Unions play a very significant role in the United States: they affect the treatment of workers and many policy-making processes. Unions and big labour in the United States achieved their peak point in the 1940s and 1950s but started to decline continuously from the 1970s (Rosenfeld 2014, 3).
Many unions declined because many changes have occurred in three relevant fields of United States: economic, institutional, and politics. Thus, unions are not able to survive in the same context as before. Unions in the United States have experienced decline and are trying to find new ways to survive in the brand new environment. The decline of unions in the country’s history has four main effects upon today’s society.
First, income inequality increases because unions no longer equalise income. Second, racial inequality increases because unions no longer counteract it. Third, the number of immigrant union members declines because unions no longer play a significant role in assimilating immigrants.
Last but not least, people’s political power also decreases because unions no longer give lower-income Americans a political voice. However, activists have come out with three strategies: first, to build community-based unions in the society, second, to organise low-wage workers to battle for higher wages and third, to develop some innovations to create a better path for unions to develop.
The Lost Effect On Income Inequality
First, unions no longer equalise incomes after the decline around the 1970s. Unions have lost the power to provide workers with equal and fair working conditions and wages. According to Rosenfeld (2014), although inequality among union members is still lower than that in non-union members, unions membership decreased, and unions have lost many capacities to affect inequality in non-union income. Wage inequality of full-time private sector union members has increased. Inequality has grown among both male workers and women.
The disparity rate for male workers has raised to 40%, and the rate for women workers has increased by 60% (Rosenfeld 2014, 81). Although unions can keep the inequality rate for union members lower than for non-union members, they have lost the power to control non-union members’ income situation.
Unions declined because they do not hold the ability to affect both inequality rate of union members and non-union members. The increasing inequality rate is a signal of weakened unions in the United States. Thus, unions nowadays are not able to equalise incomes and provide fair wages to people.
The Racial Inequality Issue
Second, because of the changing environment, unions no longer counteract racial inequality. Unions do not have the capacity to create the equality between races.
Although unionisation rates increased during the 1970s, it declined afterwards (Rosenfeld 2014, 103). De-unionisation has caused the increased racial inequality rate, which makes unions fall faster and get trapped in a vicious circle. Unions will lose more power due to the continuous decline.
According to Rosenfeld (2014), the de-unionization has made wage levels low, and the private sector wage gap between races has grown. The gap is a very clear signal that the racial inequality has increased in the private sector since unions declined.
Moreover, according to Rosenfeld, in the public sector, the gap between black women and white women also increased. For example, the inequality rate increased in the public sector. This is to say that inequality between black and white workers increased both in private and public sectors after the decline of unions since the 1970s.
The Decline In Immigrants
Next, the decline of unions in the United States in the 1970s has left immigrants in a worse situation because unions no longer play a prominent role in assimilating immigrants. Thus, it becomes harder for immigrants to get into unions. During the peak of union movements, unions offered those disadvantaged immigrants firm economic foundation as to support them (Rosenfeld 2014, 133). However, after the decline of unions, immigrants started to face a terrible situation.
There are two explanations for the drop in immigrant membership: the Solidary Theory and the Positional Theory. The Solidary Theory suggests that the decline of unions, immigrants are very likely to stick with each other in the same racial group. It is not very likely for recent arrival immigrants to spend time organising collective actions and joining unions.
The Positional Theory suggests that when these immigrants are in a relatively stable environment, geographic factors will affect their ability to join unions too because the union rates are based on where these immigrants find jobs (Rosenfeld 2014, 145).
This shows that because of the decline in union movements in the United States, immigrants have faced more problems. Unions no longer have the ability to ensure that many of them can be part of the union and can no longer protect their rights. In this sense, these people will not be able to join the union quickly.
The Low-Income Population Lost Its Representation
Last but not least, as a result of the decline of the unions in the United States, low-income Americans do not have a political voice anymore. In other words, union workers will not be able to express their opinions and politicians and governments will ignore these people. Many union workers do not have high academic degrees, and most of them lack a college education. Thus, the power of a political voice has shifted from union workers to their employers.
As a result, government staff dominated the labour movement, and union workers do not play any significant roles in the trade union movement (Rosenfeld 2014, 183). Also according to Rosenfeld (2014), most of these employees are well educated and have high academic degrees. The model of workers and employers is a pyramid. Union workers are the bottom part of the pyramid and employers are the top.
Moreover, after the decline of unions, the power of workers shifted to those employers who are at the top of the pyramid. Thus, the bottom part loses power and will suffer from the weight of the top. After losing their power and rights, union workers will lose the chances and capacities to fight for their benefits. This can have a significant impact on the society: most people cannot express their political voice.
Surviving The Changing Environment
Although the decline of unions has caused many adverse effects on workers, activists recently figured out three new ways to survive in the changing environment. The first way is to develop based on the community by building a border linkage and network. The second way is to shift the focus from the majority of union workers to minority workers who have terrible living and working conditions because of their low wages. The third way is to create some innovations that can help union labourers to achieve better lives.
First, to survive, activists have started to build a community-based network in the society. Although the leader-centered model of unions has declined, the power can also be separated because centralised control is easily targeted. After collective bargaining does not work in the society anymore, there is a new way for workers to assert their interests: activists start to organise some self-employed persons to join, such as taxi drivers.
When the power of unions is not centralised but separated instead, they will not be targeted easily. People such as taxi drivers are not concentrated in one point, and they can gather their power when necessary. In this sense, people who do different jobs will work together to achieve the same goal and a network of different people will be built.
According to Greenwald (2012), there are more job positions for freelancers who are self-employed too. Freelancers are entirely different from autoworkers who all work in a large factory (Greenwald 2012, 121). They will have more space and time to mobilise the non-leader centred movements.
There is a transition in today’s society (Greenwald 2012, 121). The centralised labour movements transfer to the separate power movements. The total strength of the movement does not decrease, when all individuals work together in the movement, they will still have a very high efficiency.
This new model of development invented by unions can help unions adapt to the new social environment. Even though there are restrictions on them, they will still have the chance to develop and survive.
Freelancing Vs Full Employment
Second, after the decline, activists now find a new way to revive by shifting the focus from the majority of workers to those minority workers who still earn low wages.
There are many companies in the United States offering their employees low wages. For example, Walmart offers low wages to workers because their goal is to provide low-priced goods and have to produce high volume to minimise costs (Gupta, 2). This example is to say that companies such as Walmart have enough incentives to offer workers very low wages.
After the decline of unions in the United States, labourers do not have the capacity to mobilise large-scale movements and some of them even cannot protect their fundamental rights. Some workers even live in a warehouse because they cannot afford other places. Moreover, some warehouses are company towns in which workers purchase their own business’s products because of the low price (Gupta 2013,9).
Attracting The Masses
Under this kind of situation, workers live at the bottom of the society, and they have no protest, dissent, argument. Unions have found that among diverse groups of people, low-wage workers are most likely to join the movement and ask for higher wages.
Although activists were able to mobilise majority groups of workers to join movements, they have to shift the focus to minority workers who have the incentive to fight for their wages. Workers in the fast food industry also suffer from terrible working conditions (Aschoff 2013, 1).
This evidence shows a diverse coverage of the field of low-wage workers. According to Finnegan (2014), there is a huge amount of fast food workers fighting for lifting wages thereby providing their family members with pride and dignity.
Many activists have organised some labour movements to change the terrible working environments for workers. For example, in Seattle, unions have tried to mobilise the full power of working people in building democratic movements (Socialist Alternative 2014, 6).
It shows that activists have taken actions to make the change to revive themselves. According to Aschoff, the public is concerned about the sustainability of low-wage workers.
In other words, there is an increasing trend of the public noticing and caring about low-wage workers. In this sense, the mobilisation of low-wage workers has become a major method of unions as to enforce their capacity and survive in the new environment.
Last but not least, after the decline, activists have started to adopt some innovations by making information spread faster in the society to help develop in a sustainable way in the new environment. New types of union movements are necessary because collective bargaining cannot achieve large-scale effects as it did before (Rolf 2014, 1).
A very important way to help unions get rid of environmental constraints is to make changes and create ways of self-saving. There is a way to can connect union workers together and provide them with enough space to express their opinions and requirements at the same time.
For example, WhatsApp is a successful tool because it connects people with computers, and workers can rate their employers without exposing their names (Rolf 2014, 1).
Thus, union workers will not face the risk of getting fired or suffering consequences from their employers. Moreover, union workers can claim better work conditions and higher wages through the internet platform if they are not satisfied with current situations.
To mobilise innovative labour movements, activists have mobilised labourers to occupy public space in protest (Gupta 2013,9). Protests such as occupying public places can help unions get public awareness thereby achieving more support. Activists use media and the internet as mediums and have effectively revived labour movements.
To conclude, due to the changing political, institutional, and economic environments, unions no longer hold strong power. Unions are not able to take collective action as successfully as before. Their declines have caused four major impacts upon today’s society.
The income inequality among workers has increased because unions do not have the ability to ensure all workers have the same working conditions and wages. Moreover, the racial inequality increases because unions have lost the ability to counteract the inequality after declining. Moreover, immigrants in the United States suffer from worse conditions.
It has become difficult for them to join unions because unions no longer assimilate immigrants. The last negative impact is that workers in the United States lack political voice because unions no longer provide them with chances to express their views. Although the environment has become tougher for unions and workers, activists have figured out some ways to fix the situation. First, activists tried to create a zone in which most labour movements are community-based. Community-based movements can spread the power and the risk of being targeted at the same time. Next, activists started to concentrate on mobilising workers who have very low wages.
Unions provide them with incentives for achieving a better life and persuade them to join. Last, activists have found new solutions related to internet and media fields in which there will be fewer constraints and risks. Activists have achieved a border world by innovating. There is an increasing trend of unions after the decline. Activists and unions have adapted to the difficult situation and started to take actions and put themselves into a virtuous circle in which they have many chances to revive in the future.
UN Drug Treaties Need to Rethink Cannabis
Europe, in general, is less concerned with religion and the personal morality of others (pre-marital sex, adultery) than the United States, according to a Pew Research Center poll. So why is cannabis legalisation facing a more difficult time in Europe than in the US? Perhaps because they also trust the government more and cannot petition to overturn or change unpopular laws as they can in the US.
An unasked question is whether governments or the people can or should violate international agreements – such as the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which prohibits non-medical sales of marijuana – unilaterally, and what the consequences might be. We may soon find out. Canada is poised to start selling recreational marijuana on July 1, and Uruguay already has.
A Right to Marijuana?
While the US government hasn’t legalised marijuana, approximately 30 of its 50 US states – plus Washington, DC – have legalised putatively medical marijuana, and eight also have legal recreational marijuana. Almost all won those rights not through the local legislative process but instead by a voter referendum. Most European citizens don’t have that power, perhaps because they aren’t as suspicious of the government as the US, or aren’t as fanatic about personal liberty and responsibility as the government taking care of them. Free speech (it’s much harder to be convicted of libel in the US), the right to own and bear arms, and even resistance to universal healthcare are examples of this US mindset.
This mindset also means that change in the US usually begins at the local state level. That’s why the late US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously referred to the states as ”laboratories of democracy” in 1932. Sometimes state laws become federal laws by a decision of the Supreme Court, such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
Marijuana Harms Vs. Benefits
In the US federal law still prohibits all uses of marijuana, medical or not, because of marijuana’s inclusion on Schedule 1 of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. That means it is officially considered highly addictive, unsafe for any use and with no medical benefits. Marijuana is similarly included in the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.
That is stuff and nonsense. At the very least cannabis is safer and less addictive than many legal drugs, including alcohol and the prescription drugs driving the opioid epidemic. Unlike those deadly but legal substances, no one has ever overdosed on marijuana, and it is arguable whether or not it is physically addictive.
In Texas, though half of the US Drug Enforcement Agency offices consider marijuana the number one threat, it had zero associated overdose deaths. The drug that the other half name, methamphetamine, had 715 deaths attributed to it in 2016 alone, so it’s clear which rehab centres in Texas should be most concerned about.
Cannabis also has demonstrated anecdotal health benefits for many conditions, including chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even opioid addiction. Its very illegality makes accumulating rigorous scientific evidence, or even getting approval for such studies, almost impossible.
Marijuana’s probable benefits (versus its low risk) are why so many US states have legalised medical marijuana, despite its illicit nature. That the US so widely violates those treaties in regard to marijuana (as well as federal law) seems ironic since many believe marijuana is included in the treaties largely because the US government wanted it there.
US Government Still Opposes Marijuana
Apparently, it still does. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a legalisation opponent, has made threatening noises about enforcing the federal marijuana laws for months. In early January he rescinded two memos that had encouraged federal law enforcement to defer to state law so long as certain guidelines were met (no access to minors, no shipping across state lines, etc.).
Even in the face of Sessions chomping at the bit to enforce federal marijuana laws, more states are considering legalisation. Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah could pass medical marijuana laws this year, and Michigan and New Jersey seem almost certain to pass recreational laws.
Certainly, the tax revenue derived from marijuana sales is one draw. Colorado, the first state to enact recreational marijuana laws, reported $193.6m in tax and fee revenue from marijuana in 2016. California, which began recreational sales this month, anticipates at least $1bn in tax revenue annually.
Some opponents, without much evidence, claim the costs of legalisation will mostly cancel out these revenues, but most studies find little or no change. Maybe more people will seek treatment at luxury rehabs in California.
At least one item still dissuading Sessions from following through on his threats is the Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment, which prohibits the Justice Department from spending funds to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalised it. It is part of the budget resolution that the Congress keeps kicking down the road, most recently to January 19 (and they may kick it again). Sessions wants Congress to remove it.
Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), says that wouldn’t end marijuana use in those states, merely return it to the black market, which could put $7bn back into the hands of drug cartels.
Barriers to Legalisation Remain
Those three international drug treaties might be the most significant barrier to total marijuana legalisation in the US and elsewhere. Even if the US Congress chooses to change the law to make marijuana legal, or the executive branch removes marijuana from Schedule 1 (either by moving it to another, less restrictive schedule or deleting it altogether), those treaties still stand. Changing them would require an international effort and cooperation.
Violating the terms unilaterally might encourage other governments to act similarly, maybe with more harmful drugs such as heroin. The US is arguably the biggest supporter of these treaties. If it doesn’t comply with them, even in the narrow case of marijuana, the door will be open to other exceptions. (The Single Convention already has granted a major exemption to Bolivia for its tradition of chewing coca leaves, from which cocaine is derived, in 2013.)
On the other hand, Uruguay made marijuana completely legal to its citizens on July 19, 2017, and it is also a signatory to the Single Convention on Narcotics, but the sky hasn’t fallen yet (though it and the US have been under United Nations investigation since at least 2015).
Even if the US does nothing, maintaining the status quo, the effects of such a treaty violation may be felt when Canada’s legalisation law goes into effect later this year. The federal government in Ottawa says the provinces will receive 75% of tax revenues derived from cannabis sales, expected to be between $400m and $1bn annually.
Treaties Can be Changed
Canada could have withdrawn from the treaties completely. That requires a year’s notice, and sales are scheduled to begin July 1, 2018. Instead, Canada seems likely to stay with the treaties but just disregard them as far as marijuana is concerned. That might hurt its international reputation in general, and its attempt to get on the UN Security Council in particular, but other penalties seem unlikely.
There are ways around the treaties – the Transnational Institute suggests several in a 2016 briefing paper here – or of changing or writing new cannabis-only treaties. Stanford University’s Keith Humphreys, a Professor of Psychiatry, thinks it would be relatively easy for the world community to write a cannabis-specific treaty without unravelling the entirety of international drug treaties.
Mexico has legalised medical cannabis nationwide and is set to legalise marijuana-based medicines, foods, drinks, cosmetics and other products this year. A poll in the International Journal of Drug Policy found that 40% of respondents in Chile and Colombia favour legalising marijuana too.
With some form of marijuana available in almost all of North America, it’s time to amend not only US law but the international drug treaties to reflect reality, decriminalise cannabis and study its real harms and benefits.
Bitmain Considers Canada Move
The Chinese bitcoin miner is looking to expand abroad and is eyeing up Canada.
Editor’s Remarks: Although Bitmain has not confirmed that it is seeking an overseas relocation because of China’s recent announcement that it will clamp down on cryptocurrency trading, it is unlikely to be a coincidence. Just a few days ago, the company said it had also opened a new branch in Switzerland, which would play an essential role in its further global expansion. Now, it has publicly said that it is considering an expansion to Canada’s Quebec region, which will give Bitmain access to cheap hydropower to power its mining operations, leading a number of crypto miners to move there.
Read more on Bitcoin:
US Healthcare: Income Disparity and the ‘$1trn Toll’
Valued at $18.62trn, US GDP ranks third in purchasing power parity behind China’s $21.29 and the EU’s $19.97trn. Considering China’s population of 1.38 billion, the EU’s 516 million and the US’s 326 million inhabitants, US production is impressive. But what those goods and services yield to society is what matters. In the US, over $3trn of the GDP is derived from healthcare. Of this total, at least $1trn is a regressive toll; a tax that exacerbates income disparity, stifles creativity, hurts competitiveness, and returns negative yields to society. It is unsustainable.
The toll is the difference between what the US spends on healthcare per GDP compared to western counterparts.
Healthcare expenditures in the United States as a percentage of GDP peaked in 2010 at 17.9% before falling to a current level of 17.1%. Despite this downward trend, US outlays easily remain the highest in the modern world.
Other countries’ healthcare expenditures as a percentage of GDP are: Sweden 11.9%, France 11.5%, Germany 11.3%, Cuba 11.1%, Canada 10.4%, Japan 10.2%, Australia 9.4, U.K. 9.1%, Israel 7.8%, Russia 7.1%, Iran 6.9%, China 5.5% and India 4.7.Averaging western powers Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the U.K. comes to 10.31% of GDP—meaning the U.S. spends a staggering 65% more than its peers.
The Issues with Comparisons
Parallels can be problematic. Comparing nations’ healthcare costs and outcomes is not the equivalent of comparing apples to apples. Each country has unique attributes: obesity levels, median age, youth dependency, elderly dependency, total dependency rates and more. However, contrasting nations is not apples to oranges; it’s more like comparing two different types of apples.
Thus, costs and outcomes can be reasonably assessed. What is so unnerving about the US is that the median age and elderly dependency ratio, both key drivers of overall healthcare costs, are lower in the US than all its western competitors. At 43.3%, Japan’s elderly dependency ratio is nearly double that of the US.
No matter how one slices and dices key metrics, healthcare costs to US citizens are disturbing. Obscene adult obesity levels plague the nation. Maternal death rates run 1.5 to 3 times higher than direct competitors. Infant mortality rates run closer to Russia’s pathetic healthcare outcomes than US allies. Lastly, life expectancy in the US is one to five years less compared to the UK, Germany, France, Canada and Japan.
Many argue the premium that America spends on healthcare funds ground-breaking research, leading technology, and revolutionary drugs. Yet, for the majority of the lower and middle-class, these investments have failed to generate expected returns. The reason is the underlying financial model employed by the United States. While most modern societies utilize some form of universal insurance, the US rejects it—labeling it socialism.
Instead, America administers an inferior structure designed to generate revenues from a plethora of tests and dispensed medicines after disabling diseases, chronic ailments and incapacitating disorders are on set. The arrangement explodes costs and diverts monies from wellness and preventive care. If best-practices were implemented, more efforts would be directed to proven strategies prior to an illness that lead to positive outcomes.
More importantly, budget-busting end of life decisions would become more rational and humane – saving countless billions over time. Instead, Americans have been brainwashed to accept negative yields from their healthcare investments in the name of capitalism.
The Conservative View
Most conservatives scoff at these suggestions and believe that a return to pure capitalism would cure America’s healthcare crisis. The problem is free-markets tend to lean towards profits calculated in dollars, not outcomes. Equally, the good old days of healthcare delivered under free-market principles is a fallacy. The capitalistic principles in America’s healthcare have been defiled since WWII. The most egregious example is employer healthcare costs subsidized by federal and state governments that encourages massive fraud and abuse. These write-offs totalled $235bn in 2017 and are by far the single largest tax expenditure in the budget.
A prime example of the power of universal insurance is national defence. It protects all citizens equally. The free market then allows individuals to scale upon that – i.e. 2nd amendment rights. To achieve the best relative returns in healthcare, the same concepts should be applied. Base blanket coverage should be offered for all citizens with free-market alternatives available for those who want supplemental benefits. The additional coverage should be available for purchase from any insurer in the world—at true risk-adjusted market rates—without any tax implications.
In summary, to reverse the growing menace of income disparity, the most effective initiative the US can implement is universal healthcare. If provided, positive effects would be immediate. Employment costs would plummet, enabling companies to hire additional staff. For the majority, the soul-crushing financial costs and unknowns of healthcare would be lifted. The multiplier effect would be supercharged as incomes expanded and expenses pared. Mental health would improve and further reduce healthcare costs. The gains are incalculable.
Unfortunately, without a Democratic supermajority, the prospect of universal coverage is a pipe dream. America beware. If current levels of income disparity continue or even widen as anticipated by the new tax bill, expect the upper class to become complacent and the disenfranchised to disengage – it’s human nature. The consequences: up and down society, competitive spirits will be subdued. American hegemony will be jeopardized.
Implementing universal care is not the be-all-end-all answer to what ails America. But doing so will reduce costs and redirect monies to other social products and services that better serve society. Then, regardless of wealth or status, everyone will be afforded one of the necessary pillars to thrive in a competitive world—good health. What is more valuable than that? If the proverb “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” is accepted as gospel, then providing basic fundamental healthcare cradle to grave should be too. Status quo is not an option. If income disparity is left unchecked, the United States risks entering a death spiral—it’s called an “American Spring.”
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