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Volume 56, Issue 11 (April)

April 2005 (Volume 56, Number 11)

Notes from the Editors

Annette Rubinstein’s ninety-fifth birthday will be celebrated on Saturday April 9 from 3 to 6 p.m. at the new home of the Brecht Forum/New York Marxist School, at Westbeth, 451 West Street, at the corner of Bank Street, in Manhattan. We are pleased to join Annette’s family, friends, and comrades in also marking her thirty years of teaching at the Brecht Forum and eighty-five years of conscious socialist practice. Our friends at the Brecht promise refreshments, good music, an interesting program, and lots of fun and joy. For additional information call 212-242-4201 or go to Annette has asked that instead of gifts contributions be made to The Brecht Forum, Inc

A Statistical Portrait of the U.S. Working Class

The biennial State of Working America (hereinafter SWA), written by economists at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., is the best compendium and analysis of U.S. labor market statistics there is.* In one convenient book, there are data on the distribution of income and wealth, all aspects of wages and benefits, employment and unemployment, poverty, regional labor markets, and international labor comparisons. In addition to the data, there are explanations for all of the major labor market trends. Does the stagnating minimum wage contribute to poverty? Is rising wage inequality the result of the growing educational requirements of jobs? Are trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) necessarily good for workers as mainstream economists keep telling us? Why do the wages and incomes of racial and ethnic minorities continue to lag behind those of whites? Does the labor market model of the United States, with its very limited regulation, deliver better results for workers than does the more institutionally-constrained model of most European nations? Mishel, Bernstein, and Allegretto analyze their data using sophisticated statistical techniques to give us answers to these and many other questions. A review of this book, along with some critical commentary, will give readers a good idea of how workers in the United States have been faring and what they can reasonably expect in the future

The Japanese Economy in Structural Difficulties

According to The Annual Economic Fiscal Report (July 2004) prepared by the Ministry of Economic and Fiscal Policy, the Japanese economy is recovering from the prolonged stagnation that began with the bursting of the financial bubble in 1990-91. This recovery started at the beginning of 2002. It is characterized by the restored increase of both profitability and spending on plant and equipment in the private business sector and an increase in demand from abroad, while public spending (like public works) has been rather held down. In the fiscal year 2003 (up through March 2004) for instance, the Japanese real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was said to have grown by 3.2 percent. Contributions to this growth rate came from the growth of domestic demand in the private sector (2.9 percent) and the growth of foreign demand (0.8 percent), offset by a mild decline in government spending (minus 0.6 percent). The annualized rate of GDP growth in the quarter January-March 2004 was said to have reached 5.6 percent and especially encouraged the official expectation of a strong economic recovery

Targeting Disability

In addition to old-age benefits, it is often forgotten that Social Security provides survivor and disability insurance protections as well. The privatization debate has overlooked the fate of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) as a part of the program’s family of benefits

Welcome to Wal-Mart: Always Low Prices, Always Low Wages

Liza Featherstone, Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 282 pages, cloth $25.00.

In 1999, Wal-Mart became the largest private employer in the world. If it were a country, its annual sales would make it approximately the twentieth largest economy. The company is notoriously anti-union, but it has become increasingly a focus of attention for the labor movement around the world. Recent proposals by U.S. unions regarding major changes in direction have included a proposal for a $25 million per year Wal-Mart campaign. These are only some of the reasons why Liza Featherstone’s Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart is a timely and necessary book