2011: Labor’s Last Stand Against Corporate Control of America
Barack Obama, the candidate, may have promised “fundamental change” for America, but President Obama has worked very hard to protect and promote business as usual. Every small incremental ‘victory’ since the beginning of the Obama presidency has been granted only with huge concessions to corporations and the wealthiest percent or two of Americans.
Obama’s capitulation on health care reform, without even attempting to stand for single-payer or medicare for all leaving the insurance companies in the drivers seat, was the first obvious blow to the Obama fantasy. Premiums have increased and more Americans are without health insurance than before. Corporations and corporate funded conservative PACs have been allowed to dictate the narrative without the slightest rebuttal of any substance from the Obama administration or the Democrats. The ability to give more money to insurance companies in order to keep adult children insured, or to pay insurance companies for the privilege of not being dropped, is supposed to be a monumental victory worth celebrating.
Wall Street and the financial sector have been allowed to reap incredible profits after robbing American taxpayers, crashing the economy, and throwing people out of their homes. The only culprit that has yet to face any sort of justice for their actions is Bernie Madoff, who made the mistake of stealing from the rich rather than robbing the working-class like the rest of his peers. Angelo Mozilo, CEO and co-founder of Countrywide Financial Corps, was allowed to go free without any indictments, or criminal charges, for his role in crashing the housing market and throwing millions of Americans out of their homes and onto the street after he paid a $67.5 million out of court settlement… a minor fraction of his profits from exploiting America’s working class.
The very same individuals that wiped out the pensions of American workers and threw them out of their homes are now gleefully reporting record profits, grotesque bonuses, and throwing fund-raising dinners for their favorite politicians. As a result, every budget proposal, federal or state, is geared at concentrating more wealth to the upper 1% and placing a larger tax burden on the poor and middle class.
The fact that the health of the economy is gauged by how well the wealthiest one or two percent of Americans are doing simply adds insult to injury. Millions of Americans are still unemployed and millions more still stand to lose their homes but the trading floor on Wall Street is looking better. The economy has been turned upside down. Rather than serve the needs of society we’ve allowed ourselves to be convinced that society serves the needs of the economy that benefits only a few. A deficit created by foreign wars, expansion of empire, speculative investments, and predatory capitalism is now supposed to be funded on the backs of the poor and the working class.
Obama was complicit in the Bush tax cut extensions and his new budget proposal provides even greater benefits to the wealthy at the expense of the working class. Ninety eight percent of the super rich will have their taxes lowered while two thirds of the country’s poor and lowest wage earners will have their taxes increased. Services will be cut for the American working class but the estates that have been accumulated by the wealthy will be protected from any tax burden.
This will allow the wealthiest Americans to maintain their moneyed class, in-perpetuity, and increase the divide between the very few haves and the mass of have-nots until the chasm is insurmountable.
The American budget is packed with protections and benefits for billionaires and austerity measures for everyone else. While the extremely small group of America’s mega-rich are able to celebrate their great and increasing fortunes, America’s workers are being pitted against each other to fight over crumbs.
Non-union workers are being led to believe that unionized workers are the evil ones soaking the American budget. Public service union benefits are nothing compared to the tax breaks reserved for the corporations and wealthy individuals that have profited from the pain of the American working class. Rather than fight against the unions that have brought us eight hour work days, paid sick leave, worker safety protections, and an end to child labor exploitation, we should be working with them to extend those benefits and more, to the entire American workforce.
The narrative seems to be that equality only counts when it relates to an equal devaluation of labor. Unionized workers are accused of being wrong if their labor is valued higher or if their benefits are greater instead of saying that employers are wrong for devaluing private sector labor in order to increase their profits. Why are private sector employees not seen as deserving more pay, or better working conditions, or collective bargaining power? Why have they allowed themselves to be convinced that the measure of their worth is in the bank accounts of their corporate masters rather than the quality of their own lives?
The situation in Wisconsin is a microcosm of what is going on across the entire nation, and the beginning of a battle that will have to be waged from coast to coast. Two weeks after passing a bill that provides $150 million in tax cuts to corporations and the states wealthiest, the state government has turned around and decided to recoup those costs from the wages and benefits of the working class. It’s that simple. Steal from the poor to give to the rich…. from Wall Street, to Washington, to Madison Wisconsin, this is what is happening.
If you add the campaign to break the unions to the blatant theft of America’s wealth you can see the greatest concession to America’s corporations and moneyed class of all. The destruction of organized labor. The ultimate disenfranchisement of the working class… not only with their employers, but politically as well. The government in Wisconsin not only proposes cutting wages and benefits to public employees but wants to end collective bargaining. This will be repeated, state by state, from coast to coast. Without organized labor the only forces lobbying politicians, and supporting political campaigns, will be corporate.
Last year’s United States Supreme Court ‘Citizens United’ decision (that allows corporations the rights of person-hood, and protected free speech to be exercised by unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns) combined with the current effort to end organized labor (the only source of political campaign funding of any substance on behalf of the working class) will set all American workers and wage earners back to where they were before the 1930’s and the advent of labor unions and collective bargaining. Corporations will completely own the political process and the American worker will be helpless.
Wisconsin is just the beginning. The battle is for the entire nation and whether America is of-by-and for the people, or, of-by-and for the corporations and the moneyed class.
Forty four (44) states have said they are in financial trouble and twenty one (21) of them have republicans in control of both houses and the governors office, like Wisconsin. While the Democrats end up giving the financial sector, the corporations, and the wealthiest Americans (who all fund their campaigns) mostly what they want in the end, Republicans, for a variety of social and cultural reasons, aggressively pursue policies that will maintain traditional wealth disparities and the disenfranchisement and devaluation of labor, much like the Antebellum South.
This is about to be a coast to coast battle for the future of this country. Will it be sold to the corporations to turn it into one large plantation or company town? Or will Americans join the rest of the world in fighting for their individual freedoms and personal sovereignty?
At first, I mocked the comparison between Egypt and Madison because of the lack of risk to the Madison crowd compared to the Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Yemeni, and now Libyans. But, fundamentally, there is a great deal of similarity. Both in Cairo and Madison people are fighting for the value of their labor, a share in their natural resources, the right to make a living and feed themselves and their families, and the right to have a say in their government and the decisions that effect their lives.
All are fighting against the same empire and the same form of exploitative capitalism. Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, et al, are fighting to end the exploitation of their labor and political disenfranchisement while Americans are fighting to hold on to the last protections they have from becoming third world citizens in a first world plantation. Americans are beginning to understand the appetite of the corporate empire’s cannibalistic greed. It’s not as easy to turn a blind eye when you become the banana republic or exploited work-force.
The old-world nobility, and the dictators that have been propped up in other counties, have been in America’s case, simply replaced by a plutocracy and oligarchy– the corporations and the wealthy. Same shit, different place, different day. The many work to service the few, and the rich are protected while the masses are left to fight over how to divide the crumbs.
People are realizing that the game is rigged and that their chance to correct it is fleeting. The rich are getting richer while everyone else is being asked to work harder, get paid less, and receive less for their tax contributions. Democrat or Republican in control, it makes very little difference. The entire system has been corrupted.
When will Americans realize that they are not exceptional in the eyes of the wealthy, the banks, and the corporations?
When will Americans realize that they have allowed themselves to become nothing more than a resource to be exploited for profit?
When will Americans realize that their government has been subverted and no longer serves their interest?
It’s painfully clear what has been happening. The American worker keeps getting hit while the rich get richer and the wealth of the nation becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. That wealth has then been used to corrupt the political system and further their agenda, increase their wealth even more, and disenfranchise the working class. They are holding the nations economy hostage and no one has the courage to rip it away from them and give it back to the people to whom it belongs; the workers, the citizens, the American people.
When will Americans realize that they have more in common with Egyptians, Tunisians, and Libyans than they do with Wall Street and Wall Mart?
Schemes, just like the one in Wisconsin, to crush America’s working class, are under way in Ohio, California, New York, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and eventually most, if not all, other states, unless the momentum from Wisconsin is built on and America’s workers take a stand. Union leadership has been no less corrupted by corporate money and political power than any other part of the system. The workers themselves need to discover the solidarity required to protect what previous generations fought, bled, and died for.
Thousands of public workers have protested in Columbus, Ohio, against a similar law being pushed by Governor Kasich. In Indiana, an estimated 600 steelworkers demonstrated at the capitol building in Indianapolis to protest against proposed ‘right to work’ legislation that would further gut worker’s rights.
A movement is building but will it gain enough strength before it’s too late? Labor in America, and the American worker, are facing a battle for their future, and the future of their country. Is the American worker, and the American people, up to the challenge? Can the financial take-over of America, and the enslavement of the American working class, be stopped before it’s too late? Have Americans finally decided that enough is enough?