Contingent Workers: There oughta be a law

By Tony Murphy, in Workers World,
7 September, 1995.

With a renewed spirit of struggle among rank-and-file workers in organized labor, the increased use of "contingent" workers is an important issue. These are second-tier employees who receive fewer benefits and less pay than "regular" employees.

Most of these workers, especially temporary workers, are not represented by unions.

There ought to be a law!

Unionists and all working people need a law granting automatic benefits to every worker. Municipalities and states can be forced to pass progressive legislation when there's a strong local movement.

In New York, for example, a progressive movement forced the passage of a law making it illegal for hospitals and schools to ask harassing questions about citizenship.

Just as it's been made illegal to pay someone 50 cents an hour, a united movement of organized labor with all sections of the working class could make it illegal to deny someone benefits--overtime, paid sick days, paid holidays, medical coverage, vacation time, affirmative action and pension plans.

Temporary, part-time, project and freelance workers--there are a host of other corporate euphemisms. These include complementary workers, independent contractors, adjuncts, flexible workers and strategic staffing.

The Wall Street Journal asserted on Feb. 1 that contingent workers now make up 25 percent of the work force. The Labor Department reports that part-timers account for about 18 percent. According to one recent report, the number of temporary workers has jumped fourfold--from 500,000 in 1983 to 2 million today.

How big is the industry employing "contingent workers"? Well, according to one business-tracking service, Kelly Services is the now the second-biggest private employer in the country, after General Motors. Some other accounts rank Manpower Temporary Services as the biggest of all.

Manpower's company name is not only sexist but misleading since most of its clerical workers are women. Last year these oppressed workers brought the firm $4.3 billion in revenues, up from $2 billion the year before.

This year Manpower intends to open about 140 more offices in the U.S. and overseas. This reflects its confidence in future and continued huge profits.

Profits for temporary agencies have been booming since huge corporations like Mellon Bank, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Kraft General Foods, Bank of America, General Electric and more have begun to hire them to organize entire divisions of their work forces.

The "contingent" work force is an essential part of the strategy behind the restructuring frenzy that continues today. This underscores the Marxist idea that labor produces all value and that by reducing labor costs the boss increases profits.

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