Plutocracies as Problem-Solvers (for the Privileged)

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

We all know how democracies are supposed to work: People come together, identify their common problems, then debate and decide solutions. But this elegant give-and-take can break down. What breaks it? Inequality. Democratic deliberations start going haywire whenever wealth starts furiously concentrating at a society’s summit.

In societies growing significantly more unequal, people simply share ever fewer common problems. And some people, thanks to their increasing wealth, have the political power to make their problems the problems their society addresses.

And what happens to the problems of people without grand private fortune? Their problems go ignored. Democracy becomes plutocracy.

In our contemporary United States, we see this plutocratic dynamic play out all the time. Oxfam, the activist global charity, has just offered up a particularly vivid example: the crisis around prescription drugs.

For Americans of modest means, prescription drugs have emerged as a top-tier problem on any number of fronts. Start with cost. The drugs doctors prescribe have become so expensive that millions of Americans can’t afford to buy all the pills their doctors want them to take.

Meanwhile, drug companies have become drug pushers, overselling the benefits and shortchanging the hazards of profitable painkilling medications, in the process creating an opioid epidemic that has devastated millions of American households — and communities.

Big Pharma’s relentless chase after profits drives and distorts medical research agendas, too. On cancer, for instance, drug companies will only conduct costly clinical trials on substances that can be patented and pay off in big earnings. Promising but unpatentable natural substances can’t deliver big profits. So they don’t get tested. They remain on the medical fringes, their curative potential untapped.

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!