The House Has Gone Democratic. Can the House Now Go Bold?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

Tony Maxwell, a retired African-American naval officer, was trying — without much success — to get his Jacksonville, Florida neighbor to go with him to the mid-term election polls and vote. The young neighbor, a high-school-dropout, had no interest in taking the ride.

“Voting,” the young man declared, “doesn’t change anything.”

That world-weary attitude suits some Americans — those who sit atop our deeply unequal economy — just fine. These affluents don’t want things to change. They’ve worked too hard to rig a set of structures and policies that keep their wealth safe and growing, at everyone else’s expense.

Now Democrats, thanks to Tuesday’s mid-terms, have a comfortable working majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Can these Democrats use this newly won majority to reach that dispirited young man in Jacksonville? That all depends — on their eagerness to think big and bold, on their willingness to challenge the concentrated wealth and power that’s keeping things from changing.

Any such challenge, of course, will not actually produce significant new legislation in the immediate future. Democrats may have the House come January, but conservative Republicans will still control the Senate and have a like-minded pal in the White House. Over the next two years, getting any big and bold new legislation into law will be next to impossible.

But just pushing for such legislation could point us — and move us — in a positive direction. Just holding hearings on legislation that takes on our economic powers-that-be, just encouraging rallies on this legislation and taking floor votes on it, would send all of America the empowering message that meaningful change can conceivably happen.

This sort of aggressive and progressive pushing would, to be sure, represent a major break with the Democratic Party’s recent past. The various congressional majorities Democrats have won over the last few decades have typically shied away from anything that smacks of big and bold. The reforms these majorities have championed have often been overly complicated and cautious — and deeply compromised by a fear of annoying potential Democratic Party deep-pocket donors.

That fear may be easing. A number of leading Democrats with eyes on the 2020 presidential election — and the increasing size of the party’s progressive activist base — have over the past year advanced proposals that could help spark real change in who owns and runs America.

Sam Pizzigati edits Too Much, the online weekly on excess and inequality. He is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Last year, he played an active role on the team that generated The Nation magazine special issue on extreme inequality. That issue recently won the 2009 Hillman Prize for magazine journalism. Pizzigati’s latest book, Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality that Limits Our Lives (Apex Press, 2004), won an “outstanding title” of the year ranking from the American Library Association’s Choice book review journal.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

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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Make Father's Day Union Made!

Make Father's Day Union Made!