How The War on Workers Is Changing
The War on Workers is going on a 50-state tour. Ever since Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 striking air traffic controllers back on August 5th, 1981, and appointed labor-hostile Raymond Donovan as the first anti-labor Secretary of Labor in our nation's history, there’s been a War on Workers in America. While worker productivity has skyrocketed since Reagan stepped foot inside the White House, wages have remained stagnant.
And the remnants of Reagan's War on Workers have been so successful - even during Democratic administrations - that it’s not just keeping wages flat, it’s even starting to erode them. Since 2000, average worker take-home pay has been on a steady freefall, while pay for executives and CEO’s has soared off the charts. Thus, on the federal level, the War on Workers has been a huge success.
But while the War on Workers has been steadily eating away at the income of working-class Americans, its ultimate goal is to turn America’s activist working middle-class into a dispirited, disheartened, and disempowered working poor-class. To do that, the forces behind the War on Workers have to shift their focus to the state level, and do away with the last remaining state protections for workers.
That’s where the Koch Brothers and other conservative political power players come in. The Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity conservative front group, or AFP, has launched a massive campaign in Detroit, aimed at derailing that city’s proposed bankruptcy settlement.
AFP is contacting nearly 90,000 conservatives in Michigan, ironically most of them working-class people who people like the Kochs refer to as "useful idiots." AFP is urging their army of conservative "useful idiots" to oppose the bankruptcy settlement plan that would use $195 million in state money to help pay back former Detroit city workers the pension benefits that were taken out of their paychecks back in the day, and then stolen by Wall Street banksters in the Great Bush Crash of 2008.
In other words, the Koch Brothers and AFP don’t want the Detroit city employees to have pensions for their retirement - after all, they are "evil government employees." You know, firemen, police, sanitation workers - that sort of thing. And many of them are people of color, which is why trashing largely-black Detroit workers when talking to largely-white northern Michigan "conservative" AFP members isn't even slightly a racist dog-whistle, right?
Geez - "workers" and "Black" - for the conservatives kicking them upside the head is a two-for.
AFP has also threatened to run ads against any Michigan state legislators who vote in favor of the plan. Outside of Michigan, AFP plans to spend at least $125 million to help conservatives across the country win in November’s midterm elections, many of whom are helping to lead the way in the War on Workers.
As Corey Robin points out over at The New York Times, “Midterm elections at the state level can have tremendous consequences, especially for low-wage workers. What you don’t know can hurt you — or them.” Back in the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans took over control of the executive and legislative branches in 11 states.
As soon as they stepped in office, those same Republicans, with a little nudging from groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, began introducing bill after bill, which ate way at workers’ rights, and gave more power to their employers.
Take Republicans in Wyoming for example. In 2011, they introduced a bill that would have allowed restaurants to force their servers to pool their tips. The tips would then be redistributed among the non-serving staff. In most states, tipped workers are paid an hourly wage that is under the minimum wage, because the thinking is that they’ll make up the rest of the money with tips. Meanwhile, regular staff members are paid the minimum wage.
But, under the Wyoming legislation, by having servers pool their tips, and redistributing those tips to non-serving staff members, you would avoid having to pay non-serving staff members the minimum wage. The result? More poor working people! Basically, Republicans in Wyoming wanted employers to be able to take away money that their employees had rightfully earned.
A year earlier in Florida, Republicans tried to pass legislation that would have prevented any “county, municipality, or political subdivision of the state” from passing laws that were designed to cut down on wage theft. Meanwhile, Indiana, Mississippi, and Florida have all passed laws banning local governments from raising the minimum wage. And the list goes on.
All across America, conservative lawmakers are doing everything in their power to quash working-class Americans, thus destroying the integrity and vitality of our democracy by turning the middle class into the working poor. A functioning democracy requires a strong and functioning middle-class.
And despite what conservatives will try to tell you, unrestrained capitalism is not going to get us there, because unrestrained capitalism always produces a working poor-class, and not a strong middle-class.
To get a middle class, you must combine capitalism with government regulation and safety-net programs. It's really just that simple, and history tells the story over and over again. Instead of following the Kochs like sheep, Michiganders and the rest of us should be working to put back into place the federal and state protections that protected workers for years and thus built America's once-strong middle class.
We need to put back into place laws and policies that balance the powers of employers and employees, and let workers unionize. Only then will we once again have a strong and flourishing American middle class.