Inequality and Unity in the 2004 Presidential Election
by Seth Sandronsky

February 24, 2004

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Separate and unequal. That reality is now a part of the 2004 run for the White House.

Democratic senator and presidential candidate John Edwards says there are “two Americas” of rich and poor. The gap between them has been growing.

For more details, we turn to Michael D. Yates, economist and author of Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2003). “In the United States in 2000, income inequality was greater than at any time since the 1920s, with the richest 5 percent of all households receiving six times more income than the poorest 20 percent of households, up from about four times in 1970.”

Edwards has, correctly, focused on the decline in U.S. factory work. Such employment with union membership means higher wages and benefits.

He has faulted trade pacts such as the NAFTA that Democratic senator and leading presidential contender John Kerry has backed. NAFTA and other trade agreements have helped U.S. corporations to move factories out of the nation to poor countries.

Think that Kerry’s voting record on trade deterred the leadership of the AFL-CIO, the big labor organization, from endorsing him to beat President Bush in the fall? Then think again.

"The time has come to unite behind one man, one leader, one candidate," said John Sweeny, AFL-CIO president. That man is Kerry.

Along with him, President Bush backs the expansion of NAFTA-like trade agreements. Presumably, such pacts are the path to prosperity.

Just ask Bush’s top economist, N. Gregory Mankiw. He recently praised the outsourcing of U.S. jobs abroad to low-wage nations such as China and India.

Mankiw oversaw a yearly report to Congress that forecast the U.S economy would create 2.6 million new jobs by the end of 2004. That same report also asks (but does not answer) a question about the federal government redefining fast food work as manufacturing work.

Fast food jobs are likely to be non-union in contrast to unionized factory employment. Thus wages and benefits in the former sector are usually lower than in the latter sector.

Crucially, the Bush White House’s forecast of 2.6 million new jobs to be created this year is about the same number of jobs, largely in manufacturing, that have been lost during the past three years. Supposedly in the president’s fourth year, the U.S. is on the cusp of a jobs boom.

Well, backing more equality and less poverty for U.S. workers, in unions or not, means that there is an opponent to struggle against. Identifying this adversary, corporate America, is key to building a politics of working-class unity.

On that note, Americans’ support for Edwards’ “economic populism” is revealing. Part of what we see forming is a national identity based on the living and working standards of the many.

Trying to weaken this trend is a domesticated media. It excels in creating mystification about the capitalist system.

Likewise, the privatizing of public schools can be a way to create confusion about the system. Education should not be a way to make people accept corporate domination.

Back to Kerry. His support of trade agreements that have put U.S. manufacturing and service workers into direct competition with lower-paid foreign labor has helped the profitability of corporate America.

It benefits in this way from policies of government intervention in the market under Democratic and GOP administrations. That is how unity works between corporate America and national politicians.

If the struggle to reduce inequality is a battle to expand democracy, then the forces on the other side of the American majority are reactionary. In that spirit, the AFL-CIO’s strategy of endorsing Kerry for the Democratic presidential nomination has its limitations.

For example, the labor organization is now limited in its ability to force Kerry to pursue a policy that stems the corporate­led attack on the American working class. It must not fault Chinese and Indian workers on the payrolls of corporate America.

Seth Sandronsky is a member of Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at: ssandron@hotmail.com

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