Saturday, December 09, 2006

Before the Bargaining Begins

Posted by olvlzl.

ithout environmental and worker’s protection here and abroad the answer would have been, no dice. So it’s good that Open Source had Barney Frank on the other night to explain his proposed grand bargain. That’s the one in which businesses get a decrease in some kinds of regulations and more open trade in return for things like a more friendly climate for unionization, increased wages and national health coverage. Robert Kuttner has a column this morning that gives more information about the deal and why it could bring in a return to policies that built the now moribund middle class.

I’m not entirely sold on the bargain and am very skeptical that it will be taken up. Kuttner mentions in his column that the ideas seem strange to the left because they haven’t been taken seriously by those in power for decades. That is primarily the fault of conservatives who from the late 40s till today have done everything they could to destroy the New Deal and other programs that benefitted the large majority of people in the United States. They owned the media that carped about every tiny fault and blew those into a climate of cynical dismissal of both the public sector and unions. When they didn’t have anything to blow up, they invented it. And there was also the conservative, entrenched leadership of the unions who not only played the very unattractive roles assigned to them by the conservative media, they squandered too many opportunities to increase membership. Without an expanded membership the union movement started to die. Both will have to be overcome to make this bargain work, neither side will give up their perks without being forced to.

One of the other guests on Open Source gave one more essential part of the bargain, this time business goes second. Last time, with NAFTA etc. they went first and our turn never came. Without the pressure of them not getting what they want, they will never allow us to get what we need. After the failure of the Clinton administration to give us health care and the essential protections that should have been a preliminary requirement, NAFTA should never have been passed. Our rule going into this has to be that without us getting the things we need in the bargain then the others things don’t happen.

And if it fails, if the conservatives refuse the offer? What then? I hope that Barney Frank has thought of that. I can’t imagine he hasn’t. If it fails then, among other things, free trade should be scrapped. Without the things Frank has listed as the requirements of the labor side then free trade is a quick trip to the bottom, the one the middle class has been on since Reagan took office. If a decent standard of living isn’t possible under the rules as they stand, it’s not time to give up on people having a decent standard of living. It’s time to burn the rule book and get rules that provide for one. To start, I’d say that the program in Marjorie Kelly’s book, The Divine Right of Capital, is a good place to start.

Why is it that workers who produce all of the wealth don’t have at least as much ownership of a company as the one-time investor gets in perpetuity? Investor ownership is eternal. Stock can be sold over and over again without a single cent of additional capital investment in the company being made. Yet a worker who works for the company from the beginning till her job gets outsourced when the eighteenth owner of the stock decides that slave-labor overseas will maximize the value of the stock, has no legally protected ownership rights at all.