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Hard Work Remaking the American Labor Movement

  • by Rick Fantasia (Author), Kim Voss (Author)
  • June 2004
  • First Edition
  • eBook
    $29.95,  £24.00
  • Title Details

    Rights: Available worldwide
    Pages: 259
    ISBN: 9780520937710

Read Chapter 1
Chapter One: Why Labor Matters The Underside of the "American Model"

In the American popular imagination and in the mainstream press, the United States is presented as being superior to Western Europe in almost every way. Newspaper articles boast that the American economy is a miraculous jobs machine and disparage the high unemployment rates in Europe; they emphasize high productivity growth and scorn "Eurosclerosis."1 They tout the unprecedented levels of economic creativity unleashed by the "new economy" of the 1990s and criticize Europeans for clinging to outmoded ways of life. In addition, Americans believe, and are repeatedly told, that they enjoy the highest standard of living and have more job opportunities than any other country (in addition to being the most free people on earth and living in the most democratic of all societies).

Especially in the booming 1990s, American leaders and economic experts used this supposed superiority to proclaim American neoliberalism as a model that the rest of the world should follow. From the elegant meeting halls of the G7, to corporate boardrooms, to ambassadorial suites, European countries were told that they could not hope to compete in the new global economy unless they admitted the error of their ways, scaled back their antiquated welfare states, and became-like the United States-more fiscally responsible, more friendly to business and entrepreneurship, and more flexible. Poorer countries throughout the world were lectured even more relentlessly, while being mercilessly squeezed by the "structural adjustment" policies of the U.S.-led International Monetary Fund.

Despite the recent troubles of the U.S. economy, the conviction that U.S.-style neoliberalism remains the best economic model, both here and abroad, goes virtually unquestioned. We are told repeatedly that America's current economic and social woes will be solved by more of the same policies that purportedly generated the boom in the first place: more deregulation, further privatization, and greater tax cuts (especially for the wealthiest Americans).

We contend that perceptions of U.S. superiority, even during the boom years, have been largely an optical illusion, and that the American model is not all that it is cracked up to be. In fact, the "new economy" is not very different from the old and U.S. job creation has not been particularly noteworthy or distinct from that in many European countries.

What is truly distinctive about the United States when compared to Western Europe is a lack of social provisions-such as national health insurance, universal child care, and paid parental leave-as well as scandalously high levels of poverty and inequality. In fact, most working-class Europeans have a better standard of living than most working-class Americans.2

European families are often better off than their American counterparts in large part because a historical weakness and a narrowness of vision have prevented American labor from effectively challenging the power of U.S. capital within the American political and economic system. This weakness undergirds the emergence of neoliberalism as the dominant political discourse today in the United States and allows U.S. capital to attempt to impose the American model on the rest of the world.

But the U.S. labor movement is not static. Today it is undergoing a fitful reinvention, to emerge out of its weakest point in fifty years. The movement is now positioning itself to organize and mobilize against the neoliberal present, to become what it never has been before-a genuine counterweight to the power of U.S. capital. The struggle is crucial and gave us good reason to write this book. Our goal is to train the reader's ear to interpret the sound of labor in U.S. society, for the changes being attempted within the labor movement can be fairly considered to be among the most important social developments that U.S. society has seen in decades. As weak and unfit as they are, American unions are nevertheless the most important potential social defense against a dystopian future.

The Heart of Darkness at the Center of the "New" Economy

In the United States the business press, along with a veritable army of journalists, academics, and politicians who are in thrall to business, have long been involved in the painstaking work of projecting an image of capitalism as much larger than itself, as something transcendent. Nowhere has this been more evident than with regard to what is variously called "high technology," the "information economy," and "e-commerce," terms designating the broad application of computer technologies to business activities. This sector, which even before its recent decline was a less materially significant part of the U.S. economy than the promotional hyperbole ever allowed, has been portrayed as a world comprised of "smart workers" (rather than mindless drones), of "clean production" (rather than dirty, smoke-belching factories), and as a genuine meritocracy (clever entrepreneurial inventiveness is valued above inherited wealth or social standing).3 The "new economy" is thus often presented as an Elysian field of economic creativity in which the felt unpleasantness of actual economic activity and its accompanying negative social effects have somehow been overcome. Totally obscured in this presentation is the pervasiveness of cheap and insecure labor.

The one thing the so-called New Economy has seemed able to produce most abundantly has been tales about its own invincibility, tales that are reinforced by the endless stories of young internet entrepreneurs suddenly finding themselves awash in unimaginable riches. Such narratives have become a standard part of a literature of envy that continues to feed a seemingly endless fascination with the personal net worth of those who are, almost literally, capable of purchasing the planet. With breathless reverence, journalists for newspapers and magazines, both on- and off-line, have manufactured heroic tales of the business lives of billionaires (Bill Gates of Microsoft, Steve Case of America Online, and Jeffrey Bezos of, most notably), who are portrayed as the personification of youthfulness, entrepreneurialism, and studied informality that are said to typify the "new economy." Like most mythic constructions, this one has required that the means of its fabrication remain obscure; thus, the model has depended on the belief in an economy that somehow could float above the mundane exigencies of labor, of time, and of social inequality. Although the high-technology sector has spawned a rich vocabulary of euphemisms to conceal it, the exploitation of nonunion labor remains at its very core.

Prior to the wave of recession that rolled through the areas of high-technology concentration, namely, the "Silicon Valley" of northern California and Seattle in the Pacific Northwest, the meteoric rise in the number of "paper millionaires" (employees holding stock options worth more than 1 million dollars) seemed an impressive achievement. However, even during the boom, most employees in the high-technology sector were neither entrepreneurs, nor managers, nor even highly paid software developers. So although the extravagant wealth of the top executives attracted much of the attention, the success of many "e-companies" like (the Seattle-based book-order company) has actually rested on a labor-intensive distribution system that depends on thousands of low-wage-earning, often temporary workers. For a mere 7 dollars an hour, these workers hurriedly pack books into boxes for shipping; meanwhile, hundreds of harried service representatives spend their days in tiny cubicles responding to customer e-mail. They also earn less than a living wage.4

This is a world where the janitors who clean the buildings that house Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, and the other pillars of the "new economy" can barely afford to pay to house themselves, because they are so poorly paid by the subcontracting firms who employ them (in a situation that relieves the high-tech giants of any responsibility). Often three and four families have been forced to share a single dwelling in a geographic area where it is even a struggle for an immigrant worker to be able to afford the monthly rent required to live in something as modest as a converted garage. In the Silicon Valley area the proliferation of millionaires has pushed real estate prices so high that garages, pool houses, and other spaces that are generally considered uninhabitable elsewhere in the country routinely double as rental properties. And every year some 20—30,000 people reportedly find themselves homeless in the Silicon Valley.5

Although they are an important part of the industry's reality, high-income software engineers and computer programmers, who work at firms like Microsoft and earn hefty salaries plus stock options, were never the entire picture. Working right next to them, during the boom as well as today, are so-called temporary employees who also log seventy-hour workweeks, but under very different terms.6 Frequently employed for extended periods, but hired through and paid by temporary-employment agencies, these "temps" are offered little job security, no stock options, and no pension plan.7 To ensure that the number of highly paid "regulars" were limited, the technology industry successfully pressured Congress to pass legislation to loosen the high-technology labor market by doubling the number of visas for educated foreigners who take temporary, specialized jobs in the U.S. computer industry. At the height of the boom, technology firms contributed tens of millions of dollars to federal election campaigns in a successful effort to pressure Congress to raise to 195,000 the number of temporary H1-B work visas granted annually (a substantial increase from the previous level of 115,000 annual visas set in 1998, which had already doubled from the 65,000 limit the year before). Recently, yet another visa program has been exploited to increase the number of "temporary" workers. High-tech consultancy firms use the L-1 visa program to transport foreign workers to the United States so that they can then hire them out as "consultants" to other companies.

These laws amount to a high-technology "bracero" program under which immigrant workers enter the country on temporary work visas and are then prohibited from switching employers. Despite token provisions meant to allay the concerns of trade unions, it is expected that the effects of these laws is to depress wages and to further impede the growth of unionization in an industry that until now has been virtually union-free.8 In addition to being able to hire and fire, employers now have the power to affect the immigration status of their workers, because the law permits them to facilitate the deportation of any worker on a temporary visa who might seek to organize a union, who might file discrimination charges, or who might simply refuse to work overtime.

With contingency as its leitmotif, the "new economy" has come to represent something of a "model within the model," an economic sector largely able to establish its own rules without having to defer to "past practices," to overcome union bargaining structures, or to dismantle the prophylactic mechanisms of state regulation (deregulation representing an act of state as surely as taxation or war making). Within this sector contingency has been elevated to a virtue, and no one has paid much attention to the extent to which the boom was built on a foundation of low wages and transitory jobs. During the booming 1990s while the average yearly compensation of Silicon Valley's highest paid executives nearly quadrupled to more than 7 million dollars a year (not counting stock options), the wages of the bottom quarter of workers dropped 20 percent, to just slightly more than 9 dollars an hour, far below the 14 dollars an hour that constituted a living wage for a family of one adult and two children. When some such low-wage workers at began to talk about organizing a union, however, the managers of the new economy revealed just how similar they were in their thinking to the managers of the old economy-they hired union-busting consultants and fought tooth and nail to keep their enterprise union-free.9

The "Social Life" of the American Worker

The neoliberal onslaught has been so complete in the United States because the forces promoting it have not had to face the kind of institutional and political obstacles encountered elsewhere. The combination of an institutionally precarious labor movement and inconspicuous left-wing or progressive politics have produced a truly "exceptional" industrialized society in the United States in contrast to Western Europe. This concrete historical circumstance has also made it an object of emulation, a model. In other words, much of what has made the United States exceptional can be boiled down to the diminished presence of labor at an institutional level. This, in turn, has made it appear reasonable to exclude labor symbolically, thus producing the kind of sanitized version of the reality of the American model that is represented to the rest of the world. We explore how this came about and explain the social mechanisms that sustain it and the social forces struggling to change it. Effectively, the purpose of neoliberal social policy in the United States has been to erode public services and collective structures. Individual actors displace "society" symbolically, while the sources of public power are dismantled institutionally.10 Presented as a noble cultural trait and celebrated as prideful self-reliance, individualism has had a relentless and overarching ideological presence in the life of American society, maintained and reproduced in a multitude of practices, both formal and informal, that foster separateness and discourage social solidarity. Indeed, individualism can be considered one of four interconnected and mutually reinforcing elements (along with deregulation, decentralization, and privatization) that characterize the neoliberal program of social reform. It is important to recognize individualism not as a simple cultural trait, but as one component of a set of practices that is simultaneously institutional and mental, and whose effect is to leave real individuals, real citizens, entirely defenseless against the corporate power unleashed by the three other elements.

Of course, in the felt experience of most Americans, individualism is not necessarily perceived as a lack of anything, either of collective efficacies, of social solidarity, or of public aid. In a society that has largely abdicated collective responsibility, one simply "makes do" with whatever resources are at hand, while what is at hand for any individual is therefore heavily dependent on one's immediate social circumstances and resources. For example, the relatively weak institutional ties that prevail between the state and the economy in the United States, relative to Europe, means that finding a job, particularly for those with few qualifications, depends heavily on information acquired informally, through private friendship and kinship networks, rather than in the context of a more institutionalized system of job tracks that serve as channels between school and employment and that facilitate a relatively fluid transition between the two. In the United States the dependence on informal and localized social networks represents a practice that has the effect of reproducing the existing social (and hierarchic) distribution of labor markets, of creating racial and ethnic concentrations in workplaces, and of converting even the smallest accumulation of social capital into a potentially crucial economic resource ("it's not what you know, it's who you know," as the popular aphorism holds).11

American workers must navigate a labor market that is comprised of highly decentralized workplaces and where job skills tend to be acquired relatively informally and unsystematically. In Europe formal training programs provide occupational qualifications that are transferable to other job sites; in the United States workers tend to learn "on the job," acquiring firm-specific skills on an informal and individual basis.12 Similarly, in contrast to Europe, where wage setting is centralized and coordinated, in the United States pay scales are set for a largely nonunion workforce through the mostly decentralized and uncoordinated "interactions of tens of thousands of firms and millions of workers in the labor market."13 Although large firms and unionized companies do maintain formal pay schedules and rely on systematic methods to determine industry standards, the lack of overall coordination results in much wider wage disparities among workers doing the same job in different locations than is the case in European countries.14

The prime selling point of the American model is the claim that the United States has done rather well, relative to Europe, in creating jobs over the past several decades. But certain qualifications must immediately be added to this assertion. The first is a temporal one. If we consider only the 1975—85 time frame, a period when most of Western Europe was experiencing slow economic growth and rising rates of unemployment and the United States was creating some twenty million jobs, we would be left with the impression that the United States was truly an impressive "jobs machine." A shift to the 1989—95 time frame, however, indicates that the U.S. rate of employment growth slowed to 1.0 percent, a rate that differed only a little from the 0.9 percent average of other rich, industrialized nations. And if we move to the 1995—2000 period, we find that the U.S. rate of 1.6 percent employment growth was exceeded in eight countries: Ireland (5.5 percent), Spain (3.7 percent), the Netherlands (2.7 percent), Canada (2.2 percent), Finland (2.2 percent), Portugal (2.2 percent), Australia (1.9 percent), and Norway (1.9 percent).15

Furthermore, a high proportion of the jobs that have been created in the United States are contingent, or nonstandard jobs (part-time, temporary, on call, subcontracted, self-employed). These are routinely less secure, less well-paid, and offer few benefits such as paid medical or dental insurance, paid vacations, and training. Wage declines in the early 1980s drove large numbers of American workers to seek second and third jobs, so that by 1999 5.9 percent of the workforce (amounting to eight million workers) held two or more jobs, many of them part-time and concentrated in low-paying industries and occupations. Multiple job holdings will likely increase since of the dozen occupations that are projected to produce the most jobs by the year 2008, half currently pay wages at or below the official poverty level.16

Fueling the expansion of the part-time labor force has been the rapid growth of chain establishments in the service sector, the most successful of which are built on a foundation of high sales volume, high technology, and low labor costs. The management of these firms require high levels of labor "flexibility" that is much easier to achieve with a part-time, nonunion labor force. As one manager admitted to a researcher, "The pluses of hiring part-time people are the [low] rate of pay that you're able to pay them, the increased [schedule] flexibility that it will allow you, particularly if you have a varying business, varying volume."17 Fast-food companies like McDonald's maintain a workforce with up to 80 percent part-time employees, and some retail chains hide the size of their part-time labor force by simply redefining the terms. According to Naomi Klein, Wal-Mart is able to claim that 70 percent of its labor force works full time by defining "full time" as twenty-eight hours per week.18 The Starbucks chain of coffee shops counts 57 percent of its workers as full time, but defines "full time" as twenty hours per week, and The Gap clothing store deems 70 percent of its employees "full time" by labeling thirty hours per week as full-time employment.19 When we add to this the fact that the "temporary-help" industry in the United States grew from .4 million workers in 1982 to 3.0 million in 1999, we approach a situation in which one out of four U.S. workers is employed in some form of nonstandard job arrangement, a situation that some have clearly chosen voluntarily, but that many others have not.20

Just as claims about job creation in the United States must be treated with a measure of skepticism, the same holds for claims about the unemployment level. Although it is true that the overall unemployment rate has tended to be impressively low in the United States for the past two decades, that is not so very exceptional, for it has actually been even lower in a number of other OECD countries. While the 2001 U.S. unemployment rate of 4.8 percent is indeed less than the 6.9 percent average of all OECD countries, six European countries had unemployment rates in 2001 that were below the U.S. rate: the Netherlands (2.4 percent), Switzerland (2.5 percent), Austria (3.6 percent), Norway (3.6 percent), Portugal (4.1 percent), and Denmark (4.3 percent). A handful of countries also had lower unemployment rates in 1989, and in 1979 the U.S. unemployment rate of 5.8 percent exceeded the OECD average rate of 4.4 percent.21 Furthermore, it is estimated that the millions of poor males, predominantly racial and ethnic minorities caught up in the U.S. penal system, have contributed to a full 2 percent artificial reduction in the unemployment rate throughout the 1990s.22 This would seem to be an especially significant point if we consider the admittedly counterintuitive idea that youth incarceration in the United States essentially represents a perverse, though largely unintended "solution" to the problem of youth unemployment. When adult unemployment rates are considered apart from those of youth, those rates appear to have been similar or slightly lower in major European countries than in the United States in recent years.23 Additionally, in its monthly household survey from which the U.S. unemployment rate is actually derived, the U.S. Census Bureau counts anyone over the age of sixteen who has worked just one hour in the previous week as "in the labor force and working," a standard that would seem to represent a rather uncertain foundation for an edifice as grand as the "Great American Jobs Machine." Besides, unlike in Europe, no matter how substantial a job is in the United States, unless it is unionized its occupant can always be discharged by an employer at a moment's notice, without reason or warning and without severance compensation (with the exception of certain categories of schoolteachers, university professors, and civil servants with tenure, as well as senior executives in possession of a severance contract). Overall then, it is clear that despite several decades of rhetoric and a host of questionable assumptions, when the rates of employment and unemployment are viewed in the social context in which labor is actually performed in the United States, the situation does not appear nearly as distinctive or as exceptional as it has been made out to be.

With regard to the wages associated with these jobs, the average weekly earnings of those 80 percent of Americans who are production and nonsupervisory workers fell by 16 percent between the years 1973 and 1995 (adjusted for inflation).24 Significant wage growth did occur during the boom years between 1995—2000 (1.9 percent per year), but this must be viewed against the backdrop of a much lengthier, steadier, and more substantial wage decline that transpired for more than two decades among male "blue collar," "service," and many categories of "white-collar" workers in the United States.25 This was a period in which the share of workers earning poverty-level wages rose among most groups, and although the share fell between 1995 and 2000, roughly one-quarter of the workforce still brings home only poverty-level wages.26 Overall, that portion of the American workforce with less than a high school education earned $2.16 per hour less in 2001 than they earned in 1973, and those workers with a high school diploma earned $0.55 less per hour in 2001 than they did in 1973 (together these categories constituted a full 42 percent of all workers in 2001).27 Workers with college degrees enjoyed real wage growth but they made up only about one-quarter of the workforce. While the education/wage differential is often portrayed in the media as a higher education "premium" that accrues to those who have successfully attained a university education (often implicitly posed as a shortcoming of those who have not) the data indicate that the primary reason for an increased wage gap between university-educated and other workers is less the strong growth of the university wage, and more the sharp decline of wages among non-university-educated workers.28

Meanwhile, at the other end of the social cosmos the pay of corporate CEOs has soared since the 1980s, with top corporate leaders now collecting more than 11 million dollars in compensation annually, and the average CEO receiving 245 times the pay of the average production worker.29 This ratio is up sharply from what it was in 1980 when the ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay was 42 to 1, and it is much higher than it is in European and other advanced countries, where CEOs earn on average only 28 percent of what their American counterparts make. Figure 1.1 shows the growing distance between worker pay and CEO pay in the United States, demonstrating how even during the expansionary period 1995—2000, workers' real wages lagged behind productivity as well as behind CEO compensation. Once upon a time, when unions were stronger, workers reaped some of the benefits of productivity gains, but beginning in the 1980s, the rewards of productivity increases went overwhelming to CEOs and the largest investors rather than to workers.30

Wealth represents an even more significant form of inequality than annual income, and in the United States, the richest 5 percent of the population owns 59 percent of the wealth, more than the remaining 95 percent combined. Today there is greater wealth concentration in the United States than in any other advanced democratic country. It is worth noting that this has only become the case over the last twenty-five or thirty years. Until the early 1970s, the United States had lower wealth inequality than most European nations. However one cuts this cake, the level of inequality in the United States is extraordinary and growing dramatically, but equally remarkable is that most Americans appear to be completely accommodated to it.31

For most workers in the United States there has not only been a decline in real wages over the past three decades, but also a decline in what Americans call "fringe benefits," a term that has come to accurately reflect the institutional status of social provision in American society. In the absence of a universal health insurance system and in the context of a mostly private system of medical care, the employer provision of health insurance is a virtual necessity for most workers in the United States, but between 1979 and 2000 the share of workers covered by employer-provided health insurance in the private sector dropped from 70.2 to 63.4 percent, a reduction of 6.8 percent, while employer-provided retirement pensions also declined, leaving in 2000 only 49.6 percent of the private-sector workforce with the ability to depend on one.32 Of course we have a national Social Security program, instituted in the 1930s, to which all working Americans contribute, but it serves as only a minimal pension system that most workers must supplement in order to avoid being poor when they retire. Most public-sector workers receive some form of employer-provided health insurance, although like many private-sector workers, they are increasingly forced to pay an ever larger portion of the monthly insurance premium and are otherwise made to absorb the increased costs of health care (it should be noted that the public sector comprises only about 16 percent of the labor force in the United States, and the percentage is dropping). Moreover, the declines in health and pension provisions have hit lower-waged workers especially hard.33 If benefits continue to shrink, it can be anticipated that life expectancy in the United States, which is already shorter than in every major nation in Western Europe, will also decline further.34

Meanwhile, the United States is the only rich democracy (out of twenty OECD countries) where workers actually work more, on average, over the course of a year, than they worked twenty years ago.35 So while the rest of the industrialized world has seen their annual hours of work reduced by an average of 215 hours during the past two decades, Americans are working 32 hours more now than they did then.36 An important reason for the difference has to do with the fact that the average annual vacation for a worker in the United States (where employers are not legally mandated to provide their employees with any vacation time, paid or unpaid) is only sixteen days, a figure that is less than the statutory minimum vacation in every European country, and a full half of the amount of legally mandated vacation time in France, Finland, Austria, Denmark, Spain, and Sweden.37 Moreover, American workers are not only permitted less daily rest or break time at work than European workers are, but with the exception of certain categories of workers (airline pilots, truck drivers, and so on) American workers actually have no statutory right to rest time or to bathroom breaks whatsoever, and managements generally have the right to require mandatory overtime of workers, without any fixed legal cap on the maximum number of hours.38 There is neither a sickness leave policy, paid or unpaid, nor a paid maternity leave policy. However, for the minority of Americans working in firms with fifty or more employees, there are thirteen weeks of unpaid maternity leave.39

Of course, even though there are so few social benefits mandated by the state, individual employers do provide a range of benefits in the United States. The crucial difference between the United States and Europe, however, is that whether American workers receive social benefits is a function of either the state of the labor market or the state of their collective power. In other words, one chief determinant of whether an employer offers specific benefits has to do with the relative tightness of the labor market at any given time or place, or in any given occupation (with regard to the ability to attract and retain employees with needed skills). The other is the organizational power of workers in relation to employers. The reason, therefore, why so many of the indicators with regard to the social conditions of labor are so negative is that in the United States one problem serves as a virtual precondition for all the others: the system of labor relations overwhelmingly favors employers.

Unions and the Private System of Social Provision in American Society

For the tens of millions of workers in the United States who lack professional or managerial status, a union membership card is the principal passport to social citizenship. Whereas in Europe a more or less full complement of social benefits is granted on the basis of citizenship status, in the United States most social benefits are granted largely on the basis of union membership status.40 Thus, through much of the postwar period American workers in the heavily unionized core sectors of the industrial economy were able to maintain a menu of social benefits that were comparable with (though never fully equal to) those granted to most Europeans as a right of citizenship. In Europe, in other words, there is public system of social provision, created through legislation and financed by all employers and taxpayers, while in the United States there is a private system of social provision, which is limited principally to those who work in unionized companies. This private system of social welfare covers a diminishing proportion of workers because union density has dropped so precipitously in the United States (it is currently under 14 percent). However, the problem is not simply the low percentage of workers who are union members in the United States, but that it is almost as difficult to attain union membership status in the United States as it is to attain citizenship status in much of Europe, and once union status is attained it must be constantly defended against aggressive employer opposition.

When plants close down and jobs are lost in Europe, it is a situation that often triggers early and direct state intervention, so that workers and their families tend to be compensated and supported by a variety of social programs. There is little for American workers when their companies close and they lose their jobs.41 Usually there is no mandated severance pay package or financial compensation from the state or the company for the community (apart from "unemployment insurance" to individual workers, which is normally thirteen weeks of cash payments). Furthermore, the requirement for advanced notice to workers that their workplace will close has only been in place since 1998. Prior to that, it was not uncommon that workers were informed on a Friday afternoon not to bother to report for work on Monday, since the plant would no longer be in operation. Even today, when workers are laid off or dismissed they are often simply handed their "pink slip" with no notice whatsoever, a cold-heartedness whose function is to enable the company to avoid spontaneous acts of sabotage or other expressions of unpleasantness.

It is to this situation that Alan Greenspan (the powerful chairman of the Federal Reserve Board) refers when he celebrates the low cost of dismissing workers and the ease by which it is accomplished in the United States, relative to Europe, where labor market "rigidities" supposedly result in smaller returns on investments in information technologies.42 This is the standard "European Malaise" argument, often mentioned in the U.S. press, a socioeconomic malady that is somehow thought to be caused by shorter workweeks, universal health care, paid maternity leave, a livable minimum wage, and other basic social benefits. Although demonstrably incorrect in an objective sense (referred to by one skeptic as "a fairy tale as widely believed by our journalists as it is beloved by the businessmen who sign their checks"), the cry of "Eurosclerosis" is nevertheless a thoroughly understandable position for Wall Street to invoke as a means of quieting any noise for improved social benefits at home.43

Indeed, when we consider the situation of Americans "at home" in a literal sense, we confront such conditions as a lack of paid maternity leave, a child care system that is unsystematic and frequently unaffordable, a powerful stigma placed on the poor who seek state assistance and a growing pressure to privatize virtually all public activities, including the public retirement system. It is clear that the United States is on course, "full steam ahead," toward the creation of a system of "cradle to grave" neoliberalism whose highest moral teaching amounts to little more than an exhortation to the young to either "sink or swim."

For example, in contrast to the substantial investment in early childhood care made by European states to support the entry of women into the workforce, child care in the United States has remained an overwhelmingly private, rather than a public responsibility and, except for the provision of certain subsidies and social programs for the very poorest families, has been developed according to basic market principles. What this has produced for many American workers and their families is a serious cluster of social problems manifested most commonly in the twin crises of "latch-key kids" (the difficult situation whereby millions of children return home from school every day to an empty house, without adult supervision) and of the steep costs of child care, which the U.S. Census Bureau has ranked as the third largest household expense for families with young children, just after food and housing.44 It is not entirely uncommon for a working-class parent, who may be earning $2,500 per month or less, to be forced to quit his or her job in the summer months when the school year has ended, simply because full-time child care for two children can easily cost one-half of a monthly paycheck.45

Overall, and in contrast to European models of universal social provision, American social welfare is deliberately stigmatizing. It is limited to the very poorest sectors of the population, benefits are provided only for a limited duration ("two years and out"), and it offers relatively little to help people to acquire the kinds of resources (job training, education, social networks, and reliable, affordable child care) that would make it possible to establish themselves in the more stable regions of the labor market. In short, it tends toward a punitive rather than an ameliorative system, functioning primarily as a disincentive against exit from the low-wage end of the labor market.46 An important element that allows such conditions to be sustained is a curiously persistent system of beliefs in which one's social position is almost universally attributed to one's luck or one's individual character (of which one's individual work ethic is central). Thus the difficult social conditions that one might experience are widely viewed as the product of a "bad attitude," rather than recognizing the conditions themselves as a social product. The result is a situation in which, at least conceivably, one could be less well off (both materially and in psychic terms) while employed at a minimum-wage job in the United States than if one were unemployed in most European countries. Both would represent almost equal deprivation on a material level. However, the unemployed European would likely be able to enjoy a greater sense of social well-being, with guaranteed health insurance, subsidized transportation and housing, and widely available public cultural institutions and activities, while feeling somewhat less socially stigmatized than if one were among the "working poor" in the United States.47

With regard to social provision, then, the contrasts between much of Europe and the United States are quite significant. In the United States social benefits primarily depend on either the state of the labor market or on the relative collective power of workers within a particular region or industry at a particular historical moment, while in Europe social benefits tend to be statutory and universal. Benefits can be more easily taken back in the United States than they can in a situation where they are firmly institutionalized and are enjoyed across an entire population. That is, as labor markets loosen in the United States, companies can afford to allow their benefit packages to shrink, and when employers feel emboldened (by loosened labor markets, by favorable shifts in the legal or political environment, or by their own organizational capacities) benefits that had been contractually granted to workers in a previous period of collective bargaining can be taken back in a subsequent one. This is never simple or easy, but in recent decades it has become absolutely routine.

Another important difference between the United States and Europe is that in the United States there is a highly decentralized system of collective bargaining and labor relations in which union representatives and employers negotiate at many thousands of unionized workplaces across the country, producing thousands of separate labor contracts that generally only apply and are only enforceable within each of the specific workplaces or firms alone. Trade union membership is a status that is attained (and maintained) workplace by workplace and firm by firm, through a process of quasi self-organization in which groups of workers, aided by representatives of one of sixty-five autonomous national union organizations (with loose jurisdiction over specific industries and occupations) mobilize an electoral campaign with the goal of convincing a majority of their coworkers to vote for union membership, on a collective basis, usually through a government-supervised "union-representation election." If successful, a local branch of the national union organization will be chartered as the officially sanctioned bargaining agent for the workers in that establishment.

Generally, individual unions negotiate with individual firms, maintaining a substantial degree of autonomy, both organizationally and politically. One implication of this is that while contract settlements may be able to be tailored to a particular situation facing specific workers and firms, there are no formal coordinating mechanisms. Pay differences between similar kinds of workers doing the same job tend to be high, and in general the distribution of wages for workers of the same age, education, gender, and occupation is much wider in the United States than in countries where wage bargaining is centrally coordinated.48 In many European countries, by contrast, the results of collective bargaining are routinely extended throughout the industry, often by labor ministers, regardless of the number of union members, thus broadening and deepening the institutional presence of trade unions in the society.

For this reason union density figures can have different implications in different countries. Union density is relatively low in both France and the United States, for example, but in France, the social benefits won by French workers in heavily unionized industries radiate outward to the benefit of the workforce as a whole. Social benefits in the United States, by contrast, do not radiate far at all and must constantly be negotiated, renewed, and defended. Consequently, it is essential that U.S. unions keep organizing, not only to extend trade union rights but also to maintain them in the face of antiunion practices by employers. The broad menu of social benefits available to all citizens in European countries is only available to union members in the United States, and only when they have been wrested from the employer.

Although these differences might seem insignificant, what appear to be minor organizational differences actually represent fundamentally different concepts underlying trade unionism in the United States and Europe. In the United States unions have tended to be institutions representing their members, while in Europe they have tended to be institutions "representing the working class in society as a whole."49 By agreeing to the principle that the union's purview is limited to the interests of the members within the firm, rather than the working class in the society, American unions have largely undercut any moral legitimacy they might have had in relation to a more generalized social solidarity. In other words, early in historical terms, but not without recurring political struggle over it, unions in the United States have largely relinquished the call to act on behalf of a "working class," accepting instead a much more limited role of voicing the interests of their particular members.

Certain limitations inhere in the process of union formation, which is based on an electoral model unknown in Europe. Typically, for a union to be recognized the majority of workers within an enterprise must vote to form a local branch of a national union in an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). However, the electoral model is less a natural outgrowth of democracy or of an American cultural predisposition toward individualism than it is a model imposed in the postwar period to displace worker militancy away from the workplace, the site of the very indignities that tend to lead workers to struggle for unionization in the first place.50 Conflict is systematically channeled so that what may have begun as a spark of collective action for workers on the shop floor is quickly extinguished by the soporific of bureaucratic procedure and legal interpretation. In certain respects, industrial bureaucracy may therefore be considered "class warfare by other means."

Although workers have a legal right to organize a union, employers, particularly in the private sector, frequently contest unionization through aggressive antiunion campaigns that normally include the use of disinformation (in leaflets and in workplace "captive audience" meetings prior to the union election), through intimidation (threats to close the workplace, dismissal of union activists), and through endless legal maneuverings to delay resolution of the process (in order to demoralize union supporters and to replace them through attrition).51 Even seemingly established unions can suddenly be subjected to ferocious and systematically developed campaigns of destabilization ("union busting") aimed at destroying unionism in the workplace and across entire industries. In comparative terms, unionization in the United States is a decentralized process, but one that is also intensely and openly in conflict. In recent decades the balance of power has shifted steadily and unambiguously toward employers to a degree that has put into question the very future of an institutionalized system of collective bargaining.

The American Worker "Disappeared"

Part of what makes it difficult to write about labor and the labor movement in the United States is that one is writing about something that inhabits only a microscopic place in the social imagination. It is probably no exaggeration to say that most Americans are about as unmindful of how labor "works" in the United States, as a system, as a process, and as a social grouping, as most non-Americans are. In important ways this can be taken as a measure of the success of the neoliberal social project, which ultimately depends on the virtual disappearance of the Worker, at a symbolic level, along with the simultaneous symbolic elevation of the Consumer, who has emerged to become the supreme subject and object of economic practice. That is, the Worker (a social actor whose interests were once identifiable and recognizable in a range of institutional forms) has gradually "disappeared" from the social imagination and has been replaced by the increasingly discernible figure of the Consumer (in whose name a host of traditional economic regulations have been methodically overturned).52

This shift has been expressed, on the one side, by a steady inflation of the social rights granted to the Consumer (for example, the "freedom" to choose, to obtain credit, to shop at all hours on any and every day, to have virtually anything delivered directly to one's door, with little waiting, and to generally be granted what appears to non-Americans as an absurd and unnecessary degree of "convenience" with respect to all phases of retail trade). On the other side, this has taken place at the expense of the systematic dissolution of the rights of the Worker (for example, the spread of contingency, wage decline, overwork, forced overtime, job surveillance, few mandated social benefits, erosion of the right to strike, sanctioned antiunionism, and so on).53 It is not just a matter of these spheres standing in inverse proportion to one another, but that they are reciprocally generating conditions: on the other side of the smiling face of endless consumer "convenience" is the stern regime of coerced labor "flexibility."

American-based global retail giants like Toys 'R' Us, McDonald's, and Wal-Mart are essentially no more than high-volume, low-cost "selling factories" that are primarily fueled by a steady supply of inexpensive goods produced by cheap, international labor in the manufacturing phase, and then sold by contingent, low-wage, and nonunionized domestic workers in the hyperrationalized retail selling phase of the process. For example, with annual sales that top those of both General Motors and Exxon-Mobil, Wal-Mart has become a $220 billion-a-year empire and the number one retailer in the entire world.54 It is so large that its effect has been not only to serve as a model for emulation by other retail corporations but also to serve as the primary force driving down labor costs through its direct coercive impact on the sixty-five thousand (65,000) companies that supply it with consumer goods.55 That is, by demanding that its suppliers meet specified low costs, Wal-Mart exerts powerful downward pressure on wages and benefits across entire industries and regions. The four major pillars of Wal-Mart's success have been identified as its successful application of advanced technologies, its logistical flexibility, its reliance on imported goods, and its employment of nonunion labor; however, the conditions for the first three are essentially only made possible by the fourth, which creates the ability to manipulate a wholly unorganized labor force.

In response, one expects to hear the familiar refrain that "workers are consumers too" and that American workers therefore benefit from the mass-market consumer culture that Wal-Mart represents. Although workers certainly are able to purchase goods cheaply, instead of receiving higher wages that would allow them to pay a reasonable price for manufactured goods and services, Americans workers are expected to constantly scramble to seek ever cheaper goods (made by ever cheaper labor) in order to "compensate" for a quarter-century of wage stagnation, thus forcing them to act as consumers directly against their own group interests as workers. Yes, in the United States workers are indeed consumers too, so much so in fact that one could fairly say that the pressures on Americans to consume are almost as fierce as the pressures they face at work! In the United States the credit card industry sends out an incredible 2.5 billion solicitations annually, which competes for space in American mailboxes that are daily inundated with all manner of advertising brochures, promotional materials, and catalogues that sell an unimaginable variety of goods and services.56 And the Internet, promoted as an "information highway," is actually evolving into a gigantic electronic billboard whose potential promotional capabilities will likely and very soon overwhelm the already thoroughly commercialized media domains of television and radio in the United States.

Meanwhile, within the realm of public discourse, economic policy has been largely stripped of any possible social entanglements, so that such questions as taxation, regulation, and deregulation tend to be debated and discussed as either technical matters or in terms of their effects on corporate profitability and behavior, with little attention to their broader social effects. In the mass media the economic health of the society is largely reduced to televised news reports on the ups and downs of the "Dow Jones industrial average" and the "NASDAQ Index" of stocks, an ubiquitous scorekeeping ritual that all Americans are obliged to follow despite the fact that 80 percent of American households have no direct stock holdings.57

In other words it represents a gauge that amounts to a distorted economic cardiogram because it misses what ought to serve as key vital signs of socioeconomic well-being, such as comparative living and working standards, real poverty levels, the ability of workers to organize (as well as any sense of all that is missed when one is forced to rely on official economic categories). Ironically, the wide transmission of stock market results tends to display, albeit implicitly and unintentionally, the class interests and struggles that are at play but that are normally unmentionable in American public discourse. One immediately thinks of the obvious conflicts of class interest that are revealed when the stock market goes up in response to a rising unemployment rate, and then sags as labor markets tighten and wages go up. Even while sometimes noting the irony, media commentators never pursue the implications that flow from the fact that interest rate adjustments (made by the Federal Reserve Bank to dampen the "threat of inflation") are often prompted by nothing more sinister than economic indicators that are judged to be too favorable to workers! As the established transmitter of all forms of "conventional wisdom" the mass media automatically advances the class-bound perspective that it is the risk of inflation and not unemployment that poses the greatest of economic dangers, a warning that is usually raised as a threat to consumers rather than to investors seeking to keep loan rates and labor costs as cheap as possible.

A crucial reason why employers have been able to so dominate the means of symbolic representation has largely to do with a labor movement that has not only failed to offer an oppositional voice within American society, in an ideological sense, but for most of the past half-century has been unwilling to represent itself as a labor movement at all. The formation of any group or movement is never a simple or even process of social representation, but is always uneven, is never fully formed, is in flux, in contention, and is also always partly allegorical.58 Where social groups contend for power and influence in a hostile social universe (like unions in American society) they must constantly "demonstrate" their efficacy and potential, not only to those outside of the group or movement, but to the members of the group itself, whose cohesiveness and solidarity, whose very "groupness" must be constantly reinforced. "Demonstrations" therefore are just that, representational formations that demonstrate to participants and potential participants, friend and foe alike, not what a group "is" at any given time, but what it is potentially, with respect to mobilization, to commitment, to social disruption. In this sense a labor movement is known both by its forms of collective action and its organizational forms, as well as by the limits (both mental and institutional) that it imposes and that are imposed on action and organization.

In the postwar period the dominant representation of American labor has been that of a relentlessly pragmatic business unionism that has actively discouraged any expression of solidarity that might be construed as a threat to the existing order-that is, until very recently. In 1995, the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the federation that comprises nearly all the trade unions in the United States, held the first contested election for president since its formation more than a century ago. The election overturned a conservative, business-oriented union leadership that had proven itself utterly incapable of responding to more than two decades of a sustained antiunion assault by the corporations.

A triumvirate of militants who called themselves the "New Voice" replaced the old leadership. They won by promising to streamline the bureaucratic structure of the federation, to give labor a more visible and militant profile in the society, and to increase substantially the amount of energy and resources directed toward organizing new union members. Most significantly, they committed the American labor movement to the fight for social justice. Although the decentralized nature of American unionism necessarily limits the impact of a leadership change at the top of the AFL-CIO, it nevertheless represents a significant historical event. In part, the victory of the New Voice leadership means that for the first time those who are officially authorized to speak in the name of American labor are predisposed to do so in a way that is openly critical of the American style of neoliberal capitalism.

The position of dominance in the world attained by American-based corporations has largely been achieved because they have been able to operate from such a remarkably favorable position at home. With an acquiescent labor movement that has openly supported or mounted only insignificant opposition to policies of "military Keynsianism," to industrial deregulation, to the privatization of public services, and to a worldview in which the market represents the supreme arbiter of all human affairs, American corporations have grown accustomed to maneuvering in a domain with few significant constraints. "Freedom" is trumpeted so loudly and pressed so determinedly on the rest of the world because it promises the same reassuringly familiar conditions that have existed for business in the United States.

In the neoliberal utopia that corporations seek to create, there is no place for trade unions, making the future survival of a labor movement in the United States a very real and serious question. The reciprocally determining relationship that binds American capital and American labor, however, has meant that the same attempt to destroy the latter has spawned an extraordinary frontal challenge to the former, opening a world of new social possibilities. There is an enormous amount at stake, therefore, with regard to the future of the U.S. labor movement, not only for American society but for much of the rest of the world.

Chapter 1: Why Labor Matters

1. The boasts have continued even during the recent economic slowdown. In the magazine section of the New York Times on October 27, 2002, M. Lewis reported that "employment in the 100 boom-era companies climbed 26 percent" from the end of 1999 to the end of 2001. "That's 177,000 jobs," he exclaimed (see M. Lewis, "In Defense of the Boom," p. 60).

2. One of America's leading economists, Paul Krugman, points out that "most Americans assume that because we are the richest country in the world, with real GDP per capita higher than that of most other major advanced countries, Americans must be better off across the board—that its not just our rich who are richer than their counterparts abroad, but that the typical American family is much better off than the typical family elsewhere, and that even our poor are well off by foreign standards. But that's not true." When things like heath care, child care, work hours per year, and so on are included in our measure of living standards, this is even less true (see Krugman, "For Richer"). This inequality in living standards has especially harmful effects on American children. As Lee Rainwater and Timothy Smeeding show in their careful analysis of living standards in rich democracies, there are more children (both proportionately and absolutely) who live in low-income households in the United States than in any other rich democracy. Moreover, these children are worse off than low-income children in every other advanced industrial country, except the United Kingdom. The average low-income child in the eleven European counties the authors studied was at least 25 percent better off than the average low-income child in the United States. And this figure almost certainly understates the level of deprivation of American low-income children, for it does not take into account things like unequal access to health care, childcare, and education. At the other end of the social universe, American children of high-income families are much better off than kids in other OCED countries (Rainwater and Smeeding, "Comparing Living Standards Across Nations"; Smeeding, "No Child Left Behind?").

3. During its boom years in the 1990s the information technology sector in the United States generated jobs at a substantially faster rate than other industries, but still contributed a small share (7.5 percent of all new jobs) to total job growth. In 1999, information technology occupations made up only 2 percent of all employment (up from 1.3 percent in 1989), and workers in these jobs fared no better than workers with comparable education and experience in other kinds of jobs (Mishel, Bernstein, and Schmitt, State of Working America 2000-2001, p. 2).

4. Founder and CEO of Jeffrey Bezos became fabulously wealthy, owning $7.5 billion in stock holdings. Stock options recently paid to three of his top executives at the firm were worth $1.3 billion, $744 million, and $207 million, respectively. Meanwhile, customer service representatives are paid 10 dollars per hour upon hiring (equivalent to $20,000 per year), with a chance to earn stock options; however, only 30-50 percent of these employees stay on the job long enough to meet the one-year eligibility. In any event, it is doubtful that many workers would be able to afford stock options on $20,000 a year, as the living wage for a family of one adult and two children was recently estimated to be $30,000 a year, which amounts to $14 an hour. See Leibovich, "Service Without a Smile"; Strauss, "Billionaires Club"; and Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed.

5. Lang, "Behind the Prosperity"; Greenhouse, "Janitors Struggle at the Edges."

6. For a compelling account of temporary workers toiling alongside permanent workers, see Smith, Crossing the Great Divide, ch. 4.

7. Microsoft recently agreed to pay $97 million to settle an eight-year-old lawsuit in which thousands of "temporary" employees successfully argued that they were illegally denied benefits by the company (Greenhouse, "Temp Workers at Microsoft Win Lawsuit"). There are more than six thousand temporary workers among the twenty-five thousand or so Microsoft employees in the United States, virtually none of whom are represented by a union (Greenhouse, "Unions Need Not Apply"). Amazon and Microsoft both have gradually begun "outsourcing" their customer service work to New Delhi, India, where skilled customer service positions pay less than 10 percent of the wages paid in Seattle (Greenhouse, "Unions Pushing to Organize Thousands"; Jackson, "Newswatch").

8. The original "bracero program" in the 1940s and 1950s allowed California agricultural employers to hire Mexican citizens to work on temporary contracts at very low wages and under harsh conditions in fruit and vegetable fields. The threat of deportation was routinely used as a stick to ward off collective action. In addition to the recent H1-B visas for software developers and computer programmers (many of whom will be recruited from India, China, and the Philippines), agricultural and meatpacking interests are also seeking a return to the bracero program as a way of recruiting low-wage labor for their industries (see Bacon, "Immigrants Find High-Tech Servitude"; Enrich, "High-Tech Cheap Labor").

9. Greenhouse, "Unions Pushing to Organize Thousands"; Greenhouse, " Is Using the Web."

10. See Fischer et al., Inequality by Design, p. 138, for a discussion of some of the ways in which Americans are aided by the larger society but imagine that their achievements have come through individual efforts alone.

11. See Royster, Race and the Invisible Hand; Wilson, When Work Disappears; Granovetter, Getting a Job.

12. Lynch, "Payoffs to Alternative Training," p. 63.

13. R. B. Freeman, "How Labor Fares," p. 19; see also Freeman and Katz, Differences and Changes.

14. Fischer et al., "Myths about Inequality in America."

15. Mishel, Bernstein, and Boushey, State of Working America 2002-2003, p. 427.

16. These six occupations are: retail salespersons; cashiers; personal care home health aides; teacher assistants; janitors and cleaners (including maids); and nurse's aides, orderlies, and attendants (see Frey, Abresch, and Yeasting, America by the Numbers, p. 113).

17. Quoted in Tilly, Half a Job, p. 47.

18. In the case of Wal-Mart, it is important to point out that we are talking about the hours of work that Wal-Mart actually pays for, which is not necessarily the total number of hours actually worked. Workers have filed class-action and individual lawsuits in twenty-nine states alleging that Wal-Mart forced them to work "off the clock" in order to meet profit targets (see Greenhouse, "Suits Say Wal-Mart Forces Workers"; Tower, "Sam's Dream").

19. Klein, No Logo, p. 476.

20. Mishel, Bernstein, and Schmitt, State of Working America 2000-2001, pp. 243-53.

21. Mishel, Bernstein, and Boushey, State of Working America 2002-2003, p. 429.

22. See Wacquant, Les Prisons De La Misere, p. 90; see also Western and Beckett, "How Unregulated Is the US Labor Market?"

23. Although youth unemployment has been unusually intractable throughout Western Europe relative to the United States, a respected British economist has told the Financial Times that "between 1988 and 1994, 11 per cent of men aged 25-55 were not in work in France, compared with 13 per cent in the UK, 14 per cent in the US, and 15 per cent in Germany" (quoted in Gray, False Dawn, p. 113; emphasis added).

24. See Mishel, Bernstein, and Schmitt, State of Working America 2000-2001, p. 120; and Fischer et al. Inequality by Design, pp. 111-15.

25. All male blue-collar workers saw sizeable declines in hourly wages between 1973 and 2001(even when we include the wage growth that occurred between 1995 and 2001!). So, too, did most male service workers. (An exception is those employed in protective services, who earned 32 cents more an hour than they had in 1973.) Although women's wages rose steadily across all these occupational categories, this is largely because they lagged so far behind the wages of men prior to 1973, and their wages continue to be substantially lower than those of men in the same occupational categories. See Mishel, Bernstein, and Boushey, State of Working America 2002-2003, pp. 125-26.

26. Ibid., pp. 131-41; Mishel, Bernstein, and Schmitt, State of Working America 2000-2001, pp. 129-37. A "poverty-level wage" is designated by "the hourly wage that a full-time, year-round worker must earn to sustain a family of four at the poverty threshold," or $8.70 in the year 2001. Although the official "poverty threshold" is a precise figure that carries great authority, the computational model from which it is derived is widely regarded as arbitrary and outdated, essentially understating by half the percent of the population that actually lives under conditions of material deprivation.

27. Mishel, Bernstein, and Boushey, State of Working America 2002-2003, pp. 161, 163.

28. Ibid., pp. 159-60. Those with some college education saw a very modest 1.5 percent real wage gain in the period between 1973 and 2001; those with a college degree experienced a 16 percent real wage increase; those with an advanced degree enjoyed a 19 percent boost.

29. The figure on compensation for leading CEOs is for 2001 and is from Klinger et al., Executive Excess 2002; and Lavelle, "Executive Pay." Salary, bonuses, and stock options exercised are included in the figure, but unexercised stock options are not. The ratio of CEO to average worker pay is from Mishel, Bernstein, and Boushey, State of Working America 2002-2003, p. 215.

30. For figures on CEO compensation in France and Germany, see Business Week, International Editions, August 9, 1999, p. 24; and Mishel, Bernstein, and Boushey, State of Working America 2002-2003, pp. 213-15.

31. See Wolff, "Recent Trends in Wealth Ownership, 1983-1988"; Wolff, Top Heavy.

32. Statistics cited in Mishel, Bernstein, and Boushey, State of Working America 2002-2003, pp. 143-47.

33. For example, of those in the lowest fifth of wage earners, of whom only 33.4 percent receive any employer-provided health insurance, there was a 7.3 percent decline between 1979 and 2000, which is also the period in which pension coverage was reduced by a rate of 1.5 percent (only 18 percent of low-wage workers receive employer-provided pension). Generally, for workers within the bottom two-fifths of wage earners, the costs of purchasing health care coverage for themselves and their families and of investing in a private pension plan are prohibitively expensive. It is among this group that the national estimate of forty-four million uninsured Americans is overwhelmingly drawn. Figures are cited in Mishel, Bernstein, and Schmitt, State of Working America 2000-2001, pp. 137-40.

34. For a discussion of comparative life expectancy statistics, see Krugman, "For Richer."

35. This has not always been the case. Thirty years ago Americans worked fewer hours per year than either the French or the Germans, according to R. B. Freeman, "How Labor Fares," p. 3.

36. Mishel, Bernstein, and Boushey, State of Working America 2002-2003, pp. 423, 425. Sweden has also shown an increase in the average annual hours worked between 1979 and 2000, but the increase has only brought Sweden's average to 1,624 hours per year, which is fifth from the bottom on the list of OCED countries. The United States was twentieth, with 1,877 hours. The broad implications of overwork in the United States are examined in Schor, Overworked American.

37. Mishel, Bernstein, and Schmitt, State of Working America 2000-2001, p. 401. Also see Schor, Overworked American. Obviously, since sixteen represents the average number of annual paid vacation days in the United States, a great many workers receive less, and some receive no annual paid vacation. Moreover, there are only eight to ten paid holidays for U.S. workers, while the mean number across Europe is twelve, according to R. B. Freeman, "How Labor Fares," p. 22.

38. See the aptly titled book by Linder and Nygaard, Void Where Prohibited: Rest Breaks and the Right to Urinate on Company Time, pp. 1, 9. They present data (p. 174) indicating that one-third of workers employed in medium or large establishments (and approximately 50 percent of those working for small establishments or for the government) do not receive paid rest periods.

39. In addition, while unemployment insurance covers American workers at 50 percent of their pay for six months, workers in Europe normally receive sixteen months of unemployment coverage at 47 percent of their pay according to R. B. Freeman, "How Labor Fares," p. 22. There is no mandated provision with regard to severance pay in the United States.

40. Sometimes social benefits are offered as an indirect effect of union efforts. As Jacoby documents in Modern Manors, some large nonunion corporations like IBM and Eastman Kodak set up "welfare capitalism" as a way of ensuring that their workplaces will remain "union free."

41. Abraham and Houseman discuss the differences between German and American labor market policies with regard to layoffs in "Job Security in America."

42. "For Greenspan, Ease in Firing Is a U.S. Plus," p. 1.

43. Ackerman, "Supply-Side Journalism"; also see Blank, "Does a Larger Social Safety Net Mean Less Economic Flexibility?"

44. Russakoff, "When Pay Can't Cover Childcare."

45. According to a survey conducted by the Children's Defense Fund, the average amount that an American parent pays for child care for two children, that are, say, three and four years old, is about $900 per month, but in many places parents are forced to pay as much as $1,200 or more (see Helburn and Bergmann, America's Childcare, p. 20).

46. Bergmann, Saving Our Children; Wacquant, Urban Outcasts; Wacquant, "Comparative Structure and Experience."

47. To be clear, one should not romanticize European societies, all of which are experiencing ongoing political battles to reduce social provisions. We compare Europe with America in this chapter because it is so often held up as a negative example, and because even while the welfare state is under attack there, most European societies have held onto universal social provision as a principal.

48. R. B. Freeman, "How Labor Fares," p. 19; Blau and Kahn, "International Differences in Male Wage."

49. Ozaki, Negotiating Flexibility, p. 146.

50. As we will discuss in Chapter 4, unions have recently begun to find ways around this election system because employers have been so effective in manipulating it to their advantage.

51. See Fantasia, Cultures of Solidarity.

52. The effectiveness of this symbolic "disappearing act" is evident when, for example, consumers are faced with the threat of an airline strike and the popular media accords great weight and attention to the "inconveniences" and the "disruptions" visited on the "traveling public," while mostly ignoring or downplaying injustices in the experience of airline workers within a deregulated industry.

53. The systematic dissolution of worker rights in the United States is documented in Fantasia, "Dictature sur le proletariat"; see also the report issued by the organization, Human Rights Watch, entitled Unfair Advantage: Worker's Freedom of Association in the U.S.

54. Greenhouse, "Trying to Overcome Embarrassment"; Ernsberger Jr., "Wal-Mart World."

55. See Kaufman, "As Biggest Business." For an analysis of the Wal-Mart empire, see Ortega, In Sam We Trust; and Vance and Scott, Wal-Mart.

56. This intense pressure to consume has no doubt contributed to the serious crisis involving the savings rate, which has declined from about 8 percent in 1980, to 4 percent in the early 1990s, to the current level of zero. According to Schor in Overworked American, "About 2/3 of American households do not save in a typical year." Meanwhile, credit card debt has soared as unpaid balances currently average $7,000 per household, with the typical household paying $1,000 annually in interest and penalties, with annual bankruptcy rates having risen from 200,000 in 1980 to 1.4 million in 1998.

57. In 1998 only 19.2 percent of Americans had direct stock holdings (shares bought in a particular company); while 43.4 percent of Americans had indirect stock holdings (shares bought through mutual funds or held in pension funds) and slightly more than one-third of households (36.3 percent) held stock worth more than $5,000 (directly or indirectly) (see Mishel, Bernstein, and Schmitt, State of Working America 2000-2001, pp. 266-67).

58. Bourdieu, "Social Space and the Genesis of 'Classes'"; Fantasia, "Myth of the Labor Movement."