Last month, US manufacturing cut 15,000 jobs in the face of a weak global economy and as two of our biggest export markets, Europe and China, begin to slow. Much of Europe is already in recession. Under these conditions, the private sector refuses to hire and investors refuse to invest in our communities as they only invest if they can make profit from their investments; social needs are secondary. Meanwhile, the pace of work for the employed intensifies as bosses “squeeze more work from their current staff” writes Bloomberg Business Week. And “squeeze” they have; “The U.S. produces almost one-quarter more goods and services today than it did in 1999, while using almost precisely the same number of workers. It’s as if $2.5 trillion worth of stuff—the equivalent of the entire U.S. economy circa 1958—materialized out of thin air.” Bloomberg Business Week pointed out in January.
Inequality in the US has risen at an alarming rate as the rich get richer at our expense. According to the Congressional Budget Office, average real after-tax household income of the top 1 percent rose 275 percent from 1979 to 2007, vs 65 percent for the top quintile and 18 percent for the bottom. It is no wonder that 85% of self-described middle class adults claim it’s harder to keep their standard of living than it was a decade ago. For the poor, they live in a permanent state of crisis and depression.
And close to 7 out of 10 Americans believe the income tax system is either somewhat or very unfair and they are right.
The tax rate on highest earners in the US under Eisenhower was 92% Under Nixon, the Marginal Tax Rate on Regular Income over $200,000 was 77% Under Bush, the Marginal Tax Rate on Regular Income Over $297,350 was 39.1% - Over $357,700, 35%.
Capital gains, the profit of capital assets as opposed to wage income, is presently at a 15% maximum, the lowest since 1933. The Maximum Tax Rate on Long-Term Capital Gains under Nixon was 27.5% - 36.5%. You’re not dreaming---life is getting harder.
This rising inequality has occurred with the help of the politicians of both Wall Street Parties. Democratic and Republican administrations alike have helped the rich loot the wealth of society and increase their wealth at the expense of workers and the middle class. The famed Savings and Loan scandal was made possible through legislation supported by both parties.
Alongside the political offensive, we have seen a war against workers and organized Labor whose leaders have refused to mobilize the power of their members to drive back this offensive of capital. As the power of Unions decline so do wages and benefits for all workers. The offensive against the public sector, blaming workers and services for the economic crisis is part of the attempts to eliminate this last Union stronghold.
The privatization of public services from the USPS to education and transportation, water and power, and, of course, Social Security, is a conscious effort to open new avenues for profit making; for the coupon clippers public investment crowds private capital from the marketplace and opportunity for further capital accumulation.
San Leandro, the small town where I live has had its share of cuts and will, like communities throughout the country, be voting in local elections in a few months. Local candidates throughout the nation will be asking for our votes and telling us that they are the man or woman for the job; they care about our community and our quality of life.
But it is not possible for an individual to be elected to a local council or school board and drive back the forces that are destroying our standard of living; they are too powerful, in fact they are global forces. Some candidates claim they will put “our” community first as if the fate of a small town in California can be determined in isolation from the economy as a whole.
Where I live, the candidates are all really candidates of business, not workers or wage earners. They are either in one of the two big business parties, Democrat or Republican, or they look to investors, venture capitalists or other advocates of the so-called free market to solve our problems; these are the forces the taxpayers just bailed out. They also all agree that to save our communities, they have to attract business, attract capital. They all admit that other communities are doing this and we have to compete with them.
But what does this mean? How do we attract private capital? We attract it with low taxes, low wages and no unions or compliant and cooperative ones. If one community refuses to offer opportunity for investors to profit, the investors will go somewhere else. It is a form of blackmail, economic terrorism in a way. There are numerous examples of this blackmail like Caterpillar moving production from Canada to Muncie Indiana where wages have been driven down to $12 an hour in order for the state to “compete” with low waged workers around the world. In 2010, US unit Labor costs in manufacturing were 13% lower than in 2000. This is what big business wants.
And we just bailed out the private sector, pulled it from the brink of the abyss. In fact, for all the propaganda about the “vibrant” private sector, it has been public funding that has brought about the great innovations of the last century. The Internet, medical advances including drugs, electricity and nuclear fission are all products of public expenditure. And so many other scientific discoveries came about through public expenditure including through military spending which is a huge public expense. Transportation, social infrastructure like sewage systems and water which led to longer life for all of us were all developed through state spending as were the freeways that GM’s trucks run on.
One candidate in my community claims that we should vote for him as we have to compete for jobs which will bring a better quality of life. Impossible. Competing for jobs sets workers in one community against workers in another which weakens us and prevents the unity and building of a generalized direct-action movement that can actually accomplish these things. Another says she will “promote partnerships with businesses so as they prosper, we all do”
Every one of them talks about being the one to make "tough choices”. What “tough choices” are they talking about? They are talking about implementing the austerity measures that big business wants. It means they are prepared to cut wages, education public services. These statements are an assurance to moneyed interests that they can be relied upon to defend their interests.
Any candidate for public office that claims to represent working class people should pledge that they would not support attacks on workers and the middle class and instead use their position to build a movement that can drive back the big business offensive. While such campaigns start locally they must reach out and link with surrounding communities as part of the effort to build a generalized offensive of our own. The money is there, it is how the wealth of society is allocated that is the issue. Rooted in such a campaign, candidates independent of the two Wall Street parties can be put forward for office that would eventually become a national political alternative for workers, the middle class and small community businesses.
By building a direct action movement that will ensure it will not be business as usual if our needs are not met, we can change the direction our society is going in and close this inequality gap. We cannot leave it to Wall Street and their precious free market. This is crucial for our young people whose future is one of increased instability, poverty and wars if we continue as we are. As things stand, the prisons are what the 1% have for them as the US imprisons more people than any other country.
Any candidate that wants a workers’ vote should make it clear that at a minimum they stand for:
* No cuts, no austerity: for a massive social spending program to rebuild infrastructure with Union Labor at Union rates of pay.
* For a $15 an hour minimum wage or a $5 an hour wage increase whichever is greater
*Federally funded education through all levels and a student to teachers ratio of 1 to 15
*A public health care system, no one turned away. Eliminate the Insurance middlemen.
* End the corporation’s wars abroad, bring our young people home
* Make the rich pay for their crisis. Not to raising taxes on workers, the middle class and small community businesses.
Such a campaign would attract millions of workers and the poor and a direct-action campaign can be built to change the course planned for us by Wall Street.
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