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Make Them Accountable / David Podvin: LABOR DAY

David Podvin: LABOR DAY


By David Podvin

Another Labor Day has arrived, making it the perfect time to examine how American workers are victimized by those who pledge friendship. Conservatives never betray laborers, if only because it is impossible to betray people you openly despise. It is progressives who seduce the working class with false promises of fidelity.

In recent decades, American workers have seen their wages steadily lose ground to inflation while the monied elite have prospered. The national distribution of wealth now skews higher than ever, the byproduct of tax policies and trade agreements and illegal immigration. Conservatives have faithfully promoted the interests of the GOP’s aristocratic benefactors while liberals have failed to represent the peasants who vote Democratic.

When the Democrats took control of Congress, new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proclaimed that working people had won a great victory. Thus far, that victory has yielded a largely symbolic minimum wage increase benefiting entry level service industry employees and few others. The Democratic Congress refuses to consider repealing the Bush tax cut that provided the upper class with cash and the working class with debt. The Democrats still support trade agreements that encourage business to replace American blue collar workers with foreign slave labor.

Then there is illegal immigration, the means by which Corporate America is repealing the labor gains of the last century. Undocumented workers do not qualify for minimum wages or medical benefits or pensions or humane working conditions or the right to organize. They possess no rights, which is why business wants them here. The Democrats want them here on the theory that today’s illegal alien is tomorrow’s liberal voter. Consequently,  scheming Democratic politicians support immigration reform that will lure countless additional illegal aliens to take the jobs of loyal working class Democrats. Making matters worse, progressives smear as “xenophobic” those who view illegal immigration as a threat to the Democratic base.

Cesar Chavez viewed illegal immigration as the mortal enemy of the Hispanic American workers he spent his life defending. Chavez demanded that the Immigration And Naturalization Service deport undocumented laborers to shield lower income Americans from unfair competition. He defined illegal immigration as racketeering perpetrated by thuggish corporations.

Forty years later there has finally been a federal racketeering suit filed on behalf of the people Chavez loved. The plaintiffs are eighteen Hispanic Americans who earned twenty dollars an hour before losing their jobs to eighteen Hispanic illegal aliens who earn thirteen dollars an hour. With that illicit act, the Swift Company slashed wages in the meatpacking industry by thirty-five percent and eliminated worker benefits. As Chavez had warned, illegal immigration is crippling the working class.

Cesar Chavez was not xenophobic. He was a champion for Hispanic American laborers who are now without a champion. In fact, all American workers lack someone to fight on their behalf. Like the Democratic Party, labor unions welcome illegal immigration as a valuable source of new membership…. current membership be damned. Battered by decades of an increasingly hostile political environment, unions are more preoccupied with survival than with protecting the rank and file.

The upcoming presidential election will not provide workers with the chance to elect the advocate they desperately need. The Republican Party continues to view the working class as financial prey. The GOP presidential candidates are corporate functionaries who insist that the answer is to transfer wealth upwards, irrespective of what the question may be.

The Democratic candidates are marginally better, if “better” is the appropriate term to describe people who betray their supporters. Whenever Hillary Clinton triangulates (which is more often than not), the interests of her voters are sacrificed to benefit her ambition. Since entering the Senate, Hillary has been busy finding common cause with munitions manufacturers who desire war and media moguls who crave deregulation. Attending to these priorities has left Ms. Clinton without time to help the poor working slobs who elected her.

The relevant characteristic of Barack Obama is not that he is black but that he is so very eager to ream working class blacks. The senator supported the misnamed “Bankruptcy Reform Bill” that redistributed vast sums to corporations from lower income wage earners who are disproportionately African American. Inspirational rhetoric notwithstanding, the only black people who matter to Senator Obama eat lunch in the executive dining room.

Al Gore is the one politician who could lead the United States towards a more just economic system. When he ran in 2000 Gore courageously laid it on the line, framing the debate as “the people versus the powerful”. He declared that the federal government should actively promote the economic interests of the common citizen. When Corporate America concluded that Gore was actually sincere its media subsidiaries conducted the journalistic equivalent of carpet bombing the Democratic nominee. Thanks to populism’s enormous appeal Gore won the election anyway, but then his victory was nullified by the business wing of the United States Supreme Court.

That corporate coup d’état has been devastating to working Americans. The Bush administration has accumulated massive debt while reducing upper income tax rates, leaving John Q. Public with a staggering financial liability. Illegal immigration has increased, and the exodus of manufacturing plants has accelerated. The prohibitively expensive Iraq War impoverishes the average taxpayer as it enriches the average  conglomerate.

Bush is just doing what Republicans do, which is to whore for Big Business. Democrats are supposed to stop them, but this is the part of the script that has apparently gotten smudged. The guys in the black hats are still very bad, but the guys in the white hats are no longer very good. The faithless Democratic Party has helped conservatives do Corporate America’s bidding, even confirming business acolytes John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. As a result, if Gore sought and won the presidency again the corporatists would be well positioned to steal it from him again.

In all likelihood, Al Gore will not seek the presidency. Understandably, he is reluctant to experience another agonizing campaign in which triumph morphs into defeat . The man whom Americans elected their president seven years ago cares deeply about workers, but not deeply enough to endure the considerable grief that accompanies being their standard bearer.

And so, the working people of the United States are screwed. One major political party relentlessly abuses them, as does the other major political party. There is no organized movement to alter the unacceptable status quo. There is no white knight to fend off the robber barons. There is only the awesome power of the Fortune 500, a power so vast that business has already won the next presidential election. That means the average citizen has already lost, which means for working class Americans a bad situation is going to get worse.

Happy Labor Day!

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