• On this Labor Day, it’s good to start with Jonathan Cohn’s interview of longtime labor organizer Richard Yeselson on the state of unions in the United States:
Pretty much in every other country in Western Europe, Canada, even Australia and the U.K. (which share some labor-management features with the U.S.), the assumption is that unions are basic ingredient of liberal capitalism. Among conservatives and business owners in those countries, you’ll hear a lot about how they are inefficient, too powerful, or just pains in the ass. But pretty much everybody accepts them as a normal part of the political/economic/legal landscape. That’s simply not the case here.
What’s ironic about that is that unions are inherently conservative institutions, which historically developed parallel with the development of capitalism itself. They are as much a part of capitalism as Henry Ford or Apple. Unions use contracts—and there’s nothing more intrinsic to capitalism than the right of contract—to link their members to the fortunes of the companies they contract with. They are capable of having huge fights with capital (as in the thirties)—which raise the hopes of leftists—but, usually, over the attainment of very incremental ends—which disappoint leftists. Marx had nothing but contempt for British trade unionists, and Trotsky saw no value in unions at all. Yet conservatives and most libertarians hate them. Weird.
It’s a reminder that while we assume that of course the job of every company is to crush unions and try to drive wages and benefits as low as possible, people in much of the developed world find it nonsensical.
• The New York Times explains how workers all over the country are reporting cases of wage theft, where employers refuse to pay overtime and commit other kinds of abuses. If only there were a way for them to band together to demand fair treatment.
• Ed Kilgore looks back at the sometimes violent and always vicious war of capital against labor in his childhood home in Georgia.
• Timothy Noah looks at the longstanding rift between liberals and labor unions, and why it needs to be healed.
• Harold Meyerson analyzes how labor’s focus has had to shift from the bargaining table to the state legislature.
It’s a wonderful illustration of the emptiness of much Beltway foreign-policy-speak. McCain and Graham want Obama to act both “deliberately” and “urgently” because they’re both happy words. (As opposed to “lethargically” and “rashly,” which are nastier synonyms for the same thing.) But when you translate these uplifting abstractions into plain English, you see how contradictory McCain and Graham’s demands actually are. You can either demand that Obama not bomb Syria until he’s ensured he has a plan likely to win international and congressional support, or you can demand that he bomb as soon as possible. You can’t demand both.
Well, if given that choice, I’m pretty sure McCain and Graham would chose to bomb now. Every time somebody in a foreign country sneezes, they’re ready to scramble the B-2s, lest we look “weak.”
• Chris Christie is taking a trip to Mexico, and the New York Times calls it a “foreign policy test,” which is kind of amusing.
• Election day isn’t for two months, and we’ve already passed a billion dollars in campaign spending, with the total projected to rise to $4 billion by the time it’s over.
• Reid Wilson reports on a study that quantifies the boost Citizens United gave to the GOP:
The advantage isn’t large, but it is statistically significant: The researchers found the ruling, in Citizens United v. FEC, was associated with a six percentage-point increase in the likelihood that a Republican candidate would win a state legislative race.
And in six of the most affected states — Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee — the probability that a Republican would be elected to a state legislative seat increased by 10 percentage points or more.
I’m sure the conservative justices who delivered the ruling are mortified that such a thing could have happened.
• The latest Bluegrass Poll has Mitch McConnell holding a 4-point lead over Alison Lundergan Grimes. The HuffPo average shows Mitch up 2.
• That’s all for today, but one last note on the purpose of the holiday. If you prefer having a 40-hour week, weekends off, overtime pay, laws that prevent 8-year-olds from working in factories and laws that require safe workplaces (among other things), then thank a labor union. Those things didn’t happen because of the generosity of bosses. They happened because of long, hard battles waged by brave men and women who wanted little more than to be treated like human beings on the job. Just something to think about.