Monday, November 20, 2006

Good News/Bad News for Working Americans

There's good news and bad news for working Americans. The middle-class gained another voice according to Libby @ The Impolitic - Democratic senator elect Jim Webb has an op-ed at the WSJ about the growing class divide in this country.
America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.
Libby concludes, "Webb has hope the working class has found their voice and won't sit still any longer for flat wages and health care costs that have risen 73% in the last six years. We can only hope he's right."

I think Webb is right and that the working class has found their voice; however, corporate America isn't going to roll over and play dead. They're going to use their money, influence and the court system to get what they want. Consider this story from Working Life about striking Texas janitors.
Houston janitors and supporters, who blocked a downtown intersection in an act of peaceful civil disobedience, were held on $888,888 bond each yesterday, according to the SEIU. In contrast, bail for a Harris County man accused of killing another man in a bar fight was set at $30,000. The janitors are striking for a living wage and affordable health insurance.
A total of 44 janitors were arrested and held on a combined $39.1 million bond. They were charged with non-violent civil disobedience - Class B misdemeanors! How does the court justify that bond?

The janitors are striking because they want a raise from the $5.30 an hour they currently earn to $8.50 (and increased hours too) so they make enough to afford health insurance that ranges from $300 to $1,000 a month. This isn't an unreasonable demand, and the article points out that janitors in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and other cities already make more than $10 an hour, have health insurance and work full-time. Houston workers are paid an average of $20 a day, with no health insurance for part-time work.

The bail was eventually reduced to $1,000 according to an update at Alternet, but a message was sent by the Houston police who kept the protestors in jail under brutal conditions. The guards told them: "This is what you get for protesting. [...] "Who gives a shit about janitors making 5 dollars an hour?" Welcome to "Third World" America.

Incidentally, the workers are striking five national cleaning firms. The strikers turned their attention to the building's landlords since they hire the cleaning firms that negotiate and set rates for janitors' wages and benefits. One of these landlords is oil giant Chevron. They have the power to help settle the strike by directing the cleaning contractors they hire to provide higher wages and health insurance to all workers. Chevron also has the money: In just one second, Chevron makes 70 times more than the entire annual earnings of all 5,300 Houston janitors.

So far, Chevron has failed to step up to the plate and help the janitors, which doesn't surprise me. As Jim Webb said, "A troubling arrogance is in the air among the nation's most fortunate."


pissed off patricia said...

Did you see him on tv yesterday? He was great!

Lew Scannon said...

The gap goes wider every day. And it's the working folk like these janitors that take the blame because they want to be paid a living wage.