Wikipedia reports on Wind Farm Cooperatives in Denmark and the United States.
Copied verbatim at 2:41 pm Thursday December 12th, 2013.
See also: Wind power in Denmark and Middelgrunden
In Denmark, families were offered a tax exemption for generating their own electricity within their own or an adjoining commune. By 2001 over 100,000 families belonged to wind turbine cooperatives, which had installed 86% of all the wind turbines in Denmark, a world leader in wind power. Wind power has gained very high social acceptance in Denmark, with the development of community wind farms playing a major role.
In 1997, Samsø won a government competition to become a model renewable energy community. An offshore wind farm comprising 10 turbines (making a total of 21 altogether including land-based windmills), was completed, funded by the islanders. Now 100% of its electricity comes from wind power and 75% of its heat comes from solar power and biomass energy. An Energy Academy has opened in Ballen, with a visitor education center.
See also: Wind power in Germany and Paderborn Wind Farm
In Germany, hundreds of thousands of people have invested in citizens\’ wind farms across the country and thousands of small and medium sized enterprises are running successful businesses in a new sector that in 2008 employed 90,000 people and generated 8 percent of Germany\’s electricity. Wind power has gained very high social acceptance in Germany, with the development of community wind farms playing a major role.
In the German district of North Frisia there are more than 60 wind farms with a capacity of about 700 MW, and 90 percent are community-owned. North Frisia is seen to be a model location for community wind, leading the way for other regions, especially in southern Germany.
National Wind is a large-scale community wind project developer, with thirteen families of projects in development or operation. These projects have an aggregate capacity of over 4,000 MW. The vision of the company is to revitalize rural economies by promoting investment in domestic renewable energy resources. National Wind creates shared ownership with communities and allows them participation in decisions which are made. In March 2009, National Wind formed Little Rock Wind LLC, its 7th Minnesota-based, community-owned wind energy company. The company will develop up to 150 MW of wind power within Big Stone County, Minnesota, over the next 5 to 7 years.
As of 2012, OwnEnergy is currently the largest national company in community wind in the US. OwnEnergy has developed 27 community wind projects totalling more than 1,000 MW across 14 US states. The company’s strategy is to attend trade shows and “let the customers come to us” – ensuring that local support is already in place. A cornerstone of the company’s approach is that “profits will be reinvested into the community”.
Goodhue Wind LLC is not a community wind development company in Goodhue County, Minnesota. The company intended to develop a 78 MW wind farm, which would have supplied electricity to Midwestern utilities and ultimately to Midwestern homes and businesses. Goodhue Wind expected the project to be operational between late 2009 and early 2010. But lack of true community support has delayed the project.
In a community-based model, the developer/manager of a wind farm shares ownership of the project with area landowners and other community members. Property owners whose land was used for the wind farm are generally given a choice between a monthly cash lease and ownership units in the development. While some community wind projects, such as High Country Energy in southern Minnesota, issued public shares after the project’s formation, investment opportunities are usually offered to local citizens before the wind development is officially created.
A wind turbine cooperative, also known as a wind energy cooperative, is a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise that follows the cooperative model, investing in wind turbines or wind farms. The cooperative model was developed in Denmark. The model has also spread to Germany, the Netherlands and Australia, with isolated examples elsewhere.
Some places have enacted policies to encourage development of municipally owned and operated wind turbines on town land. These projects are publicly owned and tax exempt. An example is the Hull Wind One project in Massachusetts’ Boston Harbor in 2001. A 660 kW wind turbine was installed, and is still a great example of small scale commercial wind.
Impacts of community wind energy
Once a wind farm project is established in a community, jobs are needed for: manufacturing the materials needed to build the project, transportation of supplies to the project area, and construction of the project as well as building roads leading to the project. After the project is complete, jobs will be needed to maintain and operate the facility. According to a study by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, wind energy produces 27% more jobs per kilowatt-hour than coal plants and 66% more jobs than natural gas plants. 3. Landowners will also collect revenues for hosting turbines on their property. Given a typical wind turbine spacing requirements, a 250-acre farm could increase annual farm income by $14,000 per year with little effect on their normal farming and ranching operations. 4. Community wind energy projects increase local property taxes which were originally low because there was very little to be taxed due to the sparse population and vast farm land. Once the wind turbines are in service they are taxed, creating much needed revenue for the local community.
The Midwest and the Great Plains regions in the United States are ideal areas for community wind energy projects; they are also often prone to drought. Fossil fuel plants use large amounts of water for cooling purposes which is detrimental to communities’ water supply if there is a drought. Wind turbines do not use any water since there is no considerable amount of heat produced during energy generation. Wind energy adds power to the electric grid which decreases the amount of oil needed to generate a community’s electricity. Local land owners, who produce the wind energy, can also control the amount of energy produced, which expands the regional energy mix. Overall community wind energy reduces the local community’s dependence on oil but, because of the subsidies involved, can greatly increase their costs for electricity.
Compared to the environmental impact of traditional energy sources, the environmental impact of wind power is relatively minor. Wind power consumes no fuel, and emits no air pollution, unlike fossil fuel power sources. The energy consumed to manufacture and transport the materials used to build a wind power plant is equal to the new energy produced by the plant within a few months. While a wind farm may cover a large area of land, many land uses such as agriculture are compatible, with only small areas of turbine foundations and infrastructure made unavailable for use.
There are reports of bird and bat mortality at wind turbines as there are around other artificial structures. The scale of the ecological impact may or may not be significant, depending on specific circumstances. Prevention and mitigation of wildlife fatalities, and protection of peat bogs, affect the siting and operation of wind turbines.
There are anecdotal reports of negative effects from noise on people who live very close to wind turbines. Peer-reviewed research has generally not supported these statements.
Policy, issues, and legislation
In 1992, the renewable energy production tax credit of 2.1 cents per kilowatt-hour was established. In February 2009, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Congress acted to provide a three-year extension of the PTC through December 31, 2012. Wind projects that were up and running in 2009 and 2010 can choose to receive a 30% investment tax credit instead of the PTC. The investment tax credit is also an option for wind projects that are in service before 2013 if the final construction is complete before the end of 2010. Smaller wind farms (100 kW or less) can receive a credit for 30% towards the cost of installment of the system. The ITC, written into law through the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, is available for equipment installed from October 3, 2008 through December 31, 2016. The value of the credit is now uncapped, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
In order to ensure wind energy’s future in the energy market, the renewable electricity standard (RES) is a policy in which market mechanisms guarantee a growing percentage of electricity produced comes from renewable sources, like wind energy. The RES exists in 28 states (not at a national level). An example is the Obama-Biden New Energy for America plan, which sets future goals of rapid renewable energy production at 10% by 2012.
A pressing issue of concern is the lack of a modern interstate transmission grid which delivers carbon free electricity to customers. Currently the US Senate and the Natural Resources Committee have reported the bill out of committee on June 17, 2009. A combined energy and climate bill is expected to be considered by the full Senate this fall. In the US House of Representatives the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a comprehensive energy and climate bill on May 21, 2010.
The clean air and climate change policy is goal to switch from fossil fuel energy sources to renewable carbon-free energy sources for electricity production. Generating 20% of U.S. electricity from wind would be the climate equivalent of removing 140 million vehicles from the roadways. Currently the US Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works has control over the legislation and will begin to complete a markup by September 25, 2009. The House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act on June 26, 2009, comprising a provision to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83% below 2005 levels by 2050. It also allocates a portion of the allowances given away for free to energy efficiency and renewable energy. However, the allowances flow through state governments rather than directly to renewable generators.
Overall federal funding for community wind research and development is insufficient and even more so when compared to other fuels and energy sources. In 2009 the US Department of Energy (DOE) received $118 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for wind energy research and development. In 2010 the Senate passed a bill granting the DOE $85 million for the DOE wind program. For the same purpose, the House of Representatives allowed the DOE $70 million.
This was copied verbatim from Wikipedia.org at 2:24 pm Thursday, December 12, 2013
It is an introduction to lots of organiational forms which worker owned Co-ops have developed in countries across the world.
Typically, a member may only own one share to maintain the egalitarian ethos. Once brought in as a member, after a period of time on probation usually so the new candidate can be evaluated, he or she was given power to manage the coop, without \”ownership\” in the traditional sense. In the UK this system is known as common ownership.
Some of these early cooperatives still exist and most new worker cooperatives follow their lead and develop a relationship to capital that is more radical than the previous system of equity share ownership.
In Britain this type of cooperative was traditionally known as a producer cooperative, and, while it was overshadowed by the consumer and agricultural types, made up a small section of its own within the national apex body, the Cooperative Union. The \’new wave\’ of worker cooperatives that took off in Britain in the mid-1970s joined the Industrial Common Ownership Movement (ICOM) as a separate federation. Buoyed up by the alternative and ecological movements and by the political drive to create jobs, the sector peaked at around 2,000 enterprises. However the growth rate slowed, the sector contracted, and in 2001 ICOM merged with the Co-operative Union (which was the federal body for consumer cooperatives) to create Co-operatives UK, thus reunifying the cooperative sector.
In 2008 Co-operatives UK launched The Worker Co-operative Code of Governance. An attempt to implement the ICA approved World Declaration.
In 2004 France had 1700 workers’ co-operatives, with 36,000 people working in them. The average size of a co-operative was 21 employees. More than 60% of co-operative employees were also members. French workers’ co-operatives today include some large organisations such as Chèque Déjeuner and Acome. Other cooperatives whose names are generally known include the magazines Alternatives Economiques and Les Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace, the driving school ECF CERCA and the toy manufacturer “Moulin Roty”.
The cooperative movement in Emilia-Romagna, Italy successfully melds two divergent philosophical currents: Socialism and Catholicism. With more than a century of cooperative history, the region includes more than 8,000 cooperatives.
In the United Kingdom, the Labour Party‘s enthusiasm for worker cooperatives was at its highest in the 1970s and 1980s, with Tony Benn being a prominent advocate. A small number of such co-operatives were formed during the 1974 Labour Government as worker takeovers following the bankruptcy of a private firm in a desperate attempt to save the jobs at risk. However the change in ownership structure was usually unable to resist the underlying commercial failure. This was true in particular of the best known, the Meriden motor-cycle cooperative in the West Midlands which took over the assets of the ailing Triumph company, although there were instances of successful employee buy-outs of nationalised industries in the period, notably National Express. Meanwhile many more worker co-operatives were founded as start-up businesses, and by the late 1980s there were some 2,000 in existence. Since then the number has declined considerably.
Under UK law there is no special legal structure for a “co-operative”. Co-operatives are registered under either the Companies Act 2006 or the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965 (IPS). A number of model rules have been devised to enable cooperatives to register under both acts; for workers’ cooperatives, these rules restrict membership to those who are employed by the workplace. Most workers’ co-operatives are incorporated bodies, which limits the liability if the co-operative fails and goes into liquidation.
The largest examples of a British worker cooperatives include, Suma Wholefoods, Bristol-based Essential Trading Co-operative, Brighton-based Infinity Foods Cooperative Ltd and the retail giant John Lewis Partnership (although it only uses the term occasionally).
“The road” (Greek: Ο δρόμος) established in 2009 under the law 1667/1986 is the legal form of a direct non-profit work(er) collective running a coffee house named “The bench” (Greek: Το παγκάκι) in Athens. At this coffee shop, creative commons licenced public domain music is being heard and products from “The Seed” (Greek: Ο Σπόρος) and “Syn.All.Ois” (Greek: Συν.Αλλ.Οις), which are cooperatives for alternative and solidarity trade, are being served. Syn.All.Ois is a work(er) coop that grew from within the voluntarily run “The Seed”.
“Βelleville sin patron” (Greek: Όμορφη πόλη χωρίς αφεντικά) and “Colective Germinal” (Greek: Κολεκτίβα Ζερμινάλ) are two work(er) co-ops running in Thessaloniki.
Employees today demand ongoing development as part of the employment contract. Face-to-face training is too costly and logistically impossible to implement in large, geographically-dispersed organizations. Online training needs to be high in production value, sourced from recognized leaders, authentic, relevant and actionable.FeaturesEdge features a powerful, carefully curated selection from among thousands of interviews with the world’s top experts — from industry leaders to prominent scholars to cutting-edge researchers. It engages them as teachers and living case studies, to deliver knowledge and skills that will transform your employees’ personal and professional lives.Edge also features an ongoing collection of expert curated learning tracks developed by top thought leaders in innovation, leadership, business education, and more.A small sampling of the experts included in EdgeEdgegrey_0015_larry_summers Edgegrey_0014_robert_kaplen Edgegrey_0013_michio_k Edgegrey_0012_ann_fudge Edgegrey_0011_richard_branson Edgegrey_0010_steven_pinker Edgegrey_0009_ruth_porat Edgegrey_0008_peter_thiel Edgegrey_0007_t_boon_pickens Edgegrey_0006_ed_norton Edgegrey_0005_reid_hoffman Edgegrey_0004_neil_degrass_tyson Edgegrey_0003_john_seely_brown Edgegrey_0002_john_mackey
via Big Think Edge.
We’re proud to collaborate with The Nation in sharing insightful journalism related to income inequality in America. The following is an excerpt from Nation contributor Greg Kaufmann’s “This Week in Poverty” column.
The Half in Ten campaign — launched in 2007 by the Center for American Progress, Coalition on Human Needs and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — set an ambitious goal: to cut poverty in half over ten years. Today, it seems almost fantastical on the face of it, given the nation’s polarization and soaring political and economic inequality.
But with 200 coalition members across the nation combatting poverty, Half in Ten remains steadfast, as campaign manager Erik Stegman described at the release of the third annual report which tracks progress towards the campaign’s ultimate goal.
“It’s an achievable goal because we’ve done it before,” said Stegman, who co-authored the report along with other contributors, including a foreword by Sister Simone Campbell. Stegman writes that the War on Poverty contributed to cutting poverty by 43 percent between 1964 and 1973, “to a historic low of 11.1 percent.”
“We know how to do it, and we can do it again,” asserts Stegman.
Half in Ten has always done an exceptional job laying out the policy choices that are there for the taking if we want to dramatically reduce poverty. But the heart of its work lies in showing how public policy decisions intersect with the lives and experiences of real people.
So it was fitting that among the many stellar speakers who participated in the release event — including Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Reverend David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World — the first speaker was Chelsey Hagy, a mother of two from southwest Virginia.
Hagy grew up in a middle-class home and enrolled in community college at age 17. She got pregnant, and the father of her child was incarcerated prior to Hagy giving birth. She worked two part-time jobs but couldn’t make ends meet. She turned to assistance — public housing, WIC, Medicaid and food stamps (SNAP). Her son was diagnosed with Fragile X syndrome, a genetic disorder that will require special education and medical care throughout his life.
“I found myself traveling from doctor to doctor, adding more expenses that could not be met without the assistance of these programs, especially Medicaid,” said Hagy.
She enrolled in a residential nursing program, her sights set on obtaining a job that pays a living wage. She married and had a second child, but later separated from her husband. While pursuing her degree, her sons attended Early Head Start, where the family benefitted from early childhood education, preventative health care and nutrition classes and parental instruction.
With two semesters left to earn her degree, Hagy’s financial aid was exhausted. She turned to a Workforce Development program where prerequisite testing and a career assessment determined she would “likely be successful in the nursing field.” The program then paid for her tuition, books, uniform, stethoscope, as well as her state board exam fees.
Hagy graduated in May and works full-time as a cardiac nurse. She works 12-hour rotations and “nursing students [now] shadow me.” She and her children no longer need government assistance, and Hagy has remarried and purchased her first home.
“I cannot imagine where my life would be right now if it weren’t for the support and opportunities that were given to me,” she said. “If I as a single mother of two — one of whom has special needs — can do it, anyone can.”
But it is this very notion that “anyone can” that is at stake in the current public policy debate, and Half in Ten explores that in a comprehensive manner in its report. It proposes that indeed people are worth investing in so that they can succeed and contribute to society; and that our country has the wealth to ensure that those who can’t work, or can’t find work with decent wages, can obtain the services needed to escape poverty.
The report focuses not only on the 46.5 million people living in poverty, but also on the more than 1 in 3 Americans — 106 million of us — who live below twice the poverty line, on less than $36,600 annually for a family of three. While these families and individuals might not officially be in poverty, they are struggling to afford the basics — food, housing, healthcare, education — and are just a single hardship away from poverty.
The report suggests that the biggest obstacles to the kind of “shared prosperity” we had in the three decades following World War II — where all incomes were lifted by an expanding economy — are slow and inequitable economic growth and a proliferation of low wage work, all exacerbated by the sequester and austerity policies.
Not only does the US have the most extreme economic inequality it’s seen since the 1920s, but in the past three years the top 5 percent have had income growth of more than 5 percent, while the bottom fifth has seen its income fall by .8 percent (middle class incomes have fallen even more over this same period).
Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said at the release event that of all the factors contributing to contemporary growth in poverty, economic inequality is the most significant.
“The largest factor for increasing poverty rates over the last 30 or 40 years is the increase in economic inequality,” said Bernstein. “Economic inequality added [about] 5 percentage points to the growth of poverty over this period. If the economy is growing but the growth isn’t reaching the bottom half, then you’re going to have more poverty.”
Of course, the best antipoverty program is a job that pays a decent wage. But the report notes that the economy needs to add 8.3 million jobs to reach pre-recession employment levels, and at the current rate of growth that would take until 2018. Meanwhile, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the sequester will result in “the loss of nearly 1 million more jobs by the third quarter of 2014.”
As for decent wages, too many of the jobs in this recovery pay low wages. The report points out that more than 40 percent of job growth in 2012 occurred in low-wage sectors. Many of these jobs pay the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour — a poverty wage that leaves a full-time worker earning approximately $15,000 per year. (The tipped minimum wage is just $2.13 an hour, which results in the people who serve us our food being twice as likely to need food stamps as the general population.) If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation it would stand at $10.75 an hour; if it had kept pace with increased productivity it would be $17.19.
“We continue to work to pass an increase in the minimum wage, and you can rest assured that the president will continue to exert his leadership,” said Secretary Perez, who delivered an impassioned speech that in part celebrated the historic decision to extend minimum wage and overtime protections to homecare workers.
“We’re looking into a range of interventions to address the issue of poverty,” he said. “We’re looking at every tool in our arsenal.”
If we can’t take common sense action on the sequester and wages, it’s tough to envision how we get to other smart policies recommended in the report, unless we build a broad-based movement that is visible, disruptive and ongoing — as we have seen with marriage equality and immigration reform. The report recommends creating a Pathways Back to Work Fund which would include temporary, subsidized jobs — supported by both Democratic and Republican governors — as well as summer and year-round employment opportunities for low-income youth (14 percent of young people ages 16 to 24 are neither in school nor working); investing in jobs that will rebuild and modernize our infrastructure; passing paid leave legislation so that low-income workers don’t have to choose between their paycheck — and maybe keeping their job or making rent — and caring for themselves or a sick child (only 34 percent of low-wage workers had access to paid sick leave in 2013) and expanding access to higher education and skills training — funding for the Workforce Investment Act has declined by $500 million since 2010.
But as long as wages remain low, and job growth is slow, then the safety net is going to continue to be strained — even more so if congressional (mostly, but not entirely) Republicans are successful in their efforts to cut it further. Food stamps (SNAP) kept a record 4 million people out of poverty last year, but benefits were cut last week and both the House and Senate are now deliberating further cuts in Farm Bill negotiations. The Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit lifted 9.4 million people above the poverty line in 2011, but as the report notes a budget deal only extended the expansions of these credits through 2017, while it made the Bush era tax cuts permanent for most Americans. The percentage of uninsured people fell from 15.7 percent to 15.4 percent last year, but medical out-of-pocket costs also pushed 10.6 million families into poverty in 2011, and 27 Republican governors are currently refusing Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. If all states opted into Medicaid expansion, 17 million Americans could gain health coverage. Welfare reform is still hailed by many in both parties as a success, but it resulted in cash assistance (TANF) reaching only 25 of every 100 families in poverty compared to 68 for every 100 in 1996.
“I was a food stamp recipient,” said Congresswoman Lee. “If it had not been for the safety net, and my government, and an opportunity to go to college, I never would be where I am today.”
Lee said repeatedly that there is a need for a “grassroots movement” if we are to change the conversation in Washington and make the kinds of sensible investments in people that this report outlines.
Stegman said there is a hunger for the kind of movement Lee is calling for among Half in Ten’s grassroots networks across the country.
“One of the things I hear constantly is ‘we are sick and tired of the debate as it is right now. We are sick and tired of the cuts, we don’t even know where they are coming from,’” he said. “Most people don’t know what sequestration is versus the last round of cuts that happened through appropriations. What they know is it’s the wrong track.”
“This January will mark 50 years since President Johnson waged a War on Poverty. We have to build on what works, but also recognize that our economy and country have undergone dramatic shifts since then, and our laws and workplaces haven’t caught up,” said Melissa Boteach, director of Half in Ten. “We can’t just get stuck fighting defensive battles, even though it’s important to oppose austerity policies. We have to show an alternative path forward, and fight for our country to invest in people.”
If you read this entire 113-page report I guarantee that you will know more about anti-poverty policy and the necessary battles that lie ahead than most members of Congress. There is so much in the report that deserves attention that I don’t have space for: the fact that the employment rate for people with disabilities is just 17 percent — their poverty rate more than 28 percent — and that programs like Supplemental Security Income and the Earned Income Tax Credit could be strengthened to reverse these trends; that child care assistance policies are worsening in 27 states in 2012, making it harder for single mothers — who have a poverty rate of 42.5 percent — to go to work; the sequestration cut of $4.2 billion in 2013 funding for children — concentrated in the areas of education, early learning and housing — comes at a time when more than 1 in 5 children live in poverty.
But in the end, it might all come down to this: when you consider Chelsey’s story — and those of other families and individuals who are profiled throughout the report — do you think human capital is worth investing in, and that people are worth protecting from severe hardship? If so, how hard are you willing to fight for that?
Because don’t doubt for a second that it won’t require a real, sustained and hard fight to follow the kind of roadmap provided by Half in Ten in this report.
Reasons to thank our unions
Looking forward to the weekend? You can thank labor unions for that, along with your safe work place, benefits (if you’re lucky enough to have them), a minimum wage, and having our kids in schools not factories. We now take these union-led reforms, like 8-hour work days, minimum wage, safe work environments, paid vacations, collective bargaining, and even childhood for granted. Workers and unions fought, sacrificed, and sometimes died in an ongoing struggle that lasted over a century to wrest these victories from the clenched jaws of the greedy and inhumane 1%. Thanks to the decline of labor unions and 40 years of harmful Republican policies that have undermined unions, we’re slowly but surely losing these rights. Why have unions declined since the late 1960′s? The [U.K.] Guardian‘s Richard Wolff ventures:
The New Deal‘s enemies – big business, Republicans, conservatives – had developed a coordinated strategy by the late 1940s. They would break up the coalition of organized labor, socialist and communist parties: the mass base that had forced through the 1930s New Deal. Then each coalition member could be individually destroyed. […] Nor did labor unions or the left find or implement any successful strategy to counter the 50-year program aimed to destroy them.
Fortunately, unions are now re-energized and forging alliances with faith, community, and political groups to help workers organize, demand better work conditions, and demand a living wage. August’s ongoing fast food worker strikes for a $15 minimum wage are great examples of labor on the rebound. Labor Unions and their allies have also gotten more media-savvy, as they spread the word that companies can afford to pay more and that the ones who do — like Trader Joe‘s, Costco, and Publix — can still rake in big profits. They’re also getting the hang of the web and social media: The union-backed OUR Walmart uses Facebook and twitter for events and outreach, while using their website and YouTube channel to tell compelling stories about Walmart’s workers that strike home with the public. Meanwhile, the United Farm Workers have created a foundation to address the immigration issues faced by many of the workers they represent
A Gallup poll taken shortly before the 2013 Labor Day weekend shows that 54% of Americans hold favorable opinions about unions — not as good as the 75% high mark in 1956, but two percent better than last year’s poll. This is a hopeful sign for those of us who want to preserve labor unions’ key victories from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
(1) Labor Unions Gave Us Our Childhoods
Most of us idealize childhood and have fond memories of the good times we had as kids. But our concept of “childhood” is a very recent one, made possible by labor unions. Child labor was common for much of our 400-year history, partly because children worked as indentured servants and slaves, and partly because kids helped out with their families’ farms or businesses. During the industrial revolution of the 1800’s, as work moved out of the home and into factories and coal mines, so did men, women, and their children. According to the Child Labor Education Project, children were valued by factory owners even though they weren’t paid well. Kids were thought to be “manageable, cheaper, and less likely to strike.”
As more folks began working outside of the home, and clustering near facilities in towns and cities, they began demanding better wages and working conditions. In 1832, the New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Workingmen issued a statement condemning child labor:
“Children should not be allowed to labor in the factories from morning till night, without any time for healthy recreation and mental culture,” for it “endangers their . . . well-being and health.”
Plus, they compete against family breadwinners, and adult workers didn’t want that. This was followed in by child labor laws in MA requiring kids to attend school at least three months per year (1836) and mandating 10-hour maximum work days in (1842) with other states following suit. Under increasing pressure from reformers and unions like the Working Men’s Party and Samuel Gompers’ emerging American Federation of Labor (which put the AFL in AFL-CIO) the Democratic party adopted parts of the union platforms in 1892. In 1932, congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act which outlawed child labor and exploiting children by setting minimum ages for workers.
Alas, Republicans like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich keep attacking child labor laws at home. Meanwhile, companies like Walmart avoid these laws by shifting their manufacturing to countries that don’t have laws that protect workers.
Reasons to thank our unions
(2) TGIF! Labor Unions Gave Us Weekends And Leisure Time
We also owe Labor unions a heartfelt thanks every time we say “Thank God it’s Friday.” The idea of setting aside a day of rest is at least as old as God himself, who reportedly created the world in six days, rested on the seventh, and commanded via Moses that believers all do the same. But God didn’t give us weekends, 8-hour workdays, the 40-hour work week, and overtime pay. Unions did that.
Carpenters in Philadelphia, PA were the first to suggest shorter work weeks when they went on strike to demand 10-hour work days way back in 1791. The Welsh utopian socialist Robert Owen refined this concept across the pond and popularized it. In 1817, he coined the slogan “Eight hours labor, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest.” In 1836, labor movement publications began calling for 8-hour work days. In 1835, shipbuilders launched a series of strikes in Boston, MA, and were among the first workers to win a 40-hour work week in 1842.
By the 1870s, unions and labor groups across the nation were demanding 8-hour work days, organizing public strikes and rallies, andwinning victories despite intimidation and anti-union violence.
In 1914 Ford Motor Company sealed the deal – and famously ticked off its rivals — by cutting shifts to eight hours while doubling workers’ pay. But when auto makers saw Ford’s productivity increase as profits doubled from $30 million to $60 million in only two years, they quickly jumped on the band wagon. Of course, Henry Ford raised wages and cut work hours for hard-nosed business reasons, not humanitarian ones. Ford needed to reduce costly turnover created by injuries and boredom from the repetitive work to keep his cars moving out the door. Ford was also very strongly anti-union, and his company was among the last to recognize the United Auto Workers union. Still, his innovations helped standardize shorter work weeks and higher pay for all workers.
When the U.S. entered World War I in 1914, labor achieved more clout as demand for workers spiked. In 1916 the Adamson Act mandated 8-hour shifts and overtime pay for railroad workers, and the Supreme Court upheld the law a year later. Then, in the midst of the Great Depression and widespread unrest, congress passed the 1937 Fair Labor Standards Act. The FLSA was a cornerstone of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. It made the 40 hour work week standard, and required overtime pay for extra hours worked.
Reasons to thank our unions
(3) Labor Unions Gave Us The Minimum Wage … And They’re Fighting To Raise It
The minimum wage was a core win for the labor movement. Alas, minimum wage hasn’t even come close to keeping up with inflation over the past 40 years. The Institute for America’s Future announced that 40% of Americans make less than 1968′s minimum wage, as measured in today’s dollars. According to economist Dean Baker:
“If the minimum wage had risen in step with productivity growth [since 1968], it would be over $16.50 an hour today. That is higher than the hourly wages earned by 40 percent of men and half of women.”
This is bad news for America’s labor unions and workers, because public approval of unions tends to go down when wages are low and the job market is slow. And it doesn’t help that since fewer Americans are unionized than in the past, some of us resent the few workers that still benefit from unions. Union workers earn 10-30% more than non-union workers in similar jobs, have better benefits, and more job security. Luckily, labor unions and their allies are fighting hard to raise the minimum wage (some groups want $11 per hour, some want $15 per hour, and President Barack Obama advocates a meager $9 per hour). Things look hopeful, at least they would if we could lock those Republicans in Congress up in a dungeon somewhere. Studies from both conservative and liberal think tanks recommend raising the minimum wage, and Australia has had positive results from raising theirs.
But at least we have minimum wage to start from. This wasn’t always the case. According to MinimumWage.Org, this country had no minimum wage until 1938, when Congress passed the FSLA as part of FDR’s New Deal. Before that, employers could pay workers whatever they wanted, and they usually wanted to pay very little. Wikipedia states that between 1912 and 1920, 13 states plus the District of Columbia passed minimum wage laws, only to have them struck down by the Lochner era United States Supreme Court. Lochner’s crew makes today’s SCOTUS look almost liberal by comparison. Their rationale? Minimum wage laws we “unfair” to workers because it kept them from making low-ball offers. Because, as always, these conservatives are about “freedom” and “choice” … as in the freedom to choose amongst sh*tty options and low-wage jobs. In 1933, congress passed a law that mandated a .25 per hour minimum hourly wage, only to have it struck down by evil SCOTUS in 1935 (Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States).
The FLSA and other New Deal legislation was strongly influenced by FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, a staunch ally of the labor movement. When asked about her goals, Perkins replied:
“A forty-hour workweek, a minimum wage, worker’s compensation, unemployment compensation, a federal law banning child labor, direct federal aid for unemployment relief, Social Security, a revitalized public employment service and health insurance.”
The FDR administration’s leadership proved crucial to passing laws establishing workers’ rights, but only the clout of labor unions — earned through years ofstruggle — gave FDR’s new dealers the mandate they needed.
Reasons to thank our unions
(4) Labor Unions Gave Us Safe Working Environments
You might hate your job and your pointy-haired boss, but chances are, you don’t fear for your life when you go to work. Unregulated countries with weak unions and worker protections — like India and China — don’t have luxuries like breathable air, safe factories, and child-free work environments. No wonder Walmart, the Gap, and other U.S. companies want to do all their manufacturing overseas instead of dealing with ‘entitled’ American workers. So next time you work a full day and your building doesn’t collapse and kill you, please thank unions and labor activists from past generations for your safe, up-to-code working environment. And remember that the GOP and their wealthy masters would love to get rid of all those pesky regulations.
KCET has a wonderful, media-rich “History of Worker Safety” dating from Sumerian times to modern times:
- With the onset of the industrial revolution in the late 1700s, worker safety didn’t exist. American and European workers were routinely killed, disfigured, and disabled in factories, mines, and other work sites.
- In 1884 Prussian Chancellor Otto VonBismark launched the first worker’s comp. program. He couldn’t care less about working people, but he needed to get a jump on those pesky marxists.
- In 1906, the American novelist and news reporter Upton Sinclair sparked public outrage via his grisly accounts of conditions in Chicago’s meat packing plants in his novel, “The Jungle.”
- In 1911 Wisconsin passed the first workers’ compensation law in the U.S., followed by nine other states.
- Under pressure from unions and labor groups, Congress passed the Walsh-Healey act to set safety standards for companies working with the U.S. Government.
- In 1970 the GOP President Richard M. Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).
- In 1990 the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) passed, requiring employers to install safe accommodations for workers and others who are differently-abled.
We can also thank the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 for enacting workers’ and unions’ right to collective bargaining, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) — where union and non-union workers alike can take disputes over wages and working conditions at their jobs.
Reasons to thank our unions
(5) Labor Unions Gave Us Health Insurance, Paid Vacations, And Fringe Benefits
Pressure from Labor Unions also set the standards for work-related benefits like health insurance, paid vacations, pensions, sick time, family leave, and other benefits most American workers once received from their jobs. That, and a full employment economy established by the American war effort during World War II (1939-1945). With the U.S. government footing the bill for manufacturing massive amounts of wartime weapons and supplies, companies were eager to hire just about everyone and produce as much as possible, as quickly as possible, with little regard for efficiency. This lifted many U.S. families out of poverty and created a new middle class, hough — due to wartime rationing — most Americans still lived modestly. With demand for workers so high, unions gained more power, and had the power to negotiate more benefits for their employees.
The corporate paternalism of the mid-century also had a lot to do with staving off calls for universal health care and other measures similar to socialized programs taking root in Europe. Physicians for a National Health Plan explains the uneasy compromise forged between unions, corporate interests, FDR and (later) President Harry Truman. In 1943, the Wagner-Murray-Dingell Bill called for compulsory national health insurance financed by a payroll tax. Meanwhile, those opposed responded with a red-baiting campaign against one of the bill’s key supporters., who was a member of the International Labor Organization. The bill kept being re-introduced in congress for 14 years, but it never passed.
As reported by the National Bureau of Economic Research:
When the (WWII) War Labor Board declared that fringe benefits, such as sick leave and health insurance, did not count as wages for the purpose of wage controls, employers responded with significantly increased offers of fringe benefits, especially health care coverage, to attract workers.[
Offering generous fringe benefits to workers helped conservatives to avert “creeping socialism” Alas, now that corporate America has found ways to dispense of its workers, they’re no longer sticking to their side of the bargain. The United States’ lack of European-style publicly-funded social safety nets and generous benefits in terms of healthcare, paid family leave, paid vacations, retirement security, subsidized higher education, etc. only worked as long as private companies and government agencies provided secure employment. The reason so many Americans — and our economy — is in trouble now is because companies are no longer willing to provide secure, full-time employment for a living wage.
But at least labor unions established a precedent, along with the commonly-held belief that workers have a right to these things, and remain in a position to demand that workers receive these benefits and a living wage — whether it’s through the private sector or the public sector.
Reasons to thank our unions
Collective bargaining is the key
So how did labor unions accomplish all these good things for American workers? Through collective bargaining. Thanks to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, workers or their representatives have a legal right to negotiate with their bosses for better pay and working conditions without the risk of getting fired. Unfortunately, states have a lot of leeway, and Republican politicians — like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walter — have done a lot to undermine workers’ rights to organize and make demands. This is a shame, because the right to collective bargaining took over 100 years to win, through generations’ worth of strikes, wide-spread demonstrations of public support, and tireless organization efforts by union organizers and their supporters. Early strikes were prolonged and often ended in failure (like The Patterson Silk Strike of 1913) and bloodshed (The Pullman Strike of 1894), but mobilized thousands of workers and evoked increasing sympathy from the public. By 1933, unions had enough clout and public support to help elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) as president of the U.S., and to pass the series of economic programs known as the “New Deal,” which created the American middle class.
Why we should support unions even if we aren’t in one — Some basic union facts
If your company’s profits are going through the roof, while your salary doesn’t even keep up with inflation, you can partly blame that on the decline of unions. According to the Service Employees International Union:
Prior to the 1980s, productivity gains and workers’ wages moved in tandem. But from 1980 to 2008, nationwide worker productivity grew by 75 percent, while workers’ inflation-adjusted average wages increased by only 22.6 percent.
And why have unions declined? You can blame that on the GOP and anti-union companies like Walmart. According to the Economic Policy Institute‘s report, “Unions, inequality, and faltering middle class wages”:
This erosion of bargaining power is partially related to a harsher economic context for unions because of trade pressures, the shift to services, and ongoing technological change. However, analysts have also pointed to other factors, such as employers’ militant stance against unions and changes in the application and administration of labor law, that have helped to weaken unions and their ability to raise wages.
Here are some basic facts on how unions help all workers:
- Union workers earn more than non-union workers — to the tune of $4.35 an hour or $10,300 per year on average. [SOURCE: SEIU]
- Union workers are more likely to have health insurance — 79% of them are covered, vs. 50% of non-union workers. Their employers also pay a higher share of coverage costs. [SOURCE: Bureau of Labor and Statistics]
- Employers offer better benefits of all kinds to union workers, including retirement, paid vacation and sick days, and holidays. [SOURCE: NWLaborProgress.Com]
- When unions decline, so do workers’ earnings. Since 1980, workers are 75% more productive but their wages have only risen by 22.6%. [SOURCE: Service Employees International Union] Union participation has also declined since then.
- Increased labor union membership helps all workers, because unions help “set norms or labor standards that raise the wages of comparable nonunion workers.” [SOURCE: Economic Policy Institute]
Reasons to thank our unions
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