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“MLK’s Prophetic Call For Economic Justice”: This Country Has Socialism For The Rich, Rugged Individualism For The Poor

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s economic message was fiery and radical. To our society’s great shame, it has also proved timeless.

As we celebrate King’s great achievement and sacrifice, it is wrong to round off the sharp edges of his legacy. He saw inequality as a fundamental and tragic flaw in this society, and he made clear in the weeks leading up to his assassination that economic issues were becoming the central focus of his advocacy.

Nearly five decades later, King’s words on the subject still ring true. On March 10, 1968, just weeks before his death, he spoke to a union group in New York about what he called “the other America.” He was preparing to launch a Poor People’s Campaign whose premise was that issues of jobs and issues of justice were inextricably intertwined.

“One America is flowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality,” King said. “That America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, culture and education for their minds, freedom and human dignity for their spirits. . . . But as we assemble here tonight, I’m sure that each of us is painfully aware of the fact that there is another America, and that other America has a daily ugliness about it that transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair.”

Those who lived in the other America, King said, were plagued by “inadequate, substandard and often dilapidated housing conditions,” by “substandard, inferior, quality-less schools,” by having to choose between unemployment and low-wage jobs that didn’t even pay enough to put food on the table.

The problem was structural, King said: “This country has socialism for the rich, rugged individualism for the poor.”

Eight days later, speaking in Memphis, King continued the theme. “Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working every day?” he asked striking sanitation workers. “And they are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen, and it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis and a full-time job getting part-time income.”

King explained the shift in his focus: “Now our struggle is for genuine equality, which means economic equality. For we know that it isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”

Obviously, much has changed for African Americans since that time; anyone who says otherwise is plainly wrong. There is no longer any question of who gets served at lunch counters. Mississippi, where African Americans were once disenfranchised at the barrel of a gun, has more black elected officials than any other state. An African American family lives in the White House.

But what King saw in 1968 — and what we all should recognize today — is that it is useless to try to address race without also taking on the larger issue of inequality. He was planning a poor people’s march on Washington that would include not only African Americans but also Latinos, Native Americans and poor Appalachian whites. He envisioned a rainbow of the dispossessed, assembled to demand not just an end to discrimination but a change in the way the economy doles out its spoils.

King did not live to lead that demonstration, which ended up becoming the “Resurrection City” tent encampment on the Mall. Protesters never won passage of the “economic bill of rights” they had sought.

Today, our society is much more affluent overall — and much more unequal. Since King’s death, the share of total U.S. income earned by the top 1 percent has more than doubled. Studies indicate there is less economic mobility in the United States than in most other developed countries. The American dream is in danger of becoming a distant memory.

This column is not about policy prescriptions or partisan politics. King was a prophet. His role was to see clearly what others could not or would not recognize, and to challenge our consciences.

Paying homage to King as one of our nation’s greatest leaders means remembering not just his soaring oratory about racial justice but his pointed words about economic justice as well. Inequality, he told us, threatens the well-being of the nation. Extending a hand to those in need makes us stronger.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 16, 2015

January 18, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Economic Inequality, Martin Luther King Jr | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“More Sickening Than Stomach Flu”: With The Help Of ALEC, Corporate Greed Is Making Us Sick

The failure of our corporate and political leaders to make sure every worker gets good health care is causing some unpleasant consequences — like widespread stomach flu.

Ill workers often spread illness, because millions of employees who deal directly with the public are not covered by paid sick leave policies. So, when they come down with something like the stomach flu, they tend to drag themselves to work, rather than going to bed until they recover, since staying home means a loss of pay — or even the loss of their jobs.

Low-wage workers in the restaurant industry are particularly vulnerable and, since they handle food, particularly threatening. Nearly 80 percent of America’s food service workers receive no paid sick leave, and researchers have found that about half of them go to work ill because they fear losing their jobs if they don’t. As a result, a study by the Centers for Disease Control finds that ill workers are causing up to 80 percent of America’s stomach flu outbreaks, which is one reason CDC has declared our country’s lack of paid sick leave to be a major public health threat.

You’d think the industry itself would be horrified enough by this endangerment of its customers that it would take the obvious curative step of providing the leave. But au contraire, amigos, such huge and hugely profitable chains as McDonald’s, Red Lobster and Taco Bell not only fail to provide such commonsense care for their employees, but also have lobbied furiously against city and state efforts to require paid sick days.

Ironically, the top corporate executives of these chains (who are not involved in preparing or serving food to the public) are protected with full sick leave policies. For them to deny it to workers is idiotic, dangerously shortsighted — and even more sickening than stomach flu.

But what about our lawmakers? Where’s the leadership we need on this basic issue of fairness and public health? To paraphrase an old bumper sticker: “When the people lead, leaders will follow. Or not.”

Not when the “leaders” are in the pocket of corporate interests that don’t like where the people are leading. Take Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who never met a corporate pocket too grungy to climb into. This story starts in 2008, when the people of Milwaukee took the lead on the obvious need for a program allowing employees to earn a few days of paid sick leave each year, to be used if they fall ill or must care for a sick family member. Seven out of 10 Milwaukee voters approved that measure in a citywide referendum.

Corporate interests, however, sued to stall the people’s will, tying the sick leave provision up in court until 2011. By then, the corporations had put up big bucks to put Walker into the governorship — and right into their pocket. Sure enough, he dutifully nullified the Milwaukee vote by passing a “state pre-emption” law, autocratically banning local governments from requiring sick leave benefits for employees.

Just three months later, Walker’s pre-emption ploy was the star at a meeting of ALEC, the corporate front group that brings state legislators into secret sessions with CEOs and lobbyists. There, legislators are handed model laws to benefit corporations — then sent home to pass them. At a session overseen by Taco Bell, attendees got copies of Walker’s no-paid-sick-leave edict, along with a how-to-pass-it lecture by the National Restaurant Association. “Go forth, and pre-empt local democracy!” was the message.

And, lo, they did. Bills summarily prohibiting local governments from passing paid-sick-leave ordinances are being considered in at least 12 states this year, and Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee have already passed theirs.

Florida’s process was especially ugly. Organize Now, a coalition of voters in Orlando, had obtained 50,000 signatures to put a sick leave referendum on last November’s ballot. But, pressured by the hugely profitable Disney World empire, county commissioners arbitrarily removed it from the ballot.

The scrappy coalition, however, took ‘em to court — and won, getting the referendum rescheduled for a 2014 vote. Disney & Gang scuttled off to Tallahassee this year to conspire with Gov. Rick Snyder and GOP legislative leaders. Quicker than a bullet leaves a gun, those corporate-hugging politicos obligingly delivered a “kill shot” to Orlando voters by enacting a Walkeresque state usurpation of local authority.

By spreading Walker’s autocratic nastiness from state to state, money-grubbing low-wage profiteers are literally spreading illness all across our land.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, August 14, 2013

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Corporations | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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