How America’s middle class rose… and fell

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

From 1776 forward, the “common yeoman” – America’s middle class – has been hailed as the virtuous heart and backbone of our nation.

How ironic, since it took 150 years before we actually created a broad middle class. Before the 1930s, most Americans were poor, or near poor. And, yes, “created” is the correct term for how our middle class came to be, pushed by two historic forces of social transformation.

First, the devastation of the Great Depression created a grassroots rebellion of labor, farmers, and others against the careless moneyed class that caused the 1929 crash. These forces produced FDR and his New Deal of union rights, Social Security, and other tools that empowered ordinary Americans to begin rising up from poverty.

Second, the government’s national mobilization for World War II created an explosion of new jobs and opportunities for millions, opening people’s eyes, boosting confidence, and raising expectations. A post-war rise in unionism, passage of the GI Bill, a housing program, and other progressive actions led to a doubling of the median family income in only 30 years, creating a middle class that included nearly 60 percent of Americans by the late 1970s.

Then – phfffft – Washington’s commitment to a middle class suddenly fizzled in the 1980s as Republicans and many Democrats switched from supporting egalitarianism to backing the elitism of their corporate donors. Ever since, they’ve steadily disempowered workers and enthroned the rich, thus imposing today’s abominable, un-American culture of inequality across our land.

Just as progressives deliberately pushed public policies to create the middle class, so are today’s economic royalists deliberately pushing plutocratic policies to destroy it. That is the momentous struggle that calls us to action in this political year.

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Reposted from the Hightower Lowdown

National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be – consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks. Twice elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Hightower believes that the true political spectrum is not right to left but top to bottom, and he has become a leading national voice for the 80 percent of the public who no longer find themselves within shouting distance of the Washington and Wall Street powers at the top. He publishes a populist political newsletter, “The Hightower Lowdown.” He is a New York Times best-selling author, and has written seven books including, Thieves In High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country And It’s Time To Take It Back; If the Gods Had Meant Us To Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates; and There’s Nothing In the Middle Of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos. His newspaper column is distributed nationally by Creators Syndicate.

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From Jim Hightower

Union Matters

Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

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A Friendly Reminder

A Friendly Reminder