Sunday, September 14, 2014

174.6 - Update: fast-food workers' strike

Update: fast-food workers' strike

Here's an update for you. Last week I said that fast food workers were planning another one-day strike to push for a living wage but it was kind of odd telling you much about it because it was to happen the day after I recorded the show - which meant that it hadn't happened yet when I did the show but would have happened by the time you saw the show.

Well, it's a week later, and it all happened and frankly I think it was terrific. Protests and strikes occurred in over 100 cities, involving thousands of workers at  places like McDonald's, KFC, Taco Bell, Wendy's, and more. There was nonviolent civil disobedience - generally sit-ins blocking traffic - at a number of sites. A representative of Fight for 15, the group organizing the walkout, said nearly 500 people had been arrested or cited - that is, given the equivalent of a traffic ticket without an arrest - during the actions.

This was a country-wide protest: Police arrested 47 people in Kansas City; 27 in West Milwaukee; 19 in New York City; 30 in Detroit; 11 in San Diego; 8 in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania; seven in Miami; three in Denver. Nineteen citations were issued in Chicago; 10 in Indianapolis; 13 in Hartford; 10 in Las Vegas.

Now, I will say that there are people who don't think the movement's goal of a living wage of $15 an hour is wise on the grounds that such a wage will encourage more highly-educated people to compete for those jobs, leaving the less educated even further behind. This "argument," I will note, is based on nothing but their own assumptions, one of which is that raising the wages for these low-paid workers, in effect creating a baseline for the prevailing wage in an area, would not affect other wages for other jobs in that same area, raising the wages for more skilled work with higher educational requirements, which would do away with that supposed incentive of more educated people to go flip burgers.

Still, the reason I mention that at all is that even some of those people will admit the strikes have been what one called "a stunning success," saying that, again quoting,
Kansas City
[f]or the cost of a few Super Bowl ads, the SEIU and some dedicated fast food workers have managed to completely rewire how the public and politicians think about wages.
As I noted last week, these strikes have been central to the effort to keep the twin issues of the minimum wage and wage inequality in the public debate even as corporate America, the rich, and many in government, to the extent those don't overlap, would rather not have us thinking about them.

And there is a lot to think about.

According to a survey by the Federal Reserve released last week, the gap between the richest Americans and the rest of the nation widened after the Great Recession, worsening the already-bad  income inequality in the US.

From 2010 to 2013, average income for U.S. families rose about 4 percent after accounting for inflation. All of the income growth was concentrated among the top 3 percent of earners, who sucked up 30.5 percent of all income.

Looking at wealth rather than income made it worse: In 1989, the richest 3 percent held 44.8 percent of the net worth in the country. By 2007 that was up to 51.8 percent and by 2013, it was 54.4 percent.

According to a new study out of the Harvard Business School, release September 8, that widening gap is "unsustainable" and will ultimately be damaging not only to the economy as a whole, but to the corporations that depend on it for their profit.

Even so, the same study concluded, the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon and workers will continue to struggle to make ends meet while corporations continue to reap the benefits of that inequality.

Janet Yellen
Although that study doesn't say this, one reason it's unlikely to get better without seeing people in the streets was found in the response of Fed Chair Janet Yellen - Janet Yellen was another of those "great choices" that we were all obliged to love because Obama nominated her and so this is what you get when you do that - Janet Yellen responded to evidence of growing income inequality by calling it a disturbing trend, attributing some of it to the weak jobs market but also to underlying trends like technology and globalization.

Note the passive voice. In other words, income inequality, she's saying, is not the result of conscious decisions by corporate leaders to maximize their profit by squeezing their workers, it's not the result of a decades-long right-wing campaign to contain, undermine, and ultimately destroy unions, it's not the result of any refusals or failures of the Congress and the White House - or the Fed - to address it, it's not, that is, the result of anything anyone actually did. It's all about disembodied "trends" such as "technology and globalization." Forces of economic nature not subject to or driven by human control or direction. It's "a disturbing trend," but hey, what can you do?

That's what you get when you forget that when it comes to the interests of corporate America and our economic elite, people like Janet Yellen are not on your side. Barack Obama is not on your side. The workers in the streets are on your side. And don't you forget it.

Sources cited in links:

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