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The Future of American Labor

Labor writer, Steven Greenhouse, joins Ralph to discuss his new book “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present and Future of American Labor.” Then Steve, David, and Ralph have a spirited discussion about how the 99% can wrest power from the 1%.

Steven Greenhouse is an award-winning reporter who covered labor and workplace issues for nineteen years at The New York Times.  He has also served as a business and economics reporter and a diplomatic and foreign correspondent. His latest work is Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor.

“I think one of the reasons Trump won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania is that workers were too misinformed, and they thought Trump was going to do wonders for them. And if unions did a better job communicating, educating, perhaps a weekly email newsletter about how Trump is hurting workers, how Trump has rolled back all these protections that Obama had provided, extending overtime to millions of more workers. Obama issued this very important rule that doesn’t get enough attention that required Wall Street firms to act in the best interests of workers in handling their 401Ks. And Trump, doing a huge favor for Wall Street and really stabbing workers in back, scrapped that rule. Now, it’s much easier for Wall Street firms to rip off workers.”

Steven Greenhouse, author of “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past Present and Future of American Labor”


“In no other industrial nation do corporations fight so hard to beat back and, indeed, quash labor unions. And they threaten to close their plant if they unionize. They threaten to even cut benefits if workers unionize. In 34% of unionization drives – one study found – the companies fire the workers who are leading the unionization drive in order to cripple the unionization drive.”

Steven Greenhouse, author of “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past Present and Future of American Labor”



“Tens of millions of workers are making less today than workers were paid in 1968 adjusted for inflation, even though – because of automation etc. – you are twice as productive. One worker in Walmart produces as much as two workers in Walmart in 1968. You’re getting zero benefit. All the productivity gains are going to pay Walmart’s executives and top managers and not to you.”

Ralph Nader

RALPH NADER RADIO HOUR EP 294 TRANSCRIPT (Right click to download)


  1. Afdal Shahanshah says:

    Trump won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania because workers were “misinformed”? Holy cow, what an unbelievably condescending, partisan, cover-throwing take for the Democratic Party. Workers rejected Clinton because there were INFORMED. They were informed that the Clintons gave us the greatest betrayal of workers of the past few decades, the North American Free Trade Act. NAFTA, which allowed manufacturers to move production to Mexico where they can pay people less, is literally the biggest justification for why Michigan manufacturing jobs have been obliterated. They rejected Clinton because at the very same time she was campaigning for office Obama was trying to shove down everyone’s throat the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an international corporate supremacy deal EVEN MORE HEINOUS THAN NAFTA. 401k’s are a scam to avoid maintaining real pensions and they always have been–even the guy who invented the concept last year said it was a mistake. When Obama actually had the chance to do something great and meaningful for workers, he chose to campaign against Dennis Kucinich in his home state for refusing to support the “affordable” care act (pharmaceutical handout bill), instead of a real healthcare system to provide millions of workers with the financial security they desperately need.

    Organized labor’s attachment at the hip to the Democratic Party has been an utter disaster for decades. We absolutely do still need a labor party, and Howie Hawkins has been trying to turn the Greens into that party. You should really think about inviting him on, he has a much deeper understanding of the history of organized labor.

    Also Gotta point out once again that Instant Runoff Voting (“ranked choice voting” is very imprecise; there are many different kinds of ranked voting methods) is not the panacea for overthrowing the two-party system that it’s made out to be. It still has a spoiler effect, it still has tactical voting, and it even invents some new pathologies not present in plurality voting. The end result is that, while IRV is indeed an improvement over plurality voting, it insufficiently discourages tactical voting enough to regularly elect more than two parties at a time in single-winner offices. Every country and municipality around the world that has picked up IRV has maintained a two-party system. Australia has had IRV for its single-winner House elections for over 90 years and it’s been totally dominated by two parties that entire time. And this is IN SPITE of Australia having proportional representation in other branches of government where more than two parties are actually represented. IRV is not good enough to break down the two-party system, and third party advocates need to take responsibility and get educated on other options already. There are superior voting methods that can, such as Approval and Score voting.

    • Bruce K. says:

      Let me be clear. So you are saying that people decided to vote for Trump because they wanted more Leftist politics and the Democrats were not giving it to them? They voted for Trump out of desperation, or because they were sending the Democrats a lesson? It seemed more likely to me that this was one of these cases where the Democratic candidate turned-off Democrats from showing up, and the Republican candidate and all the noise energized the Republican base – along with the targeted Facebook AI psychographic technology that they were supposedly using, then there were the dirty tricks, and taking people off the voter rolls.

      Trump lied to workers like Boris Johnson lied to Britons about BREXIT.l

    • Gilbert Christman says:

      Well said. When all is said and done, the Democratic side of Wallstreet’s duopoly coin is no less evil. Whatever happened to the real Ralph Nader – the courageous opponent against Wallstreet’s political corruption ?

    • Karen McClellan says:

      Let’s be real. Americans are sick of the status quo & decided to vote for a reality show host who has made his fortune (however inflated) on the backs of slave workers he doesn’t pay for their work, evading taxes the rest of us pay to prop up his opulent lifestyle, rigging the system, leaving massive bills for security in every state he has had rally’s, run ads for universities that didn’t exist & screwed desperate people out of hard earned moneyl-no less having multiple sex abuse charges against him that seems to be of no interest, plunging international economies & our own into a cesspool that continues to degrade, caging & abusing immigrants & refugees of war & violence the U.S. is complicit in encouraging, supporting facist dictators murdering their own people-apparently more attractive than voting for a real progressive candidate who would work to reform a rigged system run by corporate interests. The American public that decided this sociopath was a fresh change must be attracted by the pure racist agenda because when we take a look at what this idiot has accomplished in 3 years- it’s been an attempt to convince the American public that everything wrong in this country is due to immigrants-specifically-brown & black people-anyone non-white, facist dictatorship exercising ethnic cleansing in the backdoor ways he can, without an ounce of compassion for humanity. Rather than be informed, the lazy Americans rather be influenced & feed into their blatant racism because it’s just so much easier than educating themselves. It’s obvious these folks can’t handle REAL change because it will interrupt the status quo, lazy lifestyle they are willing to live with because that takes no energy & it’s so very much easier to blame immigrants than search the reality that continues to plummet our economy into hell & continue the endless, useless horrendous wars that create new “terrorists” on a daily basis. Wake up America-vote for someone who has dedicated his lifestyle to real change for the 99% of America-OR LIVE WITH THE SAME STATUS QUO-business as usual. Good luck with that in your future.

    • Karen Shaw says:

      Unions are also corrupt entities. They are organized in an undemocratic, vanguard-ist, Mafia-like (and sometimes literally) way. Unions do nothing for their workers today. They just take our dues and don’t even get us jobs. Take my union, as a professional musician. We are required to be in the union to play in orchestras, opera pits and many show pits. The unions do absolutely nothing to help us. People don’t use those stupid lists anymore. Unions are dead. Time to have better, bolder, syndicalism ideas! System change, people!!! He’s right unions don’t have power. But why are they against Medicare for all!? Because they are still corrupt to the core! They go to warren and buttigieg asking for option plans for endorsements. If unions were worth saving, they’d be 100% behind Bernie yesterday. Last time they endorsed Hillary, AFLCIO is corrupt and Neoliberal.

  2. Mark Hughes says:

    There is an explanation, however vague, for why we are the wealthiest nation in world history yet don’t do squat for regular people. Marx wrote “If the masses are all oppressed equally, the more proletarians a country has, the richer it will be”. I.e, Accumulation of capital IS the multiplication of the proletariat.

    On why our labor movement isn’t moving, another Marxian explanation: “In the United States of North America, every independent movement of the workers was paralysed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded. But out of the death of slavery a new life at once arose.” (“Capital Volume I”, Chapter 10: The Working Day, §7: The Struggle for a Normal Working Day. Reaction of the English Factory Acts on Other Countries.)

    And in America, slavery does still exist (undocumented laborers, prisons, internships, etc)

    Indeed the phenomenon of “Big Labor” in America is a myth, as much of one as the term democracy. Especially when you consider the fairly recent news regarding UAW strikes during which union leadership has been colluding with management, very much to the ire of the rank-and-file worker members:

  3. Ben Leet says:

    Since 1965, 54 years back, income for all Americans triples, but wages for 80% go down — that’s the report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA.gov). That 80% represents 120 million workers who are employees, “production and nonsupervisory workers”. On my blogspot page I write, “The average income for all Americans has nearly tripled since 1965, 54 years ago, states the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Department of Commerce (Table 2.1, Disposable Personal Income per capita). It was $15,052 in 1964, today it is $44,455. Economic growth of the past 54 years has improved the lives of only a minority. Between 1973 and 2007 58.7% of growth was captured by the top one percent, is the finding of a report (found at EPI.org) titled “The New Gilded Age.” (page 4, pdf version)” 54 years and no wage gains, on average, for 120 million workers! Economy triples per capita! I am sounding off, it just seems so outrageous. Thanks. http://benL88.blogspot.com for the entire essay.

  4. I hope that there will be someone who traduces the important book of Bernard Friot, Vaincre Macron in English.
    His very important proposition could be at a first glance mistaken as a kind of basic income version. What it is not.
    It is about un Salaire à vie, à la qualification. A Wage who is related to the person and not to the employment.
    What is it definitely not the same as a basic income.
    The basic income recognizes the humans, the people as beiings of needs.
    With that the ultracapitalistic way and their daly praxis has absolut no problem.
    Therefore so many very ‘capitaldriven’ parties and leaders are very happy to be released even more from any kind of responsibility.
    Not so the Friots wage linked to the person, who recognizes the person as producer of worth and value ….
    This is an import step in the takeback of economic responsibility of the people…..

    greetings from zurich, switzerland. antigone kunz

  5. Hello, Ralph! I always enjoy listening to your show and I was just writing about how we need more time off in the US. Burnout is a factor I struggle with as do many others. I only have 10 days off per year with 3 sick days. Despite California being an “employee-friendly state”, we don’t have any required PTO. Would you have any suggestions to make a 4 week federal mandatory paid time off become mainstream and recognized by some members of congress? Corporate profits are at an all-time high. At the very least,we should have comparable PTO to our European friends.

    Thank you for being a lifelong consumer advocate.

  6. Don Harris says:

    While your discussion on our current political situation raised many good points and questions, the ideas to combat our problems all face one critical flaw- they require the big money legislators to pass legislation that the big money interests do not want passed.

    So the first step in passing any legislation is to first replace the big money legislators with small donor legislators.

    The 1% you mentioned as part of a solution is not the same 1% that are the big money interests. Maybe you should point out or make it clearer that the 1% you are talking about is 1% of voters that are part of 10-20% of voters that are not in the other 1%.

    You are correct that your 1% has the time and money, but not enough votes.

    It is also correct that those not in the 10-20% don’t have the time and money, but they do have the votes.

    So what we need to do is create an organization that can enable your 1% to provide the money and those not in the 10-20% to provide the votes. There is no legislation that can make this happen.

    Someone who might qualify as being in your 1% once told me that they had made contributions to candidates that maxed out the contribution limit and felt they were helping those that couldn’t afford to contribute.

    The problem with this is that it provides cover for contributors that are making the maximum contribution for other less noble purposes.

    By creating an organization where citizens can sign up to only vote for and contribute to small donor candidates (200 dollars aggregate total per donor per election- 200 primary, 200 general) it would create a better way for your 1% to help those that can’t afford contributions but can provide the votes.

    Instead of sending the maximum contribution to one candidate, your 1% could send 100 or 200 dollars to many small donor candidates.

    This requires no legislation.

    We share the same goals, but have different approaches.

    On the 10-24-2018 Washington Journal I called in to get your opinion on the idea for an organization (www.onedemand.org) designed to bring these citizens together and my efforts to get it started.

    You said the idea deserved to be heard and you would have me on the Radio Hour to discuss it.

    I followed up as instructed but have not been given any reason why you may have changed your mind despite being told by your representatives they would get back to me.

    You have said that citizens should demand their representatives come to their debate stage.

    You are the 1% of media that has the capacity and integrity to inform citizens about this approach which makes you perhaps the only possible representative I have in the media for this idea.

    Since you have not yet made good on your statement to have me on your debate stage to discuss this idea, would you consider coming to my debate stage to discuss this idea? (I’ll start with a request instead of a demand.)

    I can get a room in a local library where we can hold the discussion. You could even record it for use on your Radio Hour should you decide after the discussion that citizens should be informed about this opportunity to take action, killing two birds with one stone.

    Then we can have the time to discuss the finer points of this idea such as how it incorporates write in votes and makes them effective even if they are not binding or part of the official vote count.

  7. Beverly says:

    Greenhouse’s message is sullied with the usual condescending attitude of the Left. Voters were “misinformed,” so that’s why they voted for Trump? No, voters, as they always are, were looking for the candidate who addressed the pocket book issues of chief concern to them with the top being jobs. Trump and Sanders were the only mainstream party candidates who focused on economic issues. When the DNC “got rid” of Sanders via election tampering, voters turned to Trump. Did Trump deliver on his economic promises? About the only thing he did was quash the odious TPP (which Hillary and Obama worked 24/7 covertly to sneak through). Job growth is seen in some places but not enough. Trump’s record on delivering on campaign promises is the same as his predecessors – a mixed bag which trends toward a poor rating. Greenhouse is clueless as heck about the jobless rate. The govt has never been truthful about the real unemployment rate. For the last few years, the real unemployment rate is closer to 35% when taken into account workers forced into early retirement due to downsizing but still want/need work and can’t find jobs due to ageism and lack of jobs, workers who have given up looking after years of finding nothing, part-time workers who desire full time jobs; people with criminal records (felony and misdemeanor) who desire work but are shunned by employers, homeless population who is not accounted for in jobless numbers. Greenhouse touts the proposals of Sanders and Warren but I ask where were Sanders and Warren during 8 years of Clinton and 8 years of Obama? Why weren’t they working tirelessly to push Medicare for All for example when there was a Democrat in the White House – two years Obama had a Dem majority in Congress? As for the threat of a Labor Party moving the Democrats further toward worker interests, that ship has sailed. A third party (and fourth or fifth) needs to focus on winning political office including the White House so it can advance worker interests. The Democrats and Republicans are tools of the corporate elite/globalists. Both will talk a good game to their base but in reality they are not going to do anything of note for said base. If a third party is simply in it to “push the Dems to the real Left (not the virtue signaling/p.c. clap trap we see today) then that is a waste of time. You need to be in it to win and leave behind the Democrat party. Like the GOP, it needs to be thrown in on the scrap heap of history.

  8. Amy says:

    Definitely Yang who is for UBI. Sanders isn’t. I think UBI is a reckless solution.

    • Bruce K. says:

      The way Andrew Yang describes it and wants to implement it … I totally agree with you on his “Freedom Dividend”. Yang’s blitzkrieg like political policies are designed to be shallow and seductive and seem to affect a lot of people like a virtual bribe to vote for him.

      I like his idea of Democracy Dollars, where everyone gets money to apportion among their favorite political candidates, but I can also see a lot of holes for corruption and kickbacks to take place with that.

      These loopholes in Yang’s proposals and his failure to be out front about them and to put his platform in perspective makes him a no-go to me. Putting ideas out there and opening people’s minds though is something that I don’t know if he intended to do, but has had a positive affect.

      We should not vote for Presidents based on positive affects in the political discussion though, or confuse engineered emotional attachments via media and PR with competent and honest governance.

  9. joe peeer says:

    We propose all well to do CEO’s, take a year off of compensation.
    Distributing their meant compensation among their employees.
    It’s the system, a system put in place by powerful interests to maintain power.
    Ur seeing it with ur nuvo rich, aka the silicon millionerds and billionerds.
    How fast they accumulate and how much they gain.
    They are new to this, bill gates is clueless. His wealth is well earned. But by the design of a much older force, is the ability to hold so much of it. If he’s not careful, in a few generations his kids would amass so much. they will b nations. gateslandia ?
    ur new rich are new to the game. Much greater wealth lies elsewhere, and for much longer. There is a family in some Mediterranean nation that kept its wealth for 900 years, that we know of. They have an estimated wealth of 4.5 billions. But how much do we know about ? and what’s the value of being rich for 900 years. You, and everyone you know ? They understand the system in place.
    The time for your bureaucratic solution has, is, and will be. We ain’t gotta wait on your politicians.
    They are just the apparatus of this system. Whether they know it or not, they are just the stilts that steadies the system. We propose a feasible solution. For the here and now. Just one year, to do their share. The impact will lull the masses back into complacency. We ask not, states to interfere, or some special funds we have to find. Under this proposal, the financial shock wave will be felt for generations. We can start by calling for a campaign to have well meaning CEO’s signing a pledge. When we hit a good threshold, we implement. Say 10% would do the do. That will be enough injected into the economy to maybe hold peace for a while. That’s company loyalty. Both ways, the employees would be much more inclined to be loyal. the company would show much adieu loyalty and appreciation. Them monies would trickle up exponentially. The CEO’s would fare well from this. It’s a win win, we circumvent so much good intentions and idleness. Year is done, back to how it was. Who can’t do a year ?
    national mission year. What do the nuvo naive rich think states are, institutions. Just remnants of an old system to preserve wealth. If bezos aint careful his power would become so great, 3, 4 generations from now. when his immediate benefactors would have never even known him. With their kinda power. They will become the states interests. And so it go. Our future generations might be amazonin in bezosia, or facing it in zuckrbergistan. The very rich become very powerful, and they influence the environment. Its just in their best interest. And here we are. Imagine, if the salary of the top paid CEOs of a construction consortium would take a year off. Distributing their pay among their workers. We can play with this idea, say the % of distributed fund would work in direct opposition to the current employee compensation. So the the least paid on books gets the biggest slice until we hit CEO’s, he gets the least pay for that year.
    First will be last, and the last will be first, very christian idea.
    Or not even tell’em they are participating in this distribution scheme.
    At year end just fix a fixed sum to each check, call it a surprise bonus.
    CEO gets his cut of the distributed funds, just like everyone else.
    That way the CEO’s can go back to regular, they aint no hurting.
    Employees a bit richer and none the wiser. Pretty sure the big accounting firms, would support this effort. wonder if we can convince wall st to take a year off too.