As we spend a day celebrating the American worker and the union movement, it's hard to feel optimistic. The workers are getting screwed:
American workers stay longer in the office, at the factory or on the farm than their counterparts in Europe and most other rich nations, and they produce more per person over the year.
They also get more done per hour than everyone but the Norwegians, according to a U.N. report released Monday, which said the United States “leads the world in labor productivity.”
The average U.S. worker produces $63,885 of wealth per year, more than their counterparts in all other countries, the International Labor Organization said in its report. Ireland comes in second at $55,986, followed by Luxembourg at $55,641, Belgium at $55,235 and France at $54,609.
The U.S. employee put in an average 1,804 hours of work in 2006, the report said. That compared with 1,407.1 hours for the Norwegian worker and 1,564.4 for the French. Keep working, America!
I admit that I have mixed feelings about unions. Not the idea of unions; I think that the principle of worker unions is a good idea. But the reality of current unions don't match those principles. I've only had one union job in my life, so I'm not exactly an expert here, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. The union seemed much more dedicated to perpetuating their own bureaucracy than actually helping workers, and were only too willing to "compromise" when negotiating contracts. I never thought that I got much for the dues I paid.
The real problem for workers is the philosophy behind our current corporate capitalist system. Today, the emphasis is on showing good quarterly profits to the shareholders. This means that "expenses" (like wages) must be kept to a minimum. Long term investment is no longer rewarded in America. Instead, the short term numbers are what matters. CEO's are routinely given huge salaries for dismantling companies, laying off employees, cutting pensions and benefits, and generally screwing workers. Outsourcing everything possible is the fast track to large bonuses. It's a climate where workers are seen as a disposable commodity.
Unfortunately, modern unions lack the strength or will to fight back.
It feels like an ironic black comedy to say "happy labor day". Labor is not happy.