Friday, June 3, 2011

To Serve Our Citizens

There is a recent move by Republicans to try to cut back on child labor protections. In Missouri, a Republican-sponsored bill proposes to eliminate the prohibition on employing children under 14, to eliminate restrictions on numbers of hours a child may work, to eliminate requirements for a work certificate or permit, and to eliminate the presumption that the presence of a child at a workplace is evidence of employment. In Maine and other states, Republicans have mounted related attacks on child labor laws, proposing to change the minimum wage for children and to eliminate limits on the number of hours children can work during school days.

And, of course, a couple months ago, the Wisconsin legislature passed a law eliminating collective bargaining rights for government employees. (That law was recently struck down on procedural grounds, but there is still a chance they could repair the procedural problem and try again.)

Where is all this leading? The Republicans seem to say “give us control and we’ll return the jobs.” Maybe. But so far the only structural suggestion they have is to reduce taxes on those who already have a huge amount of the wealth.

They say the words, but sometimes I wonder if we’re speaking the same language. If you’ve seen the Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man,” you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say we should make sure we’re clear on our terminology.

Increasingly, I’m thinking the Republican plan is like this: We take our orders from Big Business, which has been offshoring jobs aplenty because they regard that it’s just too damned expensive to employ US workers and to try to achieve US standards of product and environmental quality. So when the US has pay like the third world and product and environmental standards like the third world, then they’ll start hiring here again and declare success because “the jobs have returned.”

But are they even the jobs we’re talking about?

It seems like a race to the bottom.

As recently as this weekend, I endured watching a painful interview with Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) on one of the Sunday talk shows. In it he alluded to how he’d been talking to Vice President Biden about restoring jobs. Already I’m dubious that Biden was making the concessions Cantor attributed to him, but even if what he said was true, that they did talk about such things, are we all talking about the same things? Which jobs are coming back? How exactly?

Yes, I hear occasional talk of numbers of jobs returned. But it’s just not true that a job is a job is a job. Don’t get me wrong, numbers are important. But so are other things.

The quality of those jobs matters, too, so when I see the Republicans talking about the need to cut education while at the same time talking about how we’ll need to make it easier to employ the uneducated in ways that don’t conform to existing labor standards, I have to wonder just what exactly this plan of theirs to restore jobs looks like.

They seem to be short on details. apparently wanting to leave it to the market to decide. If the market were going to be offering back anything with good pay and good working conditions, why would there be this all-out assault on worker protections?

Something doesn’t smell right in what the Republicans are cooking up.

Midnight at the Glassworks

The photo used here is a cropped version of a photo that is in the public domain. It was obtained from Wikipedia. The photo is one of many by master photographer Lewis Hine (1874-1940), who wanted to document the living and working conditions of his time. One would like to believe those times are past. Seeing recent Republican plans for the future, one might not be so sure. Hopefully through the power of the photograph, we can collectively remember where we were, so that we can keep from going back. To quote Hine, “Photography can light-up darkness and expose ignorance.”

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Originally published June 3, 2011 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.

Tags (from Open Salon): politics, jobs, labor, labor standards, education, child labor, labor protections, minimum wage, working conditions, offshoring, international, business, big business, multi-national business, multi-national, multi-nat, multinat, multinational, biden, joe biden, joseph biden, vp, vice president, vice president biden, cantor, eric cantor, rep cantor, representative cantor, representative eric cantor, employment, unemployment, service, serve, to serve man, to serve our citizens