US press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. Pink slime economics (New York Times)

On Thursday Republicans in the House of Representatives passed what was surely the most fraudulent budget in American history, writes Paul Krugman.

2. Energy "independence," after all? (Washington Post)

Getting to Nixon's no net imports is not necessary if most imports come from Canada and other friendly countries. The true foolishness of Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline was to encourage Canada to look elsewhere to sell its surplus oil, says Robert Samuelson.

3. Can Richie Rich get to the White House? (Politico)

David Stewart says the rich are supposed to have the same chance of entering heaven as a camel has of passing through the eye of a needle. He asks: How do the odds work when it comes to entering the White House?

4. Maikel Nabil Sanad draws back the curtain on Egypt's military (Washington Post)

U.S. aid -- especially when granted unconditionally -- simply reinforces the military's position and encourages the persecution of genuine pro-American liberals, writes Jackson Diehl.

5. The politics of going to college (New York Times)

Romney's refusal to promise that he will "give you government money to pay for your college" is a risky approach to courting ambitious lower income voters. Democrats see Romney setting a trap for himself and have already begun to lay the general election groundwork, says Thomas Edsall.

6. Supreme Court should support health care act (SF Gate)

The idea of roping in everyone to pay the health care bills is the center point of the law... It's not a single-payer, government-run system, instead obliging everyone to find coverage, says this editorial.

7. My plan offers a better way than ObamaRomneyCare (USA Today)

Rick Santorum says Republicans need a nominee with the credibility to take on President Obama on an issue vital to voters, and a president who will repeal ObamaCare.

8. An exciting VP? Don't go for it, Mitt (Boston Globe) (£)

For all of the discussion about playing to key states, adding foreign policy experience, or balancing a ticket's ideology, the stark truth is that none of it really matters. In the end, there is only one imperative: don't blow it, says this editorial.

9. Obama's flexibility doctrine revealed (Chicago Tribune)

You don't often hear an American president secretly (he thinks) assuring foreign leaders that concessions are coming their way, but they must wait because he's seeking re-election and he dare not tell his own people, writes Charles Krauthammer.

10. The right budget? GOP wants to kill the "New Deal" (Philadelphia Inquirer)

FDR gave Americans a much better deal. Let's not ditch it now, says this editorial.

The United States Capitol on 19 March, 2012. Credit: Getty Images
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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.