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The State of Labor

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During his interview with Bill Moyers, Robert Kuttner said that "this time there is no social movement." It is true that one has emerged in the tea parties, but that one isn't helping. With dejection setting in on the progressive side, there is only one candidate abroad that might yield the necessary foot soldiers for a progressive social movement, and that is labor. This is certain to happen sooner or later because the plight of labor in the US will only increase until the drive for collective action finally asserts itself.

Even if everything along the lines of a more activist labor movement happens as one might wish, it would be a while before the tenor of Washington reflected the change. Perhaps Labor could take a cue from the privatization message on the other side, and begin to solve its own problems well before then.

Here are some thoughts about how that might go: With the failure of card check even in a Democratic Congress, there is still the possibility of forming an over-arching labor organization that rises above specific industries and occupations to pursue the common interest of all of labor---unionized or not. Such an organization could attract members even from companies not yet organized, and thus provide the framework for the informal appraisal of organizing initiatives. The hope is that it would also attract people who would never see themselves as union members, but who recognize a shared interest in the welfare of the American worker.

Is there a sufficient common interest to draw all of labor into such an organization? Increasingly, there is. We are all victimized by the usury being perpetrated by the financial institutions, and even a Democratic Congress was unable to place a lid on credit card interest rates. We are all victimized by insurance company policies that promise more than they deliver. We are all victimized by predatory capital. In each of these areas, the individual is in a very asymmetric power relationship. A more powerful intermediary could help to redress the balance.

A national labor organization could contract with a bank or credit card company for special terms for its members. With the advantage of scale, the organization could even back-stop some of the credit risk, and thus arrange for much more modest (and bounded) interest rates. A national labor organization could have a significant impact on health insurance policies. By offering wellness programs to its members, more favorable insurance rates could be negotiated. More specifically, the organization could contract for a combination of health insurance with life insurance, so that for the first time the physical well-being of the client is aligned with the financial well-being of the insurance company.

An over-arching national labor organization can expect to have more impact on how pension funds invest their resources. The interests of American labor should be on the table in those decisions. A labor organization of national scale can also expect to have more clout internationally, working against the predatory exploitation of foreign labor, of lax environmental laws, and of the general lack of regulatory controls in developing countries. Globalization of our economic activities means that labor also must have a trans-national perspective.

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A labor organization that rises above the more parochial interests of its constituent members will have a better chance of being heard, and it will get a more favorable hearing when that happens. In consequence, a national organization will have a lot more clout in Washington than the organizations that exist presently. The non-governmental initiatives undertaken by labor will serve as guideposts for legislation to follow. Nothing says what we have become in this country quite as well as the observation that the term "usury" has become legally inoperative.

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Siegfried Othmer is a physicist who over the last 28 years has been engaged with neurofeedback as a technique for the rehabilitation and enhancement of brain function. He is Chief Scientist at the EEG Institute in Los Angeles.

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The stand-off in Washington means that increasingl... by Siegfried Othmer on Monday, Sep 6, 2010 at 8:04:02 PM
If any such organization is to be good for working... by Laura Stein on Sunday, Sep 19, 2010 at 8:29:14 PM