Labor “Flexibility” and Repression in the USA

[The BBC World Service recently aired this commentary]

Lee Iacocca was probably the most prominent corporate executive in the United States in the 1980s. He led the Chrysler auto company back from the edge of bankruptcy, and gained widespread recognition by starring in advertisements for the company.

Iacocca came to Chrysler by way of Ford Motor Company, from which he had been unceremoniously fired.

The story goes that Iacocca, then president of Ford Motor Company, asked Henry Ford II, then the company’s chair, “Why are you firing me, Mr. Ford?”

Ford replied, “I just don’t like you!”

No one needs to shed any tears for Lee Iacocca, of course. Things worked out just fine for him.

But his firing says a lot about the state of employment relations in the United States.

Earlier this year, millions of people in France took to the streets to protest proposed laws making it easier for employers to fire young workers. Meanwhile, employers and international agencies like the International Monetary Fund are pressuring governments in Europe, Australia, Indonesia, Mexico and around the world for “enhanced labor flexibility” –- a term that means diminished protections for workers. The argument is that if it is easier to fire employees, and they are afforded fewer wage, working condition and pension protections, then employers will hire more readily, and workers will actually be better off.

The model “flexible” labor market is the United States.

And while it might look desirable from an employer point of view, it is not an example that regular people should be eager to see emulated.

For non-unionized workers – and more than 90 percent of workers in the private sector are not unionized – arbitrary employer behavior is completely permissible and, for many, the norm … even over hiring and firing decisions.

In one notable example highlighted by the National Workrights Institute, a supervisor at a Philadelphia nursing home was fired after 10 years of service because she called in two hours late to advise her employer that she was unable to come to work because her brother, with whom she lived, had died.

The National Workrights Institute has documented how other employees have been fired —

• for refusing to vote as their employer wished,

• to avoid paying contractually earned commissions, and

• for refusing to falsify medical records.

Two million employees are fired every year in the United States.

One way to think about so-called labor flexibility is that it represents enhanced employer power over workers. Especially where trade union membership is low or declining, or union power is relatively weak, labor flexibility takes away many of the key legal protections that workers have, leaving them isolated and vulnerable.

The result in the United States is a growing low-wage sector and downward pressure on wages across the board; very high turnover in the low-wage sector (in the retail sector, for example, more than two in five workers change jobs every year); a pension system transformed in recent decades to put burdens on employees and undermine pension guarantees from employers; and a sense of unease among a broad swath of workers about their employment futures.

The Lee Iacocca story notwithstanding, there is no doubt that the U.S. model works for the corporate executive class. But it has been a much more dire tale for America’s working people.

Corporate Democrats

[posted to corp-focus, June 15]

By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

If you wonder why things never change in Washington, look no further than a report released yesterday by Russ Baker’s Real News Project (

The report documents 25 corporate Democrats — corporate consultants with strong ties to the Democratic Party leadership inside the beltway.
“Although establishment Democrats are, by and large, still more skeptical of the corporate agenda than Republicans, they have become strikingly less so,” Baker writes. “This has led to the creation of a kind of permanent corporate governance structure that is truly bipartisan. Many of the firms employing Democratic operatives have them working side-by-side with Republicans — often the same Republicans they go up against in political campaigns. In some cases, a so-called conservative Republican and a so-called liberal Democrat are full partners in the same firm.”

Case in point: Jack Quinn.

Jack Quinn served as Vice President Gore’s Chief of Staff, and later as Counsel to President Clinton. Now he is a partner in a political consulting and lobbying firm with Republican insider Ed Gillespie — Quinn Gillespie — and together, “they have represented clients who want to drill in fragile areas of Alaska, put the screws to already beleaguered American creditors, and prevent the introduction of more healthy dairy substitutes in school lunches,” Baker writes.

Democratic consultants know no bounds when it comes to the corporate feeding trough. They work for companies pushing genetically modified organisms, for Big Pharma, for credit card companies and for gambling companies.

Here are the 25 Corporate Democrats profiled in Baker’s report.

They’d make a great set of trading cards — representing Democrats who have traded in their ideals to push the corporate agenda:

Name: Edward Ayoob

Firm: Barnes & Thornburgh

Democratic connection: Former legislative counsel to Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada)

Name: Bill Andresen

Firm: Dutko Worldwide

Democratic connection: Former chief of staff to Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Connecticut)

Name: R. Lane Bailey

Firm: Golin/Harris

Democratic connection: Chief of staff to Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) for 12 years.

Name: Michael Berman

Firm: Duberstein Group

Democratic connection: Well-connected veteran Democrat

Name: John Breaux

Firm: Patton Boggs

Democratic connection: Former Democratic Senator from Louisiana

Name: Leslie Dach

Firm: Edelman Worldwide

Democratic connection: Former media consultant to Bill Clinton and John Kerry

Name: Ingrid Duran

Firm: D&P Creative Strategies

Democratic connection: Worked for the House Banking Committee under

Democratic control.

Name: Carter Eskew

Firm: Glover Park Group

Democratic connection: Al Gore’s chief media advisor in 2000.

Name: Phil Goldberg

Firm: Shook, Hardy & Bacon

Democratic connection: Aide to several Democratic members of Congress

Name: Joel Johnson

Firm: Glover Park Group

Democratic connection: Worked in the Clinton White House

Name: Marshall Matz

Firm: Olsson Frank & Weeda

Democratic connection: Was George McGovern’s nutrition expert.

Name: Richard Mintz

Firm: Brunswick Group

Democratic connection: Worked in Clinton’s Transportation Department and

was staff director for Hillary Clinton during the 1992 campaign.

Name: George Mitchell

Firm: Piper Rudnick

Democratic connection: Former Democratic Senator from Maine

Name: Mark Penn

Firm: Burson-Marsteller

Democratic connection: Principal pollster for Bill Clinton

Name: Ronald Platt

Firm: Buchanan Ingersoll

Democratic connection: Michigan state director for Gore-Lieberman

Name: Anthony Podesta

Firm: Podesta Mattoon

Democratic connection: Bill Clinton’s chief of staff

Name: Heather Podesta

Firm: Blank Rome

Democratic connection: Counsel to the late Congressman Robert Matsui (D-California) and to Earl Pomeroy (D-North Dakota) as well as a staffer for former Senator Bill Bradley (D-New Jersey)

Name: Jack Quinn

Firm: Quinn Gillespie

Democratic connection: Chief of staff to former Vice President Al Gore.

Name: Thomas Quinn

Firm: Venable

Democratic connection: Worked on Democratic Presidential campaigns from

Edward Kennedy in 1980 to John Kerry in 2004.

Name: Jody Powell

Firm: Powell Tate

Democratic connection: President Jimmy Carter’s press secretary

Name: Steve Ricchetti

Firm: Ricchetti Inc.

Democratic connection: Former deputy chief of staff to Bill Clinton

Name: Anne Urban

Firm: Venn Strategies

Democratic connection: Economics adviser to Senator Joseph Lieberman


Name: Anne Wexler

Firm: Wexler and Walker Public Policy Associates

Democratic connection: Top policy aide in the Carter administration

Name: Howard Wolfson

Firm: Glover Park Group

Democratic connection: Former spokesperson for Hillary Clinton

Name: Andrew Young

Firm: Goodworks International

Democratic connection: President Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations

Baker concludes that Democrats have increasingly belied their long-assumed commitment to the little guy and the average American by “cozying up to the money trough.”

“Once the Democrats turned into the opposition, key Clinton figures found a home in offering their advertising, public relations and arm-twisting skills to industry trade associations and corporations,” Baker writes in the report. “They retained their links to the party, and have lived a kind of dual life ever since, moving effortlessly from corporate work to campaign work and back. The friendliness with big business has escalated under the reign of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who has assembled his own so-called ‘K Street Cabinet’ — named after the street where the lobbying hordes are headquartered.”

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, . Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and director of Essential Action . Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

When Mom Dies

[posted to corp-focus on June 1]


By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

We both lost our mothers over the past year.

Both to cancer.

They were both decent, loving, generous mothers.
Different in many ways.

But fundamentally decent human beings.

Like most Americans.

They cared about their fellow human beings.

On a personal level, they cared.

They saw their fellow human beings, not as objects, but as like them.


They both worked for a better world.

And yet, despite their decency, and the fundamental decency of the majority of the American people, ours is in many ways not a society of which we can be proud.

The decency of the American people is not moving up the ladder.

This troubled our mothers.

And it troubles us.

Even though we both knew that we were going to lose our mothers — with some cancers, the writing is on the wall — when it happens, it’s a blow like no other.

You will have noticed that over the past couple years, we have not kept up with our pace of one article a week — one from Robert and one from Russell.

We have been taking care of our moms.

And then mourning our loss.

And in our sorrow, we have pondered this question — why decency often doesn’t translate into policy.

We know that many of you are working hard to figure this one out.

But let us first admit it — we have not figured it out.

Our society has figured out how to get to the moon and back.

And we’ve figured out how to build weapons of mass destruction and use them.

And we have figured out how to pack 5,000 songs in a single I-Pod.

And plug it into a tape deck so we can listen to any or all of them on our car stereo.

And we have figured out how to build in the television into the back seat of the mini-van so the kids don’t bother us on our trips to the beach for vacation.

And we have figured out how to order any of thousands of DVDs off of Netflix — and have them delivered to our homes — with no late fees.

And we have figured out how to take pictures on our cell phones — and e-mail those pictures instantaneously halfway around the world so our friends and family can see them.

And get instant ESPN sports reports on those cell phones.

But we haven’t figured out how to translate our fundamental decency into policy.

So that we are all covered with one system of national health insurance.

So that war becomes a relic.

So that poverty is eradicated.

In honor of our moms, we dedicate our lives to figure this out.

It’s not brain surgery.

Or rocket science.

We should be able to find a way.

Here’s one thing we know: People in positions of power too often don’t let their decency inform their decisions and actions. And they don’t think seriously about the lives and families of those they harm. Polluters, cigarette marketers, executives that price life-saving drugs out of reach, human rights abusers and their ilk could not live with themselves, and would not do what they do, if they had to take responsibility for the pain they cause.

Not responsibility in a criminal sense, just a moral one. No one is hard-hearted enough to bear the pain.

Here’s to you mom.

Back to work.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, . Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and director of Essential Action . Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).