Cartoon of the day

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 24/09/2017 - 10:00pm in

Golden Age for American workers?!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/09/2017 - 11:00pm in

wage share-growth

We’ve been hearing this since the recovery from the Second Great Depression began: it’s going to be a Golden Age for workers!

The idea is that the decades of wage stagnation are finally over, as the United States enters a new period of labor shortage and workers will be able to recoup what they’ve lost.

The latest to try to tell this story is Eduardo Porter:

the wage picture is looking decidedly brighter. In 2008, in the midst of the recession, the average hourly pay of production and nonsupervisory workers tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics — those who toil at a cash register or on a shop floor — was 10 percent below its 1973 peak after accounting for inflation. Since then, wages have regained virtually all of that ground. Median wages for all full-time workers are rising at a pace last achieved in the dot-com boom at the end of the Clinton administration.

And with employers adding more than two million jobs a year, some economists suspect that American workers — after being pummeled by a furious mix of globalization and automation, strangled by monetary policy that has restrained economic activity in the name of low inflation, and slapped around by government hostility toward unions and labor regulations — may finally be in for a break.

The problem is that wages are still growing at a historically slow pace (the green line in the chart above), which means the wage share (the blue line in the chart) is still very low. The only sign that things might be getting better for workers is that the current wage share is slightly above the low recorded in 2013—but, at 43 percent, it remains far below its high of 51.5 percent in 1970.

That’s an awful lot of ground to make up.

productivity-wage share

The situation for American workers is even worse when we compare labor productivity and the wage share. Since 1970, labor productivity (the real output per hour workers in the nonfarm business sector, the red line in the chart above) has more than doubled, while the wage share (the blue line) has fallen precipitously.

We’re a long way from any kind of Golden Age for workers.

But, in the end, that’s not what Porter is particularly interested in. He’s more concerned about what he considers to be a labor shortage caused by a shrinking labor force.

So, what does Porter recommend to, in his words, “protect economic growth and to give American workers a shot at a new golden age of employment”? More immigration, more international trade, cuts in disability insurance, and limiting increases in the minimum wage.

Someone’s going to have to explain to me how that set of policies is going to reverse the declines of recent decades and usher in a Golden Age for American workers.

Tagged: disability, history, immigration, minimum wage, productivity, Second Great Depression, trade, United States, wages, workers

Cartoon of the day

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 17/09/2017 - 10:28pm in

After Generations Working In Coal, Young West Virginians Are Finding Jobs In Solar

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/09/2017 - 10:00pm in


coal, Jobs, workers

Above Photo: Solar Holler founder Dan Conant, foreground, looks on at the beginning of a solar roof installation in Lewisburg, West Virginia. Jason Margolis Tanner Lee Swiger graduated from high school in Wayne County, West Virginia this spring. His father and grandfather both worked in West Virginia’s coal industry. But not Swiger, or any of his high school classmates. download Listen to the Story. Nobody from his graduating class is working in coal, says Swiger. “[They’re] honestly working in fast food, or not working at all.” Not Swiger. He has a job installing rooftop solar panels. He says his family is delighted with it. “They’re excited that I’m actually doing something different,” says Swiger. “A lot of people ain’t doing this in West Virginia, a lot of people are against it actually. A lot of people want to go back to coal. “I ain’t against it, I love solar. It’s way better than coal, I think.” Solar panels can save people money on their electricity bills and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, which fuel climate change. With battery storage, found in some home set-ups, solar can also allow people to continue to power their homes off the grid during power outages. Swiger is working as an apprentice with Solar Holler, which was founded four years ago by 32-year-old Dan Conant. Conant doesn’t see solar energy and coal at odds with each other. “The way I think about it, as a West Virginian, is that West Virginia has always been an energy state, and this is just the next step. It’s the next iteration,” says Conant. West Virginia’s economy has long been reliant on coal. Metallurgical coal, which is found in the state, is used in the steel-making process. But when steel-making largely shifted from the US to overseas in the 1970s and ’80s, West Virginia’s coal industry took a big blow. Then, as the country turned to cleaner, and now cheaper, sources of energy, West Virginia’s coal industry was hollowed out, leaving many, like Conant, thinking beyond coal. He left his job at the US Department of Energy to start Solar Holler, to try to help slow his state’s economic slide. By many metrics, West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country. “Mingo County, West Virginia, which is where three of our crew members are coming out of today — they’ve lost more than 40 percent of all the jobs in the entire county in the past four years,” says Conant. Only about 12,000 West Virginians work in coal mining today, a 90 percent decline over two generations. With lack of jobs has come a familiar pattern that’s played out in this country: hopelessness, drugs and crime. President Trump has made bringing back coal jobs an outsized part of his “Make America Great Again” platform. Conant is grateful for the spotlight on the economic plight of Appalachia, but he doesn’t see a return to the good old days either. “We need to find new things,” says Conant. “It’s not going to be the coal industry of the past. The industry has been so automated — strip mining doesn’t take the number of people that guys with headlamps and pickaxes did.” Solar may be an energy of tomorrow, but coal jobs still pay much better — pay for solar panel apprentices at Solar Holler start at $12 to $13 an hour, plus money for college courses, but permanent solar installers can reach $17 to $20 an hour, according to Conant. Still, coal mining jobs in West Virginia typically pay more than twice the starting wages for solar. But those jobs are increasingly hard to find, and Solar Holler, and other solar installers, need workers now. (About 50,000 people work in coal mining nationwide, compared with 260,000 in solar.) For that, Solar Holler is helping set up a training center in an old, abandoned factory in the city of Huntington, West Virginia. The Coalfield Development Corporation bought the old clothing manufacturing factory in Huntington, West Virginia for $1 per square foot. Credit: Jason Margolis “This was Corbin Clothing Manufactuer. They made some of the finest ‘Mad Men’ era clothing that you could get, straight up from Wall Street, New York City,” says Deacon Stone with Solar Holler, walking through the vast 96,000-square-foot facility. Stone stops the tour and points at something bizarre: rows and rows of church pews. “We’re in Appalachia, you can’t hit a rock and not hit a church, or a place that will be a church,” says Stone. Long-story short, they needed seating in a hurry, “and had no means to purchase chairs, no means to borrow things,” says Stone. “We’re sweating. And I pass by and I see these pews; it’s like, deep discount if you take them all.” He did. Solar Holler is partnering with a non-profit called the Coalfield Development Corporation. They own the building. Beyond solar jobs, Coalfield Development is teaching former coal workers skills like woodworking and farming. Apprentices with Coalfield Development work 33 hours, spend six hours a week at a community college, and three hours engaged in “life-skills mentorship.” Nearly 90 people have entered the program. The name — Coalfield Development — is a nod to the region’s past and future. “Coal is more than just an employment base here in Appalachia, it’s central to our identity. And that lets you know a sense of our pain the last few years,” says Brandon Dennison, Coalfield Development’s CEO. “No one industry can replace coal, nor should it. We need to diversify and have lots of different business opportunities.” Half of Coalfield Development’s funding, nearly $2 million, comes from a federal program called the Appalachian Regional Commission. It was created by an act of Congress in 1965, after urging by President John F. Kennedy and then President Lyndon Johnson, to combat the region’s high levels of poverty. The Trump Administration now wants to defund it. Dennison says that worries him “a lot.” “If we lost our Appalachian Regional Commission funding, we would have to basically cut our scale of impact in half.” Deacon Stone (left) and Brandon Dennison inside of Coalfield Development Corporation’s new training...

The Trump Administration Will Always Side with Corporations Over Labor

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/09/2017 - 5:33am in

It’s no secret that the Trump administration is corporation-friendly to a fault. For all the talk of the underserved coal miners and workers whose jobs have been stolen by free trade agreements or China, the Oval Office has not been a friendly — or even safe — place for workers in the past eight months. We’ve already reported on the discontinuation of a number of worker safety programs and regulations but there’s much more to Trump’s undercutting of the fundamental rights of American workers going on.

RELATED: Democracy & Government

Some 937 construction workers died at work in 2015; workers now at far greater risk by Trump policies undermining silica standards and OSHA enforcement. (Photo by Alan Kotok/ flickr CC 2.0)

Trump Labor Secretary Acosta’s Deadly Agenda for Workers

BY Christopher D. Cook | May 1, 2017

We talked with Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, about what’s on her radar as the Trump machine moves quickly forward. In Block’s 20-year career, she’s worked for the National Labor Relations Board and most recently served as the head of the policy office at the Department of Labor under President Obama. She and her team were, in fact, responsible for many of the policies being undercut or discarded by the new crew in town.

According to Block, the regulatory rollback we’ve already seen “has been nothing short of stunning.” From day one in office, Trump has made clear which side he would take. Looking at the big picture, Block says “at every turn where this administration has been presented with a choice between how to help workers or how to bow down to the interests of corporations, they always side with business.” She ran down the highlights — or lowlights — of what’s been happening thus far, in an interview, which has been lighted edited for clarity.

Overtime Rule

We [The Obama administration] raised the overtime threshold, which was unbelievably out of date. It might be actually one of the few things that everybody seems to agree on or at least they’ll give lip service to: that it’s ridiculous to have an overtime threshold for salaried workers that is so low that you can be paid below the poverty line for a family of four. It essentially means that employers — if you’re salaried — can make you work for free after 40 hours. We raised it to what we thought was a reasonable and responsible level. It was immediately challenged in court, but Secretary Alexander Acosta has now announced that they are essentially abandoning the rule and not waiting for a court ruling. That’s 4.2 million people who were impacted by the overtime rule who now have to sit around and wait and see what, if anything, they’re going to do to fix this problem — which even Republicans have acknowledged is a problem. The recovery was starting to take hold but we still weren’t seeing the kind of wage growth that you would hope. Looking at the longer-term trend toward wage stagnation for middle-class and low-wage workers, the overtime rule was really an important piece of trying to address that problem. It’s not like that problem has gone away; we’re still not seeing that robust wage growth that you would hope to see with an unemployment level as low as it was when President Obama left office. So the fact that they’re walking away from the overtime rule is not because it’s not needed anymore.

Conflict of Interest and Fiduciary Rule

The Conflict of Interest Rule or Fiduciary Rule was an incredibly important step, at least in part, in addressing the retirement crisis we have in this country of not enough people saving enough money for a secure retirement. These problems are not simple to solve, but we thought an important piece of the solution was to ensure that when people did get it together and start saving money, that that money worked for them as opposed to for the advisers. 

The fact is that people now don’t have pensions, and so they have to make really sophisticated, difficult decisions for themselves about how to invest their retirement savings. More and more people need to rely on advisers to help them navigate a financial services industry that is incredibly complicated. We thought it wasn’t right to have the additional complication of trying to figure out if the person sitting across the table from you had your best interest in mind or their own best interest. We came up with a great solution that would both give retirement investors the comfort that they knew that the person sitting across the table from them was acting in their best interest and be responsive to what we heard from the financial services industry, that the new rule had to be workable for them. But it didn’t come as a surprise when the Secretary Acosta announced that they are delaying implementation of the rule, the teeth of this rule, until July 2019. Who knows what they’re going to do to weaken the rule between now and then? We do know that retirement savers are going continue to lose money as long as the rule is on hold.

Class Action

RELATED: Economy & Work

President Donald Trump waits to sign an executive order directing the Treasury Secretary to review the Dodd-Frank financial oversight law on Feb. 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

The Trump Administration’s First Gifts to Wall Street

BY John Light | February 17, 2017

The Trump administration has also announced that it’s going to completely back away from an important part of the fiduciary rule that protected the rights of investors to pursue class actions when they are treated illegally by advisers. This is what’s at issue in the Murphy Oil case that’s pending in the Supreme Court, which will be argued on the first day of the upcoming term.

The case is about the right of workers to join together in class-action lawsuits. [The case involves “whether arbitration agreements with individual employees that bar them from pursuing work-related claims on a collective or class basis in any forum are prohibited as an unfair labor practice.”]

This is a coordinated effort to make sure that workers are put in as weak a position as possible when they’re standing in court across from big, powerful corporations. This decision to switch sides in Murphy Oil is a stark example of the Trump administration really putting their thumb on the scale on the side of corporations when the difference in interests between workers and corporations are as stark as possible.

The Beryllium Rule and Worker Safety Issues

RELATED: Environment

Shipbuilding, Anacortes, Washington. (Photo by duluoz cats/ flickr CC 2.0)

More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Beryllium

BY Staff | June 28, 2017

Rolling back safety standards is a huge concern. Rules where we thought we had industry support are being shelved. Look at the Beryllium Rule — this has been in the works for years and years. We did work with the industry with this rule and the administration has announced now that they’re delaying it, and that they’re going to lop off big pieces of it. They are taking out shipyards and construction workers — not because they’re not exposed to beryllium or because they don’t die of beryllium disease — but because the employers asked them to. Same thing with silica. They’ve said they’re going to push it back.

Our estimates say that around 600–700 people die every year from silica exposure. So they might try to say these are just delays, but people’s lives are being affected — people who will get sick because these protections didn’t go into place when they were supposed to.

They’ve done a lot in terms of rolling back transparency, and that’s been a big issue in the occupational safety and health area. For example, we had a proposal to require electronic submission of information about work-related injuries. OSHA was going to make this information more accessible to the public both so the workers could see it and also so academics and other people could study these issues, look for patterns and come up with better policies — all the things that transparency is important for. The administration has now said they’re going to delay this requirement for at least a year. Again, no guarantee this will go forward the way it should.

They’re pushing the can down the road while, especially in the safety and health area, it’s people’s lives that are at stake.

— Sharon Block

Donald Trump says he cares so much about miners. We did a rule toward the end of the administration that simply said that at the changeover between shifts, mine operators are to make sure that the previous shift tells the next shift about any hazards. It just required that they flag anything that could be potentially troublesome on the next shift so the people have basic information. And they’ve delayed that, too.

I think these actions all reflect this very strong anti-regulatory push that is premised on a belief that we should trust employers to know what’s best in their workplaces and not worry about accountability. I think they try to play a little cute with the fact that these are delays, that they don’t actually have to articulate their position on the merits of these rules. They’re pushing the can down the road while, especially in the safety and health area, it’s people’s lives that are at stake.

State of the Unions

They are clearly trying to make the most of a short amount of time in rolling back and undermining whatever progress the Obama administration was able to make in terms of supporting the interest of workers.

I certainly don’t think [the union movement] is dead, but I think it’s obviously in a much weaker position than it’s been in a long time. We are seeing really serious consequences for the workforce and the economy at large, not just for the people who used to be in unions and who aren’t anymore. What we’re going to likely see in front of the Supreme Court this year is a move to weaken public-sector unions — state and local government workers.

Soon the National Labor Relations Board will have a Republican general counsel and a Republican majority of board members, so you’ll see a lot more dramatic rollback of decisions there that have been important to workers.

If you look at the rate of union density in this country right now, it’s lower than it was before the Wagner Act passed during the New Deal. That is pretty stunning. It’s easier to destroy than it is to build. They are clearly trying to make the most of a short amount of time in rolling back and undermining whatever progress the Obama administration was able to make in terms of supporting the interest of workers.

Cuts to the Department of Labor

We expected they would not have robust support for enforcement agencies or International Labor Affairs Bureau or the Women’s Bureau — not to minimize how devastating that is — but those are of perennial objects of Republicans’ budget scalpel. But it was a big surprise that they  proposed such a dramatic budget cut for the Employment and Training Administration. That is an area where we traditionally had bipartisan support.

Information Gathering

One of the first things the Trump administration and the Republican congressional majority did with the Congressional Review Act was to dismantle what we thought was a good government policy — our Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order. It required government agencies who control billions in federal procurement dollars to consider federal contractors’ records on how they treat their workers in deciding whether or not to award federal contracts.

RELATED: Economy & Work

Demonstrators fighting for a $15-per-hour minimum wage march through downtown during rush hour on May 23, 2017 in Chicago. The march was held to coincide with McDonald's shareholders meeting in nearby Oak Brook. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Rollback of Pro-Worker Policies Since Trump Took Office Is Staggering

BY Helaine Olen | September 3, 2017

There are lots of different factors that go into making those decisions, and we thought taking a look at whether contractors had safety and health violations, whether they had cheated workers out of wages, whether they had unfairly undermined efforts to organize workers — it just made sense. It’s taxpayers’ money. Most taxpayers are workers; why should their money be going to companies that violate the law in terms of how they treat their workers? It was one of the first uses of the Congressional Review Act in the Trump administration. They completely dismantled it.

Recently they announced they’ve stopped work on the EEO-1, which makes transparent whether there are gender or race disparities in how corporations pay their employees. Again, this is simply about transparency. This is about how people know whether they’re being treated fairly or not. We know that when companies have to compile this kind of data and they have to really take a look at themselves, often they’ll self-correct. This is merely a good government proposal and it now seems dead in the water.

What’s Ahead?

I went back and looked at the Chamber of Commerce policy recommendations from the transition, and you can look down the list of things that the Chamber asked the Trump administration to do and see that it’s now doing almost everything on the list.

I love the movement on Martin Luther King Day to do community service. I wish we could do something like that around Labor Day — to have people stop and appreciate what the labor movement has done for all workers in terms of supporting legislation, like the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Fight for $15 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act. What we’ve seen as the labor movement has declined is how that really has hurt all middle-class workers, minimum-wage workers — all workers. We need to think about the contributions that the people who actually work in this country make and what’s at stake when the federal government turns its back on working people, despite the rhetoric from Trump during the campaign.

I’ve been really heartened by my former colleagues. So many of them are still engaged in doing what they can to protect the legacy of the Obama administration — not because it’s the Obama administration, but because we really believed in it. People are sad and they’re worried but they’re not discouraged. They’re still fighting.

The post The Trump Administration Will Always Side with Corporations Over Labor appeared first on

Radical White Workers During The Last Revolution

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/09/2017 - 1:00am in

Above Photo: From “Poor whites are here today…to make ourselves visible to a society whose continued existence depends on the denial of our existence. We are here today united with other races of poor people, Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, Indians, and Black people in a common cause. That common cause is Freedom!” — Peggy Terry, The Poor People’s Convention June 1968 Yes, our common cause is freedom. The question is: how do we make that real? We will never know until we know our history. The long-lost story of anti-racist, radical white working class activism has been restored by Amy Sonnie and James Tracy in their invaluable book: Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times. Get it and read it now. During the 1960s and 1970s, radical activists set out to organize the white working class. They linked the pursuit of working class interest and economic democracy with anti-racist organizing. They discovered, and helped others realize, that white supremacy and racism are not a friend to white people but one of the main obstacles to fulfilling our own destiny as a free people. The context was the last revolution. The civil rights, black power, feminist, student movements and community organizing set the stage for working class whites to make important contributions to the democracy movements of the time. While these efforts were initiated by various groups, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), radicalized working class youth, and the Black Panthers, they all eventually depended on the leadership of working class communities. The organizers had been deeply radicalized by the social upheavals of the time. Yet, their own working class backgrounds often placed them on the margins of the New Left. But the activists knew the white working class had enormous untapped potential. The movement to stop the War in Vietnam, fight the bosses, and win the battle against racism needed the hard work and political vision that everyday working people could help provide. The organizers were radicals, many were communists, but virtually all were inspired by third world nationalism abroad and the Black Panthers at home. The Emergence of White Working Class Radicalism Fits Recurring Patterns in the Social Movements of the 60s.  “Black Power” emerged out of the civil rights campaign as an attempt to found an independent, self-reliant movement with its own sources of power, leadership, and inspiration. Black power aimed to create a mass base mobilized around a growing consciousness of African-American identity and history. To do this black power advocates first suggested, then demanded, that white activists leave what had been a multi-racial civil rights movement. The white activists, despite their best intentions, brought with them subtle forms of white supremacy that inhibited the emergence of black leadership. Black Power advocates like Stokely Carmichael wanted white radicals to “organize their own” in a strategic division of labor much in the same way Black Power was trying to organize their own people. [1] Women active in the civil rights and student movements followed a similar path. Deeply troubled by the sexism and male domination of the movements they devoted their lives to, women struck out on their own to start the modern women’s movement. They went massive by focusing on consciousness-raising efforts. In millions of conversations with each other, women discovered that the everyday personal problems they experienced were rooted in institutionalized forms of oppression they identified as patriarchy and paternalism. The personal became deeply political. The other pattern, set by the Black Panthers, was an attempt to solve one of the enduring problems of organizing. How do organizers that aim at fundamental social change engage everyday people? Their answer was to create self-reliant, community controlled service programs. This approach became known as “Serve the People” but was more tellingly called “Survival Pending Revolution” by the Panthers themselves. Best known for their free breakfast program for school kids, they also provided educational programs, legal and health services, programs for senior citizens, and free food for the poor of their community. And they became infamous for community self-defense against police brutality.2 The Panthers initiated an intermediate program that took evolutionary steps toward a vision of revolutionary change. The service programs were one part of bridging the gap. The other was bringing revolutionary politics within reach. One way the Panthers did this was by emphasizing universal values. “We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace.” Such values need little explanation, are not open to endless debate, and are self-evident. The Panthers also drew their revolutionary ideals closer to the people by merging staunch anti-capitalism with a transformed version of American traditions. Beneath the glamour of the black beret and intense drama of asserting their 2nd amendment rights, the Black Panthers were studied revolutionaries. Huey Newton’s book, Revolutionary Suicide remains a classic, tragic, part of American revolutionary thought. The Panthers learned from revolutionary efforts around the world but also laid claim to the ideals of the original American revolutionary colonists applying them to the black colony oppressed within the modern American empire. The last and longest part of the Black Panthers’ 10 Point Program: What We Want/What We Believe — their “major political objective” — called for black self-determination by quoting, at length, the words of the American Declaration of Independence. However history may judge the outcome, this model was widely influential for community organizing of the period and still shines a light we can follow if we dare. And so it was, and so it is, with radical white working class organizing. In Chicago, the SDS sent college students, armed with anti-imperialist ideas and marxist theory, into poor communities. The working class owes these students an enormous debt. The SDS provided the spark and the broader domestic and international context to the problem that workers faced. But, like women and the black power activists before them, white workers chafed under the often unconscious but still stifling cultural biases and assumptions of the student movement. The classism of affluent students limited the full potential of white working class communities. The students had the skills,...

How do you like them facts?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/09/2017 - 11:00pm in


Apologists for mainstream economics (such as Noah Smith) like to claim that things are OK because good empirical research is crowding out bad theory.

I have no doubt about the fact that the theory of mainstream economics has been bad. But is the empirical research any better?

Not, as I see it, in the academy, in the departments that are dominated by mainstream economics. But there is interesting empirical work going on elsewhere, including of all places in the International Monetary Fund (as I have noted before, e.g., here and here).

The latest, from Mai Dao, Mitali Das, Zsoka Koczan, and Weicheng Lian, documents two important facts: the decline in labor’s share of income—in both developed and developing economies—and the relationship between the fall in the labor share and the rise in inequality.

I demonstrate both facts for the United States in the chart above: the labor share (the red line, measured on the left) has been falling since 1970, while the share of income captured by those in the top 1 percent (the blue line, measured on the right) has been rising.

labor shares

Dao et al. make the same argument, both across countries and within countries over time: declining labor shares are associated with rising inequality.

And they’re clearly concerned about these facts, because inequality can fuel social tension and harm economic growth. It can also lead to a backlash against economic integration and outward-looking policies, which the IMF has a clear stake in defending:

the benefits of trade and financial integration to emerging market and developing economies—where they have fostered convergence, raised incomes, expanded access to goods and services, and lifted millions from poverty—are well documented.

But, of course, there are no facts without theories. What is missing from the IMF facts is a theory of how a falling labor share fuels inequality—and, in turn, has created such a reaction against capitalist globalization.

Let me see if I can help them. When the labor share of national income falls—the result of the forces Dao et al. document, such as outsourcing and new labor-saving technologies—the surplus appropriated from those workers rises. Then, when a share of that growing surplus is distributed to those at the top—for example, to those in the top 1 percent, via high salaries and returns on capital ownership—income inequality rises. Moreover, the ability of those at the top to capture the surplus means they are able to shape economic and political decisions that serve to keep workers’ share of national income on its downward slide.

The problem is mainstream economists are not particularly interested in those facts. Or, for that matter, the theory that can make sense of those facts.

Tagged: 1 percent, economics, economists, exploitation, facts, inequality, mainstream, outsourcing, surplus, technology, theory, wages, workers

Blood and Glory

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/09/2017 - 6:45am in

image by imp kerr

If money comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek, capital comes dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt.

—Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1

“We have still not had a death,” he said. “A person does not belong to a place until there is someone dead under the ground.”

—Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

We can tell the story in an easy calculus. The South Tower of the World Trade Center once stood 1,362 feet tall. At 9:03 a.m. on the morning of September 11 2001 it was struck by a Boeing 767 flying at 590 miles an hour and burning 9,100 gallons of jet fuel. The quarter-mile long tower burned at 1,800°F until 9:59 a.m., when it collapsed, sending 500,000 tons of material to the ground at 120 miles per hour and instantly killing 600 people. The North Tower, roughly its equal in size and weight, collapsed 29 minutes later, killing some 1,400 people. Before “Ground Zero” was ever invoked as an election-season rhetorical salvo, before it was ever emblazoned on a special-edition enamel plate anywhere near an eagle, and before it inspired George W. Bush to call it, in his diary, the 21st century’s Pearl Harbor, it constituted 16 acres of a “working fire” that burned 50 meters deep, a designation that gave immediate jurisdiction of the site to the FDNY. The firemen first brought in blueprints and floor plans, rushing to locations where they believed elevators and stairwells would have collapsed with the people they carried. Next, they introduced a map that used global positioning technology to plot patterns among locations where bodies, or parts of bodies, were being found. There were few survivors in the rubble—only 11, in fact —and it soon became clear that the mapping technology would instead be used to locate the dead.

The fire was mean and hard to extinguish. It burned long and deep, flaring when exposed to oxygen and fueled by tons of highly conductive paper and furniture soaked in jet fuel. On September 16, NASA sent an airplane over Ground Zero to gather infrared data that the U.S. Geological Survey made into a thermal heat map, one that showed patches of rubble burning at temperatures above 1,292°F, hotter than the burning point of aluminum. The New Scientist dubbed it “the longest-burning structural fire in history.” Heavy rains fell all day on the 14th and on the night of the 20th, into the dawn of the 21st. A total of four million gallons of water soaked through the debris and pooled at the World Trade Center’s “bathtub,” the 60-foot deep rectangular foundation on which the towers stood. Officials worried the foundation’s weak walls could give way, causing water from the Hudson River to seep into the PATH and subway tunnels, effectively flooding the city’s underground.

The fires burned for 100 days; alternatively, the fires were allowed to burn for 100 days. Officials had not stopped calling Ground Zero a “rescue operation” and they wanted to communicate that it was still possible to find survivors, something they could not do while simultaneously submerging all 16 acres with water and flame retardants. After the 100th day, the last flame was extinguished. It took Rudy Giuliani to stoke it back. At a New York City gala, he reminded listeners of the three firemen who raised the American flag atop the rubble in the now-famous photograph: “They were standing on top of a cauldron. They were standing on top of fires 2,000 degrees that raged for a hundred days. And they put their lives at risk raising that flag. They put the flag up to say, You can’t beat us, because we’re Americans. And we don’t say this with arrogance or in a militaristic way, but in a spiritual way: Our ideas are better than yours.” American exceptionalism was thus reified with the possibility of burnt citizen flesh.

Rescue workers called the 16 acres of debris on Ground Zero “the Pile.” The powdered debris in the Pile contained more than 150 compounds and elements including plaster, talc, synthetic foam, glass, paint chips, charred wood, slag wool, 200,000 pounds of lead from 50,000 computers, gold and mercury from 500,000 fluorescent lights, 2,000 tons of asbestos, and 91,000 liters of jet fuel. The nearly 3,000 human beings who died made up such a miniscule part of the debris that the odds of finding identifiable remains among this city of dust was less than 1 in a quadrillion. Before any tests could be conducted on human remains, however, scientists worried about getting institutional board approval for use of human samples in a scientific investigation.

On September 26, 15 days after the attack, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences sent researchers an email issuing a strict definition of “human subject.” According to the board, a human subject is someone for whom “private information must be individually identifiable” and “individuals whose remains ‘could’ be in the dust did not qualify as human subjects.” While the NIEHS framed its response as permission to use the bodily remains in scientific inquiry, their words carry a grave discursive weight. Defining personhood according to a human being’s ability to be personally identified implies that naming is a category of political recognition based on documentation given that parts of the corporal palimpsest must match information about the body in the state’s archive—paper matched with paper. Individuals who leave bodily traces but who do not officially “exist” in state archives because their livelihoods depend upon clandestine existence may not make matching individually identifiable private information easy. According to the NIEHS’s language, these persons would be excluded from the category of “human subject.”

 • • •

Fresh Kills, once the largest landfill in the world, is 10 miles south of Manhattan. A makeshift forensic laboratory city was set up on the landfill for nearly a year to sort through 1.6 million tons of debris. At the project’s peak, workers went through 7,000 tons of it in a single day. Recovery workers did find whole bodies but they found many more parts. Although skin fragments and hair abounded, these were poor materials with which to identify victims because 2,000-foot towers that welcomed visitors and employees for over four decades accumulated so much human hair and dead skin cells in rugs, chairs, elevators, bathrooms, lobbies, and every hard surface that researchers would have been confronted with a seemingly infinite number of false-positive identifications. Inside refrigerated trailers, cadavers were stored in body bags and tissue and bones were kept in red bins. Workers divided the bones amongst themselves. After washing the bones, they used small blenders called mills to grind them into a coarse powder that one worker remembers smelling like burnt steak. After they were done, they washed the mills with bleach and alcohol, a long and difficult process abrasive to the workers’ hands.

Legal scholars have called DNA an “alternative source of corporeality” whose personally identifying potential can be used in the courts of law as a facilitator of the Western jurisprudential philosophy of habeas corpus meaning “you have the body [to show].” When a DNA sample leads to the naming of a full human being—first name, last name, ethnicity, Social Security number—it means a body has been begotten “through translations, disassembly and reassembly, and conversion between states, properties and machines.” This follows Elizabeth Grosz’ definition of a body as a “concrete, material, animate organization of flesh, nerves, muscles, and skeletal structure which are given unity, cohesiveness, and organization only through their physical and social inscription as the surface and raw materials of an integrated and cohesive totality.” Whole parts like tissue and sinew and limb or microscopic parts like chromosome links become a “body” through translation and inscription—writerly motions.

Paul Lioy, an expert on toxin exposure who has studied the WTC dust, has observed that the debris “contained materials that were used to make the things that represent the raw material and by-products that defined our civilization.” This doesn’t just mean company letterhead and swivel chairs but also poisons. Asbestos and lead have long been part of the inner city’s ecological landscape, cheaply lining walls, tubes, and ceilings while leaving trace deposits of their dry powders in the blood and urine of inner city children. The EPA did not want to test for those particular substances in the blood of sick New Yorkers in the years following 9/11 because doing so would “lead down an endless rabbit hole costing billions and lasting years” meaning they would have had to find a way to “distinguish trade center material from common urban dust.”   Normalizing the bestiary of noxious powders implied in “common urban dust” ignores the many generations of inner city children—disproportionately African-American and Latino/a—who learn to prime asthma inhalers before they learn to sign their names. The pervasive expectation that some lungs and bloodstreams could be born or made impervious to poisonous dusts is evident in a study of WTC search-and-rescue dogs. The dogs, described as “canine equivalents of canaries in a coal mine” because they could show signs of asbestosis and mesothelioma a lot faster than human organisms could, had their chests x-rayed. The x-rays came back normal, but the study was criticized for excluding “many of the rescue dogs that were brought to New York from other parts of the country” meaning that New York dogs must have been so accustomed to quietly menacing substances in the air that their organisms weren’t trustworthy.

The federally funded New York City cleanup program lasted two years and cost $37.9 million dollars, $30.4 million of which went to contractors and subcontractors. Rosa Bramble Weed, a social worker and psychologist who has met with undocumented cleanup workers exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress, explains that undocumented workers received calls from “a very underground kind of network of people who are undocumented and need work. They called at night. They said, tomorrow there is work, come work.” Port Authority management contacted major contracting firms who sent the projects to subcontractors; by the time the jobs trickled down to cleanup workers, their contractors worked with hundred thousand dollar contracts while the immigrants were routinely paid $60 for 12-plus hour days. Vans drove up and down Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Long Island, Nassau County, and Suffolk County, looking for day laborers to bring to Ground Zero. The Polish and Latino construction workers—all men—arrived first, but the women were the last to leave. Undocumented women had cleaned Lower Manhattan residential spaces and offices for years and knew people who would call them up when there was work. And there was work.

Jaime—whose surname I have omitted from this essay—is a Colombian immigrant who used to work as a nighttime security guard near the World Trade Center and helped with cleanup efforts from day one. When he first arrived to the site, “it looked like a Western, like a desert,” he told me. “Everything was dust-water and there was no light.” Jaime walked into building basements flooded by water and chemicals. He had no protective gear so he tied plastic bags around his ankles and waded through the waters. “The city was great at picking up the garbage,” he remembers. He was instructed to discard any debris in black trash bags and throw paper in clear bags—the black bags were for waste. The dust was the hardest to clean because it blinded him and stuck to his clothing, especially when he got wet. The wind took care of loose paper. Police arrived on the scene early and guarded the site fiercely. People were asked to show ID cards to enter the scene but cleanup workers just needed to prove they were there to clean. At first, tourists applauded and took pictures of them. Then, people started yelling, “Leave! Leave!” The women from Rosa’s group that I spoke to all know other women hired by subcontracting firms who were paid checks that bounced back. They are sick. They are also broke, uninsured, and, when I spoke to them, they were all hoping they would somehow qualify for “la Zadroga,” a federal bill that would help cover their healthcare costs. What they really want, though, is a green card. Jaime penned an open letter to President Barack Obama on behalf of the group asking him to grant documentation to immigrants who could prove they had worked at Ground Zero.

The man in charge of evaluating applications for The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund was Kenneth R. Feinberg, a lawyer who had successfully settled the Agent Orange lawsuits and “was given the broadest prerogative to decide, in essence, how much each life was worth.” The Fund had unlimited funds but a clear end date. In 2003, it stopped accepting applications, and some individuals were only beginning to exhibit symptoms. Workers who did not make the deadline fell back on unsubsidized treatment in city hospitals or workers compensation payments. Treatment options were slim for undocumented immigrants. Dr. Charles Hirsch, New York City’s Chief Medical Examiner became “the gatekeeper to the official list” of WTC victims.  He looked at each death and decided whether to legally consider it a murder. The final list contained 2,749 names of deaths that had been ruled homicides. 2,749 names would be inscribed on the memorial.

 • • •

On September 11, 2002, New York State Governor George Pataki recited the Gettysburg Address. In Rudy Giuliani’s last speech as Mayor, he also quoted from the speech. The space of Ground Zero was almost immediately narrativized as a battleground with those who died on that day discussed as heroes, “the fallen.” Ground Zero tells the story of blood and Fresh Kills tells the story of bone. The dust materialized this narrative through coloring—it was just beginning to settle. The World Trade Center dust had, as Anthony DePalma has written, “an odd pinkish tint, a blush that was as curious as it was repulsive because it suggested blood and human remains. It was probably caused by some chemical reaction, and it did not last long. Eventually, the dust took on the more neutral color of dry bone.”

Blood and bone have a longstanding symbolism in national narratives of kinship and trauma. Think, for instance, of the Civil War. During the only war fought on American soil, Confederate soldiers disinterred buried Union soldiers to steal their skulls and use the skeletal remains as trophies. Union soldiers often mimicked these acts in retaliation. The 19th century saw the emergence of a black market in cadavers; because bodies could be sold to medical schools and amateur dissectors. Affluent Americans began burying their dead in well-secured tombs. The poor, chief among them immigrants and African Americans, were obviously just as ferocious in the desire to protect their dead, but lacked the resources to do so. They were thus relegated to, as Simon Harrison has explained, “burying their dead under a layer of straw to deter digging, or posting armed guards in the cemetery for several nights after a funeral.” Bone stealing arose during the Civil War because there was a great political value in “representing Southerners and Northerners as two different peoples.” Among American soldiers, spilt blood over the same land was less of a catastrophic blow to imagined notions of kinship than was the theft itself.

The wars that broke out on Fresh Kills over the fate of the pulverized bones whose extracted DNA identified individual victims were divisive and individual—it was about private grief, and families’ rights to mourn over their own dead. The mass burial of thousands of people’s bones under equalizing and anonymizing layers of dirt was obscene, and the co-existence of victim bone with terrorist bone was unfathomably disrespectful. Blood, however, had the opposite effect. It was used to collectivize trauma to an exaggerated, though politically advantageous, degree. When researchers began to monitor the health effects of New Yorkers who worked on Ground Zero and New Yorkers who had not, they first tested firefighters because of their proximity to the toxic dust and debris. The control group used to compare the level of toxins in the blood of potentially sick firefighters was made up of firefighters who did not work at Ground Zero. The blood of the firefighters who had not been at Ground Zero was also the control group used when testing the blood of other New Yorkers, i.e. non-firefighters. The blood of venerated heroes was the gold standard for all residents of a city in the throes of collective post-trauma. When the last traces of debris were removed from Ground Zero, the bedrock foundation lay naked and bare like bone without sinew.

Cartoon of the day

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 10/09/2017 - 11:00pm in