October 2002, Vol. 125, No.10
With a song in his heart
U.S. economic mobility
New copyright economy
Book reviews from past issues
With a song in his heart
Labor’s Troubadour. By Joe Glazer.Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 2001, 299 pp. $27.95/hardcover.
The notion of music as a force for social change is an old one, dating back to antiquity. Songs can evoke emotions, and those emotions, in turn, can push people to make a change in their lives, including their worklives. It takes a strong voice to evoke those emotions, and the labor singer Joe Glazer is possessed of just such a voice. He has spent his life devoting himself to the causes of working people, composing and singing songs on their behalf. How might a singer improve a worker’s lot? He tells his tale simply and directly in Labor’s Troubadour, published in 2001, by the University of Illinois Press, as part of its series "Music in American Life." The book is both a memoir and a chronicle of Glazer’s life’s work in the American Labor Movement from the 1940s up to the present day, and it also presents, quite keenly, the struggles of the labor force in the United States and abroad during the last half of the 20th century.
A bit of history will provide some background. Labor union power in the United States has waned, as U.S. companies have shifted their manufacturing to foreign shores. The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that in 2001, the share of wage and salary workers who were union members was, on average, more than 13 percent. In contrast, at its peak, that figure was approximately 27 percent, in 1953. (Data for 1953 are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Directory of National Unions and Employee Associations.) As unions won more concessions from employers and the working lot improved for the U.S. labor force, thus did entire generations grow to adulthood, never hearing about the battles of the U.S. working class (for example, how many workers toiled 10 hours a day in squalid conditions for bosses who cared nearly nothing for their employees’ health and well-being). Or of the notion of an employee being compelled to shop at the "company store," which could and did charge exorbitant rates for necessary and sundry items. Those concessions were not always won easily, however, and many people advocated long and loudly for improved working conditions across a host of industries. This list of advocates included singers and musicians, such as Joe Glazer. This is his story.
Glazer began his work as labor’s troubadour (an apt moniker, at that) in 1944, assuming the position of assistant education director for the CIO Textile Workers Union of America in New York City. In 1950, he went to work for the United Rubber Workers (URW), headquartered in Akron, Ohio. While working for the URW, he also sang for and met the workers of an allied group, the United Auto Workers (UAW). Around that time, he also formed an important association with miners. It was through that association that Glazer met Merle Travis, a popular singer-songwriter of the day and composer of the song, "Sixteen Tons," which was a big hit in the 1950s, as recorded by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Travis was born into a family of coal miners— thus, his work is made personal by that association—and he was gifted with the ability to convey that hardscrabble world to the listening public. Glazer stresses that it was Travis’s down-home lyric that really resonated in the hearts of the labor force at large: "You load sixteen tons and what do you get? / Another day older and deeper in debt. / Saint Peter, don’t you call me ‘cause I can’t go. / I owe my soul to the company store." The song was translated into numerous languages, and Glazer received repeated requests to sing it for labor unions both at home, and later, abroad. He sang it willingly, and frequently was able to cleverly adapt the lyric to suit the appropriate trade or labor union membership. With so many requests over the years, it became clear that there were many workers throughout the world’s labor force who must have identified with "selling their souls to the company store."
When he attended a labor meeting convened to generate support for a union campaign or a strike for better conditions, Glazer enjoined the workers to sing along with him. Teaching songs on the spot to people could have been difficult, but many of the tunes that were used for labor music would have been familiar to most U.S. workers. For example, the well-known labor song, "Solidarity Forever" is sung to the same tune as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." (And in fact, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is actually sung to the tune of "John Brown's Body (lies a moulderin' in the grave)," a Civil War era tune, that many of that period would have known; thus, there exists a long tradition of this type of tuneful borrowing in music.) Other tunes employed were simple enough that a reasonably musical person could pick up the chorus after it was repeated once or twice, and then be able to sing along. Glazer understood this, which was part of the reason he was so successful. His music unified the workers in both spirit and goal. Moreover, he composed much of his own material; one example is his lovely labor ballad, "The Mill was Made of Marble." Written in waltz tempo, it is performed in a gentle, yet upbeat style, with a good hook in its chorus, and a well-crafted melodic line. As is common in folk music, both the verse and the chorus are substantially the same melody, so that the repetition is strongly reinforced. The words to the chorus are written: "The mill was made of marble / The machines were made out of gold. / And nobody ever got tired / And nobody ever grew old." Glazer writes that the song had a universal appeal, and "it became an immediate favorite with autoworkers, steelworkers, rubber workers, school teachers, and others as soon as they heard it." No doubt, too, because it so well expressed the sentiments which workers often feel about their tasks, especially hungry, frightened, striking workers.
It was a most interesting period in American history, and exciting events were being played out across the world’s stage. One of them was the presidential election won by the young John F. Kennedy. Even today, many people of a certain age remember the cultural legacy left by the young president; they remember how his speeches bestirred them to join the ranks of public service. Glazer, too, heard the call, and in 1961, he left the union labor movement and joined the foreign service staff of the United States Information Agency (USIA), an ambassadorial arm of the State Department. After a stint of government training, he was assigned to work as a labor information officer in Mexico, where he promoted the Alliance for Progress, a program to aid Latin American countries, using a variety of economic and social means. He worked in Mexico in this capacity for more than 3 years, telling "America’s story to the world," in the words of the agency’s mission statement. Glazer enjoyed his work in Mexico, where he was able to provide its citizens with a more balanced view of unionization, but also, he learned the ways in which unions operated in other parts of the world—an international knowledge that would serve him well in the years to come.
His musical work continued throughout the rest of the 1960s and on through the 1970s. After leaving Mexico in 1965, he was transferred to the State Department’s headquarters in Washington, DC, where he assumed the post of labor advisor. In addition to his work in the States, some countries in which he sang include France, England, Israel, Scandinavia, and India. As he noted, through the medium of music, his chief goals were to help union members by bringing them "information, ideas, and techniques to build a more effective organization and to help create a more realistic understanding" of the foreign unions, compared with the American labor movement, and also bring them a more comprehensive view of America itself. He notes that he traveled and sang in dozens of countries and on every continent except Australia. Often he would translate or otherwise adapt songs that had special meaning for Americans into the language of the country he was touring—for example, adapting the geographic boundaries of "This Land is Your Land" to those of the host country. (The late Woody Guthrie composed the song during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when sometimes it seemed as if the whole world had lost its job. It expressed, at its core, a love for labor and laborers.) In this way, the labor-based music of the United States has traveled around the world, playing a part in similar movements in many countries.
Other singers continue to carry the torch, and Glazer is generous with his praise, naming the composers and musicians who are following in his footsteps of singing for labor. He includes the lyrics of several of these "new voices" who are writing about issues with which today’s workers are grappling. Many men and women still work in assembly line production- or manufacturing-type jobs, but things have changed somewhat. Now, instead of standing on a line and assembling nuts and bolts to car frames, a worker sits and types programming code at a computer terminal. Yet, some of yesterday’s issues still exist in today’s workplace, for even a task as seemingly innocuous as programming computer code can be tedious and physically harmful, and as people perform repetitive tasks day in and day out, a toll is taken. Some of the new songs address these types of concerns, and Glazer accurately points out that there is still work to be done on behalf of laborers. Singers must continue to raise their voices in support of the world’s labor force, must speak out about what is happening to workers, and help them to organize, so that working conditions can be further improved. Labor continues to need a voice, and Glazer continues to inspire new voices to support labor’s cause.
I won’t reveal his age here, but suffice it to say, Joe Glazer has been singing on behalf of workers for a good long time, and has witnessed many movements, of both the labor and political variety. He continues to perform regularly throughout the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and I, personally, have been fortunate enough to hear him sing and lecture twice in recent months. Joe Glazer’s name should be listed among those in the top echelons of folk music, singers such as Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and others, far too numerous to list here. For the folksinger, as many have said, is a voice of the people, one who sings about that which is most dear to their hearts. The music of labor’s troubadour, Joe Glazer, qualifies him more than amply, for with his work, he has touched the multitudes.
—Bonita Louise Boles
formerly of the
Office of Publications,
Bureau of Labor Statistics
U.S. economic mobility
Divergent Paths: Economic Mobility in the New American Labor Market. By Annette Bernhardt, Martina Morris, Mark S. Handcock, and Marc A. Scott. Russell Sage Foundation, New York, 2001, 244 pp.
Labor economists and public policy analysts have noticed a disturbing trend over the past 2 decades—the decline in real earnings of certain demographic groups. Specifically, cross-sectional data from the Current Population Survey show that the inflation-adjusted earnings of males have declined since the early 1970s, while the earnings of women have risen. The authors of Divergent Paths seek to explain the paradox of declining real earnings coinciding with a nearly three-decades-long economic expansion by using data from the BLS National Longitudinal Surveys (NLS). They compare two cohorts from the NLS. The first cohort entered the labor market in the mid-1960s on the tail end of the economic expansion, and the second entered the labor market during the late 1970s and early 1980s. By choosing these two cohorts, the authors hoped to capture the effects of the "old" employment landscape and the "new" employment landscape upon the subjects’ labor market activities and ultimate earnings level. The more recent cohort represents the first entrants into the restructured labor market of the early 1980s that was characterized by downsizing, firm restructuring, and the outsourcing of labor to contract companies and temporary help agencies.
The authors do an exceptional job of writing in lay terms and avoiding technical jargon when possible. They also clearly present their hypotheses, data, and conclusions to their findings in an easy-to-understand and logical manner. They clearly explain both the advantages and limitations of using the NLS data sets. Their analysis is limited to white males during the first 15 years of their labor market activity. The authors state that the majority of a worker’s wage growth is realized in his first 10 years of working, and that this initial period sets the worker on a "wage trajectory" that is relatively unalterable after this point. The focus of their analysis is to see how or if the wage trajectories of the most recent cohort differ from those of the initial cohort and what is causing these changes if they exist.
The analysis in Divergent Paths is based on multivariate regression analyses of the NLS data sets. Overall, the authors find that these young men, regardless of education level or occupation, experienced declines in their real earnings by 21 percent on average. The declines were most severe for workers with lower levels of education—particularly for those with a high school diploma but no college, and those with some college but no 4-year degree. Even the workers with college degrees barely managed to just about "break even" in terms of their earnings. The authors draw attention to the fact that most workers fall into the lower education group so that returns to higher educational attainment are due not to gains at the top, but to losses at the bottom.
The authors give a number of reasons for the trend in falling wages, but the biggest factors appear to be increased job instability between the first and second cohort, declining returns to experience and the increasing abundance of low-paying, service-sector jobs where career mobility is virtually nonexistent. Workers in the more recent cohort changed jobs more often and, instead of being financially rewarded for "job shopping" in the early years of their careers as were their counterparts in the first cohort, they were penalized. The book points out that several factors, including internal labor market and external labor market factors, led to this increased instability. Declining marriage rates, lower unionization rates, a migration of workers to the Southern States that have lower rates of unionization than other parts of the country, and occupational and industrial shifts all contributed to young men in the recent cohort changing jobs more frequently. Even among those workers who did stay with one employer for 3 years or longer, the reward for staying was apparently less than it was for the men in the first cohort.
At the end of the book, the authors propose possible solutions to the problem of declining wages and the policy implications for these solutions. They conclude that because most of the reasons for declining wages are problems with changes in the employment relationship, the solutions to these problems must be "demand-side solutions" rather than solutions that focus on equipping workers with the necessary training and tools for the new jobs. Solutions that ensure long-term wage growth and upward mobility, the authors write, are required here. Some of the solutions proposed include the enactment of living wage laws and a minimum wage that is indexed annually to inflation; laws that require the portability of health insurance and pension benefits across different employers; and reform of the Unemployment Insurance system whereby eligibility for benefits is not linked to tenure with a single employer. Among the vaguer and harder-to-implement solutions, the authors suggest corporate-community partnerships that would foster job training and career growth within a particular industry or occupation, and a wide-scale union membership strategy to organize labor in the service sector where workers suffer the most from the restructured economy. The authors are realistic about their policy prescriptions and note that the latter two suggestions are hard to implement.
The authors do a great job of presenting their research in a way that incorporates alternative points of view and addresses these other opinions, while at the same time clearly presenting the results of their analysis and its implications for policy and legislation. The topic is one that is often debated and researched by those interested in the well-being of workers, and this is an informative, thorough, and fresh perspective on the subject.
Division of Labor Force Statistics,
Bureau of Labor Statistics
New copyright economy
Creativity, Incentive, and Reward: An Economic Analysis of Copyright and Culture in the Information Age. By Ruth Towse. Cheltenham, UK, Edward Elgar Publishing, Inc., 2001, 192 pp., $80/hardcover.
As digital technology and the Internet have changed the geography of the cultural landscape, issues of property rights and remuneration to those who supply the creative content have become ever more important. The author, who is joint editor of the Journal of Cultural Economics, brings together in this book a collection of essays on copyright law; the unusual and seemingly perverse economic aspects of supply and demand for creative output and performance; and how the former affects the latter. Although she focuses her empirical studies specifically on the United Kingdom, most of the same general issues and analytical questions apply to the U.S. environment. Indeed, as the creative arts and entertainment industries have become global in scope, copyright law and its effect on the creative industries have been dictated by both national law and international policy such as those of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). She presents her material in a nontechnical manner that is accessible to a wide audience, with ample references to the more technical literature for the interested economics researcher.
The first chapter provides a brief history of the relatively new field of cultural economics, which she traces to a book by William Baumol and William Bowen on the performing arts in 1966. The thesis of their work is a model of why arts performances, such as symphonies, are resistant to productivity improvements, and therefore require public subsidy. The author points out that artists’ earnings remain "one central theme of cultural economics," but that the blending of "high" and popular culture has provided commercial sources of remuneration to artists, singers, and other suppliers of cultural output. Thus, she stresses the importance of the copyright in providing both an income to artists as well as an incentive for artists to produce new creative work. New creative works are, she argues, the cultural industry’s equivalent of technological innovation in other kinds of industry.
The second part of the book comprises two essays on the labor supply of visual artists and singers. These summary descriptions of the economics of these particular labor markets provide fascinating reading for those new to the peculiarities of these areas of economic endeavor. It may be no surprise that most visual artists, despite having a higher average education level than the overall labor market (in the United Kingdom), consider themselves underemployed and require other jobs to support themselves. The empirical studies by the author and others show, that, contrary to a priori expectations, an increase in the wage from that other job will cause the artist to shift more labor out of that job and into their artistic work. Also, for both visual artists and singers there can be a seemingly perverse relationship between price and demand for their output. Having established a reputation and degree of success in their artistic genres, the artist or singer will find that reducing their price will reduce the demand for their product because price signals quality in this market.
The third and fourth parts of the book focus more specifically on the economic implications of copyright law for the rewards to cultural labor supply and the incentives to produce more creative output, and whether the value of these rights is economically efficient relative to other means of compensating artists and performers. Chapter 5 comprises an essay (with Millie Taylor) that attempts to empirically measure the value of such property rights to performers, such as musicians, under specific statutory changes implemented in the United Kingdom. The authors in this essay incorporate the transactions costs of collecting and distributing the payments to these rights, and conclude that copyright law may "correct for market failure when property rights are not properly established," but may not have the desired efficiency outcome as markets and distribution technology change. In the following two chapters, Towse questions whether royalty payments or simple flat payments to musicians, artists, and writers would provide the more economically efficient means of increasing artists’ earnings and providing an incentive to supply more new creative output and innovation to society. She argues that remuneration of any kind encourages artists and other creative labor to devote more effort toward their creative endeavor. Royalties provided by commercial enterprise could lead to overproduction of the few commercially successful kinds of a few kinds of cultural output and underproduction of more risky new creative output.
In the eighth chapter, Towse presents the only economic analysis devoted specifically to copyright laws in the context of the new digital technology. In the absence of good empirical data, she offers tantalizing suggestions for research into the economic value of "fair use" and "fair dealing" (exceptions and limitations to copyright); the transactions costs of collecting copyright payments for Internet access and photocopying; and the potential income loss to copyright-holders. Her empirical investigation focuses on photocopying, which will disappoint readers expecting insight into Internet audio, Internet video, digital imaging, and other new media technologies. The latter are the cutting edge for economic analysis of creativity and cultural output, but, as appears throughout the book, there is a dearth of good empirical data to guide analysis and policy. This is not because of a lack of interest, but because of substantial measurement problems in this fascinating field of economic inquiry.
Overall, this is a most interesting treatise on a very topical subject of economic and legal policy. Despite the specific focus on these issues in the context of the United Kingdom and the somewhat broad collection of topics it attempts to cover in one small volume, this book offers a wealth of intriguing research ideas and some interesting, if not highly rigorous, analyses of an important area of public policy.
Office of Prices and Living Conditions,
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Stress and Distress among the Unemployed: Hard Times and Vulnerable People. By Clifford L. Broman, V. Lee Hamilton, and William S. Hoffman. New York, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2001, 226 pp., $49.95/hardcover.
"The workingman has but one thing to sell, his labor. Once he loses control of that, he loses everything." This is a quote from an automobile worker in Studs Terkel’s book, Working. Loss of work and how it impacts workers and their families is also at the heart of the book, Stress and Distress among the Unemployed.
The authors studied automobile workers employed by the General Motors Corporation (GM) in Detroit and Flint, Michigan, over a 3-year period (1987–89). Workers from 4 closing GM auto plants were compared with workers in 12 GM plants that remained open. The workers were primarily male, white, and married. In terms of percentages, however, workers in the closing plants were disproportionately female, nonwhite, single, and younger than workers employed in the nonclosing plants.
The workers were asked questions that assessed the financial and psychological impact of unemployment. The GM jobs lost had provided a comfortable, well-compensated way of life for generations of blue-collar families. Workers in the closing plants were pessimistic regarding their job opportunities after being laid off, and their low expectations were realized in the tough Rust Belt labor market of the industrial Midwest.
The financial hardship created by the plant closings harmed family life for workers in both the closing and nonclosing plants. Interestingly, the distress suffered by closing plant households did not change significantly with unemployment and even dropped as time passed, while distress increased for nonclosing plant households over the course of the study. The authors concluded that the reality of unemployment in the closing plants brought families closer together.
The authors studied mental health effects for individual workers and found that those who were female, unmarried, young, less educated, and of lower income experienced more depression in general, regardless of whether they worked in closing or nonclosing plants. The group most significantly affected by being laid off, however, was men, particularly married men, a finding attributed to their role of family "provider" being undercut by job loss.
While gender was a stress determinant, race was not. The distress level in African-Americans was more sensitive to educational level than for white plant workers. African-Americans with higher education levels experienced significantly less distress relative to those with less education. African-Americans felt more protected by educational achievement than whites.
Workers viewed unemployment as another life challenge to be overcome. No relationship was found to exist between previous stressful life events and the workers’ vulnerability to stress created by unemployment. An interesting exception: the significant increase in anxiety and hostility experienced by laid off Vietnam combat veterans. Unfortunately, the authors do not satisfactorily explore the potential reasons for this finding.
Workers did not blame themselves for their predicament. They blamed other factors, including GM management, then-GM chairman Roger Smith, and inexpensive imports. Although self-blaming tendencies are often associated with depression, many of the workers who blamed themselves actually suffered less distress.
Surprisingly, the study found that worker distress was not alleviated by mental health services. In fact, depression and self-blaming actually increased. The authors speculate that those who sought mental health services were more distressed in general. This does not explain, however, why distress increased for workers who obtained mental health services. The authors did not adequately explore this paradoxical finding.
One organization that the authors tout is the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, or the UAW. While the union undoubtedly assisted laid-off workers, it must be noted that the study was funded partly by the UAW; one of co-authors is a retired UAW official; and the book is described in the preface as "a tribute to the men and women of the UAW."
The book is well documented, with many tables and footnotes. Its conclusions rest on the results of the 1980s study, although other related studies are cited throughout. It is disappointing that the book, published in 2001, provides no update on where these workers have gone or what their lives are like now. It would also be interesting to compare the blue-collar worker unemployment of the 1980s with the recent dot.com bust. But perhaps that is the grist for another book.
Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics,
Bureau of Labor Statistics
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