Race to the Bottom
The other Saturday afternoon a volunteer knocked on my door. He was trying to get people to sign a postcard to our district councilman, on a pending ordinance to establish paid sick leave standards in the city. 40% of workers in my city get no paid sick leave, an appalling situation nationwide. How can anyone be such a cheap-ass to deny paid sick leave to workers? It’s barbaric that people should have to go to work sick because they can’t afford to miss a day, or could even lose their job. Many of them are working with the food we eat, in grocery stores or restaurants. America should be better than that.
This is just one symptom of a race-to-the-bottom mentality that permeates the top-down business and corporate culture. Right to work (for less) laws, the decimation of the unions, cutting back on other benefits, these are all part of the race downward. This ongoing attack on the middle class goes back to the Reagan years, where most of what’s bad about this country began. Conservatives have always hated FDR’s New Deal programs since they were passed in the 1930s. They seem to actually believe that society is more stable with a small elite class governing the remaining rabble. I seem to recall we fought a Revolutionary War to break free from those ideas. Now we have to do it again, but peaceably and legally.
Before Reagan, union workers were over a third of the work force; today it’s less than 10%. A single wage earner could earn enough to buy a home, take the family on an annual vacation, buy a new car every few years. Today both spouses can’t begin to have that kind of life. Before Reagan, worker productivity kept rising, and wages kept pace. About 1979 wages began to flatten, and have stayed that way. The minimum wage now has less buying power than it did 50 years ago. So what happened to all that profit from continual increases in productivity? It went to the fat cats in the upper 1%.
Thirty years of Reaganomics has created the largest wealth inequality of any of the developed nations, because it’s basically a psychopathic system, with the psychopaths in control. They don’t care who they hurt, they only care for more. It isn’t enough just to be rich; they have to be filthy stinking rich. It’s a form of obsessive compulsive behavior similar to hoarding. In this case what they’re hoarding is the wealth of a nation they couldn’t give a shit less about.
We are being sold the latest brand of snake oil. The corporatists tell us America must be competitive in a global economy. That’s Republican-speak, so allow me to translate. Americans must find a way to settle for 23 cents an hour, even if it means they have to put all the kids to work, too, even toddlers. If the Right ever gains control of Congress and the White House again, they’ll put a stake through the heart of the minimum wage law, and you can take that to their banks. The restaurant industry already has a way around it, tip credit. They can pay as little as $2.13 an hour, figuring the employee makes up the rest in tips. So we the customers are paying 70% of their wage. This is insane. The billionaire-funded smear campaigns against unions, teachers, and working people have been successful. That’s why you hear people angry that union workers are paid too much, they should be making the same as us. That’s the race to the bottom. They should be demanding the same wages as union workers. If a company doesn’t want to pay a living wage with benefits like accrued paid sick leave and vacation, they don’t deserve to be in business, period. A system that benefits only the rich hurts the rest of society. Keep that in mind, you silk-suited executive waiting for the tiramisu some kitchen employee sneezed all over, because they couldn’t afford to stay home (gee, I hope it’s not tuberculosis!). That’s what I call getting one’s just desert — Bon apetit.
Two examples of business practices will illustrate what I mean. There’s a drive-in chain called Dick’s, in the Seattle area. For decades they’ve been paying not the minimum wage, but a living wage, to their employees. As a result, the workers are happier and more productive. There isn’t a constant turnover that costs businesses extra to always be training new employees. Dick’s also pays their workers for volunteer work in the community. This business is investing in their workers and in the community at large. Plus, they contribute to the local tax base, which supports schools, police and fire departments, and so much more. By the way, Dick’s burgers are incredible; gourmet fast food, really. Better vibrations do make a difference.
Now let’s look at Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer. They sell toxic crap made in China. They usually get a tax abatement when they open a new store, so they don’t contribute to the local tax base, while forcing out small businesses that did. Their workers are paid so little most have to rely on both Medicaid and food stamps. Oh, but Wal-Mart is so much more profitable, you might say. To that I would answer that profits at the expense of workers and the community are actually a net loss for society.
The future of our country is graduating from college and already in debt of up to $100,000 or more, with a weak job market. We’re raising a whole new generation of indentured servants. And most new jobs are low wage without benefits. What a recipe for disaster. Conservatives accuse the Left of “class warfare,” but that war has been going on since the nation was founded, and the rich are winning. Americans are the most productive workers in the world, and we deserve to be paid a fair wage, with benefits. We’re not asking for wealth redistribution; the oligarchs have already done that, although theft is a better word for it. We are only asking for fairness. REAL Americans want the opportunity to race to the top, not the bottom.
Oh, does that sound too Marxist to some of you? Marx was obviously influenced by our Founders, with their notions of “a more perfect Union” and wanting to “promote the general Welfare.” In recent weeks President Obama talked about how the wealthy have “conspired against the middle class,” and Pope Francis spoke of “the dictatorship of the economy,” that it’s scandalous, and people should all share in the fruits of the Earth, and “not be satisfied with crumbs that fall from the table.” I guess the President and the Pope are Marxists, too.