In his just released book, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future,” economist, author and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich makes a compelling case for the government to spend money now and enact fair taxes on the super-rich in order to create good jobs for more Americans and reverse decades of growing income inequality — steps proposed in President Barack Obama’s jobs package, but more of them.
Speaking in early September at a conference sponsored by the recently formed organization Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, Reich laid out something equally important: how such a dramatic change in policy could come about.
“The only way we can get out of the jobs and wage crisis is by mobilizing Americans to demand a new WPA and civilian conservation corps, relief for struggling homeowners, federal loans to cash-starved states and cities, aid to education, and the rebuilding of our crumbling roads, bridges, ports and water systems,” said Reich. “It’s only through grassroots organizing and activism that the voices of average Americans can be heard above the roar of corporate and Wall Street money.”
Reich and other speakers at the conference called for a grassroots movement of Americans who want a better future to take to the streets and hold politicians — of both parties, feet to the fire in order to reverse policies that have led to spectacular economic inequalities.
500 Minnesotans came together
Fortunately, we see the beginnings of such a movement. At the conference, for example, 500 Minnesotans — ranging from clergy members to neighborhood leaders to blue collar workers — united and birthed a movement for economic justice in our state. I felt a sense of urgency and hope. We realized that nothing about our economy and politics can’t be changed. I saw the hope in the eyes of nursing-home workers and janitors as they realized that they had the power to act boldly and courageously to reclaim our democracy and economic well-being.
In increasing numbers, all across the country, Americans are taking to the streets for real action on jobs. This swelling grassroots movement is the only way for working people to stem the tide of corporate greed and return to an America in which we all pay our fair share and we all get a piece of the pie.
Here in Minnesota, the cry for jobs and fairness became noisier during the August recess. Constituents in Minnesota’s 8th District shamed Rep. Chip Cravaack into holding a free, open town hall in Duluth, where his constituents could deliver their plea for action on jobs. Hundreds of Minnesotans from all walks of life protested a $10,000-a-ticket golf fundraiser in Wayzata that was attended by Speaker of the House John Boehner, and Reps. Chip Cravaack, Michele Bachmann, John Kline, and Erik Paulsen. Instead of hobnobbing with high-dollar donors who already call the shots in Washington, Minnesota’s Republican members of Congress should have used their August recess to learn about the reality of joblessness in Minnesota.
The president had clearly heard some of this outcry by the time he delivered his jobs address. Members of Congress and the corporate powers that too often set their priorities will need to hear from us even more loudly in order to get our nation back on track.
A virtuous cycle
Periods of prosperity in the United States depend on a well-paid, upwardly mobile middle class that consumes goods and creates a larger demand, thus creating more and better jobs and, once again, a larger demand for goods — a virtuous cycle. As it happens, this prosperity is also historically accompanied by corporations and the super-rich paying their fair share of taxes.
And it is not just politicians, but corporations themselves that need to feel pressure to change their behavior to serve the common good. For example, huge corporations like Wells Fargo take TARP bailout funds, turn tens of billions in profit, get a multibillion dollar tax refund, yet continue to foreclose on homes and lay off workers here in the Twin Cities.
To win such dramatic changes the millions of us who favor job creation, fair taxes on the wealthy and corporations, and just treatment of workers will need to raise our voices and take bold action. We will need to rise above the corporate-funded din of misinformation and deplorable attempts to pit us against one another based on race, sexual orientation, immigration history, or other means.
Fortunately, the first shouts are beginning to be heard.
Julie Schnell is the president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota.