like ballers. You ain’t all that chump. You got no skilz so you get the low-ball jack. Deal wit it

  • Trehalia

    Normally there are penalties for basic ignorance,  and I imagine that the previous commenters will one day face such penalties, unless they teach, are a member of a union, or work in government. 

  • Tw07

    If I could change one thing right now that I think would make the biggest difference it would be the following: public financing of elections. The Supreme Court has done incredible damage to the country by equating money with speech. By that logic it would certainly seem that the more money one has the louder one’s voice and thus, the more influence they have. If that’s the case, then this is no longer a democracy.