Thursday, January 31, 2013

Relearning History. Again.

I wandered into my favorite bookstore the other day (I do that whenever I'm in town) and there was a great-big book on a display stand, way in the back. "Franklin D. Roosevelt: His Life and Times. An Encyclopedic View". At 4 bucks, how could I leave that behind? Especially when I opened it up to the "Labor" entry and read this:

"The rise of the powerful trade union movement was the most important social phenomenon of the Roosevelt era."

"When Franklin Roosevelt became president in March 1933, the Great Depression had already reduced American trade unions to their lowest ebb in more than a generation: unemployment stood at one in three for urban wage earners; real wages were 20 percent lower than in 1929; the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which in 1919 had boasted more than 5 million members, now enrolled less than 3 million."

If that doesn't sound familiar to you, you weren't listening to the same NPR show I was listening to the other day.

"The share of the American work force that belongs to a labor union has hit a 97 year low. Today only 11.3 percent of workers hold a union membership."

FDR in 1933

Let me do the math for you; 97 years ago was 1916. And don't get the idea that FDR promoted unions.

The president's personal attitude toward the union movement proved one of merely vague sympathy..."

Sound like anybody you know?

Official portrait of Barack Obama

There is much, much more to this single history lesson. The role of immigrants, John L. Lewis knocking "Big Bill" Hutchinson down with one punch and the formation of the National Labor Relations Board -- "designed to curb unfair labor practices by employers and encourage independent trade unions..."...

You did hear the recent news about the National Labor Relations Board didn't you?

The Judicial Attack on Labor

"It should come as no shock that Republicans in Congress would like to see the power of labor further diminished. The same is true of governors and state legislatures in red and purple states such as Wisconsin and Indiana. But now conservative courts have joined the fray.

Just this past week, the National Labor Relations Board was put in legal limbo -- with the possibility that more than 300 of its decisions over the last year could be nullified -- as a result of a federal appeals court ruling in the nation's capital that President Obama's recess appointments to the Board were invalid."

Try to keep up. I know it's hard to tell whether I'm talking about the past or the present...but that is kind of the point. Let's go back to the FDR book and look at the SEC entry. (Not the Southeastern Conference you knuckleheads.)

Securities and Exchange Commission

"Probably the closest bond between Rooseveltian ideals and a long-lasting reform was the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), set up to exercise control over the stock exchanges for the protection of investors."

"The high-flying decade of the 1920s had revealed the need for control over the frequently unethical or outright fraudulent activities of the New York Stock Exchange...

...Congress and others could glimpse the manipulations by exchange members who rigged secret stock pools, offered bonds that lacked any substantial backing...

Mortgage Backed Securities anyone? Credit Default Swaps? Need I say anything more? (Yes, I'd still put Elliot Spitzer in charge of the SEC.)

Just think, for 4 bucks worth of knowledge we could have avoided the Great Recession.

I know you are really, really busy with your daily life. I know you have a billion different sources of news and/or points of view you could be reading besides mine. I truly appreciate it because I know how precious it is to have your attention.

You must get involved. You must take the time to educate yourself. You must join with others in whom you can trust to give you honest information and act on your behalf for the common good. You cannot do it all. But you must do your part.

While you're waiting on someone else to do something important, they are waiting on you. Go do something good. Our society depends on it.

Don Brown
January 31, 2013

1 comment:

bob said...

Cheap at twice the price. But knowledge is always expensive.