Democrats Are the Real Party of the Working Class
Joe from Scranton must honor his fellow Pennsylvanian, union boss Richard Trumka, by putting his name on a $15 federal minimum wage bill and passing it now.
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Yesterday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka died of a heart attack on a family camping trip: he was 72 years old. It is a terrible loss for the labor movement, the Democratic party, and the nation.
Representing 12.5 million workers in 50 unions, Trumka was one of the savviest and most powerful labor leaders in American history and a crucial ally for the Biden administration. He was descended from generations of Pennsylvania coal miners and first went down the shaft in 1968. He used the money he earned with a pick and shovel for his education (yes, a union wage still paid for college then.) In 1971, he graduated from Penn State in 1971 and Villanova Law School in 1974. You can read more about his remarkable life and accomplishments here.
But Trumka—who devoted his whole life to working people—made me think about the false narrative of the last five years that the Republican Party, and Donald Trump in particular, actually ever cared about the people who they so persistently invoke. But, of course, I am not talking about the hypocrisy—for example, Trump falsely blaming low wages on an influx of undocumented workers while sustaining multiple businesses on undocumented workers and doing nothing as President to increase wages and guarantee benefits.
I am thinking about the policies and philosophies that have been core to the party since before the Reagan revolution.
For example, the GOP has always been against affordable, universal child care, the one thing that could make it possible for poor and middle-class women to finish their educations or to get and hold good jobs at any wage. An early standard-bearer for this fight against the working-class was Phyllis Schlafly. Her campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment was grounded in a middle-class ideology. Staying home to care for children, Schlafly maintained, not bringing in necessary household income, was women’s principal national calling.
Schlafly’s book Who Will Rock the Cradle? The Battle for Control of Child Care in America (1990) argued that government-funded daycare would pull children out of loving homes and push them into sterile environments to be raised by unfeeling strangers. Moreover, women being free to help support their families and pursue meaningful labor would hasten a national decline in which “anything goes and whatever you want to do is fine as long as it pleases you to do it.” Instead, she wrote, the government ought to pay families to raise and homeschool their children until they are 12.
More importantly, the modern GOP—which now falsely touts itself as the “party of the working class”—now houses that long American tradition of forcing people to work under any conditions by keeping them poor. Since 1980, the Republican party has persistently fought unions, the safe working conditions unions help maintain, and the good wages unions demand. For decades, it has successfully depressed the federal minimum wage, insisting that market demand is the only legitimate way to set a wage.
This, of course, has helped to legitimize an anti-immigrant stance that has been a persistent theme among native-born working-class whites since the founding of the Republic. And this has now become a persistent and ugly lie propagated by the Trump-dominated GOP. The only reason “real Americans” can’t get paid is that the labor pool is diluted with immigrants and foreign workers, the claim. But, in reality, workers can’t get a fair shake in a distorted market that conservatives in favor of the wealthy have persistently distorted.
But centuries of labor history show that this is a persistent and big lie. You either choose to pay people fairly, or you don’t. Paying workers fairly leads to class mobility and social stability. It creates markets for goods and services that people who are paid fairly will purchase. It makes it harder to turn them into an angry, conspiracy-driven mob eager to follow authoritarians like Donald Trump. And fair wages make it easier to muster workers to vote for politicians who will create a government that works for the many and not the few.
Richard Trumka knew this and lived his life accordingly. But he also lived through a period marked by the decline of labor as a political force, one deliberately produced by Republicans. Democrats have adopted one of its key tenets as a political project: the $15.00 federal minimum wage in the absence of a robust and inclusive union movement that can fight for better working conditions.
This is really not that much money either. Still, it is more than the current standard of $7.25 an hour. This sum, to be blunt, is an exploitation wage, one that not only pushes anyone in the household who can work into the labor market but often for more than one job. In New York City, two adults with no children, making minimum wage and working a 40-hour week are still living below the poverty line.
Interestingly, most Americans—regardless of social or economic class—support “The Fight for $15,” as it is called, and a slight majority (51%) of Republican voters) are among them. But Republican politicians don’t support paying workers well. Their sole contribution to improving the financial well-being of hard-working people were two bills floated in February. Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) proposed raising the federal minimum to $10.00, while Senator Josh “Insurrection” Hawley (R-MO) proposed:
a tax credit for those who make less than $16.50 an hour. The credit would be applied based on the number of hours a person worked and would be available only to those with an American social security number, barring non-US citizens and undocumented workers. A full-time worker could get up to $4,680 in tax credits a year, according to the bill.
Tax credits, of course, deliver a lump sum once a year, not a living wage throughout the year. And while 85% of people who are entitled to the current Earned Income Tax Credit claim it, the people who don’t are the people who need it most—workers who fall below the income threshold that requires them to file at all.
Wouldn’t it just be easier, better, and more humane to set a floor for a fair wage that lifts a million workers out of poverty? A fair wage doesn’t require busy people to file paperwork to get their own money back and dole out a small dividend for the rest of the year.
In February, the Congressional Budget Office claimed that a $15 wage would lift almost a million workers out of poverty and make 17 million less poor. But, unfortunately, it also made a routine claim: that it would eliminate 1.4 million jobs, as small businesses readjusted their bottom line to compensate for the extra expense. But other economists dispute this. And what we did not know in February was that by the summer of 2021, as the economy opened up, the United States would be facing a severe labor deficit.
It’s an ideal time to support the economy and the working class by rebooting the labor market in favor of workers.
That’s what Richard Trumka’s life was all about. So I propose the following: Democrats can recommit to unionization and, at the same time, provide tangible relief for American workers and honor this great American by putting his name on a minimum wage bill now.
National Politics Jeopardy:
How about Lesbian federal judges for $100? President Joe Biden will nominate Charlotte Sweeney, currently a partner at the Denver firm of Sweeney & Bechtold, LLC, to that state’s federal trial court. Replacing Obama-appointee R. Brooke Jackson on the seven-person body, if confirmed, she will be the first out LGBTQ appointee to that court—and the first out lesbian to serve on the federal bench west of the Mississippi. (Micahel Karlick, Colorado Politics, August 5, 2021)
Hmmm…let’s go with Fake Election Audits for $200! It’s as if Arizona Republicans have nothing else to do but troll Joe Biden, spend donor money and go to court. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Michael Kemp has ordered the State Senate to turn over all 2020 federal election records, including the ones that may be in the process of being mangled by Cyber Ninjas, Inc., the inexperienced firm the Senate hired. Judge Kemp ruled that it is an “undisputed issue of fact” that election records do not belong to the Senate to do with what they will, but to the public. Imagine. (Howard Fisher, Arizona Capitol Times, August 3, 2021)
I’ll take “Conspiracist Birds of a Feather” for $300. According to Brandon Mosely at the Alabama Political Reporter, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA-14) has endorsed Republican Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-5) stab at becoming a Senator. The Alabama Democratic Party put out a statement congratulating him: “The frontrunner for the GOP nomination in Alabama for U.S. Senate accepted the endorsement of the woman who believes the Sandy Hook shooting was faked, said wildfires were started by Jewish space lasers and called for Nancy Pelosi’s execution.” Brooks has also been endorsed by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who recently accused the Fed of bribing Congresspeople with money it printed expressly for that purpose and the Former Guy. (August 2, 2021)