Response to the State of the Union address
Republicans, Democrats Miss the Mark on Inequality
Milwaukee, WI – As soon as President Obama's State of the Union address was over, debates around the speech's central theme of wealth inequality were distributed in carefully packaged arguments to all who would listen.
In tackling the issue, Former Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachman from Minnesota claimed the problem was not one of income inequality, but of income opportunity. According to the free market capitalist, a lack of jobs are the fundamental problem and we haven't gone far enough yet in giving corporations freedom to grow as they see fit, and that this will create the jobs Americans need to heal our deeply divided society.
Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont, the supposed “socialist” who works closely with the Democratic Party, towed the party line, claiming that solving the problem of soaring education costs will level the playing field and address the inequality gap. The Democrats say that in educating the population, they will provide Americans access to “better” jobs and make our corporations more dynamic, and thus, more profitable, making everyone wealthier along the way.
The problem with both arguments: neither deals with the issue.
When Democrats talk about the cost of education, they mean finding a way to help give middle class students access to getting a degree that leads to a “better” job. When Republicans talk about income opportunity, they mean to shift the blame for a bad economy back onto the poor themselves.
The gap between the 99% and the 1% cannot be solved with how many jobs there are, or what kind of job you have. Jobs themselves have nothing to do with the income gap. The income gap is a question of ownership and power in our society, with which group – working people or Wall Street has influence. The problem lies with who writes the paycheck.
The genius behind the Occupy Movement is that it places the issue in its right place: a problem of class. The working class in the U.S. is on the defensive, losing rights in the workplace, opportunities in school and society, and bargaining rights with the bosses—the 1%. The owners, on the other hand, are gaining more and more power, and seeing their wealth soar as a result.
President Obama's challenge to employers to raise wages on their own is an empty one. It is a ploy to keep the left-liberals in the Democratic Party happy, while not doing anything to threaten the profits of the super rich. Further, it flies in the face of the experience of the labor movement in the United States, which saw Americans workers organize and struggle for every penny increase in wages and benefits. If the President wanted to take a serious stand for working people, he would do well to remember the words of the great Abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.”
Working people in the United States need more jobs and higher wages. In an age where one in five children deals with hunger, this cannot be any clearer. We need people to construct buildings, drive ambulances, and work on new technologies. What we do not need is the bankers and corporate heads of Wall Street who suck billions out of workers labor and give nothing back but foreclosures and outsourced jobs.
That said, simply creating more jobs inside the 99%, either the so-called “better” jobs the Democrats propose or just any-old-job we can create as the Republicans wish, does not address the issue of the power divide between the haves and have-nots. It only exposes the fact that both political parties are representatives of the haves, and as such they never will address the real issues workers face.
We won’t find our answers on Wall Street, in Congress, or in the White House. Only when working people, as a class, see through the smoke screen, recognize the problem, and organize to take power in their workplaces and communities will we be able to toss out Wall Street bankers and corporate boards and make a better world possible.