Whose Side are you on? Who Stands for the Bottom 95 Percent of Americans?

By Bill Ayres, WhyHunger Co-Founder and Executive Director

In case you have not noticed it, there has been an economic recovery.  In the past two years the stock market has had a dramatic recovery, with the Dow-Jones Industrial average almost doubling.  Corporate profits were $1.659 TRILLION in the third quarter of 2010, the highest on record and 28 percent higher than a year ago.  CEO salaries are once again in the superstar category and they have just had the Bush tax cuts extended.  The top five percent of earners are doing quite well and the top one percent is doing extraordinarily well.  Big business takes care of its own and so does our government.  After all, the super rich are the biggest contributors to campaigns for the Republican Party and increasingly for the Democratic Party. 

In the meantime, we still have 8.3 percent unemployment, almost half of which is long –term (more than six months).  The real number is 14 percent when you count those working part time who want to work full time and those who have left the workforce as discouraged workers.  Behind those astronomical numbers are millions of tragic stories that we all know and which many of us live.  Most economists do not see those numbers dropping very soon.  Why?  Why do we have another jobless recovery?  Why does our economy pay half of our workers pitifully low wages?  Last year the median annual wage for American workers was $26,680.  Try feeding and housing a family on that.

With all this business profit you would think that companies would be hiring millions of workers including ones they let go when the economy hit rock bottom.  Not so!  Since then almost half a million of the net jobs created were temp jobs.  Why?  Nearly half of all the income that the top 500 companies make these days comes from overseas.  They are registered as American businesses often with familiar names but increasingly they rely on foreign investments for their profits and they often pay little or no taxes on that income.  The great breakthrough for many of them during this Great Recession is that they  learned they can do more with less in America, especially less full time workers with hefty benefit packages.  They laid off millions of workers at the start of the downturn and found that they can do very well with less full time workers, more part time workers and requirements that their employees perform at a higher level than ever before for the same or less money.  Who stands with American workers in our time of dire need?  Obviously not big business, they do not see it in their best interest.   They used to when they needed workers but now they need less and less American workers.  Many of us are becoming expendable.

The federal government has not seen fit to create massive numbers of new jobs, has not invested sufficiently in green jobs and infrastructure, has not made it any easier to join a union and has not sent many of the corporate criminals to jail who created this whole financial mess that has also cost millions of additional jobs around the world.   The federal government does not stand up often enough for American workers.  More and more, they stand for their high roller supporters.  Whose side are they on?

In 1970 some 25 percent of American workers belonged to a union, made 20 to 25 percent more income and had much better benefits than non-union workers.  Now only about 7 percent of non-government workers are in unions and the 25 percent of government workers in unions could soon be an endangered species if ultra conservative governors with budget deficits have their way and create a climate that will strangle the unions.  Unions which used to stand for workers still do but even as they continue to be a political force for worker rights their numbers have dwindled.

So, if business does not stand for the 95 percent of us and the Democratic Party only partially supports us and labor unions continue to lose power, who stands for the vast majority of Americans who are not the super rich and the super stars?  Is there any one force that can stand up against the power of unjust globalization, multi-national corporations that do not have our best interests at heart, unpunished financial criminals and politicians that are on the take?

There is only one answer, the people, the 95 percent of us who have been left out of the action and face worse times ahead.  Community organizing on a mass level among citizens across the country around common themes and goals is a daunting task but it can be done and was done during the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-War Movement.  There are already many movements that sometimes work together on issues: hunger, poverty, health, workers rights, immigration, jobs, housing, childcare, women’s rights, civil rights, food, agriculture, nutrition, the environment and more.  All too often however, we work in silos and we do it from the top down not from the grassroots up. 

It is time that we unite, agree on an agenda for real change, agree to disagree where we can not find common ground, work for bottom up change in local, state and federal government policy and law and learn to tell our story framed to reach a variety of our constituents.  We certainly have many deep disagreements but the future of our nation is at stake. Nothing less than a national movement that unites many movements and thousands of community and state based organizations will succeed.  If we truly believe that America is the land of the free and the home of the brave we must get off our couches and organize for a real economic recovery and revival.  Whose side are you on?