Feb 21, 2013 - Issue 505

The Usurpers of the Nation Have a Champion: the GOP

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One of the most ridiculous appellations in the language today is “good corporate citizen.”

There is no such thing. Corporations exist to take care of the stockholders and themselves (corporate hierarchy) first. If there is some “trickle down” from their activity, someone else might benefit. You can be sure, though, that the benefit will be small.

It’s in the incorporation papers: the sole purpose of a corporation is to make a profit for the principals. Since so much of the life of the nation is controlled by corporations, it’s easy to see why there is a disparity between rich (the 1 percent) and the rest of us that is comparable to many small and developing countries, which are often run by a “strong man” or an out-and-out dictator. 

An example of good citizenship would be the old New England town meeting, in which everyone has an opportunity to speak publicly before the rest of the community on any given subject and might even introduce a matter for a vote by the entire community. Such direct democracy is frowned upon by most politicians and it most certainly is frowned upon by the bosses of Corporate America, who only want citizens discussing issues after the decisions have been made for them.

This is the state of our nation. And, it’s one that President Obama did not mention in his first State of the Union speech of his second term. He is not likely to mention it in the remainder of his second term, since he has surrounded himself with leftovers from the Bush Administrations and the Clinton Administration. As has been pointed out so many times in recent years, by so many people, they are the very ones who have put us in the mess we are in, so how can we expect different outcomes?

Take the disparity in wealth as an example. It is not so hard to understand that, if a large portion of the populace is pushed to the bottom, the society as a whole will not prosper. The Right Wing likes to compare the nation to a family, so let’s just make a quick comparison: If a couple has four children and decide that they can afford to feed, clothe, shelter, and educate just one of them, what do you suppose will happen to the other three? The life of street children, in whatever country they are found, is not a pretty one.

We know that the national economy and society, in general, cannot be directly compared to a family, but the principle is the same. The three children who are left out are in despair, are cold and hungry, and they will be uneducated and have a bleak future. The family has broken down; in fact, it is no longer a family, just the vestiges of one.

In the U.S., the disparity in wealth and income is a scandal, but the GOP believes that it is possible to look at it in a positive way. As vice president, Dick Cheney hailed the moving of factories and shops to low-wage countries as a plus. He intimated that the removal of manufacturing and heavy industry should make the U.S. more competitive and, besides, he added, the nation should be concentrating on the technology sector and all of the jobs that are created there. He was not speaking for all Republicans, but apparently he was speaking for most.

Consider the minimum wage and the disparity between rich and poor that it displays. In 1968, the minimum wage was $1.60 an hour. If the wage had kept up with the cost of living, the growth of the economy, with the rise of personal incomes, and with the overall increase in the productivity of the nation, today it would be $21.16 per hour, according to some calculations. Instead, we have a federal minimum wage of $7.25, and President Obama has proposed a raise of the minimum to $9 an hour, over a few years. It is an important factor in maintaining the wealth disparity as deep as it is.

A decades-old question has been asked of presidential candidates: “Do you favor or support a raise in the minimum wage?” The Republicans, fearing their far right wing (the Tea Party wing), seemed afraid to address the issue. If they are like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., all are strongly opposed to raising the minimum wage. Remember, he is the senator who gave us the Tea Party political figure (and all that that implies), Sarah Palin, who has muddied the waters of what passes for national political debate. At the time of his 2008 presidential primary campaign, he had voted against raising the minimum wage some 19 times. Like most other opponents of raising the minimum wage, he cited the effect on jobs (it will kill jobs) and, besides, he has said, the minimum wage should be left to the states, not the federal government.

Health care, or lack of it, is one of the primary elements of personal bankruptcy and the U.S. remains the lone holdout among “developed nations,” in denying its citizens a national health service as a right, not a privilege for the few. It is an important cause of the disparity in wealth, and a case in point is the ongoing protests of Peabody Energy, one of the big coal companies.

Earlier this month, Shirley Inman was arrested, along with nine of her brother members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), at the Peabody headquarters in St. Louis, Mo. Peabody and Arch Coal, in an attempt to rid itself of its pesky health care responsibilities to the workers and the union, is in the process of shuttling that responsibility to another company, which was conveniently created (Patriot Coal) as part of the bankruptcy proceedings.

Inman, who spent 18 years driving a coal truck, said, “If I can’t get my medication for my heart disease, I won’t be around much longer,” said Inman. “I’m a breast cancer survivor and I have coronary artery disease. Health care isn’t an option for me; it’s what I need to survive. I’ll do whatever it takes to make these corporate executives keep the promises they made, and if that means going to jail, so be it.”

Kay Tillow, head of All Unions for Single Payer Health Care, noted that “the UMWA is taking on a big fight that will impact all workers and our ability to stop crooked bankruptcies from destroying health coverage.” Daryl Dewberry, UMWA vice president from Alabama, pointed out that the UMWA was founded in 1890, “when it was not popular to have all creeds and colors together, but we did it and we’ve been doing it for over 100 years.” He said that miners are “used to adversity and we are all our brothers’ keepers. Peabody left scars in Alabama. Arch left scars in Alabama. They left black lung. Miners took less benefits to assure health care.”

The UMWA and its members know that this fight is not over. Arrests will not stop the workers from attempting to get the word out to the American people. The miners know that their fight is the fight of all workers, no matter what they do for a living. They will keep coming back to Peabody, because they cannot trust the bankruptcy laws to protect their interests before other billion-dollar corporations. The union and its members won a similar fight in 1989, after a 14-month struggle against Pittston, another coal company sought to discontinue medical benefits to miners, retirees and the disabled. Tillow noted, “Pittston was met with massive resistance when miners and their families by the thousands engaged in non-violent civil disobedience to bring the company to its knees and to a contract.”

Workers around the country are fighting to gain what is rightfully theirs: fair and equal pay, safe and healthy working conditions, benefits (including health care) that actually provide medical care, and employers who obey the law. Low-wage workers are fighting to stop wage theft, which has been in the news recently, but has been going on for as long as employers have been trying to short their workers’ pay envelopes and paychecks.

And, workers are told by virtually anyone in power that education is the key to their success. And what do graduates have to show for it? Many who have multiple degrees and owe tens of thousands of dollars in student loans are working as baristas or in retail sales, or other similar low-paying jobs, with little prospect of productive, lifelong work in their fields…and little hope of paying off their loans in a timely way.

Corporate America blithely moves in the direction it wants to go, oblivious to the suffering that is left in its wake. They need never fear that politicians, in general, will interfere with them, because: They are the ones who largely finance their election campaigns and the revolving door between high office and the corporations ensures that they will see friends on the way through the door or on either side.

That leaves the workers on the street where, if they are lucky, they will be arrested and someone will hear of their plight in a two-paragraph story in the local newspaper. So much for change that will benefit the people.

The usurpers are, indeed, in charge. A definition of usurp is “to seize and hold (the power or rights of another, for example) by force or without legal authority.” We used to call it Big Business, but now the usurpers can be identified as part of Corporate America and it has honed its control of the masses to a fine science and, for the most part, has the law behind it. Whether its involves forcing an immigrant worker to put in 11 hours for eight hours pay, or creating a dummy company for the purpose of avoiding providing miners with their just health care, it is stealing from the workers. It’s all part of the fine science.

Usurpers in America have an ally in the Republican Party, because virtually every law proposed to improve the lives of the 99 percent, and especially the working class, is thwarted by the GOP and some of its allies in the Democratic Party. They accomplish it by filibuster, propaganda, and the produce of their Right Wing think tanks. The only thing that workers have is that they are a large percentage of the 99 percent. That leaves 1 percent in the controlling class and, in a democracy, one would think that this kind of situation would not last long, but it has. Unless the 99 percent see that their fortunes and their futures are tied together, whatever their occupation or preoccupation, this condition of continual theft will continue.

As Dan Kane, UMWA Secretary Treasurer explained at the site of the arrests last week, “They (Peabody) intentionally put Patriot in the position for bankruptcy. They want this in the bankruptcy court - they don’t want it in the court of public opinion. This is about every man and woman who works for a living. Health care and pension are not gifts. You paid for it. But these companies are using bankruptcy more and more. Lawyers will get paid. Million dollar bonuses will go to executives. The heads of Patriot won’t suffer. Those who did the work walk out with nothing. That has to stop. We don’t want their sympathy. What we want is justice.”

He added, “We want what we’ve earned. They want to go to their palatial homes - but they deserve a cell next to Bernie Madoff. I’m tired of an economy that walks all over the workers…”

One way for workers to avoid being the doormats of society is for them to join with all the other workers and join the union.

[Anyone interested in signing the petition to support the miners at Peabody-Patriot can do it here: http://www.fairnessatpatriot.org/take-action/sign-the-petition/

BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.