Posts Tagged ‘workers’

chappatte

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Recent legal decisions—such as the NLRB’s ruling that Northwestern University’s football players are employees of the school and are therefore entitled to a union election, and U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken’s ruling on the so-called O’Bannon case, which will enable football and men’s basketball players to receive more from schools than they are receiving now—have raised lots of important questions about how we look at and compensate the work performed by student-athletes in American colleges and universities.

One of the most interesting issues has to do with unpaid labor. Here’s the New York Times editorial board on the O’Bannon ruling:

The N.C.A.A. and its member institutions have no one to blame but themselves for any unintended negative consequences. They built a lucrative commercial enterprise that depended in large part on unpaid labor. Now they have to move forward without exploiting the very students they have always purported to protect.

That’s right: U.S. colleges and universities have been producing and selling athletic performances—especially, but not only, football and basketball games—that are produced by student-athletes who are not paid for their labor. The players do receive some compensation, such as tuition and room and board (and, on the O’Bannon ruling, will be permitted to receive money to defray some additional costs of attending school) but they are not being paid for the total value they produce for the schools they attend. Therefore, the players are performing unpaid labor.*

But why stop there? It may be easier to see unpaid labor when workers, such as student-athletes, receive absolutely no pay—and their employers are raking in huge sums of money from the work they perform. But why not then identify and do something about all the other forms of unpaid labor being performed in our economy? I’m thinking, for example, of autoworkers, restaurant employees, nurses, daycare workers, and so on, all of whom receive wages but wages that are much less than the total value they produce. They, too, are performing unpaid labor, which is then appropriated by their employers and serves as the source of the enterprises’ profits. 

No amount of tinkering with workers’ compensation—whether in the form of establishing a trust fund for student-athletes or raising minimum wages or increasing wages through market pressure or collective bargaining—will ultimately eliminate that unpaid labor. It may diminish it, by changing the ratio of unpaid to paid labor, but vast amounts of unpaid labor will continue to exist.

And that’s the problem that needs to be solved, both on American campuses and in the wider economy.

*In Marxian terms, the players are productive laborers and, by virtue of creating surplus-value, are being exploited by their capitalist employers, the boards of trustees of the colleges and universities where they work. Much of that extra value is retained by the athletic departments (which is then used to pay head coaches, their coaching staffs, and to build new, start-of-the-art athletic facilities), and another large portion is distributed to the NCAA. Hence, the opposition of the schools, coaches, and the NCAA to any measure that increases the bargaining power of the student-athlete-workers.

Chart of the day

Posted: 12 August 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

jobs-wages

Yes, I know, a table (actually, 3 tables). . .

According to a new report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors [pdf],

In 2008 and 2009 the US economy lost 8.7 million jobs (Figure 1). By examining the sectors from which the jobs were lost, most notably manufacturing and construction (Figure 2), we find that the average annual wage in sectors (current wages weighted by number of jobs) where jobs were lost in the downturn was $61,637. A similar accounting of the jobs gains through 2014q2 shows average wages of $47,171 per year. This wage gap, at 23%, is significantly larger than that of the earlier recession and recovery, and implies $93 billion in lower wage income. (Figure 3).

Extensive job losses in high-wage manufacturing ($63K) and construction ($58K) sectors were replaced by jobs in the lower wage sectors of hospitality ($21K), health care ($47K), and administrative support ($37K).

In other words, over the course of the current “recovery,” American workers have been falling further and further behind.

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Here is my friend and former fellow graduate student Antonio Callari in an interview on Marxism he did for a group that produces educational videos directed at students and teachers. He starts with Marx’s biography, discusses changes in Marx’s thought and politics during the nineteenth century, and concludes with a discussion of the ways Marxism has (and has not) worked over the course of the past century.

Job-satisfaction-statistics

source

One way of thinking about workers’ happiness is to measure the extent to which it contributes to higher stock returns for the corporations in which they work. That’s exactly what Alex Edmans, Lucius Li, and Chendi Zhang did and the result is not particularly surprising: employee satisfaction is, in fact, associated with positive abnormal stock returns. But there’s a caveat: the positive relationship really only holds in countries that have “flexible” labor markets (such as the United States and the United Kingdom), that is, where it is relatively easy to hire and fire workers. In other countries (such as Germany), where “regulations already provide a floor for worker welfare,” there’s very little effect.

As Mark Thoma explains,

Why might this be the case? One suggestion is that when a company spends money to make workers happier in a flexible market, it can then attract the most productive workers from other firms. But when labor markets are less flexible, it’s harder for workers to change employers, and the payoff from spending on worker satisfaction is much lower.

The U.S. has a relatively flexible labor market, and one reason for that is the “commodification” of labor. Increasingly, labor has come to be treated like any other input to the production process. All that matters is the contribution to the bottom line.

Of course, another way would be to move beyond the choice between flexible and not-so-flexible labor markets: by eliminating the commodification of labor power, letting workers themselves democratically decide how to increase their happiness, and ultimately changing what the bottom line means.