News & Commentary

September 8, 2013

The president of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, plans to ask the labor federation’s national convention today to allow nonlabor advocacy groups and millions of nonunion workers to join, the New York Times reports. With the goal of reversing organized labor’s declining numbers, Trumka believes that unions can build a broad coalition to advance a worker-friendly political and economic agenda by admitting allied workers and progressive groups, such as the NAACP and Sierra Club, as affiliates.

Companies are also experimenting with reforms to the basic union model. In Tennessee, Volkswagen is working with the United Automobile Workers to implement a German-style works council there, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal report. In an agreement with the UAW, Volkswagen has pledged not to interfere with the UAW’s efforts to unionize the plants with the goal of creating a council of blue- and white-collar workers that meets with management to discuss working conditions and productivity. None of the foreign carmakers with plants in the South are currently unionized.

Internationally, the Australian Labor Party’s six-year rule in that country has come to an end. The L.A. Times, Washington Post, and USA Today report that a coalition of conservative parties in Australia, led by the Liberal Party, won a national election this weekend on the back of a promise to scrap a carbon tax that was implemented in 2012.

In India, a program in Kerala state that teaches women farming and other skills has been successful in providing a lifeline for the state’s 3.7 million women, the L.A. Times reports. The program, called Kudumbashree, has built confidence among women to interact with financial institutions, learn how to manage risks, and otherwise develop skills often reserved for men in the region.

On the opinion pages, the editorial boards of the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal all had things to say about Friday’s labor market report, which showed that the U.S. labor participation rate of 63.2 percent is the lowest level since 1978. While the New York Times attributes the weak labor market to weak wage growth, the Journal credits part of the problem to “the growing attraction of not working” led by an explosion in food-stamp and federal disability rolls. Brad Plumer of the Washington Post’s Wonkblog agrees that the rise in disability insurance is a factor, and also credits two others: the aging of America and a bad economy keeping workers in school.

Professor Tyler Cowen writes in the New York Times that the slow economic recovery is particularly troubling because it is bypassing young people. A wide range of factors, including rising tuition rates, declining wages, and a decrease in companies’ willingness to take risks on developing skills of young workers could lead to severe long-term problems for the economy, Cowen argues.

In another editorial, the New York Times’s board criticized the Obama Administration’s role in deporting immigrant workers who pose no criminal threat. In the same editorial, the Times praised the Senate immigration bill but wrote that a bill before the House, the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act, would have “devastating consequences” by granting state and local governments the authority to write and enforce their own immigration laws.

In the L.A. Times, Professor Nelson Lichtenstein compares the states’ efforts to hamstring the implementation of the Affordable Care Act to the efforts of Southern segregationists to fight desegregation. For example, several state legislatures have tried to cripple the work of “navigator” organizations whose role is to help the tens of millions of uninsured people sign up for insurance, Lichtenstein notes.

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