Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page
Frances Perkins was galvanized by personally witnessing the horrifying Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911, in which 146 young workers died. From that time onward, she worked to create legislation that would provide safeguards for workers, going from New York’s Factory Investigation Commission to FDR’s Cabinet as secretary of labor from 1933 – 1945.
Almost 100 years after the Triangle fire, the issue of worker safety is still in the news, most recently with the tragedies at the Massey mine in West Virginia and the British Petroleum oil rig blast.
Teresa Ghilarducci, director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School for Social Research and speaker at the Frances Perkins Center’s 2009 conference, “The New New Deal,” has written several articles for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog, “Brainstorm,” about these recent disasters. In Who Needs Pesky Unions, Ghilarducci wrote:
All the recent disasters are in non-union mines. Union muscle make companies work better and safer. One reason is that, in union contracts, mine workers are protected from being disciplined if they stop work because of unsafe conditions. If a union miner says, “Hey, the belt is about to catch fire — I’m getting out of here,” he (or she) can’t be fired.
Humans in the 20th century learned to mine coal without carnage. Britain does it, Germany does it, and other countries do too. In Europe and Japan, computer sensors detect methane buildup and mining companies have to hire safety officers who are in their own union and who only monitor safety, not production. In American mines, the supervisors have to monitor safety and be responsible for production. Guess what goal is number one!?
And in More Energy Workers Killed, she wrote:
The causes of these deaths are not freak gassy build ups—as if the earth violently struck back at humans for using fossil fuels…
The cause of worker deaths is a plain old economic deal. The government made a deal that BP and Massey Coal can operate in the United States without adequate precautions for making the workplace tolerably safe.
If Frances Perkins were alive, she’d be voicing her outrage along with Ghilarducci. It’s shocking that the U.S. is far behind other countries in protecting our workers.
On April 21, 2009, the Frances Perkins Center held a national launch event in the Great Hall of the Department of Labor in Washington, DC (in the Frances Perkins Building). Here’s a photo of some of our board members who attended the event standing on the plaza of the Frances Perkins Building:
For more on the Washington event, go to https://bestpossiblelife.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/frances-perkins-remembered-at-the-department-of-labor/ and http://www.francesperkinscenter.org/past.html.
The 18 commission members have been named to the National Fiscal Commission. Fait accompli. But that doesn’t mean that those of us who feel inadequately represented can’t point out the problems with the current cast. As a woman, I feel particularly invisible to this commission.
President Obama had the prerogative to name six commission members. Two of his appointees are women, Alice Rivlin and Ann Fudge. Republican Congressional leadership named six members, all male. Democratic Congressional leadership named six members, only one of whom is a woman–Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky–appointed by House Speaker Pelosi.
Does it matter? You bet it does. In purely political terms, since it takes 14 out of the 18 members to make a recommendation, there aren’t even enough women members to stop the rest of the group from making recommendations that hurt the economic interests of women.
It matters also when it comes to perspective. Women make up more than half of the population and they rely disproportionately on Social Security and Medicare. Fifty-seven percent of all Social Security beneficiaries age 62 and older are women, and 69 percent of beneficiaries age 85 and older are women. Because we tend to have lower incomes with fewer resources and more chronic conditions than men, Medicare is a crucial source of our retirement security. More than half of all Medicare beneficiaries are women; among those 85 and older, 70 percent are women.
Yet, out of 18 commission members charged with looking at ways to cut the federal deficit with a focus on programs like Social Security and Medicare, only three are women. That’s a measly 17 percent speaking for more than 50 percent of the American population.
It took a strong woman, Frances Perkins, President Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, to win the fight for social insurance programs like Social Security back in the 1930s. She took on the job of secretary of labor because, she said, “The door might not be opened to a woman again for a long, long time, and I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered, and so establish the right of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in the high seats.”
I know there are some good men among the commission members who will watch out for the economic interests of women. But I thought that by 2010 we would be beyond the days of looking for good men to take care of us. Paternalism is passé. It’s time to let us speak for ourselves, to let more of us sit in the high seats.
April 11 – 18, 2010, has been named the National Days of Remembrance. Frances Perkins Center board member Leah Sprague tells the little known story of Perkins’s attempts to save European Jews, intellectuals, artists, and labor leaders from the Nazis.
From 1933-1938, Frances Perkins was the lone official in the Roosevelt Administration to acknowledge the growing threat that Hitler posed to Jews in Europe. Her efforts to relax immigration restrictions were rebuffed by the State Department and an isolationist Congress. Still, she found ways to admit tens of thousands of immigrants, including European Jews, during this period. It was not until Germany invaded Austria in 1938 that FDR finally announced to his cabinet that Frances had been correct in her assessment of the danger.
For more details, read the 2001 article by Bat-Ami Zucker from the journal American Jewish History, “Frances Perkins and the German-Jewish Refugees, 1933-1940.”
You’ll undoubtedly be hearing all about it; the Peter G. Peterson Foundation has a tremendous press operation with a huge budget to support it. Here’s how the April 28th event is being touted:
On behalf of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, I cordially invite you to attend the 2010 Fiscal Summit: America’s Challenge and a Way Forward. This event will take place in Washington, DC on April 28, 2010, featuring a moderated discussion of the issues with President Bill Clinton. We will send a more detailed agenda shortly, but we hope that you will save the date and plan to join us for this important forum.
The date of the event is significant–one day after the opening of the president’s Fiscal Commission. And the keynote speaker is a former Democratic president. It seems as though this conference will at least give voice to the liberal and progressive side of the debate.
But read further and you’ll find that the deck is firmly stacked on the Peter G. Peterson side (well, this is his party; he’s paying for it, after all). Here are the other people listed: Alan Greenspan, Judd Gregg, Bob Rubin, Alice Rivlin, John Castellani, Paul Volcker, and John Podesta. There’s only one liberal in that group. (Also only one woman, but that’s another story.)
Robert Kuttner, in today’s Huffington Post, has some acerbic comments about the conference:
If the orgy of financial deregulation that led to the crash had two prime sponsors, the Democratic one was Rubin and the Republican one was Greenspan. Inviting these characters to a fiscal summit to devise a way out of the crisis is like inviting arsonists to design a seminar on fire prevention.
Peterson himself, who underwrites the work of the foundation with a billion dollar gift, made his money as one of America’s private-equity moguls. Private equity companies have been among main offenders in the world of shadow banking that helped cause the collapse, and are now lobbing against tough financial reform and regulation.
This is billed as a “national dialogue on solving America’s fiscal challenges,” but spare me. This is a propaganda event. For the most part, the featured speakers follow the Peterson line. John Podesta, the closest thing to a liberal playing a headliner role, accepts that there is a serious deficit problem, but would entertain a value-added tax as part of the remedy. But the speakers’ list is clearly stacked and there is no one to Podesta’s left.
The Peterson Foundation and its president, David Walker, already know exactly what they want — strict budget caps on social outlay, enforced by a rigid formula, with cuts in Medicare and Social Security leading the way.
Will the mainstream media continue to swallow the Peterson story? Kuttner suggests two sources for the other side:
- fiscalhighroad.org, a partnership of the Economic Policy Institute, Century Foundation and Demos.
- Scholars’ Strategy Network, founded last year by Harvard’s Theda Skocpol
Take a look yourself, and help correct the almost ubiquitous but incorrect impression in the press and the public that Social Security and Medicare are to blame for the deficit and must be cut.
The president had some positive news for the nation this morning in his breakfast address from the Rose Garden. “There is no deficit,” he said. “A CBO staff member had placed a negative sign in front of a large sum when transferring figures from another column.”
When asked the effect of this news on his plans, the president conceded that there was no need for the Fiscal Commission that he has recently assembled.
For more, read here.