'Americanization' Leading the Way… in Attack on Workers

The day after two major developments in the U.S. saw worker pensions put on the chopping block in order to bail out state and local governments, an analysis in the New York Times shows that across the Atlantic, European nations are now stripping their worker protections and dismantling pensions as they follow the established American model of putting corporate elites first in a race to the bottom for cheap labor and deregulated capitalism.

On Tuesday in Detroit, a bankruptcy judge ruled that city pensioners can have their earned benefits cut as he approved the largest municipal bankruptcy in the state’s history.

Also on Tuesday, the state of Illinois passed a measure that dramatically alters the pension formula for retired workers and diminishes those benefit programs for current and future public employees.

Both were seen by organized labor and workers advocates as an attack on those who played by the rules in order to fix the financial mess of governments that continually bow to the tax demands of corporations and the wealthy.

“It’s bitterly ironic that, on the same day legislators used the state’s troubled finances to justify stealing the retirement savings of public servants, they approved millions of dollars in new tax giveaways for big corporations,” said the ‘We Are One Illinois’ union coalition following the passage of Senate Bill 1 in the state’s General Assembly.

“This is no victory for Illinois, but a dark day for its citizens and public servants,” the group said.

Meanwhile, in an expansive piece in the New York Times on Wednesday, titled “Americanized Labor Policy Is Spreading in Europe,” Eduardo Porter explains how European governments and policy makers—by following the U.S. example of cancelling collective bargaining protections, attacking pensions, and slashing wages—are not only expanding income and wealth inequality but are “radically changing the nature of Europe’s society.”

According to Porter:

And the result of these developments?

The irony, of course, is that as a populist insurgency by low-wage workers, labor unions, and progressive activists in the U.S. tries to push for a stronger social compact—including a growing movement to significantly raise the federal the minimum wage and efforts to increase workplace protections—some of their best models for those systems remain those built by the long struggles of workers in the same European countries where workers are now under heavy attack. 

As the global financial elite push their agenda on all the continents, it seems that the race to the bottom is no longer an idiom reserved for the world’s least developed countries. And according to Porter’s reporting, “Americanization”—especially in the context of Detroit, Illinois, and other hard hit areas—is now a phrase that stands as a warning, not a beacon, to the world’s economies.

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