Review: State of the Unions–How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve Our Economy, and Regain Political Influence

5 Star, Capitalism (Good & Bad), Civil Society, Democracy, Future
State Unions
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Possibly the Most Important Book to America's Future, March 23, 2008

Philip Dine

I chanced upon this book at an airport bookstore, and after a long flight and several more hours at home with it, have put it down with an enormous sense of the righteous and epochal importance of this work. I have not trimmed my review to 1000 words because of the importance of this book, and the removal of the 1000 word limit from Amazon's current guidelines. This is IMPORTANT!

In the introduction to the book, Congressman Gephardt laments that union membership is down to 8% from 35%, for two reasons: good employers whose workers do not feel the need to unionize, and intimidation by bad employers who will stop at nothing to squelch any attempt to unionize.

He emphasizes the direct relationship between the health of the unions and the health of America's economy and its linch-pin middle class.

He is most provocative in suggesting that unions can and should displace employers as the providers of life-long benefits.

He concludes the introduction by lamenting the reality that employers pursue micro-profits instead of macro-benefits, and points out that in the absence of rules of law and fair trade, globalization will inevitably push the USA to labor conditions akin to those of the lowest common denominator–a return to sweatshops, no benefits, and despair across the land.

The book itself is phenomenal. The author, a very rare journalist who not only cares about labor issues but has also won the trust of labor leaders, has written what is in my mind the single most important book relevant to how every American should perceive the 2008 election. No candidate is serious about labor at this time. Our job is to change that, and to help labor, notably the AFL-CIO and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), change that by putting labor issues in the forefront of the economic discussion. John McCain, featured in the DVD Why We Fight, condones the impoverishment of regions to stimulate enlistments in the military-industrial complex of which he is a tacit leader. Hillary Clinton does not now and never will understand the working class–she set the standard for “bitch in residence” in the White House, according to my secret service colleagues, and she is as elitist and arrogant as it gets. Barack Obama remains surrounded by advisors who do not have a clue about Generation Y, collective intelligence, or how to create a holistic strategy that can address the ten threats with the twelve policies while helping the eight challengers avoid our self-induced The Fifty-Year Wound: How America's Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World, the loss of the The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism and the rise of the two political parties that are a form of organized crime and Running On Empty: How The Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It. It is in this context that I am simply blown away by extremely balanced, well-told, important review by a journalist uniquely qualified to provide us with a book-length review of where labor has failed, where labor shows promise, and how labor is America's bottom line: as he concludes the book, Labor defines who we are as a people.

+ Labor has unraveled, which harms America and its economy because Labor is historically the only force apart from honest religions and selected civil society elements that truly represents the moral imperatives of both social value and economic value. Decades of progress have been rolled back by Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II. Clinton in particular sold out Labor with NAFTA and the ease with which he allowed corporations to export entire programs to sweatshop countries at the same time that he reduced barriers to the dumping of both cheap and unsafe toys and other products whose “true cost” has not been properly calculated or presented.

+ Middle class, professionals, and women are going bankrupt, along with skilled blue collar workers, because the balance of power among labor, business, and government is gone–business rules.

+ 53% of Americans favor unionization.

+ Reagan's dismissal of the air traffic controllers was the signal act that destroyed decades of labor progress, and unleashed illegal, unethical, and unconscionable business repression of unions.

+ Service jobs are difficult to unionize because of high turnover, transient elements, low pay, high proportion of immigrants that can be intimidates, PLUS a lack of government penalties against business violators.

+ The above, combined with the government's enthusiastic support for exporting jobs, and poor labor leadership, have creating a sucking chest wound in the American economy. It could yet be fatal.

+ The author excels at recounting labor successes that have not been covered by the mainstream media, and he manages to do this in a way that is inspiring, objective, and not at all preachy or pontifical.

+ I am deeply moved by his account of how the IAFF, two lights down from my own office, used five methods to win Iowa for John Kerry:

– Turned out the residents (each bringing five citizens to caucuses)
– Used local presence EVERYWHERE to carry caucuses ignored by the other candidates
– Able to use local knowledge to recruit those whose candidates failed to pass the viability test
– Never gave up in darkest of times
– High public credibility and visibility

+ I am reminded that “Change to Win” started in 2005, John Kerry and his boffo haircut just could not communicate the need properly.

+ The author explains how Kerry earned fire fighter love and respect in his turning around mid-way to Asia to come back to a major fire that killed numerous fire fighters in his state, and then worked aggressively to pass fire fighter equipment and safety laws.

+ There is no other union that has a firehouse, fire trucks, uniformed personnel that are unarmed, and is able to sponsor chili feeds at the firehouses while handing out leaflets in uniform on every street corner, doing retail politics to all non-union voters.

+ Having set the stage with successes, the author then moves into a very important middle ground in which he anticipates the continued decline of labor (and of the American economy) unless labor can reassert its influence on the national agenda.

+ He is critical of labor for focusing only on “get out the vote” and not on putting its issues–all of which have moral authority–into the national dialog.

+ He points out that labor spent close to $100 million in the 2004 election across 32 states, and was a key factor in the democrats taking back both Houses of Congress.

+ He is forceful in discussing how the Republicans have made “cultural values” a smokescreen within which individuals vote for candidates that are inherently bad for the public wallet and public benefits. I have a note, “religion and ‘values' have trumped facts and consequences.”

+ He damns both parties: the Republicans for trying to eliminate minimum wage rights in the aftermath of Katrina, and the Democrats for taking labor for granted.

+ He says that the debate has not taken place regarding:

– deindustrialization of America
– dumping of unsafe and cheap products into our marketplace
– local impact of globalization (and of course Wal-Mart as a cancer)
– toll on families of reduced benefits

+ He is articulate in pointing out that labor must work at two levels:

– at a national level, constant forceful attention to legislation, regulation, and the filling of oversight posts
– locally on compliance and alerts

+ The author slams the Democrats for barely winning on the basis of Republican mistakes, while being completely lacking in any strategy, message, or coherent program of their own.

+ He is devastatingly effective in evaluating the failure of labor leaders to communicate to the public that wages are at the lowest point in history as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while profits are at the highest point ever in history as a percentage of the GDP.

+ He is eloquent in pointing out that most Americans have forgotten (or never learned) that strong labor equates to the greatest prosperity for the greatest number.

+ He recommends these two books as antecedent works:

Hostile Takeover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government–And How We Take It Back
What's the Matter with Kansas? : How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

I would add The Working Poor: Invisible in America and Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor

+ He documents how labor has failed to impact on trade agreements, the migrations of good jobs with benefits to overseas sweatshops, and the loss of entire segments of community economics.

+ The author describes a wide range of illegal and unethical business practices that repress unionization, while also describing the ineptness of the government, with the National Labor Review Board taking an average of 889 days to make a ruling–that is almost three years and in my mind is an ATROCITY.

+ Illegal firings that we know of amounted to 31,358 in 2005. Business enjoys a “culture of impunity” fueled by loopholes, ease of long delays, and feeble enforcement.

+ Labor hurt itself with its own repression in earlier decades of dissent, and its compulsion to demand strict obedience for a unified front (at the same time that businesses had similar practices)

+ The author believes that the country hungers for a renaissance of labor and its community-oriented values and benefits. I hope so, but right now, not a single candidate has a clue how to jump into this with both feet, a heart, and a brain.

+ I am totally inspired by this author, and have a note to myself: firefighters, cops, teachers, ambulance drivers and nurses: public servants driving public policy and benefits.

+ The author is sympathetic but very critical of labor's refusal to engage with most journalists, and he provides a superb overview of how badly labor deals with media and how badly media ignores labor issues that are fundamental.

+ He is most impressive in giving modern labor a relatively clean “bill of health” with most mafia connections and most strong-arm bosses now giving way to the empowerment of individual union members, open elections, and greater accountability.

+ He calls on labor to humanize, regionalize, and think big.

+ Labor should tell the story of its role in East European democratization and carry that creative role to the Second World.

+ Labor should compare and publicize the grotesque profits and compensation packages of industry, with those of the workers on whose backs those profits are unjustly earned.

I put this book down with a sense of wonder, a hard-eyed sense of the possibilities, and a very strong conviction that this author and this book have nailed the future of America as a Republic: Labor can be the king-maker at the national and state levels in 2008, and I pray that Labor will first learn the difference between transpartisan and bi-partisan (code for preserving the two party spoils system, something both McCain and Clinton absolutely want).

In that vein, I imagined a month national “open house” across police stations, fire stations, hospitals, and schools, in which Video-Teleconferencing was used to sponsor a national town-hall meeting to consider the ten threats and twelve policies, to elect a People's Cabinet, and perhaps funded by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation under the leadership of David Walker (former Comptroller General who told Congress USA is insolvent and quit when they would not act responsibly), a Public Budget Office capable of producing a balanced budget by 4 July 2008, and demanding that each candidate do the same (both appoint a Cabinet and produce a balanced budget for online examination before November 2008).

The author, in my opinion, is long overdue for recognition and promotion as the voice of labor, serving a new virtual Labor Congress that sets aside the fiefdoms and irrationality of the labor archipelago, and speaks to America with one voice and one practical agenda to restore America the Beautiful.

See also:
Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace

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