Campaign finance ‘bribery’
at root of wealth inequality
Thomas E. Perez, just over a month on the job as Secretary of Labor. He was sworn in on July 23. Click image to enlarge.
WITH MONDAY BEING Labor Day in the U.S., our thoughts – and those of op-ed columnists – naturally have turned to the plight of American workers.
The timing of the nationwide strikes against fast food outlets last week was probably no accident. Fast-food eatery workers toil, in many cases, for the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour; an annual income, assuming a 40-hour workweek of $15,080.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau this is a grand total of $120 per year above the poverty threshold for a two-person household.
The minimum wage has not been adjusted since 2009, according to the Department of Labor.
As the purchasing power of the minimum wage has declined over time, the American Dream of rising prosperity for everyone is falling further and further out of reach for millions.
ACCORDING TO A study of the inflation adjusted minimum wage at Oregon State University the 2012 minimum wage was equal to the wage paid 52 years ago, in 1960.
Indeed many states do have higher minimum wages than the federal minimum. Washington’s minimum wage is highest, at $9.19, and Oregon’s is second at $8.95.
Minimum wage rates are all over the map, as this one from the U.S. Department of Labor shows. Click image to enlarge.
But a map depicting variations by state at the Department of Labor shows the wide disparities.
Four states have minimums lower than the federal one, and five have no minimum wage at all.
Reporting on the strike last week in Fast food strike takes over 60 cities Tarini Parti at Politico wrote:
“Thousands of fast-food workers nationwide are taking the fight for higher wages directly to their corporate employers after seeing little hope in Congress for increasing minimum wage.
“Workers at fast-food chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC in at least 60 different cities began their strike Thursday, which has been dubbed “National Strike Against Low Pay Day.”
Well, it should come as no surprise that these workers are asking for a raise. They want $15 per hour.
We have written several times in this space how income and wealth inequality is destroying the American dream, most recently on Aug. 4 in Inequality makes U.S. look like a third-world country
What is often overlooked is that the minimum wage and income inequality in general is a political – rather than economic – issue. It is the result of less political clout for workers now than at any time in almost a century.
This was barely hinted at in the Politico story
“Several members of Congress, who support increasing the minimum wage but realize they don’t have enough support to pass reform, will be joining the workers in different cities.”
President Obama has proposed raising the federal minimum on several occasions; his most recent goal is $9 per hour.
The Politico article on last week’s fast food worker strike that hit some 60 cities across the U.S. Click image to enlarge.
BUT, THE REAL SOLUTION lies elsewhere – in restoring the political power of workers. We saw the potential of this briefly in the uprisings of the summer and fall in 2011 with the Occupy (Everything) movement, but the energy it so promisingly generated in cities large and small has dissipated.
A novel idea was floated Monday by Harvard Law Professor Benjamin I. Sachs, in his op-ed A New Kind of Union in The New York Times.
His first observation is astute and appalling.
“[T]he poor and middle class are in an equally serious, if less well recognized, political predicament: the government has become almost entirely unresponsive to them,” Sachs writes.
“This [is] a profound political failure. A democracy in which government policy responds to the rich and not to the poor or the middle class is a democracy unworthy of the name.”
He is absolutely right. And the reason government is unresponsive (there’s little hope of Congressional action on a minimum wage increase in the foreseeable future) to the poor and middle class is one that I have said before is at the root off “all evil:” the legalized system of bribery known as campaign finance.
In proposing that workers be allowed, at the workplace, to form strictly political unions, Sachs then notes:
“Campaign-finance reform has failed because it does nothing to address the underlying disparities in wealth distribution that produce political inequality in the first place. Legal reforms that enable political organizing are fundamentally different because organization, like wealth, is its own source of political power.
“Allowing workers to organize for politics, even when they decide not to organize for collective bargaining, would help restore balance to a democracy that wealth has so badly skewed.”
This is an exceptionally good idea, with one exception. Who is it that can – or could – do the “allowing”?
Well, we’re back at square one, again.
It is only Congress that could pass such legislation allowing for the formation of strictly political “unions” that are voluntary and not involved in collective bargaining at all.
Don’t hold your breath.
Those 535 individuals are such captives of the special interests this concept is DOA. Alas.
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