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War on the working class

The latest blow in the war on the working class was delivered May 8, when the U.S. House of Representatives voted to do away with the 40-hour workweek. House Resolution 1406, the Working Families Flexibility Act, was passed in a 223 to 204 vote, almost entirely along party lines.

The bill was introduced last month by Alabama Republican Martha Roby. All 223 yes votes came from Republicans; eight Republicans voted no, and five did not vote at all.

Every House Democrat voted no.

HR 1406 will replace time-and-a-half pay with compensatory time. This means that employers will be able to substitute time-off for pay when their workers work overtime. Proponents of the bill claim that it gives workers the ability to bank compensation time so they can take time off without losing money.

All the legislation really does is enable employers to extort long days out of their workers.  Workers can only reasonably work so many hours in a day and in a week. The idea of overtime pay is to compensate workers for working beyond that limit and to make employers consider the value of their workers’ extra time.

Without that deterrent, nothing keeps employers from demanding that their workers stay beyond the accepted norm for a work day. Also, nothing keeps them from laying off workers who choose to spend their nights and weekends with family in favor of ones who are afraid to say no.

Not to worry, though, because the bill allows for overtime pay for those workers with collective bargaining agreements that contain overtime pay. Collective bargaining agreements are negotiated by unions; however, Republicans have been chipping away at collective bargaining rights since 2010 when Scott Walker was elected governor in Wisconsin.

After he was elected, Walker passed $1.7 billion in tax cuts for the top one percent, creating a shortage of revenue. He then addressed the resulting budget deficit by stripping union rights from public workers.

And while the United States goes backwards, the rest of the world marches on into the future. Bangladesh garment factory workers have just been granted the right to form labor unions without permission from their employers.

This comes after the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh that killed over 1,100 people. The collapse was the result of the owner unlawfully overloading the building with additional floors and heavy equipment. Unions bargain on behalf of the workers, not only for fair pay, but for safe working conditions.

These are the kinds of things that happen in an under-regulated and non-unionized society. We’ve been there before, and with the union busting and the stripping of worker’s rights, we are on our way back. The recent fertilizer plant explosion in West Texas is a prime example.

People fought and died during this nation’s labor movement for a reason. They were being overworked and underpaid in unsafe conditions just like the garment factory workers in Bangladesh.

While Bangladesh gives us a glimpse of where we are heading, Australia shows us where we could and should be. The Australian Council of Trade Unions’ website displays a list of worker’s rights that went into effect Jan. 1, 2010.

These rights include a 38 hour work week, flexible working arrangements to care for a child, four weeks of paid vacation per year, ten days of roll-over personal leave and two days bereavement leave just to name a few.

Australia has had one of the fastest growing economies in the world for the last 20 years. It seems that if you treat people fairly, give them money and time to spend it the economy grows naturally.