Posts Tagged ‘The American Dream’

Stop the Big Rip-off and Rebuild the American Dream

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

By Mark McDermott, Chair PSARA Education Committee 

As a working class kid in the 1960’s, the rules of life seemed simple. For my parents, work hard, play by the rules, pay your taxes, share fairly in the wealth you create at work and have a secure retirement. For me, they were study hard, play by the rules, get an affordable college education, and reach for dreams beyond those of my parents.

This was the core of the American Dream although many still lacked full access to it because of racism, sexism and other barriers.

Today, these rules no longer work well. Consider the following: Between 1930 and 1975, working people earned 57% of the national income through wages and salaries. By 2010, they only earned 50%. This 7 percentage point difference is $950 billion. If the 96 million households with the lowest incomes got that $950 billion back, their incomes would rise by an average of $10,000.

Anybody opposed to a return to the good old days, when working people got closer to their fair share? Let’s organize to take back the $950 billion!

For the college kids today, they now owe over $1 trillion in student loan debt. Affordable college and reaching for their dreams has gotten awful hard.

reach for their dreams and much more. Wanting is good but making it happen is better.

Many of us have partial solutions. Repeal Citizens United. Raise taxes on the rich. Get big money out of politics. Labor law reform. Strengthen the safety net. Repeal corporate personhood. Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Fix Congress. Tax reform. End persistent race and gender discrimination. Make education more affordable. The list is long.

It isn’t hard to build a comprehensive list. What is hard is drawing strong connections between these badly needed reforms and laying out how we will achieve them.

Here is a framework to make these key connections and refine our strategies to educate and organize for a brighter future for all. These are the six levels of struggle:

  1. Ensure fair elections which express the will of the people
  2. Make and enforce laws which serve the people and promote justice for all
  3. Create and share fairly in the wealth we produce at work
  4. Raise adequate levels of taxes fairly and require everyone to pay what they owe
  5. Provide real affordable quality education for everyone
  6. Strengthen our safety net for everyone to meet their basic needs

A simple exercise is to take your list of reforms and put them in the six categories. But how are they connected and how do we win all of these reforms?

Let’s use a specific example.

I assume you agree that the $950 billion decline in working people’s share of the national income is a big problem. It is hard to imagine a working household that could not use the money.

What are some of the major impacts of this $10,000 loss per household? It is harder to pay the mortgage or rent, buy a house, send your kids to college, save for retirement and more.

Wow! Pass the Prozac or a bottle of whiskey. Reality is not good. What to do with these growing long-term systemic sources of injustice? We want our $950 billion back, our kids to be able to reach for their dreams and much more. Wanting is good but making it happen is better.

So let’s sum up. When we lose the ability to demand our fair share at work (Level 3), we have a harder time sending our kids to college (Level 5). We will need more of the safety net (Level 6) and additional tax revenues will be needed (Level 4).

Let’s change the rules to restore fairness at work and the right to organize unions so we can get our fair share (Level 2). This will reduce pressure on the bottom four levels. But wait, how do we elect leaders who will serve our interests and not those of corporate America and the wealthy? (Level 1).

We working people and our allies must overcome the power of entrenched money in elections and then elect people who will make and enforce laws barring the influence of the wealthy.

So how will we gain the economic and political power to get our $950 billion back? We support unions when they are under attack and when they are organizing new members. As a community, we organize economically and politically to ensure our elected leaders will change the laws in our interest. We can do this just as our ancestors did before us.

To be continued…

Check out my new website on reclaiming the American Dream: www.markmmcdermott.com .

Mid-1930s to late 1970s: Moving toward shared prosperity

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Part 2 of a four-part series – Making the American Dream Real for Everyone

By Mark McDermott

At the outset of the 1930s, working people were enduring records levels of unemployment, widespread homelessness, hunger and loss of farms and homes. Millions lost their life savings in the collapse of the banking system. In the midst of an unparalleled economic crisis, working people had neither an economic or social safety net, nor the right to organize unions.

Yet by the late 1930s, our grandparents’ generation had won Social Security, unemployment insurance, public assistance for poor families, the minimum wage, overtime pay, the right to organize unions in the private sector, child labor and welfare protections, housing assistance programs, bank deposit security, strong controls over the financial industries, and assistance for struggling farmers. Although people of color and women were denied many of these rights and benefits, for millions it was a dream beginning to come true.

After 50 years of bitter defeats, how did we the people achieve these historic victories in the face of the worst depression in our national history? They were the fruit of mass organizing in workplaces and communities across the country, and growing unity among working people and the unemployed. Millions began to understand that, to win a better life for working people, employed and unemployed alike, racism, religious bigotry, sexism and anti-immigrant hostility had to be overcome. The newly-won right to form unions and the militant tactic of the sitdown strike — workers occupying their workplace — in effect the “Occupy Movement” of the 1930s – were instrumental in the building of a powerful labor movement.

These worker occupations of factories and other workplaces coupled with massive community support across much of the country doubled the size of the labor movement in less than five years. Newly won power in the workplace and widespread political organizing laid the foundation for our greatest period of shared prosperity over the next 40 years.

The end of World War II ushered in more than 30 years of strong economic growth that was shared more fairly than at any time in American history. By the end of she 1970s, poor, working class and middle class families saw their incomes double after inflation. Income growth for the wealthy grew more slowly thereby narrowing income inequality. People of color and women saw their incomes continue to lag behind whites and men but the gaps were narrowing.

After World War II Corporate America counterattacked,. The Taft-Hartley Act slowed and reversed the growth of the labor movement. At the same time, the corporations and their political allies launched the Red Scare (McCarthyism) to weaken the unions, intimidate people into political passivity and stop any new initiatives to expand the reforms of the 1930s. They were largely successful. One of the first major casualties was the defeat of President Truman’s National Health Care program. The 1960s saw another wave of widespread organizing for greater economic and social justice,: Civil rights, women’s rights, ending the Viet Nam war, environmental protections, and expanded rights for people with disabilities and for gays and lesbians. A major difference between the 1930s and the 1960s was that the labor movement was no longer leading these struggles and was deeply divided.

Yet there were new people’s victories — the passage of landmark legislation for civil rights, voting rights, equal pay, clean water, clean air, environmental protection, pension protections, affordable housing and anti-poverty programs. In less than 15 years, poverty was cut in half. On the other hand, badly needed labor law reform was defeated despite a Democratic president and strong majorities in Congress.

Substantial progress was coming to end. The social upheavals of the 1960s were marked by increased racial tensions, the Viet Nam war, clashes on the issue of abortion, and the new strengths of the women’s and gay and lesbian movements. These developments, coupled with three recessions during the 1970s, sowed deep divisions among working people and their historic allies. An increasingly aggressive corporate America supporting a resurgent right wing was poised to launch a decades-long counterattack to fundamentally shift the direction of the country. By the end of the 1970s, the counterattack was taking its toll, as both labor law reform and the Equal Rights Amendment for women were defeated.

What was the corporate strategy and how was it implemented? This is the subject of Part 3 of this series.

(Mark MCDermott is a member of the PSARA Execuive Board and the developer of an economic justice education program.)