Why I prefer union organizing over #FightFor15 and Universal Basic Income
Don't get me wrong. I don't oppose raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Nor do I oppose the idea of a Universal Basic Income.
Both ideas are better than what we have now, and I'll be happy if either or both are implemented.
However, there is a flaw with both ideas that I just can't overlook:
Neither of these proposals empower the workers.
After watching several videos of economist Richard Wolff, I've come to the conclusion that he's right. We need to think bigger.
The important concept here is "power".
Power is everything. Just think back to your last job interview and you'll get the idea.
Power is the reason why workers formed labor unions in the first place. When you are alone against the company you have no power.
This is why I'd much rather see legal obstacles to forming labor unions be swept aside, rather than expend our limited energy and time on a one-time minimum-wage hike.
This goes double for Universal Basic Income, where workers would be forever dependent on the whims of whatever government bias of the time.
The other reason I believe we need to think bigger is because of just how bad things have gotten. Decades of class war have left U.S. workers disenfranchised and a domestic oligarchy that Russian oligarchs could only dream of.
“If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets.”
- Chris Rock
First of all, we have to acknowledge that poor people have no idea just how rich wealthy people are, and thus how poor they actually are.
The poor underestimate how much the rich earn, while the rich underestimate the poverty of the poor.
Some misperceptions appear extreme. For instance, among the 5 percent of U.K. respondents who said they or their family owned two homes, a whopping 40 percent thought they were in the bottom half of the income distribution. Meanwhile, 19 percent of Americans who said they had “often” or “sometimes” gone without enough food in the previous year placed themselves — implausibly — in the highest-earning half.
So how rich are wealthy people? To measure that accurately we have to stop talking about income inequality, which is a snapshot, and start talking about accumulated wealth inequality.
The conservative Hudson Institute in 2017 reported that the wealthiest 5% of American households held 62.5% of all assets in the US in 2013, up from 54.1% 30 years earlier. As a consequence, the wealth of the other 95 percent declined from 45.9% to 37.5%.
...If you only looked at data on income inequality, however, you’d see a different picture. In 2013, for example, the top 5 percent of households earned just 30% of all US income (compared with possessing nearly 63% of all wealth).
The next thing we must do is to put that wealth disparity into context.
One way to do that is a historical comparison.
One statistic cited by the Gilded Age documentary is that, by the time of that 1897 ball, the richest 4,000 families in the U.S. (representing less than 1% of the population) had about as much wealth as other 11.6 million families all together. By comparison, as of November 2017, the three richest individuals in the U.S. had as much wealth as the bottom half of the population.
To put it another way, wealth inequality is worse today than at any other time in American history.
Another more effective context is to compare that wealth to how much we are spending on the poor.
U.S. wealth increased by $8.5 trillion in 2017, with the richest 2% getting about $1.15 trillion (details here), which is more than the total cost of Medicaid (federal and state) and the complete safety net, both mandatory and discretionary, including the low-income programs that make up the social support package derisively referred to as 'welfare.'
...Another stunner: The richest 2-5%, those Americans with an average net worth of about $2.5 million, accumulated enough wealth in 2017 to pay for the safety net four times.
So the next time you hear that we can't tax the wealthy enough to pay for our social safety net programs, you know that it is a flat out lie.
Food stamps provide about $1.50 per meal for 42 million Americans, mostly children, the elderly, and the disabled, at a cost in 2017 of $64 billion. In the past year Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg have together accumulated over $64 billion in new wealth.
Jeff Bezos has used tax havens and high-priced lobbyists to avoid the taxes owed by his company
The natural and perfectly logical reaction to these facts is to yell, "tax the rich".
That would certainly help, and I would totally agree with it.
But like raising the minimum wage, it also falls short of what needs to be done.
Raising taxes on the wealthy can be undone by the very next Congress.
What the U.S. needs is a much more structural change.
Power needs to be taken from the wealthy and corporations and given to the working class.
Of course the wealthy will resist this, probably with violence, but extreme poverty is a form of violence as well.
One of the best points Professor Wolff makes is how we leave democracy aside when we go to work. Why? Why should we just accept that work is a democracy-free zone?
In Germany, and many of the nations in Europe, it is law that workers determine who sits on the Board of Directors, and German companies are kicking the asses of American companies.
If workers had a say in how the company runs, do you think they would approve of dystopian tracking-wear like Amazon? Or that the owner would be worth $110 Billion, while the workers live in their cars?
Maybe if we started thinking bigger, half of the population that doesn't vote might find a reason to vote. And then who knows what might happen.