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EDITORIAL: Workers Fighting Back

12/4/2013, 3 p.m.
The last decade has not been kind to American workers who have taken a beating, compliments of structural changes in ...
Courtesy of OUR Walmart

The last decade has not been kind to American workers who have taken a beating, compliments of structural changes in the economy, globalization, a labor union attacked and weakened by Republicans, a punishing recession and the 2008 housing crash and economic meltdown.

Wages and compensation for all but America’s most wealthy have remained stagnant for decades and overall, economic security for the middle class and working poor has corroded significantly. The Occupy Movement signaled the first indication of the willingness of different segments of society to take to the streets to voice their strident opposition to the policies and politics that created or exacerbated these social and economic conditions.

More than 46 million Americans are mired in poverty, even as the stock market soars to new heights, corporations, banks and pharmaceutical companies rake in record profits and the top one percent of the wealthiest Americans are awash in immense wealth.

Against this glum backdrop people could be forgiven if they just threw up their hands in frustration or curled up in a ball, but in cities across the United States, workers are fighting back. This despite the ruling elite – via the police – crushing the dissent and dispersing the Movement, and the Democratic Party appropriating vital parts of the Occupy message prior to the 2012 general elections.

People’s anger, rage and frustration, however, have not diminished.

On Black Friday, disgruntled workers participated in strikes and protests at 1,500 Wal-Mart stores around the country, including one in Alexandria, Va., which drew more than 200 protestors. OUR Walmart, an employee group backed by organized labor, is insisting that employees must be able to work a schedule that isn’t arbitrary, insufficient and unpredictable; that they have the opportunity to earn at least $25,000 a year; and protestors seek an end to what they say is Wal-Mart’s retaliation against activists.

As writer Richard Kirsch of the Next New Deal related in a Nov. 23 story, in Washington State, unionized workers at Boeing rejected a contract which traded job guarantees for concessions that would severely eat away the pay and benefits of younger workers.

The Boeing workers’ fight, he said, mirrors “the dramatic fight of fast-food workers for a minimal living wage, risking their jobs every time they take a day off to demonstrate, is one end of a corporate economy based on low wages, no benefits and no unions.That corporate strategy, aimed at maximizing profits, is destroying America’s middle class, wrecking the engine that powered the U.S. economy.”

“On the other end of the middle class are workers like Boeing’s, who have fought together through their union for the good pay, pensions, health benefits and job security that characterized the increased prosperity and lowered income inequality of America in much of the second half of the 20th century. But despite being a hugely profitable corporation, with dominance in the world aerospace market, Boeing is eager to follow the Wal-Mart/fast-food model of the 21st century economy.”

American workers gained a powerful new ally in Pope Francis, who in his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,” released last week, excoriated market-based capitalism.

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system,” the Pope said.

Politicians and their corporate overlords won’t walk away without a fight, which means workers must be vigilant, form coalitions and strategize to be successful in turning the woeful economic tide.