features of the economies in the leading nations, those of the U.S.A., Japan, and Germany, have many essential features of their economies that are similar. Yet these countries also have many differences. By examining these similarities and differences as they relate to wages, benefits, productivity, and living standard, we can better understand each nation's economic practices.
One of the main features of any economy is the ability to obtain private ownership of the means of production, including land. This ability provides a competitive system of labor, which translates to higher wages, and more opportunity for a better standard of living ("Economics," Columbia University, 2002). In the United States, the means of production are generally privately owned, as they are in Great Britain. Conversely, though private production plays a major role in the economy of Japan, it has a centrally planned industrial policy in which bankers, industrialists, and labor unions meet and seek to agree to wage policies and interest rates. While the United States and Great Britain accept the free market economy, Japan rejects the idea of letting the market wholly determine the economy ("Capitalism," Columbia University, 2002).
A second key feature of the economic system is taxation. The United States has long had the lowest tax rates of any industrialized nation. Great Britain has the highest rate of the three countries, and Japan is slightly higher than the United States. Taxation is related to the standard of living. In the United States, while taxation is low, the government does intervene, with subsidies, tax credits, incentives, and other types of exemptions, as does Great Britain (Wolff, 1992).
Stemming from the taxation issue of the economy is the level to which the economy aids the population. In Great Britain and Japan, heath care has been nationalized. All people have equal opportunity to receive medial care, and preventative treatment. In the United States, however, health care, following suit to the rest of the economy, is based on the free market. It is not nationalized, but is a private network. Private health is dominated by insurance companies. In this way, the drive for benefits in the United States affects the overall productivity level, whereas Japan and Great Britain must rely on other tactics to ensure productivity ("Capitalism," Columbia University, 2002).
Another key feature of the economy is the formation of trade unions. Japanese unions are enterprise-based and thus represent firms to which they relate. In the United States, and Great Britain, unions at large are of industrial nature hence reflecting relevant industry. Unions in the United States and (to some extent) in Great Britain are mostly involved in business unionism: wage negotiations and other workplace matters are their main concerns. Japanese unions are contrasting in a sense that they are also mindful of improving general working environment and promoting industrial and economic democracy. Their activities are described as political unionism ("Labor," Columbia University, 2002). Competition is another key feature to the economies of these countries. Capitalism is grounded in the concept of free enterprise and competition, which argues that government intervention in the economy should be restricted and that a free market, based on supply and demand, will ultimately maximize consumer welfare. In the United States, competition in the workplace led to the abolishment of monopolies. In Japan, some forms of monopolies are still in place, thereby stifling competition, to some degree ("Capitalism," Columbia University, 2002).
There are some aspects of the three economies that are the same, however. Minimum wage laws ensure a minimum of living standards in all three economies. Wage and price controls help to curb inflation rates. Fair trade laws help to ensure that, at least to some degree, the labor market remains actively competitive, thus ensuring a market economy. While each country is different in their economic practices in some ways, each is based on the foundation of a capitalistic society.
Unions are considered to be associations of workers gathered for the purpose of improving their economic status and working conditions through collective bargaining with employers. Union membership allows people to have decent wages and working conditions and have a say in their jobs (AFL, 2002).
Unionism works due to a number of different strategies. One reason they work is because unions form a single unit of labor, rather than individual employees. Employees of a company can unite and organize as one to solve problems and gain protection against unfair treatment. Employers can no longer force a worker to do things outside of their regular positions, because the employee has the union to stand behind them. Organized workers have the power to resist anti-labor corporate and political action (AFL, 2002).
A second reason unions work is job security. Union workers have greater job stability, in part because they are more satisfied with their jobs, receive better pay, have better benefits and have access to fair grievance procedures. Even more important, most collective bargaining agreements protect union members from unjust discharge (AFL, 2002).
Unions are able to maintain a balance of power between the employers and their employees. When a union is formed, the employer is no longer able to overpower employees. A union will create equality and balance in the workplace by giving the workers a voice in actions taken against them (AFL, 2002). Workers can no longer be fired for circumstances outside the federal laws of labor. If an injury occurs, unions will step in to aid the employee, and inform them of their rights. Therefore unions are formed to watch over employers and ensure that employees are treated fairly.
Unions also have great bargaining power. Because many employees belong to the union in a company, wage disputes are often settled quickly (AFL, 2002). If a single employee has a wage dispute, and goes on strike, the company can still function. If an entire union goes on strike, they cannot. Because of this, union membership helps raise workers' pay and narrow the income gap that disadvantages minorities and women.
Better benefits are also attributed to the union's ability to bargain. Union workers are more likely than their nonunion counterparts to receive health care and pension benefits, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1999, 73% of union workers in private industry participated in medical care benefits, compared with only 51% of nonunion workers (BLS, 2001). Union workers also are more likely to have retirement and short-term disability benefits.
Unions are beneficial to employers, partly because unions increase productivity, according to most recent studies (AFL, 2002). The voice that union members have on the job, including sharing in decision-making about promotions and work and production standards, increases productivity and improves management practices.
Because unions receive reports from their members regarding employment practices, the unions have the power and the information to convince employers to change practices. Better training can lead to a lower turnover rate for the employer, while longer tenure makes union workers more productive.
By building a broad, progressive coalition in communities as well as at the state and federal levels, unions work to create a political force that empowers workers and speaks forcefully on the issues that affect the lives of all working families (AFL, 2002). Because unions are part of the political process, they make sure that representatives at all levels understand the issues that working Americans and their families face every day on the job.
Since 1980, the local expansion of meatpacking has revived southwest Kansas communities, attracting immigrants from diverse origins. While not all packing plant workers are immigrants, the hard, unpleasant, and often dangerous work of cutting meat has always been a principally immigrant occupation.
Plants seek to maximize worker productivity by tight labor control measures and increasing chain speeds. Unfortunately, high chain speeds also result in more injuries. Most workers, regardless of ethnic background, soon realize that packing plant work is a short-term proposition (Benson, 1996). However, assuming they avoid injury, it offers immigrants with limited English knowledge an opportunity to make wages
One of the major problems with this type of industry, with relation to its predominately immigrant workforce, is low wages (Benson, 1996). Because the workforce is mostly made of immigrant workers, many packing plants pay very low wages. The immigrant employees often speak little English, and thus cannot bargain effectively for higher pay. More importantly, the labor market is competitive enough that the workers feel they cannot bargain, for fear of dismissal. Because of this, the workers are willing to accept low pay for a dangerous job.
Due to the wage issue, housing is also a problem. Many newcomers choose mobile homes as a housing option because they can be bought second-hand for a few thousand dollars and readily sold when the owners move on. Workers economize on rental expenses and have more freedom in living arrangements if they own their own homes. Immigrant renters still complain that rental costs are too high ($300-$400 per month) in proportion to their salaries, and many are forced to live in substandard housing (Benson, 1996).