Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Fight for 15 in Buffalo: A Real Lesson in Economics and Social Justice
This morning we went to a Fight for 15 labor rally. Despite the dirty looks from onlookers (not those participating) and whispering that it was no place for kids, we brought the kids because it we want them to understand the real economic power structure. Before the financial crisis, many were lulled into the belief that there is economic justice simply because there appeared to be a path to a better life through education. Recently, it appears to be debunked. With failing schools, the high cost of college, student loans that can't be discharged in even the most dire circumstances and the fact that many people with degrees are working in low wage jobs, it is harder and harder to believe in fairness and the American Dream. (I am sorry for the picture, but with my fibro bad, I had trouble being steady enough to take one of the kids walking. The only good one was Tom holding the sign.)
The rally was very educational. First off, several religious leaders, including St. Paul's Cathedral's Rev. Mebane, spoke about what the Bible says regarding workers. None of it was a surprise to me, but it doesn't jive with our media's constant portrayal that religious people are and should be aligned with those who make a big deal of supporting the “free market”. No one in the media mentions that corporations are the beneficiaries of regulation. Even the ones that don't benefit from many regulations benefit from the limited liability corporate law affords them. What about property rights? Don't they confer certain advantages? Yes, many people own property, but anyone who plays monopoly knows that it is easier to acquire more cash and property if you already have more. Hunter-gathers were the original state of things and any property ownership means the exclusion of some from the land and all the related benefits. The Bible takes these fairness issues into account and makes a point of dictating how and when workers should be paid.
Other speakers juxtaposed the volume of profits against the amounts the state has had to spend on the workers who, via their low income, are often eligible for Medicaid, Food Stamps, and HEAP despite working full-time. Who is really being subsidized, the workers or the companies who have a substantial amount of the compensation of their workers covered by the government. Is this fair to companies that pay a living wage without needing their workers to access the social safety net? Often these are smaller corporations, medium size businesses whose workers are more skilled. Why should the largest corporations benefit and not small and medium sized companies?
There were indirect lessons too. Many of the workers talked about not being able to afford a car. To me cars are luxury items, but they are necessities if workers are released from work so late that there is no bus, a more affordable alternative. Walking in the daytime is not a big deal, but in the middle of the night, many workers say they are afraid. Ironically, for the rally today, there were many police officers watching us. About half were chatting and acting like they were only there just in case, but the rest appeared to be watching us with displeasure in almost an intimidating way. Where are all these police officers in the middle of the night when people need to walk home from work?! It was a good opportunity to talk to Thomas and Carmella about the power structures. Do the wealthy corporations directly send the police the day of the rally? Of course not, but aren't the laws and police procedures slanted in their favor and against the gatherings of peaceful people. Why are their procedures and practices to assume there will be violence or damage? Is it inherently understood that there is real unfairness and the expectation is that workers will level the playing field through any means? There are no absolute answers here, but certainly the rally was a great real world occasion for us to explore these issues.
What is the alternative to taking the kids to such a rally? Economics class that covers micro issues and history textbooks blessed by the state of Texas that glorify everything about our country as if it were ordained by the divine. I went to excellent catholic schools that did a great job of covering some social justice issues such as drugs and prisons, but never comprehensively covered the economic system from all angles (I mean ALL angles rather than capitalism versus capitalism on steroids). In my adult life, I have spent some time seeking out alternative voices in economics and education. I highly recommend listening to online lectures by Richard Wolff, Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, Morris Berman, John TaylorGatto, Alfie Kohn, and John Holt. Although one difficulty is that often those most likely to fight for living wages, think highly of compulsory education. Few people see the tie in to the origins of schooling and the desire of such by the large corporate interests to create good employees and get people used to doing what they are told. This likely includes susceptibility to advertising. They also had to quash the independent spirit of small farmers and business who, may not have had much, but had livelihoods free from the the constraints of employment. Now, living independent of large corporations via self-employment or consumption is extremely difficult due to the pricing out of smaller businesses. One example: my great-aunt felt like she had to buy her microwave at Walmart because it was the only place she could get a good price. I suspect it was the only place she could afford.
Anyway, the benefits of homeschooling are these opportunities to explore alternative views and take on a different worldview from limited one promulgated by the corporate media and the school system.