Tag Archives: William A. Collins

The War on Labor

Wages are falling, good jobs are vanishing, and fewer Americans have health insurance, pensions, or full-time jobs.

William A. CollinsBy William A. Collins

 Bashing unions
 Makes me quake;
 We’ve all got
 A lot at stake.

Here in investor-laden Connecticut, labor scored a rare coup this year. We became the first state to require most service-sector employers to provide paid sick leave.

Sure, all governments and most big companies already offer this basic benefit, as it’s simply the civilized thing to do. Unfortunately in America, civilization is fading fast.

This decay is no accident. It’s a campaign with a long history. While most of the world, including Native Americans, developed over the millennia into community-based cultures, the United States was different. We were a remote outlet for individualism, enterprise, and greed. Escape from stultifying Old World community standards lay on our shores.

Thus as Europe, and even parts of Asia, painfully developed societal responses to industrialization and technology, America lagged. We’re entrepreneurs, by God! Anything goes! Survival of the fittest!

Of course we eventually discovered the limits of rampant individualism. The Great Depression and World War II forced us at last into more communal action. Government regulation expanded and unions blossomed, and with this assistance millions clawed their way up to the middle class. The 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s were America’s economic heyday.

But since then, our true rugged-individual identity has gradually reemerged from beneath those thin layers of communal solidarity. We again don’t want others telling us what to do, be they governments, unions, or other nations.

And so as a community we’ve largely failed to respond as banks have regained their dominance, as big business has gained control of our press, as wealthy individuals have captured government policy, as jobs have been shifted overseas, as war has become an instrument of national policy, or lately, as the Supreme Court has given corporations unfettered permission to influence elections.

Even now, there’s precious little outrage as several Republican-dominated state governments try to restrict collective bargaining, as famously anti-union Walmart becomes a national icon, as Boeing moves production from union-friendly Seattle to “right-to-work” South Carolina, or as Gov. Jerry Brown, of all people, vetoes a farmworker bill in California.

Yes, the current flap over public unions has to a significant degree been labor’s own doing. It has often used its commanding bargaining position to extract health care and retirement provisions that average citizens can only look upon jealously. Not smart. Such overreaching not only gives anti-labor politicians cover to destroy public unions altogether, and it also emboldens opportunistic business leaders to parlay that hostile climate into assaults on private-sector unions.

The overall result of this war on labor is lower wages for all, the disappearance of good jobs, an unyieldingly high unemployment rate, skyrocketing corporate profits, and more Americans without health insurance, a pension, or a full-time job.

And even if you have a decent job today, it doesn’t mean you’re not painfully affected already, or that you won’t be let go tomorrow.

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The Defense Industry Threatens America’s Economy

The military-industrial complex is driving America to the poorhouse.

William A. CollinsBy William A. Collins

Weapons are
Our biggest threat;
For falling deeper
Into debt.

India has the military-industrial complex all figured out. So does Saudi Arabia. Neither of them has one. Who needs to build weapons when you can simply buy them at a discount elsewhere? Not that anyone really needs so many weapons anyway, but it’s still a lot cheaper to tap the competitive arms market for a few specific items than to build a massive infrastructure to keep churning out whole arsenals for yourself.

So God bless the Indians and the Saudis. They’re smarter than we. We can’t stop cranking out aircraft carriers, submarines, destroyers, bombers, tanks, aerial refuelers, phosphorous bombs, nuclear devices, rockets, and other must-have military consumer goods that are driving us to the poorhouse. It’s a lot like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. We don’t know how to stop.

Up until now this was not a big worry. Weapons manufacturers have historically pulled a lot of strings in Congress, and there are usually plenty of votes that can be traded to protect every state’s pet products. But now signs of nervousness are showing up at the edges of the debate. Those crazy Republicans brought the nation to the edge of default. No one thinks the GOP gives a fig about either default or excessive military spending, but in their posturing Republican lawmakers may have unleashed something they can’t control.

Similar fallout is already apparent in Europe. Britain is considering selling an old aircraft carrier to business interests in China to reduce its military spending. What? Empires just don’t do that. Well, they do when their currency is at stake, and U.S. arms merchants can feel the chill way over here. In fact we may already be too late to sell off our wares. Can any nation afford an aircraft carrier today? Maybe Goldman Sachs will foreclose on one.

France is breaking new water too. It’s building some giant new assault ships for Russia. Russia? Our Cold War enemy? Our friends in Georgia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia think so anyway, and they are not pleased. To them, France is trading with the enemy. But maybe that is what you have to do when your military industry is in the tank and jobs are at stake.

In this country jobs are important too, but what’s really at stake are profits. It isn’t the unions who are paying those regiments of lobbyists swirling around Capitol Hill pressing for new weapons. It’s the bosses. United Technologies CEO Louis R. Chenevert, a hotshot in my home state of Connecticut, made $24 million last year. For a paycheck like that I’d mount a lobbying campaign too.

Connecticut newspapers do carry articles about the ever-rising military budget and the lack of tax revenue growth to pay for it. But their coverage of the military appropriations process often only discusses how our state will benefit if Washington will just agree to fund another submarine and 20 more fighters to be built here.

It’s this military fantasy that is bringing our country to its knees. The United States isn’t scared as much as it is greedy. We love the defense industry’s tasty profits and jobs when they’re local, but America can’t afford this nonsense any more.

In the end this is one reason empires eventually fall. They come to believe they are invincible and that because they are “exceptional,” the realities of finance and justice no longer apply to them.

See you at the food pantry.

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Filed under Human Rights, Politics, WAR

Enough Free Trade Nonsense

A limitless world of sweatshops isn’t good for anyone.

William A. Collins    By William A. Collins

  Trade sets Wall Street’s
  Heart throb;
  While it robs me
  Of my job.

Does it matter that no cell phones are made in America? Or scarcely any solar panels? Or that 91 percent of Walmart’s goods come from China? Should we care that our sundry free trade agreements have caused so many of those spiffy products on our shelves to be produced in the world’s grimmest sweatshops?

Maybe not. As the world’s capitalist bulwark we benefit more than most from the resultant cheap prices.

But it turns out that free trade causes a couple problems for us too. One is jobs. They’re gone. This isn’t surprising since we don’t make stuff here anymore. With 9 percent unemployed and another 9 percent underemployed or dropped out, who’s left with money to buy things? Even Walmart is now shifting its focus to overseas markets since our middle class is shrinking so. Median family income is plummeting.

Then there’s the debt. Every month we buy shiploads more stuff from others than they buy from us. Thus our foreign debt piles up faster than nuclear waste.

The only way we can avoid disaster is to stop buying, but that annoys the mostly American corporations who profit from it. They manufacture or subcontract those goods abroad but wield great influence over the government and politicians at home. Thus we watch in awe as President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner propose still more free trade agreements that will make it even more profitable to produce abroad and export back to the U.S. market, tariff-free.

America’s subservient flat-earth economists don’t mind that at all. They visualize all those abused sweatshop workers growing up into consumers one day and buying foreign-made (but U.S.-owned) products wherever they happen to be. Other economists understand the horror of those workplaces and fail to envision those workers ever becoming real consumers.Creative Commons image by Marissa Orton.

No doubt time will produce some of each, but in any case few new jobs will accrue to the United States. That damage is already well advanced. Anyone who has traveled to the Eurozone lately will confirm that the dollar isn’t worth much anymore. This plunge will accelerate as Republican lawmakers play games with our national debt ceiling. It just takes one black mark from a rating agency and you can kiss your dreams of a trip to Europe goodbye.

What America really needs today is a good old-fashioned trade war. Give the required six months notice, withdraw from NAFTA, DR-CAFTA, and the WTO, and start over. International trade agreements are meant to benefit corporations, not workers. And if you think such treaties are bad for people here, well for poorer countries they’re worse.

A good healthy trade war would dramatize the issue and haul our present trade cabals out of the back room where American negotiators are not fit to be trusted.

Already they have agreed to allow corporations to bypass national court systems and sue governments in international tribunals over local environmental, labor, and zoning laws that may hurt their profits. Citizens have suffered under these rulings. Corporations, though, have made out like bandits. Our political leaders may thrive on America’s mindless shooting wars, but trade wars are needed now to save the country.

Columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.


Filed under Human Rights, NEWS, Opinion, Politics