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Monday, September 05, 2016


Labor Day musings

by Tom Sullivan

Labor Day parade, marchers, New York, 1909. (Library of Congress.).

A friend said the other day that to Europe the U.S. is a laughingstock. That observation wasn't exactly authoritative, but echoes the complaints from Donald J. Trump going back at least to the Reagan era. Except where Trump insists other countries laugh at us because of weak U.S. trade and military policies, my friend meant that across the pond they cannot believe so many Americans take the know-nothing, bigoted scam artist seriously. Trump claims we're being chumps. He has set about proving it by asking us to turn the country into another Trump casino.

Are Americans that easily "insulted, taken for granted and made fools of?" the Washington Post Editorial Board asks:

Donald Trump seems to be betting that the answer is yes. How else to judge his assumption that he can be elected without sharing basic information? He has released no meaningful health records. He has put forward virtually no serious policy proposals. Unlike every other major-party nominee of the modern era, he refuses to release his tax forms.

All of these would be essential reading material from any candidate, but the need for disclosure is especially urgent from Mr. Trump. He would be the oldest president ever elected, so his medical history is relevant. Unlike Hillary Clinton and, again, every other modern major-party candidate, he has no record of service in politics or public office by which he can be judged, so his policy intentions take on added significance. He has been on so many sides of so many issues that even serious position papers at this point would have limited credibility. But they would be better than nothing.

Because his claim to the presidency is founded on his claimed success as a businessman, his tax and financial records are particularly salient. Has he really made as much money as he boasts? Has he paid taxes? Has he sheltered money in the Cayman Islands, done deals with Russian oligarchs? Who knows?
Quite a few of Trump's voters don't care so long as they can vote with their middle fingers, as a South Carolina used-car dealer put it ahead of the primary there. Just to whom they mean to give their middle fingers is unclear. Similarly, a prominent Sanders supporter here urges friends to "Vote against the oligarchy." But such pleas always recall David Crosby's: What are their names? And on what streets do they live? If the goal is to rain down fire on enemies, a little more specificity with grid coordinates might work better than just firing blindly.

A few bright spots for workers on this Labor Day.

"Accelerating wage growth is boosting workers’ purchasing power," according to the Los Angeles Times:
The falling unemployment rate has led to more competition for workers, spurring solid gains in average hourly earnings in recent months.

Those pressures, amplified by laws providing significant minimum-wage hikes in California, New York and elsewhere, also are triggering changes for the workers who need raises the most. Beginning last year, large companies such as Wal-Mart, Starbucks, McDonald’s and JPMorgan Chase increased what they pay their lowest-level employees.
Via Naked Capitalism. When the Labor Department announced in May that overtime pay protections would be extended, 12.5 million workers benefited. New rules are in place to hold accountable employers for "wage abuse, workplace discrimination, and unsafe working conditions." Graduate students may now unionize, per a recent ruling of the National Labor Relations Board. So, a few victories to celebrate this Labor Day.

Still, the Washington Post in another editorial urges more attention from the major presidential candidates to the structural issues at play for American workers, something more than a retreat from "free trade," as they describe it. But that attention should be on more than improving skills in the workforce, reforms to education, and aid to displaced workers, as the Post suggests. At Daily Kos, DarkSyde looks at "the grim world of the revolving quasi-permanent employee." He writes about the ever-disposable temp:
It's one thing for a department store to temp up during the holidays or another predictable spike in the workload lasting only a few weeks. If that’s your business model, there ought to be a better way to handle the upticks, but it’s understandable. But what's going on these days is a growing trend, all over the country, where some of the biggest, wealthiest, most successful corporations on Earth are rotating temps through 365 days a year in an obvious concerted effort to get all the benefits of a full-time, regular workforce without having to pay any full-time, regular benefits.
I resemble those remarks.

Finally, see James Fallows' visit to a tiny town in Maine where things going on on the other side of the planet affect their local economy.

Happy Labor Day.