Labor Day 2016: War plans

The Pentagon [by mindfrieze (CC BY-SA X.X)]

The Pentagon [by mindfrieze (CC BY-SA X.X)]

Okay, folks, I’m deliberately being provocative with this title.

In November 2014, I wrote a piece, “What can military planning teach us about creating transformative change?” Here was my lede:

Can an understanding of military strategy and tactics yield important lessons for achieving social change? With America’s Veterans’ Day upon us tomorrow, I thought I might acknowledge some of those lessons.

Yup, I know, some readers may wonder why a civilian with liberal politics (uh, that’s me) is looking to the military in this way. But I’m also a devoted amateur student of history, I have a lot of respect for many of those who serve in the military, and I believe that we have much to learn from the best military leaders.

I went on to share how these lessons can inform planning for positive social change:

Plant the seeds for future success now, even if that success seems far away

During the early years of the Second World War, Hitler was running rampant over Europe and the Japanese were doing the same in the Pacific. The Allies were losing the war on just about all fronts. Nevertheless, their leaders assessed what needed to be done, and they developed rough timelines for achieving their goals. Among other things, Churchill and Roosevelt made the critical decision to defeat Germany first, then beat the Japanese.

Lesson: At times, changing things for the better seems like an insurmountable obstacle. If your assessment of a situation indicates that major change will require many steps and stages, plan out the order in which things should be done and go from there.

Avoid tunnel vision: Plan using parallel tracks

Sound military strategy usually involves a multifaceted approach toward achieving goals. For example, those planning the D-Day landings in France needed to think about personnel, equipment, geography, weather, communications, and a host of other logistics and contingencies. Take the “simple” question of building landing craft to reach the beaches: Someone had to develop proper designs, the factories had to start mass producing them, and the boats had to be shipped to England. All of those plans had to be in the making well before the June 6, 1944 landings.

Lesson: Most significant social change goals also require parallel tracks of planning. Making the world a better place typically involves multiple stakeholders, actions, and timelines. Understanding how those dots connect is vital toward achieving success.

Be passionate about your goals, but plan and evaluate dispassionately

The stakes in warfare could hardly be greater. But when it comes to military planning, the best leaders don’t let their emotions carry them into making bad choices. They stay focused yet appropriately flexible, with a constant eye on their endgame.

Lesson: Change agents are similarly urged to disentangle their passion for a cause from the cool planning and evaluation needed to create transformation. This is not easy. The more invested we are in addressing injustice or a societal challenge, the harder it can be to advocate effectively. May our hearts continue to fuel our passions, with our actions guided by our heads.

Learn from mistakes, even (especially!) gruesome ones

If you study the biographies of great military leaders, you will see that many of them made fairly big mistakes and experienced setbacks on the way to their signature successes. They learned from their mistakes and stayed determined to succeed.

Lesson: There’s no substitute for experience and the capacity for continued growth. This includes the lessons we learn from our miscues.

Sometimes you compromise, and sometimes you fight

Not every situation in life can be a “win-win,” and armed conflict is a prime example. At times, negotiation, compromise, and settlement are the right thing to do. On other occasions, one must press on to overcome the enemy. Hitler is an easy case of an enemy who had to be stopped completely, but there are countless other situations more complicated than that. The Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, offers valuable lessons about how military force, diplomacy, and compromise combined to narrowly avert a nuclear catastrophe.

Lesson: This dilemma applies to nearly every attempt to engage in meaningful change. When do you broker an agreement, when do you go for it all, and when do you back off? A capacity for understanding the bigger picture helps us to make smart choices in this regard.

Be gracious and humane in victory

Wise wartime victors know that treating a vanquished foe with dignity is the right thing to do, both morally and out of self-interest. In the aftermath of the First World War, the victorious Allies set out to punish Germany, imposing humiliating conditions of surrender. They stoked the destruction of the German economy and planted the seeds for Hitler’s rise to power. After the Second World War, however, the Allies realized their mistake and imposed conditions upon Germany and Japan that promoted renewed relations with those nations and the rebuilding of their economic and social structures.

Lesson: In social change efforts, too, good victors don’t attempt to humiliate their opponents. Such mistreatment likely fuels cycles of anger, resentment, and aggression.

Envision something better

As the tides of the Second World War turned, the Allied nations began planning the United Nations. Today, the U.N. is far from being a perfect world organization, but it plays an important role in brokering diplomatic outreach and humanitarian efforts.

Lesson: As your social change goals near a milestone victory, think hard about how that success can lead to more lasting, positive transformations. What comes next?

Let’s apply these lessons to advocacy for dignity at work

Yup, I understand that references to war planning may make some folks uncomfortable. But I’ll stick to my point: We can learn a lot from military strategists and tacticians when it comes to organizing for change.

And that includes advocacy for workplace dignity.

Right now, those who want to aggrandize their money and power have the strong upper hand over those who want a society grounded in fairness, kindness, and human dignity. Too many of our workplaces reflect and advance these dynamics. Good, steady jobs with decent pay and benefits continue to diminish. Wide pay disparities remain. The relational and emotional dynamics of work continue to subject way too many workers to bullying, harassment, and incivility. In the meantime, labor unions continue to be under siege and are treated as “special interests” rather than bulwarks of a civil society.

In other words, we’ve got our work cut out for us. We need to do a better job of planning our way back, and we could do worse than to draw lessons from those who have dealt with conflict involving some of the highest stakes imaginable.

Bully Nation: How economic power and inequality are fueling a bullying culture

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Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society (2016) by sociologists Charles Derber (Boston College) and Yale R. Magrass (UMass-Dartmouth) takes a “big picture” look at how the economic Powers That Be have fueled a deeper, broader culture of bullying behaviors. Here’s part of an excerpt published on AlterNet

Any economic or social system based on power inequality creates potential or latent bullying that often translates into active bullying, by institutions and individuals. So this is not a problem exclusive to capitalism; bullying was brutally manifest in systems claiming to be socialist or communist, such as the Soviet Union, and it is also obviously a major problem in China today. But capitalism is the dominant system currently and has its own, less recognized, institutionalized bullying propensities.

This looks like a promising book. Unfortunately, however, Drs. Derber and Magrass also take an unmerited swipe at the anti-bullying movement, by suggesting that we have failed to link bullying to the broader economic and political forces that frame their analysis:

Though the bullying of vulnerable kids in schools gets a lot of attention, the bullying of vulnerable workers usually is ignored. If the mass media mention it at all, they typically parrot the corporate view that the agitating workers are troublemakers who deserve punishment. The failure of scholars in the “bullying field” to see even illegal (not to mention legal) corporate threats, intimidation, and retaliation as bullying is another profound failure of the psychological paradigm that views bullying only as a “kid thing” in schools. Such scholars are blind to the adult and institutionalized bullying that is endemic to our economic system.

It appears that the co-authors neglected to do the necessary homework to learn more about the workplace anti-bullying movement. Indeed, the ongoing campaign to enact legal protections against workplace bullying has its philosophical roots in the value of employee dignity. In the law review article that led to my drafting of the Healthy Workplace Bill, “The Phenomenon of ‘Workplace Bullying’ and the Need for Status-Blind Hostile Work Environment Protection” (Georgetown Law Journal, 2000), I explore the social and economic conditions that are fueling bullying at work.

In addition, I connect the dots between the state of workers’ rights, employee dignity, and economic power in my 2009 law review article, “Human Dignity and American Employment Law” (University of Richmond Law Review, 2009). My 2014 blog post drawing from that piece stated:

American employment law has been dominated by a belief system that embraces the idea of unfettered free markets and regards limitations on management authority with deep suspicion. Under this “markets and management” framework, the needs for unions and collective bargaining, individual employment rights, and, most recently, protection of workers amid the dynamics of globalization, are all weighed against these prevailing norms.

Furthermore, we know darn well about the plutocratic forces that want to keep workplace bullying legal. Here in Massachusetts, a powerful corporate trade group, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, has spearheaded opposition to the Healthy Workplace Bill. The Chamber of Commerce and the Society for Human Resource Management are among the other corporate friendly trade groups that have opposed employer accountability for severe workplace bullying.

This oversight aside, it appears that Bully Nation has the potential to raise our collective consciousness about how concentrated power is fueling abusive behaviors. I look forward to taking a closer look at it.

***

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Why this unpaid internship stuff should matter to everyone

As I wrote last week, a federal appeals court ruling in Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., reversing a lower federal court decision holding that two unpaid interns hired by Fox Searchlight Pictures were entitled to back pay under minimum wage laws and certifying a class action on behalf of other interns hired by the company, was a setback for a growing intern rights movement.

In practical terms, the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit invites private employers and universities to collaborate on schemes that (1) create unpaid internships; and (2) charge students tuition for the “privilege” of doing unpaid work. The ruling also makes it harder for unpaid interns to band together to challenge unpaid internships via class action lawsuits.

Basically, the “intern economy” that has been growing by leaps and bounds during the past three decades got a big judicial stamp of approval last week. It may be only temporary, but the Second Circuit’s ruling sends a bigger message that the label of “intern” is now being accorded its own legal meaning, one with a lesser status than that of a regular old “employee.” By slapping the intern label on what otherwise would be deemed an entry-level job, employers can potentially be exempt from paying even the minimum wage.

“Primary beneficiary” test

The Second Circuit adopted a “primary beneficiary” test to determine whether interns should be exempt from minimum wage laws. In other words, if someone is labeled an intern by an employer, we will now engage in a balancing test to determine who gets the better of the deal, the intern or the employer, taking into account a laundry list of “intangibles” such as training, networking opportunities, and so forth. It’s noteworthy that the Court said a lot less about the intangible benefits of interns to employers, such as training, mentoring, and evaluating the next generation of new people into a profession, in addition to the tangible work contributions that many interns provide.

Furthermore, it’s clear that these hedgerows to a paycheck are being created only for those trying to get their careers off the ground. Although many new high-level managers and professionals also go through training periods and enjoy networking opportunities, they will not be subject to this legal test.

Why this matters to all of us

This litigation, and the many other pending and settled lawsuits concerning unpaid internships, obviously are of direct importance to students and recent graduates. However, we all should be paying attention to this, because these cases are raising the fundamental question of whether people have a legal right to be paid for their work.

We are going down that slippery slope. Whereas internships were once largely confined to graduate-level professional programs, they now have become staples for undergraduates as well. Even more alarming is the expansion of unpaid internships into the post-graduate stage, sometimes dressed up under the label of “non-stipendiary fellowships.”

The work-for-free creep has already entered certain vocations with a vengeance. Last year I wrote about how so many writers, journalists, and other creative folks are struggling to find gigs that pay them for their labor. I quoted an extended editorial essay titled “The Free and the Antifree: On payment for writers,” in which the editors of N+1 magazine examined the challenges of economic and technological systems conspiring to make it difficult for capable writers, journalists, editors, and other wordsmiths to get paid for their work and to earn a living. (The N+1 piece favorably cited Ross Perlin’s Intern Nation (2011) — touted on several occasions in this blog — as one of the first books to come out of the “antifree movement.”)

So…for anyone who thinks this unpaid intern stuff is someone else’s problem, please think again. This is all about the dignity of being paid for one’s labor, and the resolution of these lawsuits will help to determine if the door has been opened or closed to more and more unpaid work.

***

Media Coverage

Forbes.com

I was quoted in this Forbes.com piece by Susan Adams on the Court of Appeals ruling:

Agrees Suffolk University law professor David Yamada, who wrote the first law review article on unpaid internships back in 2002, “All the factors they drew up were really without legal authority.” In fact the judges cite no case law for their checklist. “They apparently decided to invent something new here, which is surprising at the appellate level,” says Yamada.

Bloomberg Law

I appeared on June Grasso’s radio program for a 20-minute segment, along with entertainment law professor Jay Dougherty. It was a lively, collegial exchange that allowed for some substantive give-and-take about internships and compensation. You may access the link here.

Labor Day 2012 soapbox: Workers, meltdown politics, and workplace bullying

Recent annual editions of What Color Is Your Parachute?, the hugely popular job-hunting manual by Richard N. Bolles, open with a new chapter titled “How to Find Hope.”

It’s a not-so-subtle admission in this otherwise upbeat book that many people have been so demoralized by the economy and job market that they must first pick themselves off the ground before diving back into the search for work and a fulfilling livelihood. As this Labor Day weekend approaches, I take it as yet another small sign of how things have changed.

Four years ago, on the eve of Labor Day 2008, we were just weeks away from a rapid escalation of the economic meltdown. When things really started to go bad, they did so at a surreal pace that taught us how quickly a 401(k) plan can disintegrate. (Do you remember the news coverage back then? How many of us were asking, what the —- is going on?)

This catastrophe was not caused by school teachers, assembly line workers, retail clerks, firefighters, nurses, labor unions, radical professors, or even — heaven forbid — trial lawyers. No, this was courtesy of the financial masters of the universe on Wall Street, with a big assist from their allies in Washington D.C.

And today, we’re still sorting through the human rubble.

Disappearing middle

Thank goodness we’re not Greece. There still are millions of Americans who have good jobs with decent pay and benefits.

But those numbers are dwindling. In particular, our middle class is shrinking, with a few moving into the top, and many more joining the economically vulnerable.  A major study recently released by the Pew Research Center (link here) concluded that we are living in the “lost decade of the middle class.” The official unemployment rate hovers at around 8 percent, and the unofficial rate — including the vastly underemployed as well as discouraged job seekers no longer tallied in the official one — falls anywhere from 15-20 percent.

New vocabulary

The times even have spawned additions to our economic vocabulary:

Four years ago, the term “99ers” may have sounded like the name of a sports team. But now it refers to individuals whose unemployment benefits — extended during the recession to 99 weeks — have expired.

Four years ago, “underwater” was an aquatic term. Now, of course, it refers to a mortgage balance — in many cases, despite timely payments — that exceeds the declining value of the home.

Four years ago, I’m not even sure if “new normal” had a common meaning. Today it refers to accepting a higher official unemployment rate, say, 8 or 9 percent, as the new normal, replacing the “old” normal of maybe 3 or 4 percent.

Let’s get political

How targeted is this assault on everyday workers? Folks, it’s no longer about shared sacrifice or belt tightening when times are tough. Rather, in some circles it’s about paying rank-and-file workers as little as possible while top executives and shareholders reap the benefits of their labor.

If you need evidence of this, look at the recent strike at the Caterpillar plant in Joliet, Illinois. As reported by Steven Greenhouse for the New York Times (link here), management strong armed the union into accepting wage and pension freezes despite record profits and a 60 percent raise given to the CEO! Need more? Talk to veteran employees of major commercial airlines, who in the post-9/11 world of air travel took huge pay cuts to help the industry survive, while in many cases high-ranking airline executives were collecting obscene bonuses.

Perhaps you’re not surprised that I’m very concerned about the economic and social policies supported by the Romney-Ryan ticket. The hard right has so taken over the GOP that mainstream conservatives of 30 years ago would be branded as traitors to the cause today. Of course, I can’t promise that re-electing President Obama is going to result in dramatic progress either. But at least the Democrats aren’t serving up — as a featured convention speaker — the likes of South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who repeatedly boasts proudly about being a union buster.

Workplace bullying and politics

I respect the fact that some readers do not subscribe to my generally liberal political beliefs. But especially for those who found this blog because of their own experiences with workplace bullying, I ask them to consider the possible connections.

No, I’m not claiming that all Republicans are bullies and all Democrats are nice people. Far from it. I don’t see hard correlations between individual political beliefs and how people treat each other at work. Applied to my own political leanings, I readily admit there are some liberals I wouldn’t want to work for in a million years, while there are some conservatives I would trust and respect as my boss without qualification.

Nor do I suggest that workplace bullying is limited to the big bad corporations. As I’ve noted here, some of the worst workplace abuse can be found in do-gooder non-profits, labor unions, and government agencies.

But on a systemic, policy level, yes, differences emerge.  For example, the two most powerful organizations opposing the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) are the Chamber of Commerce (a GOP favorite) and the Society for Human Resource Management. In Massachusetts, another powerful business lobby, the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, opposes legal protections for bullying targets.

In the meantime, labor unions and civil rights groups have been the leading sources of organizational support for the HWB.

It’s not as if opponents of the HWB are promising to discipline or dismiss the aggressors, in return for us dropping our support for legal reform. To the contrary, some are claiming that existing laws are sufficient to protect bullying targets, which they know isn’t true unless they’re listening to lawyers who don’t understand employment law.

Others complain that legal protections against severe workplace bullying would serve as “job killers” by undermining productivity and the spirit of healthy competition. But what’s “productive,” “healthy,” and “competitive” about interpersonal abuse?

There are honest differences of opinion as to where the law should draw the line on legal claims for workplace bullying. But shouldn’t it be wrong to treat another human being so abusively as to destroy one’s psyche and livelihood?

What will it take?

Yup, as we approach this Labor Day weekend, the world of work and workers faces very serious challenges.

And the stakes are too important for us to throw in the towel. Somehow, we must forge a more humane consensus about how people should be treated at work. Let’s claim human dignity as our starting place for employee relations and go from there. That embrace still leaves us to sort out the complicated questions of workplace laws, policies, and practices, but at least it recognizes the essential humanity of labor.

After all, it’s hard to get the details right when the core values are absent.

***

My law review article, “Human Dignity and American Employment Law” (free download here) contains a more detailed exposition on human dignity and the workplace. Ironically, I was completing the final manuscript right at the time the economy was melting down in Fall 2008.

The “butterfly effect” and working as an educator

I’ve just finished Stephen King’s new bestseller, 11/22/63, which centers on a modern day schoolteacher, Jake Epping, going back in time in an attempt to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. Even though it weighs in at nearly 850 pages, it’s an absorbing tale. And like the best of popular fiction, it’s both accessible (i.e., perfect for a long Thanksgiving weekend) and thought provoking.

Although the challenge of saving the President is the main plot driver, the novel also offers a terrific backstory about Jake’s work as a teacher, and naturally I found myself dwelling upon it.

Butterfly effect

King’s novel, and many time travel tales in general, embrace the idea of the “butterfly effect.” In science, the butterfly effect theorizes that a butterfly’s wings potentially could create a tornado hundreds or thousands of miles away. In popular culture, it has come to represent the idea that small changes in choices or actions may trigger or lead to ripple effects of a profound and unanticipated nature.

I make no claim of expertise about the butterfly effect’s legitimacy as a scientific theory, but I have to say that as a social phenomenon, it makes intuitive sense to me. One thing leads to another, say two of my favorite educators about the art and process of learning, Drs. John Bilorusky and Cynthia Lawrence, and the butterfly effect takes that idea to more dramatic ends.

Of course, inherent in the butterfly effect is its unpredictability. We can’t necessarily foresee these significant events, and they will be a mix of good and bad. (Butterfly. Tornado. Only good if you’re a storm chaser or a bored weather reporter.) That’s what makes the theory so appealing for time travel stories.

The work of an educator

However, I also know as an educator that a good action one day can spawn further good actions by others in the years to come. Indeed, that’s what teaching, mentoring, and scholarship are all about: If we’ve been at this business long enough, we’ve witnessed what happens when our work has a positive impact somewhere down the line.

In essence, being an educator is an ongoing act of faith. On a day-to-day basis, the benefits of our work to others may not always be evident. In fact, a class or course that didn’t go as well as we had hoped, or a publication that doesn’t appear to be attracting much attention, may well cause us to wonder if we’re spinning our wheels or wasting our time. But on occasion, perhaps on many occasions if we are fortunate, we are gifted with the realization that our work allows us to make a difference, even if we’ll never be aware of its full effects.

Responsibility

I don’t want to overstate our potential influence. Folks, it’s not like our students and readers are hanging on to our every word — a basic truth that too many educators forget or never learn. Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to put into the stream of human ideas and activity our best insights, understandings, and instructions.

And — even then — we have no guarantees how our lessons will be used or misused or forgotten. After all, butterflies are free, yes?

***

The butterfly effect and teaching

Heather A. Hass, “Teaching and the Butterfly Effect,” Chronicle of Higher Education (2004)

Paul D. Carrington, “Butterfly Effects: The Possibilities of Law Teaching in a Democracy,” Duke Law Journal (1992)

Wikipedia articles

Butterfly effect

Butterfly effect in popular culture

Book recommendation!

It has nothing to do with the main themes of this blog, but if you’re into time travel stories, check out Jack Finney’s classic illustrated novel, Time and Again (1970), which takes its protagonist back to New York City, circa 1882. Stephen King calls it the best time travel story ever written. For me, discovering the book some 25 years ago was a magical reading experience.

Freelance revolution and freelance realities

Is the independent, freelance sector our next great job generator and a path to living the dream?

Freelance revolution

Sara Horowitz of the Freelancers Union, writing for The Atlantic, says the surge of freelance workers is the “industrial revolution of our time” (link here):

…Today, careers consist of piecing together various types of work, juggling multiple clients, learning to be marketing and accounting experts, and creating offices in bedrooms/coffee shops/coworking spaces. Independent workers abound. We call them freelancers, contractors, sole proprietors, consultants, temps, and the self-employed.

And, perhaps most surprisingly, many of them love it.

This transition is nothing less than a revolution. We haven’t seen a shift in the workforce this significant in almost 100 years when we transitioned from an agricultural to an industrial economy.

Freelance realities

But going it on your own is no piece of cake. Alex Williams, writing for the New York Times, followed the entrepreneurial ambitions of disenchanted, well-credentialed escapees from Corporate America and found that realities can be tough on dreams (link here):

Plan B, it turns out, is a lot harder than it seems. But that hasn’t stopped cubicle captives from fantasizing. In recent years, a wave of white-collar professionals has seized on a moribund job market, a swelling enthusiasm for all things artisanal and the growing sense that work should have meaning to cut ties with the corporate grind and chase second careers as chocolatiers, bed-and-breakfast proprietors and organic farmers.

….The lures are obvious: freedom, fulfillment. The highs can be high. But career switchers have found that going solo comes with its own pitfalls: a steep learning curve, no security, physical exhaustion and emotional meltdowns. The dream job is a “job” as much as it is a “dream.”

Sorting it out

Both views are real. For those who have a promising, marketable new service or product and a desire to create their own business, the independent route may be the one to go. However, virtually every start-up requires grit, determination, countless extra hours, and a dose of luck and timing to succeed.

Creating new enterprises and fostering healthier ways of earning a living are vital parts of a responsive solution to the surfeit of dysfunctional organizations currently in existence and the economic challenges people are facing. I hope that combinations of private, non-profit, and public sector support can help people turn their good ideas and aspirations into reality.

Labor Day Reader 2011: Stormy weather for workers

Photo by David Yamada

Folks, by just about any measure, this is a brutal Labor Day. Millions of workers are without jobs, too many of the employed struggle with unpleasant or even abusive work situations, and the economy is in dismal shape. Here’s a snapshot of commentary on the state of American labor 2011:

To work, we need jobs

Labor Day newspaper features and editorials are all about jobs. For example, here’s the lede from Katherine Yung’s two-part series on jobs and the economy in the Detroit Free Press (link here):

Almost 2 1/2 years after losing his job as an inventory technician, all Mark Baerlin has to show for his lengthy job search are notebooks filled with information about the 343 jobs for which he applied.

So far this year, the Dearborn resident has gotten five interviews. None of them panned out.

In early July, Baerlin exhausted all 99 weeks of his unemployment benefits. He has been saving every penny he can, canceling doctor appointments and using as little water, lighting, air-conditioning and gasoline as possible. If the 51-year-old doesn’t find a job soon, he could lose his house.

Unhappy workers

America’s workers are very dissatisfied with their jobs and their employers. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer summarize important polling results in a New York Times op-ed piece (link here):

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which has been polling over 1,000 adults every day since January 2008, shows that Americans now feel worse about their jobs — and work environments — than ever before. People of all ages, and across income levels, are unhappy with their supervisors, apathetic about their organizations and detached from what they do.

Future of the Middle Class

In a thought-provoking analysis for The Atlantic, Don Peck asks whether America’s middle class can be saved (link here):

Arguably, the most important economic trend in the United States over the past couple of generations has been the ever more distinct sorting of Americans into winners and losers, and the slow hollowing-out of the middle class. Median incomes declined outright from 1999 to 2009.

***

The post-war decades of the 20th century were unusually hospitable to the American middle class—the result of strong growth, rapid gains in education, progressive tax policy, limited free agency at work, a limited pool of competing workers overseas, and other supportive factors. Such serendipity is anomalous in American history, and unlikely to be repeated.

Yet if that period was unusually kind to the middle class, the one we are now in the midst of appears unusually cruel. The strongest forces of our time are naturally divisive; absent a wide-ranging effort to constrain them, economic and cultural polarization will almost surely continue.

Goodbye pensions, goodbye retirement?

Labor lawyer and journalist Steve Early, writing for The Progressive, warns of the demise of pensions (link here):

This Labor Day, workers need to beware: Management may be making it harder to retire.

That’s because more employers, in both the private and public sector, have phased out traditional pensions and replaced them with individual retirement accounts.

…The dismal performance of the stock market over the last three years has wrecked a lot of people’s 401(k) plans. But even before the collapse of Lehman Brothers — and the stock market’s current roller coaster ride — the shortcomings of 401(k) coverage were quite apparent.

On Wisconsin

The unprecedented attack on public workers and their unions in Wisconsin has become a matter of national significance. Dave Poklinkoski, writing for Labor Notes, reflects on the meaning of Wisconsin and lessons that can be drawn from it (link here):

The struggle in Wisconsin was the awakening that labor movement activists had hoped for—disproving the modern notion that those who work will not stand up for themselves. Several hundred thousand people rallied in communities across the state.

…But the recall elections of six Republican senators turned out to be an education opportunity lost, in a sea of negative attack ads.

And in our own corner of the world….

…we’re renewing our commitment to stopping workplace bullying:

For those who would like to become active in state campaigns to enact the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill, please go here. And for an extensive Labor Day interview with two pioneers of the workplace anti-bullying movement, Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie, conducted by Bob Morris, go here.

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