April 11, 2008

Union Days Brings Labor Specialists

Print More

The School of Industrial and Labor Relations had its annual Union Days event yesterday. The conference consisted of a one-day panel discussion entitled “Worker Power in the 2008 Election: Is Change for Real?”
Moderated by Fil Eden ’10, president of Cornell’s Organization for Labor Action, the discussion featured guest speakers Jane McDonald-Pines, executive assistant to the executive vice president of the AFL-CIO; Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute; Barbara Lifton, New York State Assemblywoman; and Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, executive officer of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council.
The topics of discussion took the history of American economic policy and focused on the upcoming 2008 presidential elections. In their speeches, the panel members explained their goals in improving labor’s standing in American society. [img_assist|nid=29747|title=Fight for our right|desc=Students set up booths in Ives Hall yesterday as part of Union Days.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
McDonald-Pines discussed the initiatives of the AFL-CIO in putting into power a pro-labor president.
“The AFL-CIO is nonpartisan, but political and proud of it. We’re not about parties, but rather, policies and issues. We will support any candidate that takes a positive stance toward the issues that concern problems of working families,” she said.
She elaborated on the support base of the AFL-CIO.
“Numbers are on our side … We have a large support base in swing states and the AFL-CIO can make a difference in these key states of the election,” she added. “As a result, we help shape the issues, educate our members and vigorously contact them to make sure that they vote.”
While McDonald-Pines focused on the present labor situation, the second speaker, Mishel, considered the economic history of the United States in relation to labor.
“The three problems that have arisen in the American economy are inequality in income, which has drastically increased, along with the disparity between productivity and compensation and the inability to set growth in the economy without a bubble,” he said.
Mischel expressed a clear opinion about who has gained the most out of the American economy.
“Why haven’t wages grown? It has been the screwing of the American people,” he said.
NYS Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton offered a perspective from the public sector. In trying to solve the disparity of income problem, Lifton suggested that globalization and government taxation must be addressed.
“Globalization has created a race to the bottom in which businesses and government will do anything to cut costs,” she said. “New York State especially has cut taxes by $16 billion, creating a governing body that is starving for funds.”
Lifton said that these tax cuts have important effects on the operation of the state, including its educational system.
“500 out of the 700 public schools in New York State are under-funded because of a tax break to the people who have an income of over a million dollars,” she added.
As the final speaker, Ellis-Lamkins was able to shed light on the labor movement on the local level. She identified the three core ideas that drive her work as research, policy, and organization.
“In order to have a major influence on the plight of the workers, we had to do three things,” she said. “First, we had to do our research in order to better understand the complexities of the economic situation. Once we understood the problems, we had to create policies that would provide solutions to give to politicians. Thirdly, we had to achieve strength in numbers by mobilizing workers.”
In her closing remarks, Ellis-Lamkins explained that the labor movement was not just about bread and butter demands, but something more.
“What we were after was not just about wages and benefits, but our movement was about justice and human rights,” she said.