Sunday, July 12, 2020

Keeping the Workers In Line


I read an excellent op-ed (“Trump Would Like to See You Now,” July 10) in The New York Times, by Jamelle Bouie, which reminded me of the olden days, showing me that not much has changed in 40 years when it comes to the relationship between workers and their bosses. Workplaces are every bit as demanding as they were then, chiefly to ensure productivity goals are met, and, as the thinking goes, to make the bosses happier and richer. The tactic, it seems, is to keep workers off-balance and in fear of losing their job.

This tactic to keep workers on edge, which goes hand in hand with the politics of selfishness and greed if not cruelty, is deemed acceptable by employers as a way of doing business, supported by a Republican Party that sees no wrong in it, even with the Covid-19 pandemic raging in America. Bouie writes (note that the Florida senator in this passage is Rick Scott, a Republican): 
Most Republican senators voted to remove the unemployment expansion at its full size, but it survived. Billions of dollars of benefits have gone to tens of millions of Americans. The increase in aid was so great that, as The New York Times reported last month, the federal poverty rate declined even as the jobless rate reached incredible heights. And there’s also no evidence that additional benefits are keeping people who want to work from working.
The Florida senator (and former governor) wasn’t so much concerned with the ability of people to work as much as he was with the ability of employers to discipline them. Workers are kept on edge — and willing to accept whatever wage is on offer — by the threat of immiseration. This, for politicians who back both big business and existing social relations, is a feature and not a bug of our economic system, since insecurity and desperation keep power in the hands of capital and its allies. Even something as modest as expanded unemployment benefits is a threat to that arrangement, as they give workers the power to say no to work they do not want.
Precisely, and ever since workers lost a measure of say in the workplace—although it is important to note that workers never really had much of a say—a process that started decades ago, employers have used the big stick approach to keep workers in line. In other words, workers have little to no say in how they work, including in workplace safety. The fear of immiseration is real.

Failure to adhere to the boss’s dictums; failure to say “yes, you are right, I am on it” and you may be out of a job, possibly cited for worker insubordination at worst or not being a team player at best. You have become redundant. Outside the workplace, this sounds absurd, the need for workers to bend to unreasonable demands; but inside it, it sounds normal, the way of business. Such is the particular culture of the workplace.

When I was a young man, in the late 1970s, I worked many low-wage (i.e., minimum wage) jobs to pay my way for both college and university. Then, minimum wage was about $2.50 an hour. I had jobs packing and schlepping 50-lb boxes in a factory in the middle of summer; unloading 50-ft trailers filled with these same heavy boxes in sub-zero temperatures; driving a truck; working in an open pit copper mine; painting garages; sanding plaster without a mask or respirator; installing smoke detectors; cutting grass and raking leaves; cleaning bathrooms and washing floors; picking orders in warehouses; and all manner of demanding physical labour. 

Most of it was hard and dirty work. Truly, back-breaking work. Rarely did I receive a compliment. Few workers did. The thinking was that if you were still there, the bosses were not unhappy with you. And in turn you worked hard for a low wage, because that was what was expected of you. To do a day's work for a day's wage, no matter the circumstances.

Workplace safety was almost non-existent in many of these places. I probably breathed my share of toxic and unhealthy chemicals and other body-damaging poisons, including second-hand smoke, which was the norm, it seems. Such was the way it was. To complain was to be deemed a troublemaker. This was 40 years ago, and today it seems as bad as it was then, or it might be worse now for the low-wage worker. After all, if I was fired or let go, I could always find another low-wage back-breaking job. Or maybe it is the same today for those on the bottom. 

Oh, and if your foreman said that the boss wanted to see you, well, you knew it was not good news.

For more, go to [NYT].

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Many Americans Need Some Financial Help

Economic Security

An article (“The Pandemic Proved That Cash Payments Work;” July 10, 2020), by Annie Lowrey, in The Atlantic says that giving workers on the bottom of the economic ladder extra money does reduce anxiety and gives people and families some measure of control in their lives, notably when such control is in short supply. In other words, cash payments work.

Lowrey writes:
The UI bonus in the CARES Act expires at the end of July, and Congress is in the midst of a roiling debate over whether to extend it, winnow it down, or end it entirely. Democrats largely favor keeping the bonus payments in place, given the scope of the recession. Republicans have argued that, by allowing workers to stay home rather than look for jobs, the bonus is harming the recovery. White House officials are pushing for it to end, too.
This article shows that for people on the bottom, which is actually a majority of people in America, even a few hundred dollars a month can make a huge difference in how people live. The top 10% probably do not realize this salient fact in how most people, how most families live with the constant stress of economic insecurity, of not being able to pay their rent, pay their utilities, buy enough food, get gas for the car. The list is endless, and so is the fear. An unplanned expense, which happens a lot, just adds to the stress. It’s real. It’s unhealthy. It’s something that I live with every day.

What is telling is the difference in response between Democrats and Republicans on this issue; the latter is chiefly looking out for the interests of Business while the former those of the Common People. It is not hard to figure out which argument is not only more popular but also more appealing.

Now might be the time that the little guy is going to get more than a few crumbs falling off the table of the wealthy businessman. The pandemic is reshaping many areas of public and working life; and despite the existing dreadful situation in rising Covid-19 cases and in continuing deaths—which is of course regrettable and in many cases avoidable if there were leadership in the White House and an adequate federal response—we might find some good down the road. Not yet, though. Now the situation is bleak.

I know that hope is not a strategy, so governments (in this case, the American Congress) will be compelled to act in the interests of its citizens, notably for the 80% to 90% who do not comprise the top money earners in America. Often, and for long, governments have not considered the importance of legislating policy in the interests of the vast majority of Americans. Giving a few hundred dollars a month would be a good start.

This might soon happen. With new leadership. In a few months. For the common good might become a normal everyday phrase.

For more, go [here].

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Frances Perkins & The New Deal

Economic Insecurity

Frances Perkins [born in Boston in 1880–died in New York City in 1965] on the cover of Time: August 14, 1933. Perkins “was an American sociologist and workers-rights advocate who served as the U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, the longest serving in that position, and the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet,Wikipedia writes. It was as Secretary of Labor that she nailed down the many planks of the New Deal, most notably a shorter work week (54 hours), the  Fair Labor Standards Actunemployment insurance, retirement pensions ( Social Security Act,) and welfare.

The contours of the story are well known, one of the deadliest industrial disasters in U.S. history. It was March 25, 1911, in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of Manhattan in New York City. Late that afternoon, around 4:40 p.m., a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which was occupied the eight, ninth and tenth floor of the 10-story Asch Building at 23–29 Washington Place, near Washington Square Park.

Trapped and nowhere to go, 62 people either fell or jumped to their death, the rest died from a combination of burns, blunt trauma and asphyxiation. On that fateful and horrible day day, 146 people died; 123 women and girls and 23 men. The youngest victims were 14.

When Frances Perkins watched women—mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants— jump to their deaths to escape the raging fire, it made such a strong impression on Perkins that it would become the impetus for legislation to protect workers, which is among many of her outstanding accomplishments. When she was appointed the Secretary of Labor 22 years later, she pushed for many of the progressive programs that would become a prominent part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.

I was aware of the New Deal. Yet, I was not aware of Frances Perkins. I was not aware of her large role in drafting legislation to ensure workers’ rights, that is, until I read Hannah Steinkopf-Frank’s article (“Frances Perkins: Architect of the New Deal;” July 8, 2020) in JSTOR. In it, Steinkopf-Frank writes:
In the midst of the catastrophic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, more than 100 million Americans are accessing financial assistance and medical care. These vital services are available in part because of the efforts of a woman many have never heard of.
Frances Perkins was the first female presidential cabinet secretary and the central architect of the New Deal. She designed Social Security and public works programs that brought millions out of poverty. Her work resulted in the construction of hospitals, public schools, and related infrastructure. A social worker by training, Perkins also implemented workplace regulations that are standard to this day.
Bravo to this woman and the outstanding work that she undertook on behalf of the American people. Most notably, what she accomplished improved the lives of well-being of the common people, those that toil at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, those that struggle daily to make ends meet—in other words the vast majority of people. With this, everybody benefits.

Perkins’ accomplishments are so many and so important that she ought to be remembered for what she did, including going against the perceived wisdom of her peers. Here is a notable example. Steinkopf-Frank writes that she also “helped some 20,000-30,000 Jews enter on visitor visas, and rescued around 400 Jewish children. She intervened in hundreds of individual cases, from Sigmund Freud to the Von Trapp family.” 

A true humanitarian; a true advocate of the greater good. Her many accomplishments ought to be taught to every high school student in America. I now know of some of her good deeds and applaud her work.

For more, go to [JSTOR].

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Now’s a Good Time for Canadians To Consider Universal Basic Income

The Pandemic Economy

An article (“Has enthusiasm for the CERB paved the way for a universal basic income? July 8, 2020), by Nadine Yousif, in Maclean’s says what I have been thinking and writing about for years. Now’s a good time for Canadians to seriously consider Universal Basic Income, or UBI.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused democratic governments around the world to confront inequalities and change the way that they think about its citizens and how to support them and liberal democracy in general. This is no small matter, and the implications for the future are significant. In Canada, the federal government came up with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, or CERB. Without question, this is a good start. Millions of Canadians applied and have been receiving income support during a time of economic crisis.

Yousif writes:
The taxable, $2,000-per-month federal benefit for people whose incomes had been affected by the coronavirus pandemic was initially available from March 15 to Oct. 3, but Trudeau has since extended the benefit by eight weeks as economic uncertainty looms. A staggering 8.4 million Canadians—22 per cent of the country’s population—have applied.
This is a large percentage of Canada’s working population. There is growing consensus among Canadians that such a program ought to become a permanent fixture: “62 per cent expressed support for a government-funded guaranteed income program in a May survey conducted by Toronto-based Public Square Research in collaboration with Maru/Blue,“ Yousif weites.

Such a finding is not surprising, with so many Canadians either out of work or working for less money. Let’s face it; we will be living with this pandemic for a long time. Its effects will be felt for a long time. Even before this pandemic, the vast majority of Canadians did not have tons of money socked away; do not have unlimited resources to survive three months of non-income, let alone longer.

Truth be told, people tend to support income-support programs when they themselves have been affected by an economic downturn. In other words, when you lose your job and can’t find a similar one in your field of training, you become open to the idea that we can all use a hand up. It is estimated that UBI would cost the government between $47.5 billion and $98.1 billion. Although some would argue otherwise, this is worth it for social peace and prosperity.

For more, go [here].

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Goose With One Eye Open

Water Fowl

Goose With One Eye Open at Mill Pond, which was taken earlier today.
Photo Credit: ©2020. Perry J. Greenbaum

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Welcoming Summer (2020)

June Solstice

Summer 2020: Yellow irises (Iris pseudacorus) in my backyard started blooming a few weeks ago, following a late beginning to Spring, which has been the case for years now. Spring in these parts begins sometime in May. When an event happens often, it becomes the norm. Today is the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere, arriving at 5:43 pm EDT. The forecast high is 31°C (88°F), and there is a heat warning lasting till Monday. I think it is going to be a hot summer, not necessarily a long one, but a hot one. While things are opening up in the economic sense, Covid 19 is still a strong and enduring presence, and will likely remain so until well into next year, until Science produces a viable and effective vaccine. Until then, or even then, things will not be the same; there will be changes, some of them possibly for our benefit. There are still many unknowns, but still many things that we can rely on, like the changing of the seasons, the magic of flowers blooming and the sight of bees going about their business. 
Photo: ©2020. Perry J. Greenbaum

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Backyard With Frost: May 9th (2020)

A Canada Spring

Backyard With Frost: May 9th (2020): Photo taken around sunrise today, approx. 6 a.m. This is what I awoke to. While waiting for my morning coffee, I took this snapshot. Temperature was minus 4°C (or 25°F). Spring is just around the corner, probably hiding from the virus. I will have to wait to bring out the tomato plants that my son and I started from seed in February. Possibly, it will be another couple of weeks before I can think about it. I wonder how the geese and goslings are doing at nearby Mill Pond. The ducks, too. And our friend George the mute swan. I hope that all are doing well. 
Photo Credit: ©2020. Perry J. Greenbaum

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Kakapo of New Zealand

Rare Birds

The Kakapo of New Zealand: Nature writes about this beautiful and rare bird: “Andrew Digby works to protect the kakapo, a critically endangered New Zealand bird. To know them is to love them, Digby says of the large, flightless, nocturnal parrots. During the breeding season, which happens every few years when the rimu tree fruits, Digby spends months on the four predator-free sanctuary islands that are the kakapos’ last refuge. For more, go [here].
Photo Credit: Nature via Deidre Vercoe/New Zealand Department of Conservation

Friday, April 24, 2020

Our Mute Swan Friend, George

Mill Pond

Our Mute Swan Friend, George; During our regular walks in and around Mill Pond, we saw George, a mute swan (Cygnus olor), for the first time this year. George appears to be in fine form. He is part of a couple that we call George and Georgina. We have yet to see Georgina. 
Photo Credit: ©2020. Perry J. Greenbaum

Monday, April 20, 2020

Isolation in Canada’s North

Covid-19 Pandemic

Quarantine at the Edge of the World: Portraits from the Arctic follows Pat Kane, a documentary photographer from Yellowknife, a city of about 20,000 persons situated 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of the Arctic Circle and the capital of NWT.
Via: The Atlantic & Youtube

Like everywhere else, the residents of Northwest Territories are staying indoors and staying apart from each other: In an area that is already geographically isolated from the rest of Canada in the best of times, this pandemic brings about a double isolation. Its residents, however, take it in stride, a reminder of the historic relationship that we Canadians had with the land and how we adapted to its remoteness and harshness.

Truth be told, Canada has much untouched natural beauty to behold. In many ways, this defines Canada—a large land of forests, fields, wild life and waterways with a small number of people residing within its borders. The vast majority of Canadians reside along the 100 km (60 mile) ribbon of land close to the U.S. border, chiefly in large cities such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

This makes Canada's North an exceptional place in a number of ways. The Atlantic writes:
The Northwest Territories encompasses some of the northernmost regions of Canada and extends high into the Arctic Circle. It is about twice the size of Texas but home to only 44,000 residents, who live in small communities spread across its vast area. The capital city of Yellowknife is 1,500 kilometers from the next-closest major city. It’s cold, ruggedly beautiful, and very isolated. 
For some, this is the appeal. Its remoteness.