Reference Material on Anti-Worker Legislation

July 8, 2011

Some of the features of the anti-worker measures being taken or prepared by state governments include: Gutting unemployment insurance and workers' compensation which provide income-support for the unemployed and for workers injured on the job. Over the last several years, new state unemployment insurance regulations have reduced the number of unemployed who receive benefits by 50% so that today less than 1/3 of unemployed workers are receiving any assistance. Yet, state governments keep disqualifying more and more workers from eligibility through such measures as classifying new categories of workers as "seasonal" or "self-employed," increasing the minimum earnings necessary for eligibility, mandating arbitrary "work search" provisions, etc. In addition, many states are cutting unemployment benefits (Arkansas, Michigan, Missouri and others.)

State workers' compensation programs are also under attack on all sides. Not only are state governments preparing and/or implementing legislative attacks but state labor boards and courts are using administrative measures to arbitrarily deny workers' claims. The attacks on workers' comp center on denying compensation for repetitive stress injuries (which account for 50% of workplace injuries), restricting benefits for workers who contract occupational disease, slashing the duration and level of weekly benefits, imposing arbitrary criteria for determining permanent and partial disability and limiting workers' rights to independent medical opinions and appeals, limiting employer liability for workplace injuries, etc.

For decades workers fought to win these income-support programs so as to insure at least a minimal subsistence to those unemployed or maimed by the capitalists. But today the capitalist program of eliminating any and every "restraint on the free market," insists that workers have no rights except the right to be available, as needed, to be exploited by the capitalists. When the ups-and-downs of capitalist production require mass lay-offs or when workers are maimed on the job, they can be thrown on the scrap heap like a used-up rag. According to the capitalists' "logic," the workers have no rights as human beings but exist only as labor-power to be exploited at the will of the capitalists.

Expanding the workforce to include new castes of super-exploited workers and drive down the wages and standards of all workers. Many states have passed laws mandating "workfare" for welfare recipients (California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin), removing restraints on the exploitation of child labor (California, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, and others), implementing "school-to-work transition" programs which force high school youth into the workplace as virtual slave laborers (Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Washington, and others), and legalizing the use of prison labor by private capitalist corporations (Arizona, California, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and others.)

Since workfare recipients, prisoners, and high school "apprentices" are denied the same rights and standards as other sections of the workforce, the capitalists are not only able to super-exploit them but also use them to drive down the wages and standards of the whole working class. The entire "labor market" policy of the capitalists aims at eliminating wage and other standards and maximizing competition amongst the workers in order to drive down wages and increase profits.

Several states - including Alaska, California, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, Rhode Island and others – have enacted laws or simply used administrative decrees to eliminate legal provisions which limit the working day and/or guarantee overtime pay in various sectors of industry. Again this is a reversal of a standard which has been in place for more than 100 years. The struggle of the workers to limit the working day was and remains necessary not only to limit exploitation but also to assert that the life of the worker includes more than just being exploited by the capitalists. Today, the capitalists dream of completely eliminating any barriers to their exploitation of the workers. For one thing, the capitalists want the workers to be at their beck and call whenever needed. On one side, they are imposing 12-hour shifts and even seven day weeks when such schedules fit the need of capitalist profit-making. On the other hand, they are increasing the use of part-time and contingent workers who work only peak production hours and are not even guaranteed a subsistence wage. In short, the capitalists look on the workers as nothing but beasts of burden whose entire life must be devoted to the goal of capitalist profit.

Many states are implementing laws and regulations which further attack unions and undermine the right of workers to organize themselves and press their demands as a collective. Teachers and other public employees are under especially sharp attack as several states have passed laws not only prohibiting strikes but also barring public employees from even negotiating over such things as class size, privatization, etc. The privatization of vital public services, which is being carried out by states and cities across the country, is yet another means through which the government is attacking public employees' and their unions.

These attacks on workers' political rights to organize themselves and press their demands go hand-in-hand with the attacks on workers' economic rights. Above all, the capitalists fear the collective, organized strength of the workers and are trying to prevent the workers from coming out in defense of their class interests and as the leading force in the struggle of the whole people to oppose the all-sided, anti-social agenda of the capitalists.