Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

How Barack Obama can get his momentum back: redefine labor and wages

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Originally published on on Fri, 08/22/2008 – 2:35pm

In the final part of this week’s series on how Barack Obama can regain momentum, I deal with another with change in attitude. Yesterday, it was the role of taxes and what government actually does. Today, it’s redefining labor and wages.

(Previously, I dealt with education, health care, and privacy, topics where both major candidates need to tell the public where they stand.)


That figure haunts me still to this day. That was the minimum wage per hour when Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 and was still the minimum wage in 1989 when he left office. Getting an increase in the minmum wage was impossible with a Republican-led Congress from 1995-2007.

To quote Wikipedia:

From January 1981 to April 1990, the minimum wage was frozen at $3.35 per hour, then a record-setting wage freeze. From 1 September 1997 through 23 July 2007 – a period of nearly ten years – the federal minimum wage remained constant at $5.15 per hour, breaking the old record.

Since the federal standard became unreliable, most states set a minimum wage different from the federal standard.

There is an abuse of workers on multiple levels: from being told to punch out and go back to work to threats of immigration against brown-skinned workers to workers just being afraid to say anything for fear of immediate retaliation. We have had a Department of Labor for the last 7 1/2 years more interested in punishing workers than helping them.

(It seems like the easiest job in the world is Secretary of Labor under a Republican administration. And Elaine Chao has done exactly what Bush wants: not a whole lot.)

In our current state, there are serious allegations against Wal-Mart for possibly unlawfully pressuring employees to vote against Democrats because of help for workers to unionize.

Republicans have successfully pushed this concept that business is “saintly” and labor is “evil.” And Democrats haven’t really fought back. Yes, some union bosses are corrupt and/or gone soft. But Democrats have allowed Republicans to paint all unions as being corrupt.

As I mentioned yesterday, 94% of Americans make less than $100,000. Yet the perception from society is that Americans like what Republicans say because they believe in rich people. “Hey, when I’m rich, I want to be treated like that.” But given the salary structure and antagonism toward labor, they have very little shot short of marrying for money or winning the lottery.

There was a time when the balance between labor and companies allowed workers to benefit for their work. Not anymore.

In 1992, Bill Clinton ran on getting more jobs into the economy, and increasing the technology-based jobs. Clinton was successful at doing that, more so than any president since 1980 by far. But in 2008, having jobs isn’t enough; they need to pay in such a way that workers can get ahead.

Obama hasn’t gone off to a good start on this issue. Yes, we hear about middle-class tax cuts, a knee-jerk reaction from the Clinton days. But the middle-class doesn’t fit the realm of reality in terms of what amount of money defines middle-class.

Labor matters more than CEOs, yet CEOs are artificially rewarded at the expense of the workers. There are more votes to get among workers than CEOs. CEOs have politicians looking out for them, but workers don’t. Obama needs to show that he wants workers to matter more in this economy.

With that statistic of 94% of Americans make less than $100,000, if you had economic solutions to appeal to that demographic, and you got 2/3 of their vote, you’d have 63% of the vote without a single person over $100,000 voting for you.

The Republicans are for the rich and the super-rich. The Democrats seem to be for the middle-class, as long as the middle-class is defined as $250,000. There is a huge cavern of people, conservative and liberal, who would settle for a party that focuses on $40,000-$100,000. John McCain won’t go after those people. Barack Obama, this is your chance: Redefine labor and wages and get those people to vote Democratic in November.


Written by democracysoup

August 22, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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