From the People Who Brought You the Pay Toilet

Although there are many (too many to list) superb categories in which the United States is undeniably “exceptional,” there are several important categories where we lag behind the world.

By “lag behind,” we don’t mean the U.S. simply falls a bit short of the leaders; we mean the U.S. is not even on the same page.  And by “the world,” we’re not referring to countries like Sweden, Norway, Germany and Switzerland; we’re referring to places like Latvia, Estonia, Guatemala, Honduras, Pakistan and Haiti.

Dr. Jody Heymann is director of the Institute for Health and Social Policy, chairwoman of the Project on Global Working Families, and adjunct professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. Recently, Dr. Heymann and her team put together some statistics comparing America with the rest of the world.  Among their findings:

  • 177 nations guarantee paid leave for new mothers; the U.S. does not.
  • 74 nations guarantee paid leave for new fathers; the U.S. does not.
  • 132 nations guarantee breastfeeding breaks at work; the U.S. does not.
  • 163 nations guarantee paid sick leave; the U.S. does not.
  • 48 nations guarantee paid time off to care for children’s health; the U.S. does not.
  • 41 nations provide leave that can be used for child education needs; the U.S. does not.
  • 33 nations provide paid leave to care for adult family members; the U.S. does not

Clearly, while the overwhelming majority of the world believes that it’s the government’s responsibility and duty to address certain universal phenomena — education, birth, sickness, death — the United States takes a different view.  No matter how universal or inevitable the phenomenon, we consider the government’s involvement to be, at best, an unnecessary intrusion, and at worse, a form of socialism.

It’s been said that in the U.S., anything that has a “value” can also be assumed to have a “price.”  Put another way, anything that can, in theory, be sold for a profit is considered to be automatically for sale, which illustrates our unshakeable confidence and faith in the virtues of commerce, and helps explain how we got in the fix we’re in.

Not to be coarse or frivolous, but to take the premise to its logical conclusion, it was this impulse that led to pay toilets at the airport.  It’s true.  If there was going to be a way to make money off something as biologically imperative as a bowel movement, it was going to be an enterprising American who found it.

Arguably, the only free universal program the U.S. has ever had was public education.  And while the public school system was once a source of enormous national pride, it is today under attack by privatization hounds dedicated to demonizing and exploiting it with skewed statistics and trumped-up arguments.  Seeing private and charter schools as the potential cash cow of the future, they’ve set their sights on jettisoning public education.

*****

A note on the aftermath of that Upper Big Branch (West Virginia) coal mine explosion that killed 29 miners last April.  Despite all the platitudes and somber promises that immediately followed the deaths, pro-business Republicans were successful in halting passage of any meaningful mine safety regulations.

Even though Massey Energy, owner of Upper Big Branch, had 505 safety violations in 2009, the U.S. Congress let them off the hook, rejecting measures that would have made mining significantly safer.  The NAM (National Association of Manufacturers), a powerful business lobby, told the legislators that bolstering safety standards would raise the price of coal… and that was that.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor), was a former union rep. He can be reached at: dmacaray@earthlink.net. Read other articles by David.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on December 21st, 2010 at 8:39am #

    this piece then shows that the thinking of the people in power has not changed. and if the voices for change increase, the people in power might just start another war in order to shut up or significantly reduce the dissent.
    and there are other methods to shut up dissenters.

    which do not have a single representative in congress or judiciary. which means things get worse for the weakest americans and some ‘aliens’.
    let’s face it: both china and u.s have one governing party. it always prevails!
    in u.s every congressperson thinks exactly the same about the need that u.s shld remain ruled by one party.
    anyone that wld just seem to threaten such neat settings is gonna go to jail or become jobless.
    the difference between u.s and china is in the fact that china jails cultists and supremacists and u.s jails nonsupremacists or less supremacistic people than people in power! tnx

  2. nacho said on December 23rd, 2010 at 12:21pm #

    I don’t get it. You want to reward women for getting pregnant? Why? What did they do to deserve extra paid time off?

  3. Deadbeat said on December 23rd, 2010 at 12:23pm #

    nacho writes …

    I don’t get it. You want to reward women for getting pregnant? Why? What did they do to deserve extra paid time off?

    They give birth to the children who will be changing your bedpans when you are a drooling old man.

  4. indiechixor said on December 23rd, 2010 at 1:16pm #

    Nacho, you are obviously not married, nor have ever had an functional relationship with a woman.

    Getting time “off” of work due to the birth of a child is not a “reward”, nor a privilege…it is a right. Getting 10 minutes to step away from ones desk to pump milk for her child is not “special treatment”. You are mistaking time off as “vacation” – not the birth of a child.

    Closed minded people think that any pregnant woman was “knocked up”, or has a “baby daddy”. Functioning woman in society have to make a choice- Do I want to follow my natural instinct of breeding and propagating the earth, or do I want to further my career? Men don’t have to make that choice- it is the woman who has to fully commit themselves to the idea.

    You cannot look at a man and say “wow, who did he knock up?!” No man will ever get denied a job position because he has a baby, nor will he ever have to fight tooth and nail for the RIGHT to feed his child.

    Why don’t you spend 10 seconds before writing some idiotic and thoughtless statement as “You want to reward women for getting pregnant” and think how you came into this world? You obviously were not dropped off on someone’s porch by the stork- You have a mother. She had to endure 9 months of uncomfortable symptoms and sickness just so she could have you, and now you are CONDEMMING a woman’s right to having six weeks of rest after 24-36 hours of labor, possibly tearing open her most sensitive of areas, or having major surgery, cutting through muscle- just so she can go back to her 9-5 the next week?

    Think about it.

  5. xtina724 said on December 23rd, 2010 at 2:14pm #

    >They give birth to the children who will be changing your bedpans when you are a drooling old man. Getting time “off” of work due to the birth of a child is not a “reward”, nor a privilege…it is a right….and now you are CONDEMMING a woman’s right to having six weeks of rest after 24-36 hours of labor, possibly tearing open her most sensitive of areas, or having major surgery, cutting through muscle- just so she can go back to her 9-5 the next week?<
    I didn't see any condemnation in his comment. That you do speaks volumes, and none of it furthers the discussion. Rest away, keep your sensitive areas intact and avoid all the surgery you can. Just don't expect someone else to pick up the tab for your personal choices.

  6. UhClem said on December 23rd, 2010 at 6:49pm #

    ” the only free universal program the U.S. has ever had was public education”
    Who pays for our free schools?
    “… guarantee paid leave for new mothers …
    … guarantee paid leave for new fathers …
    … guarantee breastfeeding breaks at work …
    … guarantee paid sick leave …
    … guarantee paid time off to care for children’s health …
    … leave that can be used for child education needs …
    … paid leave to care for adult family members … ”
    Who will pay for all this?

  7. lichen said on December 23rd, 2010 at 7:25pm #

    There should also be guaranteed government support for all single parents; no shackling of people with child support. Further, we don’t just need support for families; we need guaranteed housing for all (about 1 country truly has this) single-payer healthcare, free college education… The rich and corporations will pay for it.

  8. Hue Longer said on December 23rd, 2010 at 8:31pm #

    UhClem ,

    next to the cost of war and subsidies that don’t go back to the taxpayer, it’s a drop in the bucket. Not many who ask questions like this would be interested in finding out how the other countries “pay for it” because they are tied and faithful to the religion of USAmericanism. So many USAmericans can’t recognize who is stealing from them but sure do get angry at those being stolen from

  9. itchyvet said on December 23rd, 2010 at 10:38pm #

    The countries and people who have these benefits, fought long and hard against their entrenched and established Govts and power groups over the years.
    If Americans are desirous of obtaining similar benefits, maybe they need to get off their collective back sides and work together to obtain them.
    Moreover, once they have done this, they will understand the meaning of obtaining such benefits and the value of same.
    One of the very first goals should be to form solid Unions, filtered thoroughly of subversive infiltration who have agendas of watering down, or destroying such organisations, together with ensuring a DEMOCRATIC infrastructure of management by the rank and file to avoid Abuse of their organisation.
    And if Americans expect things to turn around quickly, I’ve got bad news for them, do yourself a favour and study these countries history, to find out how long it took them to acheive these standards.
    Standards which today, are coming under increasing threats from vested interest groups.

  10. Eddie said on December 24th, 2010 at 5:14pm #

    I have to disagree with the writer. Those countries offering all of the time off for workers are in worse financial shape than we are. They tax their people so heavily they cannot afford to have children, Italy would be empty of italians by 2050 if it were not for all of the illegal muslim immigrants flooding the country. The workers paridise countries are all a facade for self genecide.

    I lived in Germany for 4 years and have traved to many of the countrys the writer cites. As always steal from those that produce to pay for the increasing numbers of lazy useless non producers (by their own choice)

  11. Deadbeat said on December 24th, 2010 at 5:38pm #

    lichen writes …

    There should also be guaranteed government support for all single parents; no shackling of people with child support. Further, we don’t just need support for families; we need guaranteed housing for all (about 1 country truly has this) single-payer healthcare, free college education… The rich and corporations will pay for it.

    Absolutely agree. Happy Holidays.

  12. Don Hawkins said on December 24th, 2010 at 6:21pm #

    Merry Christmas you all and to all a good night. How did this Christmas part get started?

    So it was when the Roman Christians began to look for a day to keep in honor of Christ’s birth, Bishop Liberius (who was a friend of the government) was quick to help. It just happened that the pagan Romans had for years celebrated December 25 as a special annual holiday in honor of the Sun god, Sol Invictus. Some Christians decided that it would be fitting for Christ to replace the sun as honoree on this day. And so, almost 400 years after Christ, December 25 began to be observed as a special day in honor of the birth of Christ. Again, the people did not really think that Christ was born on that day. They merely observed it in honor of the fact of His birth. But this, too, was to change.

    With the passing of time, the Romans decided that everyone ought to observe December 25 in honor of Christ’s birth. But not everyone was ready to accept this rule. In fact, one ancient denomination (The Armenian Church) still observes January 10 in honor of the birth of Christ. To help their cause, the Romans began to say that December 25 should be observed because it was the true birthday of Jesus Christ! Edward fudge

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 25th, 2010 at 3:50am #

    God- some nasty Rightwing trolls have emerged from ‘neath their rocks. Just notice how they resent and decry any social benefit, and social decency, for the average person, but I bet they tug the forelock to Big Business and wealth. The US Reich’s social atavism, its misanthropic ethos of ‘every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost’, is founded in deep hatred of others. Other people are enemies, or, at best, competition, to be defeated by fair means or foul. Just look at Big Business, that profits from giving people cancer by peddling tobacco, destroys the health of children by peddling poisonous junk food, that perverts people’s souls and deranges their psyches through manipulative, mendacious advertising and that poisons the planet with toxins from glyphosphate and mercury to runaway CO2 emissions, and in so doing has sentenced humanity to the hell of ecological collapse. All for no other reason than to feed the insatiable greed of a tiny class of parasites.

  14. Don Hawkins said on December 25th, 2010 at 5:25am #

    power over the American people for many, many more years?”

    No I don’t think so change those many many to very few. First oil and not sure if these so called powerful take that back I know these so called powerful in reality are rather weak minded. They will take the easy way out just can’t use known knowledge or reason just instinct and illusion of knowledge. So far seems very clear. Vote for what reason.

    Mulga your last comment again the truth. Just the last 500 years the history and at least when the Spanish came to the new World much still unknown then of course the killing started a known. I think we know now pretty much where all the land and sea is on planet Earth and now can measure every inch of it. It sure look’s like we all stop the killing and try and save as much life as we can and yes we waited to long and now it’s going to be a new World alright. If we wish to survive and Mulga I watched a TV program it was Donald Trump and a few close friends playing golf a little look into the thinking of the few and man those people are crazy. Yes could write more but those people are crazy say’s much you know two hundred thousand years on this planet and these people are looked up too. Oh well.