Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 28, 2015

A reader writes…

From the mailbag: a reader reacts to my last post on unions:

I have some feedback for you on your article,”Why Bosses Hate Unions.”

I found it just a really poor piece of journalism.  It was incredibly one-sided, pandering, and missed several key issues.  Yes, union workers make more money than their counterparts, but that is not the only reason bosses (or more accurately shareholders) hate unions.  Unions also:

– Decrease innovation
– Increase Administration cost
– Force non-related political issues into the workplace
– Increase costs of employment – union wages
– Reduce the ability to promote, demote and fire employees based on performance

This is one of MANY reasons why unions have fallen out of favor in our society. This is the main reason that public unions are increasing, vs private ones have shrunken – the feedback loop to results in the public sector is much smaller. (See hundreds of NY teachers being paid to do nothing)

Why didn’t you address this issues?  Why didn’t you address the issues of increase competition due to globalization/technology?  Why didn’t you further discuss the downsides of unionization and how many American’s perceive them to be out-of-date?

You didn’t because you are biased and a bad reporter.

Be less obtuse,

Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 23, 2015

Union density erodes again—and why bosses hate unions

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is just out with its figures on union membership in 2014. Overall membership, aka density, fell to 11.1% of the workforce, from 11.3% in 2013. The decline was more than entirely the result of slippage in the private sector, down from 6.7% to 6.6%. Public sector density, perhaps surprisingly, rose, from 35.3% to 35.7%. Since private sector employment is more than five times that of the public sector, the private sector decline dominated the public sector’s rise, producing the overall drop.

Here’s a graph of union density over time. Current private sector density is half what it was in 1930, just before the great surge in membership during the Depression. Its rate of decline has slowed over the last decade, but there’s no sign of a turnaround. And despite the uptick in public sector density last year, the line has been essentially flat for 30 years.


By age group, union membership rose only among the youngest (16-24) and oldest (65+) cohorts. The decline was sharper for adult men (-0.3 point) than women (-0.1). By race/ethnicity, density declined among whites (-0.2), blacks (-0.4), and Hispanics (-0.2), but rose a full percentage point for Asians.

Density declined for most occupational and industry groups, with some interesting exceptions. By occupation, management, law, healthcare practitioners, and sales all bucked the downward trend; by industry, broadcasting/telecommunications; arts, entertainment, and recreation; accommodations; and bars and restaurants all rose (though the last just barely). The lists of gainers are at odds with the traditional image of unions. Efforts to organize retail showed little payoff, as density fell 0.2 point. Within the public sector, union membership rose at the federal and local levels, and declined at the state level—it looks like that’s where the effort to destroy public sector unionism is having its effect.

Union status matters for wages: overall, unionized workers earned 27% more than nonunion (measured by median weekly earnings for full-time workers). The effect was especially pronounced for weaker, more discriminated-against demographic groups. The youngest group, aged 16–24, enjoyed a 28% union premium; the advantage declined with each successive cohort, down to 12% for the 65+ set. Women aged 25 and older enjoyed a 27% premium, compared to 15% for men. White men (16 and over) had a 20% union advantage, compared with 32% for white women; for black men, the premium was 29%, compared to 34% for black women; and for Hispanics, it was 44% for men and 46% for women. Asian men were a notable exception, with the unionized earning 5% less than the non-unionized—but Asian women showed a 14% union premium.

It’s no wonder employers hate unions so much. As profoundly flawed as American unions are, they can vastly improve the wages and working conditions of their members.

[Technical note: all the figures above refer to union members; they don’t include the 1.2% of the workforce that is represented by unions without being members. If you include them, all the trends are almost identical to what’s outlined above.]

Posted by: Doug Henwood | December 24, 2014

That john a. powell talk…

The excerpts from the talk by Berkeley law prof john a. powell [sic] that Adolph Reed and I discuss on my December 25 radio show can be found here.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | December 4, 2014

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive:

December 4, 2014 Anatol Lieven of Georgetown U–Qatar (and author of this) on Hillary the Hawk • Alex Vitale, author of City of Disorder, on Ferguson in the context of American policing

November 27, 2014 Lucia Green-Weiskel on the U.S.–China climate quasi-deal • Steven Teles talks about Hillary, kludgeocracy, and neoliberalism.

November 20, 2014 Yanis Varoufakis on the eurocrisis • Howie Hawkins, Green candidate for NYS governor, on the party’s future

November 13, 2014 Detroit bankruptcy exit special: Shea Howell of Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management, offers an activist perspective, and Wallace Turbeville (see writings here) runs the numbers

Posted by: Doug Henwood | November 10, 2014

Fresh audio product, in quantity

Catching up on a major backlog of fresh audio product, just posted to my radio archives:

September 18, 2014 Gilbert Achcar on the Middle Eastern landscape

September 25, 2014 Mark Blyth on the Scottish independence referendum • Laleh Khalili on the theory and practice of counterinsurgency.

October 23, 2014 [back after fundraising hiatus]  Ryan Grim (author of this article) on Gary Webb, crack, and the CIA • Jake Blumgart (author of this article) on a mini-Detroit on the outskirts of Philadelphia

October 30, 2014  Kevin Alexander Gray, co-editor of Killing Trayvonson racist police and vigilante violence • Trudy Lieberman on the snares of Obamacare

November 6, 2014 Heather Boushey, director of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, on inequality • George Joseph, author of this article, on Teach for America

Note the fundraising gap. If you like these shows and want to keep them coming, please contribute to KPFA—and mention Behind the News if you do.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | November 10, 2014

More Hillary

Me on CNN, interviewed by Andrew Cuomo’s brother, of all people.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | October 29, 2014

Hillary publicity update 2

This just in, from my old pal Russ Smith, publisher of New York Press in its splendid heyday.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | October 29, 2014

Hillary publicity update

Updates to the Hillary publicity catalog:

Posted by: Doug Henwood | October 28, 2014

Hillary publicity roundup

Lots of nice publicity for my Hillary piece in Harper’s:

More, one hopes. One always hopes for more.


Posted by: Doug Henwood | October 24, 2014

On Hillary

[I said this on my radio show yesterday as a Hillary teaser. Jane McAlevey urged me to circulate it, and I do what Jane says.]

A little self-promotion. I have a cover story in this month’s Harper’s on Hillary Rodham Clinton, which the editors gave the tabloidish headline, “Stop Hillary!” (And I do mean tabloidish—it caught the attention of a New York Post reporter, who wrote it up for the paper’s Page Six gossip feature.) In it, I review Hillary’s life in a very non-friendly way, in hope of derailing her unannounced yet all-but-certain presidential campaign.

I have three major objections to Hillary (which is how she seems to brand herself these days): the dynastic, the personal, and the political.

First, after two Bushes, do we really need another Clinton?

Second, the personal. Hillary has a long record of dishonesty, ranging from making up a stories about the origin of her name (she said she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, but he didn’t climb Mt Everest until several years after she was born) to lies about all the various Arkansas scandals she brought with her to Washington. Par for the politician course, I suppose, but her supporters like to think of her as several cuts above the ordinary, a judgment I’m sure she concurs with.

But the most important objection is political: the last thing we need is another hawkish, Wall Street-friendly Democrat in the White House. Many people—including me, when I started researching the piece—don’t appreciate how deeply involved Hillary was with creating the New Democrat paradigm, tough and business-friendly, replacing the old New Deal/Great Society model. While governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton took a number of swipes at unions in the state as part of a campaign to shred the longstanding Democratic alliance with labor. He, with Hillary closely involved, launched an attack on the teachers union in Arkansas, a campaign with ugly racial undertones, that was a model for later edu-reform efforts. Once on the board of the Children’s Defense Fund, Hillary supported Bill’s efforts to end welfare, which is responsible for keeping millions of people, mostly women and children, in poverty now—though, of course, she likes to present herself as an advocate for women and children. That advocacy mainly takes the form of photo-ops and symbolic programs. It’s very reminiscent of her husband’s approach. I remember, back in the 1990s, taking apart his budget proposals. The prose sections always contained rhetoric about “investing in people” and “building a bridge to the 21st century,” but when you looked at the actual numbers, you had to take them out to two or three decimal places to notice any change. That’s the essence of the New Democrat paradigm.

But it isn’t new anymore—it’s more than 20 years old. It represented a consolidation of Reaganism, the conversion of what is supposed to be the popular party into a near-pure instrument of neoliberalism. To a neoliberal, the solution to a social problem should always involve a market, and if the market doesn’t exist, it must be created ex nihilo. (That’s the logic of Obamacare.)

That whole approach has lost even its novelty value now. It is not adequate to deal with climate change, polarization, and structural economic stagnation—problems that are caused by an excess of markets, not a deficiency. The marketization of everything has led to severe social fragmentation and the erosion of all notions of solidarity. Hillary sometimes evokes those notions of solidarity, but usually in photo-ops with women from poor countries in their colorful native garb, where she uplifts them by her mere presence. As for policies that might change their actual material and social status, well, they’re rather thin on the ground, because they might spoil the investment climate.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | October 24, 2014

Minimum wage politics

I haven’t used this venue to promote my Harper’s piece on the awfulness of Hillary Clinton, but that’s about to change. First this little note, and then some bits from the cutting-room floor that wouldn’t fit next week.

Some Democrats have been saying that a Hillary presidency would almost certainly lead to a rise in the minimum wage and a Republican wouldn’t. Maybe. But here’s the recent historical record. I have to admit I was surprised by this, but here you go:

• The real value of the minimum wage rose 7.7% under George H.W. Bush (measuring from January 1989–January 1993—subsequent calculations follow the same template).

• It fell by 1.5% under Bill Clinton.

• It rose by 5.4% under George W. Bush.

• So far under Obama it’s down 1.3%

This history aside, I’m not saying that the minimum wage is more likely to rise under a Rep than a Dem, but Dems’ faith in the certainty of a minwage increase under Hillary seems misplaced.

PS: Yes, Harper’s is beyond a paywall. They also paid me well and have an excellent staff of editors and publicists. You can’t get that good stuff for free.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | October 8, 2014

More companies dropping health coverage, thanks to Obamacare

Back in 2011, I argued that Obamacare would lead employers to drop existing health insurance coverage and throw employees onto the mercies of the exchanges. (See this post and links therein.) Liberals, including no less than Paul Krugman, denied this. But it’s looking like it’s happening.

Today’s Wall Street Journal reports that Wal-Mart, that paragon of the modern employer, is dropping coverage for 30,000 part-time employees. It joins Target, Home Depot, and UPS, who’ve already cut coverage. And, at the high end, the so-called “Cadillac tax” on generous insurance plans is also leading to cutbacks; JetBlue and FedEx are shifting employees into high-deductible plans.

Obamacare’s popularity

Meanwhile, Gallup finds that more Americans think the cleverly named Affordable Care Act  has hurt (27%) rather than helped (16%) them—though a majority (54%) say it’s had no effect. Almost half (46%) think the ACA will make things worse over the long term, and just 15% think it will make things better.

Maybe they’re wrong. But the typical response of Democrats is basically to say they’re mistaken, and that the Act is the greatest bit of legislated social progress since Medicare. Except almost everyone loves Medicare. It’d be nice if everyone could have something like it.

An hour after I hit the “publish” button on the SodaStream post, the firm’s publicist got back to me with an answer to my question about how BDS might be affecting sales. He referred me to a September 1 JTA story, which reports that the company is thinking of closing its West Bank factory (pictured below)—but purely for “financial reasons.” Those reasons do not include the boycott, which CEO Daniel Birnbaum dismissed as a mere “nuisance.” And, in case you missed the political point, he made the company’s position very clear: “We are not giving in to the boycott. We are Zionists.”

So, they‘d close the plant for financial reasons, but its location in the West Bank has nothing to do with those. Right. Also: it’s not just a beverage—it’s a political statement.

Israeli Soda Club factory

Posted by: Doug Henwood | October 7, 2014

SodaStream: is BDS hitting where it hurts?

[See company’s response here.]

This morning, the Israeli-based fizz merchant SodaStream announced miserable preliminary financial results for the quarter ending September 30. Its stock promptly fell by over 20%, compounding losses over the last year. It’s now more than 70% off its all-time high set in July 2011, and the company may well put itself up for sale.


The company’s explanation of the glum performance was not much of an explanation at all. From their official release:

“We are very disappointed in our recent performance,” said Daniel Birnbaum, Chief Executive Officer of SodaStream. “Our U.S. business underperformed due to lower than expected demand for our soda makers and flavors which was the primary driver of the overall shortfall in the third quarter. While we were successful over the last few years in establishing a solid base of repeat users in the U.S., we have not succeeded in attracting new consumers to our home carbonation system at the rate we believe should be achieved. The third quarter results are a clear indication that we must alter our course and improve our execution across the board. We have already begun a strategic shift of the SodaStream brand towards health & wellness, primarily in the U.S., where we believe this message will resonate more strongly with consumers….”

In other words, sales were off because not enough people are buying the product.

Media reports (like this one) glossed the company’s explanation with the commonplace that Americans are losing their taste for soda. But SodaStream’s fizz-inducing systems could be used to make bubbly water (0 calories) or effervescent fruit juices. You could probably even gas up your kale juice if you wanted to, which is beyond my imagining. According to the company’s nutrition information page, its flavors have about a third the calories of comparable sodas like Coke and Sprite. So if Americans are really losing their taste for the really sweet stuff, SodaStream should already be well-positioned as a possible alternative, not a victim of these changing preferences.

Not mentioned in either the company’s release or any news report I’ve seen: the global boycott of Israeli products. SodaStream is especially vulnerable, compared to a company based in Israel itself, because its major factory is in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. SodaStream has factories in Israel proper and elsewhere in the world, but its presence in the Occupied Territories make it particularly vulnerable to a boycott, a risk the company acknowledged in its most recent annual report.

Earlier in the year, Scarlett Johansson was relieved of her role as her role as an “ambassador” for Oxfam, because the charity believed “that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.” That move attracted global attention. It may be that Johansson’s star power did more to publicize the boycott than it did the company’s products.

So is the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel costing a real-world company real money? SodaStream isn’t talking; a query to the firm’s publicist has gone unanswered, which is unusual behavior for a publicist who wants to talk. But it’s looking like the answer may well be yes.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | September 12, 2014

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive:

September 11, 2014 Dana Goldstein, author of Teacher Warson the history of education politics in the U.S. • Christian Parenti, author of this article, reclaims Hamilton for the left (and for climate politics)

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