Workplace Fairness

Menu

Skip to main content

  • print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

Working Life Episode 217: It’s All North Carolina – The Fight For 15 and the Campaign for a Progressive U.S. Senator

Share this post

It’s all about North Carolina today—the fight for better wages and the campaign to get a progressive person in the U.S. Senate, all of which is connected to my two guests today who represent the theme of the just-marked International Womens Day.

The sad outcome of the push to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour tells us two things. First, there is a big house cleaning needed to make way for politicians who actually care about workers. Second, no matter what happens in elections, we need to keep up the street heat to mobilize millions of people to stop the immorality of people working full-time but getting paid poverty wages while billionaires get even richer.

First up, then, is Precious Cole. Precious lives in Durham, North Carolina and works at Wendy’s. She has been working minimum wage jobs for half her life and, like millions of other workers, has, year after year, not been able to meet her monthly bills earning what is a poverty wage. Which is one reason Precious has become a key activist and leader in North Carolina Raise Up, the state branch of the national Fight for 15 and a Union network. She chats with me about her life and her activism.

Then, you may remember state Senator Erica Smith—she was a progressive who jumped into the 2020 North Carolina race for the U.S. Senate to challenge incumbent Republican Thom Tillis. But, the D.C. insiders shoved her aside, handpicking the most uninspired, dumb-as-a-brick candidate Cal Cunningham who, with piles of corporate and party-directed money, won the primary—and, then, proceeded to crash and burn, handing Tillis his re-election.

The 2022 election is a barometer for whether lessons have been learned. As the results of the Florida minimum wage ballot initiative showed—it passed overwhelmingly even as Joe Biden was losing the state—people are saying pretty clearly: give me a policy that puts money in my pocket and isn’t about supporting the rich over regular people, and I’ll vote for it whether you call it “progressive” or “a loaf of bread.” Erica is back for another Senate race, competing for the party primary nod for the seat that is opening up in 2022 with the retirement of Richard Burr. I talk with her about her campaign and the mood in North Carolina.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on March 10, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a political / organizing / economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years.


Share this post

Service + Solidarity Spotlight: Rockford United Labor Volunteers Answer Call for Vaccination Effort

Share this post

Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

A new COVID-19 vaccination site in Winnebago County, Illinois, has the capacity to vaccinate 2,500 people per day. But county officials organizing the program realized they needed help in setting up all those appointments. That’s when Winnebago County Board Chairman Joe Chiarelli put out a call for volunteers to Rockford United Labor President Sara Dorner (AFSCME), and she went to work finding groups to help out. “I reached out to the [American Association of University Women], League of Women Voters, NAACP and a lot of our partners in the community that we’ve worked with on other issues,” Dorner said. Those groups, along with The Salvation Army, Women’s March Rockford and Rockford Today Network, wasted little time signing up. “I’m watching the spots get filled up as I sit with my computer open,” Dorner said. Together, they logged 160 volunteer efforts, inoculating thousands of residents.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on March 10, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell  is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


Share this post

America Needs Infrastructure To Build Back Better

Share this post

Patricia McDonald layered on sweaters, socks and mittens and huddled under blankets for 15 hours as the temperature in her Duncanville, Texas, home plunged to 42 degrees last week.

Well after the water in her kitchen froze, McDonald decided she’d had enough and braved a hair-raising ride over snow-covered, ice-slicked roads to get to her daughter’s house several miles away.

The Dallas County probation officer was safe and warm there. However, McDonald couldn’t establish the computer connection she needed to check in with colleagues, and she worried about clients who had had fewer resources than she did for surviving the state’s massive power failure.

This isn’t merely a Texas problem. Failing infrastructure—from pothole-scarred roads and run-down bridges to aging utility lines and dilapidated water systems—poses just as big a threat to the rest of the country. 

Without a bold rebuilding campaign, Americans will continue to risk their well-being and livelihoods as the nation collapses around them.

McDonald, financial secretary for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9487, which represents hundreds of city and county workers in Dallas, grew increasingly angry knowing that it took just several inches of snow and frigid temperatures to knock out the Texas power grid and paralyze the state.

Some Texans, confronted with days-long power outages, slept in idling motor coaches that officials turned into makeshift warming centers or drove around seeking hotel rooms that still had light and heat.

Others hunkered down at home, melting snow to flush toilets after frozen pipes burst or heating rooms with generators and charcoal grills despite the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. A handful of people froze to death, including an 11-year-old boy found lifeless in his bed.

But even as McDonald and other Texans waited for power to be restored, police and firefighters in Philadelphia used rafts to rescue at least 11 people trapped by a torrent of water after a 48-inch main ruptured in the city’s Nicetown neighborhood. 

About two weeks ago, a utility worker in Oldsmar, Fla., averted disaster when he noticed that a hacker had taken over his computer and increased the amount of lye in the drinking water supply to dangerous levels. The security breach provided a chilling reminder that financially struggling water systems not only contend with lead-tainted pipes and failing dams but vulnerable computer systems that also require urgent improvements.

America cannot move forward if it continues falling apart. That’s why the USW and other labor unions are championing a historic infrastructure program that will modernize the country, improve the nation’s competitiveness and create millions of jobs while simultaneously enhancing public safety.

“There needs to be change,” said McDonald, one of millions affected by the blackouts that utilities hurriedly imposed because surging demand and equipment failures put the whole power grid seconds or minutes away from a catastrophic failure that could have left the state without electricity for months. 

A major infrastructure investment, such as the one President Joe Biden envisioned in his Build Back Better plan, will create jobs not only for the workers who build roads and bridges but for the Americans who manufacture aluminum, cement, fiberglass, steel and other items essential for construction projects.

Stronger, more resilient infrastructure will help America weather the ever more frequent, increasingly severe storms associated with climate change. That means not only upgrading power grids but encasing utility poles in concrete or relocating power lines underground. It also requires strengthening coastal barriers to guard against the growing hurricane damage that Texas and other states face.

Expanding broadband and rebuilding schools will ensure that children across the country have equitable access to educational opportunities. Investments in manufacturing facilities will enable the nation to rebuild production capacity decimated by decades of offshoring. 

And an infrastructure campaign will ensure local officials have the resources they need to manage growth, such as the huge expansion underway at the Electric Boat submarine shipyard in Groton, Conn.

Kevin Ziolkovski welcomes the business that the shipyard brings to his community. But Ziolkovski, who represents dozens of Groton Utilities workers as unit president of USW Local 9411-00, said it makes no sense for the federal government to continue awarding bigger contracts to Electric Boat without providing sufficient funds for related infrastructure.

Ziolkovski says Groton Utilities needs $3.5 million more just to construct a new water tank for the shipyard, one of its biggest customers. He also knows that Groton and other towns need funds to upgrade roads, sewerage systems, public transit and recreational amenities to accommodate the expected influx of workers and their families.

“If you want to see these multibillion-dollar nuclear submarines get built for the defense of the entire nation, you should support everything that goes into that, too,” said Ziolkovski, who sees a national infrastructure program as one solution and developed a briefing book on local infrastructure needs for Connecticut’s congressional delegation. 

McDonald, who returned to her home after three days to find the power back on but her neighborhood under a boil-water advisory, knows that other communities will suffer unless the nation embraces a rebuilding program.

It pains her to know that America fell into such disrepair that it cannot provide basic services, like power and safe roads, at the very time people need them most.

“There’s no excuse for this,” she said.

This blog originally appeared at Our Future on March 7, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).


Share this post

Can a Federal Job Guarantee Unite the Left?

Share this post

As left-wing economic policy proposals go, a federal job guarantee has never quite reached prime time status, despite the fact that the underlying idea has been around since at least 1944, when President Franklin Roosevelt proposed it as part of his ?“Economic Bill of Rights.” Now, with Democrats in control of the federal government and as the nation tries to emerge from the economic devastation of the pandemic, a progressive coalition led by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D?Mass.) is attempting to push a job guarantee into the political mainstream. 

Two weeks ago, Pressley introduced a resolution in Congress calling on the federal government to create a job guarantee program, run through the Labor Department, that would provide a job to anyone who wants one. (The fact that she introduced a resolution rather than a bill is a sign that this is just the beginning of a long process of building political support.) She frames the job guarantee as a powerful racial justice policy, citing the work of Sadie Alexander, the first black economics Ph.D. in America; of civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who called for a job guarantee more than 50 years ago; and of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, who both championed the idea. 

“The March on Washington has been, for most, just defined by the ?‘I Have a Dream’ speech. But it was a march for jobs and freedom,” Pressley said. ?“It’s time, if we’re really serious about a reckoning, that we enter into a third reconstruction to truly have a robust and just recovery from this pandemic, and a federal job guarantee should be a part of that. Economic justice is racial justice.” 

Pressley’s proposal would provide jobs paying at least $15 an hour, and offering standard benefits like health insurance and paid sick leave. She floats a number of examples of projects that could be accomplished by people employed in the program, including child and senior care, added school staffing, infrastructure and community projects, disaster relief, environmental sustainability work, and a revival of the WPA’s Depression-era public employment projects for artists and writers. While other grand economic reforms, like universal basic income, are often presented as replacements for our current structure of government benefits, Pressley is emphatic that the jobs guarantee would be purely an expansion?—??”a supplement to, not a substitute for”?—?our current social safety net and unemployment insurance. 

One alluring quality of a job guarantee is that it could fit snugly together with almost any other progressive priority. Its army of workers could improve public education and public healthcare. It could serve as the jobs program for Green New Deal projects. And given the correlation of poverty, unemployment and race in America, it would automatically have the effect of attacking the economic inequities that have only been exacerbated by the job losses and health impacts of coronavirus. 

“We just saw those very sobering jobs numbers come out. And they really prove the old adage: That when white America gets a cold, black folks get pneumonia,” Pressley said. ?“That is as literal as it is metaphorical. It’s true when it comes to Covid. It’s true when it comes to how our economy works.” 

A federal job guarantee would effectively serve to set the floor on the labor market?—?private employers would have to raise their pay and benefits to match or exceed those of the government in order to attract any employees. Seen in this light, it could be extremely attractive to labor unions: They would no longer have to fight to win anything less than what was provided by the government’s own jobs. 

“If you do a job guarantee correctly, and you build in certain requirements, you are setting a standard. It’s a little bit like having a minimum wage. You’ve got to lift the floor to raise the roof. You don’t want to have to be competing with the absolute lowest standard of work,” says Sara Nelson, the head of the Association of Flight Attendants and a vocal supporter of the policy. ?“What you legislate, you don’t have to negotiate.” 

Many unions spend time and effort fighting for diversity and against discrimination in the workplace, but Nelson points out that Pressley’s policy could stamp much of this discrimination in one fell swoop. ?“If you have an assumed rate of unemployment, that means you are not selecting people for certain jobs. And that gives room for discrimination,” Nelson says. A policy eliminating that accepted unemployment rate ?“doesn’t give any space for discrimination. It helps to close that racial and gender gap.” 

Nelson also points out that the federal job guarantee could be another way to achieve some of the provisions of the PRO Act—a bill that would radically improve America’s current labor laws and is a top priority of unions, but which is unlikely to pass in Congress unless the filibuster is done away with. The prospect of using a job guarantee to raise labor standards that have languished for decades could be an attractive incentive for organized labor to flock to the issue as its profile grows. 

As the public perception of what is ?“radical” continues to shift, it’s not unreasonable to imagine that a job guarantee could be the rare policy that naturally unites labor, environmentalists and racial justice activists all at once. Still, it will not advance in Washington without answering the inevitable ?“How will you pay for it?” question. The economist Darrick Hamilton estimated in 2015 that a federal job guarantee would have an all-in cost of around $50,000 per job?—?$750 billon to employ the 15 million unemployed at the peak of the Great Recession, though far less during normal years. That is a large number, but it is comparable to the U.S. defense budget, and less than half of the current coronavirus relief bill now making its way through Congress. 

Considering the far-reaching economic and social benefits that the elimination of unwanted unemployment would provide, that might be a bargain. And, as Pressley points out, the cost is a matter of perspective. ?“The reality,” she says, ?“is that we’re already paying for not having this policy.” 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on March 3, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere.


Share this post

God’s Work: Labor in the Church

Share this post

In this episode, we talk to Rev. Lindsey Joyce of the United Church of Rogers Park in Chicago and the Institute for Christian Socialism. We discuss Pastor Joyce’s life and path to being a full-time pastor and the community she serves. We also discuss the work of ministry: What is it like to be a worker who works in the church? What is the relationship between the higher calling?—?the vocation of being a pastor?—?and the daily labor that goes into fulfilling that role in the church and the community?

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on February 26, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvarez  is a writer and editor based in Baltimore and the host of Working People, ?“a podcast by, for, and about the working class today.” His work has been featured in venues like In These Times, The Nation, The Baffler, Current Affairs, and The New Republic.


Share this post

The Hidden Labor of Sex Work

Share this post


We’re back with Part II of our special mini-series on work and politics in the sex industry, guest-hosted by friend of the show Jessie Sage. Jessie is a writer, podcaster, phone sex operator, clip artist, and co-owner of Peepshow Media. In this rich and expansive two-part series, Jessie interviews sex worker, activist, writer, undocumented migrant, and DACA recipient from Honduras, Maya Morena. In Part II of their conversation, Maya and Jessie pick up where they left off last week and discuss the day-to-day labor that goes into being a sex worker, the images that sex workers have to maintain, and much more. To listen to part I, click here.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on February 17, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvarez  is a writer and editor based in Baltimore and the host of Working People, ?“a podcast by, for, and about the working class today.” His work has been featured in venues like In These Times, The Nation, The Baffler, Current Affairs, and The New Republic.


Share this post

New Survey From Broad Coalition Shows Overlapping Challenges of Racial, Gender, and Economic Injustice Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Share this post

Today, Color Of Change, National Employment Law Project, the TIME’S UP Foundation Impact Lab, and the Worker Institute at Cornell ILR released results from new survey research showing deep racial, gender, and economic disparities in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The data point to immediate worker needs and long-standing structural inequities that policymakers and employers must address.

“The outcomes workers are facing as a result of the pandemic are because of deeply embedded racism and sexism in the labor market and beyond — factors which are not new, but have been amplified over the course of this crisis,” said report co-author Dr. Rakeen Mabud, Director of Research and Strategy at TIME’S UP Foundation. “We stand at a tipping point to make our nation better, stronger, and more equal, but only if policymakers do not repeat the mistakes of the past.”

The national survey, which was conducted in late 2020 and oversampled Black and Latinx respondents, examines outcomes across overlapping determinants of worker wellbeing and power, including measures related to economic security, health and safety, and agency and voice in the workplace and beyond.

“While our challenges may seem unprecedented, the reality of today’s economy is all too familiar: women, Black and brown people, and those at the intersection are getting left behind by their employers, our government and by the healthcare system as a whole,” said Rashad Robinson, president of Color Of Change. “As Biden and Congress steer our nation through this crisis with the latest proposed package, this research shows that leaders in government must pay particular attention to marginalized communities. Funneling funds through big banks and corporate bailouts — schemes that leave out Black and brown workers — does not cut it. We need immediate, direct relief.”

The results demonstrate the profound and often compounding challenges that working people in the United States – particularly Black and Latinx workers, women workers, and those who are underpaid – are navigating in the workplace and beyond.

Some key findings:

  • Employers and government agencies are denying workers, and Black workers in particular, access to critical unemployment supports. Thirty-four percent of Black workers, 26% of Latinx workers, and 14% of white workers who applied for unemployment assistance were denied it.
  • Working women (17%) were more likely than working men (12%) to report that their household had trouble paying bills before the pandemic began, and a larger share of women (45%) than men (38%) reported increased challenges covering household expenses since then.
  • Black and Latinx workers are most concerned about employer retaliation for speaking up about unsafe workplace conditions. Thirty-four percent of Black workers and 25% of Latinx workers reported concerns about employer retaliation, compared to 19% of white workers.
  • Almost half of Black workers (48%), nearly a third of Latinx workers (29%), and many Asian workers (15%) fear receiving substandard health care due to their race if they become seriously ill, compared to 4% of white workers.
  • Support for Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements transcends race, gender, and socioeconomic identity. More than half of men (61%) and women (68%) expressed support for #metoo, and 58% and 64% of men and women support Black Lives Matter.
  • Sixty-two percent and 61% of non-union Black and Asian workers, respectively, said that they would definitely or probably support a union at their job, compared to 42% of white workers and 44% of Latinx workers. However, union membership stands at 8% to 12% across these groups, woefully out of step with these levels of support.

“The survey results speak to the enormous challenges people have experienced in healthcare institutions, voting systems, and the world of work. They also point to a broad-based desire for voice at work and support for movements advancing racial and gender justice,” said report co-author Sanjay Pinto, Fellow at the Worker Institute at Cornell. “We need responses that confront racial, gender, and economic disparities across different systems, both through policy and the power of collective action.”

This group of partners will remain focused on worker wellbeing and power through the pandemic and its aftermath, working with worker-led organizations and policymakers to support cross-cutting, equity-focused interventions that advance a just recovery: one that supports lasting security, safety, and agency in the workplace and beyond.

“The Just Recovery Survey offers both sobering and hopeful new indicators measuring the impact of the pandemic and economic crisis on working people, and provides new insight into the particular challenges confronting Black, Latinx, women, and low-paid workers, and those in frontline occupations,” said report co-author Maya Pinto, senior researcher and policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project. “Results underscore the urgent need for policymakers and employers to support and implement the policies workers need and demand, to build worker power and ensure health and economic security for all.”

Read the complete survey findings at bit.ly/justrecoverysurvey

###

This blog originally appeared at NELP on February 3, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About Color Of Change
Color of Change is the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. We help people respond effectively to injustice in the world around us. As a national online force driven by over 7 million members, we move decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America.

About National Employment Law Project
The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting underpaid and unemployed workers. For more about NELP, visit www.nelp.org. Follow NELP on Twitter at @NelpNews.

About TIME’S UP Foundation
The TIME’S UP Foundation insists upon safe, fair, and dignified work for all by changing culture, companies, and laws. We enable more people to seek justice through the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund. We pioneer innovative research driving toward solutions to address systemic inequality and injustice in the workplace through the TIME’S UP Impact Lab. And we reshape key industries from within so they serve as a model for all industries. The TIME’S UP Foundation is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

About the Worker Institute at Cornell
The Worker Institute at Cornell works to advance worker rights and collective representation through research, education, and training in conjunction with labor and social justice movements. We seek innovative solutions to problems faced by working people in our workplaces and economy today.


Share this post

Jeffrey Wigand: The Tobacco Whistle- Blower

Share this post

Years after disclosing the deepest, darkest, tobacco industry secret, whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand remains as outspoken as ever. He still believes in the fight against tobacco. He is still on the front line as a key educator on tobacco dangers. 

Wigand was a big tobacco executive who made the top news when he revealed the addictive and dangerous nature of cigarettes. His testimony in a Mississippi courtroom eventually led to a $250 billion litigation settlement by the tobacco industry. The case was dramatized in the 1999 film The Insider, starring Russell Crowe as Wigand. 

Some people regard whistleblowers as disloyal sell-outs. But Wigand believes he was loyal to ethics. People were suffering from lifetime diseases; something needed to be done to bring closure. 

It’s ethical to let people know what they are smoking and how it’s going to affect their health. Wigand felt hiding such information would be depriving people of the information they needed to freely choose to risk the harmful effects of tobacco.

Wigand told the truth. He told the world about what he saw and experienced as the Head of Research and Development at Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (B&W), one of the country’s top three tobacco companies. 

The company had been misleading consumers about nicotine’s addictive nature. The company ignored research on how the additives that help improve flavor caused cancer. The company’s actions led to the deaths and sickness of cigarette users. The company coded documents so they couldn’t be used in lawsuits. 

Wigand exposed the health problems caused by the tobacco industry’s disregard for the public’s safety and health in an interview with 60 Minutes, as well as in his compelling deposition against the tobacco companies. The anti-tobacco forces promoted Jeffrey Wingand as a heroic portrait in courage. 

The pro-tobacco lobbies were equally determined to taint Wigand’s reputation and demonize him. According to a New York Publication, B&W rep John Scanlon claimed Wingand was a bad guy: a habitual liar, a spousal abuser, shoplifter, and fraud. 

Lawyers for B&W were convinced they could break the hero with a multimillion-dollar campaign of litigation, bad press, and harassment, but they underestimated Wingand’s motivation. In addition to his rage at the company’s actions, he was outraged that he was attached to this intolerable situation. He wanted personal vindication. 

Now Wingand’s anti-tobacco crusade is penance for his long years of earning big bucks from tobacco. Then, everything was top class: an 8,000 square-foot house in a fancy neighborhood, golf club memberships, the best cars, the best schools for his kid. He even took his wife along on business trips. 

Then he left tobacco and went from an annual salary of $300,000 to $30,000 as a schoolteacher. He’s faced death threats and lost his wife and kids in the nasty divorce.

Wigand eventually left teaching for public speaking on the issue of smoking. He founded the nonprofit Smoke-Free Kids.

He always urges parents to get involved in making legislation and asking for more government funding to be directed toward tobacco control. 

Wigand knows that speaking out about the bad in society has a cost, but it also has its rewards.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoys writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. 


Share this post

The U.S. Economy Excels at One Thing: Producing Massive Inequality

Share this post

To grasp the sheer magnitude of U.S. economic inequality in recent years, consider its two major stock market indices: the Standard and Poor (S&P) 500 and Nasdaq. Over the last 10 years, the values of shares listed on them grew spectacularly. The S&P 500 went from roughly 1,300 points to over 3,800 points, almost tripling. The Nasdaq index over the same period went from 2,800 points to 13,000 points, more than quadrupling. Times were good for the 10 percent of Americans who own 80 percent of stocks and bonds. In contrast, the real median weekly wage rose barely over 10 percent across the same 10-year period. The real federal minimum wage fell as inflation diminished its nominal $7.25 per hour, officially fixed and kept at that rate since 2009.

All the other relevant metrics likewise show that economic inequality in the United States kept worsening across the last half-century. This happened despite “concerns” about inequality expressed publicly across the years by many establishment politicians (including some in the new Biden administration), journalists, and academics. Inequality worsened through the capitalist downturns after 1970 and likewise through the three capitalist crashes of this century (2000, 2008, and 2020). Nor did the deadly pandemic provoke soul-searching or policies adequate to stop, let alone reverse, the ongoing redistribution of income and wealth upward.

No advanced economics is required to grasp that divisions, bitterness, resentment, and anger flow from such a persistently widening gap between haves and have-nots. Among millions who search for explanations, many become prey for those mobilizing against scapegoats. White supremacists blame Black and Brown people. Nativists (calling themselves “patriots” or “nationalists”) point to immigrants and foreign trade partners. Fundamentalists blame those less zealous and especially the non-religious. Fascists try to combine those movements with economically threatened small-business owners, jobless workers, and alienated social outcasts to form a powerful political coalition. The fascists made good use of Trump to assist their efforts.

U.S. history adds a special sharpness to the search for explanations. The dominant argument for capitalism in the 20th century after the 1930s Great Depression was that it “produced a great middle class.” Real U.S. wages had risen even during the Depression. They were generally higher than elsewhere across the globe, and especially in comparison with those in the USSR. High wages showed the superiority of U.S. capitalism according to the system’s apologists in politics, journalism, and academia. Demolition of that middle class at the end of the 20th and into the new century pained especially those who had bought the apologies.

And indeed, the Great Depression and its aftermath had lessened inequality significantly, enabling such a defense of capitalism to have some semblance of validity. However, for that defense to be persuasive required two key facts to be forgotten or hidden. The first is that the U.S. working class fought harder for major economic gains in the 1930s than at any other time in U.S. history. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) then organized millions into labor unions utilizing militants from two socialist parties and a communist party. Those parties were then achieving their largest-ever numerical strengths and social influences. That is how and why together the unions and the parties won the establishment of Social Security, federal unemployment compensation, a minimum wage, and a huge federal jobs program: all firsts in U.S. history. The second fact is that capitalists in the 1930s and afterward fought harder than ever against each and every working-class advance. The “middle-class” status achieved by a large portion of the working class (by no means all and especially not minorities) happened despite not because of capitalism and capitalists. But it was certainly clever propaganda for capitalism to claim credit for working-class gains that capitalists tried but failed to block.

The reduction of U.S. economic inequality accomplished then proved temporary. It was undone after 1945. Particularly after 1970, capitalism’s normal trajectory of deepening economic inequality resumed through to the present moment. Simply put, capitalism’s basic structure of production—how it organizes its enterprises—positioned capitalists to reverse the New Deal’s reduction of economic inequality. Much of the temporary U.S. middle class is now gone; the rest is fading fast. Over the last half-century, U.S. capitalism brought inequality to the extremes surrounding us now. No wonder a population once persuaded to support capitalism because it fostered a middle class now finds reasons to question it.

In capitalist enterprises, tiny minorities of the persons involved occupy positions of leadership, command, and control. The owner, the owner’s family, the board of directors, or the major shareholders comprise such minorities: the class of employers. Opposite them are the vast majorities: the class of employees. The employer class determines, exclusively, what the enterprise produces, what technology it uses, where production occurs, and what is done with its net revenue. The employee class must live with the consequences of employers’ decisions from which it is excluded. The employer class uses its position atop the enterprise to distribute its profits partly to enrich itself (via dividends and top executive pay packages). It uses some of its profits to buy and control politics. The goal there is to prevent universal suffrage from moving the economic system beyond capitalism and the economic inequality it reproduces.

Deepening U.S. inequality flows directly from this capitalist organization of production—its class system. Occasionally, under exceptional circumstances, rebellious social movements win reversals of that inequality. However, if such movements do not change the capitalist organization of production, capitalists will render such reversals temporary. To solve the extreme inequality of U.S. capitalism requires systemic change, an end to capitalism’s specific class structure pitting employers against employees. If production were organized instead in enterprises (factories, offices, stores) that were democratized—one worker, one vote—as worker cooperatives, economic inequality could and would be drastically reduced. Democratic decisions over the distribution of individual incomes across all the participants in an enterprise would far less likely give a small minority vast wealth at the expense of the vast majority. The same logic that dispensed with kings in politics applies to employers in capitalism’s enterprises.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Richard D. Wolff is professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a visiting professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, in New York. Wolff’s weekly show, “Economic Update,” is syndicated by more than 100 radio stations and goes to 55 million TV receivers via Free Speech TV. His three recent books with Democracy at Work are The Sickness Is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or ItselfUnderstanding Marxism, and Understanding Socialism.


Share this post

Trump plan to politicize key civil service jobs has run out of time

Share this post

It looks like one of Team Trump’s last-minute efforts to destroy the civil service has fizzled. With less than a day to go, the plan to strip protections from tens of thousands of career federal employees hasn’t been put into effect at any federal agency. 

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Office of Personnel Management had rushed to list many of their jobs in the new Schedule F, a new classification for jobs involving policymaking. That means that career civil servants who have served under both presidents from both parties would be more like political appointees, vulnerable to being fired for insufficient loyalty. It’s a plan that would gut expertise in the federal government and remake it into Donald Trump’s loyalty-obsessed image.

But it’s a plan that, fingers crossed, isn’t going into effect anywhere. The Office of Personnel Management’s list of positions to move into Schedule F didn’t move forward, The Washington Post reports, and Budget Director Russell Vought reportedly told staff that there wasn’t time to put the changes into place at the OMB.

“It logistically was never going to be possible for this to be put into effect,” a senior administration official told the Post. The prospect was scary enough, though, that a lawyer for a federal workers union said, “I’m holding my breath until we’re out of the woods”—as in, when Trump is officially and finally out of office.

lf workers aren’t shifted into Schedule F before noon on Wednesday, then President-elect Joe Biden inherits an executive order calling for those changes, but nothing concrete to undo or be stuck with. It’s just a really good thing that Team Trump hasn’t been as competent as they have been evil—they’ve done enough damage as it is.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on January 19, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.


Share this post

Follow this Blog

Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via RSS

Or, enter your address to follow via email:

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.