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Archive for the ‘trade unions’ Category

US Unions Are Shrinking. These 7 Charts Show What That Means.

September 9th, 2014 by admin | No Comments | Filed in economic democracy, poverty, safety net, trade unions, Unemployment

This is a group of union members. They are a dying breed. Portland Press Herald / Getty Images

By Danielle Kurtzleben

Progressive America Rising via Vox

September 1, 2014 – Labor day isn’t just an excuse for millions of workers to have a three-day weekend. It began as a union holiday, an American counterpart to the International Workers Day of May 1st. But while the holiday endures, unions are increasingly becoming a thing of the past in the US. Here’s a chart-filled rundown of how unions’ place in the US has fallen off over the years, and what that means.

1) Unions have shrunk — a lot.

Union membership

Just 30 years ago, around 1 in 5 workers was a union member. Today, it’s just over 1 in 10, around 11.3 percent as of 2013. The cause of the decline is subject to heated debate. One reason may be new right-to-work laws — five states have added right-to-work laws since 1980. Some have argued that unions simply don’t appeal to young workers like they once did.

2) The fall happened entirely in the private sector.

Pew public and private unions

Source: Pew Research Center

Today, there are more than 3 million fewer union members than there were in 1983. But public sector unions have still grown; only private sector unions have fallen off, by around 4.6 million people.

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Yet Another Case for a Popular Front vs. Finance Capital

July 29th, 2014 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in financial crisis, poverty, safety net, Social Securiy, trade unions, Wall Street, youth and students

Big Lie: America Doesn't Have #1 Richest Middle-Class in the World: We're Ranked 27th!

Big Lie: America Doesn’t Have #1 Richest Middle-Class in the World: We’re Ranked 27th!

Les Leopold Author, The Looting of America

Progressive America Rising via Alternet

July 28, 2014 – America is the richest country on Earth. We have the most millionaires, the most billionaires, and our wealthiest citizens have garnered more of the planet’s riches than any other group in the world. We even have hedge fund managers who make in one hour as much as the average family makes in 21 years! 

This opulence is supposed to trickle down to the rest of us, improving the lives of everyday Americans. At least that’s what free-market cheerleaders repeatedly promise us.

Unfortunately, it’s a lie, one of the biggest ever perpetrated on the American people.

Our middle class is falling further and further behind in comparison to the rest of the world. We keep hearing that America is number one. Well, when it comes to middle-class wealth, we’re number 27. 

The most telling comparative measurement is median wealth (per adult). It describes the amount of wealth accumulated by the person precisely in the middle of the wealth distribution—50 percent of the adult population has more wealth, while 50 percent has less. You can’t get more middle than that.

Wealth is measured by the total sum of all our assets (homes, bank accounts, stocks, bonds etc.) minus our liabilities (outstanding loans and other debts). It the best indicator we have for individual and family prosperity. While the never-ending accumulation of wealth may be wrecking the planet, wealth also provides basic security, especially in a country like ours with such skimpy social programs. Wealth allows us to survive periods of economic turmoil. Wealth allows our children to go to college without incurring crippling debts, or to get help for the down payment on their first homes. As Billie Holiday sings, "God bless the child that’s got his own." 

Well, it’s a sad song. As the chart below shows, there are 26 other countries with a median wealth higher than ours (and the relative reduction of U.S. median wealth has done nothing to make our economy more sustainable).

Why?

Here’s a starter list:

  • We don’t have real universal healthcare. We pay more and still have poorer health outcomes than all other industrialized countries. Should a serious illness strike, we also can become impoverished.

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The Next Battle Against Wall Street? Los Angeles…

May 9th, 2014 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in Banks, Budget Debates, trade unions, Wall Street

Will The Occupy LA protestors, from October 2011, return to the steps of Los Angeles City Hall in this new battle against Wall Street? (Photo: Los Angeles Times, 2011).

By Tom Hayden

Progressive America Rising

The next battle against Wall Street may be brewing and this one is in Los Angeles City Hall.

If it erupts, the soldiers will be a scrappy, wonky, and sophisticated phalanx of labor, neighborhood, and religious activists. Their research has exposed the fact that Wall Street banks were paid $200 million in fees alone last year by the City of Los Angeles; many millions more than the city spent on fixing its streets.

The comparison between City Hall and our streets makes City Hall officials wince; claiming it mixes apples with oranges. But there’s more than catchiness in the comparison. The new report, Fix LA, shows that at least $106 billion in public money overall, from airports, seaports, utilities and pension funds, goes to private financial institutions that profit from fees, lending and leveraging those funds.

Citizens and elected officials often are overwhelmed and under-qualified to understand the weird and complicated transactions – debt swaps and derivative trades, for example – that Wall Street employs to extract maximum profit from all that public capital. There is no single Los Angeles official mandated to bargain with Wall Street. No official consumer watchdog, no fledgling Elizabeth Warren or Ralph Nader. No inspector-general to investigate financial industry fraud. No mainstream investigative reporters on the case, not so far anyway. While insiders and advocates will pore over the city’s multi-billion annual budget this month, no single monitor is minding the hundreds of millions funneled to Wall Street’s predatory care, as the report charges.

City officials will have their chance to respond in public hearings over the next several weeks, based on a motion being introduced by Councilman Paul Koretz this Friday; one seconded by Councilmember Gil Cedillo. Budget and Finance Committee chair Paul Krekorian, waiving the report, promised thorough public scrutiny of its data and claims.

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Adjunct Profs Turn to Citywide Unionizing as Their Best Hope

April 15th, 2014 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in Organizing, trade unions, youth and students

Power in Numbers

By Peter Schmidt

Progressive America Rising via The Chronicle of Higher Ed

Boston

It’s the lull between Northeastern University’s afternoon and evening classes, and adjunct instructors drift in and out of a windowless room set aside for them in Ryder Hall. Lacking offices on campus, they come here to log on to shared computers or to grab books from shelved cardboard boxes that serve as their makeshift lockers.

Having to share a small workspace is just one of the many frustrations they share. They commiserate about meager earnings, unpredictable teaching loads, and their belief that a bloated administration gobbles up too much of the tuition revenue they help bring in.

Most of the instructors here decline to talk on the record, citing fears of being denied future contracts or otherwise punished for it. But Deborah O’Toole, a senior lecturer who earns about $2,200 per three-credit course teaching English to international students, is fed up enough to speak out. She argues that part-time faculty members like her are being abused and need to form collective-bargaining units if they want their concerns heard.

David Fionda, an adjunct at Bentley U., says he is satisfied with his working conditions as they are, without unionization. “It is not as if we are making minimum wage,” he says.

"Our hope is in the union," she says.

Such sentiments have put Boston at the center of a nationwide labor-organizing effort bent on changing the lives of all adjunct faculty members, unionized or not. Rather than simply try to establish unions of adjunct faculty at individual colleges, it seeks to unionize them throughout entire metropolitan areas, to drive broader improvements in their pay, benefits, and working conditions.

The approach seeks to shift labor-market dynamics, turning a buyer’s market in which colleges have broad leeway to set employment terms into a seller’s market in which adjuncts can take the highest bid for their services. The strategy assumes that college administrations will be less resistant to the formation of unions, and to union demands, if officials are assured that competing institutions are in the same boat.

The thinking behind the approach holds that sufficient union saturation of a given local labor market will not only produce big gains at unionized colleges, but put nonunionized ones under pressure to treat adjuncts better, too. Those colleges might be prompted to improve pay or working conditions to be able to compete for talent or, in some cases, to discourage potential unionization drives on their own campuses.

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UAW: Unions Need New Strategy

February 18th, 2014 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in GOP, Organizing, rightwing, trade unions

Reflections on the defeat suffered by the TN workers in Volkswagen

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Progressive America Rising via BillFletcherJr.com

Feb 18 , 2014 · The election loss at the Chattanooga plant of VW was, first and foremost, a loss suffered by the workers.  Secondarily it was a loss suffered by the United Auto Workers.  The workers at that facility lost the chance to bargain collectively and to obtain a voice in their workplace.  This was a loss that was mainly the result of the all-out right-wing offensive that took place in TN against the workers and their–the workers’–decision to seek representation. And, as is the case for all workers who lack collective bargaining (or the even rarer personal contract), they remain in a free-fire zone where they can be removed from their job for any reason or no reason as long as the reason does not violate statute.   I am sorry; i just needed to cut to the chase.

Yet, we cannot stop there with our reflections on what transpired.  This was a situation where the company–VW–agreed to be neutral and, in many ways, seemed to welcome the union.  Nevertheless, by a relatively slim majority, the proponents of workers’ rights did not prevail.   This reality emphasizes the point that employer neutrality, while important, is insufficient.  There are larger factors at stake when workers must make a decision on union representation, particularly in a period where labor unions have been under such vicious assault.  The decision, in this case, of the Republican Party and others on the political Right to draw a line in the sand and go all out to intimidate the workforce is a case-in-point.  The workers, their families and friends had to decide whether the threats coming from the political Right were genuine or just rhetoric.  Given the history of anti-worker repression in the South, along with the on-going racist efforts to secure a ‘white bloc’ against progress, the messages of the political Right came through loud and clear.

At the same time there was another factor that i found particularly striking.   It was mentioned in an article on the election in the Washington Post yesterday (Monday).  They indicated that within the anti-union vote there were those who were angered by the UAW’s willingness to keep the wages and benefits of VW workers in TN ‘competitive.’  This was particularly interesting because herein lay a critique of the UAW that may have surprised many people.  The workers were saying that they did not want to guarantee to VW that their wages would stay below those of Chrysler, Ford or GM workers.

The UAW finds itself in a bind.  For more than thirty years it has engaged in concessionary bargaining with employers under the banner of “jointness.”  Only a few years ago it approved a two-tier agreement by which the wage and benefit package for incoming workers would differ from veteran workers.  Two-tier systems are by their very nature demoralizing and undermine any real sense of solidarity.  They are also a poison pill that can kill the patient over time as the newer workers come to resent the benefits that they do not have, but which are held by the veteran workers.  Jointness, two tier concessions and a failure–until relatively recently–to develop innovative approaches toward organizing auto “transplants” and auto parts manufacturers in the South have come back to bite the UAW, and to bite with fangs of steel.

The defeat in TN will lead some commentators to suggest that organizing in the South, or in any hostile environment, is pointless short of changes in labor law.  Such conclusions, which we hear periodically, are ahistoric and defeatest.   Yet there are sobering conclusions, or at least suggestions that must be considered.  With all due respect, let me propose a few.

One, the UAW needs to build a local union in that TN plant.  The fact that the election was lost should not mean that the union disappears.  Rather, there is the notion that has become increasingly popular over the last 20 years of what are called “non-majority unions,” that is, unions that are organized in a situation where they have not won majority status and, therefore, cannot bargain collectively, but where they can organize the workers and build alternative forms of representation.   The UAW needs to make that commitment and flip the script.

Two, as is being attempted by the UAW in Mississippi, organizing must look very differently than in the past.  The battle is not simply, only and some cases, mainly between the workers and the employer.  In the case of Chattanooga, VW was not opposed to the union, for example.  Yet in organizing a labor union we must be clear that this is and always has been about power–who has it and who does not.  Thus, organizing a union really must be a community affair.  It must be a matter that involves and engages not only the directly affected workers but also their families, friends and neighbors.  The community must see in unionization an economic development strategy that makes sense. They must also see in unionization a strategy to fight back against the gross injustices that workers feel every day.

Three, grass roots political education and political action is key.  The political Right mobilized its various forces against this unionization effort.  Workers and their unions cannot sit back and await a Democratic Party response to such a travesty.  Workers need locally-based political associations and organizations that can mobilize in order to both advance a progressive project but to also move against the political Right.  Champions of workers rights must create a bit of mischief thereby destabilizing our opponents.  That ranges from an active presence in the media to legislative initiatives that advance workers’ rights to electoral campaigns against the demons who wish to keep the workers in bondage.

Four, and this is a difficult one, the UAW will need to look at itself.  The UAW is not by itself in this challenge, i might add.  Today’s unions were constructed in a very different environment.  In many cases they are led–at the national and local levels–by very sincere individuals who continue to fight the ‘last war.’  In the case of the UAW, the leaders and members probably need to seize this time to reflect on the strategy of jointness; on two-tier systems; on their failure to take an aggressive approach to organizing the auto parts industry; and why it has taken so long to make a serious and on-going effort to unionize the South.  Such a discussion will be complicated and painful, but in the absence of such an examination, the UAW will continue to die the death of a thousand cuts.  And, more importantly, workers in this country who so desperately need unionization, will continue to feel the boot of corporate America and their right-wing allies on our collective necks.

In Minimum Wage Debate, A Battle Over Inequality and Job Loss

December 22nd, 2013 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in Organizing, pushing obama, safety net, trade unions, Unemployment, youth and students

A strike by fast-food workers for higher wages in New York City's Union Square in August 2013. Credit: The All-Nite Images/ CC by 2.0

A strike by fast-food workers for higher wages in New York City’s Union Square in August 2013. Credit: The All-Nite Images

By Ramy Srour

Progressive America Rising via IPS

WASHINGTON, Dec 11 2013 (IPS) – In the midst of a nationwide movement for policymakers to raise minimum wages for millions of workers in the United States, experts here continue to debate the advantages and drawbacks of raising the federal rate.

The push for higher minimum wages has gained momentum in recent weeks, particularly with strikes by low-wage restaurant workers last Thursday in more than 100 cities. President Barack Obama also joined the debate, delivering a landmark speech condemning income inequality and the “race to the bottom” where businesses try to “pay the lowest wages” possible.

Obama’s renewed call coincided with a letter by 53 members of Congress calling on McDonald’s and other employers in the fast-food sector to raise pay for their employees. “Put[ting] more money in the hands of consumers…can help strengthen our economy,” the lawmakers noted.

But while higher minimum wages are widely believed to have a positive effect on social conditions, particularly by easing poverty among the most vulnerable sectors of society, economists maintain varying views on the issue.

“We’re all looking for ways to help low-income people get ahead, and that’s a very important goal,” Jonathan Meer, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University and an expert on economic public policy, told IPS. “But the real question is, what’s the right way to do it?”

So far, he said, most people have proposed minimum wage increases because “it’s the easy fall-back to say, ‘Let’s just pay people more.’ But research shows that increasing minimum wages actually reduces job growth. Simply put: people never get hired.”

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Radicals in City Hall: An American Tradition

December 19th, 2013 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in elections, Organizing, trade unions, Voting Rights, women
 

Kshama Sawant speaks at the Seattle Pride Parade, July 2013 (Vote Sawant/Facebook)

By Peter Dreier

Progressive America Rising via Dissent

Dec 19, 2013 – Socialist Kshama Sawant’s election to the Seattle City Council in November 2013 made national news, a kind of “man bites dog” story that the media found shocking and irresistible.  The Los Angeles Times’s front-page article described Sawant as “41-year-old software-engineer-turned-far-left-sweetheart.” The Seattle Times called her “the council’s first socialist member in modern history.”

In fact, the United States has a long tradition of municipal socialism. One hundred years ago, at the Socialist Party’s high point, about 1,200 party members held public office in 340 cities, including seventy‑nine mayors in cities such as Milwaukee, Buffalo, Minneapolis, Reading, and Schenectady. (Before Sawant, the last socialist to get elected in Seattle was journalist Anna Louise Strong, who won a seat on the School Board in 1916). These local leaders, whose ranks included working-class labor union members and middle-class radicals such as teachers, clergy, and lawyers, worked alongside progressive reformers to improve living and working conditions in the nation’s burgeoning cities. In today’s hyper-capitalist economy, their experience may still offer some lessons for contemporary activists.

Seattle political analysts are still trying to assess how Sawant—who beat sixteen-year incumbent Richard Conlin by a slim margin despite being outspent more than two to one—managed to pull off her remarkable upset. Her effective grassroots campaign and knack for proposing policy ideas that seemed both radical and reasonable played a key role. But Sawant’s victory is also a result of the growing unease—in Seattle and across the country—with widening inequality and the growing influence of big business in politics. Much of this was expressed by the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in September 2011, but while Occupy activists have generally eschewed electoral politics as a strategy for change, their message has continued to resonate with the American public, and many mainstream politicians and pundits have embraced the “1 percent vs. 99 percent” theme.

On the same day that Sawant won her city council seat, progressives and radicals around the country won a number of significant local victories. The most celebrated was Bill de Blasio’s landslide election to the New York City mayoralty on a platform challenging the city’s growing inequality and gentrification. Minneapolis voters elected City Council member Betsy Hodges—a longtime activist with the progressive grassroots group Take Action Minnesota who called on people to “free ourselves from the fear that keeps us locked into patterns of inequality”—as their new mayor. Another longtime Take Action Minnesota member, Dai Thao, became the first Hmong city council member in the St. Paul’s history. In Minneapolis, Ty Moore, an Occupy organizer and Socialist Alternative candidate, narrowly lost a contest for City Council. Meanwhile, Boston voters catapulted union leader and state legislator Martin Walsh into the mayor’s office, despite business-led efforts to lambast him as a radical.

One of Sawant’s key campaign platforms was a pledge to push for a $15-an-hour municipal minimum wage. This might have seemed outrageous a year ago, but on the same day Seattle voters elected Sawant, voters in the adjacent suburb of Seatac approved that same minimum wage for about 6,000 workers at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and airport-related businesses, including hotels, car-rental agencies, and parking lots. Both Seattle’s defeated incumbent mayor, Mike McGinn, and his successor Ed Murray endorsed the Seatac initiative and raised the possibility of doing the same thing in Washington’s largest city. (San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque already have municipal minimum wages).

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‘The Common Good’, Dirty Words to Today’s GOP

December 9th, 2013 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in Education, GOP, rightwing, safety net, trade unions

Progressives Must Stand Up Against the Right Wing War on Public Employees

By Robert Creamer

Progressive America Rising via Huffington Post

Dec 9, 2013 – For many years the American Right — and many of the most powerful elements of corporate and Wall Street elite — have conducted a war on public employees.

Their campaign has taken many forms. They have tried to slash the number of public sector jobs, cut the pay and benefits of public sector workers, and do away with public employee rights to collective bargaining. They have discredited the value of the work performed by public employees — like teachers, police and firefighters — going so far as to argue that "real jobs" are created only by the private sector.

Last week a conservative court ruled that by going through bankruptcy the city of Detroit could rid itself of its obligation under the state constitution to make good on its pension commitments to its retirees.

It should surprise no one that the Republican Chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, is demanding that a budget deal with the Democrats include a 350 percent increase in pension contribution by all civilian federal employees. That would effectively mean a pay cut of about 2 percent for every federal worker. And that cut would come after a three-year pay freeze and multiple furloughs caused by the Republican "sequester."

Unbelievably, in Illinois the right wing Chicago Tribune and the state’s corporate elite snookered the Democratic-controlled legislature into passing changes in that state’s pension laws that slashed the pensions of its public employees. The changes affected all state employees and many of Illinois’ teachers. All of them had faithfully made their required contributions to the state’s pension funds for years, even though the legislature regularly failed to make its required payments so it could avoid raising taxes on the state’s wealthiest citizens.

Illinois cut teacher pensions, even though many do not participate in the Social Security system and the state pension is their only source of retirement income.

All of these attacks on public employees — and cuts in public sector expenditures in general — are premised on two myths that are simply untrue.

Myth number one. The Right claims we live in a period of scarcity that requires extreme public sector austerity. They claim "we just can’t afford" to pay people like teachers the pensions that we had agreed to in the past, because "America is broke."

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How Billionaire Businesses Expect the Public to Subsidize Their Low Wages and Opposition to Unions

October 27th, 2013 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in Organizing, safety net, trade unions, youth and students

McDonald’s Tells Worker She Should Sign Up For Food Stamps

By Emily Cohn
Progressive America Rising via Huffington Post

McDonald’s workers struggling to get by on poverty wages should apply for food stamps and Medicaid.

That’s the advice one activist McDonald’s worker received when she called the company’s "McResource Line," a service provided to McDonald’s workers who need help with issues like child and health care.

"You can ask about things like food pantries. Are you on SNAP? SNAP is Supplemental Nutritional Assistance [Program] — food stamps … You would most likely be eligible for SNAP benefits," a McResource representative told 27-year-old Nancy Salgado, who works at a Chicago McDonald’s. "Did you try and get on Medicaid? Medicaid is a federal program. It’s health coverage for low income or no income adults — and children."

Salgado is one of many fast-food workers who have walked off the job in recent months to protest the industry’s low wages, part of a nationwide movement aiming to raise pay to $15 an hour. She has worked at McDonald’s for 10 years, and earns $8.25 an hour in her current job as a cashier. Earlier this month, Salgado was detained after pressing McDonald’s President Jeff Stratton for higher wages.

"Do you think this is fair that I have to be making $8.25 when I’ve been working at McDonald’s for 10 years?" Salgado said during the confrontation.

The audio of Salgado’s call to the McResource Line was posted Thursday on YouTube by advocacy group Low Pay Is Not OK. In the call, the McResource representative points the worker towards government assistance when she explains she needs help.

The YouTube version of the call is edited, but Low Pay Is Not OK provided a fuller recording to The Huffington Post. In the longer version of the audio, the McResource representative tells Salgado that because she’s employed by a McDonald’s franchise, which does not pay for the McResource service, she is not eligible for consultation. Still, the representative goes on to offer advice, including recommending that Salgado reach out to resources like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

McDonald’s pointed out to The Huffington Post that the audio is clearly edited. “This video is not an accurate portrayal of the resource line as this is very obviously an edited video," Lisa McComb, McDonald’s’ director of U.S. media relations, told The Huffington Post.

"The McResource line is intended to be a free, confidential service to help employees and their families get answers to a variety of questions or provide resources on a variety of topics including housing, child care, transportation, grief, elder care, education and more," McComb said.

A flier for the McResource line that hung a break room at a McDonald’s restaurant, according to a representative from the advocacy group, Low Pay Is Not OK.

"It made me mad [that I couldn't get help from the McResource line] because I thought that all the McDonald’s employees qualified for it," Salgado said in a phone call with HuffPost Thursday. McDonald’s did not clarify what percentage of its workers do qualify for its consultation services.

More than half of fast-food workers rely on public assistance, a reality that costs taxpayers more than $7 billion a year, according to an estimate from the National Employment Law Project published last week. McDonald’s low wages cost taxpayers about $1.2 billion annually, the study found.

McDonald’s announced on Monday that it earned $1.5 billion in profits in the third quarter, which is a 5-percent jump over last year.

In an emailed statement, McComb defended McDonald’s wages.

"McDonald’s and our independent franchisees provide jobs in every state to hundreds of thousands of people across the country. Those jobs range from entry-level part-time to full-time, from minimum wage to salaried positions, and we offer everyone the same opportunity for advancement,” she wrote.

"We’re working for one of the richest employers," Salgado said. Their response to her inquiry, she added, shows that they admit they don’t pay their workers enough to get by.

The Case for More Trade Unions and a Popular Front vs Finance Capital – If You Needed One…

June 19th, 2013 by admin | Comments Off | Filed in financial crisis, trade unions, Unemployment

Big Lie: America Doesn’t Have #1 Richest Middle-Class in the World…We’re Ranked 27th!

By Les Leopold

Progressive America Rising via Alternet.org

June 18, 2013 – America is the richest country on Earth. We have the most millionaires, the most billionaires and our wealthiest citizens have garnered more of the planet’s riches than any other group in the world. We even have hedge fund managers who make in one hour as much as the average family makes in 21 years!

This opulence is supposed to trickle down to the rest of us, improving the lives of everyday Americans. At least that’s what free-market cheerleaders repeatedly promise us.

Unfortunately, it’s a lie, one of the biggest ever perpetrated on the American people.

Our middle class is falling further and further behind in comparison to the rest of the world. We keep hearing that America is number one. Well, when it comes to middle-class wealth, we’re number 27.

The most telling comparative measurement is median wealth (per adult). It describes the amount of wealth accumulated by the person precisely in the middle of the wealth distribution—50 percent of the adult population has more wealth, while 50 percent has less. You can’t get more middle than that.

Wealth is measured by the total sum of all our assets (homes, bank accounts, stocks, bonds etc.) minus our liabilities (outstanding loans and other debts). It the best indicator we have for individual and family prosperity. While the never-ending accumulation of wealth may be wrecking the planet, wealth also provides basic security, especially in a country like ours with such skimpy social programs. Wealth allows us to survive periods of economic turmoil. Wealth allows our children to go to college without incurring crippling debts, or to get help for the down payment on their first homes. As Billie Holiday sings, “God bless the child that’s got his own.”

Well, it’s a sad song. As the chart below shows, there are 26 other countries with a median wealth higher than ours (and the relative reduction of U.S. median wealth has done nothing to make our economy more sustainable).

Why?

Here’s a starter list:

  • We don’t have real universal healthcare. We pay more and still have poorer health outcomes than all other industrialized countries. Should a serious illness strike, we also can become impoverished.
  • Weak labor laws undermine unions and give large corporations more power to keep wages and benefits down. Unions now represent less than 7 percent of all private sector workers, the lowest ever recorded.
  • Our minimum wage is pathetic, especially in comparison to other developed nations [3]. (We’re # 13.) Nobody can live decently on $7.25 an hour. Our poverty-level minimum wage puts downward pressure on the wages of all working people. And while we secure important victories for a few unpaid sick days, most other developed nations provide a month of guaranteed paid vacations as well as many paid sick days.
  • Wall Street is out of control. Once deregulation started 30 years ago, money has gushed to the top as Wall Street was free to find more and more unethical ways to fleece us.
  • Higher education puts our kids into debt. In most other countries higher education is practically tuition-free. Indebted students are not likely to accumulate wealth anytime soon.
  • It’s hard to improve your station in life if you’re in prison, often due to drug-related charges that don’t even exist in other developed nations. In fact, we have the largest prison population in the entire world, and we have the highest percentage of minorities imprisoned. “In major cities across the country, 80% of young African Americans now have criminal records” (from Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness).
  • Our tax structures favor the rich and their corporations that no longer pay their fair share. They move money to foreign tax havens, they create and use tax loopholes, and they fight to make sure the source of most of their wealth—capital gains—is taxed at low rates. Meanwhile the rest of us are pressed to make up the difference or suffer deteriorating public services.
  • The wealthy dominate politics. Nowhere else in the developed world are the rich and their corporations able to buy elections with such impunity.
  • Big Money dominates the media. The real story about how we’re getting ripped off is hidden in a blizzard of BS that comes from all the major media outlets…brought to you by….
  • America encourages globalization of production so that workers here are in constant competition with the lower-wage workers all over the world as well as with highly automated techonologies.

Is there one cause of the middle-class collapse that rises above all others?

Yes. The International Labor organization produced a remarkable study (Global Wage Report 2012-13) [4] that sorts out the causes of why wages have remained stagnant while elite incomes have soared. The report compares key causal explanations like declining bargaining power of unions, porous social safety nets, globalization, new technologies and financialization.

Guess which one had the biggest impact on the growing split between the 1 percent and the 99 percent?

Financialization!

What is that? Economist Gerald Epstein offers us a working definition [5]:

“Financialization means the increasing role of financial motives, financial markets, financial actors and financial institutions in the operation of the domestic and international economies.”

This includes such trends as:

  • The corporate change during the 1980s to make shareholder value the ultimate goal.
  • The deregulation of Wall Street that allowed for the creation of a vast array of new financial instruments for gambling.
  • Allowing private equity firm to buy companies, load them up with debt, extract enormous returns, and then kiss them goodbye.
  • The growth of hedge funds that suck productive wealth out of the economy.
  • The myriad of barely regulated world financial markets that finance the globalization of production, combined with so-called “free trade” agreements.
  • The increased share of all corporate profits that go to the financial sector.
  • The ever increasing size of too-big-to-fail banks.
  • The fact that many of our best students rush to Wall Street instead of careers in science, medicine or education.

In short, financialization is when making money from money becomes more important that providing real goods and services. Here’s a chart that says it all. Once we unleashed Wall Street, their salaries shot up, while everyone else’s stood still.

Do we still know how to fight!

The carefully researched ILO study provides further proof that Occupy Wall Street was right on the money. OWS succeeded (temporarily), in large part, because it tapped into the deep reservoir of anger toward Wall Street felt by people all over the world. We all know the financiers are screwing us.

Then why didn’t OWS turn into a sustained, mass movement to take on Wall Street?

One reason it didn’t grow was that the rest of us stood back in deference to the original protestors instead of making the movement our own. As a result, we didn’t build a larger movement with the structures needed to take on our financial oligarchs. And until we figure out how to do just that, our nation’s wealth will continue to be siphoned away.

Our hope, I believe, lies in the young people who are engaged each day in fighting for the basic human rights for all manner of working people—temp workers, immigrants, unionized, non-union, gays, lesbians, transgender—as well as those who are fighting to save the planet from environmental destruction. It’s all connected.

At some point these deeply committed activists also will understand that financialization both here and abroad stands in the way of justice and puts our planet at risk. When they see the beast clearly, I am confident they will figure out how to slay it.

The sooner, the better.


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/economy/americas-middle-class-27th-richest

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/les-leopold
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_minimum_wages_by_country
[4] http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_194843.pdf
[5] http://www.peri.umass.edu/fileadmin/pdf/programs/globalization/financialization/chapter1.pdf
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/middle-class
[7] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B