The Emotional Turf:
No two words in social discourse can trigger emotions as quickly as ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’. Diehard capitalists think that any form of social or environmental obligations are equivalent to ‘socialism’ or, even worse, communism. Most hard-core capitalists can’t tell the difference between the two.
Socialists, on the other hand, can’t figure out why capitalists get so worked up about sharing resources, constructing work around community-wide needs, and providing for the general welfare –so clearly stated in the Preamble to The U. S. Constitution.
Capitalism as we’ve known it, is dead. Industrial agricultural can’t survive without price-supports. Oil and oil prices are controlled by a cartel, major brands like Burberry burn through supply to avoid deflation. Large corporations skip out on paying taxes, costing each one of us to pay more money than we would have if they paid their fair share.
Amazon paid zilch tax on $11 billion in profits in 2018, in addition to numerous corporations, like Apple, that have domiciled over $1.75 trillion in non-taxable earnings overseas. They also negotiate tax breaks from cities on building office or distribution locations. Because in their minds, only suckers pay taxes.
Successful entrepreneurs today are living off the carcass of capitalism. Peter Thiel, co-founder of Pay Pal, in a feature article for the Wall Street Journal, stated “Competition Is for Losers”; monopolies, he noted, are far superior to the competition. The founders of Google, Facebook, and Amazon would agree. Microsoft was early to the game; found guilty of violating antitrust laws on all counts in 2002.
Perhaps the time has come for ‘no ism’: to revolt against what ‘is’, creating something new, more humane and equitable, breaking free of our mindsets and economic conditions. Our reality, after all, is not given by fate, we create it. We are more powerful than we think.
Under our current economic reality, your employer has a right to steal your time, undervalue it and waste your potential.
The truth of this is covered by economic labels such as ’fair market value of labor’, ‘minimum wage’, ‘and cost of living increases’. These labels are designed to convince you that you are being treated fairly and equitably under the law. Whose law?
Why is it acceptable to set the economic bar so low for so many, causing them to struggle to make a living? And why is the stock market able to rise steadily over the years, while the real economy is impoverishing most of us? Maybe it’s because of the consolidation of ownership: the top 10 percent of wealthy people own over 80 percent of the market.
Wage theft has also become a cost of doing business: each year employees file thousands of lawsuits struggling to reclaim monies owed to them by employers. Employees, according to the Huffington Post, had successful collections from employers totaling almost $9 billion dollars in 2015, and trends are on track to exceed this level today.
The computer revolution promised fewer hours and more promising work. That turned out to be a bust. 86 percent of males and 67 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week and are increasingly tied to work through their mobile phones and other devices. U.S. workers toil the longest number of hours annually of any industrialized country.
There are a limited number of fortunate individuals who are highly trained technical employees, or those who have been lucky enough to score an interesting job. For the majority of others, work tends to be cognitively bankrupt, thus driving a widespread desire for everyday people to become part of something meaningful.
The service economy, including retail, fast food, and restaurants, office jobs and processing paperwork, and assistant health professionals, have driven job growth over the last decade. Six out of ten job opportunities in this area are at the low end of the pay scale, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Real wage gains have been dead and gone for a number of years, even though unemployment has been low. Economists tell us this is not supposed to happen. Labor rates, theoretically, are subject to supply and demand; the lower the rate of unemployment (supply), the higher the rate of demand for labor and subsequently, labor rates. This has failed to materialize.
The average employee works more than 30 days to earn what a CEO earns in 1 hour. The wage-equity divide is by far the greatest in the U.S. compared to any Western economy. The good news is that plenty of money exists to share, even post Covid-19.
Reclaiming What’s Yours:
When you add the average productivity increase per employee since 1950 (400%) for example, and hold inflation constant for comparative purposes, employee’s standard of living should be four times what it is today, using data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is what’s called ‘flood up, trickle-down’.
In 60 cities across the U.S. employees—pre-COVID-19– were fighting to get minimum wages of $15.00 an hour. Periodic strikes against McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, and KFC were undertaken. Total CEO compensation at McDonald’s, for example, topped $18 million, or 1,939 times what the median employee made in 2019. Executives at fast food companies are among the highest-paid in the nation, according to Forbes magazine.
Theft of what’s yours is also rampant at companies like Amazon, which is now spying electronically on its employees who want to form a union. On Prime Day last July, a handful of Amazon workers at a fulfillment center in Shakopee, Minnesota, went on strike. It’s only the beginning. In Germany, 2,000 people participated in strikes at seven locations on the same day. Work speed-ups, low wages, and lack of decision-making authority are just a handful of the issues.
Imagine fighting a union—collective expression of wants– when your profit is over $11 billion. And economic studies of geographic areas where Amazon has built warehouses actually indicate a declining standard of living over ten years. Amazon bought Whole Foods for nearly $14 billion, and then proceeded to cut health benefits for part-time workers. The company is now marketing part-time work to individuals as ‘flexibility in controlling your hours’.
Corporations, for the most part, will use COVID-19 as an excuse to put employees on the defensive. Contract labor will skyrocket as companies avoid social obligations and providing benefits to full-time employees. The ‘gig’ economy or ‘side hustle’ will become increasingly necessary to augment income. Companies, in other words, will off-load their financial responsibilities onto the shoulders of their employees, causing them to scramble to make ends meet.
The Double Bind:
Then comes the double-bind: as soon as employees raise their voice to demand more pay, employers and economists alike sound the alarm of ‘inflation’, or start crying the blues of lower profits. Trying to increase financial control over one’s life is presented as a plague to be avoided at all costs.
Even Forbes magazine, hardly a bastion of radical thinking, featured an article capturing this reality, “Could America’s Wealth Gap Lead to A Revolt?”
1. Begin to ask questions: Why can’t we create a more equitable economy? What is the purpose of a corporation or economy if not to meet the needs of its participants and citizens? Do I really want to be financially insecure, at the whim of my employer or employers to come?
2. When you feel beaten down, get worked up: Find your voice individually and with others. Reach out, share, motivate yourself to say ‘no’ to low wages, lack of job security, and benefits, saying ‘yes’ to better representation, social connections to make a difference and well-thought-out actions with others
3. Join a union: According to Gallop polls over 60 percent of Americans approve of labor unions; and if you are 18-34 the number rises to 66 percent. Employees that belong to unions are better off on every major financial indices from a reduction of gender and racial pay gaps, higher pay overall, sponsored health plans, and retirement plans as well as protection from arbitrary dismissal (Read Steven Greenhouse’s book: Beaten Down, Worked Up, 2019; talk to friends at work and phone a union representative).
4. Become an activist: Speak out for equitable distribution of resources and against Amazon, better yet, don’t shop it. Those goods that you buy that you think are ‘low priced’ are really costing you more in subsidies and taxes than you know. It doesn’t deserve more of your money.
Protest low wages at your local/ fast food place of choice, join a Walmart picket line or start one; raise your voice on issues with co-workers at work, join a local political campaign, whatever your specific cause for economic justice, stay active.
5. Watch inspirational labor union movies and send links to friends. They are uplifting and a testament to what can be done. You can get a ready-made list of The Best Labor Union Movies of All Time at sandulligrace.com; John Becker, has done an excellent job curating a chronological order and short reviews of 18 great labor films. Three cheers for the courageous filmmakers who made these films.
6. Watch The Movie ‘Occupy Love’, and discuss it with friends. Released in late 2012, the filmmaker Velcrow Ripper travels to hot spots of revolt to explore how a crisis can create a love story; love meaning what’s real and truthful. It’s as timely today as it was eight years ago.