Monday, August 12, 2013

Why Workers won't vote Republican

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky wrote this in a recent op-ed piece for the Huffington Post:

"The conventional wisdom is that the Republicans made themselves safe districts, ones made up of homogeneous conservative constituents who appreciate their uncompromising and dismissive attitude toward those who disagree. I have to wonder about that. So far they have managed to be equal opportunity offenders, turning off voters in all walks of life, regardless of age, religion, race, or sexual orientation. Many of those voters surely live in their districts. They include..."

(Then Schakowsky mentions all reasons why women, Latinos, immigrants, African-Americans, gay people, young voters, people with pre-existing conditions and workers won't vote for a Republican in 2014. Here I just quote her about workers.)

Fact: Between 1948 and 1973, the productivity of U.S. workers rose 96.8 percent and wages rose 93.7 percent. Fact: Between 1973 and 2011, productivity rose 80.1 percent but wages rose only 4.2 percent. Fact: Median household income today, adjusted for inflation, is at 1989 levels. Fact: 28 million workers earn less than $9.89 an hour, or $20,570 per year. Fact: The average CEO has gotten a raise of nearly 40 percent just since 2009. Many of them earn as much on the first day of work in January, as their workers earn all year.

You don't need to be a math whizz to see the problem.

I have been at some demonstrations recently with low-wage fast food workers who are engaged in one-day strikes, demanding $15 per hour and a union to represent them. They now make the minimum wage. The Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, the same as many states including New York. If lucky enough to work full time and never miss a day, those workers make a grand total of $15,080 over a year -- clearly not enough to live on anywhere in the country. If that worker were to earn an hourly wage of $15, he or she would make $31,200 per year, rich by nobody's standard, but an amount a small family can frugally live on, particularly if there is another worker in the household.

Republicans demonize those workers as "takers" because they have to turn to government programs for food assistance and health care. But it's low-wage employers who depend on taxpayers to subsidize their employees because they refuse to pay a decent wage. It's those rich companies and their CEO's who are the real "takers."

Republicans have been working non-stop since the early 1970's to destroy unions, an effort that has successfully brought private sector union membership down to 6.6 percent of the workforce. It is no accident that wages stagnated as workers lost the power to collectively bargain for better pay and working conditions. That was the plan.

Conventional wisdom says that low-income people don't vote in large percentages, and there is evidence to bear that out. But something new is happening. The working poor and middle class workers are organizing and fighting for fair wages and a better life for their children. They are in a voting mood.

Subtract workers who won't take it anymore.

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