Dirty Hippies, Inequality, and the Minnesota Model
The great Mark Price has a piece in the Guardian today, Wealth inequality will keep growing unless workers demand better, that gets to the heart of the problem with our broken economy’s failure to provide the security, opportunity, and basic needs we all deserve. Two points are worth mentioning. First, it’s taken as a matter of faith that conservative prescriptions for the economy are easy to understand and more left-leaning approaches are more complex. I think that’s rubbish. Read Mark here. It’s not difficult at all. If people don’t have jobs, they can’t spend, and we all suffer. If there are way more applicants then there are jobs, there’s no way out of this mess. Inequality is the problem, equality the solution. It’s not that hard. (I made the same point about Robert Reich before). He also discards the silly notion that government has been trying to fix this problem, or that the solutions are unclear.
Too many workers today are trapped in a cycle of unemployment and underemployment driven by a prolonged job shortage and employers all too happy to write them off. Policymakers in Washington DC have acted with malice by taking steps to prolong the jobs shortage with budget cuts and by refusing to make long overdue investments in education,training and our aging infrastructure. [my emphasis]
He’s also blunt in pointing to the solution:
There remains only one way to break the back of rising inequality, and it requires workers organizing to demand higher pay, better working conditions, paid sick and family leave, and a decent pension. In other words, only you can take your economy and democracy back.
Speaking of which, another story about labor unions playing offense in the state of Minnesota gives us a window into what that might look like.
After pouring money and manpower into electing a DFL Legislature and governor, unions are vigorously pushing a labor agenda. On Monday they turned out at the Capitol in support of measures that would help unionize thousands of child-care and home health-care workers. Labor activists also see solid prospects for boosting the state’s minimum wage, and winning more money for local governments and education.
“This is our moment!” Eliot Seide, executive director of American Federation of State Council, Municipal and Metropolitan Employees Council 5, shouted to a crowd of chanting union members at a recent Capitol rally.
Unions began working toward victory long before this legislative session’s gavel first fell. They turned out members by the thousands to knock on doors, attend conventions and put at least $3 million into elections. Now, after years of watching their agenda languish, unions are beginning to see the political fruits of their labor.
I don’t know what’s happening on the ground in MN, but hopefully they will keep their members mobilized going forward. It’s easy to believe that getting Democrats elected will ensure your agenda gets enacted, but history shows that is just not true. I also hope these policies are just the first steps. What about a living wage law for government contractors or others whose business depends directly on the government? Or laws requiring neutrality for those businesses in union organizing campaigns? What about a public bank? Or just cause employment? (For more ideas, check out the Progressive States Network’s report 10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class for Hard Working Americans)
At the same time, it’s worth remembering there are a number of states where Democrats enjoy wide control that aren’t pushing a progressive agenda forward or are even adopting conservative policies. We spend a lot of time criticizing red states for regressive policy, but it’s the blue states where we have the greatest leverage.
But this requires a movement. It requires sustained mobilization. It requires making bold demands. It requires pressuring politicians we like to think of as our allies.