Why Bernie Is The Most Popular Politician In America

Why Bernie Is The Most Popular Politician In America

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Bernie Sanders has the highest approval rating of any politician in the country with 61 percent approving, with only 32 percent disapproving, according to a March 15 Fox News poll. The Sanders 29-plus percent favorable/unfavorable gap is far superior to Trump’s negative 8 percent.

What accounts for Sanders’ popularity and how can progressives build on it?

Bernie Sanders has been saying the same things for nearly a half-century. He’s been a consistent democratic-socialist fighting on behalf of working people and against financial/corporate power. While his straightforward commitment to his ideals is refreshingly genuine, he did not make his mark on the national scene until last year at age 74.

Sanders didn’t change, but the world did.

His message about the ravages and unfairness of runaway inequality hit home because it is true. He and his campaign became the next phase of the revolt against the one percent initiated by the remarkable, yet short-lived, Occupy Wall Street.

Sanders took this discontent many steps forward by clearly articulating a social-democratic agenda for working people. He turned “We are the 99 percent” into a clear policy agenda. That agenda, not just his enormous integrity, is why he remains so popular.

He stands for something and so should we.

Here’s a rough draft of such an agenda:

  • The right to a job at living wage: Everyone who is willing and able to work should be entitled to a job that today would pay at least $15 an hour. If the private sector is unable to produce such jobs, then government should serve as the employer of last resort. There’s more than enough work to be done to rebuild our infrastructure and protect our environment.

  • The right to universal health care: It is time to expand Medicare—our efficiently run single-payer system for the elderly—to anyone who wishes to join.

  • The right to free public education from pre-k to graduate school: Each child deserves access free of charge to as much education as he or she qualifies for through our public educational systems. Nearly every economically advanced country provides free higher education. So should we. (See here.)

  • The right to a sustainable environment, free from chemical, radioactive and carbon pollution: We need to protect working people and communities from harmful exposures while rapidly reducing the emission of greenhouse gases—the cause of global warming. The climate crisis is real and must be addressed now. In doing so we also should have a policy of buying goods as locally as possible to limit the carbon footprint of transportation, and we should make sure industries do not flee to countries with weaker health, safety and environmental standards.

  • The right to an impartial criminal justice system that does not harm anyone based on their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, racial category or religion. In particular, we need to dramatically reduce the differential impact of enforcement, prosecution and sentencing on young people of color.

    • The right to vote, free of voter suppression activities and billionaire influence: For our democracy to endure we need to halt any and all efforts to deny voting rights, and we need to curtail the influence of money in all areas of the political system.

    • The right to citizenship for all residents: We are a nation of immigrants, documented and undocumented. There should be a straightforward pathway to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants here today.

    • The right to organize unions without employer threats or harassment, We need to reform the current laws and processes which allow employers to intimidate workers from joining labor unions. Congress should pass the Free Choice Act which will level the playing field. (See here.)

    • The right to control our money through public state banks and a national postal bank: We need an alternative to the predatory financing provided by Wall Street. Modeled on the public Bank of North Dakota, every state should charter a public bank whose first and only goal is to serve its people. Like many other nations, we also need a national postal bank to provide financial services in all our communities. (See Public Banking Institute and Campaign for Postal Banking.)

    But can America really afford these basic human rights?

    We are the richest nation in world history. The resources are here, but our prosperity has been hijacked by financial and corporate elites. In 1970 the CEO pay/worker pay ratio was $45 to one. Today it is more than $840 to one.

    The average worker who entered the workforce 40 years ago has lost more than $500,000 in productivity gains, according to Rutgers University professor Michael Merrill. From WWII to 1980, as productivity rose, so did real wages. Since 1980 real worker wages (after inflation) have stalled while productivity has soared. The productivity gains that once went to worker wages have been siphoned away to the top 1 percent. The average wage today would be double what it is, had we received our fair share of productivity.


    Our economy is being financially strip-mined by Wall Street and their corporate partners. (Financial strip-mining refers to the full set of financial maneuvers that extract money from non-financial corporations and moves wealth to large investors, hedge funds, private equity companies, investment banks and insurance companies. Just as mineral strip-mining harms the natural environment, the financial kind damages the corporate environment and can leave behind hollowed-out facilities.)

    This social-democratic agenda is possible if, and only if, financial strip-mining is halted. Billions of dollars of ill-gotten gains must be transferred from Wall Street to Main Street. Here are basic policies that can achieve that goal:

    • A Financial Speculation Tax on All Wall Street Transactions: We should advocate a small sales tax on stocks (.05 percent), bonds (.01 percent) and derivatives (.005 percent). Wall Street must finally pay their fair share and repay us for all the bailouts. (See Robin Hood Tax.)

    • An End to Stock Manipulation: This refers to stock buybacks that allow corporate and financial elites to strip-mine the economy. CEOs and their Wall Street partners should not be permitted to enrich themselves by using corporate funds to buy back their own shares in order to jack up stock prices. This was illegal before 1982 and should be again. (See “Profits Without Prosperity” by Professor William Lazonick.)

    • A Wealth Tax of 1 Percent on All Those Whose Net Worth Is More Than $10 Million: Those who have grown super-rich by strip-mining our economy have a myriad of ways to avoid taxes. This tax, used by Spain, France, Switzerland and Norway, is an excellent way to recoup those losses.

    (Even Donald Trump once advocated a 14.25 percent wealth tax to eliminate the national debt. In 1999 he said: “By my calculations, 1 percent of Americans, who control 90 percent of the wealth in this country, would be affected by my plan.”)

    Clearly, Donald Trump has long forgotten his wealth tax. Instead, he is hell bent on further increasing rather than reversing runaway inequality. So where is the political space for a Sanders-like agenda?

    For a moment, think again about what has happened over this past year.

    • Who would have thought this pathological liar would become president?

    • Who really believed that Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist, could come so near the Democratic nomination and become the most popular politician in America?

    • Who believed that millions of people would come into the streets so quickly and could organize thousands of Indivisible groups almost overnight?

      There is a real opening for a visionary politics that protects and enhances the common good. But much more needs to be done to connect us together.

      To keep the Sanders agenda alive, we should further refine it, turn it into a petition, get 25 million people to sign it and shove it under the noses of every politician in the country.

      Hard? Yes, but not impossible.

      We can start right now by building a mass educational network that reaches millions of Americans with the facts about runaway inequality, financial strip-mining and why a powerful common agenda is both needed and possible. In the 1880s the Populists, who then were engaged in an all out war with the moneyed interests, fielded 6,000 educators to build their movement among small farmers. We need 30,000 today, a number well within our reach.

      This educational effort can help us see that the many issues we care about are deeply connected by runaway inequality. It will help us see why we need a common movement that goes beyond our issue silos, interest groups and identities. It does not ask people to give up their issues and identities. Rather, it asks that we make issue silos more porous and interconnected.

      It asks that we add one more identity to each of us—the identity of movement builder. (For more information about this educational effort, please join us at runawayinequality.org.)

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

6 Reasons Why Trump Is Too Weak To Save American Jobs

6 Reasons Why Trump Is Too Weak To Save American Jobs

Donald J. Trump believes he can bully and bribe companies into keeping jobs in America. Shortly after his election, he “persuaded” Carrier, an Indianapolis division of United Technologies, to refrain from exporting 700 jobs to Mexico. Meanwhile, Rexnord, a maker of bearings and ball bearings also in Indianapolis, announced its decision to move 300 jobs to Monterrey, Mexico. Trump, of course, expected that after a tweet or two, Rexnord, a tiny company, would quickly capitulate. Not happening.

The most powerful man in the world is getting a rude awakening about corporate power. Rexnord is thumbing its nose at the president by actually moving every one of those jobs…and the bully-in-chief can’t stop them. Why is that?

1. Trump is trumped by financial strip-mining.

Rexnord is moving for obvious reasons: The new Mexican workers will make $3 an hour while the Indianapolis workers make $25 an hour. But the real motivation for moving stems from Wall Street’s favorite pastime—stripping a company of its wealth through stock buybacks.

To please demanding financiers, Rexnord, in 2015, agreed to buy back $300 million of its own stock. By going into the market to buy its own shares, the price of the stock rises, thereby enriching these hedge fund investors virtually overnight. (Nineteen hedge funds hold about $200 million in Rexnord stock.) The stocks rise because 1) the act of buying large amounts of them in the open market bids up their price; and 2) the company’s total earnings are now spread over fewer shares.

The move to Mexico isn’t just about profits; it’s about financing the stock buybacks.

2. Trump’s deregulation agenda empowers the financial strip-miners.

From the New Deal until 1982, stock buybacks were virtually outlawed. They were considered a dangerous form of stock manipulation—a leading cause of the 1929 Wall Street crash.

During the Reagan administration, stock buybacks were legalized and financial strip-mining took off with a vengeance. Trump’s deregulatory mantra means stock buybacks will continue unabated as will the pressure to move jobs to low-wage areas.

3. Trump ignores (or is clueless) about the massive extent of financial strip-mining.

In 1980, a mere 2 percent of corporate profits went to stock buybacks. By the crash of 2007-’08, more than 75 percent of ALL corporate profits went to buy back the companies’ own shares. Our entire economy is being financially strip-mined by such stock manipulation. (Unfortunately, Trump does not have the attention span to read William Lazonick’s excellent analysis, “Profits Without Prosperity.”)

4. Trump doesn’t dare challenge how CEOs are paid.

Not only do hedge funds profit from financial strip-mining, they are aided and abetted by corporate executives who often derive more than 90 percent of their pay from stock incentives. As a result, CEOs run their companies with only one goal in mind—raise the price of the stock.

With those incentives in place, Rexnord executives could care less about Trump’s tweets. They are moving to Mexico to fund the stock buybacks that enrich the value of their own stock incentives.

5. Trump’s administration is loaded with Goldman Sachs strip-miners.

Trump’s economic advisors, nearly all produced by Wall Street, could care less about Rexnord moving to Mexico. After all, they grew fabulously rich by financing such moves, pressing companies for stock buybacks and profiting from trade deals. Rexnord knows that Trump’s economic team has no interest at all in limiting the stock buyback scam.

6. Trump can bully immigrants but not Wall Street.

It is frightening to see Trump unleash ICE on powerless immigrants, but bend over backward to placate financial elites. A bully attacks the weak and cowers before the powerful.

To repeat, stock buybacks are how Wall Street makes money in a hurry—money that is squeezed out of the workforce by shifting jobs to lower-wage areas. Wall Street will not tolerate any interference in the way it strip-mines companies. And Trump knows it.

Working people will soon know it as well. The Rexnord workers once believed Trump would come to their rescue, especially after he supposedly saved 700 jobs at Carrier just up the road. He didn’t and they no longer do.

Millions more voted for Trump because they believed he would save their jobs from a similar fate. But as financial strip-mining continues unabated, these workers will learn that President Trump is not president of Wall Street. Their jobs will be sacrificed on the altar of stock buybacks. You can’t tweet away financial strip-mining.

Neither Donald Trump, nor even Bernie Sanders, can stop financial strip-mining on their own. It’s a powerful process that has been in motion for nearly 40 years. To reverse the runaway inequality it creates will require nothing short of a dedicated mass movement, the likes of which we haven’t seen for more than a generation.

As historian Michael Merrill points out, there have been four great struggles in American history:

  1. The struggle against royal power which was replaced by the power of a new constitutional democracy.
  2. The battle against slave power which through a civil war was replaced by power of free labor.
  3. The battle against corporate power which was tamed by government regulation and union/worker power on the job.
  4. The fourth great battle is happening right now: It’s the battle against financial power, with the outcome very much in doubt.

These previous victories, always partial with battles still ongoing, were not the result of spontaneous uprisings. They required vision, leadership, education, organization, and mass involvement. Each required a sustained effort over many decades.

Today we need to relearn the art of building mass movements like those created by the abolitionists, the Populists, the labor movement, and the civil rights movement.

To make any progress at all against financial power, we must come out of our issue silos and join together in a common movement. We need to recognize that the financial strip-mining of our society negatively impacts nearly every issue we care about. We need to recognize that the battle against financial power and the runaway inequality it creates, links us together.

Is such a mass effort emerging right now as tens of thousands of people take to the streets and come together in town hall meetings all over the country? Perhaps. But only if these disparate resistance efforts coalesce into a powerful unified movement to take back our country from the power of finance. We have no choice but to try.

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute, is currently working with unions and community organizations to build the educational infrastructure for a new anti-Wall Street movement.

IMAGE: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump  greets a worker as he tours a Carrier factory with Greg Hayes, CEO of United Technologies (L) in Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S., December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

How To Build A Sustainable Trump Resistance

How To Build A Sustainable Trump Resistance

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Resistance is breaking out all over: the women’s marches, the immigration airport protests and Sally Yates, the State Department mass dissents,and  the battle for the Supreme Court with much more to come.

But where are we going?  Are we simply calling for a return to the pre-Trump status quo of runaway inequality, the largest prison population in the world, inadequate and costly health care, unjust immigration policies, and accelerating climate change? Or do we have a new vision for America? If so, what is it and how do we fight for it?

Resist Trump is a protest by spontaneous combustion trigged by tweets and Facebook posts. Too often, however, such uprisings lack staying power. Occupy Wall Street grew to 900 encampments around the world and changed the conversation in America from austerity to inequality. But it evaporated within six months. The spirited Arab Spring in Egypt took down the government, but paved the way for the highly organized Muslim Brotherhood and then a military dictatorship. We should know by now that without organizational infrastructure such wondrous uprisings are fragile at best. They require leadership, dues paying members, legislative agendas, and ways for participants to engage in decision making. Such constructions require very hard work that social media can assist but not replace.

Where’s the glue?

Some hope that the Democratic Party will provide the infrastructure for an alternative vision and movement.  Not likely. Too many party leaders are still deeply committed to Wall Street. Too many Democratic officials refuse to interfere with corporations that shift jobs abroad simply to secure lower paid labor and weaker environmental regulations. And, far too party leaders have an eye towards securing lucrative positions among America’s financial elites.

Could labor unions form the organizational core? In the 1930s the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) played this role by organizing unskilled workers and pushing for an aggressive worker agenda that helped to secure Social Security, a minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, and much more. But today labor is torn. The Building Trades are applauding Trump for restarting the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. Manufacturing unions are taking a wait and see attitude given Trump’s interventions to stop the off-shoring of jobs, his withdrawal from the anti-worker trade agreement (TPP), and his upcoming plans for massive infrastructure investments. Meanwhile, the public and service sector unions, who after going all in for Hillary against Bernie, have yet to  respond vociferously to Trump.

Can the remnants of the Sanders campaign fill this vacuum?  The jury is out.  U.S. presidential campaigns tend to unravel unless the candidate decides to run again.  Campaign operatives go back to their day jobs or school. Our Revolution, the political extension of the Sanders campaign, has possibilities but so far it has not attracted a mass following.  But all those young Bernie supporters are still interested in the broad social democratic agenda he so effectively popularized. How do they express their support?

A new formation?

There are many significant institutions with dues-paying members that could play a vital role. For starters there are the unions that supported Sanders, including the National Nurses United, the Communications Workers of America, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and American Postal Workers Unions. With a combined membership in the millions, they have enough funds and troops to launch a new national organization.

Ideally, they could be joined by the more progressive service sector unions like the Service Employees International Union as well as church, community and environmental organizations that represent millions of immigrants, lower income residents and environmentalists. Together they could form a new national political organization that we all could join.

The goal would be to popularize a Sanders-like agenda, organize protests to resist Trump while also building an alternative agenda for the next round of elections.

Another key goal would be to bring back the working class Trump voters who previously voted for Obama and Sanders. There are millions of them. Unions that represent workers in manufacturing have found that up to 50 percent of their members who voted, voted for Trump, largely because of Clinton’s record on anti-worker trade deals like NAFTA and TPP. The goal of any new formation should be to recruit those working class Sanders’ supporters.

An Impossible Dream?

Of course, it’s a long shot. After all, the unions involved do not have a stellar history of working together. The community groups also have their own issue silos and funding imperatives that lead them to travel down separate paths. Environmentalists and manufacturing unions are likely to clash over jobs. Also, the questions of race, class, and identity politics are certain to create tensions within any progressive formation.

But Trump could do wonders to help us overcome these difficulties. While we were in our silos, squabbling amongst ourselves, the hard right took control of the country — not just ideologically, but over the real levers of power. Since 2009, when Obama took office, the Democrats have lost 919 state legislative seats. The Republicans now control 68% of all state legislative chambers and have control of state chambers and the governorship in 24 states while the Democrats have such tri-partite control in only 6 states.

We can’t blame this on Comey or Putin, or Stein or Bernie. No, we also have to look in the mirror and face up to the fact that as a progressive movement, we’ve been losing overall even as we’ve made some significant gains on human rights for the LBGT communities. The rise of the hard right to some degree is the result of our lack-luster movement building efforts over the past three decades — our failure to get out of our silos and link together. Our current organization models and theories are failing against the challenges from the hard right.

The American Populist Movement

We could learn a great deal about organizing from the American Populist movement of the late 19th century. That movement, the first to challenge the power of Wall Street, called for the public ownership of railroads, public banks, a progressive income tax, and grain/livestock cooperatives. The Populists put 6,000 educators into the field to spread the word and build local chapters mostly among black and white small farmers in the Midwest and South. Although they were eventually defeated, the Populists set the agenda for American progressivism, the New Deal and even the Sanders campaign. (For chapter and verse see The Populist Moment by Lawrence Goodwyn).

Before we can make sense of such organizational structures, however, we need an attitude adjustment. We need to broaden our identities to see ourselves as movement builders — as activists who strive to put all the pieces together no matter which silo we may inhabit. I may be a climate change activist but I also need to be a movement builder who is challenging the power of Wall Street. I may be fighting for criminal justice reform but I also need to be a movement builder uniting with others for Medicare for All and a $15 per hour minimum wage. It’s all one fight. We are tied together by runaway inequality — a system designed to enrich the few at the expense of the many.

Will resist turn  into something more?

Due to Trump’s divisive politics, the protests will continue. At some point, one would hope that those involved will begin building real structures to sustain these efforts and initiate more. Sooner or later, we should go beyond resistance and advocate a vision for the future — a common agenda that includes a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street, free higher education, Medicare for All, an end to outsourcing, fair trade, and a guaranteed job at a living wage for all those willing and able.

Perhaps a little more time spent with the craziness of Trump will wake us up from our organizational stupor.

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute, is currently working with unions and community organizations to build the educational infrastructure for a new anti-Wall Street movement.

IMAGE: Protesters hold signs in opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on immigration and travel outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport in Queens, New York City, New York, U.S. January 29, 2017.  REUTERS/Joe Penney

Why We Could Be On The Verge Of A Constitutional Apocalypse

Why We Could Be On The Verge Of A Constitutional Apocalypse

Reprinted with permission fromAlterNet.

As Donald Trump vilifies the press, the courts, immigrants, Muslims, Democrats, protesters, and anyone who disagrees with him, it isn’t hard to imagine a modern-day Mussolini—or worse. But an even greater threat lies in Republicans’ march toward full control of state government. If they get there, they will have the frightening power to amend the Constitution into their own authoritarian image — or Ayn Rand’s.

Republicans now control 32 state legislatures and 33 governorships. They have majorities in both state legislative chambers as well as the governorships in 25 states. The Democrats have total control in only six states and legislative control in two more.

If Republicans achieve veto-proof control in 38 states, they can do something that has never been done before—hold a constitutional convention, and then ratify new amendments that are put forth. To date, all amendments have been initiated from Congress where two-thirds of both houses are required. In either case, 38 states would be needed to ratify the amendments. The Republicans are well on their way.

We know what they are likely to do: end collective bargaining, outlaw abortion, forbid progressive income, estate and Wall Street taxes; prohibit class action law suits, privatize Social Security, guarantee “free choice” in all school systems, and so on. They would do what they’ve always wanted to do: outlaw the New Deal and its social democratic programs. And if they get crazy enough, they could end separation of church and state and undo other portions of the Bill of Rights.

A paranoid fantasy? Just say “President Trump.”

Ask the corporate Democrats who have turned losing into an art form. Since 2008, they have lost 917 state legislative seats. Explanations range from Koch brothers funding to gerrymandering to voter suppression to the rise of the Tea Party. All partially true.

The Democrats also shoulder a good deal of the blame. Ever since Bill Clinton triangulated into NAFTA and away from working people, the Democratic Party’s embrace of financial and corporate elites has become the norm.

Hillary Clinton took $225,000 per speech from Goldman Sachs not because she was corrupt, but because this is simply the way the political game is played. You raise money from rich people, and then you back away from attacking their prerogatives while still trying to placate your liberal/worker base.

But as economist Jamie Galbraith put it, ultimately it is not possible for the Democrats to be both the party of the predators and the prey.

The amazing acts of resistance popping up all over prove that the progressive spark is alive and well. Even seniors at the Progressive Forum in Deerfield Beach, Florida, are planning to put their bodies on the line to stop ICE raids.

While raising hell all over the country, we also should re-examine how our strategies and structures may have contributed to the rise of the right. After all, this electoral coup happened on our watch.

Here’s our working hypothesis for how progressives contributed to the rise of the right: We have failed to come out of our issue silos to build a national movement that directly confronts runaway inequality.

For more than a generation, progressive organizations have shied away from big-picture organizing around economic inequality. Instead we’ve constructed a dizzying array of issue silos: environment, LGBQ, labor, immigration, women, people of color, criminal justice, and so on. We are fractured into thousands of discrete issues, enabled by philanthropic foundations that are similarly siloed.

Few of our groups focused on the way Wall Street and corporate elites strip-mined the economy. Very few of us mobilized around the great crash. Few of us noticed as the CEO/worker income gap jumped from 45 to 1 in 1970 to an incredible 844 to 1 by 2015. We collectively missed how this growing economic inequality was causing and exacerbating nearly all of our silo issues. We didn’t connect the dots.

Most importantly, we failed to grasp how runaway inequality was alienating millions of working people who saw their incomes decline, their communities whither and their young unable to find decent jobs.

While the Tea Party and the right had a clear message—big government is bad—progressives had little to say collectively about runaway inequality.

Enter Occupy Wall Street

By the summer of 2010, the progressive failure was painfully obvious. After Wall Street had robbed us blind and crashed the economy, and a Democratic president was about to enter a “grand bargain” with the Republicans to promote austerity. Think about this: While Wall Street got bailed out in full, Obama and the Democrats were about to cut Social Security. Amazing.

Then out of nowhere came Occupy Wall Street. (Out of nowhere is correct because the actions did not originate from any of our progressive silos.) In six months there were 900 encampments around the world. “We are the 99%” shifted the debate from austerity to inequality.

Unfortunately, Occupy believed in spontaneous political combustion and shunned any and all organizational structures and agendas. Social media, consensus decision-making, horizontal anti-organizing, and anti-leadership were to carry the day. In six months, they were gone.

Meanwhile the traditional progressive groups watched it rise and fall from the outside. We were spectators as we continued to press forward in our issue silos.

Enter Bernie Sanders

We got a second chance. Bernie Sanders, an independent socialist with a clear social democratic agenda, decided to challenge Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee. At first, few of us took him seriously. After all, he’d been around for 40 years, saying the same things but never gaining any traction outside of Vermont.

But like Occupy, he and his message hit a nerve, especially among the young and among disaffected working people who were fed up with the corporate Democrats.

In a flash, Sanders did the impossible. He beat Hillary in several primaries. He drew much larger crowds. He even raised more money from small donors than the Clinton machine could raise from the rich. Progressive unions like the Communications Workers of America and National Nurses United went all in. For a few months the dream looked possible.

But too many other large unions and liberal issue groups committed early to Clinton, thinking she would win easily. That would allow them to gain more access for their issues and for themselves. Didn’t happen.

Trump toppled the Clinton machine in the Rust Belt. Some say he did so with a toxic combination of racism, sexism and xenophobia and that certainly was the case for a good portion of his vote. Others are certain that Comey and Putin made the difference.

But in the Rust Belt, Trump won because he picked up millions who previously had voted for Obama and Sanders. It is highly likely that runaway inequality, and the trade deals that exacerbated it, defeated Clinton in the Democratic strongholds of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. In Michigan alone, Hillary received 500,000 fewer votes than Obama.

What now?

We need to turn the marvelous anti-Trump resistance into a common national movement that binds us together and directly confronts runaway inequality. We need to come out of our silos because nearly every issue we work on is connected by growing inequality.

Such a movement requires the following:

1. A common analysis and agenda: As we’ve written elsewhere, resisting Trump is not enough. We need a proactive agenda about what we want that goes beyond halting the Trump lunacy.

The Sanders campaign offered a bold social democratic agenda to young people in particular. Progressive should be able to build broad support around a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street, free higher education, criminal justice reform, humane immigration policies, Medicare for All, fair trade, real action on climate change, and a guaranteed job at a living wage for all those willing and able.

2. A common national organization: A big problem. We have no equivalent to the Tea Party. We have no grand alliance that links unions, community, groups, churches, and our issue silos. There are excellent websites like Indivisible that are successfully encouraging widespread resistance on the congressional level. But they consider themselves to be purely defensive against Trump.

There are hundreds of demonstrations popping up all over but no organizational glue to hold them together. There’s Our Revolution, an outgrowth of the Sanders campaign that is still getting its sea legs. But to date we have no common center of gravity that is moving us forward organizationally.

Ideally we should all be able to become dues-paying members of a national progressive alliance. We should be able to go from Paterson to Pensacola to Pomona and walk into similar meetings dedicated to fighting for our common agenda to reverse runaway inequality. Perhaps the hundreds of town hall meetings will head that way? It’s too early to tell.

3. An education infrastructure: The Populist movement of the late 19th century waged a fierce battle against Wall Street. It wanted public ownership of banks and railroads. It wanted livestock and grain cooperatives. It wanted a progressive income tax on the rich and public banks. The organization grew by fielding 6,000 educators to explain to small farmers, black and white, how the system was rigged against them and what they could do about it.

We need about 30,000 educators to hold similar discussions with our neighbors about runaway inequality, how it binds us together and what we can do about. (If you’re interested in getting involved, see here.)

4. A new identity: Our toughest challenge. For 40 years we’ve been conditioned to the idea that runaway inequality is an immutable fact of life—the inevitable result of automation, technology, and competitive globalization. Along the way, neoliberal (free market) values shaped our awareness.

  • We accepted the idea that going to college meant massive debts for ourselves and our families
  • That there was nothing abnormal about having the largest prison population in the entire world
  • That it was part of the game to pay high deductibles, co-pays and premiums for health insurance
  • That it was OK for the super-rich to hide their money offshore
  • That there was nothing to be done about chronic youth unemployment, both rural and urban, other than to try harder to pull themselves up
  • That it was perfectly natural for factories to pick up and flee to low-wage areas with no environmental enforcement
  • And that somehow private sector jobs, by definition, were more valuable to society than public ones

These mental constraints have got to go. We got here as the result of deliberative policy choices, not by acts of God. We need to reclaim a basic truth: the economy should work for its people, not the other way around.

Most importantly, we have to relearn the art of movement building that starts in our own minds—we have to believe it is both necessary and possible, and that each and every one of us can contribute to it.

We desperately need a new identity—that of movement builder.

Is this so difficult to imagine?

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute, is currently working with unions and community organizations to build the educational infrastructure for a new anti-Wall Street movement.

IMAGE: Protesters shout outside the Republican National Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

How Runaway Inequality Helped To Elect Trump — And How It Can Defeat Him

How Runaway Inequality Helped To Elect Trump — And How It Can Defeat Him

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Over the last 37 years, the top 10 percent of all Americans saw their incomes rise by 115 percent and the top 1 percent saw an incredible rise of 198 percent. Meanwhile, the bottom half of all American earners not only failed to see any gain at all, their incomes actually declined by 1 percent from 1978 to 2015, according to research by Thomas Piketty and co-researchers.

Declining income brings with it a host of related social problems. As localities are starved for revenues, public safety and the sense of community deteriorate. The social fabric of decent living is imperiled.

Extreme inequality and related social deterioration fueled both the Sanders and the Trump revolts. While Sanders offered concrete plans to reverse it, Trump and the Republicans are sure to make it worse.

The Inevitability of Rising Inequality?

Politicians and pundits alike have convinced themselves that rising inequality is an economic act of God. They repeatedly point to new technology, automation, and competitive globalization as the root causes of rising inequality. They claim that these blind forces turn the well-educated into winners, while the less educated are left behind. These inevitable forces are so powerful in our free market economy, that it would be impossible, and therefore foolish to intervene directly.

Such a self-justifying story! So soothing for well-to-do! And oh so wrong.

The new Piketty study provides a clear-cut example that shows runaway inequality is not inevitable: France.

The French economy is as modern as ours. It is even more exposed to the global market place: Exports in France account for 30 percent of its GDP compared to only 12.6 percent for the U.S. Because it must compete even more rigorously, France must use the highest levels of technology and automation. So if competitive global markets, new technology, and automation cause rising inequality, then France should be its poster child.

It is not.

Inequality is far less extreme in France. The bottom 50 percent saw their incomes grow by 39 percent from 1978-2015. The incomes of the top 10 percent grew by 44 percent and the top 1 percent by 67 percent—unequal still, but nowhere near as lopsided as in the U.S.

Viva la Difference?

Social and economic policies, not blind market forces, determine the degree of inequality. Here are a few obvious differences:

  • France has universal health care—we don’t.

  • France has far stronger labor protections—U.S. workers are far more vulnerable to layoffs, with the Republicans now seeking to cripple unions still further.

  • France has more progressive income taxes—the Republicans want to lower them for the rich.

  • Higher education is virtually free in France—here we put students and families deeply into debt.

  • Financial institutions are more constrained in France—in America, Wall Street dominates the economy and politics.

The financialization of our economy—more aptly called financial strip-mining—is the most powerful driver of runaway inequality. This is the direct result of the failed neo-liberal policies that erroneously claim cutting regulations always makes the economy run better.

In the case of finance the picture is crystal-clear. When we had our foot on the neck of Wall Street (from the New Deal to the late 1970s) the economy became more egalitarian with real wage increases for working people of all kinds. But after deregulation of Wall Street activities—legalization of stock buybacks, end of Glass Steagall, prohibition of regulating derivatives, etc.—U.S. inequality soared.

As the Piketty study puts it, “We observe a complete collapse of the bottom 50% income share in the U.S. between 1978 and 2015, from 20% to 12% of total income, while the top 1% income share rose from 11% to 20%”

The Undoing of Trump?

Trump seized basic working-class issues away from Clinton and the Democrats—little wonder given their ties to Wall Street. But the Obama/Sanders voters who turned to Trump (and there are millions of them) expect Trump to improve working-class incomes. After several weeks of utter chaos, it is safe to say that Trump won’t do anything of the sort.

  • Rather than reduce the power of Wall Street, he has welcomed into his administration a large cohort of big-time financiers.

  • Their first collective move is to kill as many financial regulations as possible.

  • The Republicans want to shift more money to the rich with so-called “tax reforms” and through anti-union legislation.

  • The replacement of Obamacare, whatever that may turn out to be, is certain to harm lower-income people even more, unless the rest of us intervene in a big way.

From Resist to Reversing Runaway Inequality

The good news is that millions are taking to the streets, organizing meetings, challenging their congressional representatives, and in general raising hell. Except for a handful, however, most of these actions are aimed at protecting the status quo from an impetuous, childish autocrat. Without question the resistance must continue, especially to protect the most vulnerable—immigrants, low-income women in need of Planned Parenthood, Medicaid recipients, etc.

However, we are unlikely to win back Obama-to-Sanders-to-Trump voters until we rekindle the spirit of Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders campaign. The social democratic platform Sanders put forth attacked runaway inequality. That kind of agenda needs to become part of the work of Indivisible and the thousands of groups that are holding town meetings all over the country.

A New Movement

To reach the Obama-to-Sanders-to-Trump voters we need to organize a new set of protests and a clear set of pro-active demands. It’s not just about what we don’t want Trump to do, it’s about what we really want to see changed.

Would people show up for protests around this agenda: A Wall Street speculation tax, free higher education, Medicare for All, a $15-dollar-an-hour minimum wage, and tackling climate change?

We can’t get from resist to reversing runaway inequality until we launch an educational process to spread the word. We need thousands of educators to reach out to the Obama-to-Sanders-to-Trump voters who really are seeking to reverse runaway inequality.

Armed with facts—not alternate facts—we can build the foundation for a new movement to take back our country both from Trump and from the financial strip-miners.

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute, is currently working with unions and community organizations to build the educational infrastructure for a new anti-Wall Street movement.

IMAGE: mSeattle / Flickr

4 Ways Goldman Sachs Will Wreck America From Inside The White House

4 Ways Goldman Sachs Will Wreck America From Inside The White House

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Five years ago Goldman Sachs played the arch-villain of the financial crash, the very essence of a greedy, rapacious bank that profited while ripping off its own customers and the American people. As the vampire squid, it was the perfect target for the Zuccotti Park demonstrations that turned into Occupy Wall Street with 900 encampments around the world.

The charges against Goldman Sachs were real. They really did violate the law. They really did rip off their customers. They really did defraud investors. As of today, it has paid nearly $9 billion in government fines for its shoddy dealings. Of course, no one has gone to jail for these enormous swindles.

During the 2016 presidential campaigns, the Goldman Sachs brand continued to be politically toxic. Yet Hillary Clinton proceeded to accept $675,000 from Goldman Sachs for three speeches. First Sanders and then Trump pounded her for catering to Wall Street elites. It was certainly not the only reason for Clinton’s defeat, but it may have contributed.

Remarkably, Trump believes the toxicity won’t rub off on him. In a clearcut signal to the financial community, he has opened the White House to powerful Wall Street appointees. Goldman Sachs, again, has one of its own, Steven Mnuchin, as Treasury Secretary, and Gary Cohn as chair of the National Economic Council. Other Goldman Sachs alumni in the Trump administration include chief White House strategist Steven Bannon, Jay Clayton as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Dina Powell as a White House adviser.

Trump may be setting a record for Goldman Sachs appointees.

Will Trump Pay the Price?

A good part of Trump’s victory was built upon three deep resentments simmering in the electorate: hatred of Wall Street and what it got away with, disgust over trade deals that destroyed decent U.S. jobs, and the off-shoring of U.S. jobs to low-wage areas.

By recruiting Goldman Sachs alumni to run government economic policy, Trump has set himself on a collision course between his jobs/trade pledges and his desire to kiss up to Wall Street.

So how does Trump justify his new love affair with Goldman Sachs executives? He can’t. His team defends the choices by saying they are only hiring the very best people, not Goldman Sachs. Media outlets like the New York Times then confirm the good character of these choices by interviewing prominent people like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (himself a Wall Street billionaire), who says, “Whatever you may think of them individually, you can’t get to be a Goldman partner and survive if you’re stupid, lazy, or unprofessional.”

But such media fluff is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether they are smart or able. Of course they are. What matters is the world view they will carry into the heart of the Trump administration. After decades on Wall Street, the needs of global finance shape their entire universe, their sense of the possible, and their sense of justice.

Even a cursory investigation leads to an obvious conclusion: The Goldman Sachs view of the world is all about the outsourcing of jobs and the promotion of corporate trade: the polar opposite of what Trump claims he wants for working people.

The Goldman Sachs Commandments

Goldman Sachs sits at the heart of the global network of production and distribution of nearly everything we use and need. This is not an exaggeration. Of the largest 43,060 trans-national corporations, only 147 corporations, nearly all of them financial, exercise significant control, directly and indirectly, over this vast network, according to an exacting 2011 study. Goldman Sachs is ranked as the 18th most powerful institution in the world on that very small core list. Trump’s global empire is not ranked—a minnow compared to a vampire squid.

Here are the fundamental values Goldman Sachs will bring to the White House.

1. Thou shall off-shore as many jobs as possible: Currently, Goldman Sachs is teaching the world how to move white-collar service jobs from high-wage to low-wage areas. It has created a model community in Bangalore, India (the Embassy Golf Links Business Park), that now houses 6,000 Goldman Sachs jobs, making it the largest Goldman Sachs office complex outside of New York. Also, it is the home of other U.S. corporations like IBM, Yahoo, and Microsoft. Together the facility is home to 43,000 jobs, many of which once were filled by U.S. workers on U.S. soil.

The primary architect of the Goldman Sachs flight to India is none other than Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president who will head Trump’s National Economic Council.

2. Thou shall buy back your stocks. Goldman Sachs has direct and indirect control over thousands of corporations. To profit from that control, it must extract wealth from how those corporations operate. The simplest way to do so is by pressing for stock buybacks—forcing the company to use its cash flow to go into the marketplace and buy back its own shares, thereby raising its price. In doing so it automatically raises the value of Goldman Sachs investments. It is routine for Goldman Sachs to demand such buybacks.

To create the cash flow to finance stock buybacks, corporations are pressured to move jobs from high wage to low wage areas. Inevitably, when a company announces the off-shoring of jobs, it comes on the heals of a very large stock buyback plan. (See here for how this played out at Carrier and United Technologies.)

3. Thou shall deregulate trade: The leading financial corporations in the world believe that capital, especially bank capital, should be permitted to travel the globe without government restrictions. In addition, they want multi-national trade agreements and institutions to enforce the repayment of debts, no matter the circumstances. They also want corporate rights to supersede local regulations that might interfere with profits. (If, for example, local environmental regulations lead to lost profits, the governments involved should be held liable.) Overall, Goldman Sachs wants trade agreements to enable any and all firms to move capital around the globe at will with no retaliatory tariffs.

If you’re a Goldman Sachs partner, you must believe in this kind of trade. Your entire financial career was based upon it. Therefore, while Trump might say otherwise, there is no chance that his Goldman Sachs team will advocate policies that could upset the international trade regime.

4. Thou shall not regulate finance: To be part of Goldman Sachs is to believe that financial regulation is superfluous. As a sacred creed, they believe that global markets police themselves. Government regulations not only are unnecessary but are usually harmful, creating inefficiencies that hinder economic growth. And if Goldman Sachs did anything wrong in the lead-up to the crash, it was inadvertent or accidental or the result of poor regulations. Overall, Goldman Sachs partners believe the institution is honorable, honest, and vitally important to the global economy.

Yes, they all know Goldman Sachs is far too big to fail. But that’s not a worry. They truly believe they never will fail, because they never are fundamentally wrong.

So, we won’t be hearing about new Wall Street regulations from the Goldman Sachs White House team. There’s a reason why many bank shares have jumped 35 percent since the election.

Occupy Goldman Sachs?

Is there a way to counter the Goldman Sachs occupation of the Trump administration? The answer might be a new Occupy Wall Street.

Group of activists from New York Communities for Change and other area organizations are set up an encampment at Goldman Sachs headquarters, 200 West Street in Manhattan. Under the banner, “Shut Down Goldman Sachs,” a series of events were scheduled to highlight its financial greed. (See the organizers’ Facebook page for up-to-date information.)

One hopes this kind of event will catch on and spread. But one thing is crystal clear: We need to mobilize in some bold way as soon as possible to counter the Goldman Sachs occupation of the White House. We should support these intrepid activists in any way that we can.

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute, is currently working with unions and community organizations to build the educational infrastructure for a new anti-Wall Street movement.

IMAGE: A Goldman Sachs sign is seen above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the opening bell in the Manhattan borough of New York January 24, 2014.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson 

6 Reasons Why Resisting Trump Is Not Enough

6 Reasons Why Resisting Trump Is Not Enough

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Many progressives are in a major defensive crouch. We’re all about resisting everything Trump does, no matter what. We should stop his appointments, decry his PR efforts on jobs, chide him for his love affair with Putin and atomic weapons, defend the social programs he threatens to destroy, ridicule him for his climate change denials, advocate for groups he threatens to deport or discriminate against, and most importantly, impeach him as soon as possible for his disregard for the constitution.

While resistance is critically important, we will fail unless resistance is contained within a long-term strategy to reverse runaway inequality and upend neoliberalism (defined as systematic tax breaks for the rich, cuts in social programs, anti-union legislation, financial deregulation and corporate-managed trade). If we don’t build an alternative movement, our defensive struggles could enhance Trump’s popularity rather than to diminish it.

Here are some of the risks of a resistance-only response.

1. It makes our politics Trump-centric or even Trump-dependent.

Trump thrives on being the center of attention. Attacks feed his ego, propel him into action and energize his base. The more he is attacked personally, the more he can command center stage in every discussion, on every news show and in every forum.  A resist-only strategy, without a broader movement-building effort, allows Trump to set the terms of debate — he is for X, then we are against X….he is against Y, then we must be for Y.

Of course, resistance is badly needed. But it also must be part of, and lead to, the promotion of a pro-active positive agenda along the lines field-tested by the Sanders campaign. The key items include a financial transaction tax on Wall Street, free higher education, single-payer health care, massive infrastructure spending, a halt to the off-shoring of jobs, criminal justice reform, taking money out of politics, and reducing global warming. That’s our agenda, not Trump’s.

The fact that few if any of these issues are being discussed today shows the weakness of a Trump-centric approach.

2. Trump resistance can slide into defending the status quo.

The 2016 election featured a major revolt against runaway inequality and all the elite corruption that goes with it. Sanders from the left and Trump from the right attacked the neoliberal order with considerable success. Hillary Clinton was viewed, perhaps by a majority, as an elite representative of the old order in league with Wall Street.

A full court Trump defense can back us into defending the established order. The Affordable Care Act is such an example. Already progressive groups are rallying to defend it against the Trump/Republican attack. But defending the Affordable Care Act is also a defense of the private insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Our job is to fight in behalf of Medicare for All rather than defending a program that enriches the private healthcare establishment.

But, if Obamacare is eliminated won’t millions of low and moderate income families lose their coverage? Isn’t it foolish in the era of Trump to press for single-payer?

Long-term movement building requires that we make the case for what we really believe in. As Trump reopens the healthcare debate, we need to clearly define and promote the progressive position, rather than accept the polls of a debate that claims the only real choices are Obamacare or something worse. We should be joining forces with Labor for Single Payer and others who continue to press for a rational single-payer system that eliminates the power of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

3. Resisting Trump by itself will not win back swing states.

It appears that the defense-only mode assumes that because Hillary won the popular vote, it’s not important to win over marginal Trump supporters who are seeking an alternative to the status quo. We have a national majority so there’s nothing lost by writing off Trump voters.

But this is a very risky assumption. Key swing states may remain in Trump’s column if all we do is resist. A marginal voter could view progressive resist actions as simply disruptive if we don’t put forth a positive agenda that frames our resistance and expands the debate.

Impeachment efforts also have a way of backfiring. It’s important to recall that the impeachment of Bill Clinton made him more popular not less so. And Hillary’s barrage of anti-Trump ads had very little impact on marginal Trump voters. The future goes to whichever camp develops the most compelling vision for America. A negation of Trump is not a vision.

4. Resisting Trump on trade and the off-shoring of jobs is a big mistake.

Progressives are sneering at Trump’s efforts to lure jobs back to the U.S., and using high tariffs to threaten companies that off-shore jobs to low-wage areas. But attacking Trump for saving 850 jobs at Carrier, for example, is politically stupid, morally wrong and factually incoherent.

Here are the simple facts we ignore at our own peril:

  • Trump did indeed save those 850 jobs. There are 850 people and their families (half of whom are women and minorities) who have avoided disaster. It’s a sad commentary on establishment politics that Trump is the first president who has so intervened. But it’s good for American working people when companies are pressured to stay in the U.S. Intervening into our supposedly sacred free-markets is not a sin. We need to advocate for more efforts to slow down the movement of capital rather than critiquing Trump’s interventions.

  • The $7 million given to Carrier to remain in Indiana is par for the course and not a new bribe invented by Trump. Each and every day, in every state of the union, government agencies are showering companies with cash and tax forgiveness either to lure jobs into their states or keep jobs from leaving. In fact, the $7 million is a bargain compared to similar recent efforts in Connecticut and New York.

The fight against off-shoring and bad trade deals should be a progressive cause as it was during the Sanders campaign. We should be rallying in support of workers who are losing their jobs due to off-shoring and support the legislation Sanders is proposing to stop it.

5. Betting on Trump’s failure is reckless.  

Progressives are hoping that Trump will self-destruct, that he will do something so stupid the country will denounce him. At the very least, liberal economists tell us his billionaire-centric trickle-down polices will harm his working-class base and lead to their alienation.

But those are risky bets. We just witnessed Trump destroying the Republican field while bragging about the size of his penis. Somehow, in the general election, he also survived the groping video along with the many insults he hurled against women, the disabled and war heroes. Doubling down on the idea that his behavior will lead to his undoing seems a bit naive at this point, don’t you think?

Similarly, it is not a forgone conclusion that Trump’s economic policies will fail. It is possible that his use of the bully pulpit combined with his privatized infrastructure plans might create a jobs boom large enough to reach workers in key swing states. We don’t as yet know how far he will go on the job creation front, but he seems to be taking that task seriously.

So waiting for Trump’s collapse or just pushing for it, seems like an irresponsible political strategy. Instead, we actually have to do the hard work of building something new that is independent both of Trump and the neo-liberal establishment.

6. Resisting Trump could turn into an excuse to stay within our issue silos.

We have a long, long way to go before we can truly capitalize on what the Sanders campaign showed was possible. Clearly, waiting for Sanders to run again at age 78 is not realistic. Something new must be built starting now.

But progressive organizations are designed poorly for this task. For the last generation each issue, each cause, each identity group has developed its own silo.  Each group creates its own purpose, agenda and fund raising base to ensure its survival.  Most of our groups are highly dependent on philanthropic funding, and those foundations are also segmented into specific issues areas. The net result is extreme fragmentation among progressive organizations.

There is no common agenda, no common strategy, no common structure. We have enormous experience in promoting our specific agenda silos and very little practice in working together around a hard hitting common program that transcends all of our silos.

At the moment, resisting Trump is a proxy for a common cause. It could lead to a broad pro-active movement, but only if we aim it that way. It also could be another excuse to stay within our issue silos. As Trump and the Republicans go after social programs, they will negatively impact many of the issues around which progressives have organized  — voting rights, abortion, the environment, etc.  Defending what we’ve accomplished will seem like the first order of business while broader movement building, it will be argued, is pie in the sky during the Trump era.

That is the most dangerous path of all. Of course, we need to defend the rights we have won. But overall we will continue to lose ground to runaway inequality — something that impacts all of our issues. In fact we are likely to lose on our specific silo issues as well unless we build a broad-based unified movement.

Is movement-building pie in the sky?

Sanders proved that a social democratic movement was possible. But it can’t be sustained around one person. We need a tangible organizing effort that brings together our many issue groups. That entails four tasks:

  • We need a common agenda and common analysis. This should be a no-brainer. Bernie just about got us there last year. Now we need to lay it out simply and clearly and get everyone and their uncle to sign onto it.

  • We need a national educational campaign that explains the agenda and analysis all around the country, as the Populists did in the 1880s. At that time they fielded 6,000 educators that toured the country building local chapters along the way. Today, we need about 30,000 educators, especially in the swing states. (Several key union and community groups are working with our organization, the Labor Institute, to build such an educational infrastructure.)

  • We need a new national organization that we can all join as dues paying members. We should be able to go to Pensacola, Paterson, Pasadena or Poughkeepsie to attend chapter meetings to fight runaway inequality as members of the same national organization. We don’t need to abandon our issue silos, but we need to climb out of them to join something bigger, stronger and more clearly aimed at a new social democratic agenda.

  • Finally, we need to expand our own perceptions of the possible. After 40 years of neoliberalism, our vision has been curtailed. We now find it normal that students should go deeply into debt to attend college or trade schools. We find it normal to have the largest military establishment and the most prisoners in the world. We find it normal that companies can simply pick up and move jobs to low wage areas. And most importantly, we find it normal to believe that a coherent national movement is pie in the sky.

We will never succeed until our sense of the possible expands. Sanders proved that a new social democratic movement can be built. He raised more money than the Clinton machine and overwhelming won the support of young people for an agenda that only a few years ago would have been called socialistic. We can argue about why he didn’t win, but there is no question that his agenda caught on.

Trump’s election is another eye-opener. The very existence of someone called President Trump should shake us up enough to build a massive new movement that starts with resistance but goes far beyond. We really have no choice. Trump’s not playing little ball. Neither should we.

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute, is currently working with unions and community organizations to build the educational infrastructure for a new anti-Wall Street movement.

IMAGE: People gather to protest against Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump on the sidewalk, outside the grand opening of his new Trump International Hotel in Washington, U.S. October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The Invention Of The ‘White Working Class’

The Invention Of The ‘White Working Class’

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

History warns us to be very, very careful when using the phrase “white working class.” The reason has nothing to do with political correctness. Rather, it concerns the changing historical definitions of who is “white.”

Eduardo Porter in the New York Times, uses this construction to ask, “Did the white working class vote its economic interests?” He claims that current data shows white people losing out to blacks and Hispanics in getting their fair share of the new jobs created since 2007:

“Despite accounting for less than 15 percent of the labor force, Hispanics got more than half of the net additional jobs. Blacks and Asians also gained millions more jobs than they lost. But whites, who account for 78 percent of the labor force, lost more than 700,000 net jobs over the nine years.”

Porter further argues this is happening because blacks and Hispanics live mostly in the thriving urban areas while most white people live in declining rural areas.

Only 472 counties voted for Hillary Clinton on Election Day. But ….they account for 64 percent of the nation’s economic activity. The 2,584 counties where Mr. Trump won, by contrast, generated only 36 percent of America’s prosperity.

Porter therefore believes that the white working class flocked to Trump as a way to protest their economic decline.

But this conclusion is flawed:

  • Neither the studies nor Porter provide a definition of “white working class.” Is it all white people? Does it include management? Professionals? We’re not told.

  • Nor do they provide any evidence that the actual work experiences of white and black working people are starkly different no matter how the class is defined.

  • Rural America, also, is not lily white. Hispanics and African Americans make up a total of 17.5% of rural and small town America.

  • Further, the research grounding my book Runaway Inequality shows that working people as a whole (defined as the 85 percent of us who are production and non-supervisory employees) have seen their real wages fall since the late 1970s — all shades, all colors.

  • Finally, most of the new jobs created are low-wage, part-time service sector jobs — jobs that often pay poverty wages. As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2015, “More than 40% of the jobs added in just the past year have come in generally lower-paying fields such as food service, retail and temporary help.” So getting the lion’s share of these jobs is not a pathway to prosperity.

Dog Whistle Whites

What these studies and reports do accomplish however is to sound the latest dog whistle about race in America. They create an image in our minds of a coherent white working class, hunkered down in the declining manufacturing sector — white rural workers who have needs and interests different from black and brown urban workers. In doing so, this image feeds into a long history of white working class creationism that divides working people by race.

An early instance of this process took place in the aftermath of Bacon’s rebellion (1675), during which Nathanial Bacon united black slaves, and white indentured servants into a rebellious army against Virginia planter elites. (It was less than a noble enterprise in that Bacon wanted more government attacks against Native Americans.) After the rebellion was put down, plantation owners gave special privileges to poor whites in order to drive a wedge between them and black slaves. It worked.

A dramatic redefinition of “white” took place during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as mass immigration and colonialization expanded. So called race scientists studied cranial size and shapes, skin color, and hair texture to create a biology of race. By 1911, the U.S. Immigration Commission published its Dictionary of Races or Peoples, that listed 29 separate races. The Southern Italian race, for example, is described as “excitable, impulsive, highly imaginative…having little adaptability to highly organized society.”

Race science defined “white” as a narrow category that excluded virtually everyone who didn’t come from northern Europe. By the First World War, U.S. immigration policy was informed by early IQ tests given to immigrants on Ellis Island that supposedly showed that “87% of Russians, 83% of Jews, 80% of Hungarians, and 79% of Italians were feeble-minded.”

Management “Race Science”

These race scientists created a vast hierarchy of races seen in the chart below designed for a Pittsburgh steel company in 1926. It is based on the idea that each “race” by its intrinsic nature possesses certain skills and attributes that makes it suitable to certain work tasks.

This “science” provided the rationale for dividing the workforce by ethnic group which had the added virtue of weakening worker solidarity and keeping unions at bay. This became particularly acute after 4 million workers went on strike at the end of WWI. The largest strike involved 350,000 steel workers that finally collapsed after 14 weeks of pitched battles. It is highly likely that the skills chart was designed to prevent such a resurgence.

(One can only speculate why the Jewish “race” was placed at the bottom of the hierarchy. One reason may be because two of the largest unions in the country — the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union were Jewish led and contained hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrant workers. So if you hired Jewish workers into the steel industry, the odds were high they might be predisposed to unionism or be union plants.)

The Whitening of America

A confluence of events rapidly changed the definition of white in the1930s and 40s. The rise of American industrial unionism successfully organized “unskilled” immigrant workers, blacks and Hispanics into broad-based unions. So much for the race chart.

The mobilization for WWII further melded together all the “lower” ethnic groups except for black, brown and yellow. And after the atrocities at the Nazi death camps were revealed, the earlier race science industry was thoroughly discredited.

What causes the definition of race to change?

The definition of “white” and of “race” in general depends on the needs of the most powerful elements of society. To justify slavery and Jim Crow, race science gave Southern elites a justification for denying human rights to millions with darker skin colors.

The “science” of the early 1900s created finely grained racial hierarchies that conveniently justified immigration restrictions and colonialism. Colonial powers argued that since their “race” was at the top of the ladder, they had the right and the duty to rule lesser peoples and their countries.

To successfully mobilize America against the “master race” and the “yellow peril” during WWII, American leaders permitted “white” to be broadened to include most of what previously had been considered lesser races. (However, racist South Democrats and their lock-down control of Congress, made sure that black and brown people were denied New Deal benefits and therefore would continue to suffer as separate races. The Japanese interment camps further heightened the idea of a separate race of “Orientals.”)

So what color is Obama?

White mother, black father means you are black? White? Half-black? Half white?

That kind of question leads us to think about race as a biological as well as a sociological category. Skin color is real biology isn’t it? And what about sickle-cell anemia?

But folk science is not real science. One in 13 African-American babies is born with a sickle-cell trait. Sickle cell trait can also affect Hispanics, South Asians, Caucasians from southern Europe, and people from Middle Eastern countries.

Similarly, every effort to construct a black or white race through genetics has failed. No one yet has found a gene that signals a separate race.

Here’s a fact of life that may startle you. Eighty-five percent of all genetic variation is among people within a population and only 15 percent of the variation among humans is between different populations and continents. This means that any two black people chosen at random will have far more genetic differences from each other than a randomly selected white and a black person. Biologically speaking the old cliché is true: There is only one race — the human race.

What is Race?

Over a century ago, W.E.B. Dubois put forth perhaps the clearest, most exact definition of race: “A Negro is a person who must ride Jim Crow in Georgia”

He understood, as should we, that race always is a social construction, a human invention used to create a hierarchy of power. It is not genetics. It is not biology. And in the case of the “white working class” it’s not even accurate sociology.

When we invent the white working class, we whitewash an increasingly diverse manufacturing workforce. Take the workforce at Carrier, which is in the news because of Trump’s effort to prevent its jobs from moving to Mexico. Isn’t it a perfect example of a beleaguered and declining white working class in Indiana, looking to Trump for help?

No, the Carrier workforce is 50 percent African-American. Half of the assembly line workers are women. Burmese immigrants make up 10 percent of the employees.

Drop the dubious “white working class” construction and we’ll see that Porter is asking the wrong question. It’s not whether the imagined white working class voted for its own economic interests by voting for Trump.

Rather, the real question is this: Is it even possible for working people of all kinds to vote their economic interests given the corporate orientation of both parties?

What do you think?

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute, is currently working with unions and community organizations to build the educational infrastructure for a new anti-Wall Street movement.

IMAGE: Worker Marilyn MacKay assembles a rifle at the Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. gun factory in Newport, New Hampshire, in this January 6, 2012 file photo.  REUTERS/Eric Thayer/Files     

Sanders’ Social Democracy Versus Trump’s Authoritarian Doctrine

Sanders’ Social Democracy Versus Trump’s Authoritarian Doctrine

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

President-elect Trump scored a remarkable victory by saving 1,000 of the 2,100 jobs that Carrier and its parent company, United Technologies, were outsourcing to Mexico. During the campaign, Trump pledged to stop those jobs from leaving the country and he has come through (much credit should be given to the United Steelworkers for keeping this issue alive).

Trump used the plight of those workers, represented by the United Steelworkers, as a battering ram to pummel Hillary Clinton on trade and the loss of decent paying U.S. manufacturing jobs. Now, his partial success could lead to a mass exodus of working people from Democratic party.

The Myth of the White Working Class

Post-election pundits are propagating the false equation that “industrial workers” equals “white working class,” and that Clinton’s crushing defeat in the Rust Belt was the result of a white worker revolt against political correctness — i.e., they’re racists!

But America’s industrial workforce reflects the future, not the past. The 1,400-person Carrier workforce in Indianapolis, for example, is 50 percent African American. Women make up half of the workers on its assembly lines, and 10 percent of the employees are Burmese immigrants.

This means Donald Trump, bigot in chief, has just saved the decent-paying, unionized jobs of women, African Americans, immigrants and white workers. Look out Democrats.

Benign Neglect at the Democratic Party

Trump’s effort to save these jobs contrasts starkly with the failure of the established Democratic Party to do anything at all about such devastating plant closures. President Obama has never used his bully pulpit to mention even one of the thousands of facilities that shifted abroad under his watch. Similarly, Hillary Clinton remained silent about Carrier during her entire campaign, thereby allowing Trump to morph into the champion of the working class.

But none of that is particularly surprising given how deeply Wall Street/corporate elites are embedded within the Democratic Party. More troubling still is that party elites believe these relocations are economically justifiable.

Neoliberal ideology (the holiness of tax cuts, privatization, deregulation, and the free movement of capital) has become the conventional wisdom of the entire political establishment of both parties. The media in particular echoes the inaccurate notion that these facilities must move so that the parent company can keep up with competition. (Carrier, in fact, is leaving in order to secure more funds for stock-buybacks to enrich hedge funds and top corporate officers.) All of this capital mobility is pictured as result of globalization—a force akin to an act of God.

Virtually every article on Carrier opines that Trump’s quick fix cannot alter the technological march that surely will displace these blue collar workers. What they are really saying is the corporations have the right and obligation to move wherever and whenever they wish in order to boost profits and “shareholder value.” Mainstream economists then assure us that, overall, society is better off due lower-cost imported goods and higher value-added domestic jobs, even if a few workers are sacrificed along the way.

But a “few workers” have turned into millions of family members and members of devastated communities who have seen their lives deteriorate. They are heading Trump’s way.

Sanders to the Rescue?

Bernie Sanders saw all this coming. That’s why he challenged Clinton in the first place, and that’s why he’s now trying to capture the Democratic Party and turn it into the champion of working people against Wall Street and “the billionaire class.”

In the case of Carrier, Sanders is calling on Trump not to accept a compromise that will still allow half of the jobs to be moved to Mexico. Staying true to his radical politics, Sanders also is calling for new “Outsourcing Prevention Act” that would:

  1. Bar companies from receiving future contracts, tax breaks, grants or loans from the federal government if they have announced plans to outsource more than 50 jobs to other countries;

  2. Require all companies to pay back all federal tax breaks, grants and loans they have received from the federal government over the last decade if they outsource more than 50 jobs in a given year;

  3. Impose a tax on all companies that outsource jobs. The tax would be equal to the amount of savings achieved by outsourcing jobs or 35 percent of its profits, whichever is higher.

  4. Prohibit companies that offshore jobs from enriching executives through golden parachutes, stock options, bonuses, or other forms of compensation by imposing stiff tax penalties on this compensation.

Reactionary versus Progressive Populism

The stage is set for an epic struggle between Trump’s right wing populism and Sanders-style social democracy. The corporate-driven Democrats may soon be irrelevant. Either they go along with Sanders and compete for the allegiance with working people, or they get pummeled by more working class defections to Trump’s brand of populism.

Sanders believes that neoliberalism is heart of our problem — that it leads to runaway inequality, a rigged political system, an exploitative Wall Street, and the full-scale assault on the living and working conditions of working people — black, brown, white, gay and straight. That system, he believes, also leads to the dramatic rise of incarceration, urban and rural poverty, and the stalling of real wages for the vast majority of the population.

Sanders understands we only can win significant social democratic reforms if we link together the full set of victims (most of the 99%). He’s talking about the kind of programs that will appreciably improve our lives — free higher education, single-payer health care, a major attack on climate change, massive public job creation, real criminal justice and immigration reform, a Wall Street speculation tax and now the Outsourcing Prevention Act.

Getting it Right

It’s too late to take the Carrier victory away form Trump. It won’t work to belittle Trump by claiming it only covers 1,000 jobs, or that too many public tax breaks were tossed to the corporation, or that globalization will eventually make those jobs go away. One thousand jobs means 1,000 families who will not see their incomes slashed in half, or worse. More importantly it means hope, that maybe outsourcing to low-wage countries can be ameliorated.

As a result, Sanders is making a difficult ask both of the Democratic Party, and of progressive activists in general. He is asking us to place working people at the center of our work: “The working class of this country is being decimated — that’s why Donald Trump won,” Sanders said. “And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people, who understand that real median family income has gone down.”

To get there, Sanders is fanning a contentious debate: He argues that the current practice of identity politics is not a complete political program. As he bluntly stated, “It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me.’ That is not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industries.”

So what does this mean for the efforts of tens of thousands of progressive activists who are deeply engaged in halting climate change, preventing police violence, securing equal rights the LGBTQ community, protecting immigrants, and working on a myriad of other significant causes?

Sanders implies that for any of us to succeed, we all must join the fight to enhance the lives of working people. No matter what our priority issue, we will need to devote time and resources to fight for universal programs that lift us all up. In short, we have to expand our issue silos so that fighting Wall Street and the billionaire class can link us together.Sanders could not be clearer: Either we become a broad-based class movement or we lose. The choice is ours, not Trump’s.

IMAGE: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally at Casa del Mexicano in Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 4, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The Story That Will Expose Trump’s Phony Trade Talk

The Story That Will Expose Trump’s Phony Trade Talk

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

Over the next two years 1,400 Carrier air conditioner workers will see their decent-paying jobs migrate to Mexico. This highly profitable Indiana facility, represented by United Steel Workers, will make even more money south of the border where workers earn less in one day than the Indiana employees make in one hour, according to the New York Times. (A YouTube video of the heartbreaking plant closing announcement has nearly 4 million views.)

While Hillary Clinton remained silent on this impending catastrophe, Donald Trump turned this facility into the poster child for what’s wrong with U.S. trade policy. He pledged that if the plant moved, he would place a 35% tariff on all Carrier products imported from Mexico as well as a similar duty on the Mexican products of its parent company, United Technologies. Trump boasted he would make the company cry uncle: “I’ll get a call from the head of Carrier and he’ll say, Mr. President, we’ve decided to stay in the United States. That’s what’s going to happen—100 percent.”

Carrier became the 100 percent battering ram Trump used to pound Hillary Clinton and her embrace of NAFTA and other trade deals. In doing so, Trump snatched the plant closing issue away from the Democrats, something the party apparatchiks didn’t recognize until the Trump votes poured in from the Rust Belt.

The Carrier case, however, was not just the usual media meme about Trump backing the less educated, white working-class. In fact, the threatened Indianapolis plant is 50 percent African American. Women make up half the workforce on the assembly lines and the facility also employs dozens of recent Burmese immigrants, well regarded by their co-workers. So making this facility great again actually means coming to the aid of America’s increasingly diverse labor force.

But Trump is stumbling into something far more problematic than trade deals. At the heart of this story is the financial strip-mining of America organized and led by Wall Street.

Why does United Technology want to move to Mexico?

Let’s round up the usual suspects:

  • They can’t turn a decent profit using unionized American workers? No. Carrier is the most profitable division of United Technologies.

  • NAFTA cause this proposed move? Not likely. NAFTA is 22 years old, so unless United Technologies is the corporate Rip Van Winkle, they could have moved long ago.

  • New technologies make the destruction of decent paying manufacturing jobs inevitable? Not at all. In this factory transplant, they are redeploying the same technologies already in use, machine by machine.

So if profits, trade and automation are not the driving forces, what is?

The major pressure to shift jobs abroad comes from the big hedge funds and private equity investors that have one goal only—to siphon as much wealth as possible out of companies like United Technologies. High profits, low profits or no profits, they pressure company after company to squeeze their costs as much as possible so there is more money available for the company to buy back its own shares.

Why? Because stock buybacks immediately raise the share price and give the big hedge funds an instant windfall.

Before a 1982 SEC rule change—a major turning point in the disastrous deregulation of finance—massive stock buybacks were illegal because they were considered stock manipulation and a major cause of the 1929 crash. Now, Wall Street extracts billions from this destructive activity. It’s what drives runaway inequality. (For the definitive account see Professor William Lazonick’s “Profits Without Prosperity,” Harvard Business Review.)

CEOs cherish this process because they now derive the majority of their compensation through stock incentives. So by acting as Wall Street shills, they drive up the price of stock and become richer and richer themselves.

In 1970, before stock buybacks became the norm, the pay gap between the top CEOs and the average worker was $45 to $1. Today it is an incomprehensible $844 to $1. So there’s a codependency between the big hedge fund investors and the United Technologies CEO to move the Carrier facility, obtain more cash flow, and use it all to buy back more stock.

What proof do we have? Since 2006, United Technologies has spent over $25 billion on stock buybacks, amounting to over fifty percent of its net income. Last year, just before it announced the move to Mexico, the parent company instituted a $10 billion stock buyback and the stock price immediately jumped 5 percent. This means United Technologies used 131.4 percent of its net income to move money from the company to its major investors and top officers.

Gregory Hayes, United Technologies CEO, gets his share of the booty. Since 2012, he received $44,100,000 in total compensation, about half of which derives from stock incentives. Fifty-six top hedge funds have taken a stock position in the company to reap the bounty from these stock buybacks.

And so Trump bluffed his way into the soulless heart of an economy dominated by Wall Street. Does he have the guts to take on the fundamental evil of stock buybacks? Not unless he is forced to. It’s so much easier to blame Mexico and China.

Is Carrier a major opening for the Democratic Party?

Hillary Clinton’s benign neglect of these workers is symptomatic of the party’s ongoing romance with Wall Street elites, the source of so much of the party’s funding. These political leaders, their high-level campaign officials and the party’s financial backers have never had it so good. They won’t suffer one iota from the loss of those 1,400 Carrier jobs. They won’t have to contemplate finding a replacement job at Walmart for $13 an hour. They won’t have to worry about how to pay off their kids’ student loans. Instead, they will continue to enjoy the fruits of America’s wealth that is rapidly flowing to the top 1 percent.

Unless the party is captured by the Sanders forces, there will be little concerted action to outlaw stock buybacks. The establishment Democrats will do next to nothing about the never ending rip-off of the American people by Wall Street elites.

What should progressives do?

Right now we are in the streets bearing witness to the threats Trump poses to immigrants, people of color, Roe v. Wade, LBGTQ rights, and the environment. These protests build a protective sense of community, a public space to share pain and anger, a place to shield each other against deportation and Trump vigilantes.

But to date, these emotive and reactive responses provide no alternative path or program. Love trumps hate is no match for what will soon be jammed through Congress.

Moving from Trump, the person, to the Wall Street horrors that give us Trump.

The Carrier relocation offers new possibilities. It allows us to protest about what Trump either does or does not do on behalf of working people.

If progressives were well organized—a very big if, to be sure—we should join these workers to build mass demonstrations at United Technologies headquarters, hedge fund offices and the White House. Such a series of protests would keep the Carrier shutdown on the front burner and provoke Trump to live up to his job promises.

Imagine if Black Lives Matter, the Sierra Club, 350.org, the Moral Monday movement, the Sanders supporters, and other unions and church groups rallied around these at-risk workers. That would send a loud, clear message that the progressive movement for economic, environmental and social justice cares deeply about the plight of working people—black, white, Hispanic and immigrant alike.

Not only would it challenge Trump’s bluster, it would create a litmus test for the Democratic Party. If we took to the streets for this kind of working-class cause, the Democrats would finally be forced to decide whether they are, as economist James Galbraith put it, “the party of the predators or the prey.”

The Democrats lost this election because they tried to be both. That’s why Hillary didn’t think twice about taking all that Wall Street cash for her private speeches. That’s why she could talk about the “deplorables” to a closed-door donor meeting. The Democratic elites were confident that they could build a new winning coalition of women, people of color, immigrants and upper-income voters. They thought they didn’t really need the working people left behind by Wall Street’s financial strip-mining. They do now.

There are other critical political realities to consider. By not acting on behalf of these workers, we continue to cede the jobs terrain to Trump. If for some reason Carrier does not move, Trump will get all the credit—and justifiably so. But if our movement sustained the demand in a systematic way, the victory would be for all working people, not just Trump. We would become the movement for jobs and justice.

Why fight to save manufacturing jobs when the planet is heating up, black men are being shot by police and millions of immigrants are about to be deported?

This is a time of reckoning for progressives. It is time to face up to the fact that we will win very little unless we recognize that working people of all shades must become a vital part of a common progressive movement.

Their inclusion, however, requires that we climb out of our issue silos. We need to build a state, local and national progressive alliance that unites our specific issues. Bernie Sanders proved that such a common effort has enormous potential. He successfully made the case that the actions of the rapacious billionaire class unites us all as we struggle to reverse runaway inequality, eliminate discrimination, provide universal health care and free higher education, while also protecting the planet. We came together then around a broad social democratic platform. We need to do it again.

For starters, Sanders should deploy his prodigious list of small donors to raise substantial funds to build a national movement infrastructure. An opening campaign could focus on Carrier and highlight the evils of stock manipulation. Working people all over the country would take notice.

Yes, we are hurting. Yes, we are fearful. Yes, we are incredulous that the country we love could turn to a demagogue. But we have just entered one of those rare historical moments when the poignant words of Joe Hill, the labor troubadour, again ring true. In a telegram written to the radical labor leader Bill Haywood, just before Hill was executed on trumped-up charges 101 years ago, he wrote, “Don’t waste any time mourning: Organize!”

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute, is currently working with unions and community organizations to build the educational infrastructure of a new anti-Wall Street movement. His new book Runaway Inequality: An Activist Guide to Economic Justice serves as a text for this campaign.  All proceeds go to support these educational efforts.

IMAGE: Assembly workers work on the underside of 2015 Ford Mustang vehicles on the production line at the Ford Motor Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, August 20, 2015. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook