Happy Labor Day
Molly Ivins writes:
Happy Labor Day, comrades. Hail to all who have yet to be outsourced, downsized, zero-budgeted, streamlined, cut back, laid off, globalized or otherwise pre-shrunk. Those of us who are lucky winners in the employment lottery can still enjoy our stagnant wages, disappearing benefits and collapsing pension plans. What, us worry?
Not that I want to start off one of my favorite national holidays on a bummer note, but it’s enough to make Joe Hill rise from the dead yet again. One of the handicaps Americans have when it comes to discussing labor is that about 90 percent of us think we’re middle class. Upper-class people are quite as likely to self-identify as middle class as are working-class folks. And middle-class folks do not think of themselves as “labor.”
How could you be part of labor when you don’t wear a hardhat or carry a lunch bucket? When you live in a suburb and own a bass boat, as well as an SUV? When you wear a suit and tie or high heels to work? When you’re management, for pity’s sake? Because that’s what American labor looks like now—just like you.
And American labor has some serious problems. Earlier this month, Treasury Secretary John Snow observed, “The fruits of strong economic growth are not spreading equally.” Yo. Phillip Swagel of the conservative American Enterprise Institute explains: “The gains from the recovery haven’t really filtered down. The gains have gone to owners of capital and not to workers.” I’d say so myself.
For starters, we have a growing economic underclass. In 2004, 37 million Americans—12.7 percent of us—lived in poverty, the fourth year in a row the numbers increased. Between one-fourth and one-fifth of American children are being raised in poverty.
Next up, more Americans lack health insurance—45.8 million. That’s the fourth straight year that figure has gone up, too. Six million more people lacked health insurance in 2004 than in 2000. The proportion of Americans with employer-sponsored coverage keeps shrinking, and public insurance programs cannot make up the difference.
Meantime, the median income failed to increase for the fifth straight year, the first time that’s happened since the feds started keeping records in 1967. Since the economy is “in recovery,” where’s all the money going?
Corporate CEOs moved up again, now making 431 times as much as the average worker. Our friends at the Center for American Progress calculate that if the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay had remained the same as it was in 1990, 301-to-one, the lowest-paid workers in the United States would be making $23.03 an hour.
There is no great argument over why these things are happening. None of this is the result of any immutable economic law—it is the result of deliberate government policies. Allan Lichtman, professor of history at American University, wrote last month in Newsday: “Like a master pickpocket, George W. Bush distracts the American people with one hand, while reaching into their pockets with the other. The distraction comes through the flash and bombast of explosive social issues like abortion, gay rights, public displays of religion, end-of-life decisions and creationism. ... The pilfering comes through initiatives that take from working- and middle-class Americans and give to Bush’s corporate backers, to whom he has delivered the goods big-time.”
Lichtman cites the media’s preoccupation over whether Bush’s pick for the Supreme Court will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, while Congress passed an energy bill with $14.5 billion in tax breaks, most of which go to companies like Exxon, which last year alone made $25 billion and is swimming in cash on hand. He added:
# Just before Congress left for the summer recess, the administration won passage of a free-trade agreement with Central America that makes it easier for companies to outsource jobs and investments, and that bypasses protections for workers and the environment.
# Last spring, while the public focused on the Terri Schiavo case, Republicans leaders passed a new bankruptcy bill written by lobbyists for the credit-card industry. The credit-card companies stand to profit from the new law by several billion dollars.
# Ditto the new prescription drug benefit “for seniors,” actually written by and for big drug companies.
“What all of this really amounts to is a political revolution in the United States, creating a form of conservative big government that promotes not the general interests of ordinary Americans, but the special interests of big corporations,” Lichtman wrote. “This creates a sharply upward redistribution of wealth and power that threatens long-term prosperity. ... The revolution also is making government costlier and less fair, stifling individual freedom and democratic decision-making, and opening fissures between the wealthy and other Americans.”
Personally, I think we should wait until after Labor Day, when we take that last lazy lick off the ice cream cone of summer. And let’s get the mess on the Gulf Coast cleaned up, keeping in mind that a fraction of the tax cuts Bush gave to the very rich could have paid for new levees for New Orleans. And then, fellow workers, let’s unite and raise hell.