Why are some Americans mobilizing to publicly gather and speak out about their working lives? Just ask a top organizer for the Million Worker March (MWM) protest in Washington, DC on October 17.
“The MWM is a response to attacks on working people,” said Clarence Thomas, secretary-treasurer of Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), and co-chair of the MWM. Two examples he cited are the outsourcing of jobs abroad and privatizing of public services at home under the Bush White House. American workers have been the losers.
Recently, Local 10 of the ILWU (the union of Harry Bridges that led the 1934 general strike in San Francisco) passed a resolution for the MWM, an effort to advance a workers’ agenda. It includes universal single-payer health care, a national living wage, and a protected Social Security system. A workers agenda stands in contrast to a corporate agenda with its free-trade agreements such as the NAFTA, Thomas added.
Such agreements have increased the freedom of corporations to boost profits and lower wages by shifting factories from rich nations to poor nations.
For example, workers in Mexico earn a fraction of the wages paid to U.S. workers. Chinese workers earn less than Mexican workers.
The trend of American corporations moving production to low-wage countries has been called the “race to the bottom.” In the U.S., the service jobs being created pay lower wages than factory work in general. Low wages increase profits in the short term.
In addition, the MWM opposes the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, backed by Bush and Sen. John Kerry. An open letter to the American anti-war movement from the MWM states its “agenda in opposition to military adventurism abroad and class war at home … we will not be soft-soaped at election time and sold out immediately thereafter.”
Better cooperation between the anti-war and union movements would help to minimize such a sellout. On that note, the MWM seeks to redirect federal government spending on Iraq to unmet human needs in America. The number of Americans living in poverty and without health insurance rose last year, according to a new Census Bureau report.
What is being spent on military operations in Iraq is not being spent on the American people. Consider this from the Institute for Policy Studies. “The $151.1 billion expenditure for the war through this year could have paid for: close to 23 million housing vouchers; health care for over 27 million uninsured Americans; salaries for nearly 3 million elementary school teachers; 678,200 new fire engines; over 20 million Head Start slots for children; or health care coverage for 82 million children.” (For more details, visit www.ips-dc.org.)
As Bechtel and Halliburton profit from the reconstruction of Iraq, other U.S. corporations are squeezing their work forces. United Airlines, for example, has moved to end its defined pension benefit plans. This move will likely expand the trend of income inequality in America.
Plus, U.S. taxpayers would be forced to bail out the carrier to the tune of over $6 billion for United to cut its pension checks. Corporations’ gains are taxpayers’ and workers’ losses.
Against this backdrop, recent data from the Census Bureau found that the top fifth of U.S. households increased their share of national income from 44 percent in 1973 to 50 percent in 2002. During the same 29-year period, the bottom 20 percent of household saw their share of national income fall from 4.2 percent to 3.5 percent. As an economic and political force, the MWM seeks to reverse the redistribution of income to the top fifth from the bottom fifth in America.
Endorsers of the MWM include the International Action Center, National Education Association, Transport Workers Union Local 100, NY City, and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Local 1550, Houston, Texas. In addition, the Teamsters International has contributed $10,000 to the MWM, recently endorsed by John R. MacArthur, president and publisher of Harper’s Magazine.
In the meantime, John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, has written a letter to the national organization’s locals advising them to shun the MWM.
What energy the MWM spurs before and after Election Day is crucial to turning the tide on class war at home and imperial war abroad.
For more information about the MWM, visit: www.millionworkermarch.org/.
Seth Sandronsky is a member of Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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